Mexico: La Paz and Loreto

Morning.  On the bus.  La Paz to Loreto.  I am struck once again by how public transportation in most countries is far better than in the US.  This bus is fairly priced, modern, clean, has a toilet, shows movies (thankfully at a reasonable volume), and even has wi-fi.  Wi-fi!  On a bus!  With a 6 hour ride ahead of me, I am grateful for the toilet.  And for the empty seat next to me.

The desert rolls by.  It’s magnificent.  I need to return another time, rent a car, and camp in the backcountry.

Approaching Loreto.  I am struck by the beauty of the landscape.  Surrounded on one side by the Sea of Cortez, and on the other by the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range.  All of Baja I have seen is beautiful, but Loreto even more so.  Yes, I must explore Baja more some other time.

Loreto.  I exit the bus, and walk/limp (still nursing my broken ankle that will take longer to heal thanks to this trip) into el Centro. I’m struck once again by how quiet and calm Baja towns are.  Even La Paz, at several hundred thousand people, was remarkably calm.  Not devoid of life, but calm.

With no hotel reservation, I wander around, searching out a few suggested places.  One of my stops is La Damiana Inn.  I continue searching, but return to La Damiana.

Sometimes I am accidentally wise.  My 5 night stay at La Damiana turns out to be overall my nicest hotel stay ever.  Not my most luxurious ever, but hands down, the nicest hotel stay.  The owners are amazingly friendly and helpful, the hotel is clean, charming, comfortable, and the rooms are nice without being over the top.

Dinner.  I have never liked Mexican food.  While this trip, with it’s freshly prepared food, has taught me that maybe I can be neutral on it, I will never love it.  So I happily break my usual travel rule and eat at a italian restaurant run by an expatriate Uruguayan.  The food is fantastic, as is the Argentinian malbec.  Ahhhh…

Sleep comes easy.

I spend a day wandering the beach and town.  My only specific goal is to find Alejandro, a fisherman and guide one of my kayak guides referred me to.  He had called Alejandro from La Paz, who agreed to give me a better price on a trip to the islands.  I meet Alejandro, he indeed offers a good price for a boat trip.  One down side of being a solo traveler though is the cost of tours.  If I can gather a couple of fellow tourists, we can do a island tour, hike, and snorkel for a great price with a local.  But the price is too high for just me.

None of this matters though as a threatened storm arrives.  Wind.  Lots of it.  The sea rises up and floods the malecon (boardwalk) and the parallel street.  The harbor is closed for all small craft.  Calm weather is not expected for 3 days.

Debora and Gerardo encourage me to go on a horseback ride the next day.  Not my thing, but I agree.

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My Little Pony

My Little Pony

The guides are great, the horses well cared for.  We enjoy ourselves greatly.  Small world – the couple I ride with is from Alaska.  It’s an evening ride, which makes it even more beautiful.  We return just after the sun has dropped.

I rent a car the next day.  Time to explore the mountain range more.  My half-hearted destination is the San Javier Mission; my real goal is to photograph whatever grabs my eye, and to just enjoy the desert alone.

The desert is so beautiful, I find myself stopping constantly.  It takes me several hours to drive the 25 miles to San Javier.  I return after sunset.

(click one to see bigger – they are much better that way!)

I return to La Damiana and good news.  The winds have died down, better weather is predicted for tomorrow, and they have managed to get me onto a boat tour leaving the next morning.

I wake up well before dawn and explore again by car.  Magic.  I regret being so out of practice with my camera.  My skills are rusty at best.

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My best shot of the trip? I regretted not having a tripod.

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I return to Loreto in time to return the car, eat breakfast, and get on the 9am boat tour.

Dolphins!  Within minutes of leaving the harbor, there are dozens of bottlenose dolphins.  They play with us for about 30 minutes.

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I share my boat with two grandparents, a daughter, and a granddaughter.  I feel like I am butting in on their party.  That they are the type of tourists that make me cringe – second home owners who know zero spanish despite living here 6 months of the year – makes it even more awkward.

We arrive at the sea lion colony.  Our boat captain pulls the boat to within 4 feet of the rocks the sea lions are hauled out on.

We pull back to 30 feet.  I jump in, hoping to swim with playful juveniles.  Lots of sea lions swim near me, but completely ignore me.  I try diving down, but they still ignore me.  The family on the boat seems impatient; they had no interest in swimming with the sea lions.  I feel awkward, and return to the boat.

Downsides to solo travel.

We arrive at the main destination – a lunch and snorkeling beach, along with 17, 524 other tourists.  At least, that’s how it feels.  The setting is indeed beautiful, but I feel crowded.

Snorkel gear on, I swim out to some rocks.  Lots of fish at least.  I practice limited free diving, trying to maximize my time and distance underwater.  

Not so long ago swimming in the ocean terrified me.  Snorkeling in the Galapagos in 2011 was barely contained terror.  Now I am happily diving down 10-12 feet, swimming along the bottom, and spending a minute or more underwater.

Best sighting – a cornetfish that must be nearly 5 feet long.

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My time in Loreto ends.  Back to La Paz.  Although I am enjoying my hotel and the slow pace of Loreto, I am determined to repeat my sea lion and whale shark adventure.

On the bus for 6 hours.

Morning.  Eight of us line eagerly gear up for our “Wildlife Safari.”  The panga heads out, in search of a whale shark.  We are a few minutes shy of giving up when one is spotted.

I swim behind and next to the whale shark for about 10 minutes.  I try several times to swim under it, but the water is only about 10 feet deep here.  The water is cloudy, so visibility is reduced, but it’s still awe inspiring.

We move on.  First stop, the blue footed booby and frigate bird colony.  But my true goal comes after.

WordPress refuses to preview my video in the blog.  😦

So CLICK HERE FOR MORE VIDEO OF THE WHALE SHARK AND SEA LIONS!

https://vimeo.com/114841409

The boat circles the small island covered with sea lions.  We jump in with our guide.  I’m far more at ease this time, and spend much of the next hour diving down as deep as I can, spinning with the sea lions.  They must sense my comfort – they play with me much more than before.

After an hour, we load back onto the boat.  I’m not ready to leave.  Lunch on a deserted beach with more snorkeling.  The boat returns to the harbor at sunset.  An amazing trip.

I seek out a genuine restaurant, not a tourist-oriented one.  I randomly order 3 tacos, not understanding quite what I’m getting.  Fantastic.  Maybe I can like Mexican food.  Total price $7.00.

A strong contender for best day ever.

A successful trip ending.

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