Saturday, February 14, 2015

Snorkeling With Sea Lions!

Some days, I struggle to come up with adventures that are blog-worthy…but this day was certainly not one of them!  Hans and Ursula had been reading the online forum of La Paz Gringos that had glowing reviews of the Espiritu y Baja Private Tour group and their day trip offering to Isla Espiritu Santo just off the northern coast of La Paz.  After friends Wendy and Bobby graciously offered to dog-sit Millie, and finding a few calm, sunny days in the forecast on WindFinder.com, we booked our all-day tour for the coming Saturday.

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I was not too sure about the “swimming with sea lions” part of the tour.  I didn’t have my own wetsuit or snorkel gear, and rental equipment didn’t sound very appealing.  But, when we arrived to the Espiritu y Baja office along the La Paz malecon, all our worries immediately began fading away.

This was a great tour group that had thought of everything to ensure our comfort and happiness for the day.  The included wetsuit, fins, mask and snorkel were all good quality and well-fitting.  To our surprise, the panga boat we’d be in all day not only had a shade canopy, but also an enclosed marine toilet should nature call while we were making the 90-minute passage to and from Isla Espiritu Santo, and they also assured us a delicious lunch and drinks as part of the very reasonable, all-inclusive tour price.

Soon, we were speeding across the bay of La Paz with the boat captain, Saul, and our very handsome and gregarious bi-lingual tour guide, Alan, who was a marine biologist trained in Santa Cruz, CA.  Joining us on the boat was a young Mexican brother and sister, Fernando and Fernanda.

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Our first stop was a small rocky island just off the coast from Pichilingue, that didn’t look like much of anything at first.

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But Alan had us look a bit closer.  This island was home to a large colony of Blue-Footed Boobies.  I thought these birds could only be seen in the Galapagos Islands, but they are actually quite common on the southern coast of the Sea of Cortez and along the coastline down through Central America and northern South America.

What a thrill to see these unusual and distinctive birds up close and in flight!

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Next, we began heading up to the channel separating Tecolote Beach from Isla Espiritu Santo.  Saul noticed a couple of pangas and a sailboat stopped in the middle of the channel and suspected a whale might be there.

Yep, it was a humpback whale making its way out of the bay and into the Sea.  This was quickly turning into a pretty spectacular day for wildlife watching!

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As we made our way along the western coastline of the Isla, Alan took us to see a large nesting colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds.  I had seen some of these birds last year in Mazatlan, but had never seen the distinctive red-breasted males in mating season.  No problem here…there were dozens of them (surrounded by hoards of admiring females!).

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The ladies were frequently fighting with each other to see who could win over the male’s attention.  Quite a turnabout compared to other breeds where the males often compete for a lone female!

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Their red chests puff up to look like big red Valentine hearts.  No wonder these guys are so popular!

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No more unusually-colored birds further up the coast on this day though.  We had to settle for the more abundant Brown Pelicans and this Heron.

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As we made our way further north, we passed Isla Gallina (Hen island) with its white-topped cacti.  Hmm, wonder how they got so white? (lots of bird doodoo!).

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Then passed Isla Ballena (whale island) behind Fernando and Fernanda.

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At the top end of Isla Espiritu Santo was another large island called Isla Partida, and north of that, the tiny Isla Lobos which was home exclusively to the large colony of sea lions we’d be swimming with.

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As we came closer, we noticed a few other tour boats and kayaks.  Swimming with these sea lions is, indeed, a popular activity.

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There were dozens of sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks, and a few mamas disciplining their young ones.  These juvenile pups are only about 2 months old and already getting pretty big!

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Finally, our panga stopped and it was time to put our masks and fins on and jump overboard.  It was now time to confess to Hans and Ursula that I’d never snorkeled before (so I’d be keeping my life jacket on!).  After a few minutes, I began to get the hang of it though—just had to remember to breathe through my mouthpiece and not through my nose!

Alan was an amazing swimmer.  He would dive 20 or so feet below us and turn and twist around to signal to the sea lion pups that it was playtime with the tourists!  On one dive, Alan took my GoPro down with him to snap a pic of me snorkeling.  Wow, what a fun shot!

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The GoPro with its floating GoPole was great to have for the underwater shots.  I’m still working to get all the video edited, but here are a few still shots of us swimming with the sea lions.

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The sea lion pups were such fun—they would whiz past us twisting and turning, but would also slow down and swim upside down to let us rub their bellies.  Just like dogs it would seem!

Even though we only were in the water about 35 minutes, I won’t soon forget this incredible experience!  It was one of the top highlights of our 2 months in Baja!

Once we returned to the boat, it was time to head over to a secluded cove with a white sandy beach for our lunch—a delicious chilled fresh fish ceviche with crunchy tortilla chips.

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Does life get any better than this?

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We toured a few more highlights of the Isla after lunch.

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The “mask” of Espiritu Santo…

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Saul somehow managed to drive the panga beneath this very narrow arch…

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A truly outstanding tour and very enjoyable day with new amigos, Saul and Alan.   Thanks guys!

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23 comments:

  1. What a great memory to look back on!

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    1. Yes, indeed! The videos are even better...hope to get them posted soon!

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  2. Replies
    1. Put it on your list if you ever come to Baja!

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  3. So much fun! The spouse and I stopped at several ports on a cruise through Panama Canal last January and the snorkeling in Baja was a highlight. We saw numerous whales with their babies. I was also surprised to see the blue footed boobies...their feet are a distinctive blue. I thought they would be a grayish blue hue, but they're really blue. You are having such an interesting trip.

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    1. Yes, I was surprised by the blue color of their feet as well. Brilliant baby blue!

      Stay tuned for a future post on our tour of Laguna Ojo de Liebre to see the mama and baby gray whales. I think that was right up with this tour as our 2 most memorable days in Baja!

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  4. Replies
    1. It is an unforgettable experience, and quite a good deal at well under US$100.

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  5. Yet another spectacular adventure. How wonderful to be able to have someone care for Millie o you could enjoy the day. Good for you for snorkeling. Love those whale shots. Bonus!

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    1. Yes, I could have never gone on this tour if it weren't for Wendy and Bobby. Millie, of course, had a wonderful day at their house and wanted to stay there forever rather than have to go back to my tiny little rolling doghouse!

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  6. What a wonderful adventure!!

    I was wondering...being new to your blog; do you have blog entries describing the drive down into the Baja from the states?

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    1. Yes, start with the Dec. 30th entry, and then go forward. It's a drive to experience-- parts of it pretty bleak and ugly, while most of the rest, incredibly gorgeous with vast panoramas of untouched nature and coastlines.

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  7. Stunning and amazing! What beautiful photos and what an adventure

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  8. Stunning and amazing! What beautiful photos and what an adventure

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  9. Oh gosh, that looked so awesome!! Loved the blog and the pics. The blue-footed boobies were amazing!!

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  10. This looks like a perfect day, so much nicer on a panga than a big boat. I didn't know there were blue-footed boobies in Baja - I saw them in the Galapagos - love them! Did you hear them whistle and honk?

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