August 23, 2008

Finally we see the Grays.

In the early morning, a little groggy because it was a windy night and sleep didn't come easily, we go down to the beach where we meet the others who are also going to see the whales. The water is calm but I struggle with my lifesaver, which definitely is not made for women with a bosom. The two boats head out for open water calmly and we are all eagerly looking out for any movement in the warm, shallow waters of the laguna. Expecting a dot on the horizon, like you see when you go out on a boat in San Diego, we were totally unprepared for what we were about to see.
After staring into the placid waters for about 20 minutes as we slowly motored out to open water, we suddenly saw movement all around us. It was like being in a bucket of live eel. A massive back breaking the surface here; a magnificent breach 300 yards away and fluke in the distance. We all sit in the boat awestruck and silent, just watching the movement around us. If anyone was scared, I didn't notice it because our sheer excitement was almost tangible.
Once we had our cameras in our hands we didn't even make that many pictures. It was almost like watching fireworks, you don't want to be wasting time on making photos and miss one of the most spectacular sights you might experience.
Pictures, after all, are just pictures and I could show a whole series of them, as we of course did make quite a few because after a while you settle in and watch the breaches and spyhopping around you and shiver a little as a 16 meter whale dips down under your rather small vessel. You are always a little too late to make a photo because you never know where something is going to happen. This was more a time to just revel at being so close to the whales and wondering what they made of this. Considering that this was previously a whale-catching area where, because it was a nursery, the whaler would strike the calf first in order to lure the mother within killing range it is amazing that these gray whales now carefully dive under our little boat without rocking it and peek out at us curiously on the other side.
The calves especially seem to enjoy the connection with people as they sidle alongside the boat waiting to make friends, you think hopefully. You can reach out and slide your hand over a back which has a rubbery texture. The mother, however is never far away and the gray in the blue water intensifies as she dives under the boat, breaks the shimmering water on the other side and watches the activity with a steely eye. These mothers are 16 meters (52 feet), weigh around 36 tons and used to be called Devil Fish, for which there must have been a particularly good reason, I have no doubt. Gray whales are off the threatened species list which is good because they took about 30 million years to develop and who has that kind of time these days to devote to developing them again?

August 16, 2008

Via Salt Flat to the Laguna.

From the little town we made our way to the laguna. Even though the road looks fine on this picture, you do need a four-wheel drive to get there. We had read up on our trip and discovered that this salt flat was being eyed greedily by ESSA, a joint venture of Mitsubishi and the Mexican Government who had submitted plans to build a $ 120 million salt-making facility in this environmental preserve and the only one of Baja's three whale nursing lagoons still untouched by industrial development.

Salt, granted is one of the primary electrolytes in the human body and one of the vital minerals needed for optimal bodily function. I have recently read a fascinating book called "Salt", by Mark Kurlansky which gives the fabulously interesting history of salt throughout the ages. I had no idea how much there was to something I sprinkle so mindlessly on my boiled egg in the morning.

When we pitched our tent it was getting windy. We ate our empanadas, not really knowing what they were and discovered that they were tasty but sweet. Little parcels of dough filled with pumpkin or other types of fruit. We were not the only ones there at sunset and a young woman came up to say hello. When she heard our accents she said that she more or less expected us to be dutch. She had traveled all over and she mentioned that even in the remotest spots she had been some dutch people would turn up. What can I say? Holland is a small country and we need spread our wings sometimes.

The house of the fisherman who would take us out in the morning to see the whales and their one-ton newborn babies. This laguna is the place where several hundred gray whales that come to mate and calve before their departure on their 5,000-mile migration north to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. We are in for an unforgettable experience.

August 9, 2008

Appreciate the Jesuits work.

I have mixed feeling about Jesuits but am grateful for the beauty they created here at this little place in a 10,000 square mile desert. Among the hundreds of date palms planted by the Jesuits centuries ago lies the little town with nothing much more to offer than a grocery store and a gas station, which we hear 'sometimes' has gas. We carry two large jerry-cans, one with water and one with gas and it's our lucky day, there is gas to be bought.

We came prepared with some food too, but the empanadas look tempting.

August 2, 2008

Baja California

Can you hear Ennio Morricone's music in your ears? Vultures on a large cactus, biding their time, waiting to see what or who will not make it through the hot, dry day. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly trilling along with the heat that rises up from the tarred road.

We reach our destination after a long drive over the road that is the spine of the peninsula with only cordon cacti and roadside shrines to distract us from our thoughts. The Jeep makes too much noise to have a real conversation, so we have to make do with pointing, raising eyebrows and lots of smiling.

The night before we had slept under a night sky so filled with stars that you felt as if you could dip your hands into this treasure chest filled with diamonds, scoop them up, hold them and then slowly let them drip between your spread fingers like sparkling water.


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