The Land of the Whales met us with desert-brown scenery and never-ending-forks-on-the-off-road all leading back to the same path. As we pulled into the Kuyima Eco Camp lost oasis of civilization (well, sort of), the vast San Ignacio Lagoon opened up in front of us.
The Eco-camp has a couple of options: “glamping” and “bring your own tent”. We chose “glamping”...
so a very nice tent was all set up for us with cots and sleeping bags when we arrived. The grounds are well maintained and are right by the beach. Since there are no restaurants or simply anything at all around for miles, the camp has a full kitchen and a chef preparing all of the meals.
Before our first “meet the whales” trip we grabbed lunch at the nice dining room palapa. All the seafood is locally caught and truly delicious, and the staff is ready to accommodate any diet restrictions and preferences.
As I have mentioned before, only a small section of the Huge San Ignacio lagoon is open to the whale watching and you can only get there by 10-passenger pangas (small boats) operated by the licensed guides. There can only be 16 pangas at any given time in the lagoon with a 90 min per trip restriction.
We get our full orientation:
Guide: “Do not touch the flukes (tails), blowholes, eyes or pectoral fins (flippers)! And have fun!”
Me: “uuummmm...anything else? So the rest is ok to touch?"
Guide: “Sure! Pet them, hug them and if they come up for a kiss...Kiss them as much as they want!”
Me: “Ha! Good one! Thanks for getting our hopes up...I will be so lucky if I just get to touch one whale with at least my pinky!”
We suit up: water shoes, windbreakers, life jackets, hats, dry bags, go pro sticks, water proof phone cases...ready for a photo battle, off in the little panga we go!
A short ride and we are in...I see the first blow! “Blow, Blow!!! Blow at 2 o'clock!!!” Our guide is giving me a “oh-you-poor-thing-is-this-your-first-time” grin, but I just can't stop...the excitement is spilling over...we all keep announcing every blow we see like total immatures. Not even 7 minutes later, our first caw/calf pair turns in and heads directly towards us. The mom wants to make sure “we are cool”,so she is the first one to come up right next to the panga! “Touch her, touch her!!” our guide yells out. Oh that's right, we can touch! Her skin is not like hard-rubber-cold-fish I have imagined: it is warm and very soft, almost squishy like a fat baby butt! The most ridiculous sounds come out of my mouth: a mixture of a scream and a laugh...I just touched a WHALE!!!
She comes up again and again with the calf beside her positioning herself perfectly to blow right in my face. If it wasn't for the windbreaker, I would have been soaked head to toe. As I turn around covered in whale-breath-glow my jaw drops: I see the calf spyhopping (head straight out of the water) next to my husband...like in slow motion I see his hands around the mouth of the baby (well, the baby is the size of our panaga boat) and his lips on another mammal...for faaaar tooooo long!:-) There was no guessing needed, it was not his “fault”, this beautiful “baby whale” came up to steal a kiss from him.
It's “all downhill” from here: we spend at least 30 min with that pair...sweet talking, touching, petting, scratching bellies and chins while they are both rolling on their backs with their eyes closed. Suddenly, the big Mama jolts her whole body and speeds off as if she has forgotten she had to be somewhere...Rico says: “she is going to breach!” and a second later her whole 45-foot-40-ton-post-baby-body leaps out of the water and lands creating one giant splash! Time to go little one, enough fun for one day! Will we see you again tomorrow?
With currently 88 caw/calf pairs in the lagoon and still over 300 whales total there is no shortage of interaction...we immediately “get picked up” by another pair that is all about scratching their bodies against our boat and using us as a “rubber-ducky-toy”. This big Mama really enjoys getting us wet, so she comes up and blows at us at just the right angle. Or maybe she just gets a kick out of my "laughing screams" that kind of become a norm at this point.
On the bumpy ride back to the camp I keep thinking about the TRUST these magnificent animals were displaying towards us – humans...Orcas and Humans are the only predictors they've got...after everything we have done to them!!! Drove them to the brink of extension...TWICE...20000 to 200...hunted and killed the moms in these same lagoons - the “safe havens” they came to give birth...left the babies motherless with no chance of survival...we, humans, did all of that!!!...and just 70 years later this huge-45-foot-dinosaur-of-a-mammal, that could have killed us with a one wrong move of it's fluke, just closes her eyes, rolls on her back and TRUSTS us, humans, AGAIN. We have to do better! we must do better...we owe it to their trust! No human nation or a race has been capable of such forgiveness...”Save the Whales” have never resonated with me more...holding back the tears while reflecting on one of the most humbling experiences of my life, I realize it's not over and I will get to do it all over again...tomorrow.
Back at the camp it's dinner time and we decide it would only be appropriate to freshen up. Part of me wants to keep the-trophy-whale-breath on me for as long as I can, but my husband doesn't find it that attractive. The camp has a solar panel water heater and shower rooms, but no running water so we take our “sun heated water” with us in the provided bucket with a cup to rinse off. It works great and we all share our surprise “that a half of a bucket was more then enough to shower”.
There is no WiFi or cell service...No IG, no FB, no news, no emails...kind of liberating, since in this day and age there are not too many places on earth where you are completely and officially “off the grid”.
We end up sharing our photos and videos, and talking about whales for the rest of the night. The entertainment after dinner is to have an ice cold beer while watching the most amazing star-and-milky-way filled sky, and going to bed around 8pm...falling asleep to the sound of the waves and dreaming of the hundreds of Friendly Gray Whales of Baja we are going to meet tomorrow.
Over breakfast I set a personal goal for today: Kiss a Whale! I put it out there, into the universe...I get greedy...Today or Never!
We “suit up” and find out that since the wind chop is pretty high today, we will be shuttled by land to the area right next to the whale watching spot. It's a pretty bumpy 10 min ride in the van, but upon arrival we are rewarded by the beautiful and calm mangrove with our panga awaiting us. Let the adventure continue, what will today bring?
If you are an experienced whale watcher, you know that the weather and the sea conditions completely change the behavior of the whales. In my personal experience, watching the Grays off the Southern California Coast, the windier – the more breaching and the high energy behaviors we usually see. Well, today is no different...we are seeing breaches all around, pec slaps (flippers slapping the water) and the most “alien-like” behavior of all: Spyhopping. It's hard to describe the feeling when suddenly-and-slowly submarine-like a giant, long head comes straight up out of the water just enough to show it's eyes...turns to the right, turns to the left...and slowly submerges beneath the surface...and now imagine, like in synchronized swimming, 4 or 5 of those heads popping out of the water like mushrooms...are they looking at each other? Are these aliens watching us? are we on another planet called “water world”? It's very mysterious and spooky an the same time.
Today we are not alone in our panga, we actually have another group of the first-time-”lagoonists”, and we have to share our space and “our” whales. We are definitely acting like the Pros: teaching them how much calves love the splashing, yelling at them: “touch it, touch it!” The interactions are endless...and suddenly we see a familiar face (well, two)...our pair from yesterday that so generously kissed my husband...they are back and they are coming over for more love! Hey, “newbies-on-board”! I have been nice and all, but these whales are MY friends, they are coming to see ME, so hands off!
After a very long petting session, the big Mama picks up the calf with her rostrum (nose) and pushes him up to the boat, to ME!!! All I hear is “KISS HIM!” all around me. Oh, you don't have to tell me twice! I lean over and put my lips on his soft, warm head. I just kissed my "hubby's baby whale"! CHECK! I'm good...we can go home now!
Not so fast, the Whale Land is not done with us. We are followed by another pair...no, wait a minute...that's two calves! Where are your mommys? They are playing and chasing each other and us, we hear a much louder blow...yep, the Big Mammas are here and watching us. Before we know it, we are in the middle of what the pros call “whale soup” - multiple whales rolling around together and all you can see are the giant whale parts being thrown around: flukes, pecs, bellies...this is overwhelming...the amount of Love and Joy I'm experiencing is just overwhelming...I stop touching them and I stop taking photos...I'm just silently taking this in...I feel like such a tiny person and so unbelievably fortunate. I'm wishing everyone I know and love would be right here right now just to experience this priceless moment... This is The Whale Land and they have allowed us to partake.
The ride back is the very opposite if smooth...it's rough, we are bouncing on the waves like that “rubber ducky” and that extra life jacket i'm sitting on is saving my butt right now, literally...but nothing can mess with my happiness – a true bucket list experience I will never forget.
We grab lunch, we watch videos, we swap photos, we talk whales...we don't even notice the lack of the WiFi.
It is kind of sad to leave the camp...one more night under those stars would be perfect. But it's time to go, it's time to share with the world what we have just experienced. On the ride back to the civilization we almost don't talk...it's like an understood silence...this place is magic, this place is like no other on Earth...I can be honest with myself, I'm Victoria and I'm a complete-head-over-heals-Whale-Addict...and I'm not ashamed.
I'm really looking forward to getting some cell service and WiFi, so I can already book the trip for the next year and this time we are not coming back alone!
Who is with me?