Day 6 – Los Islotes

Sea Lions, Hiking, and Beachside Bonfires

Our Un-Cruise Adventure through Mexico's Sea of Cortes really hit its stride today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our Un-Cruise Adventure through Mexico’s Sea of Cortes really hit its stride today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

March 6, 2014

Imagine the sound of dozens of sea lions barking, and you’ll have some idea of the atmosphere out on the open decks this morning aboard Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager, as we arrived at our anchorage off Baja Mexico’s Los Islotes.

Un-Cruise Adventures' Safari Voyager arrives off the calm waters of Los Islotes this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager arrives off the calm waters of Los Islotes this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Located near La Paz, Los Islotes is a group of islets notable for its abundant sea lion population and crystal-clear waters that are perfectly suited to snorkelers. In fact, Lonely Planet says Los Islotes is also an ideal location for scuba divers, thanks to a network of underwater caves and various offshore shipwrecks in the nearby waters.

A light continental breakfast was served in The Lounge this morning in place of breakfast to allow guests to hit the Zodiacs early. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A light continental breakfast was served in The Lounge this morning in place of breakfast to allow guests to hit the Zodiacs early. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Because it’s so close to La Paz, Los Islotes can become crowded with tourist boats as the day progresses, so the Expedition Team aboard the Safari Voyager kicked things off early this morning, with the first of several snorkeling shore excursions departing the vessel at 7:30a.m.

Safari Voyager's first zodiac of snorkelers heads ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Safari Voyager’s first zodiac of snorkelers heads ashore. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

To accommodate this, a light continental breakfast was offered in The Lounge on Deck 3 that came complete with yogurt, fresh fruit, oatmeal, cereals, toast, bagels, and of course tea, coffee and juices. Full breakfast in the Restaurant on Deck 1 was changed to Brunch to be offered at 10:30a.m., following our morning adventures at Los Islotes. Lunch was skipped, and dinner was served 30 minutes early at 6:30pm. But with all the activity we were doing, I found myself extraordinarily hungry in the afternoon – so much so that I decimated a half-container of pretzels at the bar during Happy Hour.

Sea lions play in front of Un-Cruise Adventures' Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sea lions play in front of Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Snorkelling with the sea lions was, by far, the most popular excursion offered this morning. The sea lions are playful but can be slightly aggressive. Like small children or puppies, they are highly excitable and tend to enjoy physical contact. This means that snorkelers can be knocked around by them quite a bit, and nearly everyone was the recipient of a few nips and play bites.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Snorkeling is a bit lost on me because I need glasses to see properly; without them, everything’s a blur. My Nikon also doesn’t get along with seawater too well, so I opted instead to take the guided Zodiac tour of Los Islotes to see the sea lions.

It turned out to be just as good as snorkeling: the waters surrounding Los Islotes are so clear that you can lean over the zodiac to admire the rocks and coral below. In fact, I frequently quit watching the sea lions in order to catch a glimpse of a starfish-covered rock or to admire the brightly-coloured fish swimming just beneath our craft.

The waters off Los Islotes are so clear, we were able to watch fish swimming underneath our Zodiac. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The waters off Los Islotes are so clear, we were able to watch fish swimming underneath our Zodiac. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The sound sea lions make when they bark is something like a nymphomaniac choking on a grapefruit. Some sound like warning cries, while others more closely resemble grunts of extreme satisfaction. When put together, they create this cacophony of sound that can be heard from all sides of Los Islotes. Add in the squawking of the birds that have decorated the reddish rocks rising from the sea with a few dozen coats of pearl white guano, and you have the recipe for a place that’s totally unique in its sight, sound and smell.

The striking landscape of Los Islotes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The striking landscape of Los Islotes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sea Lions basking in the sun. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sea Lions basking in the sun. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
We even explored this narrow archway through the rocks. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
We even explored this narrow archway through the rocks. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sea Lions weren't the only creatures that were out and about at Los Islotes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sea Lions weren’t the only creatures that were out and about at Los Islotes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Safari Voyager at anchor at Los Islotes. One of the most beautiful mornings so far this trip. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Safari Voyager at anchor at Los Islotes. One of the most beautiful mornings so far this trip. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Heading back to the Safari Voyager for the short cruise to Bonanza Bay. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Heading back to the Safari Voyager for the short cruise to Bonanza Bay. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Back onboard the Safari Voyager, we casually set sail for our afternoon adventure spot of Bonanza Bay while brunch was being served in the Restaurant on Deck 1. Coupled with the early start to the morning and the decided lack of caffeine in most, it was probably the quietest meal we’ve had onboard all week!

Just after one in the afternoon, the Safari Voyager arrived at our anchorage in Bonanza Bay – a barren, half-moon shaped bay with roughly two miles of sandy beach. But I can’t help but notice that not far from us is Bahia de los Muertos – the Sea of the Dead. Naturally, I’m quite curious as to how that particular bay became so-named. I’d like to hope it involves shipwrecks and pirates, but in truth it probably has something to do with the salinity of the water.

Racing ashore at Bonanza Bay for our afternoon exploratory hike. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Racing ashore at Bonanza Bay for our afternoon exploratory hike. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Zoom! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Here in Bonanza Bay, guests can while away the afternoon as they please, setting out on one of several guided kayaks; enjoying a beach exploration walk; or squeezing in some final snorkeling. It’s also possible to just go ashore and do as you please, even if that involves nothing more than a good book and a cold cerveza.

I had initially signed up for the 1:30pm snorkel excursion on the beach with Expedition Member J.P., but changed my mind after we had arrived and dropped anchor off Bonanza Bay. If, like me, you decide to change your mind, it’s never a problem – just go down to the laminated sign-up sheets down by the reception desk and erase your name from one, and sign up for another.

Coming ashore for our hike...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Coming ashore for our hike…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...and setting off into the unknown, in true explorer style. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…and setting off into the unknown, in true explorer style. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Instead of snorkeling, I wanted to take one last overland hike. These overland journeys have been the real surprise of the trip for me, and I have enjoyed each one immensely. People may come to Baja primarily for the marine wildlife, but the landscape is just as memorable.

Led by Hannah, we set out across the beach to blaze our own trail. Part of an existing trail was marked with small rock cairns, but finding it was no easy task. We even had a bit of a Deliverance moment as a man – who we’ll refer to as “The Stranger” – emerged from the underbrush and asked if we were lost.

"You folks lost?" Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
“You folks lost?” Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

It turns out The Stranger was from Colorado and was visiting aboard one of the three sailboats at anchor with us in the bay. But it was an oddly cinematic experience – after all, this is how most horror movies begin. The Stranger pointed us in the direction he’d come from and explained how far he’d ventured out. Hannah thanked him, as did the rest of our small group, and we went our separate ways.

Within seconds, he had disappeared entirely, leaving us to wander through Nature’s Funhouse.

The Sea of Cortes - or Nature's Funhouse, as I like to call it, is full of prickly surprises. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Sea of Cortes – or Nature’s Funhouse, as I like to call it, is full of prickly surprises. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I say ‘Nature’s Funhouse’ because that’s what I came to think of our desert environment. Everything here is seemingly designed to prick, stick, spike, or sting. Do you know how cacti reproduce? They leave these little offshoot ‘pods’ that look like extremely sharp burrs, and can range from pea-sized to something as long as a pickle.

Seeds from the Cardon Cactus are razor-sharp, and stick to anything. We had to use pliers to get them out of the soles of our shoes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Seeds from the Cardon Cactus are razor-sharp, and stick to anything. We had to use pliers to get them out of the soles of our shoes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

They’re so sharp that, after only a few minutes of walking, the soles of shoes were absolutely caked with these pods, many of which had embedded so deeply into the rubber that it was necessary to use pliers (supplied by Hannah) to extract them.

Hannah explains the age of a Cardon cactus to us. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Hannah explains the age of a Cardon cactus to us. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A word to the wise: this is not the hike to wear sandals on. One member on our expedition did, and it turned out to be a mistake. Even in my hiking boots, I had to hike my socks up as far as they would go to guard against getting burrs stuck in my legs.

But to be honest, that’s all part of the fun. We’re explorers in the truest sense of the word here, and a good hike should be both interesting and challenging.

The desert landscape here was desolate, but intriguing. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The desert landscape here was desolate, but intriguing. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Watch where you swing your arms - or rest your hands! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Watch where you swing your arms – or rest your hands! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
One member of our group spied this dead Tarantula, baking away in the heat of the day. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
One member of our group spied this dead Tarantula, baking away in the heat of the day. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
There was also signs of life that we couldn't see. Note the snake track in the dirt. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
There was also signs of life that we couldn’t see. Note the snake track in the dirt. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
And yet, even in the desert, life thrives. Here, a light-as-a-feather seed pod is illuminated in the setting sun. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
And yet, even in the desert, life thrives. Here, a light-as-a-feather seed pod is illuminated in the setting sun. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

It was also a great afternoon for wildlife-spotting. We saw numerous black jackrabbits, hummingbirds and lizards. There was evidence of snake activity present in the soft sand, with sinewy trails betraying their presence. We even saw a dead tarantula spider, baked to a crisp in the heat of the desert. Despite tarantulas being nocturnal, it was with great hesitation that we poked the furry spider with one of our Nordic walking sticks.

Once we’d returned to the beach after three hours of overland exploration, Expedition Member Denee picked us up in one of the ship’s zodiac rafts, and promptly took us on a detour to see some dolphins she’d spied on the way in. The waters were so clear we could see them swimming alongside the zodiac, and a few even jumped out of the waters close to us.

Heading back to the Safari Voyager...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Heading back to the Safari Voyager…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...but not before another wildlife detour! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…but not before another wildlife detour! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A dolphin swimming next to our Zodiac, underwater. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A dolphin swimming next to our Zodiac, underwater. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After a delicious dinner onboard (I had the braised ribs with applesauce), the crew of the Safari Voyager set up a beautiful bonfire on Bonanza Beach and invited guests ashore for smores, Baileys and coffee (or wine and beer), storytelling, music, and – of course – the chance to sit and socialize around a bonfire.

Sunset cocktails onboard Safari Voyager during Happy Hour. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sunset cocktails onboard Safari Voyager during Happy Hour. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

About a dozen guests, including myself, took the 8:15p.m zodiac ashore, though I was disappointed that so few of our fellow guests joined us. No matter – that left more Baileys for us to enjoy, along with the privilege of having such a small group.

Baileys on the Beach: the crew of the Safari Voyager threw a Beach Bonfire for guests tonight. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Baileys on the Beach: the crew of the Safari Voyager threw a Beach Bonfire for guests tonight. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Expedition Member J.P. reads some Sea of Cortes-specific poetry and stories to the small group of us assembled around the fire from the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Expedition Member J.P. reads some Sea of Cortes-specific poetry and stories to the small group of us assembled around the fire from the Safari Voyager. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The two hours we spent on the beach this evening could very well be the highlight of my Un-Cruise adventures here in the Sea of Cortes. Everyone comes here to see the wildlife, and while it’s no doubt impressive, it’s not what has stayed with me the longest. The little events that really put you into the heart of the Sea of Cortes, like tonight’s bonfire, are the ones I will treasure most.

To sit on the beach with nothing but the light of our bonfire and a few torches to mark a perimeter would be special anywhere. But to do it in the remote Sea of Cortes, with no one around for miles, surrounded by darkness – that’s truly unique.

Roasting marshmallows to make smores. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Roasting marshmallows to make smores. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

As the rest of the world races toward the end of another day or speeds toward the start of a new one, time stands still on Bonanza Beach. When we left, only our footprints remained on the beach, the colour of the sand darkening with the extinguishing of each torch, until nothing more could be seen. In the next hours and days, the wind and tide will continue their relentless march, obliterating any evidence that we were ever there.

Un-Cruise doesn’t just slow things down. They show you a side of the world that is in danger of becoming extinct.

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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One Comment

  • I am thoroughly enjoying your commentary Aaron! You represent our voyage perfectly.

    Reply

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