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Tony Bishop

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The Sea of Cortez

A beautiful stretch of sea, also known as the Gulf of California

Each day brought something different to do and see. One morning, we landed at the foot of a cardon cactus forest. It was a wall of huge cactus fingers set so close together, a cat would have trouble squeezing through.  Another day, while we went beach combing. Rich and Judy from the Seattle area found a private beach to enjoy their good bottle of pinot noir. Mary Anne and Joanne from Connecticut went off to find shells. And five others went boulder climbing.

Yet another day, it was kayaking along a cliff where the sandstone had weathered into graceful round pillars that folded at water level into thin caves. Above, a curtain of lacy rock feathered out and above that lay a crust dotted with cactus and scrub.

And one other morning we cracked open red rocks to find the most amazing batch of crystal lined geodes (which we got to keep).

Day five was the mules, courtesy of a local man named Alejo. Alejo’s mules wander free to graze the landscape, which isn’t easy in a place that hasn’t seen rain in two years. They’re sleek and healthy looking, most assuredly because they own amazing digestive tracts. Thorns, dead palm fronds, scraggly scrub ... they eat it all.

From the beach at Agua Verde, we rode up a trail, over a ridge and into a vast valley that looked amazingly like Arizona ... long lines of pastel pink hills, scrub desert sand and thirsty looking bushes. Then it was over to a palm oasis, up a ridge and back down to the beach.

But the day’s excitement wasn’t over.

We had just settled in after lunch when Kevin spotted fin whales off the bow. We hopped into the skiff and took off.

“These are the world’s second largest whales.  But what’s really interesting is how they use the oxygen they breathe,” Kevin said. “Eighty percent is stored for later use, letting them stay submerged to look for food.”

Lots of fins. Plumes of spray. Then ...

“How about some hot cookies,” came a voice over Kevin’s radio.

We swooped in for what Kevin called a “touch and go,” grabbed a basket of melting hot chocolate chip cookies and were off again. Maybe the whales smelled the cookies, for before we knew it, they were surfacing hardly 30 feet from us.

But that was only an appetizer for the next day, when we drove across the Baja peninsula to the Pacific side for gray whale watching at Bahia Magdelena. From the local skiffs called pangas, we watched a mom and two-month-old calf swim in tandem, so perfectly synchronized that their twin blowholes lined up perfectly.

Then the baby breached ... pushing his head and even one flipper clear out of the water. Not once. Not twice but more than a dozen times.

Our guide Judy explained that gray whales go south each year from Alaska to mate and give birth in the 30-mile-long, 60-foot-deep bay. Here, safe from orcas, the babies drink so much super rich milk a day, they can gain 70 pounds in 24 hours.

The lecture abruptly ended with a fountain of spray. Mom and the kid surfaced only yards from our boat, blowing a geyser straight into our faces. The baby headed straight for us, slipping cleanly under our boat and trailing his white tail within inches of our fingers.

Our last day, we visited Isla Coyote, the only island in the entire Sea of Cortez with permanent residents. From a distance, it looks like one of those rocks you see poking out of the Aegean Sea. But on shore, it’s distinctly Mexican.

Men were gutting and filleting shark-looking monkfish. These would be packed in salt from nearby salt pits and exported to Asia. At another table, huge manta rays got the same treatment. Caught the night before in nets, they would be sent to La Paz and served in seafood tortillas. Three families live here, hauling fresh water from outside or bartering for it with fish. The houses are simple but they do have electricity, thanks to generators, and satellite TV.

And finally, our last night.
Dolphins and rays and that blue whale.

And steak and lobster and creme brulee.

And to top it off, more glowing fish in the water, burning stars above and one last mojito in the hot tub.

More Stories By Bill Hirsch Yvette Cardozo

This husband & wife writing/photography team specialize in adventure travel. Yvette Cardozo worked eight years for major metropolitan newspapers; has done freelance travel and outdoors articles and photography since 1974.
Bill Hirsch worked at a variety of research and writing jobs in government and private industry and has been doing freelance articles since 1982.
[email protected]

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