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What would a cactus trip in Baja be without a boat trip?

So today we set the alarm for 5 a.m., watched the sunrise and around 6:35 we were on our way to Isla Esteban. This is one of the more difficult islands to get to, half way between Isla Tiburon (technically part of Sonora) and Isla Angel de la Guarda that protects Bahia de los Angeles. The reason for this boat trip? To see Echinocereus grandis and Mammillaria estebanensis, two species that are endemic to the island. 

Kyle joined us for the day. He had used our Capitan, Pancho, many times for the Field Study trips that focused on Marine Biology. We would spend some three hours on the water to reach a bay that Kyle had selected on Google Earth as the most fertile looking site on the island. Despite the forecast for a nice sunny day and a sea as flat as a mill-pond, I had taken the precaution of putting on a T-shirt, Shirt, jumper, safari jacket and windproof jacket, as these boat trips can be very chilly, particularly first thing in the morning. No regrets there.

We interrupted our journey as Kyle had spotted a pod (?) of whales – not the grey whales that we were used to seeing on the Pacific Ocean side; these were sperm whales. Much larger and much less willing to interact with us. They seemed to be sun bathing, occasionally taking a deep breath and short dive. They were not bothered that our panga drifted close to them. As they moved by, a pod of dolphins provided the entertainment by swimming around and underneath the boat. All very useful fodder for cameras – still and video.

We passed by Isla Raza (??) where millions of birds were amassed on the rocks, flying off in all directions when our panga approached.

And so we arrived at Isla Esteban where Pancho found a nice bay with beach suitable for landing. We have become experienced enough cactus explorers not to expect the plants you are looking for to line up and greet us when we arrive at a location name from where plants are said to come. Do they live on the hills, a day’s walk away from our landing or on the other side of the island? Another 3 hours in a boat to reach?

But Lady Luck was with us (again) and as soon as we were off the shingle beach – there they were: Mammillaria estebanensis and Echinocereus grandis, together with Agave desertii, Stenocereus gummosus, Cylindropuntia sp and Pachycereus pringlei. Although not reported from the island I had half expected to find a Ferocactus as well – but not this time.

The Mammillaria was larger than I had expected, based on plants that I owned and killed in the UK. It is variable in spine colour from almost while to yellowish and some heads have hooked spines while others do not. E. grandis looked much like the plants in cultivation – but a bit more battered by the elements. Their habitat on a rocky hillside made for excellent photos. Kyle and Eunice went on to explore just over a low hill and found the same plants growing on flat soil. They also saw and photographed an island endemic iguana.

We were in good time and took up Pancho’s offer to stop by another island on the way home. Our landing on Isla Salsipuedes was less productive. Once we were off the shingle beach we were confronted with a solid wall of Stenocereus gummosus, with Pachycereus pringlei dotted in between, right down to the beach. We tried farther along on sand rather than shingle – same story. There were Cylindropuntia here as well. I took some close-ups of the hillside to enlarge at the hotel, but so far these have not revealed any small stuff like Mams, Feros or Echinocereus.bThe Pachycereus looked different from their main land brethren in that they branched right from the base, rather like Stenocereus thurberi, the Organ Pipe cactus, instead of a meter or more above the ground.

Back on the boat, we spotted our pod of sperm whales again. It may well have been the same group that we had seen in the morning. We counted 14 individuals, including at least one calf – the size of a boat! As you can imagine today’s picture count was in excess of 600, with probably a number of rejects where the whale or dolphin had disappeared below the surface just as I pressed the shutter.

We arrived back in Bahia de los Angeles exhausted and after a meal of grilled fish were in bed before 9 p.m.

While we had been enjoying ourselves, Angel, the young lad who is caretaker at Raquel & Larry’s, had arranged for his father to take a look at Elsie. When we came back the hose to the power steering pump had been replaced and the dodgy electrics had been replaced and taped up as well. Tomorrow we can be confident when hitting the road again!

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