AFS Expedition – Sea Lions, Turtles and Whales

Here’s an adventure that so exceeded my expectations, I must present it again. The wilderness and islands along Sea of Cortex is one of the most undiscovered and exciting places on the planet with so many wonders to experience. I’m so glad I found Red Sustainable Travel, a new tour operator here that delivers what they promise. What Linblad and Nat Geo Expeditions do here for 6k, with Red, Adventures For Singles could offer for 2k. Red (meaning “net” in Spanish) goes beyond ecotourism with community development and concerted conservation efforts.

We gathered in Los Cabos for some pre-trip fun. Our perfect mini-group of 16 was then transferred north to La Paz. Serene, clean, safe and friendly, I found it the opposite of Cabo. We spent 2 nights in a first class hotel and enjoyed the lively waterfront.

“Fun Baja Tours” collected us for a day trip to Espiritu Santo Island, a UNESCO Biosphere. Our speedboats carried us 3 hours out with dolphins and porpoises in tow. We anchored at a colony of 600 sea lions and donned wet suits. It was a thrilling and surreal experience to snorkel among them! For 2 hours we were surrounded by a cacophony of barking, honking and belching sea lions. It was startling when the massive males swam around. I loved the babies. In a quiet cove, they were as playful and curious as puppies.

We sailed on to La Partida Island for beach time in crystal clear waters 50 shades of green. After a grilled seafood lunch, we enjoyed paddle boarding and sea kayaking. Later we sailed to a colony of sea birds to photograph thousands of frigates and cormorants with their hatching chicks.

On the 4th day, we drove 4 hours to fabulous Magdalena Bay for the real adventure to begin. Breakfast was huevos rancheros at an authentic ranch. The desert drive ended at the Pacific Ocean where we boarded boats for a Whale Safari. These waters are teeming with marine life and March is the month to witness the migration of grey whales that come here to breed and calve. Our film couldn’t capture the magnificence of all our close up encounters.

We arrived to our island retreat campsite, which would be home for the next 3 days. Our awesome staff prepared cozy dome tents a dinning hall and baƱos nestled along a breathtaking land and seascapes. After a lunch of grilled shrimp quesadillas, we explored wind swept dunes littered with pink seashells. By the time tequila flowed at happy hour, we had bonded like peanut butter and jelly mutating from strangers to friends. I want to clone these ultra polite travelers to follow me around the world.

Stars blanketed the sky. My tent was called Villa Coyote after the wild coyotes that frequent the camp. One ran off with Julie’s shoe in the night. I slept like a babe. At sunrise, I walked the beach lined with starfish. We boarded pangas to watch our expert guides set out a net (30′ deep, 1000′ long) to catch sea turtles. Countless pelicans encircled us thinking we were fishing.

Red’s eco-tour creates stewardship with these turtles. Their permits allow us hands-on help with field research. With GTC, they monitor turtle health, genetics, behavior, protection from poachers and more. It’s necessary as only 1 in 1000 turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood. Every 2 hours throughout both the day and night, we headed out in groups of 3 to capture the noble creatures from the net. We brought giant turtles back to camp to measure, weigh and record useful information that goes into a database for science and education. After they were pierced with tags, it was a joyous moment to release them out to sea. My heart was touched when the group officially named an untagged young green turtle “Suzy.”

The second night, Terry and I fell asleep to iPad movies. At 8am, we all hauled in 3 more turtle beauties to monitor, 2 babies and the other a 100-year-old behemoth that weighed in at 124 kilos (273lbs). By 11am, we hugged our camp staff and chef goodbye and headed out for Whale Safari 2. There’s no guarantee with nature, but this expedition was off the charts! There’s many species of whales here but the Greys reign. There’s a 70% mortality rate from predators to propellers or sharks to man. These waters hold the last Greys in the world.

It was just us; 2 boats-silence-the eternal sea. Suddenly, Moby Dick, the size of a motorcoach, breeched and fluked mere yards from us. Another slowly surfaces like a submarine. The thrill that made my heart leap was when the babies came right up to our boats allowing each of us to pet them. Charlie scratches the chin on one baby as big momma floats passively nearby. It was as if she was saying, “It’s OK.” We’d all lean left, then right, nearly spilling ourselves into the cold waters of Magdalena Bay. Even our naturalist guide Manuel leaned with us as we clicked our shutters for this once in a lifetime experience.

We ended with a picnic of the freshest ceviche on a remote desert island with dunes that looked like Namibia.
The journey finished back in La Paz for a night. We enjoyed an hour-long shower in our hotel that now seemed to rival the Ritz. We ecotourists persevered well with no WIFI, gourmet cooking and free drinks. Everything was pure. No bugs, no Montezuma’s Revenge. What a unique and beautiful view of Mexico to experience. And what a way to get your vacation on! Our efforts with this project certainly left a positive footprint.

Now, let the memories begin.