A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Time Management and the Modern Explorer

Blue Whales, Sharks, Unapologetic Time Management "Problems"

sunny 85 °F

The boat slowed, and I knew we had spotted some sort of sea creatures, but I didn’t yet know what it was. I was in my head (bathroom), getting my day started. I knew that whatever it was, was probably going to be pretty cool. Therefore, I spit out my toothpaste, grabbed my fully charged camera battery and headed up to the bow. The guests had gathered, and I found a group of crew ready to go with their fancy cameras ready to shoot.

I learned we had stopped for a Blue whale. The blue whale is the largest animal on planet earth. This thought alone, gave me a small charge of endorphins coursing though my veins. I couldn’t believe I was going to be lucky enough to witness one at a reasonably close distance.

The sun was bright, and the day was hot (as it always is). There was a soft breath of hot breeze, and the seas were softly rising falling like the contented breathing of someone asleep. Red clouds of krill and invertebrates willowed around like smoke in the water. These smallest life forms come in a variety of shapes and designs, but ultimately most of them end up in the same place: digesting in a fish or mammals stomach. It’s amazing to me that these tiny creatures are the start of the ocean’s culinary chain. These tiny creatures are very important to the ocean’s ecosystem. Without them, none of the spectacular wildlife I’ve seen would be here, and it’s possible we wouldn’t be here either.

Blue whales feed on krill, and while growing can pack on 200 pounds a day. The length of a blue is 100 feet long. Look at the comparison to other animals to give it some perspective. We humans are but a mosquito to these giants. One of our wildlife naturalists on board told me that there are about 50 year round blue whales that live in the Gulf of California.
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We were very fortunate; this Blue whale wasn’t diving down for long periods. They typically dive for 10 minutes at a time; however, the one we were watching was only going below for half of that. It would surface, blow, swim at the surface for awhile, then arc it’s lengthy back and dive down deep once again. I was in the right place at the right time, and was able to capture its fluke, the tail of the blue as it dove down deep. Seeing the fluke on a blue I’m told is rare, so I feel fortunate to not only see it, but can take this memory with me.
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I witnessed my first shark here in Baja. I was snorkeling among the vibrant corral reefs on the Isla Manserate, looking at the beautiful varieties of fish swimming below. In front of me, a school of some of the larger fish suddenly shot past towards shallower water. I thought to myself, “Well, they don’t just bolt for no reason,” and I looked in the direction from which they came. I saw in the distance the sharply angled v-shape of the shark, a gray body and a lighter underbody. It was significantly larger than anything else under the water, and in two strokes of its tail was gone. Awesome! That was a rush. I don’t fear sharks, but I am aware of the fact that while I’m snorkeling, I’m nowhere near the top of the food chain and there are many creatures much larger than I am. I continued my snorkel occasionally glancing ahead to see if it would return. It never did, but I hope to see another shark soon.

Author’s Note: Before starting my contract on the ship, I watched a shark documentary called, “Shark Water.” One man wondered why people feared sharks so much and set about to find out why. What he found is that, as usual, humans don’t understand sharks. We stereotype them into a man eating monster. Not only that, but he exploited the ruthless and needless killing of the sharks for there tails. The shark tail is considered a delicacy in some countries, and will pay top dollar for shark fins to make shark fin soup. It was an eye opening documentary, which I found informative, entertaining, and visually amazing.
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Landing on the small beach on the island of Ispiritu Santo, the first thing I saw was a small shark head bobbing in the froth of the small waves. It was frowning. I guess if I was decapitated and had my head thrown into the sea, I would frown as well. What does this unfortunate shark tell us? Somebody is killing sharks, but to what end? As it happened, I was in a “protected” national park of Mexico, this isn’t reassuring.

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December 23rd, 2010
“This is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I’m sitting atop one of the high, rocky overlooks on the Isla Danzante. Turkey vultures are soaring overhead, gliding effortlessly on the wind, the far off “SMACK” of a breeching manta ray down in the bay makes me turn and pull out my binoculars to watch it for awhile. Who knew? I never knew that rays loved jumping out of the water, until I saw it with my own eyes. All around me are endless views of the beautiful desert meeting the sheer rock cliffs that drop down into the sea below. All around me are more islands, uninhabited, beautiful and wild. The hike was enjoyable, it’s easy to hike in sandals which is a definite bonus, the thought of hot hiking boots seems intolerable at this point. I’ve swam in the ocean every day this trip, mostly on deserted beaches well away from anyone. This is the life. I haven’t worn pants since December 5th. I work very hard (12 hours a day), but the rewards are this: access to the magnificent desert islands that make up Mexico’s national parks, which I can explore as I want. This job is more a working vacation than a regular job.”

~Journal entry from my hand written journal
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I’m having trouble finding time for anything else other than work and exploration. This blog is suffering because of it. I haven’t made time to try and keep up with my explorations. Every day I work 12 hours. That’s one part of my day, then I catch the zodiac ride to the beach and explore for 3 to 4 hours, after which I only have time to edit my pictures and go to bed to do it all over again. Every day I’m at a new beach that I haven’t seen, and I have my choice of either hiking, beach combing, snorkeling, kayaking, or lying still. To do justice to every exploration, will take time, so please bear with me. To be perfectly honest, I guess I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm seizing every opportunity I have to explore this area, and that after all, is my billing.

I live in a world of exploration and monontony. The endless repetition of a deckhand is completely offset by every day of amazing exploration, discovery and play. I am loving my life right now.

Today, on Boxing Day (for Canadians), I’ve finally made it back to La Paz, and I have some time to catch up with my writings, but words fail me. This region is a desert paradise. Here are some pictures that hopefully will give some insight into my desert world of discovery.
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Merry Christmas From The Dusty Vagabond!
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Posted by Rhombus 14:06 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats flowers whales deserts sunrise oceans baja sharks photography jobs Comments (2)

Savoring This First Taste Of Baja

La Paz, Desert Hikes, Snorkeling and Dolphins, Reflections

sunny 85 °F

The hours of my day fly by in a frenzied rush of work and play. It’s very difficult to make time to write so far, and I’m not optimistic about my future chances. The reason why I’m struggling so much to find time, is because this region of the world is so very beautiful and alluring, that any free moments I have, I’ve been spending them playing outside in this gorgeous desert landscape. To describe Baja is not easy, as words fail to encapsulate the expansive beauty of this region. To put it simplest, Baja is where a diverse and lush desert landscape meets a beautiful and thriving ocean landscape.

Where to begin?
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La Paz
My first views of La Paz were of the outskirts of the city at a fueling dock and marina full of sailboats. The land struck me as a cross between Arizona and Southern California. The land was a misarranged collection of foothills, jagged and rocky. Desert plants thrived, and I saw the tall Cardon cactus for the first time. The cardon is very similar to the Saguaro of southern Arizona, and at first that was what I thought they were. Tall palm trees soared skyward in clumps, which brought me back to southern California (see Hollywood and Venice Beach). It was hot. The sun baked the earth without mercy.
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La Paz has all the hub-bub of a bustling city, home to roughly 200,000 people. I was limited in my exploring for two reasons. I was on foot, and I had only a couple of hours to spend on each jaunt. I was very excited to finally land in La Paz. It marked my first steps in an international city, in a country that I didn’t understand or speak much of the language. This Dusty Vagabond goes international, and I this is only the beginning.
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We were docked at the municipal dock which was right next to the busy shopping district along the Malecon. Since I didn’t have any agenda, or inside knowledge of the city, I started out by enjoying an ice cream cone at a nearby ice cream shop. The transaction went well, and I stumbled through my limited Spanish to purchase what I wanted. Fortified, I struck out at random, hoping to find a nice park for an afternoon siesta. I mostly judge cities by there parks and recreation areas and I wanted to sit in the shade for a spell.
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I wandered through town, through the narrow, dusty, hectic streets of Central La Paz. La Paz has a rectangular grid system of streets that make it relatively easy to keep your mental map aligned, and I had no trouble. I saw fenced in school yards, full of chattering kids at recess (I could relate, as I was at recess myself, my only fence a clock). There were shops and restaurants of every variety selling everything imaginable. Some of the shops were humble affairs; others were attempting to appeal to the trendy crowd. Working my way roughly south, I found myself in the “Tarp Market” block. A huge collection of blue tarps were set up open market style, taking up a whole city block. I felt like a mouse in a maze as I made my way through, mildly interested in what they had to sell, but knowing I had nothing to buy.
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So it went, I wandered for several hours, looking in vain for a park, but getting a good first taste of La Paz. I stopped to smell fresh growing flowers along the boulevard. I saw an orange tree which tempted me to pick one, but I’m no thief.

My favorite part about La Paz (so far), is the dark streets protected from the harsh sun by buildings and tall protective trees. I found the quietest street in La Paz. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of cars, pedestrians and shops was a perfect Eden of silence. I walked onto a street, sloping downhill back to the water, and I took a few steps into the blissful shade when I realized it was eerily quiet. There was no sound of the city, only the feel of the soft desert wind on my sweaty face. I loved it. I walked deeper into the shade, and looked ahead. There was only one old lazy dog sleeping in the gutter--content and peaceful. I took a wide circle around it, remembering the old adage to let sleeping dogs lie. I saw an old man sitting on a stoop, and like the dog he was nodding off almost asleep. I smiled, and moved on.

“La Paz” means something like ‘quiet tranquility‘. When I learned this, I realized that I found the essence of the city in walking through my shaded oasis of that quiet street.

Desert Hikes
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The desert islands of this region that we explore are very lush and thriving with life. I’ve made two jaunts into the desert and have found a plethora of blooming flowers, multiple varieties of cacti and ground shrubs, lizards, spiders and birds. I had a few hours off, so I made the hike across Isla Espiritu Santo in the Archipelago De Espiritu Santo National Park due north of La Paz. The trail was rugged, twisting though a jumble of smooth boulders. The trail was surrounded by the giant cardon cacti. I really like this cactus, it’s very similar to the Saguaro, but it doesn’t have as many spines, and it has more stalks that rise up from its root system. I followed the dry wash high up into the hills that lead to an amazing view of the rugged coast of the eastern side of the island. I was 700 feet above the sea, and felt like I was king of the world.
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Hiking through most deserts sounds a lot harder than it actually is. There are a lot of plants that carry sharp spines waiting to stab you, but in this desert they are spaced far enough apart to make cross country travel relatively easy. I think this is because of the limited water supply, and each successful plant that grows has claimed its own territory to grow. Think of a side-winder, that snake that moves sideways over the desert sands. Its tracks are a long continuous “ess shaped” snake pattern. This is how to walk cross country in a desert. The trail is rarely straight, but if you look hard enough you can find a way to cross without stepping on fragile plants or hurting yourself.

Snorkeling and Dolphins

I marked another first yesterday, namely, I went snorkeling for the first time. It was a hurried affair of grabbing gear (which I didn’t know how to check) and jumping in the zodiac to get to the dive boat. My friends were already in the water and far away, so I had to figure out how to do it by myself. I squashed my goggles on my eyes, put in my mouthpiece and fell backward into the water, so far so good. In the water, I blew out the water, and tried to breath through it. Nothing but cool salt water heading into my lungs. Damn! I paddled out of the water, tried again. More water into my lungs, coughing and hacking. At this point, I decided that snorkeling sucked. More or less it was a way to slowly drown yourself. I knew something was wrong, so I swam out to my friends and told them my problems. One pointed out that my mouth piece was broken, and missing a re-breather. She was a competent diver, so she gave me hers, and let me use hers. That made all the difference! From then on, I was happily exploring the nooks and crannies of the pinkish corral. I saw many varieties of fish, which I’ve yet to learn the names, but the few I learned were Angel fish, the “puffer fish” and some skinny sea stars.

At one point I swam though a school of small golden striped fish, and I grinned from ear to ear. It is so cool to swim and watch fish in this way. I attempted a few shallow dives, and those went well. I was stung on the leg by a small translucent jelly fish maybe about the size of a chicken egg, another first. It’s kind of like a mild bee sting; it’s noticeable, but not extremely painful.

I’m going to snorkel as much as possible for the rest of my life.
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We were sailing north around Isla Santa Catalina when we saw the pod of dolphins. They were feeding along the surface, and there were hundreds of them swimming, jumping, diving, and squealing to one another. It was impressive, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Our engineers have set up an undersea audio system for our ship that cancels out most of the ships noise. This allowed us to hear the squeals and cliques of the dolphins over our sound system while we were watching them. Dolphins are cool. The dolphins seem to roam in packs, taking occasional opportunity to jump through sky. We were all enthralled, and we sat and watched them for 40 minutes in the hot sun of late afternoon.

Reflections On The Journey So Far

I keep expecting myself to wake up from this amazing dream. Every day, at one point or another, I realize this amazing dream is my life. Every decision I’ve ever made has led to this point, and I love my life right now. I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this! To be honest, and I think if they paid me in sand I would still happily come to work. Baja is an amazing place, and I’m infatuated with its beauty and diversity of life.
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Onward!!! Let’s see what else is out there!

Posted by Rhombus 10:45 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats sea deserts oceans life snorkeling photography philosophy cacti Comments (3)

A Winter in Baja Begins

First Takes on Baja, Some Expectations, My First Swim In The Ocean

sunny 78 °F

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My first views of the Baja California peninsula was from about 14 miles out at sea. From there, it looked like a jagged, desert like environment, full of smallish coastal mountains leading down to the water. Along the shoreline, I could see occasional bands of sand with pale mounds piling into dunes. What dominated most of my views, was the extremely bright shimmer of the glaring sun. It was constant, overpowering golden-white, and impossible to ignore. I’m going to have to get used to being in the sun.
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I’m from the north, from a place where the sun rarely shines in the winter. A place where on the sunniest days in the winter, if you ran around outside naked all day, you still wouldn’t get your necessary dose of Vitamin D. In contrast, I think I’ll be getting all the Vitamin D I need, and way more, in a single morning here in Baja. I proved that today. I woke up at 7 am, and got dressed, opting for shorts and a tee shirt. By 4 pm, I was tan on all exposed flesh. I was a little bit sunburned on the back of my neck, where I didn’t apply sun block in time, but over all tanned. It was a record for me, a one-day suntan.

We are positioning from San Francisco, California to La Paz, Baja California in Mexico. It’s our fifth day of travel, and we expect to land in La Paz, sometime tomorrow evening. I’m very excited to get back to land again. Mostly, because it will be in a brand new environment, I’ve never seen before. Baja is where the desert meets the ocean, and several people have described it to me as “the most beautiful place, they’ve ever seen.” Time will tell, and I’ll make my own judgment on the matter.
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The trip so far has been very good; we were blessed with good weather, and calm seas. It’s been sunny every day, and quite balmy. High temperatures are in the upper seventies, and quite comfortable to work in shorts and sandals all day. We’ve been busy getting the final projects completed after the hectic shipyard session we recently completed in Alameda, Ca. It’s been a lot of hard work, and ten-hour days, but it’s enjoyable to work along side of like-minded people. On this boat, we are all travellers, and we enjoy comparing stories, and destinations. Most of us don’t have homes. Instead, we talk of where we store our stuff.
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One of the great benefits of this job is being able to drop whatever it is you are doing at any time and head out to the deck to watch wildlife as we pass it by. Every couple of hours, the call will come over the radio that dolphins, whales, or sunsets have been spotted. Everyone filters out to the decks to watch the beautiful sea creatures play around in the water. Today, about 12 of us, sat up in the sunshine watching dolphins jump through the deep blue water, while the majestic Frigate birds soared just overhead. Life is pretty damn good at times.

I’m excited about this journey for many reasons, but I’ll try to highlight a few:

The wildlife. I’m going to see a diverse amount of wildlife I’ve never seen before. Several different types of whales, some of which I might be fortunate enough to touch.I’m also looking forward to learning more about the varieties of birds, fish, and sea life that call this peninsula home.

I can’t wait to start exploring the cities and villages we’ll be stopping at. My Spanish is terrible. I plan to communicate by exaggerated animated gestures, and what little Spanish I know. What fun! Completely out of my element, and dropped into foreign territory. This is what I live for.

I’m from the Midwest. My superiors have told me that I will be expected to swim a lot. “If I have to…” This is cool by me, as I want to become a better swimmer, and I want to go snorkeling. Where I’m from, the lake is only warm enough to swim 2 months of the year, so I haven’t spent much time snorkeling.

I let out the big anchor for the first time tonight. We arrived at Bonanza Beach just after sunset, and a peanut gallery of crew showed up to document, and tease me while I went about learning the process of setting the hook. I did all right for the first time, and all went smoothly. The captain let us go swimming until dark, to let us blow off some steam, and relax and have fun after our long voyage from San Francisco.

We were like kids in school on the last day of class before Christmas break, buzzing and hyper waiting impatiently while the Bo’ sun and other deckhand got the swim ladder into position. Then we got the go ahead to jump in.

Picture the following scene: The sky is the dark indigo of early night. To the west, a first quarter waxing crescent moon is rising slowly above the distant black hills still visible behind the last glow of the sunset. Stars are starting to twinkle far above us. The wind is warm and blowing steadily across the upper deck of our ship. Our floodlights light up the aqua blue-green water, and 15 of us are ready to jump. We all go off in a line, like the penguins of Antarctica, jumping one after another of our “iceberg.” The difference is, everyone chooses his or her favorite thing to yell out, and launch style. Some choose a shriek, and a dive. Others do flips, and straight jumps. I do what I do best. I bellow out, “Viva Baja Mexico!“ and cannon ball from 15 feet off of the water. “KER-SPLASH” and I’m in the dark water of an ocean for the first time.

My first reaction is being aware of the dull underwater sounds of rushing bubbles. I taste the salt on my lips, and in my nasal cavity, and it’s not altogether pleasant, but I don’t care. These moments are what I live for. I surface, and make four more trips up the swim ladder to the upper deck, bantering away with my friends and fellow crewmembers. A strong ocean current rips by, and though I try to swim, it’s hard to make any headway. As I tire, we hang onto the ladder and enjoy the water. It’s not cold, not at all, at least by my standards. It was the equivalent of swimming in Lake Superior in July, and it was beautiful.

This was the first time I’ve ever swam in the ocean. For a first experience, I don’t think you can do much better than that.
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So begins my latest journey. I’ll be spending five more months in a warm desert marine environment working, playing, and living to the best of my ability. I can only take things one day at a time, and try to make the best of them. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m betting my odds are good for an enjoyable winter.

Posted by Rhombus 08:52 Archived in Mexico Tagged sky boats desert sunrise sunsets oceans life baja photography Comments (1)

Late November on Lake Superior

Eight Lake Scenes From Early WInter.

semi-overcast 36 °F

Here’s eight photographs of Lake Superior I photographed during the last two days. Even when all of the Midwestern landscapes are cold, dormant and drab, the lake still provides subtle shades of color and mood. In this collection, I’ve found peaceful scenes, and those of a darker nature--menacing storm clouds conquering once peaceful skies. Enjoy, and Happy December.

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"I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

'We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December."
- Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

Posted by Rhombus 07:48 Archived in USA Tagged beaches leaves waves lake storms poetry superior zen december Comments (2)

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