Guerrero Negro, BCS

Day 4

A day editing the hundreds of whale photos and writing about our experience from the day before.

And doing laundry. I had noticed a “lavanderia” (a Mexican version of a laundromat) a block away, and while doing laundry in a sink/bucket is relatively easy, the drying (in a sand-blown town) is kind of a pain, so we thought maybe it was time to learn what “a Mexican version of a laundromat” actually means. The Internet told me that in Mexico, there aren’t really self-service, coin-operated laundromats like there are in the US. Rather, they’re more like dry-cleaners, where you hand over your laundry, and then you return some time later to pick it up cleaned and folded. Sounds sort of nice, but given our wool/technical clothing, and poor Spanish, we were concerned about our ability to get our stuff washed the way we prefer.

When I’d wandered inside the facility the other day, it looked a lot like a US laundromat, and I thought I saw coin-op machines there. But I might have been mis-remembering. I figured the best thing to do was just go back over there, and, with some phrases prepped in Google Translate, see what we could find out.

Well, it turns out the Internet was wrong, and at least in Guerrero Negro, Lavanderia Mama #2 is set up for self-service laundry. They would also do it for you as an option, but we chose self-service. The machines did have coin slots, but didn’t run that way; with an attendant on-duty, she just tallied our usage and billed directly: $3.50 for a wash/dry, not bad for laundry in the middle of the desert (in the outdoor space next to the building were four large water tanks to supply the operation).

One of our concerns about coming to Mexico was the strong distaste we both have for doing things, like asking questions, that might make us look stupid. Overall, I think we’ve both exceeded my expectations in this regard, and taking the risk of diving right in has allowed us to enjoy our time here much more than we would have with our standard, timid approach. But we have done some backsliding. So in the case of the laundry, although it was a struggle, I’m glad we eventually overcame our fear of looking stupid, and just went ahead and spent a few minutes looking stupid in order to find out the truth about laundromats and save us some hours of time!

Day 5

High winds make everything difficult: cycling, camping, and, it turns out, whale-watching. Choppy water obscures blowhole spray, making the whales harder to find. It makes it harder to see through the water to observe them when they approach the boat. And the waves and currents just make it more challenging for whales and boats to meet up in the water.

I’d seen that Thursday morning, the day we were planning to leave Guerrero Negro, was predicted to have the first low winds of our entire stay. I’d also found another tour company, who offered a more-expensive ($80 USD pp), but rather different experience. Even though we did eventually hit the jackpot on our first tour, Rett had been talking about wanting to do it again since the moment we stepped off the boat, and since we were here at this hard-to-get-to place on earth at the ideal time, what the heck, let’s do it again.

Our AirBNB was booked for the next night, so it meant we would need to find another place to stay, and, more-importantly, it meant we’d need to check out early in the morning, before the tour began, leaving us without a place to store our bikes for the day. Luckily, when we walked over to the Whale Magic Tours office to book for the next day, the owner Shari immediately said it would be no problem to leave our bikes in the office during the tour. Yay!

Day 6: Ballena Day 2

We were up at 4:30am in order to get packed up and over to the tour office by 6:45am. The tour group was even more gringo than the last one, evidenced by no one wearing masks, even inside the office, while at Mario’s, the guests and the staff all wore masks even out on the boats. It was nice to be a bit more social with our fellow whale-lovers this time.

Our group loaded into a van and then headed for a different part of the lagoon, more toward the center, rather than the western mouth of the lagoon that Mario’s heads toward. I had hoped that would be a good way to mix things up too.

And it was. We arrived at the Whale Camp (the tour company has tents set up for the season near the water’s edge,where you can spend a night or more getting a super-whale experience), and could immediately see whales right from the shore. That was much more exciting than Mario’s, where it’s a 15-20 minute high-speed boat ride before we saw our first whale signs. Here we could see many spouts in the distance, and even some whales spying and jumping. This was going to be good! On the beach, our guide Zihul gave us a much more-informative (and experience-based) overview of the whale behavior than we got from Mario’s.

Zihul talking with us about the gray whales.
A spout out on the water, seen from the beach.

Then, while I thought the boat dock at Mario’s was primitive, here is was even more charmingly primitive. We all loaded up into the back of the mobile dock (aka, a pickup truck), and it backed us into the water, made contact with a boat bottomed-out in the sand, and let us climb down into the boat from the truck bed.

A look back at the Whale Camp.

After a short, slow-speed navigation around some sand bars, we were immediately amongst the whales! No high-speed journey across the water from this launch point.

All around us, we saw behavior we had not seen on our first tour. We saw several whales hurling their enormous bulk up and out of the water, to come crashing back down with a giant splash. Thankfully they tend to do this in rounds of ~3, perhaps to give the humans notice that a photography moment is at hand!

A gray whale launching like a submarine-based ICBM.
The joy of leaping!
Probably can’t blame these guys too much for not doing a full out-of-water somersault.
CRASH! A pretty boring photo, unless you see it in context with the rest.

We also saw a lot of “spying”, where they rise straight up out of the water, in a more-controlled motion, in order to get a view of what’s happening on the water’s surface, much like a periscope (their human friends are visiting, is what’s happening!)

Spying gray whale.
Backstroking gray whale.

And then we saw a lot more mothers paired with their babies, teaching them to build up their swimming strength.

A baby makes an attempt at spying.

Perhaps best was that we more-frequently could look into the eye of several whales, including a curious baby who arched himself up out of the water while swimming alongside our boat to get a look at these strange human friends his mom had been telling him about.

Eye to eye with a whale.

All of this was greatly enhanced by the fact that we had a guide on this trip, in addition to the boat captain. Zihul spoke excellent English, but even better than the words he communicated was his obvious joy whenever we had a close whale-encounter, showing that even after hundreds of trips like this, they remain thrilling, and far more than just a “job”.

Zihul pulled one of the countless bright blue “cannonball jellies” out of the water to pass around to the group. There’s so much more to see than just whales!

And then, we had so many close-encounters with whales. Rett and I, along with a couple other people on the boat, again had the privilege of making physical contact with a curious adult whale. But it was a brief visit, and due to the random effects of randomness, we never got an extended, close-up interaction like we had on our previous trip.

Rett and Zihul watching one of the many side-passers.
We saw a lot of tail-action out there too that we hadn’t seen the other day.
Coming in for a close-up

To make a turn-of-the-century baseball analogy, comparing the two days is a bit like being a fan of the Florida/Miami Marlins vs. a fan of the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins have generally given their fans very little to cheer for throughout their franchise history, but then unexpectedly have given them two World Series victories, almost out of nowhere. Whereas Atlanta has long had high-quality teams, many winning seasons, and regular playoff appearances, but somehow managed to win only one World Series throughout that period of overall strength.

Which is the better team to be a fan of? I don’t know, and it probably depends on the person. Obviously being a fan of the New York Yankees, with their many high-quality seasons and World Series victories, would have the best payoff, but failing that, I’m just glad that we had the two days out on the water that gave us a chance to know what it feels like to be a fan of both teams.

In another improvement over Mario’s, when we got back to shore, we were able to hang out there for an hour or so, eating some fresh seafood lunch, drinking beers and margaritas, and just relaxing with the other guests and staff.

We talked quite a bit with Zihul, and once we got back in town and checked into the Baja Oasis Hotel behind the Magic Whale Tours office ($350 MX, or $17.50 USD, our cheapest motel so far), we rode our bikes over to visit his shop on the edge of town.

Zihul’s shop in Guerrero Negro

He makes a variety of hand-crafted products, primarily knives (many with beautiful scrollwork carved into the blades), but also works in wood, leather, and even upcycled bullet shells (bent into whale-tails and other decorative shapes). If they had Renaissance Faires in Baja, his shop would be the most-popular place and he’d make a killing. We were sad that our limited capacity prevented us from buying anything, because in a company town like Guerrero Negro that has no historical reason for existing, he’s providing a much-needed bit of creativity and culture to the community.

On the way back to our motel, riding down the main road through town, a pickup truck slows next to me, and the driver yells “hey, I met you in Santo Tomas!” It’s Mike, the guy who we met over two weeks ago at the winery, who had been prepping for a van-supported bike ride of the peninsula that they were now in the middle of. We both pulled over and he hopped out, super excited to have spotted us, and we were glad to hear that their ride was going well too. Felt a little bad that he made the whole rest of his crew wait on the side of the road while we chatted, but it was definitely fun being recognized and being able to reconnect, especially since we’ve seen so few other long-distance cyclists out here.

Rett floated the idea of going out to get fancy burgers with a cool couple we’d met on the whale watching trip, but she then ended up with a bit of an upset stomach, so I brought her some Cup-o-Noodles cooked up in the motel office microwave for dinner. I still had the idea of fancy burgers in my head though, so I walked a few blocks over to Zapata’s Burgerdogs, essentially a food-cart set up in the front yard of the owner’s house, and got myself a to-go “Juicy Lucy”, a burger topped with espresso-caramelized onions, among other things. I love Mexican food, but in many places it’s the only option, so I like to take advantage of the opportunity for different cuisines when they exist. Also, it’s nice to support someone who, like Zihul, is creating some unique stuff in Guerrero Negro!


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