Escape from California to Baja, Mexico on board the Nautilus Belle Amie (July 16-24, 2020)

My daughter, Tatum and I, started our trip with a very unique experience of an empty SFO airport and a ¼ full flight via LAX to Cabo.  Security was a breeze and though within 10 minutes.  Lots of places they took our temperature with everyone wearing a mask and sitting away from each other.  LAX was a little busier but, again, seemed more like a ghost town.

When we arrived into Cabo, had our temperature taken again, and ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers, time share salesmen and others all asking us where we were going and if we needed a ride.  We had prearranged with Pako from Sealine Tours to transfer us to our hotel.  He were waiting right outside the door and within 10 minutes we were in the van and on our way.  We had booked at the Solmar Beach Club but, due to numbers, it was closed so they upgraded us to the Playa Grande next door (owned by Solmar) for the 2 nights.

Every time we left or returned to Playa Grande they would take our temperature and every single worker wore their mask and glasses and there was sanitizer everywhere. We felt really safe with hygiene while staying there.  However, about ½ of the guests didn’t really wear their masks so tried to keep more distance from them.  At the pool we could take masks off as the chairs were spaced well apart.

Every night we walked into town to look around and go out to dinner.  Town is pretty much ½ open with a few shops looking for business and most of the restaurants also open. Finally the day came to join the boat.  Check in with blood pressure, oxygen saturation & temperature check was around 7pm and then boarding is at 8pm.  The Belle Amie is a lovely 134 foot vessel just out of dry dock through COVID.  We had a briefing and then were shown to our rooms.  The vessel that 3 categories of cabin over three decks, a large dinning area and lounge.
Once settled in it was bedtime and the start of our trip north from Cabo to Magdalena Bay, arriving mid afternoon.  Diving briefing and then we were all geared up to finally get wet.  This trip is a transition one to move the boat from the Socorro season out of Cabo to the Great White season out of Ensenada and, due to the current situation, they offered clients the opportunity to join for an Exploratory trip.

It was a great group of people that had an adventurous spirit and no expectations.  Since this was a last minute trip there were only 13 of us on the boat so we had so much room to social distance and relax.  Clients were from all over the country and had reached Cabo via either direct flights or connecting.  Again, all felt safe getting there. None of the dive sites have really ever been dived before so they would look for areas that looked promising and then off we would go, tanks on our backs.  The water is extremely cold this year so the warmest we got was 63 degrees and the coldest was a very chilly 53 degrees. Visibility was not the best with a range from 4 feet to 40 feet but the underwater life is quite different as you head up the coast.  We had some beautiful coral dives with garibaldi, hog fish, wrasse, octopus, scorpion & stone fish, lots of morays and schools of sardines.   Nearer Ensenada we started getting into the kelp but all along sea lions would come out to either check you out or play with you.  Even though it is mating time we didn’t encounter any aggressive males (which I have on other trips to the Sea of Cortez) so it was always lovely to see their cheeky faces.

We were really lucky as we got to see, and actually get in the water commando style off the dingies, with 2 mega pods (over 2000 animals) of dolphin, marlin one day and then saw Orcas (1 male, 2 female and a baby) on one of the days mixed in with the dolphins.  Seeing either the dolphins or marlin underwater was a challenge, not only due to the low visibility on the surface, but we would get right in front of them and they would head straight towards us but split just before to go around us. The marlin were just SO fast that it was hard to keep up with them in the dingie, let alone get in front of them when we jumped in the water.The coastline of Baja California is spectacular. There are mountains, islands, dunes all under a vivid blue sky.  There are several places along the peninsula that we have properties where you can explore – well worth it for sure.The last night we had a hosted wine and cheese party on the top deck so, by that time, we had been together for 8 days and felt really comfortable that no one was sick so, limited masks we imbibed!!

Docking in Ensenada was amazing. Captain Gordon maneuvered that boat on a dime and slid quietly up to the dock.  Having lived on a sailboat for 3 years I know how hard that is with the wind, current, swells etc so I was suitably impressed. Before disembarking a doctor came on board to check us again (blood pressure, oxygen levels and temperature) after looking over our medical forms that we completed and then it was off the boat.Nautilus had arranged the transportation back to San Diego so we split into 2 x minibuses (6 & 5 people) and cleared out of the Marine and headed north.  The drive mostly follows the coast so we got our last glimpses before getting into Tijuana and the border. The border crossing was a breeze with about a 15 minute wait to go through immigration and then we joined the minivans on the American side and off to the San Diego airport.I must say that this trip was a much needed break from the world situation where we could unplug, be underwater and feel safe.