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Monday, July 11, 2005

Cruising Highs and Lows

July 11, 2005
Isla San Marcos

Well, just when you think you're ready to throw in the towel on the cruising life, nature throws you something amazing to remind you why you're out here living the simple life instead of sitting in a cubicle making tons of money.

I'd been having a "poor me" day on Saturday - just tired of everything on the boat being salty and sticky, and of constantly feeling like I'm stewing in my own juices. I'm not the kind of gal who enjoys the "glow" of perspiration, and boy have we been dripping sweat this past month. We now seek out a spot in an anchorage that will get us close enough to a hill to block the sun (preferably setting, but even rising is a bonus if it gives us an extra hour of shade). And even though we shower as late as possible in the day, it's usually a challenge to stay clean and dry for more than about 30 minutes. I have to admit that this sometimes makes me want to scream.

So yesterday morning I was fantasizing about our upcoming trip back to the land of: limitless fresh water flowing from pressurized faucets (you try living on 2.5 gallons of water per person, per day, every day, for the unforeseeable future); push-button, fresh water, flush toilets; air-conditioning (fans are nice, but not so helpful when they're blowing hot air around); electricity you don't have to monitor daily and make yourself when it gets low; big refrigerators full of ice and cold drinks; and big grocery stores where what you purchase doesn't have to be inspected for roaches, weevils, or their eggs before you bring it into your home.

Anyway, I was sitting out on deck enjoying my pre-dawn coffee, trying not to sweat as I drank it, when I saw what looked like a few dolphins in the distance. But then I heard and saw a blow that would be more typical of a whale. I got the binoculars out and confirmed that they were not dolphins but some kind of small whale. John thought he noticed one that seemed headed in our direction, but he was in the middle of listening to the morning radio net and went back below. It didn't take long before all 4-6 of the creatures were in the anchorage right next to the boats. It was still early and I didn't want to yell, so it took three tries, ending in, "Get up here now!", to get John back on deck to see one just as it swam under the surface past Nakia's starboard side. I couldn't believe it at first because they seemed so small (and there was no male with a telltale tall dorsal fin) but John correctly identified them as Orca whales. I so closely identify these with the colder waters of the Pacific Northwest that I was astonished to see them here.

It didn't take long for us to realize that the whales were working as a group to get their breakfast buffet of manta rays herded to the table. While I regret seeing any beautiful creature become a meal, it was hard not to admire the organized lunging and tail slapping of this small pod of whales. I let John have the close up view with the binoculars while I stayed a bit more removed with the big picture. The whales moved through the anchorage between the boats and shore, probably pinning the school of rays in the shallower waters to prevent their escape. This went on for a good 20 minutes before the Orcas had eaten their fill and quietly moved out to deeper water. We noticed a large school of manta rays which still swam intact at the opposite end of the anchorage and half expected the Orcas to return for them, but they didn't appear to be interested.

John and I then joined Stan and MJ from SolMate on a dinghy expedition around the point for a few hours. We did some shelling, explored the rock caves, and snorkeled before returning to the anchorage where Earl and Maria from Dos Brisas were out rowing in their dinghy trying to shoot pictures of jumping manta rays. It was a huge school (easily over 100 animals) and you could see their dark underwater shadow and ripples on the surface as they swam back and forth against the shore. After politely waiting for SolMate and Dos Brisas to get their close up views of the rays leaping out of the water, John and I asked if anyone would mind if we snorkeled with them. We made one last check for Orcas before sliding into the water and slowly swimming towards the rays. Water visibility was low so it was tough to tell exactly when you were at the edge of the school and I caught them headed straight towards me the first time. What a thrill to have them swimming underneath me and parting around me to pass! We each got a few good views before deciding to leave them in peace and returning to the anchored dinghy.

So - the question is does seeing Orcas in the morning and swimming with manta rays in the afternoon make all my personal discomfort worth it? Well, maybe not 100%, but it's sure a great reminder of why we're out here in the first place!