Baja: Whales to the South

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It all started as most good stories do, with a visit to a friend and a winery. One of Stephen’s photographer friends recently moved to Ensenada, and invited us to come say hello. Hi Julia! She took us to some amazing spots, including a fantastic food truck that Anthony Bourdain made famous — La Guerrerense (google it and GO THERE if you’re ever in the area). We also can’t forget the gorgeous winery, Cuatro Cuatros, overlooking the Pacific. (Be sure to visit the rest room for an even more epic view.)

We knew the visit (late February/early March 2018) coincided with whale calving season. However, we didn’t think it possible to travel all the way to Guerrero Negro (roughly 8 hours south of Ensenada) to see the grays’ calving lagoons. Our need for low-sulphur diesel and its seeming unavailability in Mexico was an impossible roadblock; or so we thought. Kilty Man started researching and discovered the right diesel was available all the way to the border of Baja Sur*. That changes things considerably…

Let’s see how much Mexican liability insurance costs. Well, kinda pricey… but whales! Hmmm. What about the roads??? What does “bad potholes” really mean anyway? Car damage due to road conditions? Problems with the federal police at checkpoints? Except… whales! While we didn’t know how subjective or accurate these reports were, we did know what our definition of “bucket list” was, and seeing gray whales with their babies was near the top.

Away we went…

Mexicali 1 was (in our opinion) “ok.” It was not too bad the first half, and while the second half was a lot more potholey, if you went slow enough, you could avoid them. Like they say, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” – an excellent strategy for driving down Mexicali 1 to Guerrero Negro. We had zero problems at checkpoints. (Stephen’s kilt provided some entertainment but we are very used to looks and laughter from others so join right in Mr. Policeman-with-a-big-gun.)

We left Ensenada too late to make the drive in one day, so, for inner tranquility’s sake, decided to pay $8 US to stay at a campground. I use this term very loosely. There was no working toilet or water (which we didn’t need anyway); it was basically someone’s property we paid to stand on. Although, there were many Dr. Seuss trees and a beautiful sunset. Plus, you know, peace of mind at having a semblance of protection while sleeping in the middle of the Baja desert.

As we got closer to Ojo de Liebre (our specific lagoon destination), we were pleasantly surprised to be driving through a salt mine, beautiful in its own right… white for miles with shades of pinks and purples, and huge dump trucks in the distance piled high with salt. We’d never seen anything like it.

Then – on to the main show….Ojo de Liebre charged a $5 US entry fee; this included our ability to camp on the beach with a tiny palm frond cabana. There was a building with pay toilets and an outside sink area. The main building, where you purchased boat tours, had a tiny museum and some small meals available. We paid $45 per person for two boat tours, one late afternoon the day we arrived and another the next morning. RIDICULOUSLY cheap if you consider what you were about to encounter. But you guys, just being there was. AMAZING. Everywhere you looked in the lagoon there were spouts and tails. I couldn’t go more than 30 seconds without seeing and hearing something amazing (I counted). Also, cherry on the cake, there were nesting Ospreys feeding their babies on top of the boat dock shelter. I sat out by the water for a long time trying to take it all in.

Regarding the tour itself, guides took us out for roughly two hours in boats that held about ten people. OK, here’s where it gets crazy. We had read in reviews that the mommy whales push their babies up to the boats to say hello. Whatever. No mommy that’s been hunted near to extinction will introduce her child to its predator. That’s. Bananas. Obviously we did not believe this ridicularity. UNTIL THE MOMMIES PUSHED THEIR BABIES UP TO THE BOATS TO SAY HELLO. I cried. Stephen petted. a. baby. whale. I mean, what else is there to possibly say about this? No words. None. Alas, I will try.

Just imagine… petting a baby whale, and being surrounded by serene ocean lagoon filled with whale spouts and calls and tail slaps and oh wait, a mommy is floating over there nursing her calf. It was as near a magical, mystical, ethereal experience as I ever could imagine.

See for yourself:

Sorry for the terrible sound and shaky video. But HOLY COW!

The second video isn’t quite as crazy as the first, but still quite incredible. It’s hard to believe that this really happened. If it wasn’t for the video I’d think it never happened.

One last clip to give you an idea of the plenitude of activity in the lagoon. When we say we were surrounded we’re not kidding. They’re literally everywhere….

New Friends

There is really no way to make this transition seamlessly, so let me just awkwardly change subjects. While at Ojo de Liebre we met this fantastic couple who invited us to caravan with them back to the US border. Ella and Michael were on their way back to San Francisco after having taken their van (Bruce) to the tip of Panama and back. They were van travel aces and we had a blast with them because:

    1. They were fun and super adventurous.
    2. They traveled with walkie-talkies. This should tell you everything you need to know. We walkied. And we talkied (loves me some Brian Regan).
    3. They were going back to the States via Mexicali 5, which meant crossing Baja eastward using a different route. Which meant our path traversed the most bouldery non-roady “road” I’ve ever witnessed in my life. (And I’m no slouch; I’ve done my share of  bushwhacking remote African dirt roads.)
    4. Said route meant we got to spend the night at Coco’s Corner. If you ever wonder if there is still good in the world, this place and its owner will assure you the answer is yes. Also, if you have ever lost underwear, they are probably here. Stapled to the wall. Coco wasn’t even there when we stayed, yet the caretakers’ warmth and stories of him were amazing. We took pictures seated on Coco’s sacred toilet circle, because, of course. (I am pretty sure this is where Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring first assembled.) It was a memorable night in an indelible location.

A small clip to show what it was like driving on this non-roady “road”. The video really doesn’t do it justice.

I am happy to report Ubu made it back to America in one piece. However, immediately upon returning, he got stuck in the sand – another story for another day (he may have been overly confident after his adventures on Mexicali 5). I am also happy to report we made it back to America forever changed by the sacred and sublime nature of whales, and the camaraderie of new friends on the journey through Middle Earth.

*We have since learned that ULSD is available throughout the entire peninsula. Go Baja! 

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