Archive for March, 2009

Cuetzalan.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Two weeks after I went to San Ignacio bay, I ended up in Cuetzalan, high up in the mountains in Puebla. It was such a contrast! Here, everything was green, full of life, of water, vegetation… And that all these wonders and differences fit in the same planet never cease to amaze me.

.
[]
.
We were there for three days. It was always foggy, so much so that sometimes you couldn’t see two meters ahead of you. And with a light and endless rain.
.
.
.

Its original name was Quetzalan, place of the quetzal —a beautiful tropical bird with long emmerald green feathers on its tail—. But there are no more quetzals in the area. That’s such a pity.

Around 1939, the new Goverment Building was built copying, practically, the temple of Sain John’s in Rome… but topping it with a statue of Cuauhtémoc, our last Aztec emperor. You gotta love that! There you go, conquistadores!

: )
.
.
.
[]
.

.
[]
.
The main church is Saint Francis Parish. Right in front of it, the 30 m high pole —made of one tree trunk— from where the four flyers complete thirteen turns until they reach the floor, keeping alive an ancient prehispanic tradition.
.
.
.
[]
.
This rope was around the pole.
.
.
.
[]
.

.
[]
.
I loved the name of this little shop: The fifteen letters (characters). The shop girl didn’t know why that was its name but it might as well. Now I can use my imagination to come up with reasons why.
.
.
.
[]
.
Cuetzalan is surrounded by rivers, waterfalls and caves.
.
.
.
[]

La Gloria (The Glory) waterfall.

.
.


..
[]
.

.
[]
.
We were having breakfast in the hotel we stayed in and I looked outside the window. I loved the bright red when everything seemed so gray.
.
.
.
[]
.
Fog was incredible dense.
.
.

.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.

We visited a botanic garden called Xoxoctic, which means “green” in the nahuatl the indigenous people of Cuetzalan speak. They plant organic coffee and took us for a tour to see different species of plants and flowers —including several orchids.

The place was beautiful and you could tell the respect they felt for the environment.
.
.
.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.
If there’s something I’m afraid of it’s spiders, and in Xoxoctic, and in Cuetzalan, in general, there were spiderwebs everywhere. However, a year ago I edited and completed an article on spiders for National Geographic Kids magazine, and ever since I find them more likeable. But I’m still scared out of my witts by them.
.
.
.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.
This orchid reminded me of Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger. It does look like him, doesn’t it?
.
.

.
[]
.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]
.

.

.

[]
.

.

.
[]
.

.
.
[]
.
Some walls in the cemmetery had this kind of saltpetre. It always formed amazing patterns and textures.
.
.
.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.

New post in english.
.
.

.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.

.

.
[]
.
The reflection of Cuetzalan on an SUV.
.
.
.
[]
.
Where does Nature find its inspiration for these colours, textures and shapes? What’s the evolutive reason for this plant to have so many different things that must have a very high cost, genetically speaking?
.
.

.
[]
.
Pasmas are tree-like ferns that haven’t changed almost at all in 300 million years. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d ran into a dinosaur walking around them and the araucarias, an also prehistoric tree of which there are loads in this area.
.
.

San Ignacio Bay.

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

From February 6th to 8th I went to Laguna San Ignacio, in Baja California, México. I think only the Galapago Islands would’ve been a better place to be in the month when we celebrated Darwin’s 200 birthday. I think I’m Darwin’s biggest fan.

Every step, every glance I took, every breath, every discovery made me feel the way he must’ve felt when he first saw the many shapes living organisms take in a tiny piece of land. The feeling was so strong that at times I felt I was going tu burst. And looking at all that I couldn’t help to marvel at how great, majesti, impressive and wonderful is each life form, and how amazing it is that from arbitrary mutations, chance, really, that adapt better to their surroundings and through millions of years, simple life forms evolved into beigns so spectacular and almost perfec —”almost” just because, given the right conditions, many of them will continue in their path of evolution.

We crossed Sea of Cortes (Baja California Gulf) in a small airplaine and here we were entering Baja California land. It’s majestic.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

The little village close to our camp was very much like this one. There was nothing but desert all around, and still, people there are finding ways to make a living that are creative, productive and eco-friendly. This trip was a life experience I will always treassure.

.

.

.

[]

.

We landed in a sand airstrip and this was the airport. Beautiful, isn’t it?

.

.

.

[]

.

When we got to the camp, we just left our bag and left immediately to go whale-watching, which was perfect because I LOVE whales. They make me feel such tenderness I sometimes think I can’t contain it.

When whales come out like this, vertically, fishermen call them “spies”.

.

.

.

[]

.



.

[]

.

Whales like jumping out of the water. Is it because they are happy? I know I was. The usually do it two or three times in a row, as long as they don’t breathe out.

.

.


.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

This one came out right next to us and showed us its blowholes.

.

.

.

[]

.

February is mating time and our guide joked saying even when they exhaled the water came out heart-shapped. Cute.

.

.

.

[]

.

There were times when there were whales breathing all around us. Sometimes I saw up to eight at the same time, and the sensation of being surrounded by them created a feeling of absolute happiness, a perfect moment, an instant when everything, and I mean everything, makes sense.

.

.

.

[]

.

This one produced a little rainbow.

.

.

.

[]

.

Whales get their tail out to push themselves downwards to greater depths.

.

.

.

[]

.

Perhaps the pelikan was seeing who was faster.

.

.

.

[]

.

Did I mention it was mating season? Our guide told us often two and even three males try to mate with a willing female. I guess she-whales know what they’re doing, after all, a 20 000 km trip is a long way and not getting pregnant would be a reproductive waste of a trip. And yes, that pink thing there is the male’s pennis

.

.

.

[]

.

And there were two males indeed…

.

.

.

[]

.

This pelikan was clever enough not to interrupt. We did the same and turned to another direction to give the lovers enough space to do their thing.

.

.


.

[]

.

Back to Kuyimá, our camp, the tide was low and we walked on sand and water that was about two inches deep (five centimeters) and completely clear.

The flow of the sea created beautiful patterns, like the one below.

.

.

.

[]

.

I took the photos below walking on the marsh.

.

.

.

[]

.

I thought these sea snails were cute until I saw how voracious they are.

.

.

.

[]

.

I guess this is a dolphin’s vertebrae, but since Nature wastes nothing, it’s become a small ecosystem on its own.

.

.

.

[]

.

Look at how shallow it was! And I’d never found a live sea star like this one. I’d only found sand dollars before, so I was extremely excited!

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

Then I saw another one. Several sea snails were moving towards it.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

Another sea star, more sea snails.

.

.

.

[]

.

Later on I found out why sea snails moved toward  sea stars: they had to gather to eat them! I know it’s the law of Nature and food chain, but those sea snails stopped being cute to me.

.

.

.

[]

.

After a while, there was nothing left, as if the sea star had never existed.

.

.


.

[]

.

I kept on walking and I found these algae that looks like wheat, or like moths’ antennas, and that moved gently with the tender flow of the water.

.

.

.

[]

.

My attention was drawn to everything, I couldn’t believe how much life there was in such a small area and with the sea being so shallow. I touched everything, looking at it from every side. I found everything amazing. It was like diving… without getting wet above my ankles.

This looks like a heavy rock, perhaps, but it was a very light sea sponge.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

These sea snails, the size of half a fist, looked like ugly stones until you turned them around. Then you realized that only its shell was ugly, but the animal was beautiful. Some were orange, some emmerald green and other turquoise blue.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

I wonder what this sea star was doing..

.

.

.

[]

.

Wherever I looked I found something beautiful.

.

.

.

[]

.

Whether I looked down…

.

.

.

[]

.

or up.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.


.

[]

.

To San Ignacio bay arrive several species of migratory birds to spend the winter, such as these.

.

.


.

[]

.

.

[]

.

Some species look very similar, but you can tell them appart by the shape ot their beak, which can be straight, gay (kidding!), flat, curve upwards or downwards, for instance, depending on their diet.

.

.

.

[]

.

I don’t think this octopus was more than 15 cm (six nches) long, but it tried to push me away by throwing water at me. I think the little fellow felt like a wild beast!

Of course, I was delighted because I had never seen an octopus in its habitat and I thought he was very cute.

.

.

.

[]

.

To the right of its eye you can see the syphon.

.

.


.

[]

.

And later, another octopus. It wasn’t more than six centimeters long (2.3 inches).

.

.



.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

I’d never been in a place where there were so many sea shells. All so beautiful! When I was a kid, I collected sea shells so I recognized many different species. I brought six or seven home, but there were so many I could’ve started a new collection right there.

.

[]

.

Another one of those ugly-beautiful sea snails.

.

.

.

[]

.

Let’s get closer…

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

And as I said, there was beauty everywhere I looked.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

A sea star on a sea sponge… SpongeBob and Patrick Star? I was the editor-in-chief for Nick magazine Mexico until last December, when it was closed due to, mostly, the current economic situation. I loved making that magazine. My team, i. e., Hec and me, we produced about 85% of its content and  we were extremely proud of it. It was a clever, original and fun magazine for cool kids. I always said SpongeBob supported me.

.

[]

.

Many people don’t like sea gulls. I love them and I think they are gorgeous.

.

.

.

[]

.

This little guy was looking for dinner.

.

.


.

[]

.

So did they.

.

.

.

[]

.

While these sea gulls had found a perfect place to enjoy the sunset.

.

.

.

[]

.

This was the lobby, kitchen and eating hall of Kuyimá, our camp. In one of those bike I rode some desert roads, found a sea turtle’s skull and crashed against a sand dune.

: )

.

.


.

[]

.

The only wat to have electricity here is by having an eolic generator, like this one, and solar pannels. At 10 o’clock it’s lights-out.

.

.



.

[]

.

And there you enjoy this kind of sunset, a lonely sea gull flying on the horizon to make the shot perfect.

.

.

.

[]

.

These are Kuyimá’s cabins. All overlook the bay. At night, coyotes make it all the way here, so you’d better not leave your shoes out. I loved that!

.

.

.

[]

.

Every cabin has the name of a species that lives in San Ignacio bay. This was mine and it was called ibis.

.

.

.

[]

.

It was really confy.

.

.

.

[]

.

And it was right next to the sea, with a beautiful view.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

See how beautiful sea gulls are? I’ve asked Crusli to spread my ashes either where there are whales and sea gulls or at the mountain.

.

.

.

[]

.

This, about 100 m away from our camp.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

I think it’s the skeleton of a baby whale, but this piece is puzzling because when I turned it over…

.

.

.

[]

.

It had what seemed to me like dental cavities (gray whales, of course, don’t have teeth), so I believe it’s a bottle-nosed dolphin’s skull and that it has nothing to do with the rest of the bones. I wish I’d had more time to analize it better.

.

.

.

[]

.

The skeleton was too long and wide to be a dolphin’s. I sure felt like a paleonthologist finding a dino!

.

.

.

[]

.

After a sand dune, my presence scared this pelikan and those other birds.

.

.

.

[]

.

In this picture there are five sea gulls, three pelikans (the brown one is a baby), and dozens of other birds of a species I don’t know.

.

.

.

[]

.

Next day we went back whale-watching, though the first animals we saw were these bottle-nosed dolphins merrily jumping out of the water.

Whale-watching is done in a small area of the bay, right where it meets the open sea, and there cannot be more than twelve boats at the same time. Besides, every boat is limited to 90 minutes so every boatman has a chance to make money for the day.

It hardly ever rains there, but it did two out of the three days I was there, which means my camera, lenses, memory cards and backpack were almost always inside plastic bags, and every shot was stressful because I worried that mmy camera would get wet.

.

.

.

[]

.

But soon enough, whales made my stress go away and nothing but them mattered to me.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

And look: they get close enough to the boats to be petted as if they were puppies!

.

[]

.

This one really put on a good show for the people in that boat! I wish I’d been there.

.

.


.

[]

.

This is a mother with its baby and they swam along our boat for a while.

.

.

.

[]

.

This is the baby. It doesn’t have barnacles on its body yet.

.

.


.

[]

.

.

[]

.

This whale is smiling at me. Look at its eye!

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.


.

[]

.

And when we got back, I walked through the marsh again and found this sea shell that looked as if it wanted to fly away.

.

[]

.

There’s manglar in San Ignacio, and manglar conservation iss extremely important for the reporduction and habitat of fish, plankton, sea birds, insects and reptiles.

The last morning we kayaked through them, and later on we went in on the boat before whale-watching.

This cormoran takes off from the water.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

A blue crane flies in the manglar area.

Manglars are spectacular: they have a desalinization system for sea water and “sacrificial” leaves. A way of putting it is to say that they “send” the salt to those leaves, that turn yellow, orange, red and then die, but the rest of the bush survives.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

In the manglar, this spiderweb with the stranger spiders I’ve ever seen: they were very red, very fat and their legs were extremely short.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

A group of cormorans.

.

.

.

[]

.

Can you spot the manglar sparrow?

.

.

.

[]

.

Another cormoran.

.

.

.

[]

.

And a white crane.

.

.

.

[]

.

From left to right, the third cormoran had white feathers on both sides of its head. It looked so handsome!

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

And there it goes…

.

[]

.

And another one.

This is one of my favourite shots from that trip.

.

[]

.


And I guess I was finding whales even in the clouds, but I could swear there’s a dorsal fin to the left and the tail coming out to the right.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

Gray whales reproduce in three bays on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula, all of them in the border between Baja South and Baja North: Magdalena, Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio.

Up until the end of the 70s, fishermen called them “devil fish” and were terrified by them. Whenever one approached their boat, they would make loads of noise to scare them away. This changed when one of them, called Pachico Mayoral, dared to touch a mother that kept approaching his boat with her baby and he realized the cetacea meant no harm to him. He still lives by the bay. We saw his home. It was very poor but you could tell there was a whole life story in it.

Nowadays, all three bays are protected areas and it’s forbidden to bother or harm the whales, and there’s no hunting them (learn, Canada, Norway and Japan!)

Gray whales are the only species of the genus Eschrichtius, which is the only genus of the Eschrichtiidae family. They feed by filtration, which means the fill their mouth with what they find at the bottom of the sea, filter out the water and eat whatever gets trapped in their “beard”: plankton, small mollusks, etc. They are 16 m long, weight 35 tons and live about 50 years.


.

[]

.

This is the village closer to Kuyimá, the camp where we stayed. It seemed impossible that in a place where there’s nothing but desert people not only find how to survive, but they live in such a colurful way.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

We also visited the natural desalinization area. It’s small but impressive: walking there made you think you were walking on a frozen lake somewhere in Alaska, not the desert.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

This is the group I travelled with. I got invited because I’m the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Kids Latin America and last year Mattel launched a campaign to protect a mexican endangered species with its Max Steel line. Kids had to vote in their site whether they wanted Max Steel to protect the jaguar, the puma or the gray whale. The whale won. I ran the calling in the magazine because I thought it was a great way of getting kids involved in conservation (Max Steel is an action figure known by most Mexican boys who always protects the environment). What Mattel is doing is donating funds to Pronatura, a Mexican non-lucrative organization that protects the environment so it works with the people from San Ignacio in programs to protect the area. Gray whales are an “umbrella” species, which means that by protecting their habitat, loads of other species also get protected, like migratory birds, manglars, sea turtles, etc.

.

.

.

[]

.

Before we took the small airplane that flew us to Hermosillo, we went to a thorny woods, i.e., a place with loads of cacti.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

This cactus’ “skeleton” looks like a dragon.

.

.

.

[]

.

The thorny woods.

.

.

.

[]

.

The “skeleton” of a saguaro cactus.

.

.

.

[]

.

A close-up to a saguaro that was dying.

.

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

.

[]

.

The small plane that took us to Hermosillo. From there we flew to Mexico City.

.

.

.

[]

.

And that’s my shadow. I overexposed the image intentionally.

.

.

.

[]

.

From the air, a spectacular view.

.

.

.

[]

.

And the last picture I took was from the plane that flew us to Mexico City: A full Moon from the window. What a perfect way to end a perfect life-changing trip.