Today was a truly memorable day spent on board our expedition ship, National Geographic Venture, in the Gulf of California. We woke up early and set out on a mission to find whales. The area known as the Blue Triangle is famous for abundant marine life and stunning scenery. While the whales evaded us, the dolphins we encountered more than made up for it. Watching them swim and play alongside the ship was a truly magical experience, and we felt so grateful to witness such a beautiful sight. Bottlenose dolphins are a large species of the dolphin group and can grow up to thirteen feet long. The pod we encountered was a typical size for the gulf, with perhaps around fifty individuals. Small calves swam in an echelon position (close beside and slightly behind the midline) of their mothers. The dolphins seemed to be circling a shoal area, where it was more than obvious that an abundant amount of food was available. Four local fishermen’s boats bobbed in the water, with hand lines trailing in the current and bait flying over the sides of the pangas. We didn’t get close enough to see what the humans or the dolphins were fishing for, but it was clear that for both species, there was a lot of food in the area.
After lunch, we navigated into a calm bay. Shortly after the anchor was down, we headed out on Zodiacs to explore the harbor of Puerto Gatos. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking with rugged cliffs and clear waters surrounding us. The geology is mind-bending in this area with lithified sand dunes of a gorgeous red color lining the inside of the bay and meeting abruptly with lighter colored sandstone and jet-black igneous rock. From our small boats, we admired the shoreline and watched as frigatebirds and turkey vultures pinwheeled overhead, riding the thermals and staying aloft for hours without so much as a wingbeat. The magnificent frigatebird is one of the most high-altitude flying birds on Earth. They are the pirates of the sky. Able to sleep on the wing and steal food from other birds in midair, they often have no reason to land other than for nest building. Later, we hiked along the desert to look for birds with some of the naturalists. Grey thrashers, magpies, sparrows, verdins, and more kept us company on our walks. A few brave souls went up the side of some of the lithified sand dunes. They had a stunning panoramic view of the entire bay, complete with circling squadrons of pelicans and the endemic yellow-footed gulls.
We ended our day with a barbecue on the beach, surrounded by the serene beauty of the Sea of Cortez and the Baja peninsula. The food was delicious, to no one’s surprise. The galley team transported an entire workspace from the ship to the sand, and the wait staff and bartenders were out on the beach with us. We enjoyed the company of our shipmates over an amazing meal. It was a great chance to connect with fellow travelers and share stories about our adventures. As the sun began to set, we all gathered around a bonfire, enjoying the warmth and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore. We roasted marshmallows and enjoyed the s’mores that the hotel team surreptitiously set out for us. Those who stayed out were treated to a fantastic view of the heavens with some guided stargazing. A few brave folks wandered around with UV flashlights to hunt for fluorescing scorpions and were rewarded with stunning images of the tiny, psychedelic arachnids. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.