Finally Ventured Into Mexico – Baja Road Trip, Part 1

I chose my first trip to Mexico to travel with the Road Scholar program.  I was intrigued by the Baja, Tip to Toe program because it focused on nature, was a road trip (which I love), included two whale trips in small boats as well as other boating excursions and trips into the desert.  I have always enjoyed visiting the desert and the deserts in Baja feature plant life not seen any where else.  I liked the idea of traveling from the top of Baja to the bottom and exploring many towns, cities, the Pacific Coast and Sea of Cortes as well as the different geographical areas.  It seemed strange to visit Mexico so late in life when I have lived close to the border of Mexico during several times in my life including San Diego and Tucson!  On March 26 of this year, our group left San Diego by bus and crossed into Tijuana.  This 12 night adventure had days filled with sightseeing and lots of learning about the history and natural wonders of this special place called Baja California.  There was also a great deal of sitting in the bus as the length of Baja is approximately 1,000 miles, but the scenery out the window usually captivated me.  Our tour guides were wonderful and very knowledgeable.  Our main tour leader, Isabel has done trips to Baja for many years and was enthusiastic and energetic.  Unfortunately, the group size was a little larger than I expected with 30 people.  I had somehow thought I signed up for a small group program, but the size did not detract from all the wonders we experienced on this trip.  In addition, the people on the program were nice to get to know and had a wealth of travel experiences from around the world to share.

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing grey whales up close, so close that many people were able to reach out and touch them from the small boats.  Most of the whales we saw were mothers with babies.  The above picture was taken in San Ignacio Lagoon, our second whaling location.  Grey whales spend the winter here in the protected waters of San Ignacio.  The whales arrive in December and the females give birth to calves and care for them until they are strong enough to leave the lagoon at the end of March or beginning of April.  When they leave they travel up to Arctic waters where food is plentiful.  The cycle continues when the whales return to San Ignacio the following winter after the long trip from the arctic along the Pacific Coast.  It is a bit of a mystery why the whales are so friendly here.  They have few natural enemies in these waters and their curiosity, especially that of the young ones, causes them to investigate the boats.  The whales don’t seem to mind being touched although some come for a quick visit and don’t linger long.  The whales swim back and forth under the boats which is a strange thought because they are massive creatures and could easily turn these small boats over!

The two pictures above are members of my Road Scholar group in a different boat.  They were fortunate to have some close encounters which I caught on camera.  I was not able to touch a whale on the San Ignacio trip, but did have a quick touch of a whale on the previous day’s trip at Scammon’s Lagoon.  The whales were actually a little friendlier and more numerous at Scammon’s and we had a few that stayed longer around our boat.  The whales frequently sprayed us from their blow holes upon surfacing and their noises and movements made for a once in a lifetime fantastic experience.

We found these whales in the picture above “lounging around.”  The baby whale is laying on its side with flipper in the air, perhaps taking a little snooze.  It is sad to think the whales here were once hunted and many, many were slaughtered.  San Ignacio is now a Biosphere Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site and grey whale sanctuary.   I was sorry when our two hour tour was over and we had to return  to the shore of the lagoon.  What a great experience!   The picture below is part of my tour group returning in the pangas.

We finished our visit to San Ignacio Lagoon with lunch prepared for us near the shores of the lagoon.  We ate in a “Palapa” (covered dining area) and feasted on very large scallops freshly caught in these waters.  They were delicious!  Discarded and empty scallop shells cover the area here and are in mounds in some places!  I have rarely eaten scallops as fresh tasting as these!

The picture above is the inside of the Palapa with crushed shells on the floor.  I will continue further discussions of my Baja exploration in future posts.  Stay tuned!

Favorite Lodging – #3, Selva Verde Lodge, Sarapiqui, Costa Rica

During my Costa Rica Road Scholar group tour in February 2016, we stayed at this lodge for two nights.  After arriving here, I quickly began to see that this would be a magical stay.  A reoccurring thought was that this was a place I could stay at for days and days without wanting to leave.  Located in a rainforest reserve in the northern part of Costa Rica, this is a place for nature lovers!  If I could return to just one lodge from all my travels, this would probably be my first choice.  There was so much to explore and enjoy!  We stayed in lovely bungalows next to the rushing Sarapiqui River and amongst the rainforest with elevated walkways connecting the bungalows.  In the picture above, I have ventured over the river on a hanging bridge, although rather timidly due to my fear of heights!

This is a true place to relax and rejuvenate.  Outside our rooms were comfy chairs and even hammocks to lay in.  The sounds of the forest are a delight.  From our rooms we could hear howler monkeys, a variety of birds, Coqui frogs, a roaring river and a tropical down pour.

I am not one though to sit, relax and listen for long.  The lodge grounds and rainforest beckoned and I wandered for hours checking out all the wildlife.  As a birder, I was especially pleased to see the wildlife feeding station set up near the dining area.  A large variety of colorful, tropical birds regularly visit here.  The bird I was most hoping to see was a Toucan and I saw two different varieties on several occasions as well in the trees around the lodge grounds.  What a thrill to see these magnificent birds!  Below is a picture of the Black-mandibled Toucan and another picture of Blue-gray tanagers with their beautiful light blue coloring.

The lodge grounds and reserve features other interesting wildlife including Howler monkeys which put up quite a racket and can be heard all over.  I made a search for them and was able to  see a number of monkeys in the trees including adults and young.  This was my first opportunity to see monkeys in the wild!  The reserve also has Cotati, who appeared near the feeding station; Iguanas high in the trees; a variety of colorful frogs (unfortunately I only saw one or two); butterflies and one of my most interesting discoveries, leaf-cutter ants.  The ants were hurrying along single file carrying pieces of leaves that were bigger than themselves!  The hummingbirds were numerous and fun to watch as well amongst the tropical flowers.  Even the spiders and their webs were more gigantic and interesting.

The lodge features nature trails and I loved walking through the forest.  Our group took a white water rafting trip on the Sarapiqui River, but I opted to stay behind and explore independently.  I am a wanderer at heart.  When I was tired of walking I swam in the very nice pool.  This is an intriguing place to visit and I would love to return if ever in Costa Rica again.