Saturday, August 28, 2010

La Paz

We took the bus to La Paz this morning - about a five hour ride. The bus was mostly empty which was nice. People are surprised that we're taking the bus, but it's not a problem. The buses are good and the bus stations are respectable. It doesn't seem any worse than taking the bus in Canada. (Not that most people do that either.)

We checked into Casa Tuscany, the B&B where we're staying in La Paz. It was recommended by another place we'd tried that was full. It seems very nice. We're in the Romeo & Juliet room (that was all they had available, honest) Nice courtyard and flowering plants and trees. Even a hummingbird feeder.

It doesn't seem quite so hot here and it even rained a bit this afternoon. But La Paz seems too much like a big city after Loreto - we passed the Walmart and Sears and Applebees restaurant.

We asked for a recommendation for supper and they suggested Tres Virgenes. We ate there the last time we were in La Paz (4 or 5 years ago) and liked it. But we weren't vegetarian then, so we'll have to see what they have. We can usually find something, even if it's just salads and appetizers.

Right now we're sitting in Cafe Exquisito, on the malecon with a view of the ocean. And free wifi :-)

Tomorrow we take the bus to San Jose del Cabo (the old town near Cabo San Lucas) and from there a shuttle to Cabo Pulmo for more diving. It is the only spot in Baja with a hard coral reef (as opposed to all the soft corals we've been seeing) so we want to check it out.

Hurricane Frank has been threatening Baja and might interfere with the diving but it appears to be weakening so hopefully we'll be ok.

We're not expecting to have Internet at Cabo Pulmo (there's not much there) so probably no photos or blog posts this week.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Baja 2010 #4

[Shelley] Just Andrew and I diving today so Raphael decided we needed a challenge. We gave him a challenge too -- 5 days of dolphins and a sea turtle. He delivered on every one!

Water was a bit rough so had to all get in at once and immediately get over to anchor line. Thanks goodness for long arms that reached over to grab my hand! Deep dive of 30 m, a bit of swimming involved but well worth it. Several huge groupers and amazing corals on a colorful wall plus the usual suspects.

When we got out after first dive Raphael claimed to have heard dolphins while we were under water. Ya right, I thought. But then Daniel drove us straight over to a small pod of them!

Second dive again started off challenging. Raphael said we'd see a turtle on this dive. Again I thought, ya right! But within minutes we came across a humongous black sea turtle, probably 150 lbs.  Had barnacles growing on him so has been around for a while. Saw more eels, a Sedna nudibranch, and a bullseye manta.

On the boat ride back to Loreto we really got the dolphin show and Andrew shot some amazing photos -- dolphins in flight! Also saw a sea lion that had caught a fish and was "playing" with it. Those photos are not for the faint of heart!

Baja 2010 #4

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baja 2010 #3

We've been having a great time, really enjoying the diving. We've seen dolphins every day so far. The weather has been good. Lots of those "it doesn't get much better than this" moments.

It's scorching hot (~40c) and very humid, but in the water or on the moving boat it's fine. And in town we can seek a/c. We really like Loreto. It gets enough tourists to have nice restaurants and coffee shops, but not enough to turn it into one big resort/mall/bar.

I've even managed to take a few underwater photos that don't suck too badly. Who'd think that sea slugs would be interesting, but the variety and colors and patterns of nudibranchs are incredible.

Baja 2010 #3

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Baja #2

Baja 2010 #2

[Shelley] Wow! What a difference it makes getting a couple dives under your belt, less current, and the proper amount of weights. Miraculously I even managed some pretty darn good buoyancy control today, if I do say so myself. Well, for the most part anyway!

More dolphins on the way to and from the dive sites and also a mobula (related to the manta ray) jumping up out of the water -- and another miracle that I actually caught it on camera!

Both dives today, at the end of Carmen Island, were awesome. First we went into a shallow cave so had to use lights. Most interesting thing was several white Sedna nudibranch and tons of small fish hiding in all the cubbyholes.

On the two dives we saw spiny lobster, sea lions, Christmas tree worms, garden eels, green moray eel, crown of thorns starfish, huge balloon fish, among many, many others. Raphael was excited to see moorish idols as they are not common here.

The reason we came at this time (despite the hottest weather of the year) was to see the Humboldt Squid. Unfortunately, the squid have not arrived this year. The sport fishing is also terrible. Something to do with the currents being abnormal. Possibly related to climate change? Oh well, the diving is still awesome.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Loreto, Baja, Mexico

Baja 2010 #1
I had a good day in San Diego and recovered a bit from the constant travel. I felt like I entered Mexico when I stepped into the Greyhound bus station in San Diego - everything was in Spanish and there were very few gringos around. It was, per usual, very confused. There were no signs and no announcements. A bus showed up from a different bus line, with no sign on it, but everyone seemed to be getting on it. I went and showed my ticket to the driver. He hummed and hawed and finally said "ok", kept my ticket, and waved me on. It didn't inspire confidence! Just to double check I asked another attendant if the bus was going to Tijuana. He said yes. Actually, that was a mistake - never ask a yes/no question in this kind of situation. Instead, I should have asked where it was going. But it did go to Tijuana so it was ok.

It was the most low key border crossing I've had. No one looked at my passport, my luggage, or me. Everyone else got off the bus at the border, I think transferring to a bus to the Tijuana airport. I thought they got off to go through customs so I started to follow. The bus driver said "where are you going". I wasn't sure if he meant that as a question, or if he meant I should be staying on the bus. I said "uh, Tijuana?". Playing the straight man, he replied "we're in Tijuana". I said "terminal central" and he pointed back onto the bus. I sat on my own for a while and finally he got in and drove me to the bus terminal.

Being quite uncertain, I had allowed plenty of time, so I had almost three hours in the bus terminal. Thankfully it was clean and not too packed. I didn't see another gringo the whole time I was there. I guess not many tourists take the bus!

The bus was full, but reasonably comfortable, and air conditioned (too much, as usual). I managed to sleep most of the night. I woke up to a beautiful pink sunrise over the cactus, and the sounds of someone in the back of the bus retching violently and repeatedly, and not trying to be discreet about it. I had to sympathize - at one point I'd started to get motion sickness myself. I never get car sick, but on the windy, bumpy road, with the wallowing suspension, it was a little too much like being on a boat. And I do get sea sick. Luckily we stopped at a critical point and I got some fresh air and a Gravol and was ok after that.

18 hours later, getting off the air conditioned bus in Loreto was like stepping into an oven. It was something like 37 c (~ 100 f) and very humid. I walked the several kilometers to the hotel, starting the dripping sweat which seems to be the norm here.

[Shelley] My experience going through US customs was much different than Andrew's entering Mexico. Full body scan, thorough search of bags, the whole nine yards and more. I couldn't get to Los Angeles early enough to get to Loreto the same day so had a full afternoon and evening to kill. I took a trolley from the airport hotel strip to Manhattan Beach where there was a beach volleyball tournament going on. I had to laugh when I saw the truck on the beach with the LAPD logo on it, wondering how hard it would be to fill those special duty positions!

The next day I arrived at our bungalow in Loreto about 5 minutes after Andrew did. Pretty amazing considering I spent 2 days coming by air and he spent 6 days coming via bus and train.

Heat and humidity slammed us both as we got off our respective modes of transportation.

Sukasa Bungalows very nice. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

We did our first two dives today with Raphael at Dolphin Dive Center. This is our third time to Loreto but my first time diving here although Andrew has dived with Raphael on previous visits. On the way to Coronado Island (always a favorite due to the sea lions) we stopped to watch dolphins playing.

A fast current was fun on the first drift dive. . . zoom zoom! The sea lions were humorous zipping around us. Lots of other cool things to see too (check out the photos).

Second dive was even crazier than the first. Again strong current and Raphael did his best to keep us out of the "washing machine" but still a strenuous dive. Interesting radical changes from warm water to cold and back! Like switching the shower from hot to cold.

Weather perfect for being on the water but now dripping with sweat any time without a/c.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

So Far So Good

I'm sitting on the patio of the Brickyard Cafe in San Diego - my favorite coffee spot here, although it's been a few years. A breakfast burrito and a latte (both excellent) on top of sleeping in a bed, have rejuvenated me.

The train was two hours late leaving Seattle yesterday morning. That plus getting there an hour early equated to a long wait. On the positive side, I went for a walk and stumbled over the waterfall park. It's right next to Pioneer Square and I'd walked past it several times without noticing it - it's completely fenced/walled in. It's small but very nice - definitely worth stopping by if you're in the area. UPS (the company) started on this spot and built the park.

The train ride wouldn't have been bad except that right behind me was a woman with five kids ranging from two to seven years old. Usually the train is pretty quiet but, as you can imagine, this time the peaceful moments were few and far between! As rowdy as the kids were, the mother was almost as annoying with her constant (and totally ineffective) exhortations - "enough, be quiet, stop, that's it, shhhsh, I've had it, that's enough, you're in big trouble, sit down, behave, leave your sister/brother alone". I have a certain amount of sympathy for her and the kids - 36 hours in a chair is rough for anyone. I just wish I'd been seated somewhere else! (the train was full so I couldn't move). My earphones got a lot of use.

I was hoping to find a latte and wifi at one of the stops along the way but I wasn't too successful. I knew I could get coffee and wifi in Portland but with the train behind schedule the stops were too brief. I finally found wifi in San Luis Obispo and as a result almost missed the train! I looked up from emailing and noticed everyone was gone. They slammed the doors as I was running back to the train. Thankfully someone saw me and reopened the door to let me on. It would have been really embarrassing to get left behind!

I was a little concerned about being late since I only had an hour to change trains in Los Angeles. But we actually arrived about 20 minutes early. Of course, I immediately went in search of a latte. Despite being a huge station, there was nothing. There was one kiosk that looked like it might serve espresso but everything was closed at 9 pm. I ended up going to the only place that was open - a somewhat "fancy" restaurant. (white table cloths, at least) After a glass of Oregon Firesteed Pinot Noir and a salad, I realized I might be able to get a latte here. Sure enough, success at last. (I'm not addicted, honest! At least, not as bad as the smokers who have to dash off the train at each stop.)

I thought the LA train station might be pretty seedy but it was actually quite respectable. It probably helped that they were actively kicking out anyone without a ticket.

When I came out of the restaurant the train was just starting to board, good timing. Just a few more hours. Unfortunately, there was a group of young people coming home from a concert already inebriated and continuing to drink, loudly. Despite the noise, and the coffee, I still managed to sleep most of the three hours. Nothing like being really tired!

I stayed at the Bristol Hotel (first time). I wasn't too sure about walking from the train station at 1 am but it was a main street and there were still quite a few (respectable looking) people around. The hotel is right across the street from the Greyhound station and on the edge of the "good" part of town - ritzy Horton Plaza mall one side, bail bonds on the other side (discount for military!?). But it turned out to be quite nice for the price.

A few years ago I took some nice photos of sparrows at Brickyard. There are still sparrows hopping around there, cleaning up the crumbs. They're a scruffy bunch, a bit like a gang of street kids, but likable all the same.

My Greyhound bus to Tijuana leaves at 5 pm and then I catch a Mexican bus to Loreto at 9 pm. I haven't taken the bus in Mexico before, but it's always worked well in South America. It'll be nice to meet up with Shelley and stay in one place for a while. And I'm looking forward to the diving. Now I just have to decide where to go for lunch - decisions, decisions :-)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back on the Move

The countryside streams by. A fox in the tall grass. Hawks perched on fenceposts. A deer standing motionless beside its reflection in a beaver pond Everything is unusually green for late summer. I'm on my way to Baja, Mexico to scuba dive with Shelley. It's six days by bus and train. North America is a lot bigger this way.

Supper in Edmonton. I try out the Sabor Tapas Lounge - mixed salad, figs and blue cheese, a trio of bruschettas, a glass of Malbec, and chocolate cayenne mousse for desert. The service was a little slow, and the waiter somewhat aloof, but the food was good and the atmosphere nice. I'd go back. The slowness wouldn't have been an issue if I didn't have a bus to catch.

The plan was to pick up a latte for the road, but both the Starbucks and the Second Cup are closed :-( No big deal, I'd stopped at Cafe Sola on the way to the bus in Saskatoon.

The sun is sinking as we leave Edmonton. The days are getting shorter as summer passes.

The buses aren't full and I have two seats to myself the whole way - more comfortable if not so energy efficient.

Kamloops is foggy and quiet at 6 am. I cross the acres of empty parking lots to reach the Starbucks. This early I even snag the comfy chair :-) Afterwards, waiting for the bus, I watch a Clarks Nutcracker feeding in a pine tree beside the station.

I have almost five hours in Vancouver between buses. I walk down the north side of False Creek to Yaletown and have lunch at Provence. The antipasti looks interesting so I have lentil tofu salad, risotto balls, and peppers stuffed with goat cheese. A harbor seal pokes his head up and looks around then disappears. I take the Aquabus across to Granville island, wander through the market, get a chocolate almond croissant from the French bakery and head over to Pedros for coffee.

It was cloudy and cool earlier but now it's cleared, the sun is out and it's warm. People are feeding the pigeons and ducks and Canada geese. I say hello to the turtles in the pond. The great blue heron is in its usual spot.

When I get back to the train station there's a farmer's market set up. I enjoy wandering through.

The last leg to Seattle is uneventful other than the excessive air conditioning. It seems to be way too common to freeze to death on buses. I start to think it's just me but everyone else is putting on their sweaters and jackets too. The driver always says "if you're too hot or cold just let me know" but I've tried and it's never made any difference, so I've given up. The AC seems to have only one setting - full blast.

It was almost 9 pm by the time I got to Seattle. I'd booked a different hotel this time - the Executive. It was cheaper but got good reviews so I thought I'd give it a try. The building is older and the rooms basic but it seems nice enough.

It was almost 9:30 by the time I checked in so I asked where I could get something to eat. The clerk must have judged me by my backpack - she suggested Subway or ordering pizza delivery. I went across the street to Sazerac and had a nice sweet potato soup and apple and cheese salad with a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir. I think that beat her suggestions!

Next stop is bed. It's been a good trip so far, but I'm tired. Tomorrow morning I get on the train for a 40 hour ride to San Diego.

Monday, August 09, 2010