Whale, Whale, Whale - Guerrero Negro's Glory
Jan 26, 2008
|Up we went again, over the mountains and through the wilderness. On the narrow but well paved road from Bahia de Los Angeles, Carol's mirror had an encounter with a truck's extra-wide load. Though it didn't scare her (she is amazing), it scared the heck out of me. We both stopped when we found a turn out and then taped her mirror together - what was left that is. Our mirror was already broken when we left the US, where the mechanic suggested we not fix it before Mexico. Now we know why.
The arrival at Guerrero Negro was uneventful after the mirror episode and we got ourselves settled in at Malarrimo RV Park where we discovered our new friends from British Columbia and Quebec. It is a small world down here. We also made some new friends, a delightful couple from British Columbia who have been camping in Mexico since the 70s. Joanne and John had much to share about strategies for dealing with the federales and policia, being safe and enjoying special spots along our route. The self-effacement, humble pie, non-confrontational strategy with authority seems to be the secret to success. So far, we have had no problems with the military stops except that in going from Baja Norte to Baja Sud, they confiscated our limes and grapefruits. Ken had no problem because he eats neither, but I was sad. Those grapefruits sure were good. That should be our biggest problem.
The town of Guerrero Negro is named for a sunken ship that had been discovered long ago and after trying to rename the town, the politicians gave up because the locals just kept calling it Guerrero Negro. A huge salt company, owned jointly by the Mexican government and Mitsubishi Industries, produces a huge amount of salt annually, most of which is shipped to Japan and used locally. Those who work for the company (Mexicans except for 3 Japanese) get housing (lovely homes) for free and the ability to shop in the company supermarket at much reduced rates compared to the non-salty locals. The jobs in the salt company are passed down from generation to generation. We told our young (22 year old) guide Mario that a girl from a salt company family would be a good catch. He informed us that his girlfriend is an equal catch because she works for a telephone company, and, based on our experience with the phones, that is one heck of an industry.
On our first afternoon in town, we rode out to the private property of the salt company, not knowing that that was where we were headed. The sign told us we were going to the lagoon where the whales were. The guard who turned us away struggled to tell us that only local tour buses could enter. His English was as good as my Spanish. However, on our trip there, we saw more ospreys than we have ever seen anywhere. They were like the eagles in Alaska. We also stopped at a salt processing dump and recovered some giant, beautifully colored scallop shells which I will use for something - like bring them back for the girlies. A wind turbine that we passed was installed in the town in 1986, later replaced by a newer one. Both still stand. We wondered about the amount of power produced. We never saw one rotating and the electricity in the campground left something to be desired.
Navigating the bank to get pesos was a challenge. One had to think quickly in Spanish or the ATM would bid you adios and you had to start all over again, with a line of people patiently waiting for you to succeed. People were amazingly tolerant and warm. Also on our to do list was shopping for the ingredients for fish tacos. Carol buttonholed an English speaking hombre who helped her get a recipe from the mercado (supermarket) cashier so we would know the ingredients for which to shop. Beer is the secret component in the preparation. Although we planned on fish tacos for dinner, the restaurant - best in the town - called to us and, were we glad it had. The food was fabulous including the octopus dish and various fish prepared perfectly. The soup (included) was bean, but the kind I would make with multiple ingredients, in a stock that is constantly evolving. It too was great!! We were so engrossed that we almost forgot to make whale watching reservations for the next day, but we ran and did that without a hitch.
Too early for me, 7:45 a.m., we gathered at the van with our Alaska jackets and sweatshirts - yes in Mexico - for our long awaited whale watch. We and our six other boat mates excitedly chatted on the way and in the boat as we awaited sightings. Our guide, who had to interrupt us, explained the grey whales' mating, birthing, nursing and childcare arrangements. Fascinating tidbits were shared. When mating, two male whales circle the female until one gets exhausted and gives up. The loser then supports the female from below, while the winner, in five minutes of heavenly bliss mates with the female. This takes place in the lagoon where she then remains for the winter before she returns to the Arctic Ocean to continue gestation (13 months) returning to the lagoon at the end of the 13 months to deliver her calf (no twins in these families). She remains with her calf for the winter months where she nurses the calf with milk the consistency of yogurt (so that it does not disperse in water), since she has no nipples to suckle and just squirts out the milk for the calf. When the calves and mothers leave at the end of the winter the calves are about three months old. Awaiting them at the outlet of the lagoon are sharks and orcas which kill about 30% of the calves, the survivors swimming north with their mothers.
January is early in the season for the whales in the lagoon, the season going from December to April. As a result, when the mothers appeared with their babies near our boat, the little ones were still relatively small (three tons at birth-ugh) and the mothers were pretty protective. However, we did watch as pair after pair emerged, spraying spume and diving around our small craft. At times the whales would appear on one side of the boat and then reappear on the other side. When the boat rocked, I couldn't help but wonder whether they were below us. The little ones' skins were smooth and black as compared to their mothers whose skins had been greyed by barnacles that attached themselves and then got abraded off. The grey scarring is what causes them to be called grey whales. There are about 128 whales in the lagoon at this time including about 28 babies and we saw many of them. Many more will continue to arrive weekly. Being able to share this phase in the whales' lives was a truly spiritual experience. The sounds of their breathing and spouting all around us were remarkable to hear. The only thing that could have been better would have been to pet one alongside the boat, but that only happens later in the season when the calves are bigger and the mothers less protective.
After our few hours out in this heavenly setting, we got underway heading for the dock with stops to see the towering sand dunes, salt barges and sea birds that are so much a part of this lagoon's life. Pelicans and gulls sat on the shores, as well as atop the gleaming white salt loaded on the barges. The water was calm as we sped to land, sad that we had to return from such an overpowering experience.
Our guide Mario helped us call the phone company when we got back, only to discover that we had gotten a rotten deal in Ensenada. He recommended his phone company, Movistar, instead and volunteered to take us down to the phone store and be our translator. What a relief that was, so we planned for a 4:00 rendezvous.
With much of the day ahead of us, it was possible to go for a visit to the bird sanctuary to which Mario had introduced us. We wandered along the peninsula where reddish egrets pranced around in the water foraging, regal Great blue herons sat serenely, White and Brown pelicans yawned and preened, and Little blue and Tricolored herons fed in the shallow waters beside Snowy egrets. Black brants (geese), Double-crested cormorants and Western gulls squawked away on their spit of sand while American wigeons, Common goldeneyes and Ring-necked ducks glided along the water diving from time to time. The ever-present ospreys called from their nests and the air while around them Pelicans plummeted head first into the rich waters. Even with Carol's dog Jazzy prancing along, the birds seemed unbothered. What a wildlife day it was.
At 4:00, Mario was ready for us, so he, Carol and I trooped off to get new SIM chips for our phones. Were we lucky that he came along. Without him, we would have been totally unable to navigate the ins and outs of Mexican cell phones. He helped me get the best deal and Carol to get chips that she could use in our phone, since the TelCel phone she got in Ensenada was unusable with Movistar. Armed with phone and air time, I for one felt much better and we laughed and joked with the people in the store who were delightful and humorous even though we could not speak the language. Humor and fun are universal. It was one more great experience with the charming people of Mexico.
Our final dinner, fish taco, in Guerrero Negro followed a happy session on the Internet doing email and posting our travels. What did we ever do without the technology? When I am unable to get on the Internet, it is as if I have been cut off from a lifeline. Carol's great fish tacos and a truly informative few hours with Joanne and John were the perfect climax to a day of exploration, wonder and accomplishment. With much anticipation, we will explore the places on the mainland that John and Joanne suggested, based on their 30+ years of Mexican travel. When we left this great city, it was with regret for it was truly a high point thus far.