Bahia de Los Angeles & the whale sharks
When we left San Felipe, we opted to drive south along the coastal Highway 5 instead of doing almost 800 km of extra driving back to Ensenada and then south along the main highway. The drive was quite pretty for most of the way. You travel along the ocean and see the azure blue of the Sea Cortez, countless timeshare and residence complexes, many of which seem defunct. You drive through the Valley of the Giants seeing the large cardon cactus. As you move away from the water, you are definitely in the desert.
Before you reach the small town of Puertecitos, the highway improves big time from a two lane okay road to a newly paved one with actual shoulders and a decent speed limit.
Speaking of speed limits, they are all over the place. You’ll be on a decent road that should be 80km/50mph but it switches for no rhyme or reason at times from 40 – 60 – 80. Sometimes you see 110 for only for tiny stretch and suddenly it is 40km again.
When we set out that morning, we plugged in Bahia de Los Angeles into the GPS as our destination with Puertecitos as a stop. It said it would take us till 10pm to reach our destination! Well, going on this new road we actually saved four hours until….. we hit the end of the new road. There is no signage that the road ends, just that there’s a detour. So you think, “oh okay, they’re building a bridge here and we’ll get back on the pavement”. NOT! There was no more asphalt until we got to the Highway 1 the next day.
So we toddled along at 20kmh on a rough, but could have been worse road, for about 35 km. Around five o’clock we saw shiny things in the distance along a fence and suddenly we saw a sign that said “Coco’s – cold soda and beer”. A welcome sign!
As we pulled in, Fran remembered that our overlander friends, Ernesto & Taisa, had mentioned that we should stop here if we took the road south of San Felipe. So we thought we’d check it out and see how much camping was.
Well, we met Coco at the counter and he said camping for the night was the cost of one soda/beer minimum person. There was a bathroom and power via generator only at night (when he watches movies on his VCR!). He is a paraplegic who is quite famous to overlanders at least; many make a point of stopping here to sign his guest books (on his ninth one), leave stickers and business cards as well as various articles of clothing (including panties and bras!), and flags etc. that hang in the covered patio area of his abode. He is currently 78 years old and has lived here 25+ years alone in this “middle of nowhere” spot that is actually on some maps now. He actually originally got to this spot he calls his own, by wheeling in from the highway in his wheelchair! Almost 30 kms!
We sat on the patio with him for about an hour, having a few beers, browsing his guest book and listening to his stories.
As Doug had a non-mandatory call to participate in for work Friday morning, we got up early and decided to do the last 30km of the road to reach the main Baja highway hoping to get cell service in time as we’d had none since early afternoon the day before. Unfortunately, there was no service. We stopped at the intersection with Hwy 12 that takes you to Bahia de Los Angeles and had breakfast before heading east again. Despite our cell phone provider telling us there was coverage ALL over Mexico, we have found that this is not the case, in the Baja anyway.
On this road, you are in a cactus forest much of the way. We don’t know the names of them all but there were at least a dozen varieties including cardon, ocotillo, cholla and agave. It was quite beautiful at times. There was a section called the Valley of Los Cirios (The Candles in Spanish) cactus.
You pass through several mountain passes and then suddenly you see the Sea of Cortez again and you get to the town of Bahia de Los Angeles. This town has NO cell service at all and only got 24/7 power in 2007.
We checked out the Villa Vitta resort which is a hotel with a bar/restaurant and pool. It has RV camping across the street right on the beach but we had to admit this was not one of the nicest beaches we’ve seen so far. There are several concrete pads and they rigged up a site to have working power for us. We think we are the only ones who’ve been here in ages! There is internet at many of the businesses, however, like the resort so we took advantage when we came to use the pool (to rinse off the salt water!). There are several homes and maybe vacation places here but no big development at all which is good for the marine life. It’s not really a pretty town but the water setting is nice and there are many islands nearby.
We went for a little walk to see if we could find a boat trip out to snorkel and/or see the whale sharks that this area is famous for. They reside here from August to late October. We found one man who said he charges $250 for the boat ride (for both of us) and then the lady at the resort said her guy charges $180. We still thought it was out of our budget.
Before going for a swim, we saw a small tour boat come around the beach near our camper and it was following something with a large dark fin – maybe a whale shark tail or the fin of a large dolphin. We took our snorkel gear and went in the water in the hopes of seeing fish along the nearby rocky outcropping. The water, like in San Felipe, was a little murky and although we came across a small school of colourful fish, it was not worth it. Doug had also forgotten to clip his mustache down so water kept seeping into this mask making his experience unpleasant. We met a young boy named Sebastian on the beach fishing and later, when his father Manuel, came by, he told us he does eco tours on the water and he’d take us out for $120 tomorrow. So we booked him.
Next morning he brought his boat right up behind Tigger at the beach and right on time. It was a beautiful day with nary a cloud in sight. After more than an hour, we came across a pair of sea lions and next about a half dozen dolphins frolicking in Rincon Bay. Then finally, the main event: a huge whale shark came right up beside the boat! Manuel said jump in. They don’t really surface much but you see their huge shadows first and then their bodies under the surface. We swam with him for about 20 seconds before he dived below. We did this with five other whale sharks with the longest time being about a minute. Manuel was also able to drive up alongside a couple more of them afterwards just so we could take photos from above as well as the murkiness of the water was not allowing our underwater camera to take the greatest shots. The last whale shark we saw was only two months old and it was bigger than us! They are just huge and move calmly through the water totally ignoring you. In all we saw 8 of them; a good day’s work!
A few whale shark facts & tidbits:
- Like a human fingerprint, the spots around the gill area are unique to each individual shark.
- The only known predator of the whale shark is humans.
- They live 70+ years and do not have offspring until in their 30’s.
- The mouth of the whale shark is massive, reaching a width of approximately 1 meter (over 3 feet).
- Only 3 shark species (the whale shark, the basking shark, and the megamouth shark) are filter feeders, straining their prey from the water column.
- The whale shark can reach a length of 40 feet or more and weighs 20 or more tons.
We got back to Tigger, rinsed off our gear using our outdoor shower and then walked over to the pool to rinse ourselves of salt, have a cool drink and use the Wi-Fi for a couple of hours.
Later that afternoon, there was a knock on our door, and a young couple, Sam & Hanne from Belgium, visited us. They have a land rover with a rooftop tent and wondered about camping where we were. We told them the situation and they went to check in. While we were chatting with them Sebastian came by again with a lovely gift of shells for us. Sam asked him about asking his father to take them out the next day. We had dinner and Sam and Hanne went to set up and do the same. They came back after dinner and we chatted for a couple of hours over beer. They are travelling for a couple of years and have already been to several countries in Africa, then shipped to New York from where they drove across Canada and then down to Baja. Their final destination is Panama. We hope to meet up with them again in our travels.
Sunday morning we packed up and headed west back to the Highway 1 and continued south. We crossed the state line into Baja Sur (South) and stopped in Guerrero Negro for a couple of days to catch up on laundry, shopping, an RV wash and internet/cell service.