Baja Surf Mission: Dropping Into the Fray and Freedom of Mexico
Baja. This is where my heart beats harder. The lines are sharper here. The beer is colder and I swear, food tastes better here.
We are on a Baja surf mission to find pristine waves and solitude. Temporarily leave the land of pretty things, shiny new goods and sanitized square buildings. Live in the dirt on the edge of this peninsula, where the Pacific blends into the Mexican desert. We crave the grimy coating of red Baja dirt to give us that thin layer of adventure that we wear proudly.
If you’ve never crossed the Mexican border at some point in your life, you should. It is our neighboring country after all and it’s always good to know your neighbors. The San Ysidro/Tijuana crossing is particularly interesting because you drive along the rickety metal fence that parallels the border for a few miles on the Mexican side before you head south towards Ensenada. This always trips me out and I think about what this fence means to both Mexicans and Americans.
The first thing you notice is the smell in Tijuana – the combination of burning trash, diesel, and a touch of sewage. Every time we enter this country, whether by car or by plane, the first thing we do is take a big nasally breath in, then look at each other and say something about the smell. I love the smell.
We take some time in Ensenada to grocery shop. Food is cheaper here and it’s just more fun to hang out in Wal-Mart in Mexico, right? We spend a few hours getting enough for for two weeks of camping. We have to be self sufficient as there are no stores and no restaurants where we are going. We buy bags of avocados, tomatoes, jalapenos, limes, tortillas, that yummy Oaxacan cheese that makes the best quesadillas, and beer. Some classic Tecate, the Mexican macrobrew of choice in Baja. We also stop at Chris’ favorite Pemex station. It’s run by all women and they wear their uniforms high and tight, complete with piles of makeup and giant hoop earrings. We said something to them noting that it was all women employees and they grinned and said that the boys work at night, but it’s all women during the day. We fill up on diesel and head on our way. Everything takes longer here and we still have a good distance to go to our first stop for the night.
The border area transitions from California to Mexico slowly as there are many Californians who own houses and property on the most northern coast of Baja. It’s a toll road all the way to Ensenada, so it’s fast and smooth, not like the remainder of the highway on the peninsula. It is a beautiful coastline and the houses and resorts are pretty high rent, with many signs in English and restaurants that have gringo pizza and spaghetti. But as you descend down past Ensenada, the towns become dusty bergs with brightly colored delicious taco shops, hardware stores, mini-supers, and more. The towns this time around seemed to have a fresh coat of paint as the pinks, oranges and yellows stand brightly from the red clay dust that coats every surface.
Driving here is in no way even close to the chaos of Asia, but it does have some heart stopping moments. “Oh fuck, oh fuck. Passing!” Chris screams, gripped to the steering wheel. It’s the code for “giant semi truck full of tomatoes is passing us right now so you better hang on in case I need to swerve off the road because we only have inches on either side and this truck is going to get really close.” We stop breathing for a moment as the sound of the truck gets louder and passes us. Mexican truck drivers are masters of passing and they are unafraid. To the untrained driver, the traffic seems crazy hectic, but really it is an organized set of different rules of the road. Once you learn the rules, it is manageable. Sort of.
Four hours later, we chase daylight as we pull into a beach side gringo encampment of casitas and brightly painted trailers to spend our first night in Baja. It can be a fun little surf break that also happens to include a rusty heap of a shipwreck left after a freighter ran ashore in 1981. Unfortunately there is no swell in the water, so we bail early the next morning to keep moving.
Our drive the next day is through a bright blue-sky covered desert full of crazy plants such as agave, ocotillo, elephant trees and the Dr. Suess-like boojum trees. I always wonder if the late and great Dr. Suess, who lived in San Diego, traveled the peninsula for inspiration. We stop for lunch in Valley de Los Cirios and as I hike up to a boulder pile to take photos, a little red coyote cruises by me, not seeing me at first, and then skittering away when we eventually make eye contact. Look closely and the desert is not just a finger of dry, barren land, but is full of life.
Estamos listos para surf pronto!