Mexico: La Isla Espiritu Santo
The challenge with an 8.15am departure in Mexico is finding somewhere to eat breakfast first. Most places typically don’t open until at least 8am. I find a place near my La Paz hotel that opens at 7.30, and I am back to meet the group in time, banana mango smoothie in hand. A short drive to the marina, we quickly load our dry bags onto the panga, and off we go.
On the water. The air is deliciously warm but not hot. We land on a beach on Isla Espiritu Santo, which we will explore for the next 5 days, mostly via kayak.
A quick safety orientation and a lesson on paddling basics. I have paddled numerous locations in several countries, but only about once per year, so my skill level is low. I pair up with a woman who goes by ‘PR’; she and I will share the double all week. Guides Sergio and Alba paddle with us, Lino and Ruben go ahead on the panga.
We land at a beautiful cove, where lunch is already being set up. This sets the tone for the week. Most of the time the only work we have is paddling. Normally I prefer helping more, but it is nice to be so taken care of.
Requisite swim in the crystal clear waters completed, we head to our first camp. We stop first at another beach, enjoying the meeting of desert and ocean. Along the way we pass a colony of blue footed boobies and frigate birds.
On the way, nature calls. The nearest landing spot is at least 40 minutes away. Leann – another client – and I both jump out of our kayaks into the giant bano. Ahhh….
Arrival in our first camp. The tents are already set up, so my work is limited to unloading my day dry bag from the kayak, blowing up my sleeping pad, and partaking in “happy hour” – drinks on the beach.
Delicious dinner. Good company. More stars than I have ever seen. There is essentially zero light pollution on Espiritu Santo. A warm night in the tent. I barely slip into the cotton sheet liner, much less the sleeping bag.
Up at first light. The guides begin preparing breakfast, and we are on the water two hours later.
(click a picture for a slideshow)
For the next several days, we explore the island coastline by kayak. Lazy breakfast, paddle for an hour or two. Snorkeling, lunch, and more paddling in the afternoon. Two evenings in a row a few of us do an evening sunset paddle from our camp into the next cove. The light is spectacular on the sandstone cliffs.
Downtime off the boats is spent for me either reading, snorkeling, or exploring the beach.
Snorkeling is readily available on most of the beaches, and I take full advantage. The water is often amazingly clear, but even when it isn’t, I’m still in heaven. One day we take the panga to a nearby small island and snorkel around it. Lovely.
Balloonfish. Pufferfish. Scorpionfish. Banded wrasse. Rainbow wrasse. Yelloweye drum. Cornetfish. Sargeant Major – seemingly everywhere but stunningly beautiful. Multiple varieties of angelfish, triggerfish, and parrotfish. Several times I swim through schools of thousands of mullet or herring, an amazing experience. I’m fascinated by the needlelike cornetfish, and I’m delighted when eventually I find one that is over 3 feet long.
A break from paddling one day for an hour ride on the panga in search of a whale shark. Success! It’s a small juvenile – small in this case meaning 16 feet long. Adults are up to 60 feet long. We jump in, and I quickly find myself chasing everyone, including the whale shark. It’s not a fun experience. I head back to the boat, and get rewarded as the whale shark comes right up to the boat twice. Being next to such a large creature is awe-inspiring.
I give my camera to one of my guides and try again. I enjoy the experience much more the second time around when I don’t feel the need to get images while swimming near the whale shark.
The world’s largest fish, a whale shark is not actually a whale, though it looks like one. Harmless plankton feeders, they pose no threat except perhaps from it’s large tail that could easily cause damage while swimming next to it.
My personal highlight is still to come. We take the panga a short distance to an off-island. Home to a colony of very friendly sea lions. The island is surrounded by numerous other skiffs, but it doesn’t feel crowded. After our safety talk (don’t approach the adult males, don’t jerk your hand back from the juveniles) two guides lead us into the water. I peer down. Fish! More fish than I have ever seen. Thousands. Then suddenly a huge black shadow swims under me. A large adult male.
Juveniles and the occasional adult swim all around us. Our guides lead us under an arch, where the sea lions seem even more playful, and the light is incredible. Some in our group free dive down, spinning underwater, playing with the sea lions. I’m in awe of Ruben, who dives deep and stays down for several minutes at a time.
It’s magical, and only exhaustion gets me out of the water after an hour.
But all things must end. On day 5 our guides load the kayaks onto the panga to return to the mainland. A second boat arrives for us. We do a short tour to a fishing camp, then begin the ride back. We stop at Ballandra beach for more snorkeling and lunch. A short ride back to La Paz. And then a shower.
My swims with the sea lions and whale shark are best appreciated through video. Please watch this video (less than 4 minutes long) – I promise you’ll enjoy it! It’s a very rough edit, but a lot of fun. Some of the video clips are compliments of one of the guides, who is better underwater, and whose camera was more capable.