This memoir by Blair Batson was first published in Janice Kinne’s Journal del Pacifico
I came down to Baja one February to escape the cold grey of Oregon and hang out with my family. My sister Bryan – who owns and operates Todos Santos Eco Adventures with her husband Sergio — was excited she had arranged for us to come at the perfect time to see the grey whales in Magdalena Bay. I was excited we had yet another entertaining way to spend a day in paradise while waiting for Sergio’s killer margaritas to appear at dusk.
I had been whale watching in Oregon before, and found it hard to recommend: Go out in a large boat with a bunch of strangers in the rain, get mildly seasick, look for whales for about 2 hours, finally catch a glimpse of one swimming 50 yards off, pursue it until it disappears, then call it a day. Oh yeah, and get totally drenched and freeze to death. I was glad I could look forward to better weather.
On the appointed day, my family goes out onto Mag Bay in a 40-foot open boat. We putter along for a while admiring the smooth open water and arid landscape. After about an hour, the panga driver starts turning the boat around. Sergio, who can always spot wildlife a mile away, gets an intense look on his face.
“Ballena!” We all turn in the direction Sergio is pointing. And there is the unmistakable shape of a grey whale fluke disappearing into the bay – about 50 yards away. I’m thrilled. We’re all thrilled. It’s like a Sierra Club calendar cover shot. We hoot and holler and jump up and down as best we can without tipping the boat. I am completely satisfied with the trip, as I have never seen that classic image in real life – and so close. Awesome. And I’m still dry and warm. I’m thinking Todos Santos Eco Adventures might want to expand their business to Oregon.
The panga driver cuts the motor back and we start sort of drifting around in the middle of the Bay. I’m thinking a margarita might be nice to celebrate our sighting. Then I hear again: “Ballena!” On the right side of the boat about 10 yards off, we see a whale flipper sticking out of the water, turning – as if the whale is flopping onto its back for a rest. Sergio says it’s a juvenile – probably 40 feet long – the size of our boat. Gulp. Where’s Mom?
The next thing I know Bryan and Sergio are diving towards one side of the boat where we can see the juvenile just five feet under the surface a few feet away from us. Holy smokes, he’s big! The panga driver starts banging the boat and Bryan and Sergio are singing and calling out like they’re calling their cats: “Hey Ballena; here ballena. Come to mama; come to papa. Here ballena.”
Well, I think, crazy’s what I’m good at, so what the hell? I throw myself along the edge of the boat, leaning out as far as I can over the water: “Here Ballena. Hey baby. Come here, cutie.” A moment later, I am gobsmacked when the little sweetheart lifts his huge head out of the water — right under my outstretched hand! I almost dive in the water to embrace him, but somebody’s got a firm hold on my jeans from behind.
I pet and scratch his head and back and coo and laugh. As Bryan points out, he really likes it when you scratch his chin and barnacley parts. She calls him Pinky. So I keep petting and scratching and cooing, wishing the moment would never end. My baby stays with me a good long while and then, finally, turns and looks me straight in the eye with a sweet smile to say thank you and farewell.
At that moment, gazing into that beautiful eye, I know. You may think that angels have wings. But I’m here to tell you they have fins and flukes and are covered with barnacles. I have never had such a feeling of peace and connectedness with any of the many sentient beings I’ve encountered on this planet. That sweet young whale radiated total kindness, beneficence and fun. Anthropomorphizing? I don’t think so. Ask my family. Pinky was generous. He let everyone love him and pet him and feel that amazing connection, the grace of encounter.
This is all by way of saying that if anyone suggests you spend a day or two whale watching with Todos Santos Eco Adventures – as opposed to say, another day of walking on the beach, eating at all the fabulous Todos Santos restaurants, or drinking mas margaritas with your pals – you might want to seriously consider it. It’s not Oregon. Just sayin’.