#########A week in Baja California

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    We hadn't seen John and Ann for awhile so, when they asked for the second time if we would like to join them on a whale waching trip to Baja California, Mexico, we made our reservations and began assembling the necessary gear.  The plan called for flying in a small plane from San Diego to San Ignacio Lagoon to see Pacific gray whales, then across the peninsula to the Midriff Islands region of the Sea of Cortez looking for blue and fin back whales, along with dolphins, sea lions and birds.  We were to stay in platform tents on the Pacific side and in beachside cabanas on the Cortez side.

Our plane takes on fuel at San Felipe, our first stop in Mexico

   The prospects of wet boat rides and cold nights camping plus the 15 pound weight limit on the plane had us shopping for new lightweight gear.  We each bought new Gore-Tex rainwear to replace our old heavy stuff, and quick drying nylon shorts and pants.  Capilene long johns and polar fleece jackets completed our outfits, and a Walmart duffel met the 12 x 18 inch size limit.

    After a few days touring San Diego we drove to Chula Vista, got a motel room near Brown Field and turned in our rental car.  The next morning we rose at 5:00 am to meet the tour operator, Kevin Warren, and the other pilot/guides, Chris and Tom, at 7:00 for an 8:00 departure.  Since our return flight to Cleveland was also early, we decided that sticking to an early schedule would be best and would help reduce jet lag on our return.

    Kevin's company is Baja Air Ventures, and tour details and more pictures can be seen at his website.  A link is provided at the end of this story for your convenience.

The Piper Cherokee over central Baja.

    Brown Field is just across the border from Tijuana airport, so close that we could watch planes landing and taking off at both airports.  John, Ann, Pat and I were assigned to Kevin's plane, a Cessna 207 Skywagon.  With turbocharging and oxygen, this was the fastest and highest flying of our three planes.  The others were a Cessna 206, same airframe w/o the turbo, and a Piper Cherokee low wing, similar to Pat's parent's Commanche.  Each plane was configured for five passengers plus the pilot, which left room for our gear where the rear seat would be.  Our party consisted of six couples, two sisters and one single guy, so some pair had to split up on each leg to fit the plane seating.

Thar she blows!

   The flight down was smooth and beautiful, in spite of the winter storm that had just hit San Diego a few days before.  There was a slight delay in San Felipe while we waited for immigration officials that never did show up to see our newly required visas.  The Piper would not restart hot, so after a little more delay, two planes left for Guerrero Negro.  The whale watching guides met us at the airport, we were handed a bag lunch and we were off to the boats.

Another gray whale, much closer.

    The boat dock was in the salt works, where there was the biggest pile of salt, some five stories high and several blocks long, that we have ever seen.  These salt works are controversial because of their potential to interfere with the whales navigation and breeding.  While we were there, it was announced that Mitsubishi had just dropped its plans to built an similar plant nearby.

    We plied the waters for over two hours, and saw dozens of whales, some as close as 20 feet.  Many of the females had calves along side.  All of the full breaches we saw were several hundred feet away.  It was cool and still overcast, so we were glad to get back to land and warmth.  The guide commented that they have two inches of rain per year there, and it all fell yesterday.

Sea lions were everywhere.

    The accommodations in Guerrero Negro were supposed to be platform tents, but Kevin had arranged to rent a house in town, so we lived in relative luxury for two days.  Pat was able to walk to a pharmacy and buy antibiotics - no prescription required - for my sore throat.  Two couples stayed at the local hotel.  Food was excellent - tortillas were made fresh for each meal, and there was unending salsa, chips, cervesa and margaritas.  Chris took the 207 back to pick up those who had an bonus half day in San Felipe - the Piper still wouldn't start.  They got back just at dusk to land at the unlighted field, to the chagrin of the local air traffic controllers.

    The second day we elected to watch birds instead of whales, so Sophia prepared burritos to take with us to an abandoned lighthouse on a spit three miles from town.  Ann's Spanish was good enough to arrange for the taxi's return in three hours.  We saw about 20 species of the usual sea and shore birds, plus Bryants and Heerman's gulls that are rare in the U.S.  Other rare sights for us were American Oystercatchers, loons and brown pelicans.  Ospreys were everywhere, thanks to nesting platforms provided by the salt and utility companies.

Approaching Bahia de Los Angeles

    After a hearty breakfast on the third day, it was back to the planes for the hop across the peninsula.  But first all three planes - Tom has flown the Piper over the day before - made low altitude circles over the lagoon to see the whales from the air.  We saw dozens and were told the official count was 82.

    The mountains go up to 6000 ft here, and we flew over at a nice for sight-seeing 6500 ft.  Shortly the Sea of Cortez was visible, and we began our descent for Bahia de Los Angeles.  On the way we overflew our wilderness resort, La Unica, and Kevin told us the story of finding it, half finished and abandoned, on one of his surfing trips, and finally making arrangements to renovate and use it.

La Unica Resort from the air.

    Skies were clear, but the winds were still strong from the storm, so the 55 minute boat ride from LA Bay to La Unica was wet as promised.  The "resort" consists of 8 single room, unheated cabins with attached bathrooms for guests, and 4 similar cabins for the manager, cooks and pilots.  The only plumbing was salt water for flushing the toilets, which could not accept toilet paper.  I don't have to explain further, do I?

    A shower and a old-fashioned pitcher and wash basin served the rest of our personal hygiene needs.  We filled the black solar shower bag with a few gallons of fresh water every morning and placed it in a sunny spot in order to have a hot but brief shower in the late afternoon.  A central pavilion with kitchen served as our common area.  It had the only electricity, supplied by a generator.  Coleman lanterns lighted the cabins.

Chris landing the 206 at Bahia de Los Angeles

    Our basic needs taken care of, the focus was on hiking, water sports, relaxing and eating.  A group hike up the hill near camp gave us an overview of the area and a grand view of the Midriff Islands, which Steinbech called the Galapagos of Mexico.

Our first hike was to the top of the hill in the background.  La Unica is on the right.

For more, click here.

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This page was created by pjmoyer and sbottorff.
The last update to the page was on January 3, 2002.