Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Island Hopping the Sea of Cortez in Baja Sur, Mexico

(Due to the extensive number of pictures on this post, the previews are smaller than normal - click on any picture to expand to full size)

We recently booked an Island Hopping trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site in the Sea of Cortez.

Mindy Gleason (mindyg@oars.com) of OARS provided great service setting-up & coordinating all of our arrangements. The expedition itself was provided by local outfitters Mar Y Aventuras in La Paz, Mexico, co-located with the Posada Luna Sol hotel.

Due to very unique and very unusual conditions, we ended up being the only participants on this expedition, essentially our own private expedition for a week!!! The only exception was that we were joined by another couple for the first night only.

Before heading out, we had a bit of time to visit a portion of La Paz. They have a nice beach along portion of the shoreline.

Along the main road by the sea, they have a very lengthy "boardwalk" made of ceramic tiles.

It turned out that National Geographic had their Sea Bird ship in port that day. Take a good look at the number of sea kayaks on the top deck!

Some pretty good ingenuity was on display in La Paz, with a transmission tower cleverly disguised as a very tall palm tree!

Our first day on the Sea of Cortez took us to the Mar Y Aventuras Base Camp on Espiritu Santo island. Click on this link to see a map of the area we visited on this trip, including islands named below.

It's here that we camped out for the first night under the stars.

We were treated by an intense sunset thanks to the clouds on the horizon.

The next morning brought us blue skies for our first full day on the Sea of Cortez

Our first snorkeling expedition was at Los Islotes, a sea lion rookery of impressive proportions. This is where my trusty Olympus Stylus Tough 1030SW camera went from being water-proof to being no longer water-proof. At first the screen stopped working, then just about everything else on the camera started to fail :-( It's a good thing I brought a back-up camera on this trip for the remaining pictures!

I managed to take a few very short videos of the sea lions, just enough to give you a feel for what it was like to snorkel with them.

From Espiritu Santo Island, we headed out in a 30 foot skiff skillfully piloted by Captain Chuy and a smaller 20 foot Skiff piloted by the Alberto, the Chef on this expedition.

We passed a small village on a tiny island, inhabited year-long by a handful of residents. I'll refrain from posting a picture to preserve this peaceful haven.

Our first stop would be San Francisco Island, to visit the largely abandoned but still operational salt ponds.

Next on our itinerary was San José Island for a 2nd night of camping.

We stopped at a lovely coastal village and were treated by a delicious manta-ray lunch by the very friendly residents. Again I'll refrain from posting pictures to protect their little haven.

Faced with continued waves of 4 to 6 feet, we slowly made our way along the coast line towards what would turn out to be our campsite for two nights in a row. This gorgeous bay was surrounded by wind-carved red sand-stone and provided welcomed shelter against the wind.

We visited the nearby the village of Tambobiche where an ancient mansion was paid by selling one (1) Perl from the Sea of Cortez!

This village won the state-run lottery for new schools. The roof is a solid block of Styrofoam to keep the temperature in the classroom as low as possible. A similar technique was used for an adjacent house.

Supper the first night in this bay included fresh scallops and lobster from the area, before settling into our tent after yet another gorgeous sunset.

The next day we set out on a hike to view the local vegetation and the rather unique geology

One last picture before leaving the bay, this time of my lovely wife on the beach next to our tent, with a Canadian registered ship in the background.

Throughout our hikes, expert-guide Carlos generously shared his knowledge of the area with us, including the local vegetation.

The most impressive vegetation we saw was on Santa Catalina Island, where everything seems to grow much bigger here than anywhere else we saw.

At the edge of the Santa Catalina is what's known as "Elephant" Island.

On our way to Monserrat Island, we were joined by some dolphins who seem to enjoy swimming under the bow of boats.

Monserrat Island has layer of brittle yellow-colored rocks that we had not seen on other islands.

We then made our way towards Isla Carmen. The skiff dropped us off at the tip of the island where we kayaked our way towards the next campsite.

On this island, campsites must be reserved in advance. In our case, we had a huge campsite to ourselves for two nights.

The kayak conditions were perfect and we paddled across to Danzante Island.

This campsite had it's fair share of activity from colorful crabs to playful dolphins, along with some artful driftwood.

Across the channel we spotted a large group of dolphins making their way up the coastline.

We were treated by yet another spectacular sunset to finish off our camping adventure.

Our last day was spent in the village of Loreto, where we enjoyed a warm shower at the Desert Inn and slept on a real bed for the first time in a week.

Like La Paz, Loreto has a Malecon that borders the shoreline. Unfortunately a portion of it near the hotel was under construction.

We visited some shops in Loreto and walked around to discover some of the local sites. Below is a picture of the Mission Loreto, founded by the Jesuit missionary Juan María de Salvatierra in 1697.

It's from the hotel in Loreto that we saw our most spectacular sunrise, hours before taking the bus back to La Paz for our flights back home.

We would like to thank the absolutely outstanding crew that we had on this expedition, it was truly a great pleasure to share this experience with them. On the left Captain-Comedian Chuy, in the middle Chef-Extraordinaire Alberto and on the right, Head-Guide & Best-Interpreter Carlos.

After 7 days of hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, camping, sightseeing and eating tons of fresh seafood, we are now back home with great memories of the trip we've been dreaming of to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary!

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