Mexico’s friendly whales – Boston Globe

Photo: Phil Primack - Boston Globe

Photo: Phil Primack – Boston Globe

Phil Primack wrote an exceptional article for The Boston Globe, “Mexico’s friendly whales” about his recent trip with us that includes this breathtaking passage:

As we move slowly ahead in our panga, several mothers and their calves approach (by late March, when we visit, most adult males have already left for their return trip north). Then a whale comes right at us. As big as a school bus, she could easily flip us with one swipe of a fluke. Instead, she sends up a thick ring of bubbles as she dips under the hull, her back lifting us slightly out of the water. Even as we catch our breath from that encounter, another mother nears, this time pushing her offspring toward us. She nudges the calf (it weighs about 3 tons by now) out of the water. Human and whale eyes lock as we stroke the calf’s smooth, rubbery skin. Then, as gently as they came, mother and calf move away.

Thank you so much for the visit Phil! As the article suggests, those of you visiting from outside Mexico can call Emily Evans at Custom Coastal to make your reservations or travel arrangements at 409-877-4551.

Sailing Baja’s Sea of Cortez: Spring Break and Summer 2012

A sailing trip aboard the 45′ Catamaran, El Mechudo in the Sea of Cortez is the most intimate, ideal, and flexible adventure available!

If you have ever considered a trip to Cabo San Lucas because you thought it would be a fun and effortless family vacation to plan, we have an alternative for you: La Paz, the heart beat of Southern Baja is the perfect place to really enjoy Mexico’s beauty and spend memorable moments with your family and friends. If a chartered sailboat complete with Captain and Chef who both serve as naturalist guides, that is only available to private groups, sounds a little out of reach, it isn’t. A typical four night vacation spent in Cabo can cost a family of 4 upwards of $5,000, not including airfare. We are talking hotels; activities like snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching, beach time; meals, drinks, entertainment, etc. All the while being hassled by small time tour operators vying for your dollar.

Imagine yourself accompanied by a handful of your favorite people boarding your own private sailboat and heading out to snorkel and explore ‘the world’s aquarium’ around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Isla Espiritu Santo. Just 15 miles north of La Paz lies an uninhabited desert oasis: a plethora of unique plant species, over 950 species of tropical fish, a chance to see green sea turtles, visit a colony of about 400 sea lions where Blue-footed Boobies roost, maybe see a whale…and you get to explore it from the comfort of your own floating hotel…

Why not find another family, or a group of friends for an adults’ cruise, and spend four nights aboard the 45’ Catamaran, El Mechudo. We create each itinerary based on the desire of your group and you become the captain once you board – stop for special whale, dolphin, bird, turtle, sea lion, and other marine critter sightings; hike the geologic relics of Isla Espiritu Santo; paddle stand-up paddle boards and kayaks in protected waters; snorkel with friendly sea lions, hundreds of tropical fish, and maybe even whale sharks. You can fish for your dinner (permit required). Have happy hour with your friends and witness extreme sunsets that just never seem to end from the tranquility of the protected bays of the isolated island. You make your itinerary, we make it happen. We provide all meals (custom planned by your preferences), drinks (sodas, juice, tea, wine, beer and cocktails), activities to match all skill and interest levels, equipment for snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, even fishing and diving gear, if requested – basically, everything you need for an ultimate vacation.  All inclusive.  For only $1,100 per adult in a group of 8, or  $4400 per family of four, we can show you the best of Baja on your own chartered sailboat! Download this PDF to share with your friends and enjoy this limited time 10% discountContact us today to start planning your ultimate cruise in Baja!

lets go favorites

P.S. You can stay the night before and the night after your trip on-board or in a lovely hotel in La Paz (not included) and arrange airfare through Cabo San Lucas (SJD) or La Paz (LAP) International airports (also not included).

Another Happy Guest

Abi and her family came down to see the whales are are hopefully going to stay with us during our Spring Break trip April 5th, 6th, and 7th -

Just wanted to say thank you for organising our visit this weekend just gone. We had the most amazing time with the whales (and dolphins!), and everyone down at the camp is great, we loved meeting them. The setup and the team you have down there are genuinely excellent. 

We are very much hoping to be able to come to your Espiritu Santo camp in April.

Abi Wainwright – 2012

Thank you Abi and Family!

2012 Poised as a Record Breaking Year of Whales!

Cooler water temperatures associated with the 2012 La Nina conditions are partially responsible for the increased number of whales in the San Ignacio Lagoon this season. As of Saturday February 25th there were 347 gray whales counted in the lagoon according to the scientists of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. We are expecting a record number of gray whales to make it to the lagoon this year.

We have seen a higher number of whales born in the lagoon earlier in the season than in other previous years.

mama and baby gray whale

This means more friendly encounters with mama and baby pairs. The babies need a couple weeks to become strong enough for the mother whale to feel comfortable sharing her baby with visitors. These baby whales grow at a rate of approximately 50 pounds per day and they are now definitely ready for some curious interactions with visitors! We are also expecting the number of friendly encounters to increase as this season progresses  and as the single male whales move on to more fertile breeding grounds. The female gray whale usually mates one year and dedicates that next year to the development of the unborn offspring. Once the mama whale returns to the lagoon and gives birth, she will typically dedicate the next year to nourishing and caring for the baby. She will then normally mate again on her third annual trip south. The mothers and babies are usually the last to leave the lagoon in mid-late April.

We miraculously still have spaces available at the height of the season: March 6-10, 10-14, 14-18, 18-22. These trips begin and end in Old Town San Diego with a luxury bus trip over the border to meet our chartered Cessna Caravan for the direct flight to the lagoon. They will not be available for long.

Other trips available: Self-arrival or Trans-peninsular

The whales will be here until at least April 15th! It is sure to be a memorable, if not life-changing experience. 

Watch the video clip of our awesome whale encounter taken on Feb 13th.

Contact us today to reserve your spot.

Stay tuned for our new video series highlighting the entire San Ignacio experience.

For more information on La Nina please visit: http://news.discovery.com/earth/la-ni%C3%B1as-back-but-mild-111118.html

Birds and Whales in San Ignacio

John Symons

Photo: John Symons

Neotropical birds and gray whales have more in common than the fact that they can both be found in the San Ignacio lagoon each winter/spring. They both migrate south in winter and north in summer. They both depend upon the smallest invertebrates to fuel their journey. El Nino Southern Occilations (ENSO) create La Nina and El Nino weather patterns and they each have a dramatic effect on many species, including birds, whales, and humans. Effects can be felt around the word in very diverse ways: changing water temperatures, varying precipitation distribution, and fluctuating air temperatures. The species that depend upon the smallest invertebrates are affected the most – birds and whales. Also, when the arctic ice sheets recede the whales must swim farther for food, and therefore can arrive at the breeding lagoons as ‘skinny whales’. For the birds, when the salinity changes due to increased ice melt (typically during El Nino years), the conditions become favorable for small inverts rather than their preferred krill. But the birds can afford to be more flexible, their wings allow them to search out many different ecosystems.

There have been over 225 bird species identified in the San Ignacio Lagoon alone, some of our favorites are: Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe,  American Coot,  Cape-Pygmy Owl, the Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned and Mangrove Warblers; Verdins, Green herons, Phainopeplas, Vermillion Fly-catchers; Ashy, Black, Least, and Leach’s Storm-Petrels; Caspian, Royal, Elegant, and Forster’s Terns; Peregrine Falcons, and Gila Woodpeckers! Cross through the Vizcaíno Desert where Crested Caracaras, Red-tailed and Harris’s Hawks fill the skies from the palm-lined oasis town of San Ignacio. Visit the coastal and riparian environments of Loreto, home to the Blue-footed Boobies, Cactus Wrens, and the endemic Xantus Hummingbird and Grey Trasher.

Come check them out on an incredible trans-peninsular bird watching trip that begins in San Diego. We escort you across the border in a luxury bus and meet our private plane, a Cessna Caravan twin engine beauty that will whisk us to the San Ignacio Lagoon. There we whale watch for a few days and then we cross over to the Sea of Cortez, checking out all kinds of habitats that house a very diverse array of bird species. Trip ends in Loreto, a charming town on the Sea of Cortez. March 22 – 30th – $2295 per person – min 10 max 12. Click to see a detailed trip itinerary.

Click here for more information on migratory birds.

Video from Laguna San Ignacio: Gray Calf and Mother

Gray Whale Calf and Mother on YouTube

When we watched this clip on the screen in the palapa at Laguna San Ignacio the night of Feb 13, after José’s excellent multimedia cetacean (whale and dolphin) biology presentation, the response from the guests and the staff was overwhelming. It made us feel unbelievably lucky to have been there at the right time with the right equipment the day before to capture the moment. We knew we should release it as soon as we could, so we are posting this clip of a very friendly Gray whale calf who first surprised us and then slowly approached our panga and teased us for a bit before checking us all out at close range. The mother even drew close and wowed us with her size and grace. The young calf had a great sense of both humor and timing, soaking us all a little while playfully swimming around the boat, rising up out of the water with ease.

We shot this footage as part of our exciting new project to put together video of the whale watching camp at San Ignacio Lagoon, whale shark day trips, and sailing the Sea of Cortez aboard El Mechudo, you can subscribe to be notified when new videos are posted. A heartfelt thanks to our fantastic guests and all the staff at the Lagoon, especially to our captains Antonio, Daniel, and Martin and our naturalists José and Beto. Antonio and Beto are featured in this clip. You can find out more about our crew here. We had an equally great outing the next morning and can’t wait to share the rest of the footage, to show off our camp at San Ignacio Lagoon and how easy we have made travelling to such a remote, unspoiled paradise.

The visionary policies of the conservation community that oversee the Biosphere Reserve surrounding the Lagoon to restrict the number of visitors keep the whales breeding grounds pristine. That makes moving experiences like these possible. The lagoon is teeming with gray whales right now and we still have spots open for individuals, families and groups left on this season’s Chartered Trips, but they are filling up fast and soon this record breaking migration season will be over. Overnight Trips are also available. To plan your own adventure you can call 1(800) 843-6967 or (858) 581-3311 from the states, or 612-123-4900 from Mexico. Full contact info is here. Or just email whales@cabanassanignacio.com to get the ball rolling.

Cabanas: the Most Comfortable Outpost in the San Ignacio Lagoon

When Tim and the Aguilars began their partnership the cabanas were a fine place to spend a night and visit the gray whales. Baja Expeditions has added a few more creature comforts that make even the most rugged camper sigh with delight and give those who cannot fathom the idea of camping their own resort in the middle of the Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Of course, we have kept our improvements in line with local practices and environmental commonsense. There is no waterfall in the palapa, but it does have a floor now. The showers are not double headed, but do deliver plenty of solar heated water to the happy guest.

Our first task was to rearrange the existing cabanas so that each had a water-front view from their windows. We added comfortable bedding and an improved solar-powered system to deliver light in the cabanas at night.  Then Jerry Freer arrived, a master carpenter who has called La Freidera home for most of last year and this making all kinds of wonderful aesthetic and structural improvements.  He started by reinforcing the cabanas and has labored to create patios on each of the 12 cabanas. He has added a ventilation window, a running water sink and counter, a closet or drawers, some paint on the interior and has repainted all of the cabanas’ exterior to suit their environment.

He has made the kitchen more functional, painted murals and signs, created a handicap accessible restroom and entrance to cabana and even made an observation deck!


History

As most of you know, Antonio and his family partnered up with Baja Expeditions three years ago. The Aguilars are a true San Ignacio family that have been opening their hearts and homes to you for decades – some were concerned that that Maria, Antonio, Daniel, Martina, and Octaviano would not be around to share in your experience at the lagoon. We are pleased to share with you that the Aguilar family is still very much a part of the San Ignacio experience and that this partnership has been a very positive experience for both Baja Expeditions and Antonio’s EcoTours.

Daniel is both a very talented skiff driver and a very knowledgeable guide. His guests always rave about his passion for the whales. His courteous skiff handling techniques ensure the groups’ comfort, while protecting the whales from any potential harm.  He is always smiling and he has an uncanny ability to predict the whales’ behavior, as if he has been conversing with them his entire life, wait…he has. He will be delighted to lead you to his favorite spots in 2012.

Antonio Aguilar’s bright eyes are always ready for adventure. His smooth skiff handling skills and decades spent in and around the San Ignacio Lagoon make him our Master Captain. Antonio has been escorting curious travelers to visit the whales for over 30 years. Many of you know he is also a very talented musician. He plays a mean guitar and sings with “Los Cochis en Levis (de la laguna)”. Antonio continues to lead trips and he is also pleased with his new shared responsibility of the camp’s operations.

La Maria is the absolute cheer of La Freidera has agreed to work in the kitchen part time! I say this first because if you recall, her cooking is acclaimed as the best in the Lagoon – seriously. Everyone in the lagoon rejoices at a dinner invitation from the Aguilars! She is the boss of the camp, I have never known a woman of her nature to be so equally intimidating and loving in the exact nanosecond. She keeps a close eye on all of us, and loves visiting with her friends and family. She will be pleased to see you!

Maria has shared some of her favorite recipes with her daughter, Martina. Martina is a very creative and talented chef as well. I look forward to her carrot bread in the morning with coffee, and even more her chocolate cake – it is delightful! She helps with a ton of other camp operations, and is always very welcoming to all guests.

Octaviano is very active in the politics of Baja – he has worked with us in the kitchen and lends a hand when needed. If you see him around, inquire as to the latest news in the lagoon – he knows it all!

So, really the only things that have changed are that Baja Expeditions provides support staff, purchases all food and equipment, and handles most reservations and marketing. Alejandro has been the camp manager at BE’s other camp for decades. He staffs, supplies, and coordinates daily operations with skill and ease. He is always excited to escape his camp duties and lead trips on the water: He has spent most of his life exploring both sides of Baja and is a fabulous guide. He is originally from La Paz, but envisions retiring to the tranquility of the lagoon one day. Jerry is a master carpenter. He has retrofitted the cabañas with an additional window and a back door leading to a patio facing the lagoon. He has made the camp handicap accessible and has improved too many aspects to name – you have to see his progress for yourself. Lupita, the famous fisherwomen of the lagoon has shown her versatility and business savvy by not only guiding trips but helping in accounting and other guest services. Beto is a newer addition to the Baja Ex staff, he has only been with us for about 4 years. He is a great guide, his clear explanations and thorough descriptions delight visitors. José Sanchez, the famous guide and whale biologist, still graces us with his presence. His knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious. He is a wonderful photographer as well.

OK, now that we reviewed the history and crew, we can get on to the fun stuff:

We are delighted that you are reading this – please stay tuned to our website and email family@cabanassanignacio.com if you would like to be included in our email list. Please contact us to get access to post your own pics Flickr account.

Please spread the word about the magic of the lagoon, those of you who have visited us know how different it is from what most people imagine before they visit. There are many ways to arrive to the lagoon, the most convenient method is to meet your Baja Expeditions rep at the hotel in Old Town San Diego, cross over the Tijuana border in a luxury bus, and then fly to the lagoon in a chartered plane.

“Over forty million people cross the border each year between Tijuana and San Diego, giving the region the busiest land-border crossing in the world.” – Wikipedia

Another popular method is to drive – please inquire about our special overnight trips.

You can also fly direct from LA to Loreto, BCS on Alaska Air, they fly four days a week. We can help you with hotels and ground transport from Loreto to the lagoon. Please inquire about your options.

Come visit us in 2012!