Day 5 – Bahia Agua Verde

It’s Always Sunny in Bahia Agua Verde

A horseback ride through the Baja landscape was offered today as part of our Un-Cruise Adventure for those who wished to partake. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A horseback ride through the Baja landscape was offered today as part of our Un-Cruise Adventure for those who wished to partake. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

March 5, 2014

This morning, guests aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager had to make a difficult choice over breakfast: the decision to see Mexico’s Bahia Agua Verde by land, sea – or burro.

Sailing toward Bahia Agua Verde this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sailing toward Bahia Agua Verde this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Depending on how good your Spanish is, you might know that burro means ‘donkey’, and today would be the only day for guests to have the opportunity to explore the landscape and the beginnings of the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range by this traditional mode of transportation.

Also available this morning was the option to set out on an overland ridge hike to the top of the island overlooking the Sea of Cortes; or the option to snorkel in deeper waters via the ship’s motorized Zodiac rafts.

Along the way, more opportunities for wildlife spotting appeared. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Along the way, more opportunities for wildlife spotting appeared. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The burro ride sounded like fun, but knowing my luck I’d get the donkey the locals affectionately refer to as ‘Slippery Pedro.’ The one with the club foot that’s had its head in a bucket of Pacifico all morning.

All kidding aside, what I truly wanted today was another taste of the fantastic overland experiences I enjoyed in Ensenada Grande and Isla San Francisco. Both were tremendously active and adventurous, but most importantly I had the opportunity to learn an immense amount in a short period of time. And I was not disappointed with my Ridge Hike choice today.

At anchor off Bahia Agua Verde on another beautiful morning in Mexico's Sea of Cortes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
At anchor off Bahia Agua Verde on another beautiful morning in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Un-Cruise Adventures' Safari Voyager off Bahia Agua Verde. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager off Bahia Agua Verde. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Led by Expedition Team member J.P., our small group of four guests began with a vigorous hike up to the top of the ridge overlooking the Sea of Cortes, just to the right of the town. We blazed our own trail up to the top, clambering over loose gravel and small boulders and squeezing along narrow openings between cacti and bushes littered with thorns and other barbed bits of fun.

The reward at the top: a magnificent panoramic view of the whole of Bahia Agua Verde.

Our hike to the top of Bahia Agua Verde was enormously rewarding. These hikes have become my unexpected favorite activity ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our hike to the top of Bahia Agua Verde was enormously rewarding. These hikes have become my unexpected favorite activity ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Expedition Team member J.P. next to one of the massive cactus's that line the landscape. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Expedition Team member J.P. next to one of the massive cactus’s that line the landscape. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The rugged landscape is different from what we've seen on previous islands... Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The rugged landscape is different from what we’ve seen on previous islands… Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...but the views are just as spectacular. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…but the views are just as spectacular. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After trekking down the mountain, our explorations of the surrounding tidal pools along the beach were just as much of a highlight. In a short 45-minute walk, we encountered the skeletal remains of numerous hammerhead sharks; a handful of skeletons belonging to balloon fish, cornet fish, trigger fish, and the remains of oceangoing birds that included turkey vultures and pelicans.

Hiking back down the hill, towards the shoreline and the tidal pools teaming with nature. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Hiking back down the hill, towards the shoreline and the tidal pools teaming with nature. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

But the living organisms were just as fascinating, with many being so small as to almost escape notice. There’s the hermit crab with its minute body and oversized, diverse array of shells. We also got to hold and touch a small purple sea urchin, which resembles a spiked ball that, after resting in your palm for a minute, makes the oddest sensation as it tries to grasp hold of your flesh.

Of course, I sound reasonably smart saying all this; the truth is, I’ve had to refer to the Safari Voyager’s excellent library and a book called Sea of Cortez Marine Invertebrates 2nd Edition (2001, Sea Challengers Publications) and Sea of Cortez Marine Animals (1998, Sea Challengers Publications) in order to properly remember what it is I’ve seen.

Tidal pools on the rocky shoreline of Bahia Agua Verde. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Tidal pools on the rocky shoreline of Bahia Agua Verde. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The upside-down skeleton of the head of a hammerhead shark. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The upside-down skeleton of the head of a hammerhead shark. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Here’s where I have to shift gears for just a moment. As fantastic as these overland explorations are, there’s a few things that need pointing out, all of them relating to the Safari Voyager. This is a vessel that Un-Cruise purchased last year and pressed into service in the fall. But like buying a used car, you sometimes don’t learn that the muffler drags and the stereo doesn’t work until you get it off the lot.

Deck 2 forward of the reception area still has the unpleasant smell of blackwater that’s venting back into the vessel. The crew are fully aware of this, and the necessary changes are being made, though I suspect the issue will persist for a while longer. This summer, Un-Cruise plans to put the ship in drydock for an extended period, and my hope is that all of these issues will be a moot point before the busy fall season kicks off.

The Deck 2 corridor aboard Safari Voyager, facing aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Deck 2 corridor aboard Safari Voyager, facing aft. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sadly, as of right now, that means almost no one is utilising the beautiful, forward-facing Library, which seems to bear the brunt of the smell along with the Deck 2 corridor. Guests are also advised to run their AC systems only during the day, as the blackwater smell seems to be amplified in the forced-air system.

Complicating matters, the Public Address (PA) system is barely audible in the ship’s dining room on Deck 1, but rings loud and clear in staterooms, corridors and the lounge. This is leading to a lot of confusion among guests, particularly with multiple announcements being made during dining hours. It really ruins the ambiance of dinner when someone has to come down and tell guests to be quiet when the PA is activated.

While the public rooms look fresh and beautiful, staterooms seem to have been overlooked. The carpeting and soft furnishings are new, but there are aspects of my room that aren’t as polished. In the past few days, I’ve had problems with the onboard electrical (lights turn on sporadically, or sometimes not at all), and the hot water in my shower just flat-out refuses to work. (as a post-cruise sidenote – the hot water issue was resolved later that day.)

The reverse angle of my Commander Stateroom 217, facing the entry door. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The reverse angle of my Commander Stateroom 217, facing the entry door. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

It may sound nitpicky, but I do have an issue with some of the amenities that aren’t here and should be. If the advertising lists iPod docking stations and terrycloth bathrobes as being present onboard – as the current Un-Cruise brochure does – they should be in staterooms today. Not later, not eventually – right now. At this point, neither are.

One big Un-Cruise bonus: guests can visit the ship's Navigation Bridge at almost any time. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
One big Un-Cruise bonus: guests can visit the ship’s Navigation Bridge at almost any time. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Now, I don’t want to scare anyone off with the above comments. This experience has, on a big-picture level, been quite good. But at this stage, Safari Voyager seems to be the most dissimilar to the rest of Un-Cruise’s ‘Luxury Adventure’ vessels – many of which have features like hot tubs, saunas, memory-foam mattresses and dedicated wine bars. The crew are obviously trying their best to make the ship and the itinerary run seamlessly despite the technical challenges, but it’s clearly been stressful for them as well.

“Inclusive” might be a better way to describe the current Baja product aboard Safari Voyager than “Luxury.” If I had to, I’d say Safari Voyager has more in common with the line’s green-hulled “Active Adventure” ships. It’s not a negative, but rather a quantifier.

It’s something that guests need to go into the cruise being aware of. As with any mode of travel, expectations are everything.

The sun begins to set on Mexico's Sea of Cortes and the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The sun begins to set on Mexico’s Sea of Cortes and the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My main course this evening. Food onboard has been exceptionally good. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My main course this evening. Food onboard has been very good. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Despite that, our return journey to the Sea of Cortes showcased some of the most spectacular displays of marine life we’ve seen so far this voyage, rivalling even our day yesterday in Bahia Magdalena. Whales breached and jumped out of the water, chased by rows of playful dolphins. So numerous was this marine life that we essentially cut the propulsion to the Safari Voyager’s engines in favour of bobbing around for the better part of the afternoon in the Sea of Cortes.

I’ve also been taking the opportunity to catch up on my Baja knowledge by reading the Lonely Planet Baja & Los Cabos guide included as part of Safari Voyager’s onboard library; as well as John Steinbeck’s classic The Log from the Sea of Cortez, based on his journey through the region with friend and marine biologist Ed “Doc” Ricketts. It’s a masterful book, though perhaps not as high on shock value as the Lonely Planet guide, which includes this amazing description of the air quality in Tijuana on Page 56: “The air quality in Tijuana on any given day will knock a buzzard off a shit wagon.”

Expedition Team Leader Sarah conducts our next day's briefing in the lounge. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Expedition Team Leader Sarah conducts our next day’s briefing in the lounge. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Here onboard the Safari Voyager, everyone is looking toward our adventures tomorrow as the night winds down. There’s a very pleasant shipboard routine at work, where everyone meets for dinner in the Dining Room on Deck 1, then transitions up to the Lounge on Deck 3 for a nightcap and our next day’s briefing.

The chatter revolves around what has come before us – and where we’re headed tomorrow. But most importantly, what adventures the next day will bring.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Un-Cruise, Safari Voyager: Mexico’s Sea of Cortes

PORTACTIVITIES
Day 1 - Embarking Safari Voyager in Los CabosEmbark Safari Voyager; welcome cocktail and dinner.
Day 2 - Hiking Ensenada GrandeBegin the week's adventure in this home to humpback whales, mobula and Manta rays, tuna, dolphins, and hammerhead sharks.
Day 3 - Isla San FranciscoSnorkeling and kayaking in Half Moon Bay; interpretive hike; possible post-dinner night swim.
Day 4 - Bahia MagdalenaGuided hike at Isla Santa Catalina to see the world's tallest cactus; explore the Bahia Agua Verde coast by skiff
Day 5 - Bahia Agua VerdeWildlife and marine mammal watching & scenic cruising; sunset bonfire (weather permitting.)
Day 6 - Los IslotesDon a wetsuit for a pre-breakfast snorkel; enjoy an afternoon of aquatic fun at Ensenada Grande; farewell dinner
Day 7 - Gordo BanksDisembark Safari Voyager; onward journey home
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