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Her large, velvety eyes locked on mine, the sleek pup torpedoed
through the water toward me. I spluttered in my mask and kicked
spasmodically to avoid being hit. But with precision control, the
pup veered away at the last instant. Laughing now, I gathered my
wits and settled down for a closer look at the sea lions swimming
around us. After all, I knew they only wanted to play, and this is
what we had come to do snorkel with the sea lions at Los
Los Islotes is a cluster of tiny red-rock islands north of La Paz,
the desert capital of Baja, Mexico. The islands’ claim to fame is
that they’re the year-round home to a colony or “rookery” of some
350 curious California brown sea lions.
Our threesome left La Paz earlier that morning in an open panga (a
high-speed, 26-foot boat). It was a bone-jarring, teeth-clattering,
2½-hour, bucking-bronco ride into the wind. From my perspective
huddled on the floor, the huge swells threatened to swamp us at any
moment. But David, our guide with the Cortez Club, one of a dozen
sea adventure outfits in La Paz, reassured me the ride didn’t
compare to the “really rough” days.
“The wind usually subsides come April,” he added.
By the time we anchored, however, the boat trip was a fading
memory. Protected from the wind and chop, the sea inside the
leeward curve of Los Islotes was a calm swath of aquamarine. The
sun shone overhead in the cloudless sky and the sea lions were
Dozens of them jostled or lay splayed on top of each other on the
jagged, guano-caked, rock shelves. Some lumbered to the edge and
belly-flopped into the water. That was our cue to join them.
Quickly donning wetsuits and snorkel gear, we jumped in.
The sea lion pups were eager to check us out.
“They like to nip your flippers,” David had warned, but perhaps
they’d seen too many flippers to go after ours. Instead, one pup
nuzzled up to my husband, who rolled over onto his side to peer at
the pup. Mimicking my husband, the pup also rolled over onto his
side and looked back. Other sea lions pirouetted around us and
Playful and exuberant, California sea lions are often mistaken for
the “trained seals” of aquarium shows and are said to be the
smartest of the pinnipeds, the class of mammal with flippers. The
chocolate-brown bulls can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and can
sometimes be aggressive.
Indeed, David had cautioned us against getting too close to the
massive males bellowing on the rocks. But the bulls were content to
defend their rocky territory, and it was the moms and their babes
who frolicked with us in the water.
They weren’t the only marine creatures to entertain us. A huge
school of silver sardines also floated through the water, along
with grouper and other exotic fish. The Sea of Cortez, in which Los
Islotes is found, is known as a scuba diver’s paradise. Manta rays,
colorful angelfish, parrotfish and more are all seen here. The
summer months, when the water is bathtub warm and the visibility is
an awesome 100 feet, are particularly popular with divers.
On the boat ride back to La Paz, we stopped at one of the beautiful
white-sand beaches of Balandra Bay. Baby pelicans swooped overhead
and dove for fish. And the only sounds were the soft lapping of the
waves against the shore and the mournful cawing of seagulls a quiet
reminder that our sea lion adventure had come to an end.
Sunny La Paz has developed a reputation as a destination for
soft adventure including deep-sea fishing, scuba diving and
snorkeling, kayaking expeditions, whale watching and windsurfing.
The city has retained a small-town character and unlike the deluxe
digs of Cabo San Lucas a three-hour drive south there are no
five-star hotels. What you find instead are inexpensive but
comfortable, pleasant, family-style accommodations.
La Concha Beach Club & Resort: Nestled on a sandy beach just
five minutes north of downtown, it’s the only beachfront hotel in
La Paz. The spacious, one-bedroom suites with full kitchens have
Mexican tilework and stained glass accents. Standard rooms are
being renovated from $80 a night. 10 percent commission.
Other good hotel choices include the Club El Moro, with suites and
a pretty pool from $70 a night (www.club elmoro.com) and the Hotel
Los Arcos on La Paz’s
seaside Malecon or promenade from $75 a night (www.