People arrive here for an obvious
purpose. Although they will insist they came purely with the hope of touching a
whale another deeper desire begins to surface almost immediately. I don’t
have enough fingers on both hands to count the shared conversations, even
before that hoped for cetacean contact, that express a self-reflection, a
meditation, an Indian or Buddhist philosophy or a profound life story that is a
miracle of serendipitous events; all personal visions to quietly want to change
the world. I doubt that the Law of Attraction would have figured high on the
list of essential reading for the likes of the NASA scientist or astrophysicist
who were here, although for the artists and musicians perhaps, but not at
all for that black gold pipeline engineer, looking to retire as a conservation
volunteer as a way to repair the contradiction of his lifetime. However, we are
all forgiven for talking about the 50 shades of Gray we
encounter on every journey…..
The lagoon is a quite place most
of the time where there are minimal external distractions except for the wind.
Initially for the city arrivals the aloneness of the salt flats might
feel disconcerting because for the duration of the 4-day trip, they become a
mere blip on their electronic connections, (even if Verizon sold them a roaming
package for all occasions). There is something totally different about this
environment. All systems are down, except for the natural ones. The catalyst is
waiting to happen!
Last week, amongst others,
the Orca network group, headed by ´Howwie´ Balcomb and his partner Susan have
descended. If you didn’t know them better you might call them the ´tree huggers´
of the whale world but they are people completely involved with a passion for a
cause that isn’t just about Orcas. They have all come here with a sublime
expectation to draw from an effect, a memory, even enlightenment from this
natural resource; contact with the Gray Whale in the lagoon they inhabit for
the few sacred weeks that they are here. Actually whether they know it yet or
not, this is the beginning of their new life, a second wind, an opportunity to
reconfigure and log on again. Imagine how must it be to find yourself suddenly
exposed to the silence of a significantly reduced external environmental with
the major exception of the sound of the rhythm and depth of something powerful
breathing in the open space around? No-one guarantees that something will
happen but something always does.
Have you ever had to adopt a
particular orientation toward an experience? Have you ever come across the
notion of stilling the mind? The words, ´Nature has a right to exist, persist,
regenerate and evolve.´ come to my mind. (part of a statement in the Ecuadorian
constitution drawn up in the late 1990´s because of a massive popular revolt
against the decimation of their natural life source, the mangroves). We allow
social dysfunction to dominate our lives most of the time and continue to live
in conflict with ourselves as a result. Oscar Wilde phrased it perfectly. “We
know the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
The thought of exploring our own internal worlds, other than the
world beneath the surface of the waves and its stream of graceful giants slowly
moving in a shallow haze of algae green, probably wasn’t originally on
the cards, but the intensity of a glance from a baby Gray hypnotizes everyone.
What I sense in the individuals
who arrive here is an unspoken desire for a bigger hope for themselves and
something powerfully different for this world.
So, for those who’ve been touched, after
it all, what do you think?
Did you come and call the whales
or did you come because the whales had already called for you?
While the whales are the main attraction at San Ignacio Lagoon, there is so much more to see and do when not on the water.
Many people do not realize that the lagoon is a self- contained eco-system, unique in the world, and home to countless creatures both big and small that most visitors walk right past and never see.
At low tide the coyotes hunt at the water line and if they are fortunate they might dig up a tasty eel for their evening dinner. Baby octopus hide under rock ledges waiting for human fingers to find them and pull them out, and occasionally we even see the tiniest of newborn lobsters.
A few short steps from Campo Cortez we dig up fresh chocolate clams and scallops, eating them right out of the shell with a bit of fresh lime.
Shucking Scallops at Low Tide
This is life at campo Cortez, a place full of beautiful people in love with their home and the creatures they share it with.
And They are Great Raw
When you are there, stop to watch the sunset and realize you are surrounded by nature as it has always been intended
“Grrrt! Grrrt!” I’m in the climax of my
jungle adventure dream, crossing a river with a wounded animal in my arms, an
indigenous boy by my side and we’re trying to head to the nearest village. A
big bird appears from the jungle and we start following it.
“Grrrrt!” I wake up and realize there is a
huge raven right outside my camper. It’s 5 a.m. I’m trying to get back to my
adventure dream but the raven insists: “GRRRRRT!” So I give up and get up. “What
is it?!” I open the curtain to witness the most amazing, mesmerizing
start to a sunrise that I’ve ever seen in my life. The oranges, purples and
pinks accompany me into an exceptionally deep meditation. My morning
meditations have become my ultimate refuge and source of energy and inner peace
in this intense place.
The day starts apparently in an ordinary
manner, but I feel strange, as if that raven wanted to prepare me for
something. We have an unforgettable morning whale watching which simply cannot
be described by words. All of a sudden we, the 10 strangers in the boat, have
an experience so great and special to share that all we can do is smile and
cry. No words come out, nor are needed. “Magic and goodness prevail”, I think.
At noon I hear Priscila, one of our ladies
in the kitchen, running hysterically to the kitchen. She is crying in a way
that immediately switches me into an intuitive survival mode. The raven and my
meditation come to my mind as I run to her. Gisela, her 4 year old daughter is
choking with a candy in her throat. I remember an image from my childhood, my
mother with her hand literally inside my sister’s throat, pulling out the coin
she’d just accidentally swallowed. M-T and I go through an emergency plan as we
run to the camper area where the employees stay. Thank God no action was needed
– Gisela was already fine. After about a half an hour of shiatsu and emotional
support Priscila, Gisela’s mother, had calmed down, too.
On the second whale watch Shawna, our
extremely funny joke cracking guest from Washington took care of entertaining
us and the whales. She spends her days teaching Mexican teenager immigrants in
Arizona. In the middle of laughing and singing everything from Christmas songs
to the Sound of Music, Edelweiss and Happy Birthday, another guest accidently fell
over her. I couldn’t first see the pain in her from all the laughter and
singing, and it wasn’t until during happy hour that we noticed her totally
swollen ankle. “Once it took me a week to notice my hip was broken!” she
laughed with a hibiscus-margarita (that was her invention, by the way) in her
hand and ice over her ankle.
I crashed into bed emotionally exhausted,
thanking God for saving little Gisela’s life, for these amazing guests we get
to attend every year, and for the whales bringing so much joy to our lives. No
ravens around my camper.
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.
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
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.
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!