February 2006: Sometimes the best trips are the ones in your backyard and this is always the case with Baja, Mexico one of my favorite places especially on a trip south to the lagoons during the grey whale migration season when mother grey whales come into the safety of the lagoons in Baja to give birth to their young after their long migrations from their feeding grounds of the frigid Arctic waters off of Alaska starving and battling predators like Killer Whales along the way. The lagoons are like a whale vacation spot with warm, safe and shallow waters, where the mothers feel safe and are happy because they have their newborn. No one knows exactly why they display the unique behavior of presenting their babies to tourist boats, but they do, and they actually seem to enjoy the experience of being petted. I have swum with sperm, humpback and whale sharks but to me this experience of petting the whales was the most amazing and intimate encounter.

 

 

San ignacio lagoon

I traveled to San Ignacio, approx. 12 hours’ drive south from San Diego with my brother Jesse, and two of my friends, Holly and Jared. The road passed through some stunning desert, and ocean scenery. To reach San Ignacio Lagoon, a wild protected lagoon with no development, we had to travel down a rustic graded road for a few hours until reaching our camp where we would spend two nights in a cabin with bunk beds. This would be our base to head out into the lagoon to see whale’s multiple times per day in a small motorboat. We would also do tidal walks at low tide and look for interesting marine creatures like octopus.

 

Road to lagoon

Common vulture

Desert scenery around wilderness of the lagoon

Low tide in lagoon

The whales were everywhere, spy hopping and breaching joyfully with their babies. They would approach the boat and linger for minutes allowing everyone to pet them and sometimes we would make eye contact with their giant gently eyes. We would pet and even kiss them. The texture of their skin gelt like a rough innertube. We could feel the fish smell laden air blow into our faces as the whales exhaled dousing us with fish smelling water. Whales would also spy hop or breach next to us with no warning. One whale breached only a few feet from me starting me and sending a wave of ocean water splashing me. If I would have been leaning out of the boat, I would have been decapitated.

 

Whale spy hopping

Petting the whales barnacled head

Huge 10′ head

Spy hop

My brother petting a whale

Video of us petting the whale and the whale looking at us underwater

petting the whale

Whale petting

Mom and baby

From San Ignacio, we drove all the way back to San Diego breaking one of the number one rules of travel in Mexico-Don’t drive at night. Night driving was a perilous task through winding lonely desert roads. A speeding drunk driver went off the road in front of us into a canyon exploding into flames. We stopped to look down to see if we could help but it was pretty evident there was no hope for the occupants, so we called the police at the next town 20 miles away.  We dodged stalled drivers in the middle of the road with no emergency lights on and Federale police checkpoints, where armed police would search our vehicles for drugs. 

 

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