Baja – Where the Desert Meets the Sea
Sea Lion / Sea Bird
I recently returned from a fantastic adventure exploring the azure crystal clear waters of Baja’s Sea of Cortez, traveling aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird. I was amazed by the abundance of spectacular wildlife, beautiful landscape and warm welcomes of the locals in the few towns we visited. Baja is truly a jewel of expedition travel and a place I hope to return to in the not too distant future.
Blue whales on Day 1... I couldn't have asked for a better start to my journey than encountering the blue whale—the largest creature to ever live on Earth, some measuring over 100 feet long with a volume greater than 30 elephants! Before I departed to Baja, I had dreamt of spotting these magnificent animals, but, knowing that nature doesn't always have your 'checklist' in mind, I focused on all that this amazing destination offers. The reality is that with 33% of the world’s whale species in the Sea of Cortez, nature is calling. In large numbers, these gentle giants roam these rich marine-life filled waters, where you look around and see nothing but uninhabited islands and open seas.
No itinerary necessary. This is the motto of the National Geographic Sea Bird Expedition Team – a perk that’s only possible when you have over 100 years of experience in Baja amongst your noble guides. They diligently plan every step of the trip as we go, examining the weather and weighing our options for each day to create the best experiences possible. Their passion is contagious. Every island, every bird, every whale is met with such enthusiasm that you would think it was their first time here, just like us newbies. The atmosphere this creates on board is simply phenomenal.
The National Geographic Sea Bird carries us up the peninsula, as far north as the winds will allow. After starting our trip with blue whales, we ask ourselves, “How can we possibly top this day?” Well, I come to learn that Baja has many tricks up her sleeve.
The next day, I awake to a beautiful sunrise and start my morning with a yoga session on the top deck. Hundreds of dolphins greet our vessel with a magnificent display, leaping through the air, entertaining us over the next hour or so. No matter how many times I see dolphins, they always put a huge grin on my face. But wait! There’s more! Three humpback whales join the show, just as a Mobula ray (a bit smaller than a Manta ray) launches itself out of the pristine waters, framed by the beautiful island backdrop. "Click click click!" Cameras go crazy trying to find a single place to focus their attention. Take a deep breath and look around—this is the Wild West at its best... and the day has just begun.
“Long hike, medium hike, photo meander, kayaking, snorkeling, or relaxing on the beach?” our Expedition Leader announces to the group. So many wonderful options – how do I decide how to spend this afternoon?! Snorkeling first, then I’ll bring my camera for the long hike! From afar, the islands look empty, with not much to explore. However, once you arrive, you see the abundance of endemic plant and wildlife for you to discover on each of these little floating worlds, making for great photos. A beautiful sunset BBQ with the fresh local catch of the day on an island beach seemingly set aside just for our special appearance rounds out a perfect day.
On our third day, we arrive at a small port village, the locals are curious to see our ship come in. Our National Geographic Certified Photo Instructor takes us on a photographic journey throughout the town, and teaches us to see the world from a whole new perspective. Finally, I learn what all the buttons on my camera are for. While snapping shots of old buildings and storytelling faces, the colors of the town come to life. I follow the local style and buy the biggest cowboy hat I can find—it’s more like an umbrella atop my head, really—but it looks amazing.
The next several days are truly the trip of a lifetime—exciting scavenger hunts for the kids; amazing snorkeling with playful sea lions; encounters with the world’s largest creatures on Earth; observing flocks of endemic sea birds, along with colorful boobies and graceful pelicans; relaxing at the edge of an empty beach that slopes gently into the crystal clear sea; enjoying the local cuisine with creative, flavorful meals; hiking through the enchanted arroyos; having a walk down some old village streets and tipping my newly purchased, over-sized cowboy hat at the friendly locals as they pass. Baja had everything I could have asked for and more!