Page Saurs: Mexico's Sea of Cortez

Page Saurs

Page Saurs: Mexico's Sea of Cortez

Page Saurs

Feb 2012

Mexico’s Sea of Cortez

In an inland sea just south of California lies Mexico’s Sea of Cortez—a place author John Steinbeck found “ferocious with life” and once described by Jacques Cousteau as “the aquarium of the world.” This UNESCO World Heritage Site and biosphere reserve is one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on earth.

Coastal mangroves and dunes along with desert scrub and red rock cliffs provide the backdrop to a stunning archipelago. And wildlife-rich waters and remote islands, home to both plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, are your playground.

Geologic evidence indicates the Sea of Cortez was created around 5.3 million years ago when tectonic forces separated the Baja California Peninsula from the North American Plate.   What exists today is a narrow body of water brimming with life. The Sea of Cortez is home to resident populations of Fin and Sperm whales, but you’ll find it popular with migratory species such as Humpback, California Gray and orca whales; Manta rays; Leatherback sea turtles; and the world's largest animal, the Blue whale each year between January and April.  This important refuge and migration corridor also makes it a birders’ paradise.

A Day in the Life: Finding the Magic

Finding the magic, that’s just one area where our expedition leaders and guides really shine. When setting out for a beach day in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, you can count on just about anything outside of the ordinary. So after a tasty breakfast of huevos rancheros and fresh fruit salad, or perhaps one of Alexandra’s early riser coconut almond muffins, it’s time to hit the beach!

Exploring the tide line, looking for treasures—maybe there’s the discovery of a dried puffer fish, or the shells of almejas chocolate, known also as chocolate clams (but certainly not to be confused with any of the chef’s delicacies.) Or the eye catches another favorite and unexpected treasure, the tiny peachy-pink shell of a coffee-bean cowrie. As you veer away from the shore you’ll cross over dunes to a small salt flat. The earth has dried in a cracked formation and tiny salt resistant pickle plant succulents dot the landscape. Under careful instruction, you can pluck and taste the tips of one to learn how the plant survives in such an arid and salty environment (it concentrates all the salts into its outer segments and then drops them off as it grows.)  Continuing along, chances are you’ll even pass by a hand-dug oblong salt pond, where fishermen from a neighboring island come to collect salt for their machaca, or salt fish.

Leave the salt flat to climb through stone and interesting large cactus species to a steep ridge.  As you walk along the ridge atop the island, the Sea of Cortez glitters blue in all directions. The morning light on the cliffs of the Baja Peninsula shows the coppery soft layers of geological striations, uplifted when the youngest sea in the world was being formed. Our hike isn't long—possibly an hour, but you’ll chat along the way and take your time, looking at what the environment offers.  Perhaps it’s a Say's Phoebe, perched high above in an waving ocotillo branch. Perhaps a small lizard crossing our path. Each island has endemic species particular enough and isolated for so long, that scientists say they are genetically distinct and live nowhere else in the world in that exact form.

Arriving back at the boat it’s time for a cool drink on the aft deck. Sarah may have muddled a fresh mint and cucumber water, or even something with a little extra buzz for the afternoon! Relax, regroup, and then go ashore for some leisurely beachcombing, lazing in the sun with a book and sipping an ice-cold cerveza, or hop in the inflatable skiff for a snorkel at some cliff walls. While dropping the skiff’s anchor a smallish yellow moray comes out to check out our group (in some cultures the Moray Eel is a symbol of observation.) Below the surface, keep watch for large schools of the Sea of Cortez wrasse, a pretty tri-color fellow native to this sea. And in the late afternoon while gathering for cocktail hour on the back deck, the skiff whizzes by again—this time pulling an adventurous soul on the inner tube—bringing laughter and fun to the viewers as well! And you begin to transition to the evening magic—a stunning sunset, grand camaraderie, and an incredibly starry night sky.