Day 2: Snorkeling from the white beach of Isla San Francisco in the Sea of Cortez

ABOARD THE SAFARI ENDEAVOUR — We awoke early and headed to the upper deck for our first view of Isla San Francisco, one of the many uninhabited islands along the coast of the Baja California Peninsula. The ship was anchored in a pretty half- moon-shaped bay with a ribbon of beach bordering clear blue water — and we had this idyllic setting all to ourselves.

Early morning yoga on deck
Every morning at 6:45 am wellness director Michelle leads a yoga session on the sun deck.

Michelle, the ship’s Wellness Director, was leading a yoga class on the sun deck, as she would do at 6:45 am every morning. She also heads a team of three massage therapists who will give all passengers free massages. I say “free” as a reminder that literally everything is included on this trip until we give one tip to all of the crew at the end.

The chef offers a breakfast special every day, but passengers are free to order any breakfast they like. The macadamia nut pancakes with scrambled eggs fortified us for a morning of fitting wetsuits, snorkels and fins; a primer on the use of adventure equipment such as the kayaks and stand-up paddleboards; demonstrations on adjusting the various safety vests we’d be using; and the obligatory muster drill in case of an emergency evacuation.

The white beach at Isla San Francisco
We awoke to a view of the deserted beach at Isla San Francisco. One of our shipmates makes first tracks.

After a lunch of Mexican chicken or nopal (cactus) sopes, we took a skiff to the beach, where the crew had set up a bar with beer, wine and snacks. Several of us snorkeled along the shallow edge of the cove, where the visibility was 20-30 feet. Donnelle and I are accustomed to diving in the Caribbean, with its colorful coral, so it was interesting to see familiar marine life against a more muted background. Needlefish were abundant, along with starfish and schools of sergeant majors and mullet. The brown boulders and sand provided camouflage for several pufferfish, but the striped king angelfish were easy to spot, as was a gorgeous yellow-and-black moorish idol.

Of course, we saw many fish we couldn’t readily identify—and would have seen even more if we’d been scuba diving. According to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, there are 6,000 catalogued species of fish in the Sea of Cortez, and as many more that have not been identified. Many species of fish and marine mammals are only found here, in what Jacques Cousteau called the “aquarium of the world.” Quite a few are endangered, and environment groups are working to protect them as travelers discover this remote marine sanctuary.

Back on board, we made a beeline for the ship library, a cozy alcove with lots of books on the Sea of Cortez, including fish finders and John Steinbeck’s account of his exploration of the bay. In 1940, right after he’d finished The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck and his marine biologist friend, Ed Ricketts, sailed the area studying the marine life. Sixty-five years later, their “Log of the Sea of Cortez” is used by scientists assessing the impact of fishing. The Loreto National Marine Park covers almost 800 square miles of the marine habitat, but that’s a small portion of the 68,000-square-mile bay.

The pleasant dining room on the Safari Endeavour
Stewards prepare the ship’s spacious dining room for lunch.

While we were studying fish, our friends from Phoenix, Bob and Marion, joined a group of passengers hiking along a ridge high above the beach. During cocktail time in the lounge we learned that their vantage point gave them a wonderful view of the ship as well as the salt pools behind the beach that were created ages ago by fishermen who used salt to preserve their catch.

When the Endeavor was repositioned from its summer duties in Alaska’s Glacier Bay to La Paz, the crew brought along Alaskan silver salmon, which we dined on tonight. Other options were roasted lamb loin or spanakopita (a Greek spinach, cheese, onion and herb pastry). Catherine, the Irish pastry chef, delighted us with tres leches cake for dessert at lunch and chai tea crème brulee at dinner. Early risers were discovering her delicious scones and muffins on the coffee bar in the lounge. Dieting would not be an option on this trip. We vowed to play harder to work off the calories.

Photos by Donnelle Oxley

November 8, 2015 






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