Pattison on Wheels

Thursday, March 6, 2008

3-6-08: No Whales Allowed In The Boat

I couldn’t resist taking another whale watching trip even though the original plan for Ojo de Liebre was just to commune from shore. But there were so many blows and backs visible that it just seemed right to go among them. I went out with some nice folks who had a couple youngsters with them. Girls maybe six and eleven.

Whales all around us. We were barely arrived in the area when a very frisky young whale took a liking to us and cavorted, rolled, smooched, bumped the boat, stood on its head with tail up at the surface, and a couple times seemed to want to get into the boat with us. This went on for about an hour. Momma standing by and her size letting us know that we were to be nice to baby.

These things are huge. Why weren't the children scared? Or me for that matter?

The driver was very gentle and not pushy. We got lots of contact and were surrounded by whales in all directions. The thing about this place is that there are a lot more whales in this lagoon than in any of the others. You can look in any direction and see whales at just about any time. Another great day.

Down the road to Guerrero Negro and into a motel to process photos, shower et al. Life is good though I am somewhat worn out from boating excess.

3-5-08: Ojo De Liebre, AKA Scammon's Lagoon

Up to a fabulous breakfast of French toast with honey/banana/mango sauce. I’m almost embarrassed to eat this well.

On the road again. Great scenery on a calm morning. I thought I might check into the motel in Mulege again and catch up with the Internet but the hotel was full so I took it as a sign to head on north. I was thinking about some of the things we had been talking about the last few days and recognized myself as an other-directed person—someone who lives their life to please others. Much of my time is spent imagining how I must look from the outside.

There is a twist. Since people don’t really admire people pleasers, the dedicated people pleaser must act like an independent person—not a people pleaser. Anyway, I watched myself try to plan my next destination against the background of checking to see if I was doing it for myself or for my friends or for my blog or just because it might make a good impression some day. Understand, I’m driving down a road, all alone, usually not with even one other car in sight. I’m alone, by myself. Struggling with a relationship that isn’t there. It wasn’t that easy to sort out but I eventually found myself heading for Ojo de Liebre the premiere grey whale hangout.

I tried the road to Ojo de Liebre in 1977 on a motorcycle and was turned back by the deep sand. The sand is still there but fairly well groomed now and it let me in. I looked around for a campsite and watched the spouts in the distance. Many spouts. More than one per second in the binoculars.

I chatted with some of the other campers and asked some of them what to do about overpopulation. I keep asking. Maybe someone will get me a clue one day. Or not.

A heavenly sunset and some photos of it then this writing and, after dark, a motorcyclist arrived and camped near by. He came over to chat. He’s got here from San Francisco in three days. I told him to take a break. Too late for the restaurant I gave him some chips and a banana and the layout and the setup as I understand it here. Possible panga tomorrow at eight.

3-4-08: Finding Azul

It looks good. We head on out of the harbor and encounter a humpback whale right outside. We checked it out, snap some photos and head south stopping to visit with various fin whales along the way. Sergio and Hiram wanted so badly to see blue whales that they were sort of disappointed every time JJ would say with authority that they were fin whales.

Sergio asked the driver a question and he assented and next I knew Sergio had put his camera in a waterproof case, stripped to a bathing suit, donned fins and mask and jumped overboard with a whale. We did this a few times and he probably got some good underwater shots.

We were still looking for a blue whale and Hiram was beginning to chant: “Azul, azul, azul.” It was a beautiful day and we went quite far. South almost to Isla Monserrat. Other pangas were out there. Some fishing, some looking at whales. We joined another boat near a fin whale and when the whale dove after its several blows our driver went near enough to ask the other driver if they had seen any blue whales. The driver said: “Yes, right over there.” So we went that way and almost immediately saw a beautiful huge blue whale. And then others. Sergio got quite close to one in the water. We were all quite pleased. We kept the driver out as long as we could and got a lot of photos. At last we had to go and the wind came up and we quite a rodeo on the long ride back to the harbor. Altogether, since this morning, almost nine hours in the boat. What a day!

We bought food and went back to David and Lura’s place and ate more and then the biology contingent had to leave for La Paz and I went to bed and slept like a stone.

Understand that this photo is just the front half of this enormous animal.

3-3-08: Decayed Turtle

Me and the biologists went down the beach to see if we could schedule a boat ride with a local fisherman for tomorrow morning. It is blowing like stink today and is forcast to calm tomorrow. We’re thinking positive.

Later we took a ride into Loreto where we wandered around looking for ingredients for tonight’s paella. We got some very bad directions from a very attractive woman and got quite a lot of exercise in the process. We saw the first mission on Baja. As I looked at the stone work I thought of the indians who were doing the work and the history that I have been learning about this chapter in human endeavors. It didn’t improve my hope for humanity.

The biologists found a decayed green turtle on the beach and amused themselves by disecting it. Left to right igoring the dog: Sergio, Hiram, David, JJ.

Great food again. This Lura person turns out to be quite the cook. I’m getting a lot more civilization than I have experienced for a while. To bed early to rise before dawn.

3-2-08: Daily Adrenalin Requirement

I took the camera and tripod down the beach at dawn in hopes of getting some photos of egrets but the weekend had brought too many tourists so I got images of a gorgeous sunrise, some vultures in a palm tree, the sunrise hitting the Sierra De La Giganta, and passed an the sunrise hitting a giant cruise ship going slowly into Loreto to the north.

I had a weird experience where I went to a restaurant in Puerto Escondido and sat down, telling the hostess that I would like some breakfast. She and another person went about doing a lot of chores, setting up tables, putting table cloths out, moving chairs around. Eventually I just got up and left not knowing what it was all about but not feeling good about it. I gave myself lectures on confrontation but went out anyway. Then I noticed that the plastic that covers the underside of the engine on my car was dragging on the ground. I’m beginning to feel worse.

I hiked up a canyon inland from Puerto Escondido. I tried to record some of the virtuoso mockingbird song but they would stop and leave just as I was tuning on the recorder. I was feeling more and more insecure. There was no one else in the canyon and I thought about what it would look like if I slipped off one of the giant boulders and couldn’t walk out. I got a look at a caracara and got a photo but forgot to adjust the camera for action shots so missed an opportunity. The climb was going OK though the problems were becoming more and more difficult. Finally I came to a place that was a bunch of 30 foot boulders jammed in the canyon and some smooth walls on either side. I tried several approaches and couldn’t scale the last 10 feet or so. I tried another approach and took it a little farther than I was comfortable before I realized that it was another dead end. I started to go back and got my holds crossed but kept trying until I was stuck with only one good hold with my right hand near my stomach so I was completely supported by my right arm extended downward. It was tiring to hold as I explored other foot and hand holds and none of them seemed trustworthy. My heart rate was going up from the exertion and I looked down to measure the consequence of losing it. It was about 20 feet down onto bare rock. Not good. I heard myself say: “Ouch!” I heard myself say a lot of things in a kind of rational calm voice that didn’t have any solutions at all. Suddenly I was moving using very questionable holds and quite surprised. This was completely unsupported by rational decision making but worked. I got down and even after a couple minutes my heart rate was way beyond what my doctor would recommend.

It was kind of miraculous actually. Who was running things in that moment? I took my time going back down the canyon stopping to meditate from time to time. I felt a lot better. I realized that none of my worries was that big a deal.

When I got back to the beautiful beach at David and Lura’s place they had some guests and were eating delicious goat cheese with fresh tomatoes that came from the Sunday farmer’s market along with home grown basil. They had steak and chicken on the grill.

More friends—three whale biologists arrived just as the meat was served and we had another feast. We chatted as the wind came up. The biologists were seeing whale spouts out in the channel and we were speculating on the variety. Possibly fin whales. When it got dark I got the computer out again and worked on photos into the night. The three biologists: Sergio (sayr-heeo,) Hiram (ee-rahm,) and Jotajota (Jay-jay) liked my photo of the grey whale barnacles.

3-1-08: To Junkalito

Humans have distinguished themselves by being maladaptive. We adapt the environment to us by tinkering with it. At some point we may so alter our support system that it will no longer provide for us. I suppose that is a conservative position.

In the foggy early morning hours I heard a coyote from inland, a few whale blows from the estuary, and a lot of roosters from town. A study in comparative adaption.

I was able to see a few whales this morning from a distance and quite a few whale watchers en route to the area. Some of the boats were full of screaming children having as much fun from the fast boat ride as from the whale watching. I fooled around taking bird pictures until my tent and gear finally dried out and made my way to Junkalito where I found David and Lura expecting me. They made me comfortable and fed me well.

When the sun went down I got out the computer and checked email and paid bills and checked out the recent photos until time to go to sleep.

2-29-08: Whale Circus!

As I awoke early there was almost no one about. It was a beautiful sunrise on a beautiful day. The water of the estero was mirror calm. I took photos of the boats, birds, the cannery, whatever. It all looked good in that light.

As the boat drivers started arriving and working their hustle I folded up the tripod and wandered back to my camp spot for breakfast. As I was eating a gringo approached and invited me to join their party and split the cost. I accepted and packed up and off we went. There is one spot where most of the whales seem to be and there were plenty of whales but none came right up to the boat. It all seemed a bit too commercial and the boat driver would put the boat right in front of the whales which seemed pushy to me and one of my fellow tourists kept talking baby talk to every whale she saw. It was a gorgeous day and I felt privileged to be among the whales but I see there are issues with this whole bridging-the-gap thing. If we treat what may be the most brave and wise ambassadors from another species as if they were puppies for our entertainment we might not get to the crux very quickly. And the crux is a great mystery which can be stated simply. “What’s in it for them?” We know the comercial and stuffed animal gratification that the humans get from it. What do the whales want from it? Why do animals, some of which may well remember our slaughtering their kind, make this overature of trust and affection?

Back on land while I had a nice parking lot chat with some of the gringos the crowds poured in. Busses. Big tour busses. School busses. A truck with equipment for a disco band for the evening festivities.

So I headed out of town looking for a place I could see the whales from shore and be away from town. This morning was too promising to leave it behind quite yet. I spent more than five hours on roads which were not suitable for this little car. Finally I did find a place though. Tucked into the mangroves but with a view of the water I pitched my tent on a strange rubbery clay ground much of which is paved with scallop shells. I don’t know if there will be whales here but it is on the estuary north of town but somewhat south of the real whale area. But who knows, maybe early in the morning . . .

2-28-08: To Lopez Mateo

I did as much Internet uploading and telephony as I could before check out time at noon and then hit the road. I had no destination but headed south. I stopped in at Playa Coyote to see if Frank was there. Someone I met at Playa Santispac mentioned that he was an interesting guy and I might like to meet him. I saw a tent next to an ancient and huge Mercury sedan. Then I realized that the guy who told me I might like to meet this Frank was parked right next to him and having seen me drive in was now waving me in and welcomed me and introduced me to Frank. Frank and I chatted for quite a while as he painted a deck on the front of his boat. The deck was specially designed to accommodate his dog. Frank is from Taos New Mexico and works as a plumber up there but is clearly a free spirit and living well. A man grateful for his life.

After a while I started getting itchy so I pulled out on Highway One again. I went through some amazing, stark, consistently weird country. Lots of views of the water with its amazing colors and a wealth of cacti. Near Loreto I saw some whale spouts and found a place to pull over. There were three young men there pointing toward the whales to show me before I even got stopped. I got out the binoculars and we took turns watching a couple pods. They were convinced that we were seeing blue whales but I need more research. I thought blue whale spouts were like fire hoses almost solid liquid straight up rather than the puffs of mist we were seeing or the heart shaped puffs from the grey whales.

Anyway, time to go and still not knowing where. I got to Loreto and wandered around the beach. I took some pelican photos and talked to some people then I went grocery shopping and drove a little south to scout out a place that should have a twelve step meeting tomorrow. I found it easily in a government development called Nopolo. I still didn’t know where I was going as I passed the place I am to meet my friend day after tomorrow. I could go there now and meet our hosts but I didn’t come all this way to be a guest so just pulled over and read the camping guide. The young whale watchers had mentioned there were grey whales at XX Mateo and it was almost in range so I went there by passing through the mountain range called Sierra de la Giganta, stark, rocky, and vertical, like broken teeth against the lowering sun.

It got dark on the way and what the guidebooks tell you about not driving at night is true here. I dodged quite a few road cows. Lots of osprey nests on platforms put on top of utility poles. The pairs of parental osprey silhouetted against an outrageous pink sunset.

The town doesn’t seem to have any hotels, motels, or campgrounds but they let you camp near the whale-watching area. I talked to some boat drivers who were hanging around and they told me all sorts of places I could camp including the covered roof of one of the stores along the beach. I opted for a remote spot at the end of a large cleared area right next to the water and some mangroves. Made myself a home, cooked dinner, and after eating I took a walk to explore the scene. There are about fifty boats ready to go tomorrow from the dock. A map shows an extremely long estuary opening to Magdelena Bay in the south with other openings to the north. Another world to witness and be with.

As I got ready to go to sleep I heard an exhalation coming from the beach that at first I thought might be a horse. There was something familiar about it alright. Then I realized it might be whale. So I walked the 20 feet to the beach and sure enough, it was coming from the estuary. So I walked out on the dock and as I passed the guard he asked: “Oiga una ballena?” Si. Yes, I heard a whale. I spent quite while out there hearing a mother and baby cruise by slowly toward the south. Then another whale came by. Later I heard what were probably dolphins. I heard more whale sounds when I awoke during the night.