Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Weekend of Whales

In January, 2017, I went whale-watching near the Channel Islands, off the coast of Ventura. I'd read this part of the Pacific is on the migration route for gray whales, who head south for the winter.

Sure enough, I saw several whales that day, along with dolphins and sea lions. But I'd also read about where those whales were headed—to lagoons off Baja California, where they birth and nurse their calves, as well as mate for the next go-round.

I didn't give much thought to whale migration again until I realized whale season was upon us here in 2019, and I hadn't acted to get myself south to Mexico to see the whales. Was it too late?

I researched every term I could think of. Solo travel to Baja. Independent travel to see Baja whales. Gray whales, Baja. Budget travel, whales. I searched guidebooks and websites, but didn't find anything truly satisfying until I really dug in. Central and southern Baja wasn't far away as the crow flies, but it was too damn long from LA by bus. Fifteen hours by car, longer by bus. Nope. Not gonna do that and be at the office by 9 on Monday.

I fired up Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak...what if I flew out of Tijuana? Burbank? LAX? Ontario? Long Beach? What if I flew into Cabo and connected? Flew via San Diego? I tried every combination I could think of.

In the end, two routes made sense. The one that appealed to me most was to get the $20 Flixbus from Burbank train station at the crack of dawn, head to San Diego, go to the Cross Border Express walkway that goes from San Diego directly into Tijuana Airport, and catch a budget Volaris flight to Loreto. But there was a direct flight from LAX-Loreto on Alaska Air, and I couldn't be sure a bus would make it through LA traffic down to San Diego in time to clear customs and get my flight in Tijuana. The direct flight was more expensive, but I shrugged—that's what paychecks are for—and booked the Alaska Air ticket.

I was too late to get any of the hotels recommended on TripAdvisor or Yelp, or to get the best budget lodging. There were some hotels outside the centro, but then I spotted a new hotel—open all of three weeks—Hotel Rosarito. It wasn't even on TripAdvisor at this point, just on the hotel booking sites, but this meant rooms were actually available.

Now I had a ticket and a hotel room, and my friend Amanda had told me she coincidentally was going to be in Loreto the same weekend. But what about the whales?

From Loreto, it was an hour-and-a-half on an winding paved road to the whale lagoon at Puerto Adolfo López Mateos. This is a small town, and I couldn't find anything about a bus that might go there. There were buses from Loreto to nearby Ciudad Insurgentes, but once there, it seemed to me you'd just get stuck.
I concluded I could either rent a car in Loreto or I could sign up for a day trip with a tour operator. The former would be fast and easy. There is a pier in Adolfo López Mateos with staffed counters. You waltz up and say "I want to see the whales," and they outfit you with a life vest and stick you on a boat for an hour or two, depending on what you want to pay. It's dead-easy, but I didn't know that back in LA, so I wrote to a bunch of outfitters and travel agents to find someone who could help me out.

Only one of them wrote back with any confidence, so I booked with her. Lezly put me onto a Wild Loreto expedition. Both were great. Lezly showed up at my hotel for two days running, and even gave me her coat the first day.

Here are some photos of last weekend.

1 comment:

William Kendall said...

What a thing to be able to see those animals where they belong.