The road to the whales eats cars. When Wallace J. Nichols, an American turtle researcher, broke down he was stuck for two days until a mechanic happened by. The mechanic was a friend of the notorious Gordo Fischer, known throughout Baja California Sur for poaching sea turtles. While the mechanic patched up the rock-blasted International Travelall in the garage of his San Ignacio home, the poacher and the conservationist sized each other up over cold Tecates. That’s how things go here. One road. One lagoon. And a bunch of people with different ideas about how the lagoon should be used. Have a beer amigo and let me take the measure of my enemy.
At the ocean-end of the 37-mile, oil pan-piercing, axle-busting Baja desert dirt road, past fingers of cardon cacti, volcanic ridges and eerie, seemingly endless salt flats aglow in pale, winter light, is Laguna San Ignacio, the last unspoiled mating and calving grounds of the California gray whale. The route the whale pods take to these warm, peaceful waters is even more obstacle-strewn than the drive here. From the frigid waters of the Bering Sea, the cetaceans dodge oil tankers and fishing nets and swim by indigenous Siberians with rifles, then run a gantlet of diesel-spewing whale-watching boats while enduring the sewage discharge of Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and the San Diego-Tijuana area.