ANGELS IN MEXICO – OUR BAJA TRIP

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

Our drive down Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula took us along Hwy. 1, a very narrow and winding passage with no room to move off the blacktop.  Through desert and rocky hills, it passes scarce outposts of civilization where few people, if any, speak English.

POW!  We heard the blowout on a trailer tire.  I looked to the right and realized we were

POW!

POW!

10 feet from a Pemex gas station, the Mexican-owned system of fueling stops with mini-markets.  I pulled in just enough to get us out of the road.  Ten minutes later the “Green Angels” arrived to change my tire.

The Green Angels is a posse of government-sponsored multi-talented people, ready to help and

Our Angels -- Tony and Isaiah

Our Angels — Tony and Isaiah

protect tourists plying the remote spaces of Mexico.  Fantasy RV Tours, with whom we were traveling, had hired them to escort our RV caravan for the entire trip, and, I assure you, no members of our troupe were as thankful to have them along as Monique and I.

I have often written and spoken about how RV caravans are not journeys where rigs all travel in a queue.  That’s obviously not always true, because on our 1,200-mile round-trip, our 14 rigs mostly stayed together, almost always in sight of the rig in front of us.  It’s not a command, but it seemed like the best way to travel these precarious roads.

When one travel trailer in our band tried to leave room for a motorhome to exit first from a

Stuck

A tough spot to be in when the caravan is ready to move on.

resort RV park, the truck and then the trailer sunk down into sand about a-foot-and-a-half.  It was the Green Angels that dug that rig out.   [Since we were the only travel trailer in the 14-unit caravan, I’m forced to admit it was I who got into that mess.]

Driving back toward the U.S. through the mountains in an isolated area, we saw a Green Angel on patrol providing water to a car that had obviously overheated in the 88-degree temps.  That wasn’t us.

But, going through the congested Town of Tecate near the border, a local motorcycle policia stopped me for going through one of the dozens of stop signs (which neither of us saw).  He didn’t speak English; we don’t speak Spanish, so we couldn’t explain our side of the story to let him know that we had to stay with our group going through the border crossing.  He demanded that we follow him to the police office, something we did not want to do, knowing that it could be two days before being allowed to leave.

It was the Green Angels who talked it over with him and retrieved my driver’s license.  He waved us onward to U.S. Customs.

The tail or "fluke" of a Finwhale thrills our crew in Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez

The tail or “fluke” of a Finwhale thrills our crew in Bahia de los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez

Read on in my two-part blogs for details about petting baby grey whales and lots of other great memories, but I first wanted to share with you a very powerful reason for entering Baja Mexico as part of a caravan. Having gone with Fantasy RV Tours & Creative World Travel, which may be the only company currently scheduled to go onto the peninsula, we certainly can recommend the tour.

But, mainly, I want to say that thanks to the “Angeles Verdes,” the Green Angels, there was never a time when we were concerned for our safety.  Tony and Isaiah kept their professional distance, but melded well with the entire group, joining us for a few of the

Traveling down the road, through desert and rocky hills, the Baja Whale-Watching RV Caravan Tour was a positive memory

Traveling down the road, through desert and rocky hills, the Baja Whale-Watching RV Caravan Tour was a positive memory

Fantasy-prepared casual dinners.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

COMMENTS FROM OUR READERS:

FROM JULIE IN WASHINGTON STATE — I, too had assistance from the Green Angels while traveling in Mexico. The “caravan” consisted of my motorhome and my aunt&uncle with their 5th wheel. And none of us spoke Spanish. My serpentine belt broke, and of course narrow road out of Sonoyta. The Angels showed up within 5 minutes, got the belt removed.  My uncle had all my manuals, they took him back to the town, to two stores and found the belt that would work. I has a gasser at the time, one Angel took off the doghouse cover inside, and had to lay on his belly, (and I could see holes in the soles of his shoes), while the other worked from the outside. They got it on and we were once again ready to drive within an hour. They did not charge me, but I have them each $50, and Hershey chocolate bars. They seemed more excited over the candy!!

They were so nice and polite.  We have travelled as far south as Puerto Vallarta many times and always have had very pleasant and friendly encounters with locals.  When driving thru small villages the people wave and smile.

I am Julie from Washington state. I have really enjoyed the posts you do, and followed your Alaskan adventures with envy.

 

WHALE-WATCHING IN BAJA – A WOW!

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

You can read in magazine articles or see programs on TV about how whales can communicate with humans, but being among them brings it home!  It qualifies as a lifelong memory.

Members of the Fantasy Tours caravan celebrated  their chance to pet the grey whale calf hoisted to the boat by Mama.

Members of the Fantasy Tours caravan celebrated their chance to pet the grey whale calf hoisted to the boat by Mama.

Driving down to Scammon’s Lagoon, where the massive grey whales breed, give birth and play, is … well, let’s just say “an adventure.”  To negotiate “the much-improved roads” for 600 miles from San Diego, California, takes patience and constant alertness.  More on the ride down in a moment, but we are here to pet whales, and that’s what we did.

A whale-watching launch (the locals call them “Panga”) holds eight tourists in seats along

Mother and baby coming toward the boat can be daunting, but none of these massive mammals touched the boats.

Mother and baby coming toward the boat can be daunting, but none of these massive mammals touched the boats.

the sides and three in the middle.  For those on the sides, there is a better opportunity to touch or even pet the newly born calves.  I set my cameras down long enough to stick my hand out and feel the skin on the nose.  Each of our crew who had the experience described it differently, but I didn’t hear anyone say anything other than it was a thrill.

Grey whales are incredibly large beasts.  When the mothers swim past the boat laterally, they just keep going, something like when those 18-wheelers whiz past your RV on an interstate – seems to never end.  The word for them is “mammoth.”   These sleek leviathans can be identified by unique spots that have formed from years of having barnacles on their backs.

I don’t want to spoil the moment for you when you get down here, so I won’t go into further detail about what you might see and feel.  I will dwell a bit on the sensation of realizing that you’re among mammals that seem to enjoy the chance to show off their calves to the travellers.  Mammals, like your dog or cat, interact with humans.  What may be hard to imagine is that these huge creatures of the sea are mammals just like us and relate to us.

Spectacular moment.  Mama Whale breaches (lifts out of the ocean), while Baby spouts approval.  One of my all-time favorite photos.

Spectacular moment. Mama Whale breaches (lifts out of the ocean), while Baby spouts approval. One of my all-time favorite photos.

The protected preserve in the vicinity of Guerrero Negro may be a one-of-a-kind town.  There are whale-watching tours throughout the world, but nowhere else that I know of provides an opportunity for people above the surface of the ocean to interact with these heroic-sized mammals.

Cirio and Cordon cacti surrounded us on much of the trip through the desert.  This area is called "The Rock Garden."

Cirio and cordon cacti surrounded us on much of the trip through the desert. This area is called “The Rock Garden.”

It’s a special experience, in which we are participating as members of a Fantasy RV Tours & Creative World Tours caravan.  As I sit in the lobby of a hotel/RV park writing this, I hear dozens of arriving travelers asking for parking sites and rooms no longer available.  I’m thankful that our part of the trip is to drive, eat and enjoy.  No problemo!

Most of the roads are narrow.  Making it more of a challenge is the lack of shoulders: veer

Driving through desert and rocky hills makes for a tedious journey, but worth it when we got out into the boats.

Driving through desert and rocky hills makes for a tedious journey, but worth it when we got out into the boats.

too far to the right and you’re struggling to get back on the blacktop.  Making the trip more interesting are military inspections and fruit inspection, none of which, for our group, was an actual inspection; it was simply a minor delay.  Two other delays were tolls and pest control spraying:  again, no big deal, but we shelled out pesos for the privilege.

A few bad spots in the road, lots of potholes to look out for, and miles of steep grades all made the drive interesting.  Easing the concern over safety and roadside problems were two Angeles Verdes, “the Green Angels,” a team of Mexican tourist department agents who stay with the caravan to keep us out of

Our Green Angels escorted and protected us all along the 1,100-mile trek.

Our Green Angels escorted and protected us all along the 1,100-mile trek.

trouble.  They are there to get us through traffic situations and make minor repairs along the way.  We have enjoyed their participation in some of the group functions.

There is lots to see on the route, from the unique vegetation like cardon cactus and cirios or boojum plants; the rock garden; the shanty towns; the ocean.  Since it is slow-going on the roads, we had plenty of time to get to know the landscape.

One other stop while in Guerrero Negro was the salt mines, actually the 42,000 acres of ponds and salt refining – largest facility of its kind in the world.  Definitely an educational experience only a short trip from where our whale-watching boats docked.

Looking ahead to the next chapter in this trip, we turn to the northeast of the Baja California Peninsula, pushing our rigs toward the Sea of Cortez, with the experience of seeing the grey whales in their southern habitat before they begin heir 6,000-mile swim northward.

Many evenings during our 14-day caravan ended with social get-togethers.

Many evenings during our 14-day caravan ended with social get-togethers.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

 

MORE WHALES AND SO MUCH MORE PART 1

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

 By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

Going out in a panga into Bahia de los Angeles, a bay on the Sea of Cortez, seemed a more interesting diversion than sitting by our travel trailer looking out to sea.  After all, by the time our caravan pulled into this scruffy little Mexican town in Baja California, we were ready for more adventure.

The Never-Bored RVers were far from disappointed by their decision to shell out $34 each to cruise around the bay.  As soon as our skipper, Joel, launched us onto the rich blue waters, we were getting our money’s worth.  I quickly spotted a whale’s spouting mist high into the warm air a quarter-mile ahead of us.

It was a finback whale, the second longest animal on our planet, and it was right there in front of us.  American naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews called the fin whale “the greyhound of the sea… for its beautiful, slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship1.”  But, after two days in Guerrero Negro on the Pacific side of Baja, would this be an anti-climax?

Whale Watching

Not for a second.  While we didn’t see a breach (where the whale comes out of the water) or a spyhop (similar to a breach, but this is when the whale goes straight up to look around the surface of the water).  The broad dark tail fins (flukes) glistening in the morning sun excited members of our two boats time after time.

Attention to their performances was often interrupted by the dramatic dives of the blue-

Coming down at 60 mph - Ouch!

Coming down at 60 mph – Ouch!

footed booby – yes, there is such a thing, and that’s the real name.  A dozen times each minute, these sleek seabirds circled and dove from heights of up to 100 feet at 60 miles an hour into the choppy waves.  Tough way to feed a seafood habit, but cheaper than a rod, reel and boat.

Whale WatchingFrom our distance, we had to take Joel’s word that they have blue feet; however, later in the voyage my trusty camera showed it to be true.

In my excitement to relate our mini-cruise, I’ve blurted out lots of words and chose some appropriate pictures … and at that point, we had more than three hours remaining before turning toward our dock.  There will be much more in Part 2, but before turning to starboard, I’ll spend a moment to talk about Joel [pronounced “Hoel”], the enterprising captain of our craft.

“Joel, how did you learn to speak English so well?” asked a shipmate.  “I have learned from friends and Americans who come down here, but if you ask me about anything other than the boat, the bay and the animals we see, I don’t know.”  He did know a lot about his environment and was very capable of explaining it all to us and answering questions.  A smart man.

Joel in command of the panga and the language

Joel in command of the panga and the language

And his interest in learning has been passed along to his son, a marine biologist, and daughter, a college student in philosophy.  I mention this because, despite our being surrounded by a totally different culture than what we experience in the States and in Canada, we met many educated locals.  And those I encountered who understood no

Senora brings our change in pesos after filling the tank.  We appreciated her smile.

Senora brings our change in pesos after filling the tank. We appreciated her smile.

English were very friendly, which we found very welcoming when pulling into a Pemex gas station and not knowing how to say “Fill it up.” Stay tuned for Window Island and Skull Island, clamming and more.

1 This and corroboration of other facts was through Wikipedia.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved

 

THROUGH A BAJA WINDOW — PART 2

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the seriesBaja California

By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers

Our little boat sped onward, cutting a wide wake through the mildly choppy waters of Bahia de los Angeles.  We had been adequately entertained by the flukes of finback whales and the speed-demon descent of blue-footed boobies.  Our skipper, Joel, was now steering his panga out of the areas of the bay closest to shore, out to the islands of the Sea of Cortez.  Some of us weren’t ready to leave so soon, but what choice did we have?

As Monique & I have often experienced in our RV travels, some diversions along our path to adventure, expected to be humdrum, actually turned out to be the fondest of memories.  This 4-hour cruise was one of those unexpected highpoints.

Rather than weaving a verbal account of our afternoon at sea, I’ll present a few pictures to tell the story, with a bit of commentary as explanation:

BIRDS:

It was a seabird-watchers’ fest.  “Birds of a feather flocked together,” some intermingling, and some going solo, but they were everywhere and the variety kept us looking to take it all in.  I know most of the species, but I prefer to give you just a sampling of our observations.

1.  THE BIRDS COLLAGE

SEASCAPES:

Our skipper knew the history of every island and pointed out interesting sights, like caves and wildlife inhabitants.  Skull Island, top left, (with its “Bird Snow,” the result of centuries of bird habitation) and Window Rock, below, stand out as memorable formations, but every point of land had its own fascination for our party.

2c. Seascapes

SEA LIFE:

With the Sea of Cortez depths so crystal clear around the islands, it was easy to see underwater from our boat, and even get decent photos of a few.  Every species that we handled was returned to the seabed – except the clams, which supplemented our evening barbeque and later became the feature attraction in clam chowder.

3. Sealife

ABOVE THE SEA:

And finally here we are, plus a predatory coyote scanning a rocky island for its dinner.  What we didn’t see were big-horned sheep, which inhabit that same island, but we were satisfied with all the sights, sounds and sunshine of a wonderful day on the Bahia de los Angeles.  That’s us at top left, me second from left and Monique on the right, with Patty, Mary Ellen, Judy and Steve in the crew, in a photo taken by Joel, bottom right.  As the clam-diggers gathered dinner, the other boat drifted into shallow water, adding to the fun of the day.

Creatures

Thanks for joining us on this voyage that was a lot more exciting than we expected.  And by now you’re probably tired of “Three-Hour Cruise” theme music churning through your head, so it’s time to return to U.S. soil.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

© All photos by Barry Zander.   All rights reserved