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Isla Espiritu Santo

Isla Espiritu Santo

Daniel Fox

The Mexicans call it the Holy Spirit – sitting on the beach, my eyes fixed a few miles offshore on a group of humpbacks jumping, their tails and flukes slapping the water, much like a baby would do in a bath, I start to understand the sacred spirit of this location. Cliffs made of thick layers of black lava and volcanic ash surround a series of protected bays with crystal blue water and sandy beaches. Its waters are rich with nutrients and host year round pelagic species – gray whales, humpbacks, whale sharks, dolphins, hammerhead sharks, and many more. I am here with Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG), an adventure guide company that provides kayaking trips around the world. Our group has just been dropped at Coralito Bay. The plan for the next 5 days is to paddle north, on the east coast of the island, go around Isla Partida and make our way back to Coralito. Then spend a night in LaPaz, drive across to the Pacific side of the Baha, to Bahia Magdalena, and paddle for 2 days to the mouth of the bay, where great numbers of gray whales are found at this time of the year.

As soon as we were settled into our camp, we got our snorkeling gear on and swam to a nearby little coral reef. I was amazed! For someone who spends a lot time in the water, I am used to see damaged snorkeling spots, either fished out, or trashed, big fish and big mollusks gone, an unhealthy and unbalanced ecosystem left behind. But this one had a strong coral growth, lots of nudibranchs, big snappers, clams, oysters, many little fish and millions of juveniles. That afternoon, I saw three eels and two scorpion fish. Every where I looked, I saw life thriving, in all shapes and forms. So refreshing! But the most amazing moment of that afternoon was still to come. It was not really something I saw, but something I heard. As I took a deep breath and swam down, I heard a long whining sound – a sort of a slow melody. It was exactly like I had heard and seen on Planet Earth, the television show produced by BBC and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, when male humpbacks, as part of their mating ritual, sing, floating motionless, hanging in an upside down, head-down, tail-up position. These were most likely the whales I had seen earlier, now singing, miles away in the channel. Holding onto a rock so that I could keep my depth and not float like a cork back to the surface, I closed my eyes and listened to this audio spectacle. I was probably not the audience the whales were looking for, but I was certainly happy to be allowed to enjoy their performance. It was simply magical!

I closed my eyes and listened to this audio spectacle. I was probably not the audience the whales were looking for, but I was certainly happy to be allowed to enjoy their performance. It was simply magical!
crab on Isla Espiritu Santo
That evening, after another incredible hike, which revealed, out on the water, a group of rays jumping so high it was hard to believe, I sat on the beach and photographed the brown pelicans in action. The light blue sky behind them was the perfect background.
Back on the beach, changing clothes, we put our hiking boots on and went for an afternoon hike. The place was spectacular. Red volcanic rock all around us, which millions of years ago trapped countless of air bubbles, now exposed by time making the landscape look like the inside of an Aero chocolate bar. A little bit of rain two weeks ago was enough to transform this arid terrain into a green miracle – a few drops of water suffice to bring the plants and trees out of their hibernating mode and sprout bright new leaves. Reaching the top, we were welcomed with another surprise. Down below, in the bay next to ours, a full bird feeding frenzy was happening. Hundreds of birds were going crazy on a shoal of bait fish. Although the scene was happening a few miles from us, the sight was still incredible; countless black silhouettes flying and diving in the water, turning the surface into boiling water. Watching the sunset at the top of a high cliff was nothing short of everything else that day. Sitting just a few feet from cliff, two hundred feet above the sea, we watched a big orange sun disappear behind the mountains. If this day was any indicator for the coming 10 days, we were in for one amazing trip!

Our first destination the following day was the hidden lagoon in the bay south of us. Only accessible at high tide, the place is a little piece of bird paradise. A sense of stillness reigned. Brown pelicans, frigates, black crown heron, great egrets, little blue herons, all were holding court in the mangroves – the perfect spot!

As we exited through the shallow narrow passage and started paddling north, a small pod of bottlenose dolphins crossed our path and headed out. Later that day, we came to our second camping site, a secluded alcove, guarded by a group of brown pelicans, keeping a tight watch on the water, looking for their next target. After a nice lunch and putting our tents up, we got back into our kayaks and headed across to Isla Ballenas for a quick paddle. Blue foot boobies were flying around, topped way above by a group of magnificent frigates, gliding the warm air.

That evening, after another incredible hike, which revealed, out on the water, a group of rays jumping so high it was hard to believe, I sat on the beach and photographed the brown pelicans in action. The light blue sky behind them was the perfect background. As they flew in circle before twisting and falling like arrows in the water, their bodies created the most amazing abstract shapes. It was as if a calligraphy master had just decided to paint the sky with the strokes of his brush. During dinner, a ring tailed cat was seen sneaking around our camp, looking for any opportunity.

lizard on Isla Espiritu Santo
I woke up at dawn and noticed a group of bats still flying around catching the last remnants of nocturnal insects. After breakfast, we packed our gear and paddled out once more. A single male sea lion passed as an eagle ray leaped out of the water, ten feet high before landing with a big splash. During lunch, on a beach, I saw something purple floating nearby. I walk in the water, up to my knees and inspect it closely. It is a Portuguese Man O War with two weird little fish swimming in its tentacles, immune to its venom. I approached carefully, keeping an eye on those long blue strings, famous for their painful sting. What I hadn’t seen was another colorless jelly fish, that managed to hit me right on the knee. I let out a big scream and rushed to the shore. Damn this was painful! Within minutes, my skin turned red and swelled. Isis, one of the guide, gave me some white vinegar and told me to apply it on the wound – the vinegar destroys the proteins from the venom. Needless, to say, even after an hour, the pain was still sharp. Eight days later, the sting was still visible, a red mark across my knee.

The stinging jellyfish print on my skin was of no concern the next morning, as we set out for the sea lion colony. This was surely going to be one of the biggest highlights! Barely out of the kayak and into the water, I had three pups pulling my fins and playing with me. Two females swam around, passing extremely fast, opening their mouths and releasing a big stream of bubbles while never letting me out of sight, their big giant inquiring black eyes following my every move. It felt like I was playing in the grass with a bunch of dogs. From time to time, a huge male would come by and ensure that everything was under control. His massive and intimidating presence was a reminder to all – us and the sea lions pups, that we still needed to behave. It was so amazing! At some point, one leaped and landed on my back, grabbing my shoulder. I turned around, holding his flippers and the two of us went on in a series of rolls and twists. I was just a happy kid playing in the water with them. And like any kid, I was called back to reality when after twenty minutes, it was time to climb back into the kayaks and continue our paddle.

I navigated for the rest of the day with a big grin on my face. We went around to the west side of Isla Partida and through the channel. After having lunch in the pass, we paddled a little bit more to our last camping site, just a few hundred yards away from our pick up location for our ride back to LaPaz the next day. That afternoon, we did one last big hike, up through a fantastic Arroyo filled with big boulders. The sight must be absolutely incredible when the entire valley flash floods in this creek. On a rock, bathing under the sun was an eastern collared lizard and flying high, screeching, a red-tail hawk patrolled his domain. As I headed back to the camp, I could only marvel at the last 5 days. This place was really sacred and the trip was only halfway done. Tomorrow was the beginning of our second half, this time, on the Pacific side, with the gray whales.

On a rock, bathing under the sun was an eastern collared lizard and flying high, screeching, a red-tail hawk patrolled his domain. As I headed back to the camp, I could only marvel at the last 5 days.

Daniel Fox

“I follow in the footsteps of my childhood heros, David Attenborough, Jim Fowler & Jacques Cousteau, traveling Earth’s remote places. My lifelong passion for adventure and nature, and my commitment to inspire change and improving lives have led me to create The Wild Image Project, with for mission to motivate others and alter their perspective on global issues by aesthetically presenting information and ideas that stimulate engagement, involvement and transformation.” – Daniel Fox

Daniel Fox is a member of the Explorers Club in New York, of the Royal Geographical Society in London, an ETE (Education Through Exploration) Ambassador, a Blue Project Ambassador and a Planet Explore Visionary (a The North Face initiative that promotes the outdoors)

You can find him on Behance, LinkedIn, Facebook, Vimeo, and follow him on his two Twitter accounts @TheWildImage and @EPIConservation

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