Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Back to Whale Camp - Part 1


In 3 weeks, I'll be on my way back to the Baja and Whale Camp at San Ignacio Lagoon!!

My next few posts will be about everything I need to pack to make the 500+ mile drive from the airport at San Jose del Cabo to Todos Santos, Loreto, and across the Vizcaino Desert to San Ignacio at lovely oasis about 40 miles from Whale Camp! The drive there is about 20 miles paved road and 20 miles "dirt" road. Let's call it "sand road" with cordon cactus and other vegetation growing somehow from the dry desert landscape.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beaches Are Us . . . circa 1959

If you're born in Rhode Island, the beach is never far away. To be a kid with access to a sandpile as big as the ocean itself (or so it seemed), possibilities are endless: multi-turreted sand castles, wide moats, mythic labyrinths and tunnels, and plain ol' deep holes to jump in an out of while your mother tries to read her Agatha Christie mystery or her fashion magazine on the blanket anchored with big round stones so the wind or the hungry sea gulls won't carry off the baby, our picnic lunch, our plaid Tartan thermos jug full of lemonade, or our towels. 

It's the summer of 1959. The beach is our destination almost every weekend.

My father drives us in his "new" 1953 Chevy with white-walled tires, shiny chrome, and a steering wheel as big as a hula hoop. Seatbelts haven't been invented yet, so we sit in the back seat untethered, but well behaved. The drive to Scarborough Beach not far from the Point Judith Lighthouse takes us about 20 minutes when we take the back roads and catch Route 1A in Wickford.   

We are a family of six: mother, father, three girls, and the new baby boy.  I am eleven years old, my sister is six, my other sister is two (going on three). The baby boy in the cotton-lined wicker basket with the mosquito netting over the top is almost four months old. He wears a cloth diaper and a miniature baseball cap with a Red Sox emblem. No one can mistake him for a girl.

My mother is thirty-one. When she walks down the beach, men stare at her, but nobody whistles because she's swinging an infant in a basket a few inches above the waves.

I'm the oldest so I help out by taking my little sisters down to the water where a line of big black stones holds back the heavy surf. My sisters take hands and toe the swirling water at their feet, then they run back giggling and shivering. They never go in past their ankles. The ocean water, even in the summer, is cold.   

After a full day in the sun, we looked like lobsters. Red backs. Red shoulders. Red noses. Nobody had heard of sunscreen; they used suntan lotion. We washed off the sand in the outside showers, found our clothes and flip-flops, and piled back in the car. Half the beach came with us.

On the way home, we stopped for fried clams at the Clam Shack in East Greenwich. In another 10 minutes, we were at our doorstep, shoulders throbbing from our sunburns, pockets full of sand and little white stones.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Close Encounters with a Gray Whale

On YouTube, you'll find many short videos by everyday adventurers who did a great job of capturing a moment when someone in their panga petted -- or kissed -- a gray whale in San Ignacio Lagoon. These are wonderful moments.

But sometimes, a baby gray whale just teases the humans and doesn't get close enough to be touched. Here's a link to one of those "almost" encounters caught on video by our panga guide, Berto, from Antonio's Whale Camp, this March. Berto had his waterproof video camera attached to a long pole so that he could plunge it into the water to see what the "little" whale was doing down there under us while we waited patiently for it to surface. 

Enjoy! You'll have to paste this link into your browser.

Also, here's a photo of a successful whale encounter taken by Beth Styles in a panga just a short tail thrust from our panga. Left to right: Michael, Nancy, me (in the hat), Ann, and Maggie. It's truly a thrill to touch one of these ocean mammals. They feel impermeable, thick-skinned, and yet so soft. . . . and they purr!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gray Whales in San Ignacio Lagoon

In the middle of the Baja Peninsula, there's a remote lagoon accessible either by plane to a rustic "international" airstrip or by car along a rock-strewn, washboard, dirt road that goes on for miles until you arrive with your bones and teeth as loose as a pocket full of pesos.

But thatseasick feeling in your stomach goes away as soon as you see this magical body of water -- San Ignacio Lagoon.

Gray whales come here to give birth and raise their babies. And gringos like me come to climb into a panga a few times over a period of a few days at "whale camp" to visit them, skritch their heads, and wonder where it is they disappear to under the surface of the water.

Consider planning an adventure to one of the most peaceful places in the world. Plan to come to San Ignacio between January and April some year soon. See the gray whales and let them see you.

And Visit Pachico Mayoral’s Website!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Back to the Baja and San Ignacio Lagoon

What is it about a gray whale that inspires you to reach over the side of the panga (little boat) and pet this friendly ocean mammal on the head? I'm not sure what the attraction is, but I'm heading back to San Ignacio Lagoon again this year to do it again.

This year, though, I'll make sure to put my lifejacket on over my shirt not under it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Celebrating a Birthday . . .

Well, another birthday to be grateful for. On this day, more than 60 years ago, my 19-year-old mother zoomed along in the backseat of a taxicab to a Providence hospital about 12 miles from home. My grandmother, a nurse, rode along with her. I think my grandpa, the town's much loved doctor, was on call at the hospital and already there waiting for us to arrive.    

As the story goes, my dad didn't hear about my impending birth until after I arrived at 3:45 am. No cell phones or other social media back then, right? Actually, most people had a "party line" and shared a phone with neighbors. Kind of like cans and string. Very few people enjoyed the luxury of their own phone line. If you picked up the phone and you heard talking, you just hung up and tried back later. Emergencies, like the birth of me, allowed an interruption and a special call to the hospital.

Because my mom had moved back home for her last months of pregnancy, my dad agreed to stay at his URI frat house until my arrival. After than we moved to "DiChristofaro's" on Anthony Green into an apartment I remember having huge furniture. My first memory is standing in my crib looking at a bright light under the door of the bedroom I shared with my parents. I could hear laughing and happiness, but I was alone in the dark.

When I learned to walk, I couldn't reach the doorknobs or climb on the couch.

Folktales about my life threaded through the neighborhood with stories of my mom dropping me on my head on the cement floor at the Boy's Club where my dad lifeguarded, leaving the brakes off my carriage so it careened into the river and floated Moses-style along the shoreline, and forgetting me in the bathtub with the water running.

As a toddler, one of my favorite things to do (according to my mother) included waving my training pants at the cars as they drove by my playpen set in the sunshine out on the Green near our fence. So, I can honestly say that I've spent a lifetime with my bottom exposed . . . in one way or another.  

We lived at DiChristofaro's until my sister arrived on the scene in the spring of 1953. My grandmother gave the ancestral home, called affectionately 751, to my mother, and we all moved in with the ghosts of my great-grandmother (Nellie) and great-grandfather (Armand) and the spiritualists who lived there in the ell many years before them.

Flat-out spooky, this house still stored Nellie's floor-length gowns and my great uncle Rollo's WWII medals and uniforms up in the attic. The old garage in front of my grandpa's and grandmere's garden had wagon wheels and rusty tools for tending to horses' hooves.

I loved that house. My childhood memories live there still . . . but in a fictional way. I'm working on the stories for you right now.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Skatin' Around the Christmas Tree - 1950s Style

Memories of Christmas back in the late 50s start with the living room filled with presents. This is before my brother arrived on the scene in 1959, so the presents circa 1958 included all-girl stuff for my two sisters and me. Dolls galore for Debi and Van, along with an easybake oven with a pack or two of cake mixes, a red tricycle with fancy handlebar handles with red and white streamers, and lots of new dresses and patent leather maryjanes. 

For me, the oldest at age 10, a microscope is the gift of choice. My mother gave me the deluxe model with a separate accessories case full of things like glass slides, little magnifyiers, dried bugs, and diatomaceous earth (I'm not sure I ever figured out what that was for). I was the girl child who never wore a dress, except when required for school. 

The crowning glory of our Christmas tree included special lights on the tree bubbling gold and red inside their 3-inch, liquid filled, glass spires. There's nothing in the 21st century to compare. (Now they are considered too dangerous to use, even if you can find them.)

Can it be true I received a new microscope every year? No, that's impossible. But I did receive a new pair of white ice skates every year. That's every single year from age 10 to 14. Rhode Island in winter is frozen solid and perfect for skating. Ponds and lakes from Weekapaug to Exeter hosted skaters in red and blue and snowflake sweaters. They twirled around the perimeters making sure someone special watched from the hillside nearby.

I had the skates, but I wasn't much of a skater. Once I stood up in them, my feet hurt no matter how many pairs of socks I wore. So, I would skate 5 minutes so my mother could watch and wave. Then I came in for hot chocolate.

Every year a child or two would fall through the ice and be hauled out later by the fire department. To me, this meant skating should be forever banned everywhere. But no. To be a New Englander, you must skate. Maybe that's why I live in Maryland. . . .