Saturday, 6 November 2010

Todos Santos. I can check out anytime I like but I can never leave.

After three quiet days in La Paz I decided I had to move on and headed down the coast to the bottom of Baja. I crossed the tropic of Cancer and felt that it warranted a photo. I'd ridden from the Arctic circle to the tropics – that's something I suppose.

Not quite as touristy as the Arctic Circle

Cabo San Lucas is at the bottom of Baja and thirty odd years ago I think it was probably a lovely place. Now it's Mexico's answer to Benidorm. Tequila bars, fast food joints and lots of gringos. If I wanted cuban cigars, a fishing trip or a good time I was in the right place. One dodgy looking guy passed me by and muttered “Party accessories for sale”. I'm still wondering what that actual entailed – invitation cards, some balloons and a magician?

I found a semi-Mexican eatery and had a huge but bland Burrito (tailored for the US market I believe) in front of three big tv screens showing me an American college football game, the world series baseball and a basketball match all at the same time. Just made my day to see George W. Bush's stupid face. (The Texas rednecks were in some sort of tobacco chewing competition with the San Fransisco Liberals. Lots of other countries must have taken part in this competition because it was called the WORLD series.) Anyway by 8 p.m. on a Saturday night in wild Cabo San Lucas I headed back to my room for an early night. The Lonely Planet says “Come to Cabo and expect to toss your inhibitions to the wind – everyone else does.” Hum.. I'm getting old.

Day 100 had to be celebrated in one way or another. And it was. My first flat tyre. As soon as I tried to move the bike out of the hotels courtyard I heard that squeeky noise that rubber make son tiles and I knew I hadn't heard that the night before. When I looked down I saw a huge screw sticking out of the back wheel.

Oh well, it was bound to happen at some point I guess. I got my puncture repair kit out, my training kicked in (thanks BMW Wales) and I plugged it. All before breakfast on a sunday morning. I might be turning into some sort of overland biker type person.

I don't know alot about bikes, but I don't think that's supposed to be there.

So, I removed the screw and plugged it. (Just as I'd learnt in Wales in April)

Inflated it with the electric pump I'd bought off Jim two days before (What a great $25 that was.)

Not a bad place to get a flat!

I must admit, though, that I took the 50 miles from Cabo to Todos Santos quite slowly that morning. At least that's all I had to do for the day – indeed for the next 14 days. I had arrived at my Turtle rescue centre.

Franscesa welcomed me to La Sirena and I unpacked ALL of my things in my little hut which was going to be home for 14 days. A weird feeling after three months living like a nomad. I then found out what it was that I would be doing. Olive Ridley and Leatherback turtles come ashore along here to nest. Unfortunately the sand is not warm enough for the eggs to incubate successfully so our job is to find the nests, dig up the eggs and incubate them artificially until the hatch in February. Leatherbacks are a critically endangered species and need all the help they can get. Little is really known about them but we do know that they can live to be over one hundred, and are just so dam huge  - 2 metres in diameter and weighing at least 300 KGs. There are thought to be between 30,000 and 60,000 adult females. Less than half the number than in 1980.

The few that come to Todos Santos to lay their eggs probably used to go further south but all of the development has driven then north (Bloody Cabo San Lucas!) It can take 20 years for a Leatherback to return to its birthplace to start laying so the ones turning up now will be confronted with all the development (and lights) that have sprung up on Baja since 1990.

And were not talking hundreds here. Last season only ONE female nested here, three times, and the year before I think 14 nests were found probably from 3 or four females. Each female will come ashore and lay between 60-100 eggs in a nest. She will then go out to sea again and, get this girls, WITHOUT the aid of Mr. Turtle she will produce more eggs and self fertilise then with seiman she has stored. 10 days later she will come ashore again and nest. She can do this about half a dozen times. A total of somewhere between 350 and 600. But it is thought only one in 1000 Leatherback Turtles WHO ACTUALLY HATCH, make it too adulthood.

So, my main job was to go out at 4 a.m. with Herman (Fransecas husband) and patrol the beach on an ATV (Quad bike in English) looking for the obvious signs of a nesting Leatherback – At around 300-500 KG and a width of 4-5 feet it shouldn't be too hard to spot Leatherback tracks in the soft sand, even in the dark.

Beach Patrol


The first morning I got up with bundles of enthusiasm, fully expecting to find at least one nest. Three hours later – nothing.

Day two – still keen and eager I found it easy to get up, put on my fleece and wolley hat, remembering to pack my camera and head off to the beach. - Nada

Day three – tambien Nada. Nothing ziltch. At least the stars were fantastic every night. But by day FIVE I was beginning to understand what critically endangered stood for. I had at least seen some dolphins and on day four at day break some spouting Grey whales. But I was here to single handedly save the Leatherback and I can't do that if the little critter won't come ashore and lay her eggs.

On the fifth morning we spotted something. Herman stopped the ATV and in front of us I could see small tracks leading out of the water and up the slope. They were very definitely turtle tracks but also very definitely NOT Leatherback tracks measuring only about two feet in width. Now my Spanish is quite good for ordering food and asking for directions, but I just couldn't really work out what Herman was saying. As we got back on the ATV and drove off I assumed it was something like, “That's an Olive Ridley nest and we won't be digging it up.” I was a little confused as I'm sure Francesca had said that from the beginning of November they do dig up the Olive Ridley nests as they have very little chance on there own and they are an endangered species. Still, who was I to complain, I'm just the hired help.

We got back to the house and, as pre-arranged, I joined a couple of tourist (From Vancouver -where else. Everyone in Baja seems to be from Vancouver) on a Whale watching excursion. We saw some Grey (or Gray) Whales, which was quite exciting but much more exciting were the jumping Devil Rays. I'd never seen that before. At least I think they are Devil Rays (anyone know any better?)

Jumping rays

I'd never seen this before.

Back off to the mother ship.

Grey Whales

When I got back “home” Francesca told me that they had gone back to the nest and dug it up. Herman thought it was a black sea turtle, extremely rare, but we hadn't dug it up at 5 a.m. because he didn't have his stick with him. (To find the eggs you have poke around in the sand with a stick until you find an air pocket, and the stick had fallen off the ATV.) They had unearthed 47 eggs and had successfully relocated them to the “nursery”. When they hatch in 50-60 days they;ll know for sure whether they are black sea turtles or possibly Olive Ridley.

For your information there are 8 different turtles. Black, Green, flathead, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, Kemp's Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead. Only the black, Olive and Leatherback nest in Baja. This website has more info. And I've just found out that there are only 5,000 – 10,000 Black sea turtles left. So if, in a small way I've helped save even one that's massive.

I'm loading this blog on Friday night. Saturday we're doing a beach clean (collecting all the plastic) and possibly Sat night camping out on the beach so that we can do some early morning runs on the ATV's from the beach. Sounds like fun. Needless to say if we do ever actually see a turtle (especially a Leatherback) you'll be the first to know.

I'm having a great time here. Really enjoying being off the bike and resting for a while and “doing” something as well. Also getting to know a place. Todos Santos is a great place to be for two weeks. Small enough to be friendly, NOTHING like Cabo San Lucas, and an interesting mix of locals, expats and tourists. Todos has cheap street food and local markets and bars but also top end restaurants and hotels (I was told one hotel was asking $300 a night!).

My hut for two weeks

Todos Santos

Lagoon by the beach

Baja California

And a place called Hotel California which claims to be THE ONE that inspired the Eagles song.

All together now. "On a dark desert highway........"

I'm looking forward to next week. More early morning Turtle runs, hopefully a couple of sightings and one day we're going out to sea on the kayaks. I also need to work out what I'm doing next, whether I need to get a new rear tyre or trust my plug and how to fill the last week of freedom I have before Tracy turns up in Mexico City.

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