This was a special trip, different from all others, for a couple of reasons. In first place, I got to travel with my brother and partner in VWPics, Kike Calvo, for the first time in many years, sharing our passion for travelling and photography and enjoying the positive succession of good moments. The previous trip, if I remember well, was a short expedition for swimming with the beautiful manatees of Crystal River, in Florida, years ago.
Secondly, the format of the experience was different to what Im used to, as I explain below. Instead of travelling alone, or with Alicia, creating or improvising our own itinerary, I discovered new places in an organised way, with the guidance of a prepared team of specialists and the company of people who were, in the beginning, a varied group of friendly strangers.
A Floating Big Brother
After flying to San Jose del Cabo, from New York, we spent a relaxing day at the hotel. The morning after, a shuttle took us to La Paz, where the boat, named National Geographic Sea Bird and managed by Lindblad Expeditions, was waiting for us. We met the Captain, David Kay, the officers and crew, together with the expedition leader, Sue Perin, the team of naturalists, Pete and Gretchen Pederson, photo instructors, Rikki and Jack Swenson, the undersea specialist with an in-depth knowledge of the area, Carlos Navarro, the video chronicler, Mark Cager, wellness specialist, Susan Weber, and ship´s physician, Rafael Olivares.
The ship was perfect for this kind of trip and destination, and I think about it as a floating Big Brother, a temporary home where I spent an intense week with the same people – without any controlling cameras, of course -, sharing many pleasing moments, enjoying fun adventures and having interesting conversations in front of a tasty plate of food.
With each passing sunset, I must say, those friendly strangers of the first day became familiar faces and essential part of this memorable experience in Baja California, Mexico. I learnt a lot from our distended talks and, in some cases, I am happy to consider them as new friends.
In Search of Whales and Dolphins
Jacques Cousteau, the most famous undersea explorer of the 20th century, called the Sea of Cortez the Aquarium of the World for a reason. Located between the Baja Peninsula and mainland Mexico, the Sea of Cortez is home to 31 species of marine mammals, 500 species of fish, 4,848 known species of marine macro-invertebrates and 626 forms of macro-algae. A valuable natural treasure that is also promoted by The Nature Conservancy as a global conservation priority.
Routing in this trips is designed with flexibility in mind, in order to maximize the opportunities for wildlife sightings. In fact, every moment was a potential opportunity for a good sighting, so the crew was always attentive and naturalists were frequently out on the deck, with binoculars, pointing out the birds and keeping a watch for marine mammals.
Time spent on the deck, in search of marine life, was really fun and served as an excuse for enjoying the sunny weather and talking with other guests about photography or episodes of past trips to other remote places. Although it would have been great to be a little luckier with our sightings, we had some enjoyable encounters with elegant birds in flight, playful dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, humpback whales and even a couple of shark friends, a short finned mako and a smooth hammerhead shark.
Hiking on the Islas
There are nearly 100 islands in the Sea of Cortez, 53 of them protected as a special biosphere reserve since 1978. We had the chance to hike and explore some of them, including Santa Catalina, home to many interesting endemic species, including the rattle-less rattlesnake and the giant barrel cactus.
We also took a stroll on Isla San Esteban, former home to the San Esteban Seri Indians and the place to go if you want to see two endemic reptiles, the pinto chuckwalla and the spiny-tailed iguana, surrounded by a great diversity of flora and desert arroyos that speak about the numerous floods from the past.
Please note that yellow-footed gulls can nest above the beach, like they did during our visit, so you have to be careful when walking nearby, in order to avoid disturbing them.
Curious Notes: A Movie and a Book
Swimming Upstream – This autobiographical drama, starred by talented Geoffrey Rush, tells the true story of one of the guests in the expedition, Tony Fingleton, as a young man from a troubled family who found the inner strength to become a swimming champion, in the 1950s. I had the pleasure to share time with Tony, a living sample on how to transform suffering into a ladder for personal improvement.
Ñusta, the Inka Love of Francisco Pizarro – If you are interested in History, you may enjoy this book by the great Dr. Rafael Olivares, also a guest on the trip. As an anecdote, he decided to symbolically adopt me as his son and brother, therefore, of the ship´s doctor, Rafael Olivares Jr.
Wildlife Zodiac Cruises
The Sea Bird was equipped with zodiacs, a fun and fast transportation for one of the main activities of the trip, allowing us to get close to unique habitats that are often filmed in nature documentaries, while learning from the teachings of the naturalists.
We cruised around Isla Rasa, and island formed of miocene basalt and covering only 250 acres. Composed entirely of Miocene basalt, it is the breeding area for about 95% of the world´s population of Heermann´s gull and elegant tern, and was declared a sanctuary by the Mexican government in 1964, getting a necessary protection for the area.
We also visited the island of San Pedro Mártir, the most remote in the Sea of Cortez. I was lucky to share the zodiac with specialist and fellow photographer Carlos Navarro, who happened to live on the island for some time and shared interesting facts and anecdotes about his life in this World Heritage Site by UNESCO, home to many species of birds, such as blue-footed boobies and red-billed tropic birds, and host of a colony of beautiful sea lions.
Brotherly Kayaking and Snorkeling with Sea Lions
One of the funniest moments of the trip was kayaking with my brother Kike in Honeymoon Cove, a beautiful small location at Isla Danzante – which is part of the Loreto Bay National Park -, sharing the experience with two great couples formed by Dale and Kathy, from Georgia, and Steve and Diane, from Nebraska. As we were both trying to take photos at the same time, our kayak crashed a couple of times against the coastal foliage, prooving that men are best at doing one thing at a time.
But probably, from above all, the highlight of the trip took place in the clear waters of Los Islotes, tiny islands made of volcanic rocks, at the North end of Isla Partida. After cruising around the islets with the zodiacs, and learning about their behaviour, we had the unique chance to swim with Californa Sea Lions in their natural habitat.
Snorkeling with this wonderful beings was a magnificent experience that served as the perfect ending for this Spring in the Sea of Cortez adventure, an enriching experience that I undoubtedly recommend and, hopefully, will be able repeat sometime in the future.
Thanks & Gratitude – Although it is not possible to mention everyone I had the honour to interact with, during the trip, I want to thank all of those who contributed to this experience in some positive way. This includes my brother Kike, the Guests I shared smiles, talks and time with, the previously mentioned Staff and the Crew, with Jodie, Kerry, Ada, Chlöe, Lynn, Sarah, Anna Marie, Jamie and those I forget to mention.
Spring in the Sea of Cortez
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Coming Soon: Memories of Santa Rosalía
After some days on the boat, it was a great feeling to disembark and walk the streets of a town like Santa Rosalía, founded in 1884 by the The French company El Boleo, who exploited copper mines there until they closed in 1954.
Stay tuned for our article about this interesting place!