Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

San Ignacio Lagoon Guide Report

“El Panguero” –forecasting these conditions

By: Maria-Teresa Solomons March 3, 2015

A less traditional method for weather forecasting might warrant extending a wet index finger out to the elements to determine wind speed, direction and temperature including wind chill factor. However here, so you people in cyberspace have an idea about what´s happening weather wise so you chose your travel clothes wisely, this reality show demands we actually formally monitor all those effects the correct way with instrumentation, every day, three times a day.

Nevertheless, even that isn’t precise. The whale watching environment determines everything and being much the wiser for seasonal exposure, this is what actually happens….

When the sound of the ´palapa´ dining room door bangs open and closed thumping at the ineffective stone doorstop at regular intervals, or the wind whistles tryingly through that same tightly woven palm-leafed palapa roof late at night almost portending a blustery morning, the wind gauge at that point might measure at least 12 knots.

In the early morning warming their hands around their coffee mugs a small crowd musters for outside yoga just before sunrise. I´m there of course, to teach the class, unashamedly warming my fingers around my coffee mug thermos, wearing a black woolen balaclava and windbreaker, and about to jumpstart the day. Someone aptly labeled it “7-Layer Yoga”, as if it were a new trend. Bikram would shudder. I describe it simply as waking up to the wind and the breath. Despite lacking an external heat source we still heat up!

Cuco - Boat Captain
After we finish and a little after breakfast if it were finger to the air, it would probably read about 64 degrees Fahrenheit (or 8 degrees Celsius) on the precision instrumentation. An east wind is blowing about 6 mph and there´s not a single cloud as far as the horizon. Refugio, ´Cuco´, one of our ´pangueros´, is moving around the panga boats wearing a heavy waterproof jacket thick enough to survive the north Atlantic, his sunglasses reflecting water. Hmmm?!  As a ´Lagoon-ian, let’s say, everything indicates that he might know something we don’t.

Roberto - Boat Captain
I´ve learnt to follow his example by now and don a polar fleece over my orange Staff T-shirt and blur into the guests for a moment until I pull my own equally waterproof yellow storm weather jacket over my head and balaclava. I really stand out now, strikingly yellow on blue. By the time the groups have organized themselves and we are loading the pangas, I´m sweating again, this time in the sun. That fine red line of mercury could easily be reading a mean 78 degrees by now.

Heading Out - to see whales
I pull my balaclava up tight over my cap to cover my ears and neck. It’s a 10 minute ride over the flattening sea. The wind picks up as we gain speed and pass Punta Piedra to enter the “zone”. The boat spins in half a circle, drops speed and comes almost to a halt as the radio breaks the silence and Roberto, our ´panguero´, responds to a call that directs him to our first friendly whale of the day. The wind drops, it’s hot again and Roberto peels off his jacket and returns to layer one again.

Paco - Boat Captain
Leaning heavily over the side of the panga I dip my arms down as close to the water as I can reach and clap and, ´woop´ idyllically imagining that through its mystical green depths the resonance of those sounds might perhaps reach all 278 of the Gray whales that inhabit the lagoon at this point. When a huge mama whale approaches pushing her calf towards us she sends a circle of bubbles up as she exhales and the whole boat heaves with her movement. Her calf heaves itself over her back playfully and rolls one of its innocent eyes to scrutinize us and meets our wonder. Mama raises her head and makes a strange guttural hissing sound as she begins her blow.

Valentin - Boat Captain & Guide
I´m yellow above the blue now, leaning almost parallel to the water on the opposite side of the panga to where almost every other person is reaching down towards her. Every camera lens points in her direction as the stare from her single left eye penetrates curiously and deeply through us. I wonder what she can possibly feel being met with sunglass darkened smiles. On the downwind side of her whale breath her exhale baptizes us with a heavy rain. At that moment, as the residual droplets that have misted up the glass of all our lenses puts everyone momentarily on pause, the frontline cameras drop their guard.

Absurdly a thought about the right weather gear crosses my mind. A finger to the wind could never have forecast this encounter.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Guide's View

Guide Report 

San Ignacio Lagoon, BCS, Mexico

Feb. 27, 2015
By:  Liisa Juuti

Our guests often ask me, "How come can you receive a new group just a few hours after the current group has left the camp?"  The answer is, planning & coordination, great team work and very high energy and stress level.  I’ll share with you how the “change of the group” day for each of us actually is. 

I.  Catalina, Ceci, Elsa and Pedro wake up at 4:20 a.m. and start preparing the packed lunch to be served on the plane, both for the group leaving the camp and for the new group. Usually this means preparing around 120 burritos. After that they start preparing the breakfast for our 25+ guests, serve it and wash the dishes.

II. Cuco wakes up at 5:30 am to help with the kitchen and then drives the guests in a bus to the airport, accompanies the group during the 2 hour flight to Ensenada, meets the new group in Ensenada, feeds both groups with the sandwiches prepared earlier on in the day, flies back from Ensenada to San Ignacio Lagoon with the new group and brings them on the bus to the camp in the early afternoon.

III. After the group has left the camp, our kitchen team starts cleaning up the 15 cabins and 3 tents one by one. Priscila washes by hand the 30+ sheets, pillow cases and aprons. After that follows the cleaning of bathrooms and showers, and once finished, the kitchen staff hurries up cleaning the fish or scallop for dinner. When the new group arrives around 4 p.m. the margaritas, chips and freshly made salsas are ready to be served.

IV. Meanwhile, Maldo drives for 2 hours leaving early in the morning for Santa Rosalia to buy all the food supplies for the new group.

V. M-T and I wake up at 6 am, get the palapa ready for breakfast, serve the breakfast to our guests and say goodbye to the group that leaves around 8 am. I make the cabin plan for the new group and check their special diets. Sometimes we have up to 19 guests with special diets in one group; my respects to the cooks´ imagination! Then we start cleaning up the palapa and separate the trash produced in 5 days. Thanks to our Eco Certificate we separate and recycle about 95% of all our trash with no need to deliver anything to the garbage dump. After having cleaned up and reorganized the lifejackets and rubber boots I do some office work; sales inventory, weather report, and send off the guide reports. If we have time, we wash our laundry and clean up the camper we´re staying in. Then at 1 pm we put our special staff shirts on and head to the airport to receive the new group with drinks, snacks and a big smile, and there's nothing fake about that smile. We love this! 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Census Update - San Ignacio Lagoon

Census Report From San Ignacio Lagoon

February 27, 2015

Gray Whale Calves:  119
Gray Whale Adults:  158

Total Gray Whales:  277

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Guide Report-San Ignacio Lagoon

San Ignacio Lagoon - Guide Report

Feb. 22, 2015
by Maria-Teresa Solomons

Thoughts that stir: the start of a day at the lagoon

The mudflats glisten in the low morning light as I turn over at the alarm to reset it for the 3rd time perhaps. It first sounds at 5.40am when it is still dark but those few precious extra minutes before the sun touches the horizon, lingering between half sleep and half awake, are the luxury I choose to meet the dawn in my own time.
I inhale and exhale slowly for a minute or two to calm my pulse and hold my breath, and from my top bunk camper window, watch the changing colors outside, a beautiful contrast of clouds and reflections. Another couple of minutes pass by and I repeat the process again, each time extending the breath-hold a little more observing the thoughts that cross my mind.

I´m a freediver as well as one of the camp guides here and each day as we all revel in clearly the most intimate contact with an animal you are ever likely to have, I´m reminded of each other life altering experience, of every privileged encounter I have had underwater on my own, dancing amongst giants.
Although as part of the marine mammal protection act in this reserve as well as in Scammons Lagoon and Magdalena Bay, it´s forbidden to dive with the Gray whales, and even then only a very small section of the lagoon is within limits for whale-watching. In order to enter the area each guest receives a paper bracelet for each day that they enter the reserve, from the Secretary for Marine Resources and Natural Protected Areas (SEMARNAT), which is included as part of the Camp Cortez fee. In addition to this the San Ignacio community itself has instigated its own system of monitoring for who comes in and out of the area, and how many boats there can be at any one time. It´s perfect.
Being a guide here is perhaps an Overture to the song of the humpbacks I´ve felt resonate through me at different depths, or the resident Whale sharks I dive alongside in the Sea of Cortez, where I´ve spent many other seasons.

 San Ignacio Lagoon is beyond a doubt the best place in the world for this close an encounter with the Gray Whale. There are almost no worlds that can even begin to express the indescribably sublime feeling that comes with the realisation that both mother and baby have chosen to turn towards the boat.

Holding my breath I remember how yesterday, she heaved her baby up to the extended arms and how I watched the escalating excitement of everyone out there, including the boat alongside waiting its turn. A touch, or more, a caress, is as breathtaking as the unexpected warmth of its spongy rubbery skin.

An alarm sounds again.  Time out is over.  Another full day scheduled ahead!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Guide Report-San Ignacio Lagoon

Game for an adventure! Donna´s 81st year

 By Maria-Teresa Solomons
Most visitors arrive at the Laguna San Ignacio by plane which lands on an isolated desert airstrip, about an hour from the Baja Ecotours camp on the “Burro” (donkey), a converted 70´s American school bus. The bus formerly named, the “cheese bus” by its kid riders,   probably saw its hay-day about 20yrs ago and equally as probably never even imagined the tour of duty it was heading for.
Now Johnny Friday, another name somewhat reminiscent of being lost on another type of desert island, has declared, says, Liisa Juuti, our Finnish head Whale-watching guide, that there will be a newer bus for next year!  Johnny is one of the co-owners of the camp who arrived here in the mid 80´s and saw the potential of all that the lagoon had to offer. What he recognized then has probably not changed much. When our octogenarian visitor, Donna, stepped off the plane last week she would have been another reflection of the quintessential memory of a community which continues to be bathed in an aura of another century.
The Laguna San Ignacio Gray Whale Sanctuary sits on the Pacific side of the 6 million acre (2.5 million hectare), Vizcaino Biosphere reserve, the largest in Mexico, along an almost uninhabited desert coast where it´s estimated about 50% of the Gray Whales arrive between February and March to breed and give birth before returning north to their feeding grounds around 5000 kms away.

For this grand lady to have left her remote southern Californian ranch to come all the way out here must mean that this desert place must hold something special and being as vibrant as she is, Donna was game for all the adventure that this experience is.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Gray Whale Census San Ignacio Lagoon

Census Report

San Ignacio Lagoon

February 20, 2015

Gray Whale Calves:  151
Gray Whale Adults:  196

Total Gray Whales:  347