Pure Magic! (Day Nine)
We woke up early, super excited! One of the other rally teams had arranged with a company called Whale Magic Tours for two boatloads of grimy off-roaders to row out into the bay and commune with gray whales…and we got a spot! To those of us from the Pacific Northwest, a “whale tour” was an event where you board a really big boat in a marina, travel out into a big sound and tour around hoping to spot some orca fins in the distance. Boats have strict rules about how close they can get to whales, and often you don’t see much more than French-fry-eating seagulls. Having spent many days in a lumbering Montero, however, we were totally cool with just going out for a boat ride.
Whale Magic Tours is in its second year of operation. It was started by a woman named Shari Bondy, and it is essentially a small camp way out into the Guerrero Negro bay area, where guests come and spend a couple days camping and whale watching and Shari, her bff from Canada, and her daughter Sirena (born and raised in the very lagoon where the camp is located) provide food, drinks, and expert whale tour guidance and education. The three women have a very deep respect for the local area; flora, fauna, humans combined. They’ve built an eco-friendly, local-authority-respecting little oasis at the farthest shore inside a massive salt mine. During the winter months, the bay hosts migrating gray whales who come there to birth their babies. The Mexican government is exceedingly protective of this habitat, thus large boats and fishing, normally a source of income for many residents of the area, are banned during calving season. Whale tour groups are required to hire local fishermen to drive their boats, and Shari and her team have developed an amazing relationship with their drivers.
And with their whales too! Spending just a few moments with these three women confirms their love and respect for these majestic animals. They are a wealth of knowledge and happy to share it.
We drove into the town of Guerrero Negro where one of the team members met us and gathered us up for the hour-long drive to the camp. We drove through vast empty salt fields and saw massive piles of white minerals all around. Once we arrived at the camp, we hung around in the sunshine listening to whale facts and local history, while we waited for the first boat to return.
Wow, those boats were WAY smaller than what we thought of as a “whale watch boat”! Open boats with a single outboard motor, they had a capacity for only 12 people to climb in and perch on a bench. Cameras in hand, we boarded the vessel and our expert driver set off through the bay.
Shari’s daughter Sirena was the guide for our boat. Literally no one on the boat was more excited about the trip than Sirena….despite the fact that she does that at least once every single day. She was a fun, enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide and made an amazing experience even better.
We eventually got out to the deeper water. We saw whales in every direction, blowhole spouts, breaching, rolling…it was like an infestation of whales! Sirena informed us that the careful management of this environment has resulted in whales returning year after year and displaying a surprisingly high level of comfort with the people and the boats.
We had the unbelievable luck to experience the truth of this ourselves. Within a few minutes of arriving to the deep water, a whale approached our boat. As in swam right up underneath it and rubbed against the hull! This boat was so small that we could lean over the side to put our hands in the water, and Sirena encouraged us to do so. This started a sort of scattering process where some of the passengers scooted from one side to the other to try and get a hand on the whale and others shifted around trying to get the best video and photos of the moment. It was utterly amazing. At times the whale came to the surface next to the boat and rolled on its side, just looking at us with one huge eyeball. Felt like it was peering straight into our souls!
Two straight hours ensued of at least three whales interacting with our boat – rubbing barnacles against the hull, surfacing for humans to pet, pushing our boat along, and aiming blasts from their blowholes right at my face.
We finally had to go back to the beach. Their process was to get the boat close enough to the beach that a somewhat raggedy pickup truck could back into the surf and transfer passengers to the dry ground.
Well, said raggedy pickup got itself well stuck in the wet sand, a way off from the boat. Oh, the irony! A truck stuck in sand and no less than 10 extremely capable off-road rescue rigs just off in the distance…eventually Mr. Bad Habit himself, JR, took control of the situation and waded to shore, retrieved his truck, and pulled out the stuck transport truck.
We said our goodbyes with the assurance that we’d be back just as soon as we could and headed back out of the magical bay. We had a lot of ground to cover to get to the very last official campsite, so we beat feet.
We left Guerrero Negro and headed north, stopping in town for possibly the best tacos we’ve ever had on the way out. We spent the rest of the afternoon making our way to the last campsite of the trip, at the stunningly beautiful spot called Catavina. If you’ve heard the rumors…they’re all true!