Fea­tures

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is known as the “aquar­ium of the world” and has of­ten been com­pared to the Gala­pa­gos Is­lands.

You’ll also visit pris­tine beaches on de­serted is­lands, hike in the oth­er­worldly land­scape, kayak along pic­turesque shore­lines and snorkel in the crys­tal clear waters amid schools of mul­ti­col­ored fish. Ac­tiv­i­ties are led by on-board nat­u­ral­ist Car­los Ga­jon, a per­son­able La Paz na­tive whose grasp of the re­gion's peo­ple, his­tory and ecosys­tem is en­cy­clo­pe­dic. Car­los was key to our group’s un­der­stand­ing of the re­gion and its unique ecosys­tems, and he never ceased to amaze us with his wealth of knowl­edge and fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries. In ad­di­tion, he is an ac­com­plished kayaker and diver, of­ten sup­ply­ing the boat with fresh fish, clams and scal­lops, which later found their way to our plates at meal­time, cour­tesy of the su­perb tal­ents of Chef Tra­cie Tri­olo.

Each evening or late af­ter­noon, the boat would an­chor at a dif­fer­ent lo­cale, typ­i­cally in a se­cluded and pro­tected bay. The idea is not to travel dur­ing the night, but rather the day, al­low­ing pas­sen­gers to fully ex­pe­ri­ence the jour­ney. And, in case you’re won­der­ing about noise at night, rest as­sured the boat is quiet, as it has an elec­tri­cal sys­tem that al­lows the cap­tain to go twelve hours at an­chor with­out run­ning a gen­er­a­tor. Un­der the star­lit skies, it’s of­ten so quiet that you’re able to hear the hump­backs thump­ing or “pec slap­ping,” along with the pant­ing breaths of the sea tur­tles.

I found my­self fix­ated on the color of the water, which ranged in hues from azure and aqua­ma­rine to emer­ald and turquoise, de­pend­ing on time of day, van­tage point and the winds. Ev­ery­one on­board had dif­fer­ent de­scrip­tions for the sea, but we all agreed it was a con­stantly chang­ing beast that could be calm and invit­ing one minute, then choppy and in­hos­pitable, the next. We were for­tu­nate dur­ing our cruise that the weather gods were in a good mood.

One of the most mem­o­rable ac­tiv­i­ties you’ll have the chance to par­tic­i­pate in is snor­kel­ing with the sea lions at Los Is­lotes, two guano-cov­ered rock islets, one with a large sea lion colony. More than 400 Cal­i­for­nia Brown sea lions make their home here. You’ll find these sleek and in­tel­li­gent crea­tures lolling on rocks catch­ing the rays, bark­ing to one an­other, assert­ing dom­i­nance in “king of the hill” fash­ion and frol­ick­ing in the water. If you’re lucky, the young’uns will come right up to you, want­ing to play. They’ll do flips, spin around and try to get you to mimic their an­tics. These con­sum­mate co­me­di­ans are guar­an­teed to make you laugh.

An­other is­land of note is Isla Pardito, a tiny fish­ing vil­lage with only twenty res­i­dents. Lo­cated about fifty miles north of La Paz, this com­mu­nity has been the home of five gen­er­a­tions. Years ago, the first in­hab­i­tants came to the is­land, search­ing for a peace­ful place away from the neg­a­tive in­flu­ences of town, where they could make just enough money to live sim­ply. They chose the spot be­cause it lacked nosee-ums, the pesky, al­most in­vis­i­ble mos­qui­tos that can drive a per­son crazy, as well as the fact that it had ideal ac­cess to prime fish­ing waters. On our visit to Pardito, we met Sylvestre, one of the few res­i­dents re­main­ing on the is­land, who greeted us and showed us how to fil­let the trigger fish he caught the pre­vi­ous night. This mel­low and tasty fish sub­se­quently turned up on our plates at din­ner that evening.

Isla San Fran­cisco proved to be one of the best snor­kel­ing spots for our group, as we saw schools of col­or­ful king an­gelfish, spot­ted grunts, gold and blue snap­per, trum­peters and even a boldly striped ze­bra mo­ray eel. For kayak­ing, San Jose Is­land pro­vided a pic­ture-per­fect set­ting to pad­dle around, fol­lowed by a walk on Oyster Beach to a light­house and salt­wa­ter la­goon. The lat­ter was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing as it had huge amounts of foam lap­ping at the edges of its body of water, as well as in the crevices of the sur­round­ing veg­e­ta­tion, mak­ing the plants look like they were dec­o­rated with cot­ton balls. The la­goon also ap­peared to have a cop­per bot­tom, which we were told was due to the rust ef­fect from the al­gae in the salt­wa­ter.

A walk through the ar­royo and down into the canyon at Punta Bal­lena pro­vided good ex­am­ples of some of the many types of cacti that are found in Baja, such as car­don, choya, bar­rel, agave, or­gan pipe and tiny mam­mil­laria. The va­ri­ety is ex­ten­sive with a mul­ti­tude of shapes and sizes. Some of the cacti looked dis­tressed due to lack of water or be­cause an­i­mals had got­ten to them. One or two were in early bloom, pre­sent­ing col­or­ful flow­ers to en­liven the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that the more arms a cactus has, the older it is. We saw plenty of “se­nior ci­ti­zens” in res­i­dence!

On our trip, we were for­tu­nate to

be able to visit Santa Catalina Is­land in Loreto Bay Na­tional Park. Due to its re­mote lo­ca­tion and of­ten pre­vail­ing strong winds, this is­land can be a chal­lenge for boats to reach. Catalina is known as the land of the giant bar­rel cacti and walk­ing among these be­he­moths made me feel very small and in­signif­i­cant. The plants grow in larger pro­por­tions be­cause the is­land has its own mi­cro­cli­mate. They stand as grand sen­tries in this unique land­scape, where the en­demic rat­tle-less rat­tlesnake roams. An­other dom­i­nant fea­ture of the is­land is Ele­phant Rock, aptly named for its like­ness to an ele­phant whose trunk is hang­ing down into the sea. On the beach was a dead sea tur­tle that had most likely been washed ashore many months ago. Join­ing it was a dead st­ingray with its stinger still in­tact. See­ing this sharp, ser­rated “knife” up close gave me a new­found respect for the ray’s lethal weapon. The pièce de ré­sis­tance, how­ever, was when we were head­ing back to the West­ward and spied a ham­mer­head shark leisurely cruis­ing through the water.

Ex­plor­ing the is­lands is also akin to tak­ing a walk back in his­tory, as many con­tain pre­his­toric mid­dens as­so­ci­ated with past hu­man oc­cu­pa­tion. On Puerto Gato, for ex­am­ple, you can find shards of rocks that were most likely used to sharpen tools. Other is­lands are known to have bones that pos­si­bly be­long to the mys­te­ri­ous Per­icú, a fierce, in­de­pen­dent tribe that dis­ap­peared over a cen­tury ago af­ter be­ing ex­posed to Euro­pean dis­ease.

Meal­times are a de­light on the West­ward, with the crew join­ing pas­sen­gers at the ta­ble to see what de­lec­ta­ble culi­nary sur­prises the chef has whipped up. Chef Tra­cie is a ma­gi­cian in the kitchen. She uti­lizes in­gre­di­ents from lo­cal providers when­ever pos­si­ble to cre­ate whole­some, yet tasty dishes, mak­ing use of spices and herbs she grows in pots on-board the boat. Know that you will eat well and that the food is a def­i­nite high­light of the trip. One night you might have broiled clams as an ap­pe­tizer, fol­lowed by turkey en­chi­ladas with mole sauce. An­other night it could be pro­sciutto-wrapped chicken or pork loin with sweet potato and Brus­sel sprout hash. Seafood reigns supreme, as fresh fish and shell­fish are con­ve­niently avail­able. Lunches are equally as var­ied, from home­made pizza to lob­ster rolls and ce­viche. Tra­cie even makes her own sushi! And the desserts are heav­enly, es­pe­cially if you’re a cho­co­holic.

The fourth mem­ber of the crew, Randy Good, serves as the ship’s car­pen­ter and en­gi­neer. He was equally in­stru­men­tal as the other

three crew mem­bers in cre­at­ing a warm and hos­pitable en­vi­ron­ment on the boat. On our trip, Randy was mainly oc­cu­pied with putting on some fin­ish­ing touches to the West­ward, though he was never too busy to stop and chat or lend a hand helping with a va­ri­ety of du­ties. And come meal­time, he was al­ways ready with a witty re­mark or hu­mor­ous tale to re­count, of­ten shar­ing the floor with the ever-en­ter­tain­ing Cap­tain Bill.

Dur­ing the jour­ney, I saw the ease with which pas­sen­gers and crew formed bonds and be­came a close knit fam­ily. There’s a won­der­ful sense of ca­ma­raderie that ex­ists on this type of trip, as those who choose such an ex­pe­ri­ence are gen­er­ally open and friendly in­di­vid­u­als, cu­ri­ous about their sur­round­ings, while pos­sess­ing a deep and abid­ing respect for na­ture. And be­cause there are no tele­vi­sions or com­put­ers or cell phone ser­vice that works while you’re cruis­ing the Sea of Cortez, you will be to­tally un­plugged, leav­ing more time to cul­ti­vate friend­ships and be­come con­nected to this re­mark­able and idyl­lic re­gion.

For more in­for­ma­tion, con­tact Ad­ven­ture­smith Ex­plo­rations, the world's lead­ing on­line re­source for small ship cruises, adventure cruises and adventure travel got to www. ad­ven­ture­smithex­plo­rations.com

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