Fellow Travelers (Part I)

ImageTraveling is a joy. Not just for the places you see, but for the people you meet.

On my recent Baja vacation, I greatly enjoyed the company of several other guests on board the National Geographic Sea Lion, many of whom are photography buffs and even fellow bloggers.

I’d like to take this week to introduce you to retired school teachers Grace Pitzer and her husband Paul, with whom I shared several delightful meals and shore excursions.

They’ve traveled to well over 100 countries and can regale you with many more tales than I.

Please visit their website:

http://pitzertravels.com/travel/Welcome.html

and travel blog:

http://pitzertravels.blogspot.com/

where you can see additional photos from our Baja journey. Image

 

 

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“For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.”

Image The Baja Peninsula is home to a variety of endemic fauna and flora, perhaps none more strange than the Boojum. Named for a mythical creature in Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark,” the Boojum (or Cirio, as it called in Spanish) is a tree like no other. And we were on the hunt for it.

Docking in the small town of Bahia de Los Angeles, the crew and passengers of the National Geographic Sea Lion piled into a motley assortment of cars and vans to head up into the hills in search of the fabled Boojum Forest. Our 66-year old driver, Mr. Smith (his great-grandfather was from England), was proud to tell us about his three-year-old granddaughter whose white baby shoes swung from the rearview mirror and, of course, how the Seri Indians – the original inhabitants of the Baja Peninsula – believed the trees had special powers and how the experts can not agree on whether or not the Seri deliberately transplanted the Boojums.

Several sources, among them Stewart Aitchison’s “The Desert Islands of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez,” report that the Seri believed the Boojums were once people: “giants who were overtaken by floodwaters.” Other Seri myths warn against harming – or even touching – the Boojums for fear of bringing on wind and rain.

But we did not fear the Boojums, as bizarre as they appeared. With pale green bark and yellow flowers on spindly spikes, the Boojums reached to the sky – their scarce branches twisting around one another as if they were the giants of legend beseeching the gods to save them from the flood, wringing their hands in prayer.

We ran around for more than an hour, searching for the weirdest of the weird, or the Boojum whose twisted arms perfectly framed the pale moon rising in the late afternoon sky. ImageWe ignored the spattering of rain drops and the itchy sand as we lay on our backs trying to get the perfect shot encompassing the Boojum’s height. (They are slow growing plants, possibly just a few inches per year; a fifty foot tree could be more than a century old.)

We even ignored the warnings. Okay – I did. Threading my arm through those spiky spindles, I touched the Boojum. Nothing terrible happened. The bark felt sort of like that of a birch. And it felt strong and sturdy.Image I told the Boojum it was beautiful. (Yes, I talked to the tree…call me weird.) I don’t remember all that I said, but I did ask if it wouldn’t mind sharing its strength and longevity.

Now that I’m back home in the midst of what’s promising to be the worst California drought, I’m thinking maybe I should have asked the Boojum for some rain too.

 

It was a dark and stormy night….

Oh, wait…. It was a dark and starlit evening on the beach of Isla San José in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

ImageNaturalist Jack Swenson strums his guitar, singing tunes from John Denver, Roger Miller, and Jimmy Buffett. Arrayed around the bonfire are the passengers and crew of the National Geographic Sea Lion. The ship floats just off shore, its deck lights no competition for the embers blowing off the fire or the watchful gaze of Orion from overhead.

It’d been a long day of snorkeling with sea creatures and hiking desert arroyos. One in a stream of days filled with playful gray whale calves cavorting around our zodiacs, breaching humpback whales, bow riding orcas, and hundreds of dolphins. Yet our journey is only halfway done. There was much more to come for all of us: the retired teachers, the “Michigan Mafia” (really just a group of IT workers from the University of Michigan), the Washington State University couple who have brought along their stuffed cougar mascot (for photo ops of course), the older gentleman who plays solitaire every afternoon while his wife watches (quite a hiker he turned out to be!), the father and daughter from Singapore, the ship’s doctor and his wife, the two sisters – one of whom still bears black eyes from a trip and fall in the Cabo airport, the fellow Pepsi lovers, and the veterinarian.

And it had been a trying day, for me anyway. But I refused to let the migraine trying to establish itself behind my right eye prevent me from enjoying the company of my fellow travelers. And enjoyable they were. Sharing photography tips, keeping a watchful eye out for those of us more timid snorkelers, laughing over beers and stories of travels, and suggesting future trips (as if my dream destination list isn’t already long enough!)

For now, our barbecue over, marshmallows being roasted over the fire, and Jack’s smooth voice floating across the sand and water, we relax and settle quietly in each other’s company far from home. Image

A Humpback Whale Swims into a Bar….

Image ….can you believe I couldn’t find a single decent humpback whale joke on the internet?

But who needs jokes when you’ve got the real thing surrounding your ship. Unlike the gray whales on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula a few days before, the humpbacks in the Sea of Cortez had no interest in us. They were too busy feeding, playing, and – perhaps – vying to impress potential mates.

Most of their show was, of course, hidden from us below water, but no one seemed to mind. Every slap of a pectoral fin was greeted by an ooh or an ahh…and plenty of cameras clicking away. Believed to be a courting behavior, “pec slapping” as it’s called, can be quite impressive as the whale brings that 15 foot fin down upon the water for an explosive report and splash. And “lob tailing” (when the whale slaps its flukes against the water) was equally appreciated. But many of us seemed more impressed when the whales simply raised their flukes and, instead of slapping down, slid gracefully below the surface. That makes quite a photo op.

And what can I say about breaching? We all want to see it, right? And not just the side breaching, where they only come up just far enough to fall over on their sides. It still creates quite a splash and there are plenty of us who have pictures…of the splashes. Sound familiar? Try was we might, with our newfound knowledge of how to spot “whale footprints”Image (those momentarily still ovals on the ocean’s surface where the whale has just been), it was difficult to predict where the whales might next appear. I’m the only one who got a shot of this whale doing a side breach and, because I’m only shooting with a 200mm lens, it’s not that fantastic of a photo. Image (Anyone wanna start “Janet’s 400mm lens fund”?) Still, I happened to have my camera pointed in the right direction at the right time, and got a lucky shot.

The best shot, however, no one got. It was our last morning aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion as we headed back toward La Paz for our airplane rides home. I was late getting to the upper deck for morning yoga with Darcy, our wellness coordinator. Just as I was sliding open the door, I heard a “girly scream” (self-described by Jeff, the man it came from) and rushed out to see a humongous splash just off our stern. There was Jeff, standing upright in mid-stretch, staring out at the water, while the other yoga practitioners were all scrambling to their feet to see what they had missed.

It was a humpback, of course, the only humpback during the entire two week trip that did a full breach, pirouetting through the air before falling back into the water. No one had known the whale was there. Only one person happened to be looking in the right direction. Jeff was delighted, naturally. The rest of us, a bit jealous. Next time, however, may be my turn, or one of theirs, to witness that one special moment found in every trip.Image