A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Climbing High Into The Baja Islands

On Pelicans, Magic Lighting of Puerto Los Gatos, The Heights of Isla Santa Catalina, and Whales

sunny 72 °F

On Pelicans
When considering the birds of the Baja Peninsula, the one that comes first to my mind is the Brown Pelican. They are quite prevalent and found all around the Gulf of California. The pelican is an interesting bird to watch, and I see these birds everyday. The pelican is a large bird, perhaps three feet long from head to foot with a long wingspan to accommodate such girth. The pelican has a brown goose like body, but beefed up and far bigger. Its neck and head are white compared to the brown of it’s body. Its bill is also quite imposing, and very pronounced and heavy. Picture a “dunce“ cap connected to the face of a bird. While swimming, they often have it tucked comfortably on its chest, probably for support of the monstrous thing.
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Underneath its heavy bill is a thin expandable gullet like skin sack. Talk about a double chin, this thing is amazing. While feeding, the pelican snaps at a fish catching it and a lot of salt water in the sack, then it drains the water and eats the fish. I don’t know how much it can expand, but it looks as though they could slam a quart of water in about a second.
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I love watching the pelican skim over the surface of the water. All birds try to conserve their energy, and the pelican will pump its wings for five strokes to give it lift up off the water, then arc its wings in glide position and soar over the water, slowly falling lower until it pumps again. This is how they cross the water, often in a single file group.

Its feeding behavior is quite impressive. It will fly above the water, anywhere from 3 feet up to 15 feet high. When it spots fish, it straightens its body into an arrow bill first diving fast and straight into the water bill first. The fish rarely stands a chance against such an attack. It is impressive to watch, and on my list of photographs I want to take.

On a darker note, this amazing feeding behavior is also its downfall. The big pelican doesn’t have eyelids or protection for its eyes. Every time it dives into the water, it does a little bit of damage to the eye. Over time, the bird goes blind. A blind pelican is more or less a dead pelican. It’s somewhat sad really, to watch the birds snapping at fish they can’t see.

What I’ve been contemplating lately are the piles of pelican bones I find in the rocks of the desert islands around the region. One of our naturalists informed me that the pelicans go for “one more dive.” Think about that. I don’t know if pelicans have much of a thought process, they might not ever know what they are doing; they are just doing what they’ve always done when they make that final dive. They might even think they are still over water, who knows? It’s a sad affair, but a good death.

A Magical Two Hours at Puerto Los Gatos
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I woke up out of a sound sleep kind of groggy, but hungry and wondering where we were. To my delight and surprise, we had anchored at Puerto Los Gatos, a beautiful bay surrounded by the majestic Sierra de la Giganta mountain range that runs along the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula.

Our ship has visited this PLG before, but I had to work during that visit. My tongue was hanging out on that visit. I longed to hike around in the foothills and up to the sharp desert peaks of the surrounding mountains. It’s just so damn beautiful here. The mountains recede in layers to the distant horizon a different shade of purple gray with each jagged layer.

I grabbed my daypack that I keep handy, put on my sandals and caught the next shuttle to the shore. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I didn’t have a plan. I just started hiking, and figured to get up on a nearby ridge. Walking across the low areas around the creek was a cactus maze. I had to back track at each dead end, as the cactus and thorns were impassable. Finally, I reached the incline of the ridge, and started up. The ground opened up, and I was able to zigzag my way up to the top of the ridge. Success!
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This was where the whole landscape opened up in a beautiful display of cacti and flowers that led to the distant rolling hills and eventually distant mountain peaks. It was breath taking, and one of the more magical hours I’ve had in 2011. Everywhere I turned, there was another dramatic view, and an easy composition to make with my camera. Puerto los Gatos had the most flowers in bloom of any place I’ve visited so far. This makes sense, as it has been the only place with running water. After awhile, I found my rhythm for photography waning, and I put my camera away. It was time to simply sit and take it all in. I let my senses take over, and I didn’t try to focus on anything, but to take it as a whole.
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“Sometimes one has a feeling of fullness, of warm wholeness, wherein every sight and object and odor and experience seems to key into a gigantic whole.” John Steinbeck from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.”
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Hiking High Onto Isla Santa Catalina
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I finally made it through ten days of night shift. My reward was 18 hours of freedom, and an afternoon at Isla de la Catalina. I’ve written about some of the virtues of Catalina before, about the giant barrel cactus, and the rattle less rattlesnake. This time I mostly want to show you more of the desert beauty that makes up this island. I decided I wanted to hike up high to a nearby high point, which would have elephante rock as my backdrop. Elephante is the elephant looking rock at the point of land near where we anchor. Not only is it very picturesque, but it also has great snorkeling to be had along its underwater ledge rock.

To my knowledge, I was the only person on the whole island. Everyone else had gone snorkeling, but I opted to go hiking instead. I was well ahead and away from the crowds, indeed, nobody else had the inclination to head up into the high country. I love the desert high country. The vistas to I saw were spectacular and I really enjoy climbing straight up the loose gravelly hillsides covered in cactus and shrubs.

My foresight was correct, and I had increasingly elevated views of elephante. I really wanted to show case some of the giant barrel cactus along with the elephant rock. To me, nothing would say Catalina better than this composition. I also was hoping to see the rattlesnake, but it remained unseen.

What's Your Favorite Pic? Let Me Know...
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The hike was pleasant, peaceful, and perfect. I could also add placid, peak ridden, and parrot free, but that’s just silly. Anyway, the views from the top of the highest point were gorgeous. Almost all of Isla Santa Catalina opened up. From my high point, I saw that a ridgeline led from it to a number of other high points. To the south, I could see the rugged peninsula. I couldn’t see the eastern end of the island, however. To do that, I would’ve had to climb up the high distant ridges, something I wanted to do, but didn’t have time for. As it was, I slipped and fell a few times as I scrambled down to a hidden cove for a refreshing swim in the surging sea. What a great way to end a hike. Too bad, I had to retrace my steps and climb back up the steep cactus covered ridge before slipping and stumbling back down to the drop off area. In the process, I managed to slice my toe open on a sharp rock, but oddly enough, there wasn’t any pain. It just bled a lot. Ah well. So it goes.
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More Whale Sightings
Recently we’ve been getting into some great whale watching. Three days ago, I spent all morning watching humpback whales breeching and fin slapping the water. Whale watching is terrific pastime, especially when you are supposed to be working. The ship was fairly far south, down by the tip of the Baja Peninsula near a place called the “Gorda Banks.” I hadn’t seen humpbacks in a long time, and to see them launching themselves out of the water was a great reintroduction to these magnificent mammals. There were mobius rays going airborne as well, launching themselves completely out of the water with gusto.
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Yesterday, Gray whales surrounded the ship for most of the day. There were five different whale mom and calf pairs making feeding runs by the ship, and in their other favorite spots around upper Magdalena bay. The ship was anchored all day, and our naturalists were giving zodiac tours around the bay to see the whales. I was lucky enough to get aboard when I finished my shift, and I was excited to get to see the Grays from up close. We followed two sets of mother and calves, getting within twenty feet of the surfacing pair. We aren’t there to harass the whales; they were quite indifferent to our boat, which we kept at a safe distance away. What’s really cool about the Gray whale is their curiosity. Sometimes, the whales will approach one of the zodiacs, doing a spy hop to more or less check us out and see what we were. At times, they’ll even approach the boat, allowing people to touch them. Two of my friends were lucky enough to touch a whale yesterday, and I can imagine the experience would be another of my all time great life moments. It is completely dependant on the whale, if they want to come visit you, they will. There is nothing one can do to influence a whale to come close.
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As it was, we watched whales up close for two hours. I’m looking forward to our next visit to “Mag bay” and perhaps, if the stars align, I’ll be able to meet a whale up close and personal.

Onward!

Posted by Rhombus 00:18 Archived in Mexico Tagged birds mexico whales deserts oceans baja photography Comments (2)

The Ramblin' Man Project

Inspiration In Music

sunny 75 °F

I've been working nights for the last 10 days. While I'm functioning, I don't really have the focus necessary to put coherent sentances together. Case in point, It took me 3 minutes to write what I've written so far. My days have come together in a weird blur of night time hauntings, and daytime ramblings to secret desert dreamscapes. Words fail me. However, I have put together a small movie pairing music and pictures to hopefully inspire. This song inspired me, and I hope you enjoy! I promise better writing and more photos next week!

Cheers, and Good Travels!

Posted by Rhombus 15:31 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes travel music photography movies rambling Comments (1)

San Javier and Swimming With Sharks

Mexican Road Thoughts, A Cow's Perspective, San Javier, Whale Sharks

sunny 75 °F

I had finally gotten to bed at about 3 am. I had given two tarot readings after getting of work at 1 am. I woke up to the mirror rattling in the door, then the bow thruster of the ship turned on, which sounds like a cross between an industrial sized blender/chainsaw. It was almost impossible to sleep through. Then my alarm went off with my own voice whispering at me, “PSSSSST HEY BUDDY….” It was time to get up, and get ready for the field trip. I had gotten 5 hours of sleep.

We climbed into the van, slammed the doors, and pulled into last position of a caravan of vans that were stretched into a long white train. Our destination was the three hundred year old mission in the sleepy village of San Javier. It was a long drive of about an hour and a half through the beautiful mountain desert that climbed high into the Sierra De la Giganta, the coastal mountains on the east side of Baja California Sur.

The roads at first started out very good; smooth and narrow asphalt, on highway 1 that was a main thoroughfare between La Paz and Loreto. Our driver drove fast, but everyone else drove faster, and we quickly lost the lead cars of our caravan. No matter, we turned west just south of Loreto, and began our long drive into the gorgeous mountains that make up this region of Baja Sur.

Mexican Road Thoughts:

It was good to be traveling by van again. I missed having the wind through my hair while traveling down roads, I had never been on before. As an added bonus, I wasn’t driving, so I could look off into the desert for as long as I wanted.
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The landscape was amazing. As we drove up switch backs up into the mountains, I was surprised to see a copse of palm trees growing in the low areas nearest to the water. The green dread locks of the top of the palms made a nice contrast to the rest of the desert full of the usual suspects of Cardon, cholla, ocotillo, pin cushion cactus, among many others. At the bottom of the shady side of the ravines, only the very tips of the branches of the trees and cactus were caressed by the low sunlight. The mountains were jagged, and appealing. Giant rock spires of ragged rock stuck up in numerous spots, and the dry arroyos were calling me to come and explore them, as they most certainly led to desert wilderness. There’s grandeur in these mountains. I’ve started reading Steinbeck’s “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.” It’s his actual account from a trip he made to this region in 1940.

The road began to deteriorate as we climbed. It changed into a ragged asphalt, to a gravel road, to a rough gravel road, and finally to a washboard hell that we bounced and jounced along for the rest of the way to San Javier. We couldn’t keep the windows open, as we would’ve ended up eating dust, and we couldn’t use the AC because it would’ve clogged the air filter. So we suffered in silence, bouncing along and baking slowly in the sun. I read a bit, stared out at the desert, and wrote in my journal. My hand written journal looks as though a second grader was writing on top a spinning washer during an earthquake.

I saw a small ragged group of cows staring dumbly on the roadside in some shade. What the hell do cows eat in a desert? Every plant and animal has a sharp spine attached to it. I can’t imagine being the first cow in this prickly environment. “I wonder if I can eat that (to speak cow correctly, you need to draw out and deepen your voice in a very slow cadence)? OUCH! That’s sharp! How about that thing? Yowch! Nope…” Soon enough, the cow had tried everything, and she figured out that there was nothing to eat. Her tongue was pierced completely through, like a gothic punk rocker. And that’s how the cows looked--emaciated, hungry, hot, and pondering their fate in life.

I thought about this, and tried to put myself in a cow’s perspective. These ragged, hungry looking and isolated cows probably never heard of the fields of the Midwest, where a cow could probably find plenty of grass to eat, shade trees to lie under, and a stream or two to quench the thirst. A cow paradise? Who knows? The point being (I‘m hoping eventually I‘ll have one) that if a Mexican desert cow did know of these things, how would it react? Would it be jealous of its northerly cousins living in the land of plenty? Or would it take a live and let live approach, and try to make the best of a stacked deck. Long rides over bumpy roads tend to bring out weird topics of contemplation in me.

I also realized my choice of footwear (flip-flops) was a bad one, especially if the van broke down. Walking on gravel roads in flip-flops is bad, and it would’ve been a long road to walk to get anywhere. Luckily, our vans held true.
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The mission was set on the far end of the small village of San Javier. Sleepy is the right way to describe San Javier. The town has one small main boulevard, a collection of small comfortable haciendas, a few shops, a two room police station, and a couple of small restaurants. It was charming. We stepped out into the bright mid-morning sun, and we headed towards the mission for a brief introduction.
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I skipped out on the introduction, choosing my own path and getting away from the large group of guests to which the tour was for. I sat in the cobblestone square in the shade of one of the many orange trees, and took it all in. San Javier is set in a beautiful mountain valley in the middle of the mountains. It is a true oasis, with a good river to provide water for the small population. There were small farms on the outskirts of town, palm trees, orange trees, dates, figs, and even a gnarled old olive tree. The buildings were well lived in and comfortable. A black chicken was pecking contentedly at the cobblestone. I made the acquaintance of three healthy looking dogs, two of which stayed around for a good scratch behind the ears (good karma). The dogs seemed to be on a mission (ha! Get it?) roaming around searching for something, but for what will remain unknown.
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I’m not a religious man, so the story of the mission and its religious effect on the region was lost on me. I enjoyed the old architecture of the place. The high arched ceiling of the main alter area were impressive, and I was surprised at how narrow it was. From the outside, it looks a lot bigger. There was very old art, and artifacts upon the walls and on display, and by all accounts it was considered beautiful.
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I was more into wandering around the small village, petting the dogs, looking at the birds, and napping in the shade of the vibrant flower beds, and taking pictures of the fickle butterflies and bees that fluttered and buzzed around. I’ve one regret, that being not getting something to eat from the small restaurant. I wasn’t hungry at the time, but I should’ve gone for it anyway. Our field trip was over, and we loaded back into the vans to head back the ship, and back to work.

Swimming with Sharks

Have I told you why I really like this job? One of the biggest reasons why I like it so much, is the fact that the company encourages you to go out and play as often as you can. In this case, a dozen of us had loaded up into two of the zodiacs at 8:30 in the morning and were headed north across the bay just north of La Paz in search of whale sharks. We hoped to swim with them. This might sound dangerous and a bit of a fool’s errand at first glance, but in reality, it was quite all right.

The reason being is that whale sharks aren’t like their meat hungry cousins. They eat plankton, and other tiny invertebrates. While their mouth is full of shark teeth, they are tiny, and not meant for ripping flesh off of bone. In fact, they don’t even use them, whale sharks gulp in huge amounts of water, filtering the water through their gills, entrapping the plankton.

We searched for about forty minutes before we spied them. The only way to really see where they are is to notice their small dorsal fin break the surface of the water. The sea was calm, and so spying the dorsal was easy. We were told by our naturalist that there are two rules to swimming with whale sharks: No. 1. Don’t touch the sharks. No. 2. Don’t touch the sharks. The reason being, that if you touch them, they will most likely swim away, to deeper waters, not to be seen again. With this in mind, I jumped overboard and experienced one of the more amazing mornings of my life.

The visibility was pretty good under the water, but not excellent. I expected to see the sharks from a distance, but as it turned out, the gentle giants just sort of appeared out of the gloom less than 8 feet away. It kind of catches you off guard, when you see a massive fish swim straight towards you from out of nowhere.

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It was magical to swim next to these amazing creatures. Under the water their skin is blue/gray with light colored spots all over their back. In Mexico they are also known as “pez dama” or “domino” due to the spots. The whales we swam with weren’t full size, the largest being about 25 feet long. Full size adults can reach forty feet long.

Even with all the knowledge I had about their docility, to actually swim with a shark that size was still a rush. My favorite moment occurred when I was swimming along side of the larger shark. To keep up, I had to kick fairly hard with my flippers. I was watching it just in front of me when it suddenly turned and completely crossed directly in front of me, not 4 feet away. I had to tuck my feet in order not to touch it. As it passed, I saw its beautiful markings from head to tail. After it passed I swam after it again, until it dove down deep. I love seeing those huge fish simply disappear into the depths. Like magicians, they melt into the depths leaving you wondering if they were ever there.

After a while, another boat showed up, a tour boat offering snorkeling with whale sharks. A couple jumped into the water, and began what I would call spastic motions intending to mimic swimming towards the whale shark. The first thing the guy did when he “swam” close, was to reach out and touch the shark. Like that, the shark was gone, swimming fast, and as hard as it could away from us. Whale sharks don’t swim fast, but a lot faster than any of us could swim. Apparently, the guy never heard about rule no. 1, or 2. Jack Ass. Ah well, he deserved it, I hope he paid a lot of money for his moment in the sun.

As it was, I had an excellent morning, and one I won’t soon forget. I swam with whale sharks! Long Live Whale Sharks!

Posted by Rhombus 16:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged mountains snorkelling oasis flowers mexico roads deserts baja sharks photography cows missions Comments (2)

Midnight In Mexico

Remapping the Stars, Aerobatic Ocean Life, "The Law of Attraction" and a Self Assessment

sunny 70 °F

It’s midnight in Mexico. I’m sitting watch on the bridge (pilothouse) of the Seabird, quietly watching the few navigation lights in the distance, and listening to the coffeehouse music on the XM. It’s a quiet time; the captain and I have settled into our respective thoughts, and a comfortable silence holds between us.
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The night sky is a smoky carpet of shimmering stars. I’ve noticed that the longer I look at the stars, the more patterns I begin to see. I keep coming up with my own design to the stars; some that probably mimic the accepted constellations, but most of them are probably my own creation. Last night I decided that I prefer my organization to the night sky, and I’m seriously considering notifying the officials at various space agencies of my new ordering of the stars. Two thousand plus years of accepted celestial order probably won’t be that hard to rewrite.

My thoughts wander around like a butterfly (once known as a flutter-by, kudos to the rascal who instituted that change). Bridge watch is a perfect time to do some serious mind wandering, and mine is finely tuned; A Formula One precision instrument of aimless ideas and random thought.

Down on the surface of the water, I see the foamy streaks of fish jumping out of the water, mostly skipping along the surface. I’m surprised at how often the creatures of the sea take to the air above their watery home. Whales like to make a big splash when they breech. Picture the biggest “cannonball” you’ve ever seen and multiply it by 50. It’s impressive. Dolphins are like surface to air missiles shot from submarines, they swim along just under the surface then pop up out of the water in a small highly arced rainbow. Rays are my favorite. Picture a giant floppy rubbery Frisbee that can launch itself completely out of the water, only to land back into the surface with a satisfying belly flopping SMACK! They often go airborne several times in a row, and I enjoy listening to the distant “smack, smack, smack” while hiking along the high desert cliffs along the shoreline. I haven’t seen any schools of flying fish yet. These fish, I really want to see, as I hear their flight paths are very impressive, covering over 160 feet with a single flight.
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On occasion, I try to put my life in perspective, and see where I’m at. I’ve chosen a wandering path for my life. While working aboard a ship, I rarely wake up in the same spot in which I went to sleep. In fact, I don’t ever know where I am, when I stumble up the steps to meet the day/night for the first time. I never really know what day it is, and it never really matters. The life of a deckhand runs on the ship’s clock. I need to be on time for my shift, but it makes no difference what day that shift occurs. I’ve lost all concepts of worldly events, any news I get is third hand and long past “hot off the presses.” I’m just fine with this. Most modern news agencies focus too much on all of the negative in the world. A couple of lines from songs come to mind: “Kiss my ass, I’ve bought a boat, and I’m going out to sea. “ Lyle Lovett. Or perhaps, “Well may the world go, the world go. Well may the world go, when I’m far away…“ Pete Seeger. I feel far away from the hustle and bustle of current events and even farther from civilization.

Random Observation No. 1:
I used to enjoy watching football, but now it seems so pointless. I can thank Baja for that. I’m so very far away from it all. I do miss NPR, but that’s about it.

Communicating with my friends and family is very tough to do. Working with satellite internet is brutal in comparison to cable or modern wifi access. Satellite Internet is akin to dial-up internet access only more temperamental and interrupted. It seems to work better going south than going north. I hope that I won’t lose connections I’ve had with my friends and family because of this. I knew that I couldn’t stay in contact with them, when I started this gig, and it’s proven true. Hang in there guys, I’m still alive and well, and look forward to our next meeting. As it stands, I don’t have any phone service. I neglected to inform my cell company before I left, that I’d be out of the country. My current bill is 3 weeks overdue, and I keep forgetting to pay it while in port. Ah well, who needs a phone?
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I’ve made some really good connections with the crew here on the “Bird.” When put into a small environment such as a 152-foot long ship, you tend to get to know your crewmates and co-workers fairly well. As I’ve said before, we are all well traveled, and a little nuts to chose this lifestyle. Working together as a group builds camaraderie, friendship, and bonds. It also makes you work with people who think completely differently than you do and it can be frustrating at times. There are a million ways to skin a cat, and everyone has their own way of doing it. I don’t get too uptight about it, so long as the job is done right.

A friend of mine asked me, “What are five things about yourself that you are grateful for?” We have an ongoing give and take of deep thought provoking questions. I didn’t have to give it much thought, and answered almost immediately with: 1. My sense of humor. 2. My zest for exploration 3. My big, fat, flat feet (My footprints look like someone has been snowshoeing. Local newspapers often run stories that evidence of a sasquatch has been found near their town where they find my prints). 4. My creativity. 5. My artistic nature.

Working and playing here in Baja has further reinforced my life’s “work“ (HA!). I’m happiest when I’m out exploring the natural world, and I‘m very thankful I‘ve figured out my life‘s journey and purpose. To be sure, my whole purpose on this mortal coil is to explore the universe and show people pictures of its unique nature.

Random Interjection No. 2: “The law of attraction.”
A rough synopsis of this “law” states: “positive thoughts will attract positive physical effects.”
I used to scoff at this “law,” but the more I live, the more it seems to apply. What gives credence to this idea (in my experience), is the notion that when I head out for a little jaunt, I usually find something interesting to take note of whether it be a landscape, a vibrant blue crab, or a foot print. I seem to attract interesting natural phenomena, i.e. the blue whale fluke, or a righteous moonset. The jury is still out.
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I get many positive comments about my photography, and people seem to dig it. It comes easy, and I don’t really know how to explain it. When I go out, I see the world, and I often find a flattering composition. Beyond that, my timing is very good. I’m now a firm believer in simple photography. I travel light; I only have a camera (a Nikon P-90), a lens cleaning kit, and a tripod. Hell, my camera isn’t even a pro model, or an SLR, yet I capture extremely satisfying images. I’m not going to toot my own horn much more about it, but the people who run around with 4 lenses, and filters, often miss the shot because they are too busy thinking about their gear. I used to be that way. When I first started taking pictures, I was a gear head, carrying 29 pounds of heavy lenses and other paraphernalia. Good riddance!
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To me photography helps me slow down and look at the world with a finer eye and in more detail. I’m quite happy in putting my camera away if the lighting isn’t quite right, and just enjoying the scene as is. I’m also quite happy to shoot a scene for its duration until I get the shot I want. I’ll probably never make a dime with my photos, but I don’t really give a damn. I’m no businessman. I would love it if people liked my views so much they’d pay me for them, but I doubt I’ll ever go around setting up an actual business of selling my joy. Photography is a gift, and I pass along and share my gift, by showing the populations how I see this magnificent world of ours, albeit to only a small audience.

Random Thought Concerning La Paz:
When walking around La Paz, it’s best to watch where you step. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to how they make the sidewalks. There are sudden drop offs, and steps, blocks and barriers. I have stubbed my toe and tripped several times, one time smashing a nail on my already deformed pinky toes. It’s hard to blend in when you are the only gringo hopping around clutching his bleeding foot and cursing a Midwestern blue streak.
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Yesterday we had sustained wind out of the north all day. We spent the afternoon protected behind an island, but that night, we headed out into the brunt of it. The seas were fairly big by the Sea of Cortez standards, and the swells had us really rocking. I was on duty, and in my element. There is something really fun about trying to walk around on a bucking ship in heavy swell. It’s challenging, and silly. Trying to vacuum the forward lounge was ridiculous. I staggered around, doing my best to hold my balance by staggering in a swaying “drunken” steps. We had to take a big turn into the waves, and everything not tied down took a major slide to port. We ran around looking for damage, and of course there wasn’t any, but this small jab by the sea was a taste of what we could be trying to deal with.

Random Thought No. 4:
It turns out that the water in our toilets is salt water, and when you pee in them at night, the bioluminescence gets agitates and briefly glows in the toilet bowl. Before I knew about bio, I was thinking I had sparkly pee.

To end this rambling escapade, I thought I would end it with a quote, as my own words rarely do justice.

“If you apply reason and logic to this career of mine, you’re not going to get very far. You simply won’t. The journey has been incredible from its beginning. So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness.” ~ Sidney Poitier
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Posted by Rhombus 11:04 Archived in Mexico Tagged animals boats desert oceans la photography paz philosophy astronomy Comments (3)

A Vagabond's New Year

Hiking Isla Catalina, New Year Celebrations, Favorite Pic's of the Week

sunny 76 °F

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The Isla Catalina is probably the greenest, most lush desert island I’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking. It’s home to two unique species, one being the rattle-less rattlesnake, and the other being the giant barrel cactus. While I haven’t seen the rattlesnake yet, I am intrigued by its genetic evolution. I can imagine its thought process, “Well hell, every time I move to nab that mouse my damn rattle gives me away. Who needs it?” and over time, stopped growing one. Isla Catalina is quite deserted, so another possibility could be that predators to the snake are also probably few, so with no need to warn enemies, it learned to do without.
Desert Scene

Desert Scene


The giant barrel cactus is something I have seen, and I am quite fond of it. It lives up to its billing. It’s quite large. It’s very stout, and has a bright green trunk, about the diameter of a telephone pole. It ranges in height from a foot high to well over my head (roughly 6 feet). They are dotted all around the island, sometimes growing right next to another in a small copse of funky cactus. The barrel cacti aren’t the only inhabitants of the island; there are massive clumps of cardon, interesting clumps of cholla, and other wildflowers, sharp desert shrubs and plants.
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In starting my hike, I chose the road less traveled. Not only was this a better way to travel, it allowed me to completely lose my sense of civilization’s grip on me. I saw nobody, I heard nothing manmade, and I was free.

The overcast skies were leaden gray, and it was surprisingly cool. I hadn’t been cold in many weeks, but I loved being in cooler temperatures again. It was probably only 70 degrees, but the wind was steady, and it felt good to my body.
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I really enjoyed hiking through this amazing desert. I swear Dr. Seuss designed the landscape: giant clumps of weird cactus, some looking like lumpy offset stumps, others like land borne octopus. I stopped often to marvel at these amazing plants. I found another of my sacred places. I have sacred places all around this planet of ours. Usually, they are small little areas of land that appeal to my sense of order in the universe. In this case, it was a small sandy area, maybe 20 feet in diameter, it was devoid of any visible presence of life, and on the fringes were clumps of desert fauna. In the distance, I could hear the rolling waves of the ocean crash on the beach. I could see the rocky crags and hollowed out holes of the nearby cliffs. It smell like a desert, and I was immediately smitten. It was like sitting in a desert shrine, dedicated to the simple beauty of earth, this time in a desert format. It was peaceful, energizing, and I could’ve stayed there for hours, and possibly days, drinking in, and enjoying its finer features.
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Eventually, I found a jungle of desert shrubs; bright green, thick desert growth that looked like it was going to be very painful to try to cross. Luckily, I had a dry wash to follow through the tall carpet of impassable spines. The wash led to a beautiful little cove tucked into a wall of steep rock cliffs. The sound of the rolling waves was very nice, as I walked around looking at amazing and interesting shells scattered all over the beach. I had fun crawling among the rocks, watching the quick and agile crabs clatter away from me. I crawled through the eroded rock tunnels and explored the beach before turning back again. I didn’t have a clock, and I really wasn’t sure what time it was. One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be the guy who missed the last ride back to the boat.
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New Years Eve, Vagabond Style.

We loaded into our inflatable zodiacs at about 8:30 pm, sure, it wasn’t close to midnight, but it was midnight somewhere, and we had work in the morning. Our team consisted of eight highly trained, crack-shot pyrotechnicians, recruited for our penchant for rocketry and night ops. We drove a quarter of mile through calm green waters, our wake glowing alien green from bioluminescence. Do I have to explain bioluminescence? More on that later. We landed, anchored the boat, and chose a firing location. A million stars were shining bright in the dark sky. We grabbed our parachute rocket flares, lined up, and waited for the countdown. None of us had ever shot off flares of this kind before, and we really didn’t know what to expect. They were rated for 1000 feet, and we figured it would be pretty cool. The countdown began, and we at …1 we fired them off in unison. Holy Crap! These things are serious! A powerful hiss, and the rocket shot off, a blinding orange light in the night sky. Then the chutes opened and they fell slowly down to the sea, extinguished in the cool waters off Ispirito Santo.
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After cleaning up our trash, reloading in the zodiac, and making our way back to the ship, we decided to top off our night by swimming in the bioluminescence. “Bio” are tiny microorganisms that glow in certain areas of the oceans when agitated. The wake of a boat will cause it to glow, a passing dolphin, or my favorite: Swimming. To swim in bio is to immerse yourself into cool liquid smoke, lit up by millions of fireflies and glowing an eerie green. It is beautiful. It is amazing, and it is probably one of the all time coolest things I’ve ever done. If you get an opportunity to swim in it, go for it, you won’t regret it.
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What an end of a tumultuous year, and a righteous beginning to the next. I’m quite optimistic about this years travels. I’m already situated in a beautiful desert locale, and I have some other plans to be fully developed by May. Any suggestions for a good month long trip? I’m all ears, and ready to go.

Favorite Pictures of the Week.
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For now, look for more desert stories, and descriptions. I love Baja. It is heaven on earth, and I’m enthralled that I’m here to explore it.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged me boats islands wildlife mexico deserts oceans baja cacti photograhpy Comments (2)

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