Isla Espiritu Santo – A Love Story

From Journal Notes, 16 April 2018:

Today I fell in love, a few times… first with the wide turquoise sea, as the blue and white panga sped over it to our as yet unseen destination; then with the wind and the sun, and the abundant life surrounding us in the sea and the air; and finally with our island camp, the impossibly bright stars, the ring-tailed cat sneaking around the camp kitchen, Miguel’s stories, Angel’s Spanish songs…

The day started when Miguel, our guide from OARS’ partner in La Paz, Mar y Aventuras, met us at the hotel in La Paz on the morning of “Day 2” of the 8 day itinerary.   After a short orientation, and being fitted for wetsuits, our gear was loaded onto a truck and we walked unencumbered a block or two to shore. There we met our boat captain, Angel, and boarded the bright blue and white panga. I was nervous as we headed out across the bay, because we planned on snorkeling with whale sharks that morning, and was relieved when we didn’t find any. We did find a school of trigger fish and a sea-lion gracefully swimming around and through them, like a mermaid, and I was captivated. Little did I know, that was just a glimpse of the abundance that was to come. Soon, we spotted an impossibly wide rough line breaking the horizon, as we got closer, it widened even further, as far as we could see, and became more rough and chaotic, unnerving in its size. I felt my heart beat faster as we continued to get closer.  Miguel estimated that it was a group of more than a hundred dolphins!  We were joined by smaller pods of dolphins, who swam along with the panga as we sped toward the large group.  Why were so many of them gathering?  To eat?  To play?  Angel brought us close enough to feel that we had been invited to the party.  We stayed there a few minutes, in awe, humbled that they allowed us to be a part of their celebration.  As we moved on, we passed several more groups of dolphins going to join the larger pod from every direction.  These dolphins did not turn to swim with our boat, but seemed intent on joining the others, and I envied them a little.  Once we arrived at Candelero Bay, where we would camp, we had a quick camp orientation, then took off with Miguel for a short kayak trip. I added to my list of wildlife sightings : yellow footed sea gulls, red rock crabs, trumpet fish, damsel fish, angel fish, sea urchins.

Back at camp, it was happy hour, and we celebrated our incredible first day with margaritas and shrimp ceviche. As the sun began to set, I started to feel the effects of the margarita, and someone yelled, “Ballena!” Miguel told us to run and get into the panga. As I splashed through the shallow clear water and managed to clumsily throw myself into the already running panga, I felt the thrill of true adventure. Angel, the boat captain, it turned out, has eagle-like vision and had spotted a fin whale and her calf moving slowly down the length of the open waters. As we raced to catch up with the whales, in the trusty panga, flying over the smooth surface, feeling the margarita, catching faint Spanish words on the wind between Angel and Miguel, the sun started to set and it was a perfect, heart aching, unforgettable moment.  I was in love, with that place, with the world, with life, for the hundredth time that day. We followed the whales at a respectful distance while they fed on krill or plankton, until the sun nearly touched the horizon, then headed back to camp. When we arrived, we discovered that Manolo, our chef for the week, had made fish tacos for dinner, so we ate and finished off the margaritas before heading for bed. I fell asleep to the sound of mountain goats in the distance, gentle waves lapping the shore and the soft round outline of the kitchen cat curled on top of my tent.

Morning Pangas
Whale watching near Ballena Island, Sea of Cortez

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