I have just had the most incredible, and possibly the most significant, experience of my life. I know that this experience is not yet over, not yet complete, because I am still processing it and trying to incorporate it and take in what it means and how it has changed me and continues to do so. That experience was a trip to the San Ignacio Lagoon to see the Gray Whales.
Words are totally inadequate to convey the feelings, the sights, the sounds and the whole aura surrounding my encounter with these amazing creatures. But I feel like I have to try, have to attempt to share the inner changings that are still occurring. As I sit here typing this, tears literally come to my eyes and I am once again filled with an overwhelming emotion and an incredulity that it ever even happened.
My sisters, Margaret and Christine, and I embarked on this journey on February 22, 2006 after a couple of years of planning, saving, and dreaming about seeing these gentle giants in their native surroundings. In spite of the excitement and the expectations, I don’t think any of us had even an inkling of what this adventure held in store. We packed our gear, got our Mexican tourist card and endured a 14 hour bus trip from Tijuana to San Ignacio followed by a 2 hour van trip over dirt roads to arrive at Campo Cortez, our base for this wonderful, life-altering event. The area is a reserve for the whales and every precaution is taken to preserve the natural habitat. The camp itself is staffed by knowledgeable, caring people dedicated to keeping things as low impact as possible. Everything is run on solar and wind power and the basic accommodations are very comfortable. No frills – just spectacular sunrises and sunsets, the howling of coyotes, and the song of the wind and the whales. A perfect place to put aside all thoughts of the outside world and to focus on the reason for being there: the whales!
Prior to boarding the small boats and heading out into the lagoon, I had often wondered about being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of these animals. I never had any doubt that we would see the whales or thought that they simply would not be there. But what would it feel like? Would they seem mammoth? Would it be scary to be in a vessel much smaller than they are? Would we be engulfed by these creatures? Would they accept us or would they avoid us? Would they try to turn us over? Would we be simply overwhelmed.
That first afternoon and our first whale watch quickly pushed any fears, any doubts, any thought at all, right out of my mind. From the point of seeing the first blows in the distance and realizing that we were surrounded, literally surrounded, by these breathtaking beings, all thought of any kind disappeared. It became a happening that was all-engulfing, a phenomenon that was just an experience like no other. Were these animals physically huge? I don???know. I never even considered their bodily size. Many times in our six outings we would see part of a whale on one side of the boat and another large part of the same one on the other side or see an adult swimming along beside us stretching far beyond both the bow and the tiller, and yet, their body size simply meant nothing. Their bulk was not defining. They were not merely the largest animals on the planet. They were much more and I am still trying to connect with that.
We saw whales breach. We saw them spyhop (poke their heads straight up into the air). We saw them blow and delighted in the rainbows formed in the spray. We saw them swim along beside us. We saw them play games. We saw them mate. We went for rides on their backs. We splashed them with water as they splashed us. We sang to them and listened to their song. We watched them roll on their sides and look us in the eye. We laughed and enjoyed and felt the connection. And, yes, we touched them. We kissed them. We loved them and they loved us.
There was no fear here. No judgment. No expectations. Some of the whales just do their own thing and don’t want to have anything to do with the boats and we delighted in them from a distance. Some of them are curious coming close but always just out of reach, teasing, and we enjoyed their antics. And some resemble Labrador puppies coming close to be touched and to share themselves. You can feel the gentleness and the strength and know that you are part of the same universe and share the same emotions on a certain level.
The whole experience was about trust and acceptance. I think I may now have some small idea of what unconditional love is all about. The phenomenal sense of well-being, of no worry, of knowing that all is well in your world is something that each of us should experience at least once in our lifetimes. And that is what I am still trying to understand and integrate. I may never fully get there but the seeds are planted. A glimpse has been granted. And for that I am eternally grateful.
By Sharon Andersen