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Whales & Wildlife + AZ Highways Photography Cruise
Sea of Cortez Baja, Mexico
Cruise West on the Spirit of Endeavour
January 14 – January 22, 2006
Susan Anderson

Jan. 14, 2006, Sat. – Left Sky Harbor, Phoenix, 9:45 a.m. on American West flt 332, non-stop flight to San Jose Cabo, Mexico.  Arrived Cabo San Lucas 11:50 a.m.  Cleared customs, luggage x-ray and boarded a Cruise West bus.   Los Cabos is approximately 1,000 miles south of San Diego at the very tip of the Baja peninsula that is twice the length of Florida.

The Cruise West hospitality area is inside the Harley Davidson shop at the Puerto Paraiso Entertainment Plaza, located on Lazaro Cardenas Avenue, El Medano, in the heart of Cabo San Lucas.  We checked in with Cruise West, and then ate lunch sitting on a patio overlooking the marina.  Susan enjoyed a bit of shopping in the harbor side stores.  After other people arrived on other flights we all boarded the bus and went to the harbor.

Captain Mike Fleming welcomed us all to the Spirit of Endeavour and had the mandatory safety and embarkation meeting, then we went to our cabin #303 (ours opened out onto the upper deck and had two windows).  A bit later we stood outside as the boat left the harbor and to watch the El Arco (famous arches) and sail around Land’s End at sunset.   Cabo San Lucas is at the southern tip of Baja Mexico where waters of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean meet.  The Sea of Cortez is between mainland Mexico and Baja California, Mexico.  The social hour / mixer was at 6 p.m., and dinner, open-seating, was served at 7 p.m.  About 9 p.m. there were talks by the crew and photos shown of what we would be seeing.  The on-board naturalist was Paulino Perez, who resides in La Paz, and has a degree in Marine Biology.

The Spirit of Endeavour is 217 in length and can accommodate 102 guests, it is registered in the USA, has an American crew, and the cruising speed is 12-knots..  There are TV monitors/VCR in each room.  Cruise West, 2301 5th Ave., Suite 401, Seattle, WA 98121. 

Jan. 15, 2006, Sun. – When we awoke it was overcast but the morning gradually cleared.  Each morning an early riser continental-style breakfast was served in the lounge from 6 to 9 a.m.  The sit-down breakfast was served from 7 to 8 a.m. in the dining room.

At 8:30 a.m. attended the beach awareness talk, then the DIBs (Demaree Inflatable Boats, 10-person plus driver) started their shuttle trips between Spirit of Endeavour and the three mile long Bonanza Beach of sparkling sand on the southeast shore of Isla Espiritu Sando.

There were multiple photograph talks, walks and activities each day.  Howard took part in the 10 a.m. photography walk.  At 11:15 Susan and Howard joined a nature walk.  Return to the ship for a BBQ lunch served on the Sun Deck.  We enjoyed marlin, steak, chicken, mushrooms and all the usual goodies.  The DIBs ran back and forth from boat to beach and back all afternoon.  Chairs and beach towels were provided on the beach for our use as desired.  5 p.m. all aboard.

The 23,383-acre Espiritu Santo is an important environmental success story.  In 2003 the Nature Conservancy announced the acquisition of the island by the Mexican government for conservation purposes.  This island boasts one of the most intact ecosystems in the region.  It is home to 53 regional endemic plant species and several animals, including the blacktailed jack rabbit and the antelope squirrel.  There are coral reefs, marine turtles, and 500 species of fish in the surrounding waters.

Another photography workshop at 5:30 p.m.  At 5:45 p.m. the boat slowed for everyone to see the dolphins riding the bow wave.  We joined others in the lounge about 6 p.m., and at 6:30 p.m. Meriwether Gill (one of three exploration leaders) gave a talk on what we would be doing on Mon.  Dinner 7 p.m. until about 9 p.m. At 9  p.m. Meriwether Gill gave a talk on gray whales.  A bit later we watched many dolphins in the bow wave and bright moonlight, a nice ending to a very enjoyable day.

Jan. 16, 2006, Mon. --  Woke up at 5:45 p.m. to see the sunrise.  Before 7 a.m. we docked in Puerto Escondido.  We ate another hearty breakfast at 7:15 a.m.  Three small buses left at 8:15 a.m. for the 2-hour drive across Baja / across Sierra de la Giganta to Magdalina Bay.   The remote Magdalena Bay is little changed since American whaling Captain Charles Scammon arrived in 1856.  He was astounded at the number of gray whales here, and proceeded to harvest them.  Today this region offers some of the best whale watching in the world.

We arrived at the small port of Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos and were to get into small boats (pangas) to whale watch.  But due to high wind and white caps on the bay, all whale watch boats were cancelled.  We then drove to a large mangrove area to see the birds and walks around.  We next returned to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos and had a very good lunch at the Ballena Gris Restaurant that has a palm thatched roof.  On the drive back across Baja there were three interesting photo stops and we arrived back at the boat at 5 p.m.

The usual social hour with snacks and then dinner at 7 p.m.  After dinner Kerrick James (of Mesa, AZ gave a presentation “Stealing Moments: Making a living through Travel Photography).  The weather forecast for the next days called for 8 to 10 feet swells and a cloudy day with highs in the 70’s. 

 Jan. 17, 2006, Tue. – We docked in Loreto, the first capitol of the Californias.  The first permanent Spanish settlement in all of Baja California (Mexico) was established in 1697, when Jesuit Padre Juan Maria Salvatierra stepped ashore at Loreto.  For over a century, the town’s Mission Nuestra Senora de Loreto served as the basis for exploration for the Californias, and is the “mother mission” for all of the Spanish colonial missions as far north as Sonoma in Northern California.  After a devastating hurricane in 1829 the regional capital was moved south to La Paz.  Today Loreto is a village of about 10,000 people.

Our two vans left at 8:15 a.m. for the trip to the San Javier Mission in a village nestled in a valley high in the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains.  We traveled a gravel road with many switchbacks up over the mountains and made many stops: a farm, Los Cuevos Pintos to view original Baja rock art, Las Parras, a natural desert oasis with palm trees and view points.  On our own we toured the grounds and Mission San Francisco Javier de Vigge-Biaundo, founded in 1699 and the current mission building which was completed in 1758. This is one of the best-preserved, most spectacularly set missions in Baja, located high in a mountain valley beneath volcanic walls.  The church was built with blocks of volcanic stones from the Sierra de la Giganta mountains.  We had lunch in a small restaurant in San Javier and walked the main street of the small village.

 Our two vans made the return trip over the mountains back to Loreto.  We walked the pretty “downtown” area and visited some shops.  We then toured the Mission Nuestra Senora de Loreto church and viewed the painting of the Virgen de Loreto, brought ashore by Padre Kino in 1607.  We also toured the small historical museum Museo de los Misiones.  At 4 p.m. we were treated to a wine (for us water) and cheese, break and fruit,  reception in the mission courtyard and were entertained by local musicians, all quite nice.  At 5:30 p.m. we returned to the Spirit of Endeavour.  Dinner and an evening lecture in the lounge. 

Jan. 18, 2006, Wed. --  Up at 6:30 and had breakfast.  At 8:30 a.m. 90 of us left in three buses for Magdalena Bay, across the rugged Sierra de la Giganta – again, and the tiny port of Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos.  Each year, thousands of California gray whales migrate from the cold waters of the Bering Sea to the warm waters of Baja California’s central Pacific coast to mate and calve in protected bays. 

Six passengers to each panga (boat) plus the driver.  Our panga was the first to leave the dock at 10:30 a.m.  Within 5 minutes we saw our first gray whale and calf, then shortly thereafter another gray whale and calf.  We followed this second whale and watched.  Later our panga (we had a choice of where to go) went into a channel in red mangroves.  There we saw many birds: pelicans, brown pelicans, several kinds of cormorants, magnificent frigate birds, great blue herons, various gulls and ducks.  We observed sand dunes and saw a coyote and several jack rabbits. 

At 12:30 all of the pangas beached on the sand dunes and we had a large picnic lunch.  An hour later we were back in the pangas going across Magdalena Bay to dock and the buses.  Back to The Spirit of Endeavour and we left port.  Soon we spotted a whale and also dolphins.  Enjoyed the social hour and then dinner.  Later there was a presentation on snorkeling and sea lions, then sign up.   Howard signed up for snorkeling group two and Susan signed up for the DIB nature talk and tour in group two. 

Jan. 19, 2006, Thurs. --  Saw a great sunrise this day.  The boat anchored by Los Islotes, the “little islets”, a seamount jutting from the sea.  It’s steep cliffs are undercut with sea caves and liberally ‘whitewashed’ with guano from gulls, brown-, and blue-footed boobies that make their home here.  The largest colony, in Baja,  of California sea lions is also here, males stay on the rocks bellowing at each other. 

Howard and others used the wet suits provided by Cruise West for their snorkeling adventure among the sea lions.  Howard took some great underwater movies and underwater photographs.  Susan enjoyed the nature tour by DIB … many close-ups of hundreds of barking and playing California sea lions, manta rays jumping out of the sea, and many birds including blue footed boobies, brown boobies, cormorants, various gulls.  It was a bright sparking day. 

Howard enjoyed a tour of the engine room.  After lunch we boarded DIBs for the short trip to the beach on Isla Partida.  The three-lobed cove at Ensenada Grande had a gently shelving seafloor and large rocks at the side of the cove.  After the afternoon on the beach we returned to the boat and got ready for dinner.  We were treated to five kinds of deserts on the top deck after dinner.  Then back to the lounge for a Quyana presentation (previous and future cruise customers), and Meriwether Gill gave a presentation on the various cruise opportunities offered by Cruise West.  We surely recommend them, small ships, small groups, all open dining, no dress up nights, just relaxing, and for people that enjoy nature and wildlife be it in Mexico, Alaska or Japan.  We all then viewed a slide show (CD) of photographs taken on this cruise, so far. 

Jan. 20, 2006, Fri. – We docked about 7 a.m. in La Paz (City of Peace), named by Cortez when he landed here in 1535.  This is the capital of Baja California Sur, first founded in 1535, shortly after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, but shortly abandoned.  Then its only visitors were English and Dutch pirates trying to plunder the Spanish treasure galleons traveling from Manila to Acapulco.  The first mission was established in 1702, but abandoned in 1749.  The modern city of La Paz was founded by ranchers and fishermen around 1811, and has approximately 200,000 inhabitants. 

After breakfast 27 of us boarded a bus for the Artesian Tour.  We visited a weaving factory (Artesanias Cuauhtémoc) where Susan purchased a small woven rug and two purses.  Next stop was an artist co-op with many pearls, jewelry and wood carvings; after that we went to Ibarra’s Pottery factory (no photos allowed), then our bus and drive gave us a tour of downtown La Paz.  We returned to The Spirit of Endeavour and had lunch. 

About 2:15 our buses left for town again.  We enjoyed our time spent in the very interesting La Paz Aquarium.  Then on to a large thatched roof building on the beach for a “fiesta”.  We had a large buffet lunch and a good show of native dances, costumes and music.  We then returned to the boat.  Had  our last evening social hour and dinner.  There was a great sunset, then the wind came up with continuous white caps and rougher sea.  Slept well as the ship rocked on it’s trip back to the tip of Baja. 

Jan. 21, 2006, Sat. – Placed our packed luggage outside our cabin door by 7 a.m. and then watched the beautiful sunrise.  Had our final hearty breakfast and then walked the upper deck looking at Lands End and the El Arco in the early morning sunlight as we approached the harbor in Cabo San Lucas … where we docked about 9 a.m.  It was a bright blue sparkling day.  Daily we received the TEAMtalk Satellite U.S.A. Times news sheet that came via satellite from the world’s foremost newswires.  Susan being a news “junkie” especially appreciated this service.  We said good-bye to many nice shipboard friends and then were on our way. 

After we disembarked we were taken by bus to Best Western Posada Real Hotel in San Jose del Cabo.  (Posada Real Hotel, Malison San Jose S/N, San Jose Del Cabo, BCS 11980) We checked in to a lovely room, and then walked the beautiful grounds with cactus gardens, marvelous swimming pool and beach on the Sea of Cortez.  Had a nice lunch beachside, walked on the beach, enjoyed the area, and later had dinner on an outside patio over-looking the sea. 

Jan. 22, 2006, Sun. – After a mid-morning breakfast, and more walks around the grounds and along the beach, we checked out.  We were picked up by bus and returned to the San Jose Cabo airport.  We left on American West flight 152 at 3:36 p.m. and arrived back in Phoenix, AZ at 5:46 p.m. 

This is a very nice short cruise and we highly recommend  it and Cruise West!  

Our only problem was we had experienced a “trip of a lifetime” Oct. 16 – 30, 2005 when we visited the Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.   We would have enjoyed this cruise (to the Sea of Cortez and Baja, Mexico) more if we had done it first and then gone to the Galapagos Island …. as we feel nothing can compare with them.


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