“Here they come!” Racing toward us is a huge pod of dolphins eager to ride the bow waves, their dorsal fins slicing through the water like hot knives through butter.
Propelled by the swell, they weave in and around each other with the deftness of a con man’s shell game. One cheeky dolphin performs a logroll then disappears beneath the waves. “Weeeeee!” I squeal to myself as he spins, imagining what he might be thinking.
I’m on the Safari Endeavor, a small cruise ship of 88 passengers, exploring the Sea of Cortez–also known as the Bay of California–a sliver of ocean between the Baja California peninsula and Mexico’s mainland. Renowned for its beauty, the Sea of Cortez is a stunning juxtaposition of blue-green water and arid volcanic landscapes. Cactus and coral, Sedona and sea.
Our dolphin friends are one of 32 marine mammal species in this fertile region along with 170 bird species and 3000 invertebrates. Jacques Cousteau, inspired by its remarkable biodiversity, dubbed it “The world’s aquarium.”
An UnCruise Adventure
I have come for an UnCruise Adventure, a small boat cruise offering nature and marine life excursions, remote locations rather than bustling ports, and flexibility over a set schedule. According to J.P. the Expedition Team Leader, our itinerary is “subject to weather, whim, and whales.”
Every morning, I rise early to catch the sunrise, a ritual I share with other passengers and Jeremy, an UnCruise guide who’s been sailing the Sea of Cortez for seven years. I love the serenity of the dawn when the only sound you can hear is the gentle lapping of water against the hull and the faint cries of seabirds.
On my way, I swing by the forward lounge where cereal and other light bites are served for early risers (breakfast is at 7:30 am) but most people b-line for the coffee. I grab a mug of hot chocolate and make my way to the 300-deck where there is a balcony and I wait for the spectacle to begin.
Jeremey and I usually see each other on the 300 deck near the stern. When I have a question, he like the rest of the crew is friendly, attentive, and enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge of the flora and fauna, even though he must repeat himself a million times a season.
After breakfast, I check the bulletin board to see what time my activities begin. Every evening, J.P. describes where we’ll be the next day and the excursions we’ll have to choose from. We hike, kayak, and snorkel in small guided groups, or depending on the location, something unique to the area.
Riding Burros on Agua Verde
Case in point, a burro ride around Bahia Agua Verde (the Bay of Green Water), 105 miles north of La Paz, where our journey began. In truth, our mounts are mules, but as one person mused “mule ride” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
The “burros” are owned by the Romero family, authentic rancheros from Rancho San Cosme, 12 miles north of the Agua Verde. Every Sunday, they leave their homes and ride all day to meet the Safari Endeavor and her passengers on Monday morning.
Historically, the family raised used to raise cattle, but years ago a prolonged drought devastated their livestock and they began to provide burro rides to travelers. The family and UnCruise have a strong relationship built over 15 years, and it’s evident by the warm greetings there is genuine affection.
Martine Romero pairs me with Bellasia, a mid-sized mule with large floppy ears (even for a mule). I settle comfortably into the handmade western saddle and not before long we’re underway. We begin by climbing an escarpment overlooking the ocean. Kayakers in the distance remind me of candy sprinkles floating on the water; the ship, a small toy I could cradle in my hand.
The ride is a little over an hour and a laid-back affair with beautiful rugged desert views. We amble along the water’s edge, through a tiny palm treed oasis, and negotiate a few steep hills (expertly maneuvered by my sure-footed steed). All in all, it’s a lovely way to start the day.
Kayaking Agua Verde
When the afternoon rolls around, I am one of the candy sprinkles on the water, sharing a double kayak with another solo traveler named Nancy.
Mark, our naturalist, and a former 5th and 6th-grade science teacher, asks us to stay within the safety of the bay due to strong winds. Neither of us being experienced kayakers, we are happy to paddle about enjoying the fresh air and listen to Mark wax poetic about the various seabirds flying overhead.
Fire in the Sky
Fresh from a shower, I head to cocktails. It’s a nightly 5:30 pm tradition usually held in the forward lounge, but tonight we’re meeting on the top deck. As twilight nears we nibble on Mediterranean-style hors d’ oeuvres with fresh red-pepper hummus, chili-dusted baked pita slices, and chicken satay.
At first, the twilight is unremarkable. But Mother Nature, it seems, is determined to astonish us by turning the world to fire with an epic mix of clouds, red rocks, and dazzling reflections.
One by one, we grab our phones and cameras. It’s funny, one minute, we’re chatty Cathies, but now we stare in relative silence, thoroughly mesmerized by the spectacular scene.
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