Being paid to travel and take photographs is a profession I can recommend. Of course Reality is a slightly paler version of that ideal, but second best is travelling anyway and making money subsequently from the photos.
I have many clients who are also friends and sometimes I get invited along on trips not just for my good looks but because I can be the designated driver (of the camera). The arrangement works both ways ‘cos I get to see places and do things that might otherwise have been unattainable and get shots of places and scenes off the beaten track. Those images become my stock and trade. And I get to travel with friends.
So last week I get invited to jump on a Pilatus PC-12 from my base in Puerto Vallarta and fly 300 mph at 26,000 feet across the Sea of Cortez to go pet Californian Grey Whales in Magdelena Bay, Baja.
The plane is owned by a gentleman named Nick Coates for whom I have photographed several houses and residential projects in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, like http://www.callananphoto.com/candelaria/ Nick loves to travel and gets bonus kicks out of sharing his adventures with others.
Joining him on this trip was his buddy Carson who kept us all in stitches with his constant banter, spontaneous jokes and his tireless tirades of truth-stretching.
Also onboard was Nick’s business partner Jim Dolan, who could sell sand to the Arabs, and probably does.
This trip was almost men-only, with the charming exception of Mercedes, accompanying Nick’s son Jeff who was along to scout a Baja venue for a desert counterpart to his thrilling canopy zip-line tour in Vallarta http://www.canopytours-vallarta.com/
The pilot of the plane was Charlie Chicharron Parker one of my dearest friends in Mexico and someone with whom I would fly anywhere,in any type of aircraft – as long as we hadn’t beendrinking the night before. On a previous long trip he let me
fly and claims it was my piloting which made him puke; it’s an awful thing to hear through headphones. The smell wasn’t great either! When he’s not flying Charlie joins the swelling ranks of local land-pimps and is busy selling off his hometown of Mascota in the Sierra hinterland.
Also on board was John G Youden, who was the real reason I stayed in Mexico. Ten years ago he offered me $ for photos (coincidentally of a sailboat trip through Baja) to illustrate an article in one of his magazines, and I’ve never looked back on that prompt to start a career with camera. John’s never looked back either because his empire has grown from strength to strength http://www.virtualvallarta.com/
The 3 day tour as a group affair of disparate sorts and various agendas was bound to be disjointed at times but we always regrouped at mealtimes and all got on famously. We landed at Cabo San Lucas’ downtown airfield and while one group hired a helicopter to scout Jeff’s locations the rest of us headed into town through the dusty barrios that serve as the incongruous other side to Cabos’ rich veneer. John and I, making the most of the chance to document and update our image libraries, paired up and went looking for photos of the dichotomous destination that is Cabo San Lucas.
The Mexican real estate boom is keeping pace with the growing tourism trade and Cabo is growing at a hectic rate. Housing in huge private developments like Pedregal is affluence boxed in concrete and exclusive in an ignorant way, but they can’t build fast enough to satisfy the hoardes fleeing south of the border to a life of retirement, retreat and lax driving regulations. Vistas of the beautiful Pacific Ocean on one side of the Cape and the Sea on the other limit the town’s expansion and buffer the rampant development of the landscape.
After a night of food and wine at great expense at an eatery in the marina, the next day we hired 2 cars and drove separately to Todos Santos an hour north of Cabo. Stopping for a bodysurf along the way, eating hot chicken washed down with cold beer roadies and wandering at will with camera through the small tourist town, was for me the ideal way to spend a half day.
The other car with the older gentlemen, bravely accompanied by Charlie, saw no such attractions, made two desultory laps of the 4 block town, about-faced and drove straight through the desert back to Cabo!
Late that afternoon we re-boarded the Pilatus and flew along the Pacific coast of Baja up to Puerto Lopez Mateos. The final approaches over the extensive wetlands and alternating sand dunes of the Magdelena Bay estuarine systen were fascinating from the air and inspired plans for return trips to investigate the winding channels and flats and intricacies that we wouldn’t even begin to discover during our whirlwind 12 hour visit. We spotted numerous whales in the shallow, muddy waters as a lowering sun, full bladders and a growing thirst beckoned us down.
The airstrip was compacted sand and crushed seashell and airport security consisted of an old man with a smile and a beat-up truck. The smell of pelican dung and marine offal wafting in from the fish plant set the scene and the scent for the rest of our stay there, which made no claim to be anything other than a fishing village, which was a refreshing and peaceful change from the pretentiousness of Cabo. The SKY satellite dishes attached paradoxically to cardboard shanty homes an amusing amendment to their simple situation.
Our accomodations were similarly humble but quite adequate. Dinner out on the town, which consisted of fresh lobster, prawns and fish, would’ve been out of character had it not been served to us on plastic plates seated on plastic chairs on a locals verandah under a single lightbulb. Narry a single car on the sandy street disturbed our feast which, fueled by numerous cervezas and finalised by a shot of aguardiente, ended early, the long day of walking, driving, swimming and flying accounting for the contended weariness of us all.
And so, early next morning, after the longest and most enjoyable of travel preambles, the moment of justification of all the preceeding was upon us. We made our communal way to the docking area where a throng of tour operations catered to the crowds of cetacean seekers by first demanding indemnifying signatures, followed by lifejacket-fitting and finally embarking on a panga with our guide. The whales migrate from Alaska each year to mate and calve and incidentally provide Lopez Mateos with a regular income.
We motored all of about 800 m before spotting a mother and calf gray whale meandering about on the surface. (The water’s only about 12 m deep so there’s not much place else for a 35 ton animal to be except the surface.) The mother appeared HUGE at such close range and was content, thankfully, to stay at bay while her young calf entertained the tourists. Or was it vice versa?
As we lay adrift the calf would come alongside and profer its head at which point the guide would get very excited and shout “tocala..tocala…touch eet! touch eet!” And at first we were reluctant because of the sheer size and presence of the animal but became braver as we understood that an animal with that much blubber needs a vigorous rubbing not just a gentle pat. In fact the favourite massage points were inside the mouth, along the baleen plates and especially the tongue! We cleaned a few parasitic arthropds from around it’s head and double blowhole as it rolled and lollygagged about, obviously enjoying every minute of it, and the anthropomorphists be damned!
The pair eventually got bored with our erratic attentions, so we too went in search of other distractions. On the far shore we briefly checked out a sample of the dunes we’d seen from the air before returning to base. Loading up on cold beers for the flight back to PV, 5GB of RAW images in a ziplock and a barrage of new experiences under my belt, it was with a degree of smugness that I reminded myself that this was all in a day’s work. I love my job.