October 2007

Baja California At Its Best

WATCH YOUR STEP -- A group of passengers from MS Sea Voyager step carefully off the rubber Zodiac that has taken them from ship to shore. As one of them recalls, the ideal adventure vacation is sailing through the waters of the Sea of Cortez while watching whales, dolphins, and sea lions cavort around the vessel.

By Gloria Bryson Pyszka

What is your idea of a vacation on the Baja peninsula and the Sea of Cortez?  That’s a hard call, because the Peninsula has so many draws.  

My ideal adventure vacation is sailing through the waters of the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) while watching whales, dolphins, and sea lions cavort around our vessel.   

Where else would the ship’s captain turn around our 250-foot ship, M.S. Sea Voyager and follow them?  “Hey, folks, he says. “Our schedule is flexible, you know.”  We’re thrilled.     

No Experience Necessary 

We spent seven days on a Lindblad /National Geographic expedition.  Starting just south of Loreto, the voyage covered about two hundred miles total, from the northern island of Angel del Guarda to south of Loreto and Isla Santa Catalina.  

And, it included a certain amount of zigzagging and repeating our course, although always to different islands.     
Throughout the week we saw schools of dolphins, sometimes close to l00 in number, and smaller schools of fin, pilot, and sperm whales.    

Not all expedition outfitters are allowed permission to land on any island.  It’s strictly controlled, and we were very fortunate to have access to islands that other Baja expeditions do not have.   We do not see another boat or person for much of the week.

I Love Wet Landings

Wet landings happened daily, meaning that you take a rubber Zodiac from the ship to shore.   The “wet” comes as you swing your legs over the Zodiac’s edge and slide into shallow waters in your water shoes. Then step up on the sand. (Crew and families help the unsteady ones.) 

 We also hiked the arroyos with naturalists who provided expertise on plant and animal life.   ”See that  harmless chuckwalla lizard (related to an iguana) over there, hiding in the bushes?”  “No,” I reply.  

I finally see the darn thing, expertly camouflaged.   We also repeated the same conversation about a rattlesnake minding his own business.  I passed on that one. 

Another day, we scouted tide pools for sea urchins, star fish, and other sea “monsters.”  

Naturalists/Scientist On Board 

In addition to four naturalists and a deep sea specialist, a Stanford professor was on board for this trip, studying jumbo (Humboldt) squids.  Everyone was thrilled when he carefully pried an octopus off the rocks during our tide-pool excursion.  The younger passengers got to touch and collectively hold it. That was the highlight of their trip, as you can imagine.

The Birding Is Fantastic 

Isla Rasa was unbelievable.  Wait ‘til you see the birds on that island.  Who couldn’t help but be impressed by a bunch of blue-footed boobies (no kidding, folks) perched on their remote rocky outcropping as our Zodiac came in for a closer view.        

Great Lodging And Food

The ship’s cabins were nicely furnished and large enough for two adults to move around.  Bathrooms were tiny (aren’t they always?), but we didn’t flood the floor while showering, which can sometimes happen. Food was excellent.   Three-course dinners.  Great lunches.  Homemade ice cream, margaritas, wine, and great American and Mexican breakfast buffets.

Fewer than 60 passengers were aboard M.S. Sea Voyager — small enough to get to  know each other, if they so desired.  I’d guess the ages ranged between 11 and 85.   There were two large families on board, including three generations.  

Whale Watching

The period between January and March is usually regarded as the best period for whale watching. However, we were there June 7-17 and still saw a lot of sea life, including whales closely.  While the weather was in the high 80s and low 90s,   ocean breezes made it enjoyable.  

While researching and writing this article, I surfed the web and found several Web sites on Baja vacations that I’ve listed at the end.  They include outfitters and tour operators in water vacation sports and more mundane subjects such as weather, etc. 

The Lindblad/National Geographic trip is not inexpensive.  But, you’re paying for excellence and reputation.  The price is all inclusive, as I recall, except for airfare. 

There are other Baja adventure voyages, hitting some of the same spots.  Look over some of the Web sites I’ve listed and see which ones meet your needs and your pocketbook.

Find a copy of John Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez, a famous account of his 1940 expedition  aboard a sardine boat from Monterey, Calif., around the Baja peninsula into the Sea of Cortez.   The book’s cover describes the journey as   “an exciting, daily account of their expedition … combining science, philosophy and adventure.”

Web Sites:

www.expeditions.com  (trip reports)
www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com (trip reports)
www.theworldoutdoors.com    (also provides a trip itinerary)