Close encounters of the amazing kind

Recuperating, basking in the sunshine and enjoying Mexico's Baja

  • Feb. 20, 2015 9:00 a.m.

In a miraculous

Hello again, welcome to our continuing series of stories following our Grand Cycling Adventure from Quesnel to Mexico. In our last story we told you about Heather’s unfortunate medical challenge as a result of a dog bite she received in Loreto, Baja Sur. We’re happy to say the news is good. Heather has received treatment and is on the mend. We plan to continue cycling around the southern tip of Baja in March.

We also told you we’d be going on a special whale watching tour. It turned out to be an absolutely incredible experience. We stayed in beautiful little cabanas on the edge of the San Ignacio Lagoon where grey whales have been coming to mate and give birth for millennia. Their journey to this special place is remarkable. They start in the Bering Straight off the coast of Alaska and swim thousands of kilometres to the western coast of Baja, Mexico. Our tour took us out into these waters where we could get closer to the whales. Here is an account of our third day on the water.

A first glance, there seemed to be many more whales splashing about than the previous days. A good omen we thought. It was. Over the next hour and a half we were approached many times and had sightings we simply couldn’t have imagined. With so much activity we became conscious of the whale’s grace, power and willingness to make contact.

The first time it happened in surreal slow motion. We saw a mum and a baby some distance away and as usual, the captain directed the boat towards their meandering path.  It became very clear very quickly we were going to get closer than we had ever been. The captain put the engine in neutral to protect the whales from the propeller and allowed them to choose where they went. We felt a pretty huge surge of adrenaline when the baby drifted gently towards our boat. Was this really happening? The mum followed the baby and soon we had the pair of them right along side the boat. As they initiated the approach we were encouraged to put our hands in the water and splash around to attract them even closer.

It worked. In a life changing moment, the baby rolled on to its side, came directly to where Heather was leaning over the side and made eye contact. Try to imagine Heather’s excitement as she extended her hand. The baby really wanted to be touched and Carlos our guide told us they even like to be scratched gently. Heather reached a little farther and it happened. She touched the baby and then as the young whale came closer, she scratched her soft chin. Heather later described the skin as silky to the touch. Overwhelming is the best way to describe this and the six more times Heather was able to touch the whales that afternoon. As the various encounters evolved, she would meet and touch a different baby who also wanted to make contact. And the mum during Heather’s first meeting? She lounged around and watched the baby learn what she already knew. This was a safe place to meet humans.

At one point the pair circled the boat and came to the other side. Then, when the baby was thrilling us with her newfound trust of humans, the mum descended in the clear water. Following her path we could see her, all 40 tons of her, slowly gliding directly under the boat. Of course in this situation one thinks about the possibilities. Would she surface prematurely? Would she whip her tail just at the wrong time? No. She just slipped down through the blue-green water and surfaced again on the other side of the boat allowing us just enough time to pick up our jaws from the deck. Before we left the mum and the baby, we were examined closely one more time by the baby. It came close to the boat and rolled onto its side in precisely the right position for her right eye to look into ours. Heather is sure the baby was making direct eye contact with her. Heather’s happy tears came one more time as she made an even closer contact with this beautiful creature. Remarkable.

We saw some other wonderful things before our time was up. Spyhopping is common with many types of whales including Orcas. The grey whale is particularly impressive as it dives down, turns its head towards the surface and exits straight up. We were able to see its two eyes peering out at the world above the surface.

The boat ride back to the camp went too quickly. We didn’t want to go in. Lunch was waiting as a consolation prize. For the remainder of the day we rested and tried to fathom what we had just experienced. It will be with us for a long time. Another beautiful sunset ushered the close of a special day.

The next day we travelled back to our home base, Los Barriles.  It was a long bus ride but the trip was well worth it. Back at ‘home’ our focus is Heather’s continuing rehabilitation. Her leg is feeling much better and it’s time for us to start riding again.

There are a number of good roads nearby that we’ll be riding to build the kilometres we need before we head out.

We’re excited about riding again and we have no regrets we had to stay in this beautiful little town on the south eastern coast of Baja. We’ve met so many wonderful people and have enjoyed the fabulous sunny weather this area is known for.  We’ll send along another story when we’re down the road before we fly back to B.C. in late March.

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