The Copper Canyon
The Sea of Cortez
Whale Watching Along Baja California(On the Yorktown Clipper)
March 6 – 17, 2005
Table of Contents
Sunday, March 6, 2005
I was up and out of bed this morning at 5:00 AM because of a muscle spasm in my back. This has gotten worse over the past three days and the only thing to do is to get up and sit at the dining room table with some reading. To stay in bed only aggravates the problem. Medications do little good. Without medication, the pain gradually goes away over the first ½ - ¾ hour after leaving bed. If treated, it requires about the same length of time before the pain subsides. Jacquie got up about 6:45 AM. Breakfasting and departure preparation went smoothly and we were ready to depart by 8:50 AM. We had taken Korbel for boarding at the Animal Clinic yesterday so we did not have the complication of two cats to deal with. The drive to Sacramento was quite pleasant. The weather was clear and gave promise of a nice day with a temperature about 70˚ F. I wondered at this point whether it was worth going south to find warm weather. The current forecast for Baja California isn’t much warmer than here.
We arrived at Tom’s home about 10:00 AM. Tom was not home so Pam drove us over to the airport. They would keep our car while we are gone and would pick us up on March 17 when we return. There was no line at the Continental check-in counter and clearing security went smoothly. We were at the boarding gate by about 10:40 AM with departure scheduled for 12:20 PM. We boarded the plane about 12:00 PM and it pushed back and soon was airborne right on time at 12:20 PM. The flight to Houston was scheduled for 3 hours, 28 minutes. It was cloudy for the last 1/3 of the flight but we still were projected to be about 10 minutes early. Unfortunately, rainy weather in the Houston area delayed flights and we had to hold for a short while. Still, we were on the ground only about 15 minutes late. At the time, it was raining lightly.
Our seatmate was a young man about age 25 from the Sacramento area. He currently is a student at a local community college nearing his AA degree in automotive restoration and electronics technology. Via a stint in the US Army, he had acquired skills in electrical generator repair and now does free lance generator repair to support his education. He was on his way to Houston on a special job to do generator repair for Brown & Root, a division of Halliburton. He would “do paper work” in Houston and then would continue on to what he termed a “bad place”. The “bad place” undoubtedly was Iraq which he avoided identifying, probably for reasons of his own security. We had an enjoyable conversation with him over the course of the flight and we wished him success with his assignment and with finishing his schooling.
We arrived in Houston at Terminal A and had a long walk and tram ride to Terminal B where the Continental shuttle flights depart. When we arrived in the boarding area, it was a veritable madhouse with several flights nearing boarding. We believed that there would no food on the flight from Houston to Chihuahua. Since we still had a couple of hours before our flight would be called, we went looking for a place to have some dinner.
I should mention here that we had brought large ham sandwiches from home in anticipation that there would be no food service on the way between Sacramento and Houston. We ate these just after takeoff from Sacramento and felt quite smug about our decision to bring sandwiches. To our dismay, shortly after we ate, the cabin attendants brought around a “snack” that included (1) a chicken sandwich bagged in a cellophane envelope, (2) a bag of Fritos, (3) baby carrots, (4) a sweet bar and (5) a soda. I ate (2) through (5) and saved (1) for later. In spite of this, we were hungry by the time we arrived at our boarding area in Houston. We found a Chili’s bar & restaurant in the food court not far from our boarding gate and had a delicious chicken Caesar salad and a large draft Bud. All of this really hit the spot and should suffice for dinner. It cost nearly $40.00 including tip for the two of us with the beer being more costly than the Caesar salad!
We returned to the boarding area and again found it to be a virtual madhouse since a different set of flights would soon be departing for all over Mid-America as well as to many cities in Mexico. We checked in for our flight and then settled down to await its departure. During the interim, we made contact with Anna Sperato, our tour leader from Clipper Cruises. She gave us some briefing material and then went off searching for other members of our group; there would be 15 persons in all. Anna did tell us that dinner would be served once we reached the hotel in Chihuahua. That had been noted on our pre-trip schedule but I assumed that our late arrival would preclude this. Oh well, it appeared that the fattening up process would begin early in the trip!
Our flight was called on time at about 8:45 PM and we soon were airborne heading for Chihuahua. Another meal was served but both Jacquie and I declined. The flight was uneventful and took just a bit over 2 hours allowing us to land a few minutes ahead of schedule at about 10:00 PM. We changed from Central to Mountain Standard Time so the clock time for the flight was only a bit over 1 hour. We completed the Immigration and Customs forms before landing. We cleared a perfunctory Immigrations procedure and then collected out baggage. We were merely waved through Customs although they were doing random searches and required some of our group to submit to thorough inspection of their checked bags and carry-on items. A local guide met us just outside Customs and we waited with him while the rest of our group was checked through.
The ride to the hotel took place through quiet streets into the city center. The guide gave us our hotel room assignments and keys so once we arrived at the hotel, we could go directly to our rooms. After we deposited our carry-on bags in our room, we immediately went to the dining room for our “dinner.” Our checked bags would be delivered to our rooms while we were eating. The Caesar salad had by now worn off so I was game for some additional food despite the late hour. Dinner was delicious and included (1) carne asada, (2) frijoles, (3) a green pepper sauce for (1) and (4) a quesadilla. For dessert, there was an absolutely delicious flan that was smooth and creamy almost like a cheesecake. Watermelon juice was available as a beverage and margaritas were served to start the meal. I was able to have a couple of extra margaritas since some of our group was not imbibing because of the late hour. I tried to eat sparingly but the food was so good that it was difficult to resist.
Once back at the room, we found that we had an extra suitcase. I started to take it downstairs when someone popped out of the next room also headed downstairs to look for the very same bag. This coincidence of timing saved both of us a trip! We unpacked only what was necessary for the night. The room was quite comfortable but was stuffy so I opened the window to let in a bit of the cooler night air. The view was one of the uglier in our experience since the window opened onto an interior airshaft full of ventilation equipment. We took showers and although we tried to be speedy, it was 1:15 AM before we got into bed. We had the alarm set for 5:30 AM. Bags have to be out in the hall by 7:00 AM when breakfast is served in the dining room. We are scheduled to depart for the Copper canyon area at 8:00 AM.
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Monday, March 7, 2005
We woke up to the alarm’s strident noise at 5:30 AM and quickly ran through our exercises and the morning washing and shaving routines. I had no back pain this morning, probably because the night was too short to allow time for the muscle spasms to set in. By then, our checked bags were ready to set out into the hall beating the deadline by about 30 minutes. We finished dressing and headed down to breakfast a few minutes early hoping that things would be ready. We were the first to arrive in the dining room and the staff was just putting the final touched on the breakfast buffet service. We initially sat in the general dining area but soon moved into a private dining room reserved for our Clipper group. There were a variety of foods available on the buffet and in addition, one could order eggs cooked as desired. I ate mostly Mexican food with the most memorable item being chilaquiles. Jacquie had her usual egg breakfast. We both tried to eat sparingly in view of having had dinner at the late hour last night. Once finished we returned to our room and collected out carry-on items after brushing teeth, etc. We were in the lobby 15 minutes before the time scheduled for departure. Several members of our group already were there when we arrived.
While we were waiting for the luggage to be loaded on the bus and for everything to get organized, I walked down the street a half-block or so just to see what was there. It was cool, 40-50 ˚F, but it was sunny and gave promise of being a nice say. To my dismay, I found three drugstores within line of sight of the hotel. One was on the same side of the street and two were side by side immediately opposite. All advertised cheap prices for prescription drugs as if catering to seniors fro across the border. But, we are not anywhere near the border and well beyond casual driving distance. So, I assume they are advertising primarily for the benefit of local residents and tourists. I did not go into these stores. I did look through the window of one just as it was opening. It had the appearance of a small chain store in the USA with a myriad of things for sale in a cluttered environment on the sales floor. The location of the pharmacy was not visible from the front window.
The bus soon was ready to depart and we passengers all dutifully trooped on board and found seats. The bus was roomy with plenty of seating and a toilet on board. Anna made a couple of announcements and then introduced Ernesto, our Mexican guide for the trip from Chihuahua clear through to Los Mochis two days hence. Ernesto is a man in his late 40s who is employed by a local tourist agency. By the end of the trip, we were kidding him about being a walking encyclopedia. In fact, he was very well informed and took the initiative for our program in a way that enabled us to derive maximum benefit. His English skills were excellent.
A short driving tour of Chihuahua was first on the agenda. We learned from Ernesto that Chihuahua is an Indian word meaning “a dry, sandy place.” Indeed, the surrounding terrain is hilly and appears to be quite arid at this time of the year. The significant rains come in the summer although rainfall this winter has been in excess of the average. Temperatures throughout the year range between 15 ˚F and 115 ˚ F! The elevation at Chihuahua is 4,600 ft. The mainstay of the economy is the maquiladoras that assemble dashboards for motor vehicles. Cattle ranching is the major agriculture base of the territory surrounding Chihuahua city. Other industries include mining, lumbering and tourism. There are many leather shops in Chihuahua and the cost of their goods is quite reasonable.
The city appears to be a mix of older buildings and a few 6-8 story modern structures. The city cathedral, constructed 1725 – 1816, is located just a block from the hotel and we stopped there for pictures. It employs a baroque style construction and is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. A small square in front of the cathedral includes a 200 year-old gazebo from Denmark. We wandered around the square for a few minutes while the “photographers” in the group shot pictures. I spent my time gazing around and enjoying the sights. The old cathedral was quite beautiful and I enjoyed the serenity of the early morning hour. We looked inside the church but there was a service in progress and we didn’t want to interrupt this by going inside.
We left the cathedral and drove past a square with a tall column topped by a sculpture of the Angel of Liberty. The sculpture rotates at a rate of 1 rpm and a laser light at the tip of its sword adds to the uniqueness of this monument. We did not stop to take pictures even though the monument is considered to be quite unique. We continued on our way a few blocks to a museum that once was the home of Pancho Villa. Pancho Villa certainly was a folk hero in this part of Mexico and his memory is observed even to day. But, he was a complex person; at times a bandit, at times a revolutionary and near the end, a General of the Army and Governor of Chihuahua. He could be both cruel and compassionate. Ernesto told us that Pancho Villa had lived a very poor life as a boy working on a large hacienda. He watched as the owner raped his sister and this changed his life forever. Initially, he became a famous bandit stealing from the rich and giving to the poor peasants. He later gained respectability when he joined the war for independence and rose to the level of a general. When his forces were victorious, he was appointed Governor and ruled for several years. He was assassinated by rivals in a hail of bullets. The car in which he was riding still sits in the museum, complete with bullet holes.
Pancho Villa's house originally was small and not pretentious. It stood at one end of a walled compound that originally functioned as a clandestine slaughterhouse for cattle rustled by the bandits. A tunnel under part of the mansion that was used to bring cattle in for slaughter still exists. Pancho Villa expanded the house and made it into a fine mansion and this is preserved today as a museum. The museum is full of artifacts from Villa’s life and gives one a view of how the “leadership” lived in the very early 1900s. Overall, it was an interesting place and was worth the short stop.
Pancho Villa’s wife was named Quinta Luz and the mansion primarily was built for her. She survived Pancho Villa by many years and lived in the mansion until her death. She recognized the importance of the tourists who visited the mansion and often mingled and talked with them. Villa apparently grew lonesome for female companionship when on long campaigns and would marry a wife in whatever town that the army bivouacked for a while. He eventually accumulated a total of twenty-five women who claimed to have been married to him as well as a considerable number of claimed offspring. But, few could prove the fact since before leaving town, he typically would have a trusted staff member go to the town clerk’s office and expunge the marriage record. After his death, the Mexican Government recognized these marriages and provided pensions to all of the widows who had legitimate claim!
We spent a few minutes at a crafts shop across the street from the museum and that was enough time for Jacquie to buy a nice set of turquoise earrings for $32.00. It turned out that this was our only take-home purchase of the entire trip. We then continued on our way to the Copper Canyon, In the process of leaving Chihuahua, we passed the old state penitentiary. It is a forbidding stone structure that looks like a fortress. Its guard towers are pocked with bullet holes that remain from the Mexican Revolution when Pancho Villa attacked it on at least two occasions attempting to free political prisoners.
Ahead of us was a drive of about 300 Km that would terminate just past Divisadero about 4:00 – 4:30 PM. Chihuahua State has three climatic zones; the desert east, a grasslands center and a mountainous west known as the Sierra Madre Occidental. Our drive today would take us through a bit of the grasslands area and would enter the Sierra Madre Occidental.
Following are a collection of observations and comments about the drive to the Divisadero area.
We discovered a major catastrophe when our bags arrived at the room. When the bag had been pulled from the bus, the lock must have caught on something and the zipper mechanism was pulled off. Both the lock and the zipper pulls were gone and there was no way to close the main flap on the bag. We searched the parking lot for the remnants of the zipper and lock but they must have remained on the bus, which already had left on the trip back to Chihuahua What were we to do for the rest of the trip to keep our belongings inside?
We contacted Anna and told her of our plight. Anna assured us the Clipper would either repair or replace our bag in Los Mochis. In the meantime, she volunteered the use of some heavy-duty safety pins that she had brought for emergencies. We tried these out later in the evening and they seemed to work well. We decided that the safety pins gave enough promise of success that we could wait until tomorrow AM to work on the closure. We would have to see then whether we felt the closure could wait till Los Mochis.
Our group assembled at 5:45 PM for the ride in a small bus up to El Mirador Hotel on the canyon rim for a short hike followed by dinner. We hiked along the rim for about 1/2-3/4 mile in order to view the canyon from different perspectives. The setting sun added to the beauty of the scene by providing oblique light that brought out detail in the canyon walls. We returned to the El Mirador for a complimentary margarita on the deck while we watched the effects of the setting sun on the clouds and the canyon walls to the east.
We were treated to magnificent views of the canyon both from trail and the patio at the hotel. Although we could not see the bottom, we had views of three of the major canyons of the area that were visible from this angle. The view stretched across many miles of deeply convoluted terrain carved by eons of water as the land slowly rose in elevation. Through binoculars, we could see the houses of the Tarahumara Indians scattered here and there down in the canyon and of the far hills on the other side. There were no roads into the canyon so these people must walk to and from their homes on any occasion that they need contact with the outside world. It was interesting in that each time we scanned over the canyon, we would find more Indian homes. Each seemed to have a couple of acres of tilled ground with fruit trees and a well. All would have required long walks up steep trails to reach the “outside world.” The Indians’ principal wealth is in their goats. Their crops are mostly for subsistence. They also generate income from crafts sold to tourists.
Indoors, there was an excellent vocalist singing Mexican songs while accompanying himself with a guitar. Out on the deck, there were several feeders that were attracting magnificent, white eared and blue-throated hummingbirds. We watched these for at least an hour while these small birds shuttled in and out of the feeder area. It soon became quite chilly after the sun dropped below the west rim of the canyon and it was necessary to go indoors even though we had brought along lightweight jackets.
Overall, I found the scene not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon although these canyons are deeper and the whole complex of canyons is clearly very extensive in area. But, the overall canyon lacked the dramatic views that convey depth and the colors of the Grand Canyon. Yet, it was well worth coming here to see.
Dinner was served about 7:00 PM. The Lodge was full of tourists and the dining area was crowded. Quite fortunately, we had seen that the dinner buffet was about to open so we got in line just as it was announced. We thus had quick service. The appetizer of tomato soup was OK. The main course was built around a pan-fried filet of black bass that tasted of a hint of coming from a muddy-bottomed river or pond. The veggies were OK but a tortilla was doughy and had not been steamed. Dessert was a piece of sponge cake with a small dollop of canned fruit cocktail spread on top. The overall meal was not very good and would receive about a C-minus on my rating scale.
The bus took us back to the hotel and we were in our room by about 8:30 PM. We spent some time packing and then got ready for bed. The room was very chilly and we opted not to take showers since the day had been without significant stress or exercise. I turned the heater to maximum setting. Ernesto had admonished us to leave a window cracked because of the possibility that these heaters might give off carbon monoxide. After discussing the matter, we decided to leave the heater turned off for the night. I had tried leaving it on and had opened a window just a crack. But, the open window chilled the room far more rapidly that the heater could cope. We turned in about 10:00 PM with all available blankets on our beds.
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Tuesday, March 8, 2005
I awakened about 2:30 AM and it was very cold in our room. I put on my underwear and socks and went back to bed. I still was cold but soon fell asleep only to awaken again about 4:30 AM still suffering from the cold. This time, I got up and put on my heavy UOP sweatshirt to cover my aching back. I then burrowed deep under the blankets so as to completely cover my head. This sufficed until about 6:30 AM when I decided to get up and start the heater again. To my pleasant surprise, Jacquie had already started the heater and as a result, the room was beginning to warm up. Still, it was so cold that neither of us elected to do our morning exercises. Shaving and washing our faces was an ordeal at best. I dressed this morning in a thermolactyl turtleneck shirt, my blue fleece jacket and finally a baggy UOP sweatshirt. All of these layers kept me quite comfortable, especially with our room beginning to warm up.
It was overcast and rather gloomy outside. Water dripped off the roof and I could not tell whether this was from a shower or from melting frost. I suspect that it was the latter even though rain showers had been forming over the east wall of the canyon last evening. We soon boarded the bus to take us up the El Mirador and breakfast and following that, the morning activities. We would later return to the Posada La Barranca to change clothes, collect our gear and then board the train for El Fuerte this afternoon.
When we arrived, several Tarahumara Indian women were already sitting outside the hotel entry with their handcraft wares spread out for the tourists. It was very chilly and I marveled at their tolerance of the cold. I did notice that some of the women with small babies did periodically come into the dining room and sit before the fire to warm up. This of course, created a stir among the tourists who just had to photograph the babies and fuss over them. Breakfast included (1) scrambled eggs, (2) ham, (3) nopalitos fixed with tomato, onions and peppers, (4) an unknown dish that included tortillas, cheese and a sauce, (5) juice, (6) baking powder biscuits and (7) pancakes. Coffee and tea were served at the table. I had a bit of everything except for (7) and found it to be very tasty.
We assembled in the hotel parking lot immediately after breakfast for a program featuring Tarahumara Indian dances and games. Three men performed wearing their traditional white blouses and trousers thin-soled sandal held on the foot by lather thongs. Only on of them danced and he performed barefoot in spite of the cold. The dancer performed three dances named after animals; the lion, the burro and the ram. The footwork for each was intricate and different with the dancer making appropriate animal sounds and behaviors. The ram dance included butting at the spectators while the burro dance featured kicking and braying. The dances have a spiritual meaning and are believed to elevate the dancer toward heaven. The other two men who played a guitar and a violin accompanied the dancer. The latter was homemade and has descended from days of the Spanish when the Indians admired the instruments possessed by the Conquistadores. The Indians have become very skilled at making violins but they often follow designs unique to their culture.
There were demonstrations of running games played by the Indians following the dances. These Indians are world-renowned for their running ability as well as their endurance. For men, the game is played with a wooden ball, which they craft from a hard wood. The players use a paddle shaped somewhat like a long-handled spoon. The ball is “served” by throwing in with the spoon. The participants run to chase the ball and using the paddle, either throw it back toward the origin or in a direction continued by the first throw. This keeps up back and forth till the players drop. The last one standing is the winner! Two girls demonstrated the women's’ game which is played with a set of paired loops. These are tossed with a stick following which the participants run after the loops and throw them on to the next point. All of this was very interesting and was very well worth the time spent. All the while, it was quite chilly for the spectators who just were standing around.
We next boarded the yellow “school bus” for a drive along the canyon rim to get additional perspectives of it in the morning light. Out first stop was at an overlook about 2 miles distant where vendors were just beginning to set up their displays. There were magnificent views here but the main attraction was a “balancing rock” that was a must for many in our group including Jacquie. The balancing rock sat on a narrow ridge that jutted out over the edge of the canyon. Only two people could go out to the rock at one time and one always was Ernesto for safety reasons. Once on the rock with one of our travelers, Ernesto would cause it to rock back and forth by shifting his weight. The whole thing looked a bit scary. We have pictures of Jacquie out on the balancing rock with a sheer drop on three sides and a view of the canyon as a backdrop.
There were many vendors at this stop showing not only local crafts but also items from all over Mexico. Ernesto advised us to not bargain with the Indians. They quote a good and lowest price that one can accept as being legitimate. On the other hand, he advised bargaining with the Mestizo vendors since they inflate their prices expecting to bargain to a final result.
We ventured on down a very bumpy road to another overlook spot. This also was heavily frequented by vendors, most of them Indian. We did not buy anything here. We did see two woodpeckers that appeared to have olive color on their upper wings, barred backs, a red topknot, gray breast, and maybe displayed a bit or rose color when they fly. Ernesto called them acorn woodpeckers. Oak trees were abundant in this area so this certainly could be the case. But, the woodpeckers didn’t look quite like our acorn woodpeckers at home and I’m not sure what they were. Pink blooming manzanitas were also prevalent here as were madrone trees. The latter were not yet in bloom.
Out last stop on the tour of the canyon rim was at Divisadero. From here one could see directly into Copper Canyon but again, the floor was not visible being blocked from view by the sloping walls of the canyon. There were peach trees in bloom here as well as along the rim-roads we had just traveled. We again encountered several flatcars loaded with RVs and their occupants making the trip from Chihuahua to El Fuerte. They looked like they were fully enjoying the ride. The sun came out for a while in mid-morning and we enjoyed the added warmth. Unfortunately, it clouded over by noon and we didn’t see sustained sun till we were on the train headed to El Fuerte.
We next drove to the La Barranca Hotel and finished out packing. Then, we went to lunch at the El Mirador Hotel. It included macaroni & cheese, carne asada with guacamole, a cheese enchilada, frijoles and cake. Clipper paid for one alcoholic drink so Jacquie and I had a beer with our meal. The meal was very good and we came away with the impression that the hotel should stick to Mexican food rather than the relatively poor “Gringo” food served last evening. While we waited for lunch to be served, we spotted several back vultures soaring above the hotel. Last evening, only turkey vultures were visible.
We returned to the hotel about 1:10 PM. By now, Ernesto had learned that the train was on time and would arrive at a stop in front of the hotel by about 2:00 PM. So we hurriedly finished our packing. This required that we pin the cover on Jacquie’s duffel bag where the zipper had been pulled off. Once this was done, the hotel staff securely bound Jacquie's bag with sturdy twine to further protect the cover from coming off. We were confident that it would last to El Fuerte and then on to Los Mochis where we could buy a new case since it would get rather mild baggage handling treatment until then.
Unfortunately, while all of this was going on, we missed part of Ernesto’s lecture about the local Indian culture. We arrived late but were able to glean the following information from his discussion.
We walked across the road to a boarding platform about 2:00 PM where the train would stop for us. There was a small crowd of mostly tourists waiting to board the first class train. A train for second-class passengers customarily follows about an hour later. The latter is cheaper and is used mostly by Mexicans headed to markets in the trackside towns or on their way to the large communities along the West Coast. Our train arrived after a wait of about 10 minutes. Ernesto guided us to our car where we had a block of reserved seats. The car as very comfortable with air conditioning, wide seats, plenty of legroom and a large window through which we could view the scenery. There were toilets on board and we were allowed to stand in the vestibules between cars where we could catch some fresh air and take pictures. The train departed almost immediately after we boarded. The 216 Km ride to La Fuerte was scheduled to take about 6 to 7 hours. We would be dropping about 6,600 ft from an elevation of about 2,200 meters at Posada la Divisadero to about 200 meters at EL Fuerte!
Following are my notes about events and things that we saw during the journey.
We arrived at La Fuerte about 8:45 PM. (Relative to La Barranca, it was 9:45 PM since we had crossed one time zone late in the day.) We quickly disembarked and followed Anna to a waiting bus. Ernesto had warned us earlier that it would be warm in El Fuerte so we had stowed our sweaters. It was a "good call" on his part as it was quite warm and a bit humid. A large crowd of fellow travelers also disembarked and several buses were waiting for them. Most tourists get off at El Fuerte rather than continuing on to Los Mochis by train which takes another several hours.
The drive to the Posada del Hidalgo took only about 10 minutes through quiet streets. The hotel is in an old mansion behind the main church, which in turn, faces on the city square. We walked up a long ramp that was the equivalent of a couple of flights of stairs and emerged on the main level of the hotel near the reception, bar and dining room. We had received our room assignments on the way from the railroad station and were directed to our room by Ernesto. It was on the main level down a wing that was fronted by a lush garden of semi-tropical plants. The room was a bit small but was quite nice although a bit old. There was an air-conditioner that worked and a large bathroom. The only negative was that we again had to put the T.P. in the wastebasket and we cannot drink the tap water. But, there was bottled water in the room and otherwise, all was O.K. After depositing our carry-on bags, we went to the bar and joined most of our traveling companions in having a complimentary drink on Clipper. The bar was outdoors but the evening was warm and the ambience was very pleasant.
We returned to our room by about 10:30 PM. By then, our checked bags had arrived. We were pleased to find that Jacquie's bag had arrived with pins and all intact. We took showers and got ready for bed. We finally made it in by 12:15 PM. The alarm was set for 7:00 AM with breakfast scheduled for anytime between then and 9:00 AM. There is a walking tour of the area at 9:10 AM. Bags have to be ready and placed outside our room by 11:20 AM. The bus will depart for Los Mochis at 3:00 PM with the time in between available for our leisure.
Post Scripts for Today
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Wednesday, March 9, 2005
I was awakened at 6:15 AM by a muscle spasm in the left side of my back. It's the same one that has bothered me for the past two or three weeks. It has been quiet the last few days, probably as a result of short nights as a result of our travels. It wasn't bad as long as I remained in bed this AM but became moderately painful once I got up. I went ahead and shaved and then did some re-packing that involved moving warm clothes to the bottom of my duffle bag and putting cooler ones on top.
Jacquie got up about 7:00 AM. While I waited for her to get ready for breakfast, I calculated Ernesto's tip at $30.00 for the three days. That was at the high end of what is recommended for a local guide tip in our brochure from Clipper. Ernesto has done an excellent job as far as we are concerned. We will have to bid him goodbye this evening at Los Mochis. While doing this, I could hear house finches singing in the garden outside our room. I can't see what the weather is like but it must be nice. The stars were shining brilliantly last night when we arrived. I am ready for some nice warm weather after the cold damp winter at home and the chill we experienced in the high country the past couple of days!
When we went for breakfast about 7:30 AM, we found the hotel dining room to be crowded and understaffed. The service was slow and we finally had to track down a waiter with Ernesto's help so we could place an order. Once ordered, we were served quite quickly. But, I had to go looking for some coffee, which I eventually found at the waiters' serving station. My breakfast ended up as being some scrambled eggs with frijoles, two pieces of cold toast, some fruit and a container of Yoplait apricot yogurt that I scrounged off a buffet near the dining room entrance. We returned to our room and finished packing and then got ready for our walking tour of El Fuerte.
Our group assembled for the walking tour at 9:00 AM in the reception area just outside the dining room. Ernesto served as our guide giving us a narrative explanation of the various sights as we walked along. Following are excerpts from my notes I compiled following the tour.
By the time we emerged from the shade along the river, the sun was becoming quite intense and the walk back up the hill to the hotel left us a bit warm and perspiring. We returned to our room and finished our packing since we had to clear our room by 11:30 AM. We left our checked bags outside our door to be picked up by hotel staff and then took our carry-ons to the reception area where they were stowed in a day room reserved for our travel group. We had an hour at leisure before lunch. We thought about going out to walk around the town but decided against that since we didn't want to brave the heat. It actually was not very hot but it seemed so after the very cool temperatures of the past two days at Divisadero.
We sat in the bar patio and talked to our fellow travelers until lunch was served. It was shaded here and quite pleasant. The patio looked out over the town and the surrounding territory. In the distance, we could see the Sierra Madre to the east. To the southwest were small mountains and beyond them was the ocean. The vegetation immediately outside town seemed like scrubby chaparral. It was bright and sunny and quite warm. Lunch was served after about an hour but first came a complimentary margarita courtesy of the hotel. Lunch offered too much food and was served buffet style out on the patio by the bar. I had some frijole soup, a bit of carne asada, guacamole, a gordita, a green corn tamale, a small quesadilla and apiece of enchilada in mole sauce. Clipper provided a tall, cold beer.
Following lunch, we thought about walking a block to the Museum but decided against it. Lunch had taken its toll. We heard that only pesos are accepted for admission and that American money could not be used. So low was our motivation that on this basis, we decided to just sit in the lounge area and await the time when the bus departed for Los Mochis. So we continued to kibitz with our fellow travelers. We boarded the bus about 3:00 PM and immediately were on our way heading southwest toward Los Mochis. The total drive was estimated at about 1 hr, 15 minutes. Following are excerpts from notes that I made during this journey.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we collared Anna and Ernesto to take us shopping of replacement for the bag that was ruined at Posada la Barranca. We went to a typical super mercado about 2 blocks from the hotel where just about anything was on sale through a myriad of small shops all under one roof. Almost immediately, we found three shops, almost side by side, that sold an array of luggage. Unfortunately, all three carried basically the same inventory and I suspected that any other luggage shops in the area would be similar. So, shopping around wasn't a viable option. We were able to find a canvass bag that was of slightly greater capacity than the damaged one. But, the canvass wasn't as heavy and the pocket configuration wasn't as handy. But, it would serve the purpose and there were really no alternatives so we agreed to its purchase. It cost Anna $11.00 US which will be reimbursed by Clipper. We'll have to decide before our next trip whether it should be used again or replaced. Once this was accomplished, we returned to the hotel and sat in the lobby people watching until time for our dinner that was scheduled for 6:00 PM.
We went to a private dining room on the hotel's fourth floor at 6:00 PM where we were treated to a personal performance by a folk dance troupe from the local area. The troupe included four men and four women all but one of whom were young people in their 20s. They performed several folk dances typical of several states in Mexico. Their costumes were beautiful and although the music was recorded and not live, the performance was very enjoyable. The performance began with an "old man dance" from Oaxaca and then continued to other dances including ones from Jalisco, Sinaloa and elsewhere. Especially entertaining was the Mexican hat dance and one where the performers danced while balancing tumblers-fill glasses of water on their heads. The performances were stylized and probably not entirely authentic but they were enjoyable in all respects.
We were served margaritas during the performance and following the end of the dances, we had dinner. This included tomato, potatoes with cheese sauce, carrots and broccoli steamed just right and a brochette of 6 large shrimp that were broiled to perfection. A bottle of Pacific Cervesa was served with dinner and we had flan for dessert. There was, as usual, too much food but I ate it all except for the potato and refused the tortillas that were passed around with the meal.
We ate a leisurely dinner and finally boarded the bus about 8;00 PM and headed for the airport. The drive to the airport took about 20 minutes through darkened streets and farming country. We eventually arrived at the well-lighted terminal. It was very modern but quite small in size. The Army was conducting a security check at the entrance to the terminal but we were waved through without having to be checked. Ernesto and Anna did a group check-in for us so all we had to do was to wait until time to go to the boarding gate. Rather than repacking our gear into the new bag, we had elected to check the damaged one through on the hope that it wouldn't receive bad treatment. We planned to repack at the time of departure from the ship several days from now.
We next bid Ernesto goodbye and he left us for the return journey back to Chihuahua. He would stay overnight in Los Mochis and catch the train tomorrow morning for the 18-20 hour ride home. I did not envy him I this respect. I did wonder if he was guiding a group back in that direction which was not impossible.
After a short wait, an airline employee led us to the security check-in. The metal detector was set very high and just about everybody set it off. I had to be checked with the wand and it apparently was the zipper on my pants that had set off the alarm. Neither my or Jacquie's hand luggage was searched. Some of our group were selected for random searches and had there possessions all dumped out on a table while the agent carefully inspected all. A couple of them were caught with penknives and scissors that were temporarily confiscated but later returned.
We boarded our Aero California DC-9 almost immediately and were airborne by 9:15 PM. The flight was announced as taking 1 hr & 15 minutes. Soft drinks were served once we were airborne and almost immediately, I could feel the plane throttle back and begin a descent. My first reaction was that we were returning to Los Mochis for some reason. But instead, we were landing in La Paz. The flight took only about 40 minutes, terminal to terminal. Most on us were left puzzling abut the disconnect between the announced and actual flight time.
The Army was again waiting for us and exhaustive searches were being conducted of the luggage of all Mexican nationals. We later heard, unconfirmed rumors that the Mexican Police had intelligence that a drug smuggling operation was going to occur with this flight and they were doing a surprise search in hopes of finding the contraband. We never heard whether they were successful. We were met by a Clipper representative who guided us to a waiting SUV. Porters took our checked bags and these eventually showed up in our cabin on board the ship.
The drive to the dock through deserted streets took about 15 minutes. Once at the Yorktown Clipper our badges were scanned and our ID was verified. We were photographed next and then were escorted to our cabin. Stowing our gear and taking showers took until 1:15 AM. We went to bed with the alarm set for 6:30 AM. Breakfast will be served at 7:30 AM. The Yorktown Clipper was scheduled to depart La Paz sometime about mid-morning tomorrow.
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Thursday, March 10, 2005
We were up with the alarm at 6:30 AM. I actually had awakened somewhat earlier because the muscle spasm in my back was bothering. Fortunately, it wasn't sufficiently bad that I lost sleep over the matter. Our room was very warm when we arrived last evening and even though we set the A/C as high as it would go, the cabin cooled only very slowly. However, by sometime in the middle of the night it finally cooled enough to be quite comfortable and remained that way this morning. We went to breakfast about 7:30 AM and found a table with some of our fellow travelers from the Copper Canyon Extension. Again, there was too much good food and I didn't resist temptation so ended up eating too much. Following breakfast, I went up to the observation deck and checked out a set of swim fins. Both Jacquie and I brought our snorkeling gear from home but I intentionally did not bring the fins knowing that I could get them on board the ship. This saved having their bulk in my baggage. Following that, I worked on these notes for a while.
The Yorktown Clipper wasn't scheduled to get under way until sometime late morning. Some passengers went ashore to see what the town offered but we elected to remain on board. Our cruise will end up back here in La Paz with a half-day at leisure so we'll have plenty of time then to look around. The morning was bright and sunny with only a light breeze ruffling the surface of the harbor. It definitely was shorts weather so I unzipped the legs of my convertible pants and gained immediate comfort. We spent about two hours on the upper deck watching the action in the harbor and talking with our on-board naturalists. We enjoyed just relaxing while looking our over the harbor and enjoying the warm, sunny morning. It felt good after some of the chilly temps and all of the activity since last Sunday.
The harbor was more or less circular and occupied an area of perhaps four or five square miles. The quadrant along the shoreline immediately adjacent to our anchorage, I believe this basically was the south end of the bay, was occupied by the town. A broad boulevard ran along the shoreline. Facing it was an area of touristy places that included boutiques, souvenir shops, small art galleries, restaurants and the like. Behind these was a business district and behind that residential areas. Further inland one could see high hills covered with vegetation. The quadrant lying to the east was somewhat hilly and the shoreline was occupied by large homes, a resort of two and some factories or processing plants along the shore. To the west the town gradually gave way to a low, sandy coastline covered with mangroves and low-growing trees. The beach terminated in a sand spit a couple hundred yards long that jutted out into the harbor entry which lies to the north. The shipping channel, marked by green and red buoys ran parallel and not far off the east shore of the bay. There was not much shipping activity in the harbor today. Far out near the opening we could see an anchored Baja Marine Ferry. The Yorktown Clipper was anchored at the main wharf opposite the town. Fifty or sixty yards from us was a trawler but beyond that, there were only a few pleasure craft riding at anchor.
There was not a lot of wildlife activity but we did manage to see several frigate birds, many brown pelicans, a few yellow-footed gulls, several cormorants and both black and turkey vultures. We also could see a large white egret over along the mangroves and a lone tricolored heron came gliding past us to land on the rear deck of a small cabin cruiser nearby. We also could see the occasional splash caused by a pod of dolphins feeding just off the sand spit. But, they were too far away to get a really good view of them.
The Yorktown Clipper left port about 10:15 AM and headed northward from La Paz into the Sea of Cortez. Once underway, there was an orientation briefing in the Lounge at 10:30 AM and after that, we returned to our cabins for the mandatory fire drill and abandon ship drill. We all had to don our life jackets and on the signal went to the mustering station. For us, this was in the ship's dining room on the main deck just down the hall from our cabin. When of this was finished, it was 12:00 PM and time for lunch. Daily, one has the choice of either eating lunch in the dining room or partaking of a self-service sandwich buffet in the Lounge. We opted today for the sit-down lunch in the dining room. I had a chef's salad and topped off my lunch with a piece of apple pie alamode. Jacquie opted for a half order of broiled shrimp. But, that still came with four giant-size shrimp and was almost more than she could eat.
During lunch, we were cruising along the west shore of several small islands. The sea was relatively calm and bright blue in color. The islands were composed of igneous rock in colorful shades of yellow, red and brown and were covered with scrubby desert vegetation. We dropped anchor about 1:15 PM at a small bay along the southwest shore of Espiritu Santo Island. If I am reading our briefing documents correctly, this was named Puerto Ballena or was near it. The bay must have had a white sand bottom for in many places, the water was a bright greenish blue that contrasted with the dark blue of deeper water and the colors in the surrounding rocky ridges. In one area to our right, hordes of brown pelicans were dive-bombing schools of small fish that they could easily see from above due to the clarity of the water. I never tire of watching pelicans as they plummet from the sky to scoop up an unsuspecting fish below the surface.
Once the boarding platform had been secured, the DIBS (the small craft used for beach landings and small group activities) began loading to ferry passengers to shore. We had the period between 1:45 PM and 4:30 PM for on-shore activities. Jacquie and I decided to take advantage of a nature walk led by one of our naturalists, Mary Lou. But, we also carried our snorkel gear to the beach so that we could engage in this activity following the nature walk. The nature walk centered mostly on plants and covered only a small patch of land just behind the beach. The talk by our naturalist was interesting but it also was difficult to hear because of the crowd of 20 plus fellow travelers. I did see one verdin and heard other birds calling but could not get a look at them. We did manage to take photos of several unique plants including a cardone cactus, a plant that looked like deadly nightshade, a large bush-like succulent with thick stems and shrubs that flowered blue and yellow. Jacquie and I left the hike at about the ¾-waypoint to return to the beach for snorkeling,
The beach was quite shallow and it was a good place to try out our gear. Unfortunately, there was a band of small rocks about 20 ft off the beach that we had to cross and these were covered with barnacles. I managed to get cut up pretty well on my legs, probably because of my own carelessness. Jacquie and I both had persistent problems with our masks leaking. We finally discovered that we inadvertently had switched masks. Once we got this straightened out, things worked smoothly but by then, it was almost time to return to the ship. I was able to see some small fish, 25 to 50 of them. That had brilliant yellow bars on their flanks. There also was one fish about 5" to 6" in long that had blue sides with a chestnut saddle. I later learned that the little fellows with the yellow bars were Sergeant Major Fish.
We returned to the ship just before 4:00 PM. Cleaning our gear was a major challenge in the confines of our small cabin. Everything had to be rinsed to remove the salt and then it had to be hung up to dry. We finally did this in conjunction with taking our showers that were necessary to remove salt from our own bodies. We then hung our gear in the shower to dry and this turned out to be a reasonably satisfactory way of dealing with the problem.
By the time we finished with clean up, it was about 5:00 PM. We went up on the lounge deck to look for wildlife. The naturalists both were there trying to drum up interest among the passengers. The hit of this period was a large school of manta rays leaping out of the water of the port bow. They sometimes flipped in a complete 360˚ arc before falling back. They were quite far away and it was hard to realize that some of them probably were at least 8 – 10 ft in width! Naturalist Rich Kirchner told me that this is common behavior of manta rays but nobody has figured out why they do it. We also saw several brown boobies. They fly just over the surface of the water with very fast wing beats. My back finally began to hurt and we decided to return to our cabin to kill the time before the captain's reception. I laid down on the bunk and almost immediately was fast asleep. Even though I only slept a few minutes, this did me a world of good and I actually began to look forward to the Captain's Reception. While I was resting, the Yorktown clipper pulled into a sheltered cove named Ensanada Grande. It was situated along the western side of Espiritu Santo Island. There were no port facilities but it presented a sheltered harbor. A Cruise West passenger ship plus two or three small pleasure craft already were moored there for the night when we arrived.
The Captain's Reception and Dinner was an enjoyable affair. There were lots of good munchies at the reception and plenty of complimentary drinks. I had two glasses of chardonnay with my food and took another down to dinner. We sat at dinner with fellow Copper Canyon travelers Christy, Gary, Wayne and Nellie. The food was excellent and we had a hilarious time talking around the table. We didn't finish till 9:00 PM and by this time, most of the other people had left the dining room.
We went up to the top deck after dinner to look at the stars, which supposedly are very bright because of no light pollution. We were disappointed however because the ship's deck lights almost completely washed out the effect of the stars. However, we were able to see large schools of 6–8 in. silvery fish swarming in the water alongside the hull where the ship's spotlights were trained on the surface. We returned to our cabin about 9:30 PM to find a chocolate truffle on our pillow. I ate mine along with a nip of Scotch for a nightcap. I then washed out socks and underwear before taking a shower and going to bed. The wakeup call will come at 7:00AM with breakfast scheduled for 7:30 AM. Our alarm was set for 6:30 AM.
Post Script for Today
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Friday, March 11, 2005
I had a poor night's sleep as a result of eating too much of the wrong kind of food yesterday. In addition, I was awakened about 5:00 AM with a severe muscle spasm on the left side on my back. I have been experiencing this problem for several days before leaving home and it seems to be related to how long I have been lying in bed. This problem first began during our cruise on the Yorktown Clipper last June and I believe it was triggered then by the nature of the beds. I have never recovered from that although there have been periods of relief. I'm suspicious that my problem since coming on board is again linked to the bed in our cabin. I got up and sat in a straight-backed chair for about 15 minutes without getting much relief. I finally shaved, dressed and went to the top deck intending to watch the sunrise. Although not very cold, a strong wind was blowing and I became so chilled that I had to go back to the cabin for a sweater.
When I returned, I saw a large fish that maybe was 18-24 in long chasing one of the small silver fellows that had been hanging around the lights shining on the surface. The chase went on for a minute of so but ended with the big one catching its prey. But then, it had a difficult time positioning the smaller fish so that it could be swallowed. There was quite a struggle and a couple of times, the little one almost got away. But in the end, it went "down the hatch" into the big one's gullet!
It was still dark at 5:45 AM but the Cruise West ship had already departed. The other small craft were still anchored here and all one could see was their night warning lights. The ship was slowly oscillating through a 45˚ to 60˚ angle as the brisk wind shifted back and forth. The cove was surrounded by steep hills so it was impossible to see the sun rise above the horizon. But the eastern sky slowly brightened and I watched the thin clouds above me turn to pink from their pre-dawn gray. Then, about 6:45 AM, I was rewarded for my patience when the clouds suddenly turned color to gold and then to rose. Their color was reflected off the surface of the cove giving it a rosy glow for a very few minutes. Then, it was all gone and the show was over for today!
In the meantime, birds were becoming active. Yellow-billed gulls were the early arrivals and I watched as several of them as they fought over a piece of flotsam. It apparently had little nutritional value for they eventually abandoned it. Pelicans, frigate birds and brown boobies soon appeared soaring on the updrafts along the face of cliffs bordering the cove. Some pelicans and frigate birds soared so high in the sky that they became mere specks. Overall, the morning view was enjoyable but not exactly what one would call spectacular.
As noted above our anchorage was surrounded by high hills that ended in quite sheer cliffs for about the first 50 ft. above the water. The rocks showing in these cliffs were multicolored in shades of brown, yellow and beige. Some of this rock it must have been composed of former volcanic ash and therefore quite soft since it was heavily eroded in some places by action of the waves.
Our ship weighed anchor and was on its way by about 7:15 AM heading in a northerly direction. The ship's ride was relatively smooth even though the wind had seemed quite stiff this early AM. We reached our morning's destination at Los Islotes about 8:00 AM while we were eating breakfast. Los Isotes consists of two islands that merely are spines of rock about a quarter mile long, a couple hundred feet wide and maybe 150-200 ft high. One has an archway in the center. The two are connected by a jumble of rocks and boulders about 10- 20 ft in height that is a favorite hauling out place for sea lions. The islands are heavily eroded by wave action. Their sides rise vertically out of the water but contain many fissures and rocky ledges that provide nesting places for sea birds and additional spots for sea lions to lounge. The islands are home to hundreds of sea lions and swarms of sea birds, especially during the nesting season.
Once the anchors were out, the DIBS were dropped into the water. Passengers were divided into two groups that would take turns cruising along the islands in the DIBS looking at the wildlife. The first group went at 8:20 AM with the second scheduled for 9:00 AM. Jacquie and I were scheduled for the second group so we lounged on the deck looking through our binoculars at the islands and the wildlife until it was out turn to go. Once we boarded the DIB, it headed to within about 30 ft of the island and then slowly cruised parallel to the cliffs while we watched the sea lions and looked for shore birds. The water was very clear and we could see the sea lions swimming around below us. Of course they also were hauled out on the rocks and kept up almost constant chattering and barking. There was almost constant jockeying for position and for the best places on the rocks. The sea lions were relatively unafraid of us and would come up beside the DIB to look us over. There were not many birds since it is not the breeding season. We saw yellow-footed gulls, pelicans, frigate birds, a very few blue-footed boobies and a lone surfbird poking among the rocks at the base of the cliff. We returned to the ship after about 40 minutes following which we weighed anchor and continued northward along Espiritu Santo Island.
Next on the agenda was a lecture at 10:30 AM on fish of the Sea of Cortez. The main emphasis was on identification of species that we might see while snorkeling. The lecture was interrupted twice by sightings of marine mammals in the water. The first was when a huge pod of dolphins crossed the bow of the ship. There must have been in excess of a hundred of them feeding along the surface. Occasionally, one would breech but they paid little attention to the ship and seemed to be intent on their quarry. A whale was spotted just as the lecture ended. The ship stopped and we drifted for about ½ hour waiting for the whale to appear. We saw it twice on the surface but it only showed its back and neither breached nor showed its flukes. At one point it was joined by a couple of dolphins that appeared to be feeding alongside the whale. Our quarry eventually disappeared and the Yorktown Clipper continued on its way.
We reached Bonanza Beach on Espiritu Santo Island about 1:00 PM. It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine, a modest breeze and comfortable temperature. We had just finished lunch and now, it was time to go on shore. Our choices were a strenuous hike, a moderate hike and snorkeling off the beach. We selected the moderate hike because it included scenery, some birding and would afford us the opportunity to follow that with a bit of snorkeling. Naturalist Mary Lou led the moderate hike and took us back into the hills behind the beach looking at the desert flora and fauna. We again marveled at the unique type of plants one finds in Baja California deserts. There are many succulents and cacti and much of the vegetation is strange to us. There were many cacti incuding "cardrones" that looked very similar to the saguaros of Arizona. I was "on a roll" with the birding and was the first to spot a loggerheaded shrike perched on top of a cardrone and an ashy-throated flycatcher among dense vegetation. But the prize of the afternoon was my first sighting of a rare black jackrabbit that only occurs on Espiritu Santo Island and nowhere else in the world. I was casually looking for one when all of a sudden, it hopped out of the vegetation in full view. It was jet black and leisurely hopped across a clearing, sat a minute and then disappeared into the shadows.
Jacquie and I eventually left the hike and returned to the beach to try the snorkeling. There was a nearby reef where several members of our group were swimming and we headed for there. I started out cruising over shallow water along the reef and soon saw two kinds of puffer fish, a needlefish, several sergeant majors and a few other species that I could not identify. But, I eventually became tired and decided to go back to the beach. When I got there, I could see Jacquie sitting in shallow water among some rocks not far along the beach talking to a fellow passenger. I started stowing my gear when Anna called out to me that Jacquie seemed to be having a problem. By now, three men were clustered around her and I immediately tried to go out to see what was the problem. I had started in bare feet but soon, on the advice of our naturalist Juan returned for my water sandals. By the time I returned Juan and another passenger were floating her to shore on her back. It turned out that she was having breathing problems. Juan then picked her up and slung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and hurried back down the beach to where one of the dibs was parked. By now, the ship's physician, Dr. Mike Wood had arrived and he and the crew hoisted Jacquie into the DIB and with me along, set out for the ship anchored a couple hundred yards off the beach. Once at the ship, she was assisted on board and hurried to our cabin. By now, Jacquie was in acute respiratory distress and blue in the face and having considerable difficulty breathing. Mike Wood immediately ordered a bottle of oxygen and started monitoring her condition as best he could. She had considerable edema in her lungs, a high pulse rate and elevated blood pressure. The oxygen soon arrived and over the next half-hour, her color gradually returned and vital signs began drifting back toward normal. But, she continued to produce bloody sputum that was the result of her respiratory distress. Mike and his companion, Dr. Laurie Spencer, were very attentive and hovered over her constantly and kept both Jacquie and me fully informed of the situation. Mike eventually was able to check her heart by improvising a defibrillator so that it acted as an electrocardiograph. He tended to rule out a heart attack as the cause of the problem although she had some abnormalities in the EKG. I felt she was in good hands even though the physicians were limited in the amount of equipment available.
Captain Burgman soon came in for a consultation; it was his decision whether to keep Jacquie on board or to take her back to a hospital in La Paz; distant by a cruise of 2 hrs. Of course, he relied heavily on the physician's recommendation and the latter conferred with Jacquie and me as well. Mike's recommendation was that although Jacquie's condition seemed stable, it was risky to keep her on board and we should hospitalize her for further treatment. Jacquie and I concurred with this opinion and the Captain agreed. So the Yorktown Clipper set sail for La Paz once the people on shore had returned to the ship at the previously designated time. In the meantime, I began to pack up our baggage since all of it would have to be off-loaded in La Paz. Our wet snorkeling gear presented the biggest challenge and I finally just dumped it in our mesh beach pack to be cleaned and dried at a later time. Jacquie finally felt good enough that she could help to some extent in spite of her condition and having to wear the oxygen mask. However, Mike Wood kept a watchful eye on her to make sure she didn't stress herself and aggravate her pulmonary situation. I had just finished packing when we reached La Paz. Jacquie ode a wheel chair to the landing platform where a couple of the crew helped her into the DIB and reattached to her oxygen bottle for the ride to a nearby dock. She was able to wave to a few of our concerned friends who were watching our departure from the Yorktown Clipper's deck. The ride to shore took only a couple of minutes and once there, Jacquie was loaded onto a gurney and then lifted into a waiting ambulance.
I took comfort in the fact the Assistant Cruise Director Jennifer Cyr traveled to the dock with us and once there, she introduced me to Lyn Walley. Lyn, a resident of La Paz, manages a local tour office and also represents Clipper as needed. Lyn would assist us as necessary with the intricacies of dealing with the hospital and related matters in an environment where we spoke only a little of the local language. Just as the introductions were completed and Jacquie was being loaded onto the ambulance, Jennifer's radio beeped. It was the ship requesting that Dr. Mike return to the ship as soon as possible as he had another "house call." More about that later.
At the ambulance, we were introduced to Dr. Victor Sanchez and Jacquie was transferred to his care for the ride to the hospital. Dr. Sanchez was a pleasant man in his 40s who spoke tolerable English. He was very attentive to Jacquie's vital signs and saw that her oxygen was appropriate and that an IV was started as soon as she was on board. The ride to the hospital took about 20 minutes through downtown La Paz following the same route that we had taken on the way in from the airport. It was slow going because it was now about 5:00 PM and traffic was quite heavy. The hospital was located just past the downtown area and on the main highway. We backed into the emergency area and Jacquie, still on the gurney, was wheeled into a room in the emergency ward. It was equipped with monitors and doubled as an intensive care unit. She was then transferred to a hospital bed and handed over from Dr. Sanchez to a hospital physician. In short order, three local physicians came in to assess the situation. Eventually, Dr. Mario Castilla Garza assumed responsibility for her direct care. Dr. Castilla was on duty all night in the hospital and he turned out to be our primary contact person for her medical care. He was a friendly, jolly man who spoke credible English so communication with him was quite easy. A Dr. Diaz, probably a cardiologist or internist, also dropped by a couple of times and reviewed her progress. He seemed to exert significant influence on Dr. Castilla's decisions.
In any event, Jacquie was hooked up to a monitor that tracked her blood pressure and arterial oxygen saturation. A chest x-ray also was taken and an IV was started. During the course of the evening, she received an IV bronchodilator and an anti-inflammatory steroid via the IV line. She continued to produce bloody sputum until about 10:00 PM. All the while, her pulse, blood pressure and pO2 continued to move toward normal. Dr. Castilla last visited about 9:45 PM and said that she may have an underlying heart problem and that she will be kept on the monitors overnight. If stable in the morning, she would be transferred to a hospital room. At that point, I considered that there was little likelihood we would be able to rejoin our cruise and that we would have to return directly home at some point soon. In spite of this rather gloomy news, I was encouraged by the fact that Jacquie seemed to be making steady progress as the evening went along. She was no longer producing bloody sputum and her vital signs were all back within normal range. She still was on oxygen but was breathing easily.
Lyn Walley had earlier told me that I could stay in the hospital room with Jacquie if I would like rather than having to go to a hotel. She said this was commonplace at this hospital. This was fine with me as I had little desire to go through the hassle of getting transportation and going off into the evening in a strange city where I did not speak the language beyond basic rudimentary phrases. Later on, when Dr. Castilla came by, and he remarked that I could stay in the room and to just to use the second bed. An aid later brought me a pillow. There was a toilet and shower in the room so I really had all the accommodations that I needed albeit a bit Spartan. I had brought all of our baggage along in the ambulance and all of it was stacked in one corner of the room. It made a lot of sense to just stay here so I settled in for the night. Lyn came by about 8:30 PM and asked whether I would like to go out for dinner or just have her bring something in. My response was that I didn't need a regular dinner and that a hamburger and soft drink would be enough at this late hour. She promised to return a little later with something from the local Burger King.
The wait for Lyn turned out to be about 2 hours and it was around 10:00 PM when she returned with a Whopper and a large diet Pepsi for which I paid $5.00. She apologized for the delay and said that it was because she was also seeing to needs of a fellow passenger who also has been admitted to the hospital this evening! This must have been the reason why Dr. Wood was called back to the ship just as we arrived on shore. In any event, I dug out a bottle of Scotch from my carry-on and proceeded to have a couple of drinks while Jacquie and I talked to while away the time. Then, I went to work on the hamburger and by this time of the evening, it tasted as good as a fine piece of steak even though it had cooled down almost to room temperature. By 11:00 PM, things had quieted down out in the hall and I decided it was time to go to bed. I found the hospital bed to be a bit hard but fell asleep almost immediately since it had been a long and eventful day and I was quite tired by now.
Post Script for Today
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Saturday, March 12, 2005
Last night was not the best sleep I have even had. The room was quite warm and this coupled with the hard bed made getting to sleep a bit difficult. But, being tired and having had the Scotch just before bedtime helped so I soon drifted off. But, I woke up frequently, especially when the night nurse came in to monitor Jacquie's vital signs about every 1 or 2 hours. I was awake for quite a while around 4:00 AM but finally went back to sleep. I woke up at 6:00 AM and decided to get up since by now, Jacquie was stirring about and people were talking out in the hall. Jacquie's vital signs were all normal this morning and she was feeling much better which was good news. I shaved and then decided to go to the cafeteria and get some breakfast about 8:15 AM. One of the nurses had told me the cafeteria opened at 8:00 AM but it was closed when I arrived although a couple of attendants inside appeared to be setting up for the day's activities. I returned to the Jacquie's room just as Dr. Castillo arrived. He listened to her lungs and checked the monitor and then gave a thumbs up signal. He was very pleased with her progress. But, a final decision on the next step would have to wait till Dr. Diaz could look at her.
I waited till about 8:45 AM and then went again to the cafeteria. It was open and I found it to be small but cheery with tablecloths and nice china on the tables. A teenage girl at the counter who took my order spoke excellent English. She turned out to be the daughter of the owner who was sitting at another table watching television. While I was waiting for my order to arrive, this girl came over to my table and asked me how to correctly pronounce "papaya" and "melon," both of which she carefully repeated as I said the words in English. She explained that she had gone to school in London and had learned English there. But, she was having difficulty maintaining her English proficiency in La Paz because of a lack of other persons who could converse with her on a daily basis. The breakfast was very good and consisted of two eggs fried over easy, frijoles, some white cheese, toast and a large glass of orange juice. While I was eating, aides from the hospital were coming and going with trays of breakfast for the patients. My bill was $7.00, which I paid with a $10.00 bill. The counter girl gave me 38 pesos in change from her own purse. I didn't even try to figure out what that was all about!
Jacquie was eating breakfast when I returned and with a big smile on her face told me that Dr. Diaz had been by and after examining her said the she "could go back to her hotel suite" this morning. Soon, Dr. Castilla came back and said that she could return to the Yorktown Clipper on the condition that there would be "no more snorkeling" or other strenuous activity such as long hikes or swimming. Whale watching, short hikes, birding, etc. would be OK. Lyn Walley soon arrived and confirmed all of this. She then assisted me in getting our bill settled with the hospital. The total charge was 17,375.95 pesos that AMEX later charged out as being equivalent to $1,610.92. This included all charges for both the ambulance and hospital care as well as the physician services. We felt this was a fair price and probably considerably less that we would have been charged at home. I was provided receipts that showed details of all charges and services rendered. Dr. Castilla gave us the chest x-ray and EKG tracing for our physician at home. He also gave us a written summary of the diagnosis and treatment provided that we could submit with our insurance claim to Blue Cross. (After returning home, I submitted the bill to Blue Cross and received full reimbursement for all expenses minus a modest co-pay.)
Lyn had already arranged for a small van to transport us to Cabo San Lucas. We could re-board the Yorktown Clipper there since it would be docked for the afternoon while passengers explored the town. The other passengers who had also stayed over-night at the hospital would be joining us and this reduced the cost by half. Our share would be $138.00 with tax. Dr. Castilla followed us out to the hospital entrance where we bid him goodbye. He had become our favorite among the physicians we met. He was a roly-poly man about age 45 with a big smile, reasonable English and a jolly and friendly demeanor. We had become friends in the short period he had cared for Jacquie. But, he was quite stern in his warnings about a somewhat restricted level of activity in the coming days. We felt Jacquie had been in good hands and that all had turned out well after a somewhat dismal outlook yesterday evening.
Our driver, Eduardo, was waiting for us beside the van. He was driving a relatively recent model minivan that seated about 6 passengers in a 3 x 2 configuration. Before we departed, Lyn introduced us to the other Clipper passengers, Eve and Ken Barrett from Maine. We had not previously met them on the ship. Ken had experienced a flare-up of a surgery complication that required hospital care but by now, he was fine and able to travel. After greetings were finished, Eduardo stuffed in all of our baggage at the rear of the van. We then got in and headed out of town. It was now about 10:00 AM. Lyn told us the drive would take 2-3 hours depending on traffic. Following are some of the notes that I made during this drive.
We arrived in Cabo San Lucas about 1:00 PM and drove to the waterfront where we found the Yorktown Clipper tied up at the dock while passengers were enjoying an afternoon in port. Eduardo was able to drive the van to the foot of the gangplank where we were welcomed by Jennifer and Nancy Jane. A couple of crewmembers took our bags to our cabin. The sandwich buffet was still operating in the lounge so we headed there since we were quite hungry by now. We indulged ourselves with a couple of bottles of beer to celebrate our return to the ship. Our friends Mort and Dick were there and warmly welcomed our return. Of course, Jacquie had to relate the details of her experience; something she repeated off and on the rest of the day when people greeted her as they returned to the ship. She also had opportunity to thank both Juan for "saving" her and the Doctor Mike Wood for his caring and effective treatment.
We went to our cabin after lunch and re-stowed our belongings in the drawers and closets. Jacquie showered and washed her hair following that. I followed with a shower myself. It felt good to get the residual of yesterday's salt water off my skin. Before getting out of the shower, I rinsed off all of our snorkeling gear including the wet suits as Jacquie handed them in to me. After it all dried, we stowed it away to await the trip home. When we get home, we'll try to sell it. Both of us agree that this escapade has ended our snorkeling days!
The Yorktown Clipper weighed anchor about 3:30 PM and left port. It then headed northward along the coast toward tomorrow's destination at Bahia Magdalena. Once we finished stowing our gear, we went up on the front deck to see what wildlife might be seen. We soon were entertained by the presence of three humpback whales that were traveling in the same direction as the ship. The captain slowed the engines so that we could keep the whales in sight ahead and to the left of the bow. Most of the time we were within 100 yards of them and could see them very clearly through binoculars. They probably were feeding and would come to the surface every 7 to 13 minutes to blow two or three times and then they would sound raising their flukes above the surface as they dived. A couple of small whale watching boats out of Cabo San Lucas also were trailing the whales but were much closer to them. On one occasion a whale surfaced right alongside on of these boats and almost seemed to be playing with it. The whale stayed up an unusually long time and it was no more than 10 ft from the boat. What a treat for those lucky passengers! The whales finally disappeared after about 40 minutes and the Yorktown Clipper picked up speed and we headed on our way.
We had dinner in the dining room at 7:00 PM after having skipped the afternoon briefing. Jacquie had a delicious looking braised veal dish. I had pasta that could have been better prepared. Bananas Foster and cordials were served in the lounge following dinner and this was a very nice occasion. Once back at our cabin, I did some laundry and we then went to bed about 10:30 PM. My back was bothering me this evening probably as a result of the uncomfortable seats in the van and the long period standing on the deck in chilly temperatures watching the whales. The ship was still heading northward in moderate seas. Something about the angle of the waves caused the ship to roll in a way that caused one to almost stagger walking down the hallways.
Sleep came quickly tonight. It had been a long and eventful day that followed a poor nights sleep.
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Sunday, March 13, 2005
I awakened at 5:30 AM with a big-time muscle spasm in my back. This happened in spite of my taking my SOMA and some ibuprofen at 2:00 AM in hope of avoiding such an event. I immediately got up and sat in the dark on a straight-backed chair waiting for the pain to subside. I also took 1 Gm of acetaminophen for the pain. Finally the pain began to subside about 6:00AM so I went into the bathroom and shaved. I had just finished when the alarm went off signaling time to start the new day. Once Jacquie was ready, we went to breakfast in the dining room a bit after 7:30 AM.
The skies were overcast and it was a bit chilly outdoors. The motion of the ship made it quite breezy but there was only a modest chop on the water. We occasionally could see the surf breaking along the sandy beaches to our left. Just after we started eating it was announced that we were entering Bahia Magdalena. The water calmed almost immediately and we began to see large numbers of sea birds rafting on the water and flying about. We passed to the right of the head of Magdalena Island at the mouth of the bay. It initially was composed of hills that maybe were 100-200 ft high and quite rocky. As continued heading north into the bay this headland gave way to sand dunes covered with scrubby vegetation. Magdalena Island is actually a barrier island between the mainland and the Pacific Ocean that breaks on its western shores. Bahia Magdalena lies between this island and is uninhabited by humans. Its only residents are myriads of birds, coyotes, rabbits and other small mammals. It is mostly covered with beach grasses and some low-growing shrubs. Mangrove forests occupy many shoreline areas long the bay side of the island. The bay itself varied in width but was probably about 5 miles in most places.
Not long after entering the Bay, we passed a low sandbar on our right that was covered with hundreds of cormorants. They were too distant to identify but probably were a mixed flock of double-crested and Brandt's cormorants. It's also possible that some could have been pelagic and/or neotropic cormorants but these varieties are much less common in this area. We finally dropped anchor about 200 yards off an area of the barrier island known as Sand Dollar Beach. We were scheduled to land on Sand dollar beach right after lunch. It now was about 10:00 PM.
Naturalist Juan Martinez gave a short lecture/demonstration about coffee. Although was interesting and the samples were delicious, much of the information was familiar so I took few notes. I did write down a reminder that Arabica is the best and most flavorful coffee whereas Robusto is of rather poor quality but has as its redeeming feature a high caffeine content. The degree of roasting greatly influences the taste of the coffee beans. Following Juan's presentation, Stacy Knight talked about sea turtles. Again, the talk, while interesting, contained little new information. But, it was a good refresher of information that already was rattling around somewhere in my mind.
By the time Stacy was finished, it was time for lunch. We decided to use the sandwich bar today rather than going to the dining room for a large meal. We each made a half sandwich and had a small piece of blueberry crumb pie. We then returned to our cabin to get ready for the on-shore activity. By now, the morning's overcast had parted and we had full sunshine. The breeze had also dropped making it a bit warmer. We opted to wear short-sleeved shirts but took along sweaters in case the breeze off the water was chilly. We had been advised that this would be a wet landing so I wore my trekker sandals. Our plan was to hike about 1-1/2 miles down the beach with Rich Kirchner to a mangrove area where we would look for shore birds. Since that could also be a bit wet, I planned to walk in my trekkers and did not carry additional shoes.
By the time we arrived on shore, it was about 1:00 PM. The last DIB would leave for the ship at 3:00 PM so we had approximately 2 hrs at our disposal. We immediately set out on the long walk to the mangrove area. The sand was littered with scallop shells, pen shells and sand dollars. We had been warned that this is a national park and that we could not take anything off the beach. So we just admired what was there and left it for the next visitors. In many places, the sand was very fine and was quite soft even when wet. In one of these locations, there were well-preserved footprints of a coyote in the wet sand. The soft sand made walking difficult and it was 30 minutes before we reached our destination. The tide was going out and was beginning to expose the tide flats when we arrived. We immediately began to see small birds like sandpipers, sanderlings and the like. More and more birds kept arriving as the tide receded. We stayed about an hour enjoying a real "birder's feast." Our sightings included: American oyster catcher, belted kingfisher, black oyster catcher, brown pelican, dunlin, Forster’s tern, frigate bird, great blue heron, greater yellowlegs, least sandpiper, long-billed curlew, marbled godwit, osprey, reddish egret, sanderling, semi-palmated plover, snowy plover, turkey vulture, western gull, western sandpiper, willet and wimbrel! All too soon, our time ran out and we hurried back down the beach arriving there just in time to get on one of the DIBS ferrying people back to the ship. We stowed out gear in the cabin and then went to the foredeck to look for wildlife since by then the Yorktown Clipper had weighed anchor and was heading on up the bay.
When we reached the deck, the bay was still wide and off to our right was the town of San Carlos. This is where we will disembark the Yorktown Clipper on Wednesday morning. From there, a bus will take us back to La Paz. We soon began to see many cormorants flying in a direction that caused them to pass us from bow to stern. Almost every buoy that marked the channel was covered with cormorants. Looking forward through my binoculars, I could see in the distance something that looked like a chop on the surface of the bay and wondered if it was caused by a tide rip. But, as we drew closer, I could see that it actually looked like something floating on the surface of the bay. This "something" soon turned out to be thousands of cormorants floating on the surface. As the ship neared whole rafts of hundreds of birds would try to take flight. Splashing along the surface trying to become airborne, they looked like the flocks of surf scooters one sometimes sees in Alaskan waters. Soon, the cormorants on the water were so numerous that we were on them before they could fly, so they just dived under the surface as we passed. This huge concentration of cormorants must have stretched for three miles and almost filled the bay from one shore to the other. This was a sight that I will never forget and it has to be right near the top of the list of amazing things we have seen in our various travels around the world.
Not long after we left the rafts of cormorants, the bay narrowed and eventually became a twisted group of channels threading through a mangrove swam. Two or three Mexican pilots came on board while we still were at Sand Dollar beach to guide us into this area of the bay. It was very windy out on deck and was somewhat unpleasant. Still, we persisted in spite of the elements and were rewarded by sightings of great egrets and great blue herons plus a coyote or two. We also passed areas where the barrier island to our left was literally carpeted with flowers in shades of yellow, red and purple. This was a beautiful sight to say the least. We finally let down our anchor in Hull Canal. In addition to being our resting place for the night, this would be the jumping off point for pangas that would take us further north to look for gray whales tomorrow.
There was a fiesta party on the upper deck this evening before dinner. We all were to wear clothes in keeping with the theme. For me, a guanabara shirt sufficed. There was a marvelous buffet of snacks and plenty of drinks on the house. Just as the party was beginning, we watched a coyote stroll along the beach about 50 yards distant and then disappear into the mangroves. We had a nice time chatting with fellow passengers and some of the ship's junior officers. Some people danced to the music, which was from a CD that Juan had bought in Cabo San Lucas yesterday. We then retired to the dining room for a good dinner. I had an excellent end cut of prime rib while Jacquie tried a vegetarian burrito. We returned to our cabin and got ready for bed. Breakfast was scheduled for ½-hr earlier than usual. We would be departing in pangas at 8:00 AM. Our alarm was set for 6:00 AM.
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Monday, March 14, 2005
The cabin was warm most of the night, probably because the ship was not moving. This, added to the end-cut of prime rib I had for dinner and my back problem all combined to give me a poor night's sleep. I awakened several times during the night and finally had to get up at 4:00 AM to alleviate the muscle spasm in my back. It took 1 hour of sitting in the straight-backed chair plus 1 Gm of acetaminophen to get it semi-quieted. Part of the problem is that the chair isn't quite right as far as the contour of the seat is concerned. Sitting for too long a period of time actually seems to make the back problem worse. But, sitting in the chair is less painful that lying in bed once the muscle spasm has fired up.
I spent much of my time in thought as to whether 7-1/2 hours sitting in a small boat today is a wise thing to do. I think that much of my back problem is the result of such things as standing long hours on the steel deck looking for wildlife, standing motionless for long periods while bird watching and hiking long distances in the sandy terrain. All combine to provide almost constant aggravation of my back problem. Still, if I stay on the ship, I'll spend most of my day sitting in the lounge where the seats bother me considerably. So, I finally decided to brave the panga ride and look at the gray whales. It's a major reason why we have come on this trip and I shouldn't miss that. I'll probably have to pay the price in the wee hours of tomorrow!
We had breakfast at 7:00 AM and then returned to our cabin to finish getting ready for the day's activities. We then trekked up to the lounge to queue up for departure at 8:00 AM. Unfortunately, the pangas were late but in 10 minutes they arrived. In all, there were at least 6-8 of them with each able to carry 8-12 passengers. Jacquie and I ended up in one whose driver went by the name of Moby Dick. Out tour leaders had warned us that the ride would be long and could be quite cold because of the wind generated by the speeding panga. Thus, we dressed warmly in our Daymart® turtle necks, then a fleece jacket and finally a windbreaker.
We were in the first panga to leave the ship but were not the first to reach our destination since several others passed us along the way. This probably due to the fact that we were carrying 12 passengers compared to as few a 6 in some of the other pangas that passed us. Our destination was the town of Lopez Mateos about 1-plus hour travel on up the bay. Once there, we would transfer to other boats to go looking for grey whales. Our route took us due north threading our ways through narrow mangrove-lined channels for about 20 minutes. We then entered a wider area of the bay that was perhaps almost a mile across. There were sand dunes with sparse vegetation save for an occasional patch of mangroves to our left. To the right the mainland was a relatively flat plain that eventually terminated at the foot of high mountains several miles inland. The banks on that side of the bay were lined with mangroves nearly al the way. The panga was running at full throttle all of the way and this generated a stiff breeze that could have been very uncomfortable. Our clothing was adequate and we were never cold during this part of the day's ride. I sat on a bench along the starboard side of the panga. Fortunately, a piece of the hull came part of the way up my back and gave good support during the ride. Thus, I experienced little trouble with my back problem during this ride.
We saw a many great blue herons, several great white egrets and a few snowy egrets, all in breeding plumage. There also were the ever-present brown pelicans and both Brandt's and double-crested. Cormorants. It was impossible to use the binoculars to look at them because of the speed and bumpy ride of the panga. We reached Lopez Mateos after a ride of about 1 hr & 15 min duration. Two or three other pangas from our group were there already. We took a restroom break while we waited for the rest of the pangas to arrive. Clipper had paid in advance for our use of the restrooms, otherwise there was a charge for them. The part of Lopez Mateos that was visible from the dock area wasn't highly impressive. It was clear that the boat dock primarily was used for whale watching cruises. There was also a fish processing plant with its own dock about 100 yd on down the shoreline. A large crowd of brown pelicans was lounging there hoping for some fish scraps. A double line of eateries, bars and souvenir stands followed a little lane that ran parallel to the bank toward the fish plant. A large building further back held the restrooms and I don't know what else. Beside that was a large parking lot for buses that bring people to the dock for the whale watching cruises. A dirt road led off toward the village, which was several hundred yards back from the bay. I suspect that most of the people in the village derive their living either from the whale watching activities or from the fish processing plant. The rest of our group arrived in 15-20 minutes. Then, we all transferred to smaller pangas in groups of 6. As each panga loaded up, it headed north in search of grey whales.
The reason for the transfer of pangas is that the Bahia Magdalena panga operators belong to either of two cooperatives that have entered into a non-compete agreement. The San Carlos cooperative has exclusive rights to the southern part of the bay while the Lopez Mateos cooperative has the north. Panga drivers from the former are the ones who picked us up at the ship but they could only come up as far as Lopez Mateos. They would wait all morning until we were ready to return and then would take us back. The Lopez Mateos people would guide us today using their pangas. Tomorrow, we'll be whale watching in the south part of the bay and the San Carlos people will get their turn at guiding.
Our panga cruised northward keeping mostly to the left or seaward side of the bay which was about a half-mile wide at this point. After traveling about a half mile, we came to a spot where two other pangas were slowly circling an area in the middle of the bay. We joined them and very soon were treated to our first sighting of a gray whale cow and calf as they surfaced to breathe. They continued on the surface for a few seconds and then submerged. Our driver steered the panga in the general direction the whales had taken and we slowly cruised long waiting for them to surface again. We subsequently were treated to several sightings of them as they repeatedly surfaced and then submerged. Usually, they were no more than 15-20 ft from us and seemed oblivious of our presence. The adult's huge bulk was impressive. She was as wide or wider than the panga and was probably three times as long. The calf was about 1/3 the length of its mother and not quite as wide. This pair eventually disappeared so we headed on northward looking for more whales.
The driver took us past a small grove of mangroves where several species of birds were perched. Among them were several adult frigate birds, both male and female, as well as few juveniles. We could see the red gullar pouches of the males but they were not inflated. One can distinguish the females by the white patch on their breast. Juveniles have an all white head and breast. There also was a pair of great blue herons looking magnificent in full breeding plumage. Finally, there were three or four snowy egrets also showing their breeding plumage. All of these were no more than 15-20 ft from the panga so we had a good look at them without even having to use our binoculars.
We continued on our way and eventually came to the end of Magdalena Island where there was a ½-3/4 mile opening to the sea before the next barrier island began. We could see the surf breaking across a bar at the mouth of this opening which I believe is called Boca De Soledad. The water was very choppy as remnants of the ocean swells surged into the bay. We here headed at almost a right angle to the waves so the panga was rolling and throwing up considerable amounts of spray. Fortunately, we didn't get too wet. We finally changed course to head out into the opening, which caused us to meet the waves head-on, and resulted in much less rolling and splashing. We almost immediately began to see whales and over the next 1-1/2 hr, we sighted at least four cows with calves. In all cases we were able to get very close and to follow them as they swam along, surfacing periodically to breathe. The water was so clear that we often could see their outline as they swam just below the surface. All seemed to be headed out toward the bar. We soon were joined by other pangas from our group. There seemed to be plenty of whales for each boat to enjoy. Again, the whales hardly seemed to notice our presence. Our naturalists told us later in the day that the cows and calves would be leaving the bay very soon to set out on their northward migration. The males have already left. The reason the whales were out in the Boca De Soledad was that the currents are strong there and the cows are trying to condition the calves before their encounter the rougher water and currents in the open ocean.
Off to our left was a sandspit attached to the north end of Magdalena Island. It was totally devoid of vegetation although sand dunes were probably 50 ft high. But the surrounding beach was quite flat. Long lines of pelicans and cormorants stood along the shoreline. Many of the cormorants had their wings spread out to dry. There were hundreds of them. If I had not been treated to the cormorant spectacular last evening I would have been even more impressed. Jacquie took several telephoto shots of this scene.
We learned early during the morning's events that photographing the whales is very difficult and the most one gets, unless very lucky, is a large black blob that is the whale's back as it comes up to breathe. Complicating matters is that the panga is rocking and pitching on the waves making it diffcult to properly align the camera. After a few attempts, Jacquie put her camera away and merely enjoyed watching these interesting creatures. We ended up with many memories but not a lot of photos!
In any event, we followed the whales around until it was time to return to the dock; it was now about 2 hours since we had left Lopez Mateos and was getting near noon. The driver put the motor in "high gear" and we headed back to the dock at a high rate of speed. It took only about 15-20 minutes to return to Lopez Mateos and we arrived there about 12:30 PM. A crowd of tourists was on the dock waiting their turn to go out in the pangas for afternoon viewing. The reason we had come early in the morning was to avoid these crowds.
We walked about a block to a tent that Clipper had rented as a place for us to eat lunch. There were box lunches brought from the ship and Clipper had hired some local caterers to provide cold soft drinks. Jacquie's lunch bag contained an apple that she didn't want to eat. I gave it to a Mexican girl working in a nearby stall. Her English was sufficient to thank me for the apple. Once lunch was finished, we all returned to the waiting San Carlos pangas and headed south toward the Yorktown Clipper. This panga was much faster than the one this morning so the ride took a tad less that an hour. I was thankful for this since there were no backs on the seats and I was hurting by the time we reached the ship. We were greeted by a couple of dining room staff members who that were handing out hot chocolate laced with your choice of liqueur! My, that did hit the spot!
Jacquie and I returned to our cabin and after stowing our gear, we laid down to take a nap. This lasted till well after 5:00 PM. We attended the day's briefing at 6:30 PM and then went to dinner immediately following that. During the meantime, the Yorktown Clipper weighed anchor and moved back to the southern part of Bahia Magdalena. It anchored there in good position for tomorrow's whale watching adventures. This will include whale-watching runs in both morning and afternoon. While waiting for time to attend the briefing, we did some packing in anticipation of the fact that bags will have to be packed and ready to off-load either at bedtime tomorrow or immediately after arising on the following day.
Dinner was tasty as usual and after that, we returned to our room. Since we now are getting close to the time to go home, there was no need to washout clothes and all we had to do was get ready for bed. We turned in about 10:30 PM with alarms set for 6:30 AM.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2005
I was up at 3:30 AM as a result of trying to get up before the pain became too severe. I took two Tylenol as well. This strategy worked to the extent that the muscle spasm quieted down within 30 minutes. I tried going back to bed about 4:40 AM and although in a bit of pain, I stayed there until 5:45 AM when I got up in order to shave before the alarm sounded. Unfortunately, the muscle spasm immediately returned and was a bit worse than it was at 3:30 AM!
We had breakfast in the dining room this morning. I have been able all week to get cereal and granola and have topped that with a box of Yoplait flavored yogurt and some milk. Today, there was no yogurt and no fresh bananas; a sign that we are near the end of the cruise. I made due with stewed dry fruit on my cereal in lieu of yogurt and a banana. Jacquie was still able to get her usual fried eggs with ham.
I noticed during breakfast that it is quite windy outside and there's a heavy chop on the surface of the bay. This pushed me toward a decision to not go out whale watching this morning. Three hours in a panga with poor seats, compounded with a little motion sickness due to the rough seas isn't my idea of fun even if there are whales to be seen. I may try this afternoon depending on how I feel and what the weather does. Needless to say, Jacquie is going out this morning and is all bundled up against the chilly wind coming off the water. After some discussion, we both came to the conclusion that she should not be trying to take pictures. She took many yesterday, a lot of which didn't turn out because of the motion of the panga. Today, she should just enjoy the sightings of the whales and take her observations home as memories of the trip. One just misses too much when they are preoccupied with getting photos of the next event which usually don't turn out well anyway!
The pangas pulled away from the ship about 9:00 AM. I passed the morning reading in a novel that I found in the ship's library. I didn't finish it by the end of the day but it did keep me entertained. I was not alone on the ship since several other passengers had elected to not go. Unfortunately, they were not people I knew so there was little opportunity for conversation.
The pangas returned to the ship about 11:00 AM. A briefing followed about 11:30 AM concerning tomorrow's departure procedures. Jacquie was all excited about her morning's adventures. She had witnessed three basic whale behaviors; (1) on three occasions, a large whale exhaled right beside the panga showering her with "green smelling" water vapor, (2) a cow and her calf had each "spy-glassed" the panga in close succession and (3) she was able to watch a large whale dredging the bottom of the bay in search of food.
We had lunch at the sandwich bar in the lounge. The next whale-watching run was scheduled for 2:00 - 4:00 PM. Again, I was on the horns of a dilemma concerning whether or not to go out. The pain in my back has continued all day without abatement. My concern was that two hours sitting in a panga would only aggravate the situation. Jacquie confirmed from the morning's experience that the seats were narrow and did not have back support. The wind had dropped and it was no longer so rough outside so that weighed in favor of my going. In the end, I decided to stay on board the Yorktown Clipper. Jacquie went out and had the best of her three experiences this afternoon seeing whales very close up. I spent part of the afternoon packing my belongings in the bag that Clipper had purchased in Los Mochis as a replacement for the one ruined at Copper Canyon. By 4:00 PM when Jacquie returned, I had mostly finished my packing except for my carry-on. There were only a few last-minute items that needed to go in the checked baggage. All of that could go in at the top.
The Yorktown Clipper weighed anchor and headed for San Carlos about 5:00 PM. The town was visible to us only a short distance across the bay. The route to the dock was circuitous and required following three different channels marked by buoys through shallow waters. By 6:30 PM, we were tied up at the dock beside a fish processing plant. The dock area was swarming with pelicans, gulls and frigate birds hanging around the fish processing plant. We worked on our packing and took that as far as possible. We then took showers so that we would be clean for the captain's reception and dinner. Jacquie especially needed a shower after spending the day in an open boat and being sprayed several times with steamy whale breath which she says compares favorably with being misted with green swamp water!
My back has continued to be painful all day. Part of the problem is that there simply is no one good place to sit down. The chairs in our room lack low-back support. The chairs in the lounge aren't contoured and the sofas are too soft with too-wide cushions. Couple all of this with too much standing on a steel deck looking for wildlife and the result is that I'm always hurting a bit and the lesions are constantly being aggravated.
The captain's reception featured a buffet with delicious thin-sliced salmon, a Mexican chip dip, wonton, a pasta appetizer and seafood fritters. There also was plenty of good wine and other beverages of one's choice. Everything was very good but I tried to eat sparingly. Jacquie and I sat by ourselves and enjoyed people watching. We seemed to be out of the social loop this evening. Dinner was called at 7:00 PM. We sat with two other "stray" couples that were wandering around looking for a table to join. Although we did not know each other well, we had a good time conversing over dinner. The food was good as usual. We finished our bottle of wine purchased yesterday.
After dinner, we were entertained in the lounge by a local quartet that played guitars and sang traditional Mexican folk songs. The members were men in their 40s or older except for one younger man who played an amplified guitar. We enjoyed the music and stayed until their gig was over at 10:00 PM. The time was made even more enjoyable by a hefty cognac from the bar courtesy of Clipper. Following that, Jacquie had a Bailey's Irish Cream for a nightcap.
We returned to our cabin and did a bit more packing. Then, we got ready for bed and turned in about 11:30 PM. As usual, our room was too warm which seems to be a problem any time the Yorktown Clipper is at anchor. Although there was a request to have checked baggage out by bedtime, this was elective. We opted to get up and finish packing quickly in the morning and still make the deadline for "bags out."
Post Script for Today
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Wednesday, March 16, 2005
I was up at 4:00 AM with the usual muscle spasm. I got up as soon as it started and took my night dose of 600 mg of ibuprofen. I then sat in a straight-backed chair till the pain began to subside in about 30 minutes. Unlike yesterday, I did not try to go back to bed since the pain would only start again. I performed a set of exercises about 5:30 AM and then shaved. By the time I finished, it was 6:25 AM and the alarm sounded. We quickly finished packing our checked bags and set them out in the hall 15 minutes before the deadline. The luggage will be trucked separately to La Paz and will be waiting for us at the hotel when we arrive later today. All that was left to do was to finish packing our carry-on luggage but that could wait till after breakfast.
Breakfast was served buffet style in the dining room. A full array of the usual breakfast items was available on the buffet. I contented myself with juice, some cereal and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. Jacquie had scrambled eggs, potatoes and ham. We returned to our cabin and finished getting ready. We did the last minute packing and then hoisted out packs and went out to the dock where we were instructed to assemble by 9:00 AM. The weather outside this morning was beautiful. The air was calm and the skies were sunny.
The Yorktown Clipper's staff was present to bid us goodbye as we boarded the two buses that would take us the 180 Km to La Paz. Once all were on board, the buses pulled out and left the dock area. It turned out that we had a guide on board who from time to time gave comments about what we were seeing along the highway. Following are some things that I recorded in my notes about the guide's comments or things the Jacquie and/or I observed as we drove along.
We soon arrived at the Los Arcos Hotel, our home until our departure for Los Angeles tomorrow morning. Greeting us as we off-loaded was Cathy Brooks, our Clipper travel director for the trip back to Los Angeles. We also were pleased to see Lyn Walley whose company is providing airport transportation and other local arrangements. This gave us opportunity to again thank her for her assistance when Jacquie was hospitalized in La Paz. The hotel is located on the main road along the waterfront a couple of blocks from where we had boarded the Yorktown Clipper last week. It is an older hotel that has been modernized and is well maintained. It is considered the best place to stay in La Paz other than a modern resort hotel a short distance away. Inside, the rooms are arranged around central courtyards and a fresh breeze off the ocean circulates throughout the facility. Our room was old but very spacious and had a modern, updated bathroom. It had had a balcony that gave us a view into treetops and a central courtyard with nice plantings. Overall, we were very satisfied with the hotel and our room and would have enjoyed staying even longer than our one day. We had a nice buffet lunch in a breezy outdoor dining area just off the courtyard below our room. There was an excellent buffet full of good Mexican treats and it was hard to not lose restraint and eat too much. The hotel served complimentary wine with our meal. Cathy Brooks, briefed us on departure details and following that, we had the rest of the afternoon at leisure.
After getting organized in our room, Jacquie and I went for a walk to see what La Paz had to offer in the downtown area. We first strolled several blocks along the street that fronts on the beach. The waterfront has been nicely developed with a broad promenade along the beach replete with sculptures every few yards, benches to sit on and flowerbeds. The opposite side of this street was lined with shops and restaurants catering to the tourist business. Trees shade the sidewalks and it's a very nice ambience. But the area seemed to be very dead with very few tourists around. It seems to me that this should still be "high season" what with it still being late winter in many parts of the USA. But, there was very little going on and some shops were closed up entirely. We walked back to the hotel along a street that was one block back into the town from the waterfront. The shops here were a little busier but this mostly was due to activities of local residents. But overall, it was pretty quiet. We finally grew tired of walking and returned to the hotel about 3:30 PM.
We took a nap between 3:45 and 6:00 PM. I was surprised at how long I slept but probably needed it as a result of arising so very early the past several days. Needless to say, I felt much better as a result of getting the extra sleep. That should serve me well during the long trip home tomorrow. We decided that it would be nice to have a Scotch before dinner so I went hunting for some ice. It seemed there should be a machine somewhere nearby since there was a container for the purpose in our room. But, I walked the whole floor on which our room is located without finding any ice. I did determine that there are many rooms on one floor and that the hotel is much larger than it appears from the front. I finally went down to a cafeteria on the first floor and asked for ice, which was readily forthcoming. Once our drinks were poured we sat in the room watching a pair of pigeons on our balcony engaging in their courtship routine. I must admit that I felt a bit like a voyeur watching some of their rather scandalous activities!
We went down to dinner at 7:00 PM. It was held in the same area where we had lunch and most of our Clipper group already was there and in line. The buffet had many Mexican and American dishes. Both of us stayed with Mexican food and sampled several different dishes. A couple were duds that I didn't eat but most were delicious. Both margaritas and wine were complimentary with the meal. I had a good conversation over dinner with a fellow passenger that I had not previously met. She is a sculptor and is getting very interested in foreign travel. We had a good time comparing notes about places we have been and where the next trip should be. I got so wrapped up with the conversation that I didn't get any dessert. But, that didn't break my heart since I'm trying not to overeat and tonight's dinner was bountiful!
We returned to our room about 8:40 PM and started getting ready for bed. We set our alarm at 4:15 AM since bags have to be out by 4:30 AM. Breakfast will be available in the hotel cafeteria at 5:00 AM and we'll depart the hotel by 6:00 AM. Our flight leaves at 8:20 AM. It will be necessary for us to individually check in since it's an international flight. But, the plane still will stop in Hermosillo where we must deplane and check out through Mexican Immigration. We'll then reboard for the flight to Los Angeles where we will have to clear USA Immigration and Customs. We were in bed by 10:00 PM so should be able to get at least 6 hours of sleep.
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Thursday, March 17, 2005
I awakened sometime a bit after 2:00 AM and couldn't easily go back to sleep. I finally got up to go to the bathroom about 2:55 AM at which point, my muscle spasm started and became very painful. I took 600 mg of ibuprofen and sat in a straight-backed chair waiting for the pain to alleviate. It diminished a bit by 3:45 AM but still was present. The alarm went off about 4:15 AM. I sat the bags out about 4:20 AM and then shaved and dressed. I was finished by 4:35 AM and then waited for Jacquie to finish her exercises and get ready to go to breakfast. The pain in my hips and back just didn't want to subside this morning and I worried that it would be a long day is it didn't alleviate soon. I didn't look forward to having to cart our baggage around at check-in and in Los Angeles where we have to change airlines.
At this point, I was looking forward to getting home so I could work on getting my back rested and having the pain and muscle spasms subside. Between being on my feet so much, the Yorktown Clipper's beds, the lack of suitable chairs and the bus rides, there has been an almost constant stressing of my back problem. Hence, it has gotten a bit worse each day.
We had a 5-minute wait for the cafeteria to open. The choices were good and it was possible to have either an American or Mexican breakfast. I settled for a mixture of the two and found it to be quite good. We ate and returned to our room by about 5:30 AM. Then, we checked out and waited in the lobby for transportation to the airport. Lyn Walley's company had arranged several minibuses and we boarded the second one to load. The drive to the airport took only 10 minutes and once there we queued up at the check-in counter. A Clipper representative had our bags all organized and brought them to us as each was ready to check-in. For us, the line was short but, it became longer and longer as more passengers arrived. We were thankful that we were on the second bus to leave the hotel. Once checked in, we cleared security and arrived at the boarding lounge by 6:40 AM, 1-1/2 hrs before flight time. Fortunately, my back pain had greatly diminished by this time and I was reasonably comfortable the rest of the day.
The boarding lounge was one large hall and currently was in use for two or three departing flights. One flight to Guadalajara left soon and this cleared out a lot of people. People waiting for our flight seemed mostly to be members of our Clipper group or other tourists returning to Los Angeles. Our Aero California flight arrived just a bit after 8:00 AM but 8:20 came and went with no boarding of passengers and no announcement as to the reason for the delay. The plane sat on the tarmac with little apparent activity by ground crew. Finally, an announcement was made in Spanish to the effect that there was a mechanical problem and the flight would be delayed. (Jacquie heard that it was a "stuck bin.") The flight finally boarded and we departed almost exactly 1 hour late. The flight to Hermosillo was uneventful and took about 1 hour. We walked to the terminal where we were waved through Immigration after they removed the small white slip from our passports that had been inserted in Chihuahua upon our arrival there. Why that could not have been done in La Paz escapes me! We then waited a few minutes in a busy boarding lounge until our flight reloaded for the trip to Los Angeles.
The flight to Los Angeles from Hermosillo was supposed to take only 1 hour and 10 minutes but it was put in a holding pattern at LA and was delayed another 30 minutes. Once the flight was on the ground, there was another 30-minute delay waiting for a boarding gate. Fortunately, clearing Immigration was fast and our bags arrived among the first to come off the plane. Customs, as usual, was perfunctory. Still, it was 12:45 PM by the time we exited the International Terminal. Many of our fellow travelers missed their Los Angeles connections to the East Coast because of the 2-hr delay of the Aero California flight. When we last saw them, Cathy Brooks was working with airlines personnel to arrange overnight accommodations or alternative flights for those who were stranded. Jacquie and I were scheduled on a Southwest flight and had time, but not much, to catch our flight.
The Southwest terminal was a ½-mile walk that also required me to push a heavily loaded baggage cart. This was all done at a brisk pace since we would have to arrive soon enough to check our bags at the Southwest counter. We arrived at Southwest about 1:10 PM and to our dismay, saw a long line of passengers with luggage waiting to check in. At that point, I thought we never would be able to catch our flight. But, the line moved very quickly due to Southwest's legendary efficiency and we were checked in by 1:40 PM. The woman who checked us in noticed the "exotic" visas in our passports and this resulted in a lengthy conversation about all the places we have been. The North Pole stamp practically blew her mind. In any event, we soon were on our way and cleared security with no problems. When we arrived in the boarding area, it was full of passengers awaiting the flight. It was lucky that we had made this one since all flights going to Sacramento were completely booked for the rest of the day.
Our flight did not arrive until about 2:25 PM and by the time we all boarded and the plane pushed back, we were 35 minutes late. The flight to Sacramento went quickly but when we deplaned, neither Tom nor Pam was there to meet us. We tried several times to reach Tom or Pam at home but the phone was busy. We finally decided that we had been forgotten and that the phone probably was tied up by someone being on the computer. Wanting to get on with the business of driving home, we finally took a taxi from the airport to Tom's house in Elverta at a cost of $30.00. Both Tom and Pam were at home and they were quite embarrassed that they had forgotten about us until the moment that we arrived at their door. Unfortunately, Pam's mother had become very ill and both she and Tom were distracted by the responsibility of trying to arrange care for her.
In any event, we retrieved our Honda and headed home through heavy commute traffic. We finally reached home about 6:30 PM. It had been one of those frustrating travel days one occasionally encounters when everything seems to go wrong and each delay creates another until everything is discombobulated. But, we had arrived home safely and still had all of our luggage and that's what is most important. Also important was that our little cat, Rosie, was in fine fettle and happy to greet us upon our return.
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