Reflecting on our Our NatGeo Experience

At this point in our lives, I’m getting confused as to which trip has been the best trip.  Perhaps they were all the best.  After all, going on a trip is a very serious thing to do.

IMG_0274First, you must decide to do a trip.  This is harder than it seems.  Do you want to travel by car, ship, boat, bicycle, roller skates, RV aka as The Dog House, plane, kayak, canoe, bus?  Well, that depends on where in the world you want to go.  

Where to GO?

The world is our oyster.  (funny I should resort to that metaphor since I don’t like oysters)…however, it is a good saying.   The choices are mind boggling.  Want to stay close to home?  Want to do exotic?  Want to take a long trip?  After answering a few of those questions, you may have a great idea of where to go.  

In this case, for us, we decided we wanted to go where I wanted to go which was to see whales up close and personal.  And what better way to do that than on the water.  So, instantly, much of our plan was set.   To backtrack, this is a trip that I was paying for with money I earned as trustee of my Uncle’s trust so I pretty much got to pick!!  As it should be, right?

Then it was a matter of choosing the cruise operator and for that we were in agreement that it should be an outfit with naturalists on board.  The location was also set by virtual of the activity we had selected.   Whales go south for the winter.  And it is well known that they return year after year to lagoons in Mexico.  So, Mexico it would be.  And National Geographic has a stellar reputation for cruises that focus outside the boat, rather than inside the boat.   So, NatGeo was selected.  And the rest is history.  

Except, what is the aftermath of our adventure?

Firstly, we ate in Mexico on several occasions and did not get the, ahem, tourista trots.  

 Secondly, a cruise without TV is a liberating experience.  It is like taking an overdose of happy pills.  No bad news.  The only thing we used our iPhones for was taking very BAD pictures.  OMG.  I even captured a video of the inside of my pocket…for about 4 minutes.  Because we were floating around the Sea of Cortes, and because there were no digitree towers with big dishes on them to deliver digital signals to us, there was no other need for a phone.  Although, one evening the phone rang.  It was my accountant.  How did that happen?  Who knows?  The funny thing is, when I went to return his call…the call would not go thru.  So, Rayman ran to the pursers office to find out how to call out, and in the purser’s office he found Capt. Cook.  Explaining our situation, the Capt. beckoned me to the purser’s office, and he placed the call on their “system”.  Now that is service.  Okay, true confessions time.  I did buy $50 worth of time (2 hours) for posting my blogs.  But I immediately recognized that was not going to work…no high speed data on that link.  So, I used the time reading a bit of news.  I know.  Me bad.

Thirdly, the food was fabulous.  

Fourthly, there was a plelthra of things to do.  Activities, educational talks, instruction of use of the camera or Iphone.

Okay, I’m not sure if fifthly is a word to I will now abandon the counting and continue on with my observations.

One passenger was a fish.  If there was opportunity, she was in the water.  An inspiration to me as I loved Esther Williams.  But she made me feel bad because the water was cold and not as user friendly as I’d like.   Plus with the Rayman episode (an earlier blog post), I elected to stay on the boat, or on shore rather than in the water.  Oh, there was the exception of kayaking.  We did kayak and managed to get ourselves pretty much soaked (glad I left my iPhone on shore for that one).  The entire time, I worried that Rayman might capsize us which lead me to the conclusion that perhaps individual kayaks might be a good idea but then it wouldn’t be as easy to splash the Rayman.  Flipping my oar to get him wet is one of my favorite things to do.  Just sayin.  If you click on Home Page below, you will get a surprise.

Home Page

Traveling on one’s own has a few drawbacks and setbacks as you all know if you have been reading my blogs for 10 years.  This trip pretty much eliminated those issues.  And it was a big ah-ha for me.  You see, when we travel, it is up to me to arrange everything.  Make all the plans, reservations and the like.  It is also up to me to hand the Rayman his passport when needed, to get us through customs, to fill out all the forms, to shepard him along and smooth his ruffled feathers.  Now, he will take exception to some of this, but not all.  Myself, I am resolute in my beliefs.  

But I digress.

Perhaps it is time and perhaps we are of a certain age to quit the solo tourism gig.  Is it time to surrender and start doing organized trips?  A part of me loves the chaos as much as I dislike the chaos.  Perhaps we can strike on a happy medium.  But then, where is the fun?  Where is the heartache?  A tender proposition.  

Let’s take whales  They are the complete opposite of me and the Rayman.  They go to the same places every time.  The route will be slightly different because of food they are chasing, but they know Alaska is where to head in the summer and the lagoons of Mexico are where to head for the winter.  And they know how they plan to get there…by swimming.  The journey is probably one of “just do it” because that is how they are programmed…and because they like to eat and procreate.  The predictability is the important point here.  And they seem happy.  They lack hostility because it was in the very lagoon we visited where they were killed by the hundreds by early whalers.  And yet, they returned, yet they persisted.  These gentle giants that visited our boat.  

The Whale and US

 

Okay, I admit it, I’m meandering which of and itself reminds me of travel…a series of meanderings.  

Looking back, it seems to me that most wonderful trip have involved nature.  Africa and Sea of Cortes.  To be able to view nature in the is exciting, exhilarating, thought provoking, awe inspiring.   Gorgeous vistas also make one’s heart race with excitement.   High mountains, full rivers, deep gorges, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, lakes, streams, deserts…the list goes on and on.

So, all I know is that at traveling is mind expanding in many different ways and on many different levels.  No matter where or how, travel is important to us.   Where we go and how we do it in the future?  Who knows?  That’s yet to be determined.  

Next trip?  To Portland, Oregon for 6 months.  To the SHIP.  Looking forward to the adventure.  Come and visit us.  We love company!!

A Zodiac Kind of Day

First thing this morning was snorkeling with the sea lions.  We passed.  This activity started at 7:45 a.m.  And we were advised that sea lions are playful creatures and like to nip.  No nipping is needed as I have the Rayman for that.  

After snorkeling, it was time to do the zodiac tour around huge rocks that jetting up from the ocean like monoliths albeit with lots of bird poop attached giving the reddish rock a mottled   look.   Basking on the rocks were loads of sea lions.  There were many in the water as well as they delighted us with their antics.  They swim upside down, right side up and sideways.  Their grace in the water is unparalleled in my estimation.  Cashing in on the fun were the grebes, the blue-footed boobies, the pelicans, the cormorants and probably many other birds I may have missed or not recognized.  The sea lions stole the show.  They are like whirling dervishes of the deep.  

There are no pictures of any of this.  Trying to take pics with my iPhone on a rocking boat is no longer high on my list of things to do.  We just held on and enjoyed the ride.

Typical picture from a rocking boat.  Many of my movies had the same problem.

Typical picture from a rocking boat. Many of my movies had the same problem.

After spending about an hour and a half bobbing around the rocks, we headed back to lunch.  And then it was off to the beach of Isla San Francisco.  We rode the zodiacs to the beach and there we jumped onto kayaks and paddled around the water for about 40 minutes and then headed back to the ship to relieve ourselves, change our clothes, don our orange life jackets, jump back onto the zodiac and return to shore for an evening barbecue on the beach.  The weather was warm, not hot.  The sand was sandy.  There were blue “lawn” chairs organized into about 5 rows and formed into a big circle.  A fire was in the center of the circle.  We were greeted with mango margaritas, wine, beer.  And the party began.  Just before we ate I remarked to the Rayman that we would have to eat on our knees.  At which he exclaimed, “My knees?   How on earth do they expect us to do that?”.  Have I mentioned before how literal the Rayman can be?  At times, he is astonishingly literal.  This was one of those times.  

 

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But I digress.

After dinner, we were treated to a fabulous sunset.  I am not sure how it could have been any better.   Oh, wait.  I do know.  As we were eating and imbibing, a lone pelican swam up to us and came on shore.  It was soon apparent that it had a broken wing.  Very sad.  Nothing could be done.  Some people offered food (chicken that had been cooked) but it couldn’t get it down.  Used to slimmy fish, I’m guessing.  My heart went out to the pelican and it made us all sad.  

Because of the cloud cover moving in, we elected to be on the first zodiac back to the boat.  Many remained to stargaze but, that didn’t seem likely.  So, here we are back in our cabin enjoying some downtime.  

 

My computer.

My computer.

A few diversions.  The people on the tour are all very interesting and different and from all the over the U.S. with a few from Canada and England.  The love of nature is the tide that binds us together and our interests cuts through to the core and allows us to interact easily.  The first few conversations were, “where are you from?”, “what do or did you do?”,  “is this your first NatGeo trip?”, “do you have children/grandchildren”.  Later as the trip progressed the conversations involved what we had done that day, what animals/birds/fish/mammals did we see”.  It has been great to be around such bright and interesting people.  I may be repeating myself but it does bear repeating.

Not sure what is on the agenda tomorrow but it will be our last full day on the ship with organized activities.  We will end the cruise as we started, disembarking at La Paz, clamoring onto a bus, repeating the drive to the airport and flying back to LAX on Friday.  

Upon arriving back, I plan to add pictures to the posts and post my blogs in one fell swoop.

It’s been a great adventure and it has wetted my appetite, and Rayman’s too to do a few more nature trips.  The world we find ourselves in is full of wonderous animals, insects, mammals, geology, plants and list goes on and on.  Need to see more of it.  It’s a trip!!

The crew made a video of the some of the highlights which included a slideshow of pictures the passengers took.  If you would like to see it, let us know!!  I only want to share vacation pictures with those that like that sort of thing.  Having said that, it is very entertaining.  Much better than my slideshows of previous trips.  Times 100.  Just sayin.

Now Hear This

National Geographic and Lindblad have teamed up to create a nature lover’s perfect cruise.

We embarked yesterday evening after killing the day in La Paz with a lunch on a patio (Italian food), a visit to the Serpentario, and a bus ride north to the ship (30 minute drive).  What immediately sticks out in the part of the Baja are the cacti which look like Saguaro, but aren’t.  Let’s call them cousins to the southwestern AZ cacti.  They are Cardon cacti.  They grow everywhere.  Palo Verde trees are prevalent as well.  The desert looks likes, drum roll please, desert.  Except in the lower part of Baja on the Pacific.  There is an area west of a very large mountain that gets more rain than anyplace else and it enjoyed a green tinge. 

 

Along the highway.

Along the highway.

Good sized cactus to give you an idea.

Good sized cactus to give you an idea.

One footnote on the serpentario.  We got to visit with a King snake, a Horney Toad , a five toed snake that had two feet by it’s head, and one other that we can’t remember.  Some sort of constrictor snake.  It was actually quite fascinating and the young Mexican man did a great job with the introductions to the various species.  Oh, and a tarantula.  It is a facility that rehabilitates reptiles and spiders and iguanas.  Lots of iguanas there.  

After boarding, we had a safety drill followed by happy hour followed by dinner.  Turns out this ship is not even a year old.  She is a beauty and we were lucky to score a room with a balcony…not sure how that happened but we are thrilled.  Two chairs on our deck.  The ship holds about 100 people (guests) and lots of crew.  Captain Hook is our captain…really…He introduced himself as Andrew Cook) and then he said, “I’ll let that sink in for a bit.”  Young, handsome and extremely personable.  There are four or five naturalists on board, a videographer, two camera experts, a scuba diver expert, and an expert on experts!!  

The food is fabulous with an emphasis on healthy fare and gluten free servings.  Beet juice was the juice boost this a.m. as an example.  But not to mislead, they serve the best cookies and when we returned from snorkeling a bit ago, we were greeted on board with hot chocolate laced with Bailey’s.  

The cabin is small but very well appointed.  The pillows are soft and the ocean facing wall is almost entirely a floor to ceiling slider.  Oh, my oh, my.

The passengers are very interesting as well and it’s open seating so we haven’t broken bread with the same people twice…yet.  The woman sitting next to us at breakfast was seated next to us at LAX gate.  She hails from Pennsylvania and is a dog breeder and an official judge of dogs and as such was fresh off the Westminster dog show about a week ago.  She knows dogs…especially sporting dogs.  OMG.  Great conversationalist too.  We had a great breakfast with her.  

The main activity for today was snorkeling.  But before I get into that…we spent about an hour with a huge pod of dolphins, scores and scores of them.  They really put on a show. 

I was shotting this from inside so sorry for the dirty window but…hey, must strike while the iron is hot.

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 As they cavorted about, one of the naturalists was on the loudspeaker giving us the low-down on them.  Their presence pushed back all the activities by an hour because watching nature is numero uno priority with this cruise.  

Rayman strikes again.

After lunch we got outfitted for our snorkeling.  Shorty wetsuits, fins, masks.  I managed to put the wetsuit on incorrectly and also the life jacket.  The 777 woman pilot was standing next to me and set me straight on the life jacket…very cool to met a woman captain for United.  We then set off on a Zodiac which is a rubber dinghy essentially.  When asked how the water was, the man in charge of water sports replied, “Refreshing.”  It was about 65 degrees, hence the wetsuits.  We entered the water from the shore and paddled around until Rayman got a leg cramp and I summoned the lifeguard for help.  That was the end of the snorkeling.  He convinced them he was all right and he headed for shore.  I lost track of him so I intently watched the bottom searching for his body until I saw him standing in waist high water.  Then I was able to breath again and managed to suck in an entire mouthful of salty water.  Saw a few fish but the snorkeling wasn’t all that good.  Water wasn’t very clear and there were not that many fish.  But the experience was “refreshing”.  

After dinner, there was a program in the reception room.  The naturalists gave talks.  The most interesting was the man that specializes in all things whale.  He gave us a history of the gray whale which featured going back millions of years to explain how the land animal that predated today’s gray whale, became the gray whale.  How the bealene formed and how the whale is closely related to today’s hippo.  Riveting talk complete with pictures that were shown on all the big screen TVs around the room.  

Then we trotted off to bed to let the visions of whales dance in our heads!!

Sperm Count

Yessireeeee.  We spent our Monday morning counting sperm.  Whales that is.  As luck would have it our ship sailed right into a group of sperm whales, mothers and daughters.  The way the crew knew they were sperms as opposed to grays, or humpbacks, was that their spray Isn’t as high and their blow holes are located on the left side of their head.  An interesting adaptation that just about no other animal has employed in its’ evolution.  It is an asymmetrical thing.

Sperm whales also spend quite a bit of time doing “short dives”, one right after the other until they at last take in a big breath and descend to the ocean floor and then hang out in the deep for up to an hour.  

They are enormous.  And they have teeth.  No one went swimming this a.m.

We are now getting ready to get on the zodiacs again to ride over to Banana Beach on Isla San Jose.  It is a bright white banana shaped affair.  Looking forward to two hours off the ship.  Plan to walk the beach and stretch our legs.  When we return one of the naturalists will give a talk on cacti.  

Back to yesterday for a minute.  Yesterday we rested all morning on the ship declining invitations to hike or snorkel.  The afternoon, we went ashore on an Isla and Rayman and myself had the good fortune to be the only ones to take a walk with a naturalist for a photo session.  Don’t know how we were so lucky.  The other photo class had 30 attendees.  Lucky us.  It took a trip to the Sea of Cortes to learn how to use features on my iPhone.  Expensive lesson.  Rayman even got into it and took some good pics.  We may take a photo class at some point.  Great fun.   Here are a few of our shots.

Cardon cactus up close

Cardon cactus up close

 

Shell on sand

Shell on sand

 

Geology

Geology

There are people on board that have lens about the size of Gilbralter.   One fellow remarked that he didn’t need to go to the gym.  Foisting the telephoto lens was quite enough for him.  Can’t wait to see the slide show at the end.  With all this equipment there is bound to be some spectacular photos.  

When we returned from the Isla, I looked like a drown rat.  Was placed on the front of the zodiac and got sprayed constantly as the afternoon winds had kicked up.  Hoping to avoid that this p.m.  After dinner, we were treated to a presentation of Mexico, it’s people, it’s food.  Very interesting because  it was delivered by a Mexican citizen who also happened to be a naturalist.  He even ate a stink bug once.  Didn’t like it.  Took three days to get the taste out of his mouth.  He liked grasshoppers though.   I think I could eat a grasshopper.  Next trip to Mexico, perhaps.

Guess I’ll go don my life vest now.  

One point.  We haven’t been lost.  We haven’t gotten into any trouble and for that I apologize because when everything goes well, the stories are a bit boring.  

Passion Fruit and Other Tidbits

Today was filled with bird watching, wandering the town of San Jose del Cabo and eating popsicles followed by looking for humpback whales.

Osprey dining

Osprey dining

 

Weather has improved in that we were in the 70s today.  First day that has happened and that is on account that we arose to the sight of a sunrise in front of Friar’s Rock just off the shore of Cabo San Lucas.  Every morning 700 fishing boats race toward the sea with fisher people, tourists, and heaven knows what else.  We observed the armada at 6:30 a.m. from the deck of our ship and delighted in taking lots of pictures of the sunrise.  No sleeping in on this adventure.  The crew manages to keep us as busy as ants in an ant farm.  

 

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To visit San Jose del Cabo we had to sail north a bit and avoid Cabo San Lucas that has grown faster than a Ponzi scheme.  San Jose del Cabo is much quainter than it’s southern sister.   Once we arrived near the port, we jumped into the zodiacs for a ride ashore and seas were calm so we arrived dry and ready to view birds of the area.  Most of the birds live in our neck of the woods but it was nevertheless fun and informative.  Having finished our bird watching we took a shortcut from the estuary into town via a walk by the sewage treatment plant.  Our guide  informed us that the town had hired a British company to come and install the plant along with an agreement that they run the plant for 10 years.  The manager likes to gross out all the visitors by drinking a glass of treated water.  Lucky for us, they did not offer us a glass.  And we didn’t get a tour.  Instead we walked to the city zocolo (center) which sported the obligatory church, city hall, and the popsicle shop along with oodles of artsy, tartsy store fronts.  The passionfruit popsicle was a winner.  Having an hour to kill, we wandered the streets looking at the stores and this is when I snapped this pic.  Hope you enjoy.

 

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Then it was back to ship and out to sea to watch for whales.  Disappointment was no where to be found.  There were plenty of whales.  Spotted 5 flukes.  Two breaches.  And a partridge in a pear tree.  Apparently as I was showering, one humpback took it upon itself to breach 5 times in succession.  I only breached once in the privacy of cabin 207.  

Given that the weather was near perfect, we all gathered on the stern for happy hour followed by a great dinner. 

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Rayman with rays at his back on the stern.

And lest you think I wasn't onboard...

And lest you think I wasn’t onboard..

I chose a cauliflower “steak” with pesto and it was fabulous.  As luck would have it, Rayman and I were sandwiched between two twosomes.  On my left a mountain man looking person sat.  His name was Albert.  His wife across the table was Irene.  Turns out they were mathematicians that haled from Harvard and MIT.  And on my right, an internist and his friend was also a doc.  Trying not to be a dim bulb, I spent most of my time talking to Albert and Irene.  Rayman split his time in conversation with the two docs.  A good time was had by all.  All this to say that there are a lot of very accomplished people on this cruise.  The conversations at each meal have been interesting and entertaining.  It leads me to the question, “What the hell am I doing here?”  And then I remember, it’s my gift to myself for managing UR’s trust and I focus on enjoying every minute.

So, here I am in bed.  It’s 9:30, the ocean is being disrupted by the wake of the ship and it sounds great and somewhat hypnotic.  The sea is relatively calm and all is right in the world.  

Tomorrow is another day in this fascinating Sea and I’m looking forward to it all.  Some will swim with sea lions.  We are passing on that one.  And dinner on the beach of an uninhabited island followed by star gazing is on the plan.  How they will herd a bunch of people onto the zodiac for a return trip to the ship in the dead of night (peeps that may have had too much to drink) is another matter and I may report on it extensively as it sounds like interesting things may happen.  Just sayin.

Thar She Blows

This morning we were rousted from our beds bright and early for our great whale adventure.  Bright-eyed and bushy tailed we were not as the entire night before we bobbed around the Sea of Cortes like corks in a wine barrel.  Kept us awake a lot as I insisted on a full-opened door and the splashing of the waves and the groaning of the ship was not helpful for sleeping.  

After breakfast, we were herded onto buses and we took a 2 hour drive from the dock at wherever we were to where we were to embark on pangas for our whale outing.  Each panga carried about 9 people plus the boat operator and one staff member from the ship.  We headed north into the wind toward the mouth of the lagoon where the Pacific Ocean met the lagoon.  I’m sure I could have described that much better but I don’t know how so there you have it.  We headed north to the Pacific Ocean…maybe that is clearer for the dear reader.  

 

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Pangas at the dock.

But I digress. 

When we first embarked, nary a whale was seen but as we moved north, there were a few blows noted.  And just as suddenly as there no whale sightings, we saw many blowing, then many breaches, then many whales.  OMG.  It was thrilling to be on the water with these majestic and kind creatures.  We were lucky to have for our guide, a Mexican from Colima that is an underwater expert and he seemed to possess a sixth sense for the whales.  They taught us how to notify each other where we saw these beasts of the deep.  The bow was twelve o’clock.  The right side of the boat was one, two, three o’clock.  The stern was six o’clock etc.  Very useful to help us look in the right location.  There was so many whales we almost didn’t need the system.  We easily saw 50 whales today.  Perhaps some were duplicates, but who cares?  There were great numbers of them.  Glorious experience.  Up close and personal.  But a quick note.  It is very difficult to catch the sea life on camera because the boat, and hence I, was rocking.  Secondly, the sea life doesn’t send out a memo.  They just appear and disappear just as quickly. Having said that:

 

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The whale picture I didn’t get.

Whales do this thing called spylooking.  They poke their heads out of water and peer around their location.  It reminded me of an “up pariscope’ type of moment.  Once they took in their surroundings, they sank out of sight.  And of course they breached though the scientific community is uncertain to this day what drives that behavior.  Sitting in a small boat and seeing one of these huge 40 ton mammals breach takes your breath away.  We cheered each time.   You get so close to them that it makes you realize how really small you are.   And while it is not scientific, our guide said that boats with small children get visited much more than boats with just adults.  And that “theory” got tested today because we had Addie, an 8 year old girl on board our panga.

Low and behold, a whale came very close to our panga.  Then it went under our boat and I got so excited to see it on the other side, I fell over backward and landed on my derrière on the floor behind our row of seats leaving my left leg hooked on my seat and I’m pretty sure the left leg is now longer than the right.  The nice lady whose foot I may have landed on, helped me get up and as I made my way to the right side of the panga, the whale came right up to us and visited. Before visiting,  it blew and Rayman got slimed.    As it nosed up to the top of the water, I very briefly touched it as I was splashing to keep it interested per the instructions from our underwater expert.  OMG.  The barnacles on it’s back were about the size of a chocolate chip cookie (2 to 3 inches in diameter).  We were the only panga today that had a close up and personal encounter today and we were the only panga with a child on board.  Our underwater expert guide assured us that this was usual in his experience.  Isn’t that fascinating?  How do they know?  They must have a way to communicate perhaps by spy looking.  Who knows?  No one.  

The rest of the day was spent in an afterglow.  

One thing I must mention.  As we approached the Pacific Ocean, the water got rougher and rougher.   The swells got higher and higher.  Much relief was felt as we headed back to the dock.  My tummy was feeling queasy.  Once we disembarked we all went to a local restaurant to have lunch before we then went back to the pangas for another two hour bout of whale watching.  On this ride, we saw a mother and it’s calf.  So cool.  This time we went south and did not see as many but the it wasn’t as crazy either.  The waves were much gentler and I am happy to report there was no barfing by anyone.  Seems fairly remarkable to me.  

After four hours in pangas, we jumped on the bus and took the two hour ride back to the ship.  It was a very long day.  Dinner was buffet tonight and boy, was I glad.  Get it, eat it, vamanos.  

As we were eating our tour director informed us that we would be experiencing high seas tonight with heavy winds as well.  I found the ship Doc and got a pill to take so that I don’t get seasick.   So, I’m fortified.  And the window will remain shut tonight.  

It’s time again to dream of whales.