Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and, above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams. ~ Donovan Bailey
Last week I wrote part 1 of my whale adventure in Baja in the Gray Whale calving grounds two-hours north by plane of Cabo San Lucas. This part will focus around my first whale experience once arriving in Baja, and some really cool history.
We landed on the beach and boated to our island camp. They correctly assumed after being picked up at 6AM, it was now 11:30AM, that we were starving. We had a lovely quick brunch, lox and bagels and sandwiches. After getting settled in our tents we set out on our first whale watch experience in the San Ignacio Lagoon Whale Sanctuary. In the US a typical whale watching experience of three or four hours is considered a great experience if you see six or seven whales.
Between the camp and the sanctuary boundary was about a fifteen minute boat ride. By the time we entered the sanctuary I’d already seen blows from at least four whales. Once entering the sanctuary and slowing down the motor it became really clear how amazing this would be. You see we had incredibly flat water that first day which gave us incredible visibility. Slowly trolling through the sanctuary there were whales in every direction. Pretty quickly we were up close, within about twenty feet of several different whales and I was thrilled.
Now this trip was a bucket list item for me and I had some really specific hopes related to this trip. Of course I wanted to see whales, and see whales up close. But I also really hoped to be close enough to look a Gray Whale in the eye. My next hope was that I would get to touch a Grey Whale and finally, the grand slam for me would be getting to hug a whale. I honestly never thought that would happen, but if I got the rest I’ve be incredibly happy.
We had been in the sanctuary for about twenty minutes when a whale started making a bee line for our boat, our guide Tony said to the captain, “este Loco.” In fact it was Loco, a whale that the guide was very familiar with. Loco came right up to the boat and slid right up beside us. Within a few minutes of showing up I was actually able to reach out an touch a forty foot long, eighty thousand pound Gray Whale.
What would happen over the next thirty to forty minutes would be one of the greatest experiences of my life. Loco would in fact play with us like a Labrador puppy, he would swim up, spy hop to the boat, then like a puppy does, he would rip his head away, spin around in the water, swim under the boat, bump us around and then do it all over again. It was amazing. Loco spent so much time up next to us that I pet him at least seven or eight times, I got to look him squarely in the eye. At one point, he opened his mouth and I was able to reach in and rub his baleen plates. Our guide leaned up and kissed him at one point and then it happened, he spy hopped right in front of me and I wrapped my arms around and hugged him briefly.
The question I first get is what did it feel like? The skin of the whale was really smooth except where the barnacles were attached. The whale felt like a raw roast, firm but a bit giggly underneath, actually felt quite nice. You could tell Loco enjoyed the interaction it was so content to hold itself in front of us so we could touch him. In order to stay so close he actually had to gently move in the water as the boat was moving in the current.
Getting to look him square in the eye was magnificent. If you’ve ever looked a cow in the eye you can see the kind of vacuous stare of an animal not doing a lot of thinking. It was very different with Loco, you could see him focusing around looking at each of us, this was very much a sentient creature I was connecting with. Rubbing the baleen plates was fun, I was a little tentative reaching in but the whale allowed in and then very slowly and gently closed it’s mouth as it was falling away. My hug was quick but amazing, to connect with a whale at that level was literally a dream come through for me.
Loco would in fact come back to our boat two more times briefly in the 90 minutes that we were out on that first trip before swimming off and interacting in a similar fashion with another boat. I would do eight more trips during my three days. No trip would match the first one and I was fine with that, as I told my guide on the way back from the first trip, everything I could have possibly imagine happening had happened with Loco. This doesn’t mean the other eight trips weren’t great. I would be fortunate enough to touch four more whales, and miss touching another three or four by a couple of inches. We would get to see a number of pairs of mothers and young calves, one who even tried and comically failed to breach. I did not realize that Gray Whales breached, but I got to watch a number of whale breaches and they often breach three or four times in a row. We had so many whales spy hop around the boat including at one point three whales spy hopping at the same time all within about fifteen feet of the boat.
On my last trip we had a rhythmically bumpy ride out of the sanctuary. I sat there on the bow of the boat, looking back at the sanctuary. Bouncing along and taking in the amazing beauty around me, the occasional whale or dolphin breaking the surface and it was absolutely magically. It had been a magnificent three days, after nearly three years of the pandemic, of no travel, there, bouncing along on that belt I felt like myself again, the person I’m meant to be, the nomad I’ve always been. More next week. ~ Rev Kane