Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Mexico - part one

Dina herding cats: 14 people + dog in a 15 person van

Back in the fall, our friend Dina on Good As Gold invited us on a whale watching expedition in Magdelena Bay on the west coast of Baja scheduled for the end of February. Dina and Malcolm had done the trip last year and had a fabulous time.

Now, Dina is a very good planner. Dina's plan was as follows:

- drive over to Mag Bay in the morning (3 hour drive)
Charlotte takes it all in stride
- check into the hotel
- eat lunch at the hotel restaurant
- go whale watching in the afternoon
- return to hotel at dusk for drinks and appis on the villa patios
- eat dinner at the hotel
- get up early, have breakfast at the hotel
- go whale watching again
- eat lunch
- get in the car and drive back to La Paz

Dina did a really good job of 'selling' this trip to all her friends, and as a result, 16 of us made the trek out to Mag Bay:  Dina and Malcolm on Good As Gold and their guests Jennifer and Campbell (visiting from Victoria), Zophia (Dina's daughter) and her friend Kaylee, Rob and Deb on Avant and their friends Julie and Rick visiting from Vancouver, Scott and Tanya on Kialoa, Margie and Chuck on Dream Catcher, as well as Gary and me.  Dina rented a 15 person van and so we stuffed 14 of us (plus 1 beagle) into it and made the drive. The van worked out surprisingly well.  Despite all the bodies and luggage, we were actually all pretty comfortable for the 3 hour trip.

As with all road trips, there was a coffee/pit stop along the way, so we were a bit late arriving in Mag Bay. This apparently didn't matter, as the hotel didn't seem to be prepared for our arrival, despite Dina letting them know several times when we would be arriving and what we wanted to do when we got there.  No problem, we'd have a quick lunch, then check in after we got back from whale watching.  It's Mexico.

For whatever reason the restaurant wasn't prepared for us to eat, but they swung into action. It soon became clear that the manager of the hotel, Don Carlos, was acting as general host, waiter, cook and clean up staff. So, lunch was not quick, but by 2:30 pm we were ready to head to the boats. It's Mexico.

We piled back in the van and drove down to the docks, where we met our panga drivers.  After some fussing, it was decided that 9 people would go in the big panga and 7 would go in the small panga. This meant that one couple had split up - naturally Gary volunteered. This left me alone in the panga with Charlotte... yup, Charlotte got to go whale watching too!

Whale Watching:
Once in the pangas, we roared off into Mag Bay at 20 knots of speed. We drove, and we drove, and we drove. And then we drove some more. The afternoon winds were howling (15-20 knots) and the seas were short and steep. The ride to the whale sight was wet, but not too uncomfortable, as the wind and waves were going with us. Charlotte insisted on sitting on my lap the whole way there.  Although no one voiced it out loud, we were all thinking about how uncomfortable the ride back was going to be when we'd be going against both the wind and waves...

Grey whale mum: best pic I could get in the choppy seas
After about an hour of travel we reached the whale area and saw our first whales. Mag Bay is one of the sites on the west coast of Baja where grey whales come to give birth. They hang around Mag Bay from December to March with the babies, then start back up the coast to their feeding grounds in northern BC and Alaska. If conditions are calm, the mothers and babies tend to hang around the surface of the water so you can get quite close to them in the pangas. Sometimes they even let you touch them. If conditions are not calm, the whales and babes tend swim and don't stay still. Unfortunately conditions were not calm that afternoon so we didn't have an super close encounters. But, we did see over a dozen mums and babies, so it was pretty amazing. Charlotte slept on the floor on top of a life jacket the whole time.

Baby grey whale

Gary's panga: a 5 hour tour... a 5 hour tour....
The Panga Ride Back:
At about 5:40, our guide decided we'd better start heading back to the dock. As expected, the trip back was not as pleasant as the trip out. Tanya and I sat in the front row of the panga (with a very unhappy beagle draped between us) and we took a pounding. The waves were big and steep enough that we spent more time out of the water than traveling on it. After about 45 minutes, our driver noticed that all the women in the front row were in obvious pain, so he made everyone switch places in the boat. Men up front to take the pounding, women to the back. What a difference that made to the old back! Sorry guys...

It took over 1.5 hours to get back and we didn't arrive at the dock until 7:15pm. Did I mention it gets dark just after 6pm in Mexico?

We are immortalized on the wall of the hotel restaurant
BURP: Bluewater Cruising Unplanned Rendevous Party
As we got closer to the harbour we noticed our panga driver was holding his cell phone up in the air. We all thought this was kind of odd, until we realized he was using the flashlight App on his phone as the running lights for the boat!! Yup, we did most of the trip back in the pitched dark in a boat with zero safety equipment, driving at 30 knots (the seas mellowed out as we got closer to the harbour), with an iPhone as our navigation lights. It's Mexico.
Mar y Arena (Sea and Sand) "resort"

Grey whale unskinned...
We got back to the hotel just before 8 pm and attempted to check in. Now, the hotel has had all afternoon to get everything ready for us, so you'd think this would go smoothly. Well, it's Mexico, so it was like herding cats. Poor Dina. In the end, Don Carlos grabbed his whole key set and took everyone in tow to show us to our rooms. And interesting approach.

The Room:
Due to a mis-communication, Gary, Charlotte and I were given a room in the middle of all the other guests staying at the hotel. This was very bad, as we'd intended to leave Charlotte in the hotel room while we were eating dinner. For those of you who don't know Charlotte, she is a howler when left alone. She is fine at home, but on the boat or when we are traveling she does NOT like to be left alone. And she lets you know. Our intention was to be as far away from everyone as possible, within our group of rooms. That way there would be no one around to hear her when she howled as all our group would be at dinner. We were hoping this would be far enough away from any other guests so she wouldn't be a bother. Well, that plan didn't work. Our room was right beside some Americans (and no where near the rest of our group). Needless to say, we didn't made any friends that night. When Gary went out to get Charlotte after being asked by the hotel staff to stop her from howling (they told us to just bring her in the restaurant), Gary met a very angry Texan yelling at his travel agent over the phone. Oops.

Once again Don Carlos was acting as host, waiter, cook and clean up staff. As a result, he could only handle dealing with one couple at a time. For example, Scott, Tanya, Gary and I arrived at the table at the same time. Don Carlos took Gary and my order, then left to get drinks etc. Once the drinks had been taken care of and our dinners were underway, he came back and asked Scott and Tanya what they wanted. This was about 15 minutes later. It's Mexico. Dinner itself was excellent, although we realized that Gary is allergic to shrimp as he puffed up like a balloon in the middle of the night. Who knew?

After Dinner:
Shortly after the last dish had been served, the power in the resort went out. After lighting up the room with several iPhones, Don Carlos admitted to Dina that he'd completely lost track of who had ordered what at both lunch and dinner. He was hoping we'd be honest and let him know what we'd ordered when we settled the bill at the end of the trip.

Morning Whale Trip:
As the panga drivers had told us that early morning is the best time to see the whales as the seas are typically calm, we arranged with Don Carlos to eat breakfast early so we could be on the water by 9am. When Dina first talked to him about this at the beginning of dinner he said, of course, no problem. At 11pm however, when we were getting ready to go back to our rooms, he finally told Dina there was no point in us getting up early, as all their pangas had been rented out by a group of whale worshippers (I'm not making this up).  They were supposed to cavort with the whales at sunrise, but should be back by 9am. Judging by our 5 hour tour that afternoon we figured it would be lucky if we saw them by noon the next day. Poor Dina then needed to wake up the early-to-bed people in our group (for once not us) to let them know they could sleep in. We decided to wait and see how things went in the morning.

Not surprisingly, we never saw the whale worshippers, and we left at 10:45. But, none of us minded too much as the sea conditions never really calmed down that night. I don't think any of us were relishing the idea of getting back in a panga for another 5 hour bucking broncho ride. My back was certainly relieved.

So, the trip didn't go as planned, but we certainly had an adventure. Hat's off to Dina for organizing, then re-organizing, then re-organizing the trip again. It was a fun time. The lesson here is that "it's Mexico". Having a plan when doing anything in Mexico is fine, but it really has to be a loose plan. What you expect to happen will probably happen, but it will be on it's own time schedule. You can't get upset by it, you just have to go with the flow.

As the old sailor's saying goes, "all plans are made in the sand at low tide". Understanding and living by this is the only way to live happily in Mexico.

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