We’re all used to seeing rainbows all the time a little further west in Hollywood (and closer to the ground), but on Saturday after the rain stopped and the sun peeked out a big one arced over Griffith Park. I noticed it while sitting in our home office working on those trip videos. I grabbed my camera and literally ran out the door and up the hill.
I had to stop several times to catch my breath as ascending that hill is already like using a step machine when you’re taking it slow. Running up the entire way might have killed me. Sadly, I didn’t make it all the way up before the rainbow started to fade as the sun began to set, but I managed to still take some okay photos of the phenomenon and a shaky video.
Let this also be a record of how lush and green the Hollywood Hills are now, compared to their normal sandy exposed earth color. The trail up the hill is now surrounded by very thick fresh green grass with little yellow and purple flowers starting to bloom all over.
Friday morning we were off on a little boat to Isla Coronado, the closest of the Loreto islands formed by volcanic rock. We first stopped beside a high cliff on the southeast side of the island. The water was freezing, but I managed to see another stingray sunning itself on the higher rocks before our guide rounded us up.
At the northeast tip of the island, we observed a colony of sea lions basking in the sun while red crabs scurried to the water’s edge.
In the water the outcropping turns into a steep cliff going down where light cannot return, but curious sea lions do. There weren’t as many in the water as in La Jolla, but because of the clearer water (no sand, seaweed, or children in floaties here) it was much easier to watch the lions swim up and check you out.
The crashing waves of the Sea of Cortez against the craggy rocks at the tip of the island only a few feet away reminded snorkelers of the inherent danger. After less than ten minutes we were pulled out so we could go to Playa Coronado, a series of beautiful white sand coves on the southwest side of Isla Coronado.
From the air (from the plane on the way home):
Lunch was waiting for us on the beach, and tropical fish waited for us in the coral. I took so many pictures my battery died.
But the gopro battery held up. For a compilation of the snorkeling highlights see below:
Back in town, we had dinner at Orlando’s, which has great strawberry margaritas and even better fish tacos. After we’d ordered I saw the waitress bring another table a plate of Orlando’s Shrimp and made a note to try it the next day.
On our last day, we lazied around town looking for souvenirs until time for our horseback tour. The two-hour tour meandered around the desert east of Loreto.
Halfway through the tour (and after shots of tequila) a wild donkey decided to join us.
You can see a bit of that in the latter half of this video:
Back in town we had dinner at Orlando’s again and tried his namesake shrimp dish. If you can tell me somewhere in LA where I can get shrimp split and filled with ham then wrapped in bacon, fried and served up with spicy cheese sauce (and margaritas), let me know. Now!
After dinner it was dark so I dropped Sam off at the hotel and went back to the pier. I walked out on the sandbar connected to Loreto’s beach and took shots of the ocean and stars.
Back at the hotel, I noticed a little access door to the roof had been left open so I crept out to take a few shots of the town until a maid noticed me.
The next morning we did our final souvenir sweep and ate breakfast at Pepeginas, which, I swear has one of the best omelets in existence. Ask for the mushroom queso omelet and combine it with chorizo. It’s the best thing in Loreto.
The morning after leaving the lagoon we walked to Rene’s for breakfast before checking out and hitting the road.
By 1pm we turned off the 1 at Playa Santispak, a beach we’d seen days earlier on the drive up. As soon as we arrived a man in a pickup truck asked if we wanted a boat tour. His English wasn’t good, but we figured out It was only 500 pesos per hour so we asked him to take us snorkeling in the Bahia de Concepcion. We had no idea where he was going, so we were off on an adventure.
First, we stopped at an old shipwreck to the east of the islands which had turned to an artificial reef.
Next we went to nearby Isla Pitahaya.
Under the water, the thin kelp strands formed long ghostly forests that reminded me of white Christmas trees. Later research seems to suggest this plant is technically brown algae. Out a little further I saw a stingray in the sand. I went back to the boat and convinced Sam to jump in.
Sam got cold quick and got out. I was sad to come topside after the hour was up. I asked for “uno mas” and the captain took us south and farther into the bay to a tiny island called Isla La Cueva that connected by a submerged sandbar to another even tinier island with no name. After checking out the tiny island I swam across the 250-foot shallow channel to the main island and discovered lots of fish below the water and birds above.
At Isla La Cueva I observed a great deal of sea life in the shallow underwater caves beneath the volcanic outcroppings holding various birds (but mostly the Brown Pelicans ubiquitous in BCS). Starfish, tropical fish, electric shrimp, pufferfish, balloonfish, pilotfish, rockfish, parrot fish, crabs, sea slugs, sea worms, and tons of vibrant sea anemones.
Below is a video cut together from the snorkeling in the bay:
By 5:30 we were back in Loreto and hungry for dinner. An aggressive waiter convinced us to be his first customers of the night at Playa Blanca. And the steamed seafood plate was great. I was disappointed that he only had the regular (i.e. I can get them at Ralphs supermarket in LA) cervezas of Pacifico, Corona, and Modelo Negra. He rebounded by insisting that the Modelo was delicious and I’d like it. I asked him if it was a stout, which he didn’t seem to understand the meaning of, so I waved my hand and told him to go ahead and bring it anyway (I mean, beers are only a dollar down there). And I liked it. It’s actually pretty good. I’d had Tecate before going to Mexico, which is a “meh,” standard light beer. I tried Indio beer for the first time on our first night in Loreto and discovered it’s terrible. But Modelo Negra is actually surprisingly good. And even better with fresh seafood and a plate of limes.
After dinner, we shopped around for more tours to fill our last two days in Loreto. All the snorkeling tours were basically the same price and went the same place, so we settled on a vendor, had some ice cream down the street at the wonderful Mexican chain called La Michoacana and then tried to sleep for our morning snorkel tour the next day.
Our first night at the Lagoon was broken by the camp’s dogs howling at the mountains until 3am. We ate homemade potato cakes with salsa for breakfast while Jorge told us the dogs were barking at coyotes, which come down from the mountains to try and steal food from the camp (and eat birds, I suppose?). Captain Daniel from “Antoniosecotours” got us quickly out to the whales and we had more than a few curious ones in the morning checking out the boat from a few meters away, but none close enough to touch. We ate lunch on a deserted beach then went back in. Before long I had run my hand along the dorsal line of a baby gray whale (and earned the envy of fellow boaters).
Daniel also brought us alongside several dolphins which looked at me, whistled to each other, then swerved away in formation.
Here is a video which combines all three days on the water and sources three different cameras (gopro, cell phone, and camera).
Back at Pacheco’s Camp we were joined by Frank and Toni, a retired couple from Vancouver that had driven their van all the way down the coast. Happy hour featured a fresh tomato bisque-like dip (this was my favorite dip). Dinner that night was steak (much better than the tough turf from two days prior) and grilled veggies. Still no margaritas, though, and back at our cabana, the hot water pipe burst in the wall while Sam was taking her shower. Jorge inspected and informed us that a new pipe could be installed tomorrow. Having not taken a shower in days at this point I headed to the common shower in the middle of the camp, which was plenty hot since so few were using it (I believe the camp serves twelve guests at capacity).
Our second breakfast was Mexican scrambled eggs served with great fresh flour tortillas and salsa. Outside we met Captain Ranulfo, son of Pacheco (the first man to touch a gray whale on the lagoon without intention to kill). Ranulfo’s 23-foot boat was a bit smaller both in dimensions and engine power than Daniel’s. However, we hoped his deep knowledge of the subject matter and closer proximity to the water surface would give us a more intimate encounter than the first day.
We soon learned that our new captain had a more relaxed approach than Daniel, we would spot a whale or two, saunter up within 50 feet and wait for them to come to us. Most of the time this resulted in a disappearing act. Some of the time it resulted in curious whales swimming under the boat. Once, a group of curious males swam up, lifted the boat, then flopped to the side and stuck their nose up, letting Sam touch it. It was the last touch anyone would get for the remainder of the trip, and the closest the whales would come.
My inner dialogue vacillated between frustration that our new captain wasn’t as proactive as the other and the reminder that it was a privilege to even get to be here, sidling up alongside 45-foot long whales in a 23-foot panga on a clear day in Mexico. Still, the rush of the first day hung over the next two, though the enthusiasm of the Canadians made it easier to bear since they weren’t around for all the previous excitement. In fact, they seemed content not getting to touch the whales at all, which is likely the attitude one should maintain to have a good time at the lagoon. Just seeing these majestic animals turn over and look at you from a few feet away is an experience only a few thousand people in the entire world have had, and with the climate heating up the lagoon may eventually no longer be suitable for these whales that normally prefer cooler waters. Of course, this is partially our own fault for coming (unbeknownst to us at booking) before the “true” start to the whale watching season. Perhaps we should feel lucky we got to see them up close at all.
Who else gets to take a selfie like this?
But then they do advertise it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to touch (and even kiss) whales, after all. Before we decided to go we saw countless videos like this:
That’s the draw and the legend of this place. And Pacheco’s was the original company to offer it, so the cognitive dissonance made me feel a bit like a non-racist Republican must be in the new Bannon era.
But we were on vacation, after all, isn’t that good enough? One thing marvelous about the camp was the absence of any news. It wasn’t just a vacation from work, but from our terrifying new president. At least if Don Jong-un started WWIII we’d only see it as a bright glow to the north, not the panicked few minutes of sirens and then instant death we’d experience in Los Angeles. We learned about the Muslim ban days later, mostly by friends directly affected by it (Yes, Virginia, there are non-terrorist Muslims). Not hearing for a few days about how the orange clown was embarrassing our home country was glorious. Ironically because of the reflection of the sun on the water out on the lagoon, sunglasses, and inaccurate coverage of sunblock we ended up looking a bit like the son-of-orangutan by the end of it, white around the eyes and darker everywhere else.
Back at camp, the tide was lower than the previous day so we hopped overboard and walked the last quarter mile. Through a few inches of retreating tide, we spied hermit crabs on the move.
The happy hour finally had margaritas, so I had two (Sam had one) while eating chips and tuna salsa. We drunkenly swapped travel stories (and later horrific predictions for the next 4 years of a trump presidency) with the other two guests until time for dinner.
Later, finally, a hot shower. All two minutes of it, anyway. The pipe and the heater were fixed but only allowed for a few minutes of heat. Never ascertained whether something else still needed fixing or that was the intention all along.
In the morning we reconvened for a breakfast of egg tortas and salsa before joining Ranulfo on the boat again. On this day, our last, a heavy morning fog fell over the lake making for romantic views across the water of sea and sky merging in a pinkish-gray middle.
Eventually, the sun burned off the fog, but whales must hate fog as we didn’t see as many as before and only two or three came close to the boat all day. I was more disappointed as I put my camera in its waterproof bag to take underwater photos. Unlike the last two days, the water was no longer glassy, but gray and thick. The few times the whales did come close the water was so dark and muddy the camera couldn’t focus properly. The photos up on Flickr are the few remaining in focus out of thousands of attempts. However, sometimes this moody atmosphere leads to something aesthetically interesting. This photo is the bottom of the big mamma and baby:
We ate lunch on a sandy beach where the breakers from the Pacific hit the entrance to the lagoon.
En route to the bathroom (a tall dune) we found that the dunes hid bleached whale bones and other treasures. I found one of the ocean giants’ massive vertebra turned nearly to ash after years in the sun.
Little footprints on the dune leading away from it were hard to describe to our captain but he eventually told us they’re from kangaroo rats. Sadly we didn’t see any of those hopping around in the flesh. Walking back to the beach I found a bird sternum and a horseshoe skeleton in the sand. Sam found a few perfect sand dollars.
In the afternoon the whales liked us even less, diving away long before we could get close. Back at camp, it was time to chug a cerveza, say goodbye to our hosts and new friends, and head to the town of San Ignacio before nightfall.
On the sand road, we passed a hitchhiker with a red American flag t-shirt and decided to pick him up. I thought I recognized him from our camp (and there really isn’t anyone else out there) and, through zero English, we thought he verified this “Si, Pacheco’s, si!”
The hitchhiker and Sam both went to sleep and I drove the hour plus back east to town. When we were almost to San Ignacio I saw a police car at the side of the road with lights flashing. Three officers came out into the road and made us stop. They told the hitchhiker to get out and promptly arrested him. I asked “No hitchhikers? Illegal?” and the officer just said “No problem. Go,” and waved us on. Uh okay… not going to argue with that, but did we just give an axe murderer a ride? We never found out.
In San Ignacio, we checked into Hotel La Huerta, which was surprisingly nice. Actually the nicest place we stayed the whole trip, and coincidentally the cheapest. It had hot water (our stays in Loreto featured lukewarm water), tile floors, ample pillows, its own convenience store, and a night staff that understood English enough to meet our request to tell the noisy neighbors to shut up after ten.
For dinner, we walked up past the mission to the town square. At the northern corner of the mission, a man standing by a shack sold us on his Mexica Sampler plate. It was dirt cheap. And delicious! We got ice cream for dessert and wandered up the street to Rene’s for a margarita. By the time we were done night fell and the whole town was playing volleyball (or watching the match) in the town square.
This was the authentic little Mexican town experience we expected in Loreto and couldn’t find.