In Memory of Don Pachico

Pachico Mayoral

Pachico Mayoral

Laguna San Ignacio whalewatching guide and fishermen extraordinaire, Francisco “Pachico” Mayoral, passed away recently. He was a longtime friend to me and my wife Emily and to generations of scientists and conservationists in Laguna San Ignacio. To me he will always be the “Profesor de la Laguna.”

Emily and I met Pachico and his wife Carmen at their lovely house on the shoreline of Laguna San Ignacio on our first day in the field there when we arrived in October 1993 to carry out our dissertation research on gray whale conservation and fishing and ecotourism.

On a tour of Laguna San Ignacio with Don Pachico and a Profepa inspector in early 1994.

On a tour of Laguna San Ignacio with Don Pachico and a Profepa inspector in early 1994.

Pachico played a major role in uncovering the plans by ESSA/Mitsubishi to build a $180 million salt facility on the shore of Laguna San Ignacio, when he gave me and Emily the blueprints to the project in early 1994. We later informed Homero Aridjis of the Grupo de los Cien about the proposed salt project who initiated a major campaign to stop it. It was a courageous act on the part of Pachico considering that he lived in a wooden shack with sand floors at the edge of the Lagoon and wasn’t the least bit politically connected.

It was never quite clear to me how he obtained a fresh set of blueprints for the project since he didn’t drive much, had no telephone and his only way of communicating with the outside world was via radio and his pickup that seemed to be in need of repair more than it was roadworthy.

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Whether he was assisting scientists or conservationists or inspiring his sons to continue the family business of conservation and ecotourism, Pachico’s insights into the Lagoon, the wildlife there (of which he was a keen observer) and its need for protection were invaluable.

And we could always count on Pachico to provide a moving and inspiring quote about the need to conserve the Lagoon and its whales to the New York Times, LA Times and NBC News among other media outlets from around the world that featured his inspiring message of the need to live in harmony with whales and nature.

Here is a video from NBC Nightly News with Maria Celeste where Pachico was the subject of a story about “Making a Difference.”

Here is how Pulitzer winning reporter Ken Weiss ended his feature story in the Los Angeles Times on Laguna San Ignacio:

Mayoral said the gray whales, once hunted nearly to extinction, have much to teach humans about resolving conflicts. After all these years, he marvels how the curious cetaceans behave, the mothers sometimes boosting their calves out of the water so tourists can scratch their heads or rub their baleen gums.

“They were attacked by men and yet they look to get closer to people,” Mayoral said. “That is a great lesson for all of us.”

Pachico in his element.

Pachico in his element.

Baja Crafts and Culture: Pottery in Tecate

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Leño Contreras of Alfareria Contreras

After a trip to visit Finca Altozano in the Guadalupe Valley, we returned via Tecate and passed one of the many pottery stands along Highway 3. Pottery in Baja is one of those things that you assume has no real origin and is somehow magically made.

Anytime I find people who are creating things by hand in our rational, industrial and highly mechanized and computerized economy, I am filled with admiration (which is why I have interviewed so many custom surfboard craftsmen).

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But as we stopped to check out the pottery of Leño Contreras of Alfareria Contreras (Carr. Tecate-Ens 15 1/2 -Cerro Azul, Tecate), I realized that the art of turning clay from the hills into pottery is more than likely a dying tradition and is representative of long-standing cultural traditions that are pre-Hispanic in origin throughout Mexico and the Southwest.

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“We’ve been here since the early 1980s,” said Leño. “We gather the clay in the hills. In order to fire our kilns, we used to gather dead trees from a nearby forest, but the Forest Service stopped that. Now we buy recycled wood that is collected from the factories in Tijuana.”

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“The widening and improvement of the Highway has brought us more tourists, as has the tourism of the Guadalupe Valley. A few years ago when the economy was bad, things were not good. Now we’re doing better.”

Emily and I purchased some luna and sol wall hangings for our backyard. Now we have a nice reminder of our nice with visit with Leño.

Alfareria Contreras is on Highway 3 (Km 15 1/2) just about 10-15 minutes south of Tecate on the highway to Ensenada.

Tijuana Art Walk

TJartwalkArtists, musicians and the TJ hipster scene have two little alleyways  in Tijuana, or Pasajes (Gomez and Rodriguez), that provide an an alternative to the grinding old school tourist scene of Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion. On Saturday September 14th, Pasaje Gomez (between 3rd and 4th on Revolucion on the East side of the street) was the location of Tijuana Art Walk.

The Pasaje’s in theory are open Friday and Saturday afternoon and evenings, but hours appear to be random. But if you are on Revolucion it is worth a shot.

The entrance to Pasaje Gomez from Revolucion.

The entrance to Pasaje Gomez from Revolucion.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and artists, restaurants, and retro vendors hawked their wares. Everyone was very friendly despite the fact that there were very few artists or original art. The scene reminded me of Tijuana’s punk scene in the 80s headed by Luis Guerena and his friend Omar that centered around Luis’s tiny apartment nearby to the current Pasaje’s.

You have to admire the energy and desire of Tijuana residents to create new things in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I’m a big believer in the capacity of art to bring new life to cities and urban spaces. If only local authorities did more to support alternatives to what is a moribund tourism industry in Tijuana.

The thriving gastronomic scene is one example of a new tourist alternative, but cleaning up the city and replacing ugly graffiti that mars streetscapes throughout the city with more murals, would be a start.

As always change in Tijuana is bottom up and grassroots. But I guess that is the point.

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These kids run a design studio called Rusty Nails Productions.

These kids run a design studio called Rusty Nails Productions.

Todos Santos 1994

dedina:young BajaHere is a photo of me and my wife Emily  on Palm Beach in Todos Santos sometime in November 1994 with our dogs Julius and little Tecate (who was a “street dog” who came with the house we cared for). We  spent the previous year living in Laguna San Ignacio and Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos carrying out field research for our University of Texas at Austin doctoral dissertations in Geography on gray whale conservation (me) and the cultural ecology of fishing and eco-tourism (Emily).

Our stays in those amazingly hospitable and wonderful communities were followed by a month in La Paz to do interviews and carry out archival research and then another month in Mexico City to do the same.

After a great year in Mexico, we faced the prospect of returning to Austin to write up our research and work as teaching assistants (Emily) which is what smart grad students do (it is best to be near your committee members and advisor). Thanks to a series of encounters in Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos with Kimberly and Ken who introduced us to Lee Moore, who then set us up with Roswitha Mueller (who owned a stunning 19th century home on the Plaza in Todos Santos) we ended up living in that emerging art colony and now-hipster village in southern Baja for a year.

For two literally penniless grad students it was a dream come true. The house overlooked the Palm-fringed coastline of Todos Santos. I dawn-patrolled each morning and after a long surf returned to the house where Emily and I shared breakfast and then sat down to the task of writing dissertations. After a long day of writing, we would retreat to Palm Beach for a walk with the dogs and to play in the waves.

I unwisely decided to write my dissertation as a book, which wasn’t a very strategic way of getting my committee to approve it (I later had to substantially modify the manuscript to make it more academic–which I should have done in the first place). My original manuscript later became my book, Saving the Gray Whale.

In retrospect making the decision to stay in Todos Santos was the smartest thing we have ever done. That year launched our careers in international conservation. After having discovered that ESSA (and its 49% partner) Mitsubishi planned to turn Laguna San Ignacio, a gray whale lagoon and Mexican federal protected area, into a 500,000-acre industrial salt harvesting facility, we joined up with Homero Aridjis and Betty Ferber of the Grupo de los Cien, to help launch a campaign against the project.

That initial effort turned into one of the largest ever international efforts to save a wild place that ended successfully when Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo cancelled the project in March, 2000.

Other things we did that year included convincing the School for Field Studies to open a study center in Bahia Magdalena and working to advise RARE on the launch of a very successful and ground-breaking eco-guide training program for whale guides in Bahia Magdalena and Laguna San Ignacio.

The most important part of the year is that Emily became pregnant with our oldest son Israel, and then got a job teaching geography at the University of Arizona. Despite my misgivings about living in Tucson (for a surfer, exile to the desert in Arizona is a slow death), in the end, I could never have launched my career in conservation without having lived there.

After completing my Ph.D. a year after we moved to Tuscon, The Nature Conservancy hired me to launch their Northwest Mexico Program. That profoundly gratifying, rewarding and educational experience  was the equivalent of attending Harvard Business School–but for Conservation. I was damn lucky to have worked there.

While at TNC, I helped to launch their still vibrant Baja California and Sea of Cortez Program and helped to launch successful initatives to preserve Loreto Bay National Park, Isla Espiritu Santo and Cabo Pulmo.

So that moment on the beach really was just before we became adults and understood that chasing dreams requires sacrifice, hard work, discipline, vision, and passion. We chose to do what was right for us, rather than please everyone else.  I also realized that if you want to get anything done, you can’t depend on anyone else to make it happen.

I will never forget our year in Todos Santos and how it changed our lives forever.

Blown Away by Finca Altozana

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To celebrate our 24th Wedding Anniversary, my wife Emily and I and our longtime friends Trace and Teri took a trip to Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano in the Valle de Guadalupe on Mexico’s Highway 3 in northern Baja California. It was a wonderful day and meal, and we were all blown away by the sumptuous meal and spectacular and sublime beauty of the  restaurant and the setting among vineyards.

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The view of the vineyards of the Valle de Guadalupe from Finca Altozano. I would never have predicted that from the ashes of what was the Baja California tourism industry after about 2007, that a world-class wine and food scene would have emerged in the chapparal landscape of northern Baja California and in what were declining urban environments of  Tijuana and Ensenada. I am awed by the creativity, originality and entrepreneurial spirit of the purveyors and dreamers behind this wonderful scene. It is also a strong argument against Mexico’s past model of mega-tourism and demonstrates the vitality of a sustainable tourism model that celebrates Mexico’s diverse and unique landscapes, cultures and natural environment.

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Trace and Teri have been traveling with us to Baja for over 20 years including an epic journeys to Bahia Magdalena, Bahia de los Angeles, and Laguna San Ignacio. Teri and I have been friends for 42 years (we grew up together down the street from each other).

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It is truly a bucolic setting. It was hot yesterday–in the 90s–but the restaurant was an oasis.

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Emily and I met in Lima, Peru, in August 1985, were married in Madison, Wisconsin, on September 2, 1989, and life has been an adventure ever since. Baja is so special to us since we lived in Laguna San Ignacio, Bahia Magdalena and Todos Santos for a total of 2 1/2 years and travel throughout the Peninsula extensively. We are so lucky to live on the Border so we can sample the best of Baja fairly easily.

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Grilled red peppers and rose wine.

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The outdoor grill.

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They do a roast pig on occasion–so here’s the pig that will be roasted. Don’t get too attached!

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Grilled and stuffed squash.

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The open-air kitchen.

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Beef tongue and lamb tacos were tasty.

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Here’s grilled octopus in an Asian style sauce. I have a special place in my palate for pulpo because when Emily and I lived in Laguna San Ignacio in 1993-94 we spent many afternoons hunting it down on low-tide excusions with Maria Luisa “La Yaqui” Camacho de Aguilar and her son Octaviano along with our Australian shepherd Chip and their black lab Black. Pulpo or octopus is one of Javier Plascencia’s signature dishes, and for me, along with freshly harvested bay scallops or almeja catarina.  are my favorite seafood dishes.

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Finca Altozano is all about the little things and food. All these touches like the wine bottles make it such a unique restaurant.

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Emily in the garden.

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An Argentine style roasting spit and BBQ.

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Everything is done in great taste. The aesthetics of what I would call the Baja rustic and especially Valle de Guadalupe design style are really nice.

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After a two-hour meal. I’m happy–I swear! Ilook forward to  many more adventures in Baja and returning to Finca Altozano and the Valle de Guadalupe with Emily.

Surfing the Supermoon in Cabo

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Let’s dawn patrol tomorrow morning,” I told my son Daniel, 15, as we watched sets pound Zippers and The Rock as the sun set behind us and the supermoon rose over the ocean.

We were in San Jose del Cabo at the southern tip of Baja California to attend a wedding during the same weekend as the Los Cabos Open of Surf. The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) contest meant lineups throughout southern Baja were full of talented surfers.

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Since surfers party hard in Cabo, most aren’t awake at the crack of dawn. So dawn patrolling was our only way to escape the aggressive crowds.

The next day Daniel and I slipped into the ocean at 5:30 in the morning. We could see sets hitting the reefs. With the supermoon illuminating the lineup, I spotted many rocks sticking out of the water I wish I hadn’t been able to see.

Unfortunately we didn’t realize that the super high tide the night before was followed by a very low tide the following morning. As we navigated the boils and rocks in the lineup, our dawn patrol was looking more and more like a bad idea.

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After we reached the outside Daniel quickly caught a head-high wave. He kicked out at the last minute to avoid an inside exposed rock.

“It’s pretty sketchy out here,” said Daniel, who wasn’t happy about being woken up so early.

“But think of all the street cred you’ll have by being able to tell everyone about your low-tide nighttime session at the Rock in overhead waves,” I replied.

Matt Banting in action.

Matt Banting in action.

Daniel wasn’t convinced.

After we both caught a few set waves he said, “It is way too shallow out here. Let’s paddle down to Zippers.”

Zippers, once a Trestles-like wave that is still the epicenter of the Cabo surf scene, has been vastly reduced in scope due to the loss of sand from its once large beach.

Garrett Parkes somewhere in southern Baja.

Garrett Parkes somewhere in southern Baja.

Adjacent development projects with their intrusive seawalls and what many surfers believe is the loss of sand from the San Jose Estuary due to the presence of a marina there, has turned what was the Queen of the Cabo Coast into a hit or miss wave at best.

As we paddled south the sun began to emerge in the eastern sky along with dreaded southeasterly winds. After catching a few bumpy rights and saying hello to shark researcher and La Jolla surfer David “Dovi’ Kacev and his friends (also there for the wedding), we paddled in.

That's me--my sons are coaching me on how to get more vertical--at this point I'm a work in progress.

That’s me–my sons are coaching me on how to get more vertical–at this point I’m a work in progress.

Daniel returned to our condo and promptly fell asleep.

Later that morning the wind died and The Rock fired. And pretty much everyone stayed away due to wind and the fact that they had apparently partied until dawn.

So Daniel and I paddled out and caught tons of waves with almost no crowd. We finally scored in San Jose.

Up until the wedding, we had spent a few days out on the East Cape, sampling a variety of no-name spots that are rarely surfed but offered up clean, fun waves.

Siesta time for burros in Baja.

Siesta time for burros in Baja.

At one spot we spent the afternoon sharing waves with Garrett Parkes and Matt Banting, two Australian pros in town for the Cabo Open.

“We’ve never even surfed out here on the East Cape before,” said Garrett.

For two hours Daniel shared rippable 2-4’ rights with traveling Aussie pros who gave Daniel a clinic in modern surfing. What more could a grom ask for?

Daniel was elated.

“Those guys really know how to ride these waves,” he said.

Indeed they did.

Daniel

Daniel

Celebrate the Best of Baja at the Baja Bash

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Join WILDCOAST on June 15, 2013, at the Port Pavilion in San Diego, as we host the 2nd Annual Baja Bash! This fundraising event will celebrate the best food, beer, and wine from both San Diego and Baja California, and highlight WILDCOAST’s conservational successes on both sides of our shared coastline.

 

This year we will be honoring lucha libre icon El Hijo del Santo as a defender of the ocean and marine life, as well as chef Javier Plascencia, for leading Baja’s gastronomic revolution, with a sustainable message. San Diego’s own and nationally recognized B-Side Players will be our featured musical guests.

 

The Baja Bash will bring together the best flavors of the region, as we feature 8 chefs from both sides of the border, including: (from San Diego) Flor Franco of Indulge Catering, Jason Knibb of NINE-TEN, Todd Nash from Blind Burro, Chad White of Plancha Baja Med, and (from Baja California), Drew Deckman of Deckman’s San Jose, Miguel-Angel Guerrero of La Querencia, and Javier Plascencia of Mision 19.

 

We will also feature beer courtesy of Stone Brewing Company, Green Flash Brewing Company and Cucapá, as well as a selection of regional wines, and the support of the Tijuana Culinary Art School.

 

Special thanks go to our sponsors: San Diego Gas & Electric, BAMKO, Seafood Watch, Sony Playstation and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And thanks to our media sponsors, FM 94/9, Baja.com and The Mexico Report.

 

Tickets are $75 per person, including food, drinks, and entertainment, and are available at http://www.wildcoast.net or call us at (619) 423-8665 x200. Reserved tables are also available for groups of 8. Get your tickets today!

 

 

Miracle at Cabo Pulmo

In a small coastal community tucked away in a corner of Baja’s East Cape is Cabo Pulmo.

Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo (Photo credit: jeffgunn)

This seaside paradise inhabited by friendly fishermen and a colorful group of expatriates is ground zero for efforts to restore the ocean.

If in Cabo Pulmo, local fishermen can work with biologists, conservationists, divers and government park staff to make a marine reserve that is a global model for the protection of a marine ecosystem and fisheries, than our conservation efforts are on the right track.

I was in Cabo Pulmo last week to review efforts to preserve Cabo Pulmo from development threats. A Spanish company had proposed building a new city larger than Los Cabos adjacent to the reef.

My colleagues and I discussed future strategies needed to improve the protection of the coral reef that is home to humpback whales, sea turtles, manta rays, schools of giant fish and a growing population of sharks, including the elusive and docile whale shark.

“There really is nothing else in the Gulf of California like Cabo Pulmo,” said Dr. Octavio Aburto, a research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has studied Cabo Pulmo for years.

“Our family noticed that the reef and fish and Cabo Pulmo were not doing well,” said Judith Castro, the daughter of a fisherman and a longtime resident.

The Castro family has lived in Cabo Pulmo for generations. But by the early 1990s the fish were disappearing and, due to climate change, there were fears that the global wave of coral bleaching would forever damage the reef.

Breaching Mobula ray Schools of giant bat rays...

Breaching Mobula ray

I first visited Cabo Pulmo in 1996 as the founding director of The Nature Conservancy’s Sea of Cortez Program. Back then I attempted to develop a conservation program to manage the newly established national park at Cabo Pulmo.

But due to political conflicts, conservation efforts at Cabo Pulmo initially failed. Marine biologists who had studied Cabo Pulmo and had advocated for the development of the marine reserve were desperate.

It took a few years, but by 1999 conservationists, marine biologists, fishermen and the Mexican government came together to support a no-take reserve at Cabo Pulmo. Local fishermen, including the Castro family who had fished the waters of the region for decades, agreed to give up fishing inside the reserve.

“Our family had to learn to dive,” Judith said. Her family now runs a dive operation.

Ten years later Aburto and his Scripps team confirmed what marine biologists had only dreamed about, but that local fishermen and divers already knew was happening: The fish have returned to Cabo Pulmo. The reef is teeming with life.

“Fish biomass increased 460 percent over a decade, but even more critically the predator population increased over 1000 percent,” Aburto said.  “And abundant predators are key to healthy marine ecosystems.”

“No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery,” he said. “There are so many fish that species like tuna are coming from outside the reserve to feed around the reef.”

Last year I went diving more than a mile from the Cabo Pulmo shore and was amazed by the schools of huge fish that hugged the reef. In my more than 25 years working in the Baja California peninsula, I had never encountered so many large fish.

Even sharks, whose slaughter and decline has alarmed marine biologists and conservationists, have returned to Cabo Pulmo.

“You can stand on the rocks at the end of Bahia de los Frailes at the western end of the reserve and see schools of sharks swimming around,” said Sofia Gomez, my WiLDCOAST colleague who is coordinating our Cabo Pulmo conservation program.

With additional recent good news from California’s Central Coast about the increase in marine species in marine protected areas, there is reason to be hopeful that we can reserve the decline of the ocean and the species within it.

Marine explorer and conservationist Sylvia Earle has called Cabo Pulmo a “Hope Spot” because of its importance in demonstrating that we can restore our oceans.

I am just glad that there is at least one place left where the ocean is as it is supposed to be—filled with fish and undisturbed by man.

The WiLDCOAST Ensenada Ocean Art Wall

Our WiLDCOAST staff in Ensenada (Baja California, Mexico) worked with local artists to create this super cool mural in the surfing and fishing community of El Sauzal. Due to the prevalence of graffiti it is critical to create ocean art that educates the public and inspires people to love our coast and ocean. It was very cool to work with Napenda Love, a hip hop and visual artist who helped us carry out projects in southern Baja. DSC_1632

 

 

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Napenda Love some rhyming at the opening of the wall.

Napenda Love some rhyming at the opening of the wall.

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The Best Places to Explore in Baja in 2013

Daniel gets a fun one--the light was perfect in the afternoon for photos.

San Miguel in Ensenada.

For years many Southern California surfers and ocean lovers have lived for Baja. Upon crossing the border they experienced endless empty beaches, great fishing, friendly people and perfect waves.

Then when things got a little rough in Mexico a few years ago, due to the drug war, many Baja California lovers bid adios to their old friend.

But an interesting thing happened during the years that American tourists abandoned Lower California. Rather than sit idly by waiting for tourists to show up, the peninsula’s new generation of entrepreneurs reinvented Baja. They developed a new cuisine, built beautiful new eco-resorts and boutique hotels, and produced fine wines.

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The peninsula got a lot safer as well. Highways have been improved. The increased presence of the police and the military has made travel safer.

Over the holidays my sons and I spent a few mornings and afternoons south of the the border carrying out surgical surf strikes during the recent magical run of winter swells. We scored big and never had a single problem. Lots of smiles, great food, and cool, clean, empty waves.

So here are a few of the hottest spots to sample in our sun-kissed neighbor to the south.

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Northern Baja Cuisine and Wine County: Start off with a late lunch at Javier Plascencia’s gastronomic palace in Tijuana, Mision 19. Then head south and stop for a quick sunset surf before you check into one of the boutique hotels in the Valle de Guadalupe such as the Grupo Habita eco-bungalows or Adobe Guadalupe. For dinner check out the amazingly tasty Corazon de Tierra. The next day, after sampling waves at San Miguel or 3M’s, catch a late breakfast or  lunch at either Boules or Muelle 3. After a second surf session check out the wine, cocktails and dinner at the award winning Manzanilla.

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Whale Watching in San Ignacio Lagoon: The world’s best whale-watching awaits you in this stark and pristine desert lagoon fringed by mangroves, bobcats and coyotes. Filled with more than 200 gray whales during the height of the whale season in February and early March, this is the best place in the world to encounter a friendly whale.

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Whales, Islands and Missions in Loreto and Magdalena Bay: Catch a short flight to the beautiful mission town of Loreto to catch up with old Baja. Tour the amazing azure islands of Loreto Bay National Park, be inspired by the grandeur of Mision San Javier, and take a day trip to Magdalena Bay’s Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos for a day of whale watching and wandering the dunes of the barrier islands.

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East Cape: Fill up on organic goodies and beautiful arts and crafts at the San Jose del Cabo Organic Market and then head out east and discover miles of empty white-sand beaches. Explore the coral reef and schools of fish at Cabo Pulmo National Park, one of North America’s best dive spots. If you’re lucky you’ll catch an early season south swell, but during the winter the East Cape is tranquility and heaven. Be sure to catch the sunset over cocktails and dinner at the iconic Crossroads Country Club at Vinorama, where a boutique hotel will open soon.

Whale shark.  Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Whale shark on the East Cape. Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Todos Santos: Officially the hottest, hippest, and coolest little resort town in Baja. Todos Santos is an old school Baja town remade as a trendy little village with great hotels, excellent food and a laid back vibe. My wife Emily and I spent one of the best years of our life living in Todos Santos back in the mid 1990s, so I love to visit and hang out with friends, surf pristine warm-water waves and eat tasty, healthy food.

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So what are you waiting for? Baja is better than ever. Explore it now while the going is good!

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