Monthly Archives: March 2012

From Bahia de Los Angeles to Laguna Ojo de Liebre

After leaving Bahia de Los Angeles, we headed off to Guerrero Negro to resupply on food and ice because we could not take any fresh produce across the border into Baja California Sur. In town we also stopped at a taco stand to eat. I ate five tacos, since we would not cook a large dinner that night, and I did not want to go to bed hungry. After our stop in town, we headed off into the desert to go to Ojo de Liebre, also known as Scammon’s Lagoon. After the 45-minute ride down the dusty road that wound its way through expansive commercial salt flats, in various stages of dehydration, the bumpy washboard road ended and we came to the lagoon itself. I was surprised at how large it really is. The water covered the whole horizon, and faint mountains could be seen in the distance. The landscape around the lagoon is flat. It is basically a desert, with a few short sand dunes and a kind of shrub that grows in the dry environment. However, in a few spots around the lagoon, there are little marshes that are inhabited by many birds, mostly seagulls that yell like an awkward teenager going through puberty with a kazoo lodged in his esophagus.

The day before, a whopping 2,700 whales were counted in the lagoon alone, a world record for a single area. Within the first five minutes, we saw at least 10 of the misty exhalations of the gigantic creatures, their great backs visible above the shimmering water. The sun glinted off of their great shiny mass like a little lighthouse, and if you were looking at the water often enough you could see when a whale appeared. The shiny mass would appear, spout some water, shine some more, then slowly sink below the surface.

It was the first time ever going out whale watching for me, and my first experience was incredible. There were 10 of us that piled into a little panga boat that was roughly 18 feet long, and headed out into the deeper waters of the lagoon. While traveling out into the bay, we saw many whales breaching, and blowing their heart shaped clouds of mist into the air. Almost immediately after we slowed down, a mother and her calf headed towards us and came up on my side of the boat. My first impression of the creatures, of course, was their sheer size. The calf was easily as long as 15 feet, and the mother was roughly twice the size of the boat. Her flippers were as large as dinner tables, and her tail was the size of two really large buff bodyguards melded together at the hip. The mother came up to me and turned sideways to get a good look at me, and I saw her big brown eye peering gently at me through the water. We looked at each other for a moment, then I held my hand out several inches above the water. She then rose up slowly and came up to my hand, then let me rest my hand on her massive snout. Meanwhile, the calf paid a visit to the people on the other side of the boat. She rubbed up against the side and allowed herself to be pet. Then she proceeded to hover a few inches below the surface and release a large blast of air through the water which showered us all in a salty mist, creating a rainbow around our boat. After the mother and the calf had gone away after playing with us for 10 minutes or so, several different pairs of whales came up to us. I will elaborate on that in my next blog, for I am running out of room for this blog. Today is Sunday, and we will leave for Asuncion on Tuesday. We will keep you all posted.

~Connor

March 11, 2012
Ojo de Liebre, “Scammon’s Lagoon”

We are about halfway through our trip, and about to say goodbye to the friends it seems as though we just welcomed into our group. We arrived at Ojo de Liebre, “Scammon’s Lagoon” a few days ago with the extra additions of Chris, Janet, Alex and Karen. They are lovely additions, but I have been thinking a lot about the people in my life who aren’t here, what they are doing and how hard and odd it is to not be in contact with them, in this day of instant gratification communication.

I feel like a sailor in the time of Charles Scammon, a whaler we have been learning about while we are in this lagoon named after him, seeing these massive creatures he helped hunt almost to extinction. In the 1800s, men would leave for a tour on a ship and be gone for six months or a year or four. Here I am, after two weeks of no internet, email, phone and feeling so isolated from my people and from current events at large. It is both liberating and disturbing.

The crew we have here is wonderful and great, however, and the students have stepped into more leadership roles for meal prep and clean up, which makes my life easier. It has been grand having Chris and Janet with us and hearing their stories about when they were teenagers/twenty-somethings. It will be very sad to say goodbye to them on Tuesday, but we have already planted the idea for a house party when we’re all back in Nevada City.

Been talking a lot about what I’m doing after this job ends, which is not very much living in the moment (a philosophy we have been discussing quite a bit here), but I think I have just come to terms with the fact that I like to think about what comes next. I tell myself it’s important to approach life this way especially when it comes to food – you have to plant the seed early for it to grow and fruit, and you have to plan your meals in advance so it’s ready when you want to eat. It is also easier to reach a zen state about the sand in my sleeping bag and the dirt encrusted into my clothes when I can think of a time when I am back in my bed and have a washing machine available.

Waking up to the beach and the sun and the water is lovely though, and worth a little inconvenience. As I was walking back to my tent this evening in my skirt flowing in the breeze and my bare feet digging into the sand, I felt grounded in a way that you can’t get bundled up against the elements and everywhere covered in snow. I do love snow, but this is nice too.

~Sarah

Laguna Ojo de Liebre: Interactions with The Gray Whale

My experience with the whales is somewhat different from the others on this trip. I see the pride that Mexico has for these creatures, and it’s hard for me not to feel that way because I am Mexican. On our first trip out to the lagoon I thought a lot about a concept that Mike presented to us in Bahia de Los Angeles: that we as the human species have recently become accustomed to looking at “things”- and by things I mean nature and objects that come from nature – and finding a use for them in our lives. From looking at paper and thinking, “This came from Staples,” to looking at a shell and thinking, ”Oh, this would look great on my shelf back home.” When Mike presented this subject his words resonated with me, and when I was listening to him I knew that I didn’t feel this way. I felt the exact opposite, I felt that nature is its own being and we are a part of it. I realized that this process of looking at nature and finding a human use for it is something I disagreed with. On the little boat in the lagoon I kept connecting this concept to the whales and telling myself, “Yes these are magnificent and beautiful creatures, but they aren’t here to be watched. In fact we are still hunting them, just not as food for our stomachs, but as a sight for our eyes.” So with this thought arose my question: Why am I watching them?

We are watching these whales and the system and economy in Ojo de Liebre to learn from them. We are watching to learn their story and how they were hunted nearly to extinction and how they came back. The story they tell is amazing, and our mission is to learn from it and help others to do the same. More specifically, our mission at the moment is to shoot a movie to tell others about the gray whale and then to tie it back to other ecological problems. We endeavor to teach others how to help, similar to the way people helped in bringing the gray whale back from the brink of extinction.

Which brings me back to my role and why am I watching these whales: everyday human curiosity. The experience gave me a sense of what role I play in this large world, where all pieces, big or small, play a vital role.

~Max

We have been on the road for over two weeks now. Our systems are honed, our approach lithe. Our numbers ever expanding and contracting, we are surmounting language barriers, climbing mountains, confronting our past, learning for a future, and sharing the massive experience of a gray whale interaction.

It is a joy working with the students, fleshing out their individual interests in this rich environment. Each personality requires different nourishment at different times, and I often find myself on tasks ranging from helping organize a hike in the desert to delivering a philosophy lesson on a sun-soaked beach, with shades of kitchen help and photo management in between. Their openness and interest in the world around them makes these mergers of and transitions between roles natural.

If nothing else, this experience shows how valuable it is to be aware of the knowledge that we all hold, for being so gives us the opportunity to invest in the information exchange that makes up communities and cultures. We truly are creating a community here, and every adventure serves to educate and strengthen our personal identity within this group and the Earth society at large.

~Mike

Meeting the Whales

The last time I went whale watching (in Cape Cod, Massachusetts) the highlights were seeing a whale and getting a great picture of a whale breeching. This time, the excitement comes in a more spiritual way. I feel my body relax as the huge mass of a whale swims just millimeters away from the boat. I smile on the inside when I feel the cold moist skin of a whale and when I watch a mama and calf move through the water together. I already forget what it is like seeing the first whale in Scammon’s Lagoon. A whale blow in the distance quickly becomes a common sight; in every direction there are spurts of water returning slowly to the ocean. The ride back to land is serene.

The Fascination of Whales: Our Second Meeting

Our second time whale watching was special. I feel like it is the type of thing that one could do countless times without the excitement level lowering. One whale calf visited our boat for quite a while and was not shy about showing us its tricks. It kept appearing even after the lanchero relocated the boat. The scar on its tail and its personality were how I could tell that it was the same one. It was a spinner; like a young child spinning till they get so dizzy they fall down—except this was a whale calf!

It was interesting to see how rapidly my goals for whale watching changed. Climbing in the boat I was open-minded and did not have any specific expectations. Part of me is now wondering if I went into the experience with an open mind so that I would not get disappointed, or simply because I had to see a whale to believe the stories I had heard. As soon as the first whale visited our boat, I knew I was going to touch one. A particular whale and I had a close connection and exchange. It appeared gracefully, lifting its head next to me where I sat in the boat. “Besalo, besalo!” came from the back of the boat where the lanchero stood. Because of the lanchero’s hand gestures, I figured that he was saying “kiss it, kiss it!” By the time the thought registered in my head, the mama whale started lowering her body. I will not be sad or disappointed if it doesn’t happen, but I would be so delighted if I do get to kiss a whale before leaving here. How cool would that be—to kiss a whale?

~Kiera

We’re here in the lagoon, which stretches out around our campsite, pristine and flat. The first two days we took advantage of the still waters, still skies, and all-consuming sunshine to go out on the boats. The whales were immense: immensely strange, immensely interactive, immensely beautiful, immense in size. As such, there’s an awful lot of mental processing to be done that I can’t even truly approach yet. There’s much to take in here and so many ways of understanding it all. Luckily, the students have their many pursuits and studies, and, through working with them, I learn too. Connor is developing his theory of the soul and explains to us how it applies to the whales. After her first time out bird-watching with Janet, Kiera is becoming an avid ornithologist. In fact, she, Janet, and Lily are sitting beside me at this moment using Sibley to ID the birds they saw in the marsh yesterday. I’m trying to absorb species characteristics through osmosis. With Max, I’ve been revisiting how to structure a proper research essay. He is composing a piece on Mexico’s Ejido system using primary sources and is off at this moment interviewing a lanchero who lives in the Ejido. Lily is our resource on whale biology through the book and in-person investigation she’s been doing. She’s also keeping a lovely field journal of the flora and fauna at our fingertips here and in all the locations we’ve visited on this adventure.

Beyond the staff and student community we’ve built, we are now lucky to be sharing our meals, explorations, and discussions with an extended group of adults, young and old. It’s as wonderful for the staff as it is for the students to hear each person’s story of reaching this point in his/her life, both professionally and personally. I have been learning about the environmental history of this lagoon, and I enjoy hearing too about the individual histories of the people who find themselves seated on the dunes as a community today. Chris mentioned how formative having a mentor was in his young life. Mentorship takes many forms, and I feel lucky to have gained the mentorship of each person here. I hope that in turn I can provide this to the students.

~Chrissie

 

Gallery

Selection of Photos

This gallery contains 42 photos.

Here are some photos I picked out to show everyone our Baja trip so far.  As you will see below, the photos start with us crossing the border and heading south into Baja California, Mexico.  Our many stops and adventures … Continue reading

The First Week

Since my last blog entry, we have been doing many, many activities. It would be impossible for me to describe all of them in detail, so I will do my best to summarize. While at Synergia we were mostly getting ready for Baja, which consisted of preparing the trailer for the trip. We installed the solar panel on the roof and hooked up the wiring to the batteries, packed food, kitchen supplies, tools, camera equipment, and our personal gear so that everything would fit somewhat neatly into the small space. In addition, we packed teas and dried fruit as gifts for the people in Baja that we would be staying with.

We spent much time learning how to use the camera equipment properly, as well as the video, photo, and audio editing software. Any free time was spent filming or recording other people as they went around their tasks of getting ready for the trip. Our day of departure was scheduled a day later than we had planned on, so the hustle and bustle of the final push of packing ended; we had a day to finish packing personal items, and to get our wits about us. The next morning we got up around 4:30, packed the rest of our gear up into the van, and headed out at 5:30.

The ride in the van was long, but not unbearable. We crossed the border into Mexico without incident or too long of a wait, which was surprising because a large 15-passenger van and a trailer could seem suspicious. The trip deeper into Mexico included frequent stops to get tacos or tortillas, all fresh out of the oven, and we could have as many as we wanted so we did not go hungry.

I was struck by the landscape change; it was not what I had expected. It is very dry, but the hills are green with cacti and other various forms of unusual plant life. The housing developments consisted of hillsides that were covered with thousands of little houses of all different shapes and sizes. There were houses that had just been built, or were still in construction, right next to houses that were jury-rigged out of random boards or anything else they could use to assemble a livable home out of. There was a lot of graffiti on almost every wall, however, it added lots of color to the scene. Instead of a large sign in front of a shop, the shops all have entire walls painted colorfully to advertise what they are selling.

The first night in Baja we went to a birthday party of a man named Adrian, the husband of a woman who will be joining us in Scammon’s Lagoon. The party took place in a little “Man Cave” that consisted of a jury-rigged garage with two sliding glass doors and three TV’s, and of 7 or 8 wrinkly beer drinking men, younger sons and relatives. Every one of them was extremely gracious to us, and offered us anything they could give. We had a barbecue, which consisted of Carne Asada, grilled chicken, and various other forms of toppings, most of which had some sort of pepper in them. The meal was very good despite this fact (I’m not a big spice guy) as all genuine Mexican food is in my experience.

That night, it started raining cats and dogs, so we stayed at a little hotel not far away from said Man Cave, then headed out for Bahia De Los Angeles, a little town with only 300 residents mas o menos, farther down the coast. So far we have been here in Mexico for roughly a week, most of our time spent here in Bahia. Yesterday a small group of us hiked to the top of a mountain, Serra Santa Ana, overlooking all of Bahia De Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. It consisted of a winding trail of switchbacks going up along the ridge of the mountain, then turned into a climb over boulder fields and a landscape of funny looking trees and jumping choyas*. It was fairly steep, and the whole endeavor took about 8 hours, but the view was absolutely breathtaking. Photos of the hike are included. We came home to a delicious dinner, and then I went to bed in our palapa on the beach.

This trip has been quite exiting for me, since I have never been out of the United States for more than a day before. The people here are all extremely nice, they offer us anything they can, and they have a very strong culture. They are very eager to tell us about themselves and their families, and want to know about ours as well. I look forward greatly to spending the rest of the month here.

*Jumping choyas are a form of cacti that have many many blonde thorns that break off in little balls once they get dry enough. If you step on one or brush up against one, they stick to you. They are quite sharp and a royal pain-in-whatever-part-of-your-body-you-use-to-try-to-unstick-them-with.

~Connor

Stopping at a Roadside Fruit Stand

On our third full day of our trip, we stopped at a fruit stand to fill our bags with fresh produce. One of the sellers stepped aside for a moment and returned with a beautiful fruit arrangement. The slices of jicama, cucumber, mango, and coconut made our mouths water as they lay together in the bowl, which, I should mention, was a fresh coconut with all layers still intact! He squeezed the juice from two limes over the fruit and sprinkled Tajin (a combination of chili, salt, and citrus), adding a punch of flavor and a dash of decoration. We gathered around the beautiful treat and ate excitedly, making faces of pure satisfaction as the cool yet spicy deliciousness slid down our throats.

Just as we were about to pull away a man came up to the driver’s window speaking Spanish and pointing to the rear of the van. I assumed that he was asking about the Finding the Good Traveling Semester Program magnetic sign as many others had. It turned out he was driving the same van as ours but had different tires and was asking about our set-up. As we pulled away from the dirt shoulder, I realized that interactions so far in the Mexican culture are different from what I have witnessed in the United States. People seem less afraid of each other here. If someone is curious about something or wants to start a conversation, they do just that.

The sun was setting as we drove the last few hours to our campground in Bahia de Los Angeles. One of the many times I gazed out the dirty van window to see the setting sun, I noticed the colors in the sky, and I realized something about myself. I have yet to be able to put it into words, even in my journal. I can’t quite even define it in my head. The desert is so special and unique. I had never been to a desert before. I am glad that it has become part of my life, and I am curious what part it will play in my future.

So much has happened since we left Nevada City!

Expecta mi proximo blog que este escribido en espanol.

~Kiera

Falling asleep to the soft sound of the rippling waves gently lapping the shore; waking up with the birds and orange sky just after sunrise; breathing the fresh air; feeling the sand between my toes; eating ripe, delicious fruits and vegetables from local markets: I still can hardly believe where I am!

Warm tortillas smothered with butter from the tortilleria; carne asada tacos cooked and made right in front of us; coconuts cut and served with a straw on the side of the road: couldn’t get much better if you ask me. I wish you were all here to enjoy it with us.

I’m currently sitting in my palapa, looking out into the ocean only 20 or so feet away. The mountains and islands are hazed out by mist, and the beautiful colours of the sunset are dancing across the sky. I just can’t believe how beautiful our Mother Earth is! It blows my mind everyday…

~Lily

So here I am in Baja California, in Bahia de Los Angeles, next to a beach in a palapa and on a hammock. It’s so easy right now to let the peaceful waves wash away the worries, stress and troubles back in the U.S. Right here, right now in this palapa, I am at peace. When I re-enter my community it’ll be like I had never left, my thoughts had never drifted way, my being never left the sandy ground. Immediately the gravity starts to dawn as I see their faces again, and… there I am. The stress of high school, being in my place, doing my job, and keeping up with their expectations. It’s a dance and I step to the beat as well as I can.

~Max

Sitting on the beach with the ocean just a few feet away, I realize that we have officially been in Mexico for over a week now. It feels like we’ve always been here and will always be here, but when I think about it I sometimes wonder how we’re going to do everything we came here to do. Yesterday it took me all afternoon to write two letters, but I know that somehow we’re going to make an entire movie while we are here.

That’s not to say we haven’t been busy. On our way to Bahia we stopped at an unstaffed “roadside attraction” to visit 10,000 year old cave paintings; our third night here we listened to the Gorillaz at a Mexican man’s 21st birthday party; and every day we wake up to the sun rising over the ocean and sand everywhere (thus far a not unenjoyable experience, but I don’t want to speak too soon and jinx myself).

My days mostly revolve around figuring out how to keep 12 people well-fed and happy, a dance that involves making our produce last until the next opportunity to resupply but also eating it before it molds in this heat. Interspersed between one meal’s prep and clean-up and the next are shell-scouting expeditions, conversation about how we as humans tend to only value nature as it is useful to us (my favorite phrase so far: “We are seduced by the cleverness of our own abstractions”), and fumbling attempts at learning Spanish, which continue to be hobbled by my high school German wanting to come out instead.

I feel pretty settled into this campsite, with our luxurious palapas, cabana, propane stove, sinks with running water, and outhouse. At the same time I know that while it feels like this is the only place that exists in the world, in a few days we’ll leave for Scammon’s Lagoon and the next stage of the journey. I wonder how I’ll continue to feed everyone and what unexpected things may happen.

~Sarah