About four years ago, we spent a few weeks in Mexico where we flew into Manzanillo and took buses through to Zihuatanejo, along the Michoacán coast. From our seats high up on the bus, we slowly wound through jungle-covered hills with views of some of the most spectacular coastline of Mexico. With its pristine beaches, palapa restaurants, small villages, and great waves, we vowed then to come back and spend more time in Michoacán.
Michoacán is… well, Michoacán. This Mexican state of Michoacán is often referred to as the wild west of Mexico and it still holds up to its reputation. We don’t even pretend to be naïve to the major problems that Mexico is facing with the drug cartels and crime, very serious stuff. And Michoacán has its fair share of problems. But we try to stay informed and talk to as many people as possible to know what is happening and how things feel. So far, so good.
Upon leaving the built up area around Puerto Vallarta, we drove for two days and arrived in La Ticla, infamous for its surf as well as it’s sordid past. In the past, Ticla has had a reputation for being rough and tumble and every few years there would be issues with crime and chaos in the area. To put it this way, one of our surf guidebooks says, “This is a seedy area to spend time in.” (Add in the Fox News element of “PANIC and FEAR”, and you can quickly get worked up about all of it.) We had been keeping in touch with a couple we met in Baja – Dave and Joan from California – and hoped that we would see them in Mainland. They have spent a fair amount of time in Michoacán and it would be great to camp with them. After a few email exchanges we were happy to hear that they were heading to Ticla at about the same time we would be there.
Ticla is… incredible. We’ll just say we like it here. A lot. The surfer vibe is very positive and very international – many Europeans, Mexicans, Aussies and of course, the ubiquitous Canadians (Is there anyone left in Canada? They all seem to be following us in Mexico.) The local crime has subsided, largely due to village appointed “vigilantes” (in other words, security). Rumor has it that the “bad people” that were causing problems, are gone, and gone for good. Real good. You get the picture. Because remote areas in Mexico such as this are largely ignored by federal or state police, villages often take matters into their own hands because their livelihood is often dependent on tourists, even if it’s a just a bunch of dirtbag surfers like us. Remember, it’s like the Wild West.
We are camped on the beach overlooking the surf, on property owned by Apolinar, a friendly man with a huge smile. The freshwater river runs into the ocean nearby, hosting a multitude of birds. The village has everything we need – two small stores, a couple of restaurants, an Internet place and tons of kids and dogs. A truck with fresh produce comes through the camping area once a week, as does the aqua purificada truck. On Saturdays and Sundays a taco stand sets up in the zocolo and we feast on plates of tacos for $2.
Needless to say, the surfing here is incredible, and the consistent surf here is allowing us to really enjoy progressing on our short boards. Ticla is technically a very broad point break, but most days it has been much like a very good beach break, with many good waves. This allows us to seek out waves that suit our abilities/moods/energy for that day. We have been surfing twice a day for most days, as much as our bodies can hold up so far! Morning off-shore winds set up for more hollow waves. Mid-day consists of a nap in the hammock, yoga, or a walk to the river. Afternoons glass off for beautiful sunset surf sessions. Dinner consists of shoving as much food into us so we can surf early the next day.
We feel so fortunate to be able to experience places like this at the right time. And it is helping us get even more stoked about our next adventure in SE Asia! Yesterday morning, as I was sitting on my board waiting for waves, I wondered how I’m ever going to survive not being in the ocean every day. So, waves or no waves, I’m thankful every day that get to walk out into the Big Blue and be in the water!
Hasta luego! Hay olas buenas ahorita!
We get up again at 6am to meet the boys at 6:30. Notice a theme here? We wait outside our place, listening to the morning cacophony of roosters, dogs and fisherman driving down to the harbor. Diego (16), Bernardo (15) and Daniel (15) show up, surfboards in hand, to take us on a hike to the “nearby” surf break. This was the place we had recently taken a boat to, and the night before, we asked if they were going surfing and if we could hike with them. They were happy to show us the way.
We stopped at a Mini-Super so they could grab some food and they we headed to the “trail”, through a cow pasture, and into the jungle. Remember when you were 15 and you had copious amounts of enthusiasm and energy? These boys were so stoked to surf day after day, and they RAN up the trail in their flip-flops, over boulders and through the jungle vines. We broke out in a humid sweat, panted, stumbled and struggled, cursed about youth. They sang the whole time and stopped only to pick guava fruit off of a tree.
The line-up was crowded with 15 Mexican rippers, and I mean RIPPERS. These boys were young and fast and so good and there was no way I was getting any of their waves. So, I spent most of it watching these guys catch airs and banter with each other in the line-up. Something about just being in the water with them was so fun and energizing. When we got out of the water, they offered us orange juice and sandwiches made of bread and la lechera – caramel flavored evaporated milk. Sound gross? It was delicious!
That night, we went to the café to transfer photos, surf movies and music onto their iPhones. These boys were the most kind, funny, polite teenagers that I have met in a really long time, and they were so grateful for the photos. We hope that they find a good future, whether in surfing or otherwise. Thankfully, with Facebook, I can keep up with them, as I’m now “friends” with a bunch of teenage Mexican surfers! It’s days like these that remind us to be open to the world and always say “yes” to opportunities. That it is okay to leave your comfort zone and venture into new territory.
We had a great time with Chris’ parents, sharing our travels and showing them the ropes in Mexico, as they are spending a few more weeks here. We ate tons of seafood (of course), drank many margaritas and beers, and watched many sunsets.
Not to diminish the notion “it’s about the journey, rather than the destination”, we do have a small bucket list of things we really have to do. Like swimming with the whale sharks. A must-do. Hiring a boat to take us to a surf break is also on our must-do list, and while we will be able to do this in Asia quite a bit, we definitely wanted to do it in Mexico as well. So we hadn’t surfed for about 10 days, which, as I’ve mentioned before, turns us into cranky monkeys. We ask around at the itty-bitty boat harbor where we are staying and find a guy, Freddie, to take us out the next morning. We tell him to meet us there tomorrow morning and we’ll check it out. These waves are only accessible by boat, or by an hour-long jungle hike. We’ll take the boat, thank you very much.
We walk down to the harbor in almost darkness at 6:30 the next morning and find Freddie ready for us and ready to go, so we quickly load our stuff and hop in for a 15 minute cruise north to the surf break. As we pull into the little bay, we see no sign of waves, so we are immediately skeptical and a little bummed out. However, we are paying this guy 400 pesos (about $30), so we tell him to come back for us at 11am. If nothing else, we could be pretty happy hanging out at this little beach for four hours.
Freddie pulls the boat into the tiny patch of sand, surrounded by cobble rock, and there are a couple of little rickety palapas and a guy there to watch our stuff. We climb out and see that, yes, there are waves rolling through! Okay, so this might be good. Good was an understatement and this day turned out to be excellent. It was the stuff surfing dreams are made of.
We paddled out with two local guys – Jesus and Diego. Jesus is a student at the Universidad, studying graphic design. He also happens to be a ripping surfer. Diego is 16 and works at a local restaurant in town. We surfed for a while and exchanged waves, which if you surf with the local Mexican boys, you know they aren’t always so generous about sharing waves. But these guys were awesome. We talked in our mediocre Spanish and they practiced their broken English.
Within an hour, Chris paddled back to shore to get our camera and sat in the water for a while taking photos of the three of us. Diego wanted to take photos too, so Chris helped him get set up with the camera. Pretty soon, Jesus wanted to take photos. So for about an hour or two, these guys were so happy to take photos of everyone. Every time I caught a wave and paddled back out past them, I would say, “Okay, you go surf some more, I can take photos.” And they would always say, “No, no. I take one more. I like it. It’s good.” We cheered each other on, and they always laughed and made fun of me if I made a girly scream if I had a late drop or fell off of a wave.
There were only the four of us in the water that morning. The company was top-notch. The wave was short, but playful, not perfect by any means, but fun. We had to dodge shallow sharp rocks, which made it a little intimidating. The water was warm and upon looking down, there were tons of little tropical fish swimming around our feet. The jungle behind us was deep and green and dark and the full moon was setting over the ocean. There was not one thing absolutely perfect about this day but the combination of everything made for the most magical morning.
We had over 300 photos from that day. Later that night, we went to the café where Diego works and loaded a bunch of photos onto his iPhone (welcome to 2012). He was so excited and when we told him we were heading south to Ticla and Nexpa, he looked right at us and asked if he could come with us. Maybe we could find some room in the camper…..
Ciao for now.
We’ve both spent a fair amount of time on Mainland Mexico both surfing and bike touring, and we have seen almost all of the Pacific Coast at some point. Somehow though, after months of solitude in Baja, we weren’t quite prepared for this nutty environment of Mainland. Baja is a rugged, rough landscape but civilization seems, well, “civilized”, as it’s fairly quiet, subdued, and slow. Mainland, however, is a different story. It is of the more in-your-face variety – jungle covered hills, crowded towns, squawking birds, colorful shacks, dogs, music, loudspeakers, vendors, kids, soccer games, roosters, bikes, motorcycles and everything else under the hot sun. While we loved the tranquility of Baja, Mainland presents new and different adventures!
Our last two nights in Baja, including New Years Eve, were spent at Tecolote, a beautiful beach near the Pichilingue harbor, where we prepped to take the ferry to Mainland. To ring in 2012, we splurged and treated ourselves to a swim with the whale sharks. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish and they are often seen in the Sea of Cortez to feed on plankton. They are the “friendly” sharks. That’s why we can swim with them – they filter plankton and don’t eat humans, like other sharks. So we hired a local guy to take us out to see if we could find some sharks, thinking we would cruise far out into the Sea of Cortez to seek out the sharks. With another young Mexican couple with us in the little panga, we slowly motored out of the La Paz marina and within 10 minutes, within sight of La Paz hotels, saw some fins sticking out of the water. Now, mind you, the sight of this just sends your heart rate through the roof. It just goes against intuition to jump in the water when you see very large fins skimming the water, but we gave each other a wide-eyed look, and jumped in the water. Here’s a very amateur video of us swimming with these beasts. Yes, that is me screaming through my snorkel at the beginning:
As with any traveling in a foreign country, getting information can be challenging, so it took a while to figure out the ferry situation. Can we sleep in our camper? Will they put us on deck? What about the dog? Are there bathrooms? Is there food? Oh, I guess I forgot to mention, that of course, we wanted to take the cheaper second-class freight ferry, the one that all the truckers take, so there are always more questions when you opt for the cheap-ass version. We completed all of our paperwork (There are rules about driving a foreign car into Mainland Mexico, so you have to prove that you are not going to sell the car.), purchased our tickets and drove onto the boat. Contrary to our expectations, it was great! The ferry was only half full so there were only a few semi trucks and a few cars and we were put on deck with a great happy hour view and a lot of room to walk around. And we got two free meals to boot! Dozer slept the whole time, even without the help of doggie tranquilizers.
While on the ferry, we met up with a great couple – James and Sarah – Brits who are bike touring from Alaska to Chile. It was so delightful to chat with them about traveling, bike touring, and living an alternative life. Talking to them was so energizing and re-affirmed for me that I am really a traveler at heart. Check out their blog here.
We are stoked to be in Mainland, sweating our _________ (insert body part here) off. Kind of like home turf for us. We are surrounded by coconut palms, bougainvillea, and bugs – many of the biting variety. As we get hotter, the beers seem to get colder. One thing Mexicans do have figured out – refrigeration. I don’t know how they really get those beers that cold….
Te que cuides!