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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Swimming with the Sea Lions in Puerto Refugio

9/22/2011

Our heat reprieve was short lived. Regardless of the calendar we are once again in thick sweaty humidity and temps in the high 90's. Oh well at least the nights continue to cool everything down and that makes a world of difference. Everyone is joking about how we are going to be shivering in Mazatlan and Puerta Vallarta in a couple of months and ~gasp~ will have to break out the pants and jackets. Meanwhile frequent dips in the sea get you through the days projects and siesta time is remains mandatory.

The last three nights we have been at Puerto Refugio and it is beautiful here. The hills are a thousand shades of burnt reds and browns, the waters are teaming with fish and pitch black nights make the night skies almost hypnotic. Yesterday we dingied out a mile to a guano covered islet that is home to a sea lion rookery. We had heard that it was possible to swim with the lions there and I couldn’t wait to try it. Sure enough at the sight of the dinks the lions started to bark.

Ashore we could see maybe a hundred sea lions and among them all on the rocky beach were a couple of big bulls. Despite the reports of amazing human and lion encounters they are still wild animals and deserve respect and we had been told that you shouldn’t attempt to swim with them during breeding season but when is breeding season? Friends had been in the water here two weeks prior but at the sight of the bulls I wondered if our timing was Ok or if they were going to view the encounter as trespassing. My mind just for a minute didn’t really think the whole thing was a very good idea.

We dropped our little anchor and started putting on our fins and the Bulls had done nothing but bark a bit. The rest of the lions were pretty uninterested, and then slowly they began pouring into the sea. I was the first one in -a little scared but very excited. At first they were sort of standoffish but the longer we were in the more curious they became.

Most of the lions that came to play were young. They started out rather timidly by swimming around us without making eye contact. Then I began to experiment. What if I dive? What will they do if I roll or simply grab a rock and stay under for a bit? The more we acted like ssea lions they more excited they got. By now they were rushing past just barely out of reach. Some would come and pause and peer right into my eyes and others would come in groups suddenly from every direction rolling around you then leaving nothing but swirling water in their wake. The more eye contact we made the more daring they got.

At one point I rolled onto my back on the surface and lifted just my feet and head out of the water and slapped my big flippers together. I have no idea what they thought of that but it sure got their attention causing a bunch of them to surface and lift their heads and upper body out of the water to peer at me. They looked like big wet groundhogs peeking out of their dens. Interestingly if we began to withdraw, to swim away from them instead of into them they would chase after us until we turned back around.

All through this the air was alive with barking and splashing and the sound of the sea on the beach. Surrounded by sea lions I rolled and barked and snapped pictures nonstop. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I swam and dove until I was completely tuckered out and my camera battery died. I can’t wait to try it again.

Kat

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