travelog 13

Baja Short Stories 1

Whale Watching

A long time ago we met an older German couple in New Mexico. They were on their way for 9 months with their camper-van and were yearning for the boat to Germany - and of course also for the "Rostbraten" (roastbeef) and the "Bratkartoffeln" (roast potatoes) in their favourite restaurant in Swabia. They told us that their travels were only worth it because they saw grizzlies in Canada and gray whales on the Baja California. We have already seen the grizzlies so we just had to see the gray whales and our journey would also be worth it...

We decided to drive to the Laguna Ojo de Liebre near Guerrero Negro. You buy a ticket for $20 per person in the morning and then you are stuffed (like sardines) with other 6 persons into a small fishing boat. Soon after that you are in the middle of the lagoon where you can already see the whales blowing air. The females give birth to their calves in these luke-warm waters. Only in these lagoons they are fertile so that the males have to follow them - like it or not - all the way down south. In the meantime they also protect their offspring from shark attacks.

When the boat approaches a whale mother with her youngster all the "aahs" and "oohs" start and everybody draws the camera. Certainly the whales always appear where nobody would expect them or you always have the head of another passanger in front of your lens. Some whales are really playful and come very close to the boats. Their giant bodies shimmer brightly underwater because of the shells and barnacles living on their skin. Sometimes they show their head and you can see the hole where they blow out the air creating water jets. Or mama and kid appear synchronously and then dive again under water with an elegant blow of their flukes.

We especially like the water jets because then it's easy to locate the whales in the whole lagoon very well. This fun takes one hour or a little bit more - of course it is a tourist attraction and it would be much nicer to be alone in a boat, but it's an outstanding experience in any case.

Pinturas rupestres

Another "must see" on the Baja peninsula are the cave paintings. Many of the painted caves are declared as world heritage sites by the UNESCO. And most of them are accessible only on three day trips with donkeys, guide and tent. But there are also smaller caves where you only need a guide.

Either you book the tour in Mulegé for US $35 per person and you receive transportation, the guide, a beer and tacos out of a cooler. Or you drive on your own to the Rancho La Trinidad where you wait patiently for Placido to return from his work. We were allowed to stay overnight on the Rancho surrounded by cattle, yelling dogs, hens and roosters who started to crow at 3 am in the morning.

Placido guided us the next morning for 35 pesos (about US $3.50) per person to the paintings. The first painted wall lies in a green canyon with water holes. The deer is famous because of its delicate artwork.

But there are a lot more animals to discover: scorpions, lizards, turtles, fishes and whales, coyotes, rabbits and stylized men with their arms raised to the sky. The colors red, black and white were produced from deer urine, fish oil and special plant extracts. Nobody knows exactly who did the paintings, why they were made or when.

For the second cave you have to climb or swim. We decide to climb over the rocks.

After two climbing actions and a short hike through a narrow canyon we climb to the cave. The ceiling is painted with animals and men and there are also a few petroglyphs. On the way back Martin prefers the green, still cold water - this is also more photogenic. After three hours we are back at the Rancho and we spent a very interesting morning with Placido. He still knows a lot about the old remedies, he knows the local plants and animals and he gets very talkative when he realizes that someone is interested and tries his best in broken Spanish.

March 1999

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen