Saturday, July 2, 2011

6 Day Bus Trip Guide Report: March 16-21


Six-Day Bus Trip • March 16-21, 2011
By:  Linda Ayers

2011 will go down in the books — at least my book— as the most amazing whalewatch season ever. Guests on the March 16-21 bus trip were treated to excellent weather in Baja and even more excellent whales. With San Ignacio Lagoon still occupied by lots of moms and babies, there was ample opportunity for some real quality whale-petting and, yes, whale kissing! A number of single whales were still in residence, so not only were the cow/calf pairs super friendly, but we also observed some enthusiastic mating. (Let’s hear it for the “Pink Floyds!”)

Our group of 12, plus guide, met in San Diego. We were then transported aboard comfortable shuttle vans across the Mexican border and directly to the Central Tijuana Bus Terminal. After reserved bus tickets were purchased, my guests and I obtained tourist cards and then settled in for a short wait until departure time.  At the appointed hour, bags were checked and we boarded the ABC bus for San Ignacio.

The bus trip south had few interruptions and I believe most of our group was able to catch a few “winks.” At regular inspection stops, the ever-polite Federales checked all passengers and the bus was on its way. Morning found us in San Ignacio where our local transport waited. After a great breakfast at San Ignacio Springs B&B and a brief stop in town, we were off to the lagoon.

Campo Cortez was a welcome sight as always with Maldo Fischer, “father” of the camp there to greet us. After a brief orientation, cabins were assigned and everyone made themselves at home. Following lunch it was time for the first trip out to visit the whales. Even after six seasons I still get excited about the first encounter, and the whales did not disappoint. The entire time at camp was filled with nature walks, lagoon treks, birds, coyotes, dolphin and of course the very friendly whales. Good food and conversation were plentiful.

It’s always hard to say “Adios,” but eventually that time came. We packed up our gear and photo treasures, said good-bye to our hosts and headed back to town for a little “decompressing.” Dinner was waiting for us at the B&B and then it was time to board the northbound bus for the border and then San Diego. We all started out as strangers with similar interests and ended up as friends with similar memories.

How fortunate I am to be able to guide guests to this magical, yet fragile environment. I hope everyone goes home with the same lovely stories as I do and spreads the word about San Ignacio Lagoon, Campo Cortez and the Fischer family who keep it going.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2012 Trip Calendar NOW AVAILABLE

Finally we've completed our 2012 Trip Calendar. See attached PDF for details of our upcoming guided trips.

In brief:

5 Day Air Trip Departures
 Feb. 09,  13,  17,  21,  25,  29
 Mar. 04,  08,  12,  16

6 Day Bus Trip Departures
 Jan. 28
 Feb. 04  - This is our NEW bus down/fly back trip with 4.5 days at camp & 8 whale watch trips @ $1,750
 Mar. 16 - This is our NEW bus down/fly back trip with 4.5 days at camp & 8 whale watch trips @ $1,750
 Mar. 21,  27
 Apr. 02,  07

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 8, 2011: Gray Whale Census

Ok, this is almost unbelievable. We have over 100 whales in the lagoon this week. NEVER before have we seen these huge numbers of whales in the lagoon.

April 8, 2011
Gray Whale Census: San Ignacio Lagoon

Adult Gray Whales:  90
Gray Whale Calves:  87
Total Gray Whales:  177

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 18, 2011 Census

Gray Whale Census for San Ignacio Lagoon
March 18, 2011

Adult Gray Whales:   107
Gray Whale Calves:    68
Total Gray Whales:    175

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 10, 2011 Census

San Ignacio Lagoon Gray Whale Census
March 10, 2011

Mother calf pairs:  58 for total of 116
Singles:                167

Total:  283 Gray Whales at San Ignacio Lagoon

Grocery Shopping for whale camp

Maldo's Grocery Run to Town

As in all things at the camp.....this is a most interesting photo journal. Maldo has to drive to camp every 4 to 5 days to reprovision our camp supplies which include these items:
*sodas & beer
*kitchen supplies
*gasoline for the pangas
*auto supplies for repairs

There's SO much that goes into running an operation like this that this is only a HINT of what we do. I always tell my friends that it's like moving a regiment of marines through the desert during a WWII campaign and we have to keep our supply lines going and as the season goes on it's harder on all of us at camp since we have been running at 99% every day.

In Maldo's words below:

Esta foto es del mercado San Ignacio donde compro casi todo
lo nesesario para el campo como, vejetales,frutas, avarrotes etc.esta
a unas 45 millas de Laguna de San Ignacio con un camino de terraseria
en no muy buenas condiciones, al viajar se hacen aproximadamente dos horas
de ida y dos de regreso mas el tiempo en las compras.

These photos are of the San Ignacio Market where we buy almost all of our necessary thigns for the camp such as vegtables, fruit, general supplies etc...  It is 45 miles from San Ignacio Lagoon on a washboard, dirt road that takes us there in very good condition. It takes me about two hours to get to town and two hours to return plus the amount of time that it takes to purchase supplies. 

*Basically it takes Maldo a full day when he leaves camp at 7am and returns around 5pm. When Maldo goes to town, he has to buy more than just food. It's fuel for boats and a whole laundry list of things for every one of the folks that work at the camp. 

Guest Report: Martha Bock

Guest Report from Mrs. Martha Bock
5 day air trip March 1-5

Notes from Martha's travel journel

March 1, 2011
It was a beautiful sight again, buzzing the western coastline of Baja, passing over Guerrero Negro and then finding "our" lagoon with whales waiting for us. We saw a mom and calf from the air and began to see blows as soon as we got off the plane. We knew this was a good sign. Later, a million, million stars at night and the echoing voices of whale-breath as I walked out to the point and switched off my flashlight.

March 2, 2011
Whales everywhere! This is the most whale activity I've seen in the many years I've been coming down. We're seeing spy-hopping, breaching, and even mating behavior.

March 3, 2011
Cuco took us out to an area called "the nursery" because moms take their babies there to get them ready for the long trip north. I've never seen so many mother and calf pairs in one place before. On the afternoon whale-watch, we shared a friendly mom-calf pair with another boat. Cuco said that he recognized the pair from the morning in the nursery. The baby was so sweet, letting us pet and love on it. It was looking right at us and then rolling, on its side, closing its eye as if to say, "MMM, that feels good!"

March 4, 2011
It was so fun to be with the British couple who had come such a long distance to see the whales. And, she really did say, "snogging" after she got to kiss the baby!! That's slang for making out, for those who haven't read Harry Potter!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13 & Final Guide Report - Tom & Patti

Reflections of the Showermaster, March 13, 2011

“Fantastic!”; “That was incredible!”; “I feel like a different person!”

These might be the excited exclamations that you would expect after a great whale watching outing, but actually these are the rewarding comments that guests share with me when they emerge from their hot afternoon showers. Of course I love the whale-watching, the birds, the intertidal life and the stars, but an unexpectedly rewarding part of my job as assistant guide at Campo Cortez is my daily role as “Showermaster”.

A hot shower in Baja California is hard to come by, and in the remote desert of San Ignacio Lagoon it is a true and unexpected luxury. As Showermaster I prepare the showers and let our guests know when their turn has come. “Hot, warm-hot, warm or cold?”, I ask as part of the orientation. “There is a changing room, and then in the shower you just flip the switch and you’re off. Give a yell if you need it a little hotter or colder, but don’t say anything that you don’t want us to hear outside the shower! You can sing commercial jingles but no arias, in the interest of water conservation.

Any problems, just holler.”
“Ooooh“, “Perfect”, “Wow!”. “Heavenly!” . . . These are the comments I love to hear when the water begins to flow. And you wouldn’t think of it, but Showermaster is a very sociable job, with a lot of nice one-on-one conversation with guests about the day, the whale-watching, and their time at the camp. And when they emerge from the showers with satisfied smiles and hugging their towels, well, that’s the kind of gratification that keeps us all going here at Campo Cortez.

By Tom O’Brien, Assistant Naturalist Guide, Campo Cortez

Photo A: “Hot Shower Anyone?”
Photo B: Shower Sign Up

March 05-09 Guide Report

Guide Report
San Ignacio Lagoon
March 05-09, 2011
By Tom O'brien

Strictly Business
“This just became a business trip!” blurted Mel gleefully while the rest of us tried to recover from shock and awe. Mel is a urologist who had just witnessed and photographed the legendary “Pink Floyd”, or the impressive male organ of the California Gray Whale. San Ignacio is an important place for Gray Whale females to give birth to their young, but it is also a very important and active mating ground for next year’s mothers. We had all been a little worried about the numbers of whales that would show up this year after the low numbers and malnutrition of last year’s El Nino year, but 2011 has turned out to be a record year for calving mothers and numbers in general. One of the things that we’ve been witnessing has been a lot of high-action, high-energy mating going on throughout the lower lagoon.

Gray whale mating generally involves three whales: two males and one female. The groups travel and roll around together for days, often swimming notably more quickly than the other whales, then swirling into a splashing, thrashing tumble of body parts. It’s hard to distinguish fluke from flipper and one whale from another as we watch from cautious distances, because mating is the one time that the whales abandon their otherwise precise spatial awareness of their peripheral body parts. The males cooperate more than compete, with one mating while the other supports the female as a “bolster pillow”. They then switch roles and take turns with the consenting female.
What we see on the surface is a turbulent confusion that is both chaotic and graceful at the same time. Finally a huge tailstock will rise up from the sea surface, seemingly defying gravity, then another with an emphatic slap and splash, then the whole group submerges for an anxious moment. “Now keep an eye out for the Pink Floyd when they surface . . .” we warn in anticipation. A head surfaces with a snorting blow, then a pectoral fin, edge of a fluke and rolling, rolling, rolling. “Oh my God, there it is!” everyone cries with excitement. Our urologist smiles with satisfaction, confirming in his camera screen that this one will end up on his office wall.
By Tom O’Brien, Campo Cortez naturalist guide.
Photo A: “What a Big Head”, by guest Jonathan Muller
Photo B: The Pink Floyd, by guest Krista Billinghurst (March 9 – 13 trip)

February 25 thru March 01 Guide Report

Guide Report
San Ignacio lagoon
Period:  February 25 thru March 01, 2011


The following verse was written and presented on the final evening by guest Robert Dyer. In addition to a comprehensive overview of his Campo Cortez experience, he elaborates on an unfortunate but comical incident he had with a flawed “chamber-pot”. Enjoy!

We came to Baja – we number nineteen
From both coasts and in between
A common purpose – to visit the whales
To observe them from noses to tails.

Campo Cortez was our home base
Turned out to be a most special place
Met Pati and Tom, who sure know their stuff
Two gracious people we can’t thank enough.

We met Maldo, the owner and his family
As nice a family as you’ll ever see!
His wife Katalina, a.k.a. KATY ONE
Her cooking skills are second to none.

Her sister–in-law Elsa is cook number two
Katy I and Elsa’s food is great it is true!
And our great skippers, skilled on the water
Around whales, they do what they “otter”.

Cuco, Maldo’s brother and Paco and Roberto
Team Fischer – three muchachos “muy bueno”!
They can spot whales – beyond belief
With them at the helm, instant relief.

And all of you whale watchers – you’re really great
Even if you’re not from the greatest state!
Congenial and personable, and smart, as well
Your concern for the earth, it’s easy to tell.

We’ve learned a lot, about mammals, it’s true
I didn’t realize how little I knew
For example, the barnacle is really endowed
When it comes to mammals, he “sticks” out from the crowd.

Or that baby gray whales find it tasking
When “who’s your daddy” others are asking
Or how indoor plumbing which we really like
How much we miss it when we have to hike.

Speaking of plumbing – I’d like to state
An experience this morning that wasn’t so great.
At 3:00 a.m. I got a call
It was nature saying “get up y’all”

To the banos you need to trek
But, because of the cold, I said what the heck
I knew how many of you when you had to go
Stayed in your cabin and went with the flow

I made the decision I’d do like you
Take care of business in the cabin like you
I took the pitcher and into it did pour
When something strange happened down on the floor

A puddle was forming down by my feet
Which was warming, but, not really neat
You might ask, as I, why the pitcher was not filling up
Turns out I was using a ordinary dribble cup!

A hole in the bottom was the matter
Causing my feet to absorb lots of splatter
Quick thinking by me solved the riddle
I’ll now be more careful when I start to piddle

Well, thanks for listening to my verse
If I keep going it’ll just be much worse
Oh, I meant to mention the “pink floyd” thing
In California, it’s referred to as the Charlie Sheen

Have a safe trip home where’ere it be
Thanks to your staff for great hospitality
To everyone you’re my new mates
You’ve just spent time in “dyer” straits!

Written by Robert Dyer - Guest
Photo 1: Doug’s Glowing Smile, by guest Susan Silberman
Photo 2:  Last Chance Bano, by guest Miriam Bauer

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Is it SAFE to travel in Baja, Mexico?

March 12, 2011

Mexico has been the target and scare of N. America for more years than most of us have spent on this good earth. While Mexico certainly has its problems--like any country i might add. The recent onslaught from the press about all the violence and warnings not to travel is quite interesting. Now, i may not have the background, knowledge or inside "scoop" that the US press has.....I have only lived in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico and worked in Mexico for fifteen years. I've traveled up and down the peninsula HUNDREDS of times....usually camping in my truck or van along with my girlfriend and often times our two dogs.

I've NEVER experienced, seen nor even heard of a "reliable" report of violence directed to tourists. In fact, I have only experienced kindness and helpfulness while on the road....I've broken down a handfull of times and had numerous Mexicans stop to ask if i need help and on a few of those occasions they have driven me several miles back to town to an auto-parts store or merely assisted me with the repair i was making to my car on the side of the road in the desert.

OK...there must be something dirty on Mexico--sure!  Yes, I've experienced the lone cop pulling me over and telling me that i was either speeding or did not have my seatbelt on or something ridiculous like that---considering i'm looking around at old beater cars driven by locals without license plates, no mufflers and of course nobody using a seatbelt. So....sure i was singled out and asked if I'd like to pay on the spot....Now this said, if I in fact was in the right and was not guilty of said crime....I always tell the officer "NO"....and tell the officer i'm ready to follow him to "Transito" which is like the DMV--where you pay any tickets or fines in Mexico.

That usually gets anyone off the hook right away and they don't want to waste their time with you and they tell you "not to do it again". In some cases it might cost you $10usd or $20usd., i'm straying from the point....Is there anything to worry about while traveling in Mexico?  In my opinion NO!  And i think it's absurd all the press directed at Mexico when the US sure has its own act to clean up when it comes to gang violence and drug fact I'm a big fan and like watching the show "Gangland" on the History Channel. BUT, WOW!!! watch that program and put yourself in the shoes of a foreigner from say Europe and you'll think you are walking into a ticking time bomb of Gang Violence in the USA.

Here's a pretty good article that i agree with and i think sums up the big press on Mexico:  LINK
this article has some great points about WHY there is so much press on Mexico. My take is once again this is merely trying to "take the eye off of the current problems in the USA" and we like so much to paint Mexico with a broad brush. Again, merely my opinion as a 25+ year vet of Mexico travel. AND i do know that bad things happen here....but i never foret that bad things happen everywhere.

This is a funny video but it is R rated and for it's bad language. It is a cartoon about travel in Mexico and again states things rather funny and to the point. AGAIN, this cartoon has BAD LANGUAGE!  LINK

Tsunami Hits Baja Coast: March 11, 2011

Satellite View San Ignacio Lagoon
As a notice to all that have been asking about the Tsunami that was scheduled to hit the West coast and in particular the San Iganacio Lagoon can all be at ease. We have had several Tsunami warnings in the past and we are used to them. We experienced only a slight rise in the water of about 4-5" while the tide was near a low tide. There is also a barrier island in front of San Ignacio Lagoon which protects us from such incidents.

So know that if you have friends and relatives at the lagoon this week ALL IS fact we are back to whale watching. Nobody or nothing in the lagoon was affected and everyone is enjoying the whale watching as of noon yesterday.....

Johnny Friday

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gray Whale Seduction: Gray Whale Breeding Lagoon

While on a recent scout for National Geographic for an upcoming Gray Whale segment for their new series entitled "Wild Americas" Mike and i were out near Mag Bay checking on the whale conditions. It turned out to be a very good day. As we head back to camp, we are followed by a large female Gray Whale.

Video Shot on RED ONE MX and downsampled to H.264
By Johnny Friday

Gray Whales at Breeding Lagoon in Baja

From a Gray Whale breeding lagoon near the southern end of Mag Bay is another exceptional place to see Gray Whales. What makes this area unique is the narrow passage the whales must migrate through and during times of high surf and big swells, the whales appear to be surging into the lagoon much as you see Dolphins do in waves.

This was an exceptional day to see whales.....There is no place to stay overnight, so you must be completely self sufficient here and camp in a fishing village. As luck has it, i've known a family here for over twenty years and have a nice place to camp out when i head up there.

Photos are frame grabs from RED one HD video camera
By Johnny Friday

Friday, March 4, 2011

Baja Birthing

Not only are the Gray Whales experiencing a big year, but many mammals along the entire coast are having a harvest year of birthing. Here are a few pictures from more video i took this year along the coastline of Baja Ca. Sur. Mexico.

Photos by Johnny Friday
Baja Productions