Jan 202014

Tijuana, Ensenada, Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, Guadalupe Valley. Just a few of the Baja, Mexico destinations which used to be easy and popular day trips from San Diego. In the space of a few years major changes completely changed tourism near the border.  The first was increased security at the border by the Department of Homeland Security.  The pool of available tourists was dramatically lowered by requiring passports to cross into the USA from Mexico as roughly 1/3rd of Americans hold a passport (though growing).  This increased security also lead to an increase in border wait times.  Instead of spending an hour or perhaps two at the worst waiting at the border, there began to be an increase in three and four hour waits.  The second major impact to cross border tourism was an outburst of drug war related violence.  Though mostly targeted towards narcos and those working with them, this bloody war spilled over in several cases and fed fear and general distrust of Tijuana and other border cities.

Though the narco violence subsided in this area years ago, memories take much longer to dissipate.  Given time things are starting to turn around. Without the corruption of short term (and usually debauched) cash along Revolución, Tijuana and others have looked inward to reinvent themselves.  This change over the last few years has lead to them becoming a bit of a destination for foodies and culture lovers – attracting the like of Bourdain and others to explore the new Baja.

We used to visit the coast of Baja (Rosarito, Puerto Nuevo, and occasionally Guadalupe or even further south like Bahia de los Angeles) on a regular basis, going down for lunch and shopping before returning for the day.  With the border waits we had fallen out of the habit some time ago and had yet to pick it back up again – We finally got around to visiting one of our old standards with family on Sunday, lunch in Puerto Nuevo. The toll road was washed out so we spent time on the free road driving down. I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of the route was four lanes wide and in excellent shape. The shops along the road were in mixed shape – some still seeming to be going strong, others didn’t seem to have made it through the drought.  We spoke with a few shopkeepers who said business had been slowly picking up and they were hopeful for the future.  I think we will be picking our habit back up – Baja offers some excellent opportunities for day trips.

Link to the full gallery of photos
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Aug 182011

I can’t put it much better than the article, Marine reserve sets new standard for recovery:

No-fishing reserves can restore marine ecosystems better than previously thought and can turn a heavily degraded site into an international model for conservation, according to a decade-long study led by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. The report showed the amount of fish in an undersea wildlife park near the southern tip of Baja California soared 463 percent between 1999 and 2009.

Aug 112010

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Photos of Scuba diving Los Cabos (Cabo San Lucas)

During our visit to the tip of Baja we enjoyed two days worth of diving. The first day of diving we stuck to relatively easy local sites. The first dive was at Pelican Rock, site of the famous (or not so famous?) sand falls. The sand falls were a mild curiosity for me, much more exciting were the huge schools of fish circling the rock walls. There were several large groupers hanging around, but none would let us get very close. Near the end of the dive we were able to get up close to some of the tangs, box, and butterfly fish that hung out around the rock’s walls. The walls are covered with some impressive fans and anemones and the site looks quite healthy. One thing to note – stay on the bottom until you are ready to join your dive boat as there is massive amount of boat traffic in the area. When we started the dive early in the morning we were the only boat around. When we finished and came up there were about 10 other boats anchored within a stones throw away.

The second dive was on a wall just south of Pelican Rock. The wall was interesting, but again the shallow critters were a bigger draw. Large schools of fish, including large trumpet-fish were milling about in the 10-30 foot range around the rocks, snacking on salp chains that drifted into the area. The sand flats around the rocks were full of life as well – quite a few rays and guitarfish had buried themselves in the sand channels.

The second day of diving was much more ambitious. We did some more advanced diving on an open water sea mount known as Gordo Banks (or Gorda Banks). The depth of the mount is about 115′, so we used 28% Nitrox for both dives. This site is known for the chance to see large open water critters like sharks, mantas, and tuna. Unfortunately for us, the visibility was quite poor for both dives. The water was green and less than 15 feet of visibility from 20-100 feet. Under 100 feet it cleared right up, it was a bit like stepping out of a fog. We saw some very large jacks (people sized) on both dives, in addition to some large schools of fish. We caught a glimpse of a small school of hammerhead sharks on the first dive, but they were in the pea soup green above us, and we couldn’t catch up to them. It would be a great dive site with better visibility.

We saw a marlin on the surface during one of our intervals, and I hopped in to try to snorkel with it. I missed my mark or it didn’t like me – it was long gone. The trip back to harbor was against the wind and it took us several hours to get back to the harbor. Make sure you bring sea sickness meds if you think you might need them – several people fed the fishes, including our captain.

I think our mixed diving results have a lot to do with the strange weather patterns in the pacific this year. The water was much colder than they are used to (water temp at depth was 63-64F) and it seemed like summer wasn’t quite there yet. It definitely warrants another attempt when we make it back down again, you never know what you will see in the open water.

Aug 082010

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Photos of Punta Perfecta and Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur

This was our first trip to Baja south of Bahia de los Angeles. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Cabo area. It attracts a spring break crowd, so I was expecting a good part of the city to be similar to Tijuana’s Revolucion. Thankfully, my fears seem to be mostly unfounded. Booming with hotels and condos, but the vibe one got was was less party and more relaxed. Then again, perhaps that is more because we didn’t spend much time in Los Cabos – just time in the harbor to dive or stock up on goods. Outside of diving trips from Los Cabos, the first few days were spent north along the coast at low key hotel on the beach. We did some snorkeling at Playa Chileno (quite nice) and beach bummed around the area.

We finished out the bulk of our trip much further away from civilization. Punta Perfacta is a surfing break about an hour’s drive on (mostly) dirt roads from the Cabo airport. There are small small enclaves of condos and vacation homes, but the area still feels very isolated. There are no utilities or phones – water is trucked in, power is provided by solar panels. My days mostly consisted of reading in a hammock with the occasional sprinkling of beach and surf. Not a bad thing.

In between my marathon hammock sessions we took a 30 minute drive north to Playa Los Arbolitos, which is on the southern end of the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. The beach boasts some old coral reefs within a stones throw of the sand. Though there were a lot of fish on the reef, the visibility left much to be desired. I suspect this has a lot to do with the strange weather and currents we are having this year. We were lucky enough to visit the beach on a Sunday when a lot of Mexican families were enjoying the beach as well. We practiced our Spanish with Jorge (a young ranch worker we gave a ride to) and enjoyed guitar music and traditional songs from our neighbors. I now have yet another classification for a great day – a slice of watermelon, live music, a palapa, and a beautiful beach.

Jan 292009

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Photos of diving Islas Coronados with the sea lions

Adam and I headed out with Waterhorse to visit the Coronado Islands just off Tijuana’s coast. The ride back was a bit rough, but overall it was a really nice day. The first dive was at the usual Lobster Shack. The site is popular because it is usually calm in the small bay and you can be visited by the sea lions in the winter and fall. Adam and I were joking with the captain about doing over an hour in the water, but it turned out to be close to reality. The boat pulled its anchor during the dive and I ended up spending 76 minutes under water with the sea lions. Score!

There were about 12 sea lions in total at the site on Sunday, most of them young. We had a lot of fun being visited by them all over the dive site, and then later hanging out in the shallows with them. The younger sea lions liked picking up small rocks to chew on and blew bubbles with the divers. A few were curious about fins, but none tried chewing on us.

The next dive was near middle grounds at a spot they called little rock. It turned out to be mostly mussel shells and lots of purple sea urchins. There was a swim through in about 20 feet of water, but the surge was so huge that we were hanging on for dear life in some parts of the point. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like being thrown around rocks covered in urchins.

Oct 012008

Mani, Adam and I headed out to the Coronados last Sunday to dive at the lobster shack. It has been a while since I was out there, so I was hoping the sea lions were there in force. Unfortunately there were just a couple young ones and they weren’t quite ready to come play in the water. I’m expecting November will be a lot of fun.

Aug 252008

KPBS has posted a nice audio slide show of the UVeta project in Baja Sur. Water in Baja Sur’s remote areas is frequently from open wells, where the chance of contamination is high. Florence Cassassuce with Engineers without Borders came up with a way to use existing technology to make the water much safer – Ultraviolet light and a bucket.

UV destroys DNA of microbes so they can’t reproduce. This concept has been used for municipal treatment for a while, and over the last few years in higher cost travel items like the SteriPEN. But unlike most portable UV systems the UVeta can clean a lot of water at at a time and is very cheap – They worked with Tijuana producers to reduce the cost of the UVeta to $30.

More information:
The UVeta Project’s home site
UVeta story from La Prensa San Diego
CNN Heroes video

Mar 312008

Voice of San Diego has a good article on the increasingly skinny grey whales that migrate down the Pacific coast to Baja. It is thought that warmer waters have allowed for more fish migration and greater competition for plankton in Arctic seas. The whales end up with a longer migration in their search for food. The dropping numbers in Baja lagoons has put some hurt on the “eco-tourism” down there. The greys aren’t in danger as a species, but this could be a a warning of the changes that are taking place in our oceans.