Experience A Trip Up The Sea Of Cortez

It’s right here and is one of the wonders of the world
BY: CARRIE DUNCAN

It’s best to see the Sea of Cortez from a boat. Even better, a boat that has a smooth professional staff, and with snorkel gear, dive tanks, kayaks and cocktails at the ready.

panterra1.JPGWe chose Panterra, which bills itself as an eco-adventure company and is out of British Columbia. Well, Lela Sankeralli, the honcho of the ecological non-profit, is out of Canada. Her entire crew and, of course, the boat, is local. She leases a beautifully remodeled 110-foot boat called Adventure from Sun Ryder, which has dozens of boats of various sizes in Cabo and La Paz.

Sankeralli tells us that she started by providing sailing trips in Canada, but in 2004 she turned the business into a non-profit organization and concentrated on developing Panterra Expeditions in La Paz. She feels it was her calling to provide week-long trips in what Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world,” and after all these years she is still very excited about the sea.

Panterra blossomed, growing from mainly school groups to include adult natural history expeditions, dive trips and the development of research and conservation programs. The money that would be profit, now goes into charitable involvements in and around Baja.

“We are not just an adventure travel company,” Sankeralli tells us, “we are a dedicated group of professionals sharing our passion and love of the Baja as well as touching the lives of our guests in a very meaningful way.”

We spent a week on the mother ship, the largest at 110 feet long, island hopping, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and some of us were diving. The boat drags behind it two covered pangas for trips out from the big ship to small coves.

The Adventure is extremely comfortable without being luxurious, and can hold 18 passengers and what seemed like a slew of crew. We passengers were pretty snug in the cabins, with four to a room, and a large clean bathroom down the hall. They cleaned the bathroom three times a day, not that they needed it.

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Food was basic Mexican, not gourmet, but tasty enough. They set out snacks between each meal, consisting mostly of chips and fruit. If anyone was hungry for more, it would be gladly provided. Nobody went hungry.

Alcohol was plentiful and included, no less than three beer taps going 24/7 and anything else you wanted to drink. We all called the cook Cookie, which of course he didn’t understand. Nearly all the crew spoke English, some very well. There was a college educated marine biologist onboard who seemed to be personally acquainted with every flotsam, jetsam, flora and fauna. Fish and birds, too. You couldn’t stump this guy, and he was also a certified diver.

These trips show us a side of Mexico that few people ever see. The intricate balance of the ecosystem makes us appreciate the world in a different way, and Panterra makes it really fun as well. Sankeralli goes out of her way to assure everyone knows their fellow passengers, which makes for great comradery and more fun. Meals were taken all together in the air conditioned main salon. The only other part of the ship which was air conditioned were the cabins.

The big ship was mostly on the move, going as far north as San Diego island, just south of Loreto. They usually go further, but we had a tropical storm watch going and were playing it safe.

The issue of safety was big on the boat, maybe a little more than this one liked, but it was for the good of everyone, as not everyone was so comfortable in the water. There was always a dive master snorkeling with a handful of people, and he had a float for anyone to grab on to if they tired. He also herded us together somewhat in a group and showed us what his eyes picked up what ours didn’t. It was like Beto had eyes in the back of his head, he knew where everyone was at all times. We had the opportunity if we wanted to, to go out snorkeling in a different place three times a day, and why wouldn’t we? The water was so clear, sometimes a turquoise, sometimes a green color, with visibility of like, forever. The water was about 88 degrees, like bath water.

In addition to diving and snorkeling, there were plenty of kayaks on board. We would kayak to neighboring land, dragging them up into a cove or an island, and then we could hike if we wanted to.

At night we all huddled together in the air conditioned salon, talking and laughing and sharing photos of the day. We were shown them all on a big 60 inch screen, (there is no wifi onboard, and we could rarely get a cell signal). In this way, we lived the day all over again.

The fish! The fish!

panterra3.JPGIt was really all about the fish. We saw exotic looking fish so up close, so personal, one wondered how they took our presence so calmly. We thought we looked like predators, and not pretty ones, either, what with our snorkel gear on. But they calmly went about their business, not dodging us at all. At times we were surrounded by multicolored fish, most of which were incredibly pretty. The ones not so pretty were pretty interesting in their own way.

At one point we were taken to an area with hundreds of sea lions, some basking on the rocks, some darting and zooming through the water around us. Their pups were still somewhat young at this time of the year, and they were especially playful with us and with each other, tossing sticks between them just as children all over the world do. They came so close we could have touched them but were told not to.

This was truly a trip of a life time, and even though I have been in Baja 23 years now, I saw a part of this wonderful country I have never seen before. I knew of course, that the sea was out there, but did not truly appreciate how special, and how fun it could be to experience it from a ship like this.

Panterra has many more trips planned, they have a pretty good website at www.panterra.com which explains them all. Some are special interest trips like research, yoga retreats, strictly scuba diving, natural history, wine tasting, and gourmet food. Most trips are about five days and cost about $1500.

Coming up quickly, on October 18, is a trip, (they like to call them expeditions), centering on whale sharks, and on October 28 is a wine and culinary trip. ‘Scuse me, expedition.

Now is a good time to go because the water is so warm. They have a half dozen assorted expeditions next year too, about every other month. They also have day trips and right about now is a good time to go out and see the whale sharks.

Go to their website for more info on that, but didn’t we already tell you to go there? Yes, I’m quite sure we did. They have one of the better websites around. Or contact Lela Sankeralli, she’s easy to reach at lela@panterra.com. ,