A Whale Watching Journey to the Pacific
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
March 4, 2014
As the sun rose on our fourth day of sailing Mexico’s Sea of Cortes aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager, everyone awoke already excited and revved up for the day ahead. This was no ordinary Tuesday: today, we’d be setting out on an overland journey from the small port of Puerto Escondido where Safari Voyager is docked today, bound for the marine wonderland that is Bahia Magdalena.
Bahia Magdalena – or Magdalena Bay – is located about two hours west of Puerto Escondido, which is itself located about 30 minutes south of Loreto. The bay is situated on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, giving us the unique opportunity to make a complete overland crossing of Baja from east to west.
In order to reach the Pacific and Magdalena Bay, guests from the Safari Voyager were on-shore by eight in the morning, ready to pile into six passenger vans for the journey west.
Along the way, a 30-minute rest stop was made at a local hotel to allow guests to make use of the facilities and stretch their legs. If you’re hoping for some cellular telephone reception here, you’re not likely to get it: my international iPhone couldn’t get a signal, and a few folks managed to pick up a network but were unable to call out or send text messages. Even on land, this part of Mexico is so rural that you’re still largely cut-off from the outside world.
Following the bathroom break, another twenty minutes of driving brought us to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, home of the annual Festival del Ballenato that celebrates the numerous births of grey whales that occur here every February. As it turns out, the timing of our visit couldn’t have been better.
Bahia Magdalena is a protected bay running 50 kilometres in length that acts as a secluded breeding ground for Pacific grey whales. It is separated from the vast openness of the Pacific Ocean by the sandy dunes of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita, along with dense clusters of mangrove swamps that act as a bit of a sanctuary for birds of all sizes.
After donning lifejackets, we set out aboard local boats for nearly three hours of whale-watching – and were not disappointed. Adult whales and their offspring even swam up to some boats and allowed people to touch them after their occupants splashed the water around their boat with their hands.
Our boat wasn’t so fortunate, but even just the sight of this happening to others in our group was a sight to behold. Some images from the day:
Following our whale watching, we drove about five minutes back into town for a superb lunch at a local restaurant, a lime-coloured building with the somewhat simplistic word “Restaurant!” painted onto the side.
Lunch featured fresh lobster tail along with breaded shrimp, fish, Mexican rice and a small salad. It was also absolutely spectacular – fresh, flavourful and most importantly, local. No attempts were made to Americanize our local lunch ashore, which I always appreciate when traveling to another country.
It’s worth noting that if you don’t eat seafood or have special dietary concerns, they can generally prepare you an alternate meal. One guest at our table was Vegan, and they managed to whip up a bowl of lentil soup that actually smelled really quite good.
Of course, the crew from the Safari Voyager brought ample cerveza’s to accompany lunch.
Back onboard the ship this afternoon, the usual Cocktail Hour in the Lounge on Deck 3 had the added twist of doing double-duty as Trivia Hour aboard the Safari Voyager. I teamed up with two girls from Kentucky that are roughly the same age as me, and together we formed Team KFC: Kentucky Fried Canada.
Team KFC came out of the gate strong, identifying four of the different names for the sea we’ve spent so much time sailing on: The Sea of Cortes, Sea of Cortez, Aquarium of the World, and the Gulf of California.
After that, Team KFC took a mini-siesta: we weren’t able to name how long the peninsula is, nor describe how many different species of wildlife are present here. We flunked the whale section, and barely got the distance between Baja Mexico and the mainland right.
This all changed on the final tiebreaker question: two points for each ship in the Un-Cruise fleet you can name correctly. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what I do for a living – if you’re reading this blog, I suspect so – but this question was the proverbial ace in the hole. We were the only team to correctly name each and every vessel in the Un-Cruise fleet.
In the end, Team KFC actually won trivia aboard the Safari Voyager, and went home with a nice map of Baja Mexico. For future cruisers: study your Un-Cruise brochure!
After dinner in the Restaurant on Deck 1, passengers returned once again to The Lounge on Deck 3 for an event that was initially met with some skepticism on the part of guests aboard the Safari Voyager, only to end up being one of the most prized moments of this voyage: Passenger Talent Night.
What could have been ten minutes of groan-inducing failure turned into a three hour marathon of laughter and liquor as we discovered our fellow shipmates held talents that were musical, lyrical, theatrical, and humorous.
Onboard, we have a professor of classical music who played a stunning piece for us on a guitar. One of the senior crew members performed two theatrical Shakespearean monologues that left everyone in absolute silence. One passenger sang Hobo songs that left everyone in tears of laughter.
In amongst this frivolity, Hannah and Staff Captain Kevin announced the results of the Oscars that had just been sent into the ship from Un-Cruise headquarters in Seattle. There were jeers and cheers for different categories, with most of the ship being heavily divided over Gravity. This was accompanied by more than one guest reciting the famous, “I’m the Captain now” line from Captain Phillips.
Unlike previous nights when the Lounge would empty out around 9p.m., the Talent Show continued until well after 11p.m., with guests lingering on past midnight.
That’s the brilliance of a small-ship cruise.
Un-Cruise, Safari Voyager: Mexico’s Sea of Cortes
|Day 1 - Embarking Safari Voyager in Los Cabos||Embark Safari Voyager; welcome cocktail and dinner.|
|Day 2 - Hiking Ensenada Grande||Begin the week's adventure in this home to humpback whales, mobula and Manta rays, tuna, dolphins, and hammerhead sharks.|
|Day 3 - Isla San Francisco||Snorkeling and kayaking in Half Moon Bay; interpretive hike; possible post-dinner night swim.|
|Day 4 - Bahia Magdalena||Guided hike at Isla Santa Catalina to see the world's tallest cactus; explore the Bahia Agua Verde coast by skiff|
|Day 5 - Bahia Agua Verde||Wildlife and marine mammal watching & scenic cruising; sunset bonfire (weather permitting.)|
|Day 6 - Los Islotes||Don a wetsuit for a pre-breakfast snorkel; enjoy an afternoon of aquatic fun at Ensenada Grande; farewell dinner|
|Day 7 - Gordo Banks||Disembark Safari Voyager; onward journey home|