2007 BAJA & SEA OF CORTES

Cruise West

Day 0, Friday, March 2 Still in Houston
()*#$&%#(* lawnmower!!!! Trying to start it (unsuccessful), I managed to wrench my back and hurt both a wrist and ankle. This will definitely limit what I can do on the trip.

This Mexico trip is a month later than the (sometimes frigid) one to Copper Canyon in 2004, and earlier than the (miserably hot) one to Oaxaca and the Yucatan, so the weather should be better. (Temperatures ranged from 64-85F) Unlike my Mexico trip last year, this shouldn't cause me to be 'deferred' as a blood donor. Apparently there is/was a Malaria danger in some of the areas I went through then around Oaxaca and the Yucatan that nobody told us about and I even gave blood a couple of times before the Blood Center kicked me out.

BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR: The southern state of the Baja Peninsula is a unique world of contrasts and incredible diversity, where the desert meets the sea. The topography includes deserts and bays, mangroves and lagoons, jagged mountain peaks, and remote islands. Only recently "discovered" and considered to be the Last Frontier of Mexico, the state of Baja California Sur was created in 1974 after the Transpeninsular Highway was built to provide access along the entire length of the peninsula from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. The state capital and largest city by far is the port of La Paz. With its unique offerings of desert, sea, and sunshine, Baja California Sur has become a favorite tourist destination for mainland Mexicans, Americans, and Canadians. Visitors are drawn to Baja for the world-class diving, sport fishing, golfing, kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, and sailing. The southern cape region of this state, the Los Cabos corridor, offers an array of exclusive resorts. Many other smaller, remote communities retain a more traditional, tranquil atmosphere, while still offering all the necessary amenities. All stops offer a rich cultural history, traditional charm, and easy access to the natural wonders of the region.

The peninsula of Baja California consists of two states of Mexico that basically split the peninsula in half. The northern state on the peninsula is Baja California Norte (North); the southern state of the Baja Peninsula is Baja California Sur (South). The entire Baja Peninsula is approximately 800 miles long with an average width of 70 miles. The widest part of the peninsula is Punta Eugenia at 144 miles; the narrowest point of the peninsula is the La Paz region at 26 miles across. The combined east and west shoreline of the peninsula is approximately 1,980 miles. If you were to stretch out this shoreline, it would run from Juneau, Alaska, to Tijuana, Mexico. The northern part of the peninsula offers a Mediterranean climate with rain in the winter. The southern part of the peninsula is more tropical, with precipitation in the summer. The local flora includes Sonoran Desert vegetation, sand dunes, coastal wetlands, tropical thorn forests, and tropical forests. Over 400 species of birds live in, breed, or pass through Baja and the Sea of Cortés.

CABO SAN LUCAS: Cabo San Lucas is located at the southernmost tip of Baja California, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and inviting soft-sand beaches. Its dramatic, picturesque landscape includes arched rock caves (Los Arcos), which accentuate the southernmost point of land called Finisterra or Land's End. Here is a true end of the road for western North America - and the beginning of an incredible journey of discovery! The aboriginal people in this region were the Pericus, who led a nomadic lifestyle. By the mid to late 1500's, Spanish conquistadors and pirates invaded the peninsula. Land's End was the perfect lookout point, as the likes of Sir Francis Drake and other pirates would search for and attack Spanish galleons returning with treasures from Manila. Cabo San Lucas is now a popular destination getaway for those interested in fun, relaxation, boating, world-class golfing, sport-fishing, and diving. A unique aspect of advanced diving includes observing the "sand falls," created by underground currents that carry great amounts of sand, which fall or cascade into underwater canyons.

Day 1, Saturday, March 3 Arrive in Cabo San Lucas
This is trip number 7 with Cruise West. Continental changed the flight schedule. I have an extra 2:30 to wait for my flight. Now with the 11:25 flight, I leave at 8:00 to drive to the airport. The shuttle service is discontinued, and it's expensive to take a taxi (about $60 each way). It's only 8 days so drive & park is cheaper anyway. Air tickets via credit card points.

Continental CO1769Houston-Cabo San Lucas11:25 - 1:303:05

After a short (compared to most other trips) flight (on time, even) and a VERY long time to get through the airport (at Los Cabos, they x-ray EVERY piece of luggage using only one machine - with two flights of 200 passengers each arriving at the same time), transfer from Los Cabos Airport (we play "bumper cars" getting out of the parking lot then dodge "kamikaze drivers" on the highway) to Cruise West's Hospitality Room at Cabo's inner harbor … (over an hour drive) except that since Continental changed the schedule and it's a later flight than originally planned, there's no time to stop there or to look around town before heading for the ship. In fact, there's no time to see anything except what we see on the drive to town, 10 minutes at the reception center, then a short drive to the ship. Board the Spirit of Endeavor (not Yorktown), Cabin 302, AA upgrade - first cabin on the port side, top deck and with decent sized "facilities" and sail into the Sea of Cortés. Nice crew, 95 passengers, very nice dinner. Moonrise - we just miss the lunar eclipe. We make a swing past Los Arcos (rock formation at the end of the Cape) then head north through open water (oh, oh) into the end of a NWester … 30-40 knot winds (higher gusts) and 10-12' seas. It's the roughest 12 hours I've had on any ship, including the Antarctic crossings of the Drake Passage. MANY people seasick despite taking the free pills (no, I don't seem to get seasick). No sleep, too bouncy, particularly since I'm in a forward cabin and feel every crash landing on each wave. It's "dangerous" to get up and move around the cabin. In fact, I "sleep in" for an extra hour or so tomorrow morning rather than risk trying to get around. The decks outside the cabins are very wet and slippery; not at all safe. D

The Sea of Cortés, also known as the Gulf of California, is the newest sea on our planet. It separates mainland Mexico from the Baja Peninsula, and contains a stunning diversity of marine life. Powerful tidal action, strong ocean currents, fluctuating water temperatures, and a nutrient-rich estuarine mix of fresh water from the Colorado River contribute to heavy plankton blooms in the Sea of Cortés which are unequalled in seas of similar size. Jacques Cousteau once proclaimed the abundant biodiversity of the Sea of Cortés as the "Aquarium of the World." The east and west coasts of the peninsula are home to over 800 species of fish. Unusual whale sharks and manta rays ply the plankton-rich waters, while hundreds of intertidal creatures live along the zone that bridges the desert and sea. Over 20 species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoise) have been identified in the Sea of Cortés. From giant blue whales to the near-extinct vaquita, the smallest porpoise known to man, sightings bring joy to everyone who sees them.

Day 2, Sunday, March 4 Isla Espiritu Santo
ISLA ESPIRATU SANTO: Isla Espiritu Santo means Island of the Spirit of the Saint. At one time, Isla Espiritu Santo and its neighbor, Isla Partida, were a single land mass, but a volcanic crater that formed between them has subsided and opened to the sea, forming a channel that now separates them. Vegetation includes a variety of annuals, perennials, halphytes, elephant trees, wild figs, and members of the cactus family such as cardóns, pitahaya dulce, and prickly pear. The black jackrabbit is an endemic animal found only on these two islands. A favorite anchorage on the southeast side of the island at Bonanza Bay offers remote, exclusive, and pristine opportunities to kayak, hike, go for a nature walk, go birding, or snorkel. The whole day schedule is messed up due to the weather. They can't even get breakfast served at the usual time - it's delayed about 2 hours from 6:30 until 8:30. Even the "early bird" breakfast is "late."

This 23,383-acre island near La Paz is centered in one of the most biologically diverse marine areas in the world - and is a major environmental success story. Several plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world, including the black-tailed jack rabbit and antelope squirrel. Drop anchor at Espiritú Santo's Bahía Bonanza for a day ashore. Take a guided walk among the tangle of exotic cacti (sounds good!), or kayak the crystal clear sea here that supports 900 species of fish. As it turns out, there's NO kayaking or snorkeling. The winds are too high and too much silt stirred up. BLD

Day 3, Monday, March 5 Island Exploration
Up anchor at 4:45 and do a short cruise to get into the wind shadow of the island. We do a short island visit, then take off on the cruise - still pretty 'bouncy.' It's a reversal of the originally planned Days 3 & 4 - all due to that bad weather at the start of the trip. Guided by the weather and tides, visit one of the beautiful and special islands of the Sea of Cortés. Exploration possibilities will include nature hikes, kayaking, and snorkeling. Nice BBQ lunch on the sun deck today. At least the weather is MUCH better. BLD

Day 4, Tuesday, March 6 Whale Watching
Slow cruise overnight; not far to go and very little bounce around. This whole day is spent pursuing up-close viewing of marine life - which is what I primarily came for. The Sea of Cortés is home to huge schools of common and bottle-nosed dolphins, as well as humpback, minke, fin, and blue whales. From mid-January to mid-March, hundreds of gray whales congregate in the shallow lagoons of Baja's Pacific shore. When our local contacts tell us the whales are present, we cross the peninsula by motor coach (long 2-hour drive, but "nice" scenery: very steep on the east side; gradual and/or rolling on the west) to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos and Magdalena Bay. There board an outboard-equipped panga, a small outboard motor boat for 6 passengers (or less if they are sorta 'heavy') to observe the grays, which have migrated some 6,000 miles from Alaska's Bering Sea to mate, give birth, and rear their young. Lots of whales. I didn't get to "pet" one, but some people did. After that, we have a very nice lunch at a local restaurant. Then the long drive back across the peninsula. After returning but before dinner, look for blue whales in the Sea of Cortés - several plus lots of dolphins. It's only a short run to get up to the Loreto area and anchor early. BLD

Day 5, Wednesday, March 7 Loreto
Located on the Sea of Cortés coast of the Baja peninsula, Loreto is the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement on the Baja peninsula. Many unsuccessful attempts to settle on the peninsula were made over a period of 162 years. Finally, Jesuit Padre Juan Maria Salvatierra founded the first mission in all the Californias at Loreto in 1697. This mission became a base for California exploration and the expansion of the mission system throughout the peninsula and as far north as Sonoma in Northern California. Loreto prospered until a hurricane devastated the community in 1829. Although the mission church survived, the damage was so extensive, and the fear of future hurricanes so high, that the capital was moved from Loreto to La Paz in 1830. The town was deserted until the mid-1800's when many English immigrants resettled the area. After World War II, Loreto became a small commercial and sport-fishing center. The current population is approximately 10,000. Loreto is serviced by a small airport with direct flights from Los Angeles. A few miles south, the seaside Nopolo resort offers a wonderful tennis center and 18-hole golf course. Locals and visitors alike enjoy this small, friendly, picturesque community located on the edge of the protected Loreto National Marine Park. This reserve was created to protect the rich biodiversity of this spectacular area. The reserve includes five deserted islands to the east and the shoreline west of the islands. The majestic Sierra de la Giganta mountain range dominates Loreto's western view. In the springtime, Loreto's offshore waters offer world-class yellowtail fishing. In the summer, sport fishermen angle for marlin, dorado, and sailfish. Manicured fig trees shade the cobblestone streets, which meander throughout the colonial architecture. The pace in town is friendly and leisurely, with arts and crafts shops lining the streets. The Mission Museum offers a glimpse into Baja's past with exhibits of archeological artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and fossils. The mission contains oil paintings, the Stations of the Cross, bell, and crucifix from the 18th century. Loreto National Marine Park is 500,000 acres, including islands Coronado, del Carmen, Danzante, Monserrate, and Santa Catalina, and the coastal region west of the islands.

Founded in 1697, Loreto's Nuesta Señora de Loreto Mission was the original "mother" church from which all the other California missions were founded, eventually leading as far north as Sonoma, California. A museum adjacent to the mission displays artifacts and paintings from Baja's colonial era. Stroll the streets and plazas of this picturesque seaside village, capped by a reception with musical entertainment at the mission. This should be a great day; however I take the all day option below. Three of the passengers who have been without luggage so far (American Airlines) finally got their luggage late today. The crew has been doing special laundry service for them. BLD

OPTIONAL: Ceviche by the Sea. Learn some Mexican culinary techniques - and savor the results immediately. This opportunity takes place at Loreto's El Canipole restaurant, surrounded by "Mexicana" décor. Learn to shape a personal tortilla, then bake it on a traditional comac. Mix ceviche (seafood) and savor a host of other Mexican specialties.

OPTIONAL: San Javier Tour Nestled in a valley high in the Sierra de la Giganta, the mission village of San Javier is one of Baja's secret treasures. Drive by air conditioned van on largely gravel (dry arroyo beds) roads along one of Baja's most scenic interior drives, and see an original stretch of the old Camino Real. Stop in Las Parras, a natural oasis (deleted - the owner wants too much in admission costs). We visit Los Cuevos Pintos to see some original Baja rock art paintings. Then the village of thatched-roof, stone and adobe houses appears, surrounding Baja California's best-preserved Jesuit Mission Church, Mission San Francisco Xavier de Vigge-Bloundo. Originally founded in 1699, the current mission building was completed in 1758, and shelters centuries old bells, statuary and splendid gilded retablos. The original mission fathers brought irrigation and orchards to the valley. Take a nature walk along a dry riverbed and learn about harvesting fruit in an oasis. A home-style Mexican lunch is included (excellent!!!!) at a local restaurant. Snacks and water will be provided in the van. We see several Baja race cars on the way back to Loreto - this is part of the Baja 1000 route. (8 hours so will miss the Loreto town tours)

Day 6, Thursday, March 8 Los Islotes ("guano islands") & Isla Partida
Los Islotes is a steep seamount punctured by sea caves. Blue-footed boobies reside on the cliffs, and a large colony of California sea lions haul out on the rocks below. Weather permitting, swim and snorkel as the female sea lions and their curious young pups float about us in the sea, or we can just take an hour-long "DIBS" ride around the island. Continue to Isla Partida nearby, to hike the island's rugged canyons, kayak up-close to rock-walled headlands, or just relax on the beach. In the sheltered cove of Ensenada Grande, the silky, sandy bottom shelves out very gradually for hundreds of feet, as gentle waves lap onto the mangrove-backed beach. BLD

Day 7, Friday, March 9 La Paz
La Paz means "peace" in Spanish. The capital of Baja California Sur lies along a beautiful bay on the Sea of Cortés coast of the Baja peninsula. This bustling community of over 180,000 residents is by far the largest community in Baja California Sur. La Paz is the political and commercial center for a huge region of the peninsula, and its Old World charm attracts legions of Mexican tourists from the mainland. The La Paz area is bordered by spectacular beaches and pristine islands to the north and east, and desert to the south and west. This is a world-class region for scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and other ecotourism activities. The tiled boardwalk/pier is dotted with potted palms and benches, and the malecón or waterfront promenade offers a three-mile scenic stroll or jog along the beach. This is a perfect place to observe the famous brilliant crimson sunsets along the Port of Dreams. Hernan Cortés, the first non-native to arrive here, was drawn to the region by tales of possible great wealth He named this area the Bay of Santa Cruz in 1535. Despite sending several exploratory expeditions over the years, interest remained minimal in the region due to the great difficulty of taming such a harsh environment. Early colonization began in 1720, when the Jesuits built the Mission of Nuestra Senora del Pilar de La Paz. La Paz received its name from Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who established a base camp here for exploration of the peninsula. In 1829, La Paz became Baja's capital when the first settlement of Loreto was devastated by a hurricane. La Paz was also a center for the pearling industry until the 1940's when a mystery disease and over-harvesting decimated the oyster population. Besides the wonderful recreational and ecotourism opportunities, La Paz offers a glimpse into its past with a visit to the stunning Cathedral of Nuestra Senora of La Paz, with origins in the 18th century. In the heart of the city is the picturesque main square, Velasco Garden, surrounded by historic buildings.The Library of the Californias is housed in the former Government Palace, with a room dedicated to the history of Baja California Sur. The Anthropological Museum offers exhibits of archeological artifacts, fossils, and historical maps and documents. The La Paz Serpentarium houses reptiles such as snakes, iguanas, lizards, and other species found on the peninsula and surrounding islands. The institution aims to promote conservation of these important, though sometimes unpopular, creatures. Unique arts and crafts shops featuring weaving and pottery are found throughout the city. The local university specializes in marine biology, botany, and whale research.

Today, our ship ties up at the central waterfront of Baja California Sur's capital and largest city, which was founded in the 1530s. Explore the shops, gelaterías, and the miles-long waterfront malecón or promenade. I choose to have lunch ashore - authentic Mexican tacos at a small eatery. In the afternoon, we enjoy(?) an exclusive fiesta at a site that used to be the Governor's Mansion, complete with Mexican music, dancers (excellent), piñata, and lousy food (yuck! This can make me sick. I can stand the waves, but this ….). Later, depart La Paz to sail overnight to Cabo San Lucas. I skip dinner after that 3-day-old lard/grease/junk at the fiesta. Many of the people leaving us here (33 of them) have airline problems getting to the Copper Canyon site - one of the small Mexican airlines went bankrupt. BLD

OPTIONAL: Artisan Shopping Tour This tour of seaside La Paz focuses on local crafts. At a pottery factory, watch craftsmen as they paint distinctive and colorful designs onto ceramics. This colorful pottery is only available at the factory. Also visit an active weaving factory to watch the weavers at work. We make another stop at a crafts center for local artisans. Nice trip. (3 hours).

OPTIONAL: El Serpentario Reptile Center El Serpentario (The Serpentarium) has assembled an outstanding collection of the four major classes of reptiles: snakes, lizards, turtles/tortoises and crocodilians. Also see many other fascinating reptiles from all over the world. (2.5 hours). (Cancelled, not enough people interested)

Day 8, Saturday, March 10 Disembark in Cabo San Lucas
Cruise past the spectacular rock formation, Los Arcos, at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula. After breakfast, disembark and transfer directly to the Los Cabos Airport. (I did NOT sign up for the Copper Canyon extension since I had been there recently.) Some of the American Airlines passengers have more trouble. It seems that the AA computer 'dropped' their reservations even though they have confirmation numbers and even seat assignments but not any more. B

It seems that the Mexican Air Traffic Control had a meltdown due to heavy traffic (or maybe they were taking a siesta). All the flights are running from 1 to 3 hours late. Here's what eventually happened:

Continental CO1453Cabo San Lucas - Houston2:45 - 6:002:15

Many people on the flight were frantic since they would be missing connections due to the delay plus having to go through Immigration / Customs / baggage claim & recheck. Fortunately it is a direct flight with no connections so my luggage gets home with me this time. I'm home by about 7:30 just in time to change the clocks for the (3 weeks too early) "Spring Forward" time change.

I didn't take the Copper Canyon (Cloudy Rainy Valley) extension after doing the bus/rail mostly disas-tour two years ago. No need to repeat that. I had planned to take my favorite Cruise West trip: "Daylight Yacht Tour" again next year, but they retired the "Sheltered Seas" and won't be offering the trip again (it's last 2 trips had only 7 and 10 passengers so I don't blame them). Growl, Grumble, and lots of other words deleted!!!

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge



OTHER LOCATIONS we see along the way:

ISLA CORONADO: This island most likely emerged from a volcanic cone thousands of years ago. It is approximately six miles north of the town of Loreto. A 1,500-foot extinct volcano lies at the northern end of the island. Large volcanic boulders cover the craggy hills everywhere except the flatter southeastern portion of the island, where sea turtles visit the sand dunes to lay their eggs during various seasons.

ISLA DANZANTE: Isla Danzante is a small island south of Isla del Carmen. It is one of the five islands of the Loreto National Marine Reserve, and is a natural bird refuge. The underwater terrain around Isla Danzante is steeply stair-stepped, quickly dropping over 100 feet into deep canyons and crevices lined with soft and hard corals. Many great whales can be spotted in this area, including blue, fin, Brydes, and humpback whales.

ISLA DEL CARMEN: Approximately 18 miles long, Isla del Carmen is one of the largest islands in the Sea of Cortés. It once was home to one of the largest salt works in this part of the world. Discovered during the Spanish missionary era, the first rights to the salt mine were granted to Father Salvatierra at the beginning of the 18th century. Salt production has since ceased, leaving behind a ghost town.

Today, Isla del Carmen is part of the Loreto Marine Reserve ecological sanctuary, offering excellent fishing, snorkeling, and whale watching. Bighorn sheep have also been reintroduced to this island. An old burro trail starts at the abandoned pier and leads up to the salt-filled crater of a 1,600-foot volcano. There are many great diving sites along its shoreline. A 120-foot fishing boat wreck in Bahía Salina is now home to a variety of fish. ISLA PARTIDA: Isla Partida is positioned due north of Espiritu Santo. Isla Partida means Departed Island. At one time, both islands were one land mass but a volcanic crater that formed between them has subsided and opened to the sea, forming a channel that now separates them. Vegetation includes a variety of annuals, perennials, halphytes, elephant trees, wild figs, and members of the cactus family such as cardóns, pitahaya dulce, and prickly pear. The black jackrabbit is an endemic animal found only on these two islands.

AIRLINES:
1Continental CO1769Houston-Cabo San Lucas11:25 - 1:303:05
2Continental CO1453Cabo San Lucas - Houston2:45 - 6:002:15