A long overnight bus journey took us to Guerrero Negro, about half way up Baja California. Over the last few months we have mastered the art of sleeping in all sorts of places, so the overnight journeys aren't a problem, except that the buses get stopped periodically by the army searching for drugs in transit. Mexico has a massive problem with rival drug gangs fighting for territorial control, and there is a very noticeable armed police / military presence all over northern Mexico. Anyway, they stop the bus, you all have to get off while they search your luggage and the bus, then you all go on your way again. It is a little disconcerting to find yourself beside the road in the middle of the night faced with such young men (no more than twenty three or four) toting at least two guns each. A couple of hours later you get to another road block and off you get again.
Anyway, Guerrero Negro: a desert town, sprawled out along a single dusty road with absolutely nothing happening there. It has only one thing going for it: its proximity to the Laguna del Ojo Liebre. Every year, grey whales migrate south from Alaska to one of three lagoons on the coast of Baja, this being one of them. Here they give birth to their calves, and spend a few months building their strength for the return journey to Alaska. By early March there were over 1600 whales in the lagoon and we went to see them.
A short minibus journey takes you to the shore where you hop into a panga (small boat that takes about 10 people) which takes you out into the lagoon where the driver cuts the engine. The number of boats is strictly controlled and the whales are completely unfazed by them. Soon you see a blow, then another, then another, and you realise that you are completely surrounded by these magnificent creatures. Then you hear a noise behind you and realise tha a whale has come up right behind the boat, you watch it blow a couple of times, then you see it swim under the boat and come up the other side. Compared to us they are massive and by this time, I am almost beside myself with excitement. Then another whale arrives – but this one has her calf with her and they surface to blow simultaneously, then come closer to investigate the boat. They swim around us a couple of times, then under the boat. then the calf came up right beside the boat and I was able to stroke its nose. It is impossible to describe the sense of awe you feel at the gentleness and apparent friendliness of these ENORMOUS creatures. Or the feeling of privilege to have visited them so closely in their natural habitat and not felt like an intruder. Although they are several times bigger than the boat we never once felt at risk or in danger, such was their gentleness. All told we must have seen twenty or thirty whales and this was a huge highlight of the trip for both of us and an experience we will never forget, and we are indebted to Karen and Leys for telling us about them. We mostly took video rather than still shots, so not many photos to share with you now.
The following day we left Guerrero Negro to complete the journey north through Baja, to Tijuana where we crossed the border into USA. Predictably this was the worst of all the borders we have crossed during the trip. Having queued for over an hour, the only gringos in sight, we eventually arrived at the immigration desk, only to be told that our papers were not in order. We both had up to date ESTAs (visa waiver that you apply for online before you travel) but they are activated automatically when you arrive by air. In other words they are not used to people arriving on foot by land. The mexicans just need to show their ID cards so they all sailed through. So we were sent back to where we had come from to a special office which does exactly what happens when you arrive by air (takes your fingerprints and photos), before traipsing back to the immigration desk again, narrowly missing being caught up with a mexican trying to get in with no papers, who was taken off in handcuffs in very short order. All in all it took us 2 hours to get into the USA – land of drinking water from the tap, flushing toilets, food other than rice and beans, hot showers and, oh boy, is it good to be here.
We have now made our way to my friend Joanna's near LA where we will spend the next few days slowly adjusting to the developed world before heading back to UK on March 9/10. So this is probably our last update to the journal.
This has been an amazing opportunity for us both, we have been lucky enough to have seen and done some fantastic things. Without wishing to sound trite, we have learnt a lot about the world, ourselves and each other. Some things will never be the same again, some things we will never take for granted again. We have very much appreciated knowing that you have followed our adventures and hope you enjoyed the ride! Thank you again for all your messages which were always very welcome, especially when we were feeling homesick. We missed our families and friends more than we expected and are looking forward to seeing you all again very soon! xxx