Giant Mantas of San Benedicto Island

The focus of our trip was to photograph the giant mantas (Manta birostris) at San Benedicto Island in the Revillagigedo Archipelago. These are the largest mantas in the world and can be more than 20 feet (6 meters) across and weigh up to 3,500 pounds (1600 kilograms). The dive site called “the Boiler” is a cleaning station for these mantas where fish remove parasites from their bodies. Consequently, this site provides the best opportunities to see and photograph these gentle giants.

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Giant manta with two remoras attached. San Benedicto Island, Mexico.

The Revillagigedo Archipelago lies approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. These Pacific islands are more commonly referred to as the Socorro Islands. Aboard the Southern Sport, we dove 3 of the 4 islands (Roca Partida, San Benedicto, and Socorro).

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“The Boiler” has the best encounters in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.

A color variant from the more common black and white manta is an all black or nearly all black manta. It is not a different species of Manta birostris. However, it is exciting when one showed up as it looks so different.

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The “black manta” is a color variant of the Manta birostris. Pacific ocean, Mexico.
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Both color variants are shown here. San Benedicto Island, Mexico.

San Benedicto is the island for the giant mantas. They are used to divers and show no fear of people. They swim It seems a bit surreal, even a few weeks after our encounter with them, to have had huge mantas swim within a few meters of us. 

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What do they think of us when we look into each other’s eyes? “The Boiler”, Mexico.
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Pair of mantas (Manta birostris) at San Benedicto island, Pacific ocean, Mexico.
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“The Boiler” at San Benedicto Island, in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.

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Crevice Weaver Spider (Kukulcania) In Baja California Sur, Mexico

Mystery solved thanks to Spider ID! We stumbled across a large tarantula a few weeks ago that we definitely identified as a Baja tarantula. However, over the last number of days, we have been photographing this spider but couldn’t positively identify it. We were told it was a tarantula but we have discovered that although it is commonly misidentified as a tarantula, it is actually a female Crevice Weaver Spider (Kukulcania).

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There are about 8 individual spider webs like the one below across a 30-foot wide volcanic rock outcrop. It is smaller than the Baja tarantula with the body segments about 1 inch (2.5cm) not including the legs.

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The two pictures below were taken on a sunny day which makes the spider look darker. The second picture is a close-up to highlight the eyes.

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This spider came out of his den to investigate what was caught in his web. It attacked the beetle, I assume biting it, spun some web and went back in its den. The whole encounter lasted less than 45 seconds and was fascinating to watch.

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Isolated San Javier Mission From 1744 Still In Use

Nestled in the tiny remote village of San Javier is a Jesuit mission called Mision San Francisco Javier de Vigge-Biaundo, or San Javier Mission. The current building dates back to 1744  and is one of the best preserved and oldest Jesuit missions. It is in remarkable shape considering it has had little restoration. In fact, it is still used as a church today.

The drive takes you on a winding road through the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range offering stunning views of the mountains, canyons, and Loretta Bay far in the distance.  We made the trip on our own with a rental car but you can also take a tour or taxi. From the town of Loreta, the drive takes approximately 35 to 45 minutes (38.6/24 miles).

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It is incredible to imagine how the early Jesuits were able to build such a big structure in this remote location. The builders mined limestone from the surrounding hills and the alter pieces were brought by ship and then horseback and donkey from Loretto Bay to the mission.

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The main altar, as well as the two side altars, are framed with 18th-century oil paintings. The altars were built from gold leaf brought in from Mexico City.

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Feeding Children at Village of Hope Mwanza in Tanzania

We were fascinated with the large scale food preparation that occurs each day by these wonderful women for the children at the Village of Hope Mwanza. Many photos we share in our posts are situations or events that were unexpected from our perspective. Cooking for 200+ children is an enormous effort but must start with wood for the fire. This man uses a machete to cut the wood. I asked him if I could try it. The wood was very hard and after about 10 swings I had only cut about 1/2 inch (1cm) into it. He does this for hours.

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Cutting the wood to be used for cooking

 

The house moms are responsible for the children’s homes but are also tasked with preparing the food which includes two nutritious mid day meals for the neighbourhood kids that attend school. The women are inspecting the food prior to cooking to remove any impurities. This seems to be a social time for the women as a great deal of talking and laughing was be taking place. Good to see all those smiles! Vegetables, fish and maize are part of the meal in these photos.

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Removing impurities prior to cooking
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Smiles always seem to be present
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Women carrying water on their heads

Now the hard part of cooking on these large outdoor pots starts. With the temperatures outside approaching 30 degrees Celsius we can only imagine how hot it gets standing next to them stirring the food.

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Fish being cooked on the outdoor pots
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Getting close to the finished product

Here is a video of the final stages of making the mid morning porridge:

 

Mangoes: From Tree To Tricia

The mature mango trees on the Village of Hope Mwanza compound are beginning to produce mangoes much to Tricia’s delight. The harvesting method is simple but effective. Take a long stick and knock them down and if this doesn’t work then climb the tree.

The mangoes fall to the ground and are gathered in piles. A staff member then uses a wheelbarrow to get them away from Tricia as soon as possible and to the children. But if you are lucky you get to try one fresh right off the tree!

Village Of Hope & Farm, Bulale Tanzania

Tanzania, like many African countries, faces some big food challenges in the future. A current population of over 50 million is expected to increase to 134 million people by 2050. Global warming may cause severe food shortages and this beautiful country could be faced with a challenge to feed its population.

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Rice Planting

For the past few years we been looking to get involved in a project that could increase the quality of life for people in Africa. It is easy living in Canada to take for granted all that we have from homes, cars, clothing, food and education. An opportunity has presented itself to us in Tanzania. A new Village of Hope (Bulale) is in its initial phase of construction and plans to open to students in January 2018.

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Entrance to Village of Hope Bulale

A few hundred metres from the Village of Hope complex is their 70+ acre farm that has been under utilized but has great potential. This is our short exploratory trip to view the facilities and see if we can contribute to the development of the farm. We would like to spend time here each winter helping out at the farm.

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Planting Corn

The future direction of the farm is in it’s initial phase but some goals would include meeting the food needs of the Village Of Hope, increasing the production of the farm to generate income and to provide agricultural training for the surrounding community. Hopefully our nearly 25 years in business will help us contribute, in some small way, to the success of the project.

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It is our desire that some of you reading this post will take the time to investigate the Village of Hope website and decide to sponsor a child or contribute financially to one of their great programs.

 

Village of Hope Mwanza

We had a great visit at Village of Hope Mwanza.  Village of Hope is an amazing organization that gives help to vulnerable children by providing education, nutrition, healthcare & housing (when needed). They currently have 9 locations in 6 African Countries (Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe & Burundi) and provide help to 3,000 children.

We were very impressed with what we saw at the Village of Hope Mwanza.  Not only do they house 86 children ranging in age from 3 years old to early twenties, they also have about 200 kids from the community that come each week day for school & nutritious meals.  All of the older children go to community high schools as VOH Mwanza currently offers classes from pre-school through Grade 6.

In total they have 10 houses, each with 8 to 9 kids and one house mother.  Every house has both boys & girls as well as mixed ages which feels more like family to the children. The kids are also required to help with chores such as laundry, cooking & cleaning so that they learn the skills they will need to be independent. The meals are cooked in a traditional Tanzanian outdoor kitchen.

There is also one large outdoor kitchen where all of the house mothers cook a mid morning & mid day meal for all 250+ kids who go to school on-site.  Watching them cook was very fascinating which may deserve a blog post on its own!

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The grounds were well cared for and kept clean both by the kids and staff.

One room is set up for sewing  as well as a dedicated man who does beautiful beadwork.

There is also a large garage/machine shop where many pieces of equipment, large & small, get fixed.

The kids were a lot of fun to meet! Huge smiles, happy greetings and a lot of silliness 🙂

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We will be back!

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