Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Isla Espiritu Santo

    While we were in La Paz, we decided to splurge on a boat trip out to Isla Espiritu Santo. We weren't sure we should spend the money and I was also a little hesitant about how our kids would do on a long  boat ride. A few months prior, Poppy and Raphael had been quite adamant they didn't want to ride a boat, but we'd done a little kayaking with them at Bahia Concepcíon and they'd both enjoyed it. Raphael, however, didn't want to go out into deep water so I was really not sure how he would do. In the end, I'm so incredibly glad we went for it. It ended up being the highlight of our trip and the kids all had a fantastic time. It's definitely a day that will live long in our family's memory!  

    A walk along the malecon the previous day brought us into contact with different outfits selling boat rides. We ended up choosing a smooth talking guide named Mario. He'd lived in the US and spoke excellent English, which was a plus. He also seemed very knowledgeable about the history of the island and the ocean creatures we hoped to see. They booked a boat just for us, and that ended up being  really nice. We left La Paz around 9 in the morning and should have been back by 4:30 or 5. As it turned out, it was much later. Things often don't go the way we think they're going to! Read on...

I was relieved as we started out that the kids seemed  comfortable being on the boat. Even little Raphi was fine as we got into deeper water. Not too far out, whale sharks were spotted so we stopped to snorkel with them. Snorkeling is one of my absolute favorite things to do, so I was pretty excited. Erik and I took turns getting in the water with whatever kids wanted to come in. Peregrine and Erik went first, and you can see Peregrine in the above picture, and the shark's fin to the right of him. They were probably about 15 feet long and it was really neat to see them up close. Anytime we were in the water our guide got in too, staying close by and pointing out interesting things we may have missed. After a while Poppy and I got a turn to get in. I wasn't able to get very close to the whale sharks, as you have to swim around to stay close to them and Poppy couldn't really keep up. Regardless, it was  neat to be in the water with them, and special to be snorkeling with my girl! Raphi also got in for a few moments. I was so proud of them. I don't think I would have jumped in the ocean with anything called a shark when I was a kid! (Whale sharks are filter feeders and don't pose any threat to humans. But still.)
We didn't get any good pictures of a whale shark up close, but here's one from the National Geographic website I linked above. Somehow neither Erik nor I brought our camera with us, (I know, what were we thinking?), and we only had Poppy's camera for the day. Most of these were also taken from a moving boat on less than calm water, so they're not the best, but they're what we got. Erik actually toyed with taking another boat tour just so he could take photographs but we never did that. 
While we were happily swimming with whale sharks, our captain realized something was wrong with our boat. We lost time having to be towed back to shore and change to a different one. We ended up on a bigger boat with a different captain, Loreto, and as our guide Mario, whom we'd spoken with the day before. With all that settled we set off once again. We were delighted to spot mobula rays breaching, leaping out of the water and appearing to "flap their wings". Our next stop was Playa Tecolote, where we stayed in the boat and Loreto and Mario picked up lunch for us at a little beachside restaurant. The color of the water was an amazing aqua, and I was so excited for what lay ahead. From Tecolote we had to cross a channel and Mario warned us the water might be a little rough.
We weren't able to go to the eastern side of the island as it was too windy and Mario kept stressing "safety first". We rode along the eastern side, which is more sheltered. The coastline was amazing, dramatic fingers reaching down into the water forming beautiful turquoise bays. The island is really two separate pieces of land, the larger being Isla Espiritu Santo and the smaller northern one Isla Partida. Apparently pirates used to use hide their ships on one side and come through the small channel.

Image Credit: 
NASA/GSFC/METI/Japan Space Systems,and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team 

At the very northern tip of the island there is a cave of sorts and Loreto showed off his skill by maneuvering us through it in spite of the somewhat choppy water. It was only a little unnerving! 
North of Espiritu Santo is Los Islotes, a Sea Lion rookery. Here the sea lions come to give birth to and raise their pups. Being from Oregon, I have seen many sea lions and honestly I didn't think it would be a big deal to see a few more. It was, however, really neat to see them so close, especially so many babies sunning themselves on the rocks. We also got to get in the water and snorkel with them and it was really fun to watch how playful they were underwater. There was other sea life too, lots of brightly colored fish and Mario even pointed out a moray eel! Peregrine has caught my love of snorkeling and was absolutely enthralled with his glimpses under the sea.
Baby sea lions on the rocks.
There was so much guano on this little island!
One of the day's highlights for certain smallish people among us was the cooler full of soda  that was brought along. Our kids very rarely get to drink soda, and so it was a treat. While I was waiting on the boat with the younger kids, Raphi worked up the nerve to ask for a soda. Then he got one for Poppy. He was quite determined to ask for one for me as well and it was hard for me to convince him I really didn't want one. 
Poppy and I with the sea lions.
After our swim with the sea lions we went back to the island and had lunch at Playa Ensenada Grande, a gorgeous little beach. Mario and Loreto set up a small table and umbrellas, then set out the lunch we'd picked up earlier. There were sandwiches for the kids, white bread with ham and cheese. I think they were right up there with the sodas as exciting treats! For the more adventurous palates, there was ceviche and marlin escabeche, which was quite possibly one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. The kids had fun wading in the shallow, calm water for a while before we headed out again.
Mario pointed out many interesting things as we went along. This rock formation is known as  The Mask, and was supposedly used for sacrifices. The island was at one time inhabited. There was only one or two sources of fresh water, and surprisingly they were a long way from where there was a small village. Today there are only a few fishing families who are allowed to make their home on Isla Espiritu Santo.
This tree is known as the Medusa due to its womanly shape and wild, snaky looking "hair". It's a type of wild fig and was growing gracefully on a cliff. 
The island was formed by volcanic activity and there so many fascinating rock formations. These ones looked like honeycomb.
Peregrine was in his glory the entire day! He absolutely loved being on the boat, swimming, snorkeling, and spotting sea life. He said he'd like to be a boat tour guide when he grows up and I can totally see him doing it. Having a captive audience who actually want to listen to him talk about something he's interested in? Right up his alley.

The island was simply amazing. Erik really regrets not bringing his camera. 

I love watching pelicans. There's something so beautiful about them!
More amazing layers of rock, volcanic ash and lava, golden in the late afternoon sun.
Uh-oh. More trouble. In the late afternoon, when most of the tourist boats had already headed back in, we stopped to snorkel one more time. Because we'd lost time in the morning, we were behind schedule. This time our motor wouldn't start because the battery was dead. Thankfully there was still one other boat nearby, and we were there for quite some time while they helped us out. Finally we were able to get the motor started and begin the hourlong journey back to La Paz. The other boat was going back to a different place, but they stayed nearby as long as they could to make sure we were doing okay. The last half hour or so we were on our own. 
There was a beautiful sunset as we made our way back to La Paz. I was a little nervous as grew darker and we had no navigation lights on the boat. There was a large flashlight, and Mario stood up and held it from side to side as we went along. Loreto slowed down when we were in the vicinity of the whale sharks, and Mario explained that if we happened to hit one at that speed, "it would not be good." I think that was supposed to make me feel better? The kids did great through all of this. In fact, I was so proud of them throughout the day. They all had great attitudes, were pleasant and excited and obedient. They did things I would have been scared to do when I was a child. They didn't complain even when the day grew so long and it was dark and cool. We were relieved when we finally got back to the dock around 6:30 or so, and Mario called a taxi to take us back to where we'd parked that morning. It was an amazing day, one we will remember happily! I'm so glad we did it. 


  1. Wow, the pictures are amazing.

    I'm so glad you splurged! Sometimes a splurge is so needed.

    I'd love to snorkel. And marlin escabeche?? YES please! I LOVE escabeche!!

    I'm really enjoying you sharing your trip and your awesome pictures!!

    1. Thanks, Leanne! So glad you can "travel" along with us. All the best to you and your family.

  2. OH my goodness... this is just breathtaking.


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