Celebrate Travel: Pacific Gray Whale Watching Adventure
The Mother of All Trips, Wander Mom and I are at it again. We are celebrating a life of adventure that brought the first explorers to the North Pole, and since April 22 was also Earth Day, we are also acknowledging all that our natural environment shares with us every day. Join us every month as we “Celebrate Travel,” and the unsung holidays that pass us by.
As a parent you like to think not every day is the same, but honestly, they can be. Some days you wake up and think “OK, just an ordinary day.” Other days you wake up knowing something extraordinary is about to happen. You are about to take your children on an adventure that few can claim to have done at their age. It’s those days that we live for, those days that we love, and those days that as parents we can’t wait to share with our kids. When I woke up one morning in Loreto to tell my kids we were going to see the gray whales, we were all excited to hit the road, even at the ungodly hour of 6am.
Whale watching while in Baja, Mexico is something that you really can’t miss out on. It’s almost a sin if you do. Anyone traveling in the area between December and March is guaranteed to be there for the Pacific gray whales. If not that then the margaritas probably, but I’m going to stick with the whales. This is not your average mega-tourist cruise either. You get in a small boat called a “panga,” which is sort of like a big rowboat with a motor, along with 10 of your (now) closest traveling buddies, and head into the water on the Pacific side of the peninsula. If you are staying in Loreto you will take a 2-2.5 hour van ride over to the Pacific coast. It’s good fun as you all get more and more excited about the experience you are about to enjoy for the first time together.
Adventure travel comes in all sizes
With my two little boys in tow I knew this was a unique adventure. I was the only one with car seats on our bus. I was also the only one with young children. The rest were either young couples or older retired couples who had headed south for the winter. I had my tiny life vests in tow, knowing the boat wouldn’t have life jackets that would fit my kids. Ty fussed when I put his on, but Dek was used to his from swim class. He didn’t like it, but he knew it was a non-negotiable if he was getting into that boat.
As our boat pulled off the dock the anticipation mounted. Who would be the first to see a whale? Would we even recognize one when we did (silly question, but many of them sleep and look like huge rocks if you aren’t sure what to look for)? I had just settled into my bench seat with a squirmy baby, and an increasingly bored toddler when the first whale was spotted. He was taking a siesta; we moved on. We passed a few more whales, and some passed us before we hit the mother load; a mama whale and her calf were excited to see us and ready to play.
Getting up close with ocean mammals
Our guide Fausto from Wild Loreto Tours told us to splash our hands in the water. Not everyone as keen on this idea, but sure enough, the more we splashed the more the whales came to our boat to say hello. Nothing could have prepared me for the size and beauty of these gentle creatures. I’m not saying I was ready to jump in, I’m not that adventurous, but putting my hand on a whale for the first time in my life was beyond words. The whale felt like rubber with pebbles as her slick body passed over my hand.
Dek, who had been adopted by our guide, always had a front seat view when the whales passed by, and even under, our boat. He splashed his hands, but never actually wanted to touch the whales. That was a bit of a stretch for his little mind that knew these creatures could probably eat him. He marveled, squealed, and got excited with the rest of us, but he was the only body in our boat that did not touch a whale. Some adventures are best left for a second trip.
Ty saw the whales and their fun splashing in the water, but as a 10 month old he didn’t have a whole lot to say. Our guide was kind enough to hold him when I got my chance to pet the whale, and he didn’t even try to make Ty have a go. Probably wise as Ty loves water and would have thrown himself in if given the chance.
Protecting the whale population
As our boat headed back to shore after almost 2 hours with the whales, we saw a much larger boat coming through the same channel of water we had explored. This was from a big expedition company that paid the Mexican government a lot of money to bring a normally banned boat through the area that is protected for the whales, at least according to our guide. This company made no friends with the local fishermen and tour guides. The bigger vessel scared the whales away, making it harder on the local men and women trying to make their living on this natural migration that came to their waters every winter. There is little hope that the locals can stop this type of tour company from moving through their waters. As long as the government is willing to take a big pay off, they will continue to turn a blind eye to the major problems it could cause the area in the long run.
Adventure is different for everyone
Our activities of choice right now may not be as exhilarating as other travelers, but as a young family we take whatever we can get. In many U.S. whale watching spots my boys wouldn’t even be allowed on the boat due to insurance purposes. Mexican law is not as prohibitive. I felt completely safe having my boys aboard the “panga” with their life vests on. We did what few young families are willing to do; we took a chance on an adventurous activity and it paid off. By the end of our tour Dek had seem gray whales and was eager to tell his dad when we called home later that day. Ty fell asleep in my arms as our boat zipped through the water back to the dock. We may not be bungee jumping anytime soon, but you can’t say we don’t live our lives to the fullest when it comes to our adventures.
Special thanks to Wild Loreto Tours for providing a discount on our excursions while in Loreto, Mexico. As always my opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know.
walking on travels: keep traveling, keep moving forward;
take your kids walking on life’s path to adventure