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Southbound on a Baja Surf Trip

We recently took a short jaunt to Baja to catch some surf. Since I didn’t have Internet anywhere (no Internet + no cell service = a good thing), these are posted after our return. Enjoy!

NOTE: Although I am still posting travel writing to A Year In Trim, I’m slowly moving over to my main website, http://www.katybryce.com (an attempt to be more “professional”, as if). You can also subscribe to travel blog posts there.

I hadn’t had my passport stamped for over a year and I was getting uncomfortably itchy. Kind of like wearing a wool sweater with nothing underneath. Stifling itchy. Same house. Same food. Same desk. Time to leave. A Baja surf trip was in order.

It is a frigid 13 degrees when we packed up to leave. Chris climbs up on the top of the camper dressed in thick layers of Carhartts (full on Oregon and shit), strapping the surfboards to the rack in the brutal cold. Everything is frozen and our hands become bright red as we lift water jugs, buckets and our extra propane tank into the rig. We feel that we can’t get out of here quick enough.

Loading camper for Baja Surf Trip

As we head south, the sun is out, but the air is still cold, hovering around 30 degrees by the time we reach Klamath Falls. We are slow out of the gate, so we push hard to make it a decent distance tonight so we can enjoy a half-day in San Diego before crossing the border.

We drive down Highway 395 in the dark, a shame since it is one of the more scenically sublime roads in California, hugging the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range. Our goal is to at least reach Bishop, then camp for the night under the shadow of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. The next morning, we wake up to this:

Camping Eastern Sierras on Way to Baja Surf Trip

The remainder of Highway 395 skirts the Mojave Desert, passing the largest thermal solar array in California and miles and miles of desert, until we reach the high desert city of Adelanto, which means “progress or advance” in Spanish. Adelanto’s tagline, which is evident on the sign that sits a mile or two before any visible civilization, is “The City with Unlimited Possibilities”. Poor Adelanto never morphed into the thriving suburbia as hoped, but instead is a crossroads of fast food joints, California beige (and a few pink) tract homes, monster trucks and dust devils.

Adelanto Sign

We reach San Diego mid-day, with blue, blue skies and a flat, flat Pacific Ocean. At a fortuitous meeting the week before, I ran into some friends that were heading to San Diego to camp that week, so we were able to jump in on their camp spot and enjoy a quick dip in the ocean before eating our first “Baja” style fish tacos complete with tasty Margs at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

We are anxious to leave the endless strip malls and classic California traffic for a little Mexico therapy. Andele!

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“I Take One More, Okay. I Like It.”

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.

Early morning departure.

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.

Heaven on earth.

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.

Jungle and water, with Katy in between.

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.

DJ Scratchmaster Flash cruising along.

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.

Diego posing for the camera.

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.

Mini-barrel for Jesus. Go Jesus!

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…..

Click here for all of our photos on this day.

Ciao for now.

Here Fishy, Fishy

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!

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

My 40th Birthday! As Told by Chris:

I woke up very early this morning; it’s still dark out, there is a faint light to the east, and the waves are so loud, it’s almost like thunder. I don’t pretend to be an expert surfer, but I have been spending every day on the water on this painfully long learning curve to become even an intermediate surfer. I’ve been taking a physical beating. Today though, its my 40th birthday and for most people, this is a big one. Some people buy a new car, or some other toy. I want a GOOD day in the water. While laying in bed before the first light listening to the wave explode on the other side of the dune from our camp it comes to me; today, I Boogie. I grew up in Southern California; my parents bought my first Boogie Board (aka: Sponge) when I was five. This is something I know how to do pretty well. This trip I’ve only taken it out a few times, but it’s time, again.

Despite popular conceptions, Baja can get cold in the winter. True, I’m not saying its Bend, OR cold. But how many of you would have thought it would be…36 degrees in the wee morning hours at sea level just a few miles north of the TROPIC of Cancer. Yeah thirty-six Fahrenheit! Once the sun finally clears the horizon, I head for the beach to the Point. Because its still damn cold, my outfit is award winning…3/2 full wetsuit, Metolius stocking cap, jacket and tennis shoes; carrying my Boogie Board and fins. I’m quite a sight to be sure. The first waves I see, a couple of the regulars here, Andy and Matt, each take a turn on a double-overhead (12 to 14 foot face) waves. They’re both great surfers and they are killing it. There’s a light off shore breeze and the waves are roaring around the point. Yeah, not a day for me to be surfing; good choice.

From the time I hit the 74 degree water for the next three or four hours, it was my day. I rode some of the biggest, cleanest, meatiest waves I can ever remember riding; and rode them well.

The Point had about 15 good surfers out and myself the only one to represent for The Spongers. Here at Punta Conejo the vibe in the water is always reserved and quiet, friendly without any hassling. It is a widely held belief by those that surf that Boogie Boarding is a lower level of wave riding. As a result there can be a bit of prejudice, but usually just good natured ribbing. In some ways I agree, Boogie Boarding is the Snowboarding of the wave world with its much smaller learning curve. Yet, when done right it does give one those same sensations of surfing a wave well. Today though, I got several “Hoots”, thumbs ups and other forms of respect from these core surfers. More important to me though was I was having fun, dare I say I was having the most fun.

I rode a ton of waves that day, despite them being big, powerful and dishing out poundings; I was able to play with them. My best wave and one of my largest came right to me while sitting on top of the Point. Fighting my instincts to bail out the bottom of the wave to avoid a likely thumping, I pulled up on the front of my board and stalled positioned myself for the lip of the wave to sail over my head and I could hear that gurgling roar of being tubed. I continued down the line of the wave for another 25 yards or so and shot out onto the open face of the wave, clearing the tube section and then proceeded to carve the wave face from top to bottom and bottom to top, on down the line. A truly great wave and something I’m not quite able to do on a surfboard. But that day is coming. Looking forward to my Roaring Forties!

Christmas Morning! As Told by Katy:

Learning to surf at age 35 is kind of stupid idea (some things are a lot easier to learn when you are young and still have cartilage), but it had to be done. I’ve wanted to surf for my entire life, since I was a little kid. Maybe it was the “surfer-lifestyle” that allured me, but there was always something about surfing that just drew me in. Growing up in Southern California, I loved the ocean, loved the beach, but back then, girls didn’t really surf. None that I saw, anyway. I knew it was a tough thing to learn, not to mention that you need an expensive surfboard and wetsuit, so it never materialized. Then a few years ago, Chris and I started taking winter vacations in Mexico and as I spent more time at the ocean, I thought, maybe give it a whirl and see what happens. About five years ago, I rented a surfboard, caught a few waves, and that was it. Done deal, I’m ready to do this.

Surfing is kind of like saving nickels and dimes, it may take a long time, but eventually, you’ll be able to cash out. Don’t get me wrong; every day is fun. But you do pay your dues: no waves, too-big waves, scary conditions, mean locals, daily thrashings, getting caught on the inside for so long you want to give up, not finding your feet when you stand up, all of it. But some days are pure bliss, like Christmas morning.

Oh-Dark-Thirty: It’s still dark out, but I can hear the waves. They seem louder than ever. Shit. Seriously, are we going to get washed away? What is going on out there? I’m too groggy to know. Oh wait, maybe it’s just high tide and a new swell showing up. Okay, wait. Might be great down at the point. Maybe Santa came to Conejo!!!!!

First Light: Okay, better get going. Brrr its cold!!! Clothes, shoes. Rouse Dozer out of his snoring sleep. Check the surf. Hmmm, the beach break never looks good at high tide. Crane neck around the corner to see the point. Yep, waves, and a few heads bobbing in the water already. Good. Coffee mugs in hand, everyone turns a sleepy eye to the water in these early hours. Matt and his old dog Hallie, Jed and Emily and dog Bodie, Hollywood, the family from San Clemente, and others.

Sun Peeking Over the Horizon: Need cereal, water, Advil (shoulder is sore), suit up. I hope all my neoprene is dry from yesterday. Grab board and go. Like most people, I’ve learned how to surf on a longboard, but have been slowly making my way down to the shorter boards. My “shortboard” is not really that short by any means (6’0”), but I’m still on the steep part of the learning curve, so the frustration level rises as it’s quite a bit harder to catch waves. So for Christmas morning, I decided to take out “Ole Faithful”, the Channel Islands Water Hog (7’10”), aka: Blue Board.

I paddle out to what I call the second point, a place that I’ve got dialed by this time. Only a handful of people sit in this area, and I chat with a guy about how it might get better as the tide drops. The waves are great and FAST. Chris and I are both regular footed (meaning our left foot is in front, and our right foot is behind us), so this wave is a little more challenging because it is a “left” and we are riding the waves on our backside.

After about six really fun, overhead waves, I begin to realize – this is it. This is what I have wanted to do for so long and it’s finally happening! Woohoo! Now give me that bottle of Advil again….

Katy must have been a good girl. Look what Santa left on Christmas morning!

Todos Santos, Todos Locos

Chris here. I’ve hijacked the blog from Bryce.

After over two months of life on nearly deserted beaches we now find ourselves in the Todos Santos area, which is rightfully so, a very popular Gringo ex-pat area. We arrived at the main beach of Los Cerritos on what seemed to be the busiest day ever. There was a large dirt parking lot filled with rental cars, ATV’s and local pickup trucks. The beach scene was something we had not yet seen on the trip; full of Gringos, umbrellas, local vendors, smells of sun tan lotion, a surf shop on the beach with rental boards and surf lessons, and our favorite: kids running and throwing sand and screaming everywhere.

Well if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. A fellow camping couple helped us find a spot to park our camper and we set up camp and hit the beach with chairs, umbrellas and beers… hey we’re Gringos too, we can do this!

Camping at Los Cerritos

We hung out for a few days of surfing and beach time at this popular beach. We ran into Jeffe who owns Parrilla Grill, the local burrito shop down the street from us in Bend – small world. We also hooked up with Dave and Brooke from Bend who we had just met prior to leaving on this trip. The waves at Cerritos were large and dumping and within a day or two my body was taking a beating. How is it that this learning curve called surfing can still be growing on the horizon like a pounding cleanup set wave? Shouldn’t we be getting the hang of this? Katy charged a couple nice big waves, happy to be back on her “magic” fun board; while I seem gifted at finding pounding closeout after closeout wave. Still though, we find Cerritos a fun beach to hangout to enjoy the light winds and warm sunshine. The water is the warmest of the trip, but even this far south we notice the cool mornings and shorter days as we get near winter solstice.

Yet another giant, beautiful beach.

While at the beach at Cerritos, we met a very nice couple from Missoula, MT that seem to have taken a liking to us and offered us a place to stay and a change of scenery at their place just north of Todos. The hook was set when Aldo told me of the mountain bike trails above his house and offered to take me on a ride on his spare bike. So we moved up to their place, which is a great little house if you’re ever looking for a place to get away from winter: Maritas Casitas.

Mountain biking, Todos Santos.

Those of you that know us seemed to find it most surprising that we left our mountain bikes behind and even went so far as to sell some of our bikes when we left Bend. Sure it would be nice to have bikes with us, but the hassles of dealing daily with bikes on the rig would be a serious pain in the ass. So it’s been three months since I’ve ridden a bike. Aldo and I left his house at 6:30AM to meet up with some of his gringo neighbors for a bike ride. I was provided with a K-mart quality bike, and off we went into the desert on bikes! Oh, what joy to be doing something so easy for me as riding a bike again. It’s true; you really never do forget how to ride a bike. So we went on short little ride for probably an hour and a half. The riding was easy, not steep, not too technical, just good fun double tracks and single-track trails, with lots of ocean views. I need to get out of here ASAP before I find myself working on expanding their great trail system.

Dozer found a friend. Look at that monster!

Over the next couple days we’ll make our way down around the tip of Baja to the East Cape. We are watching a swell approach from the south, so we hope to greet some mellow waves while we are there. These will be some of the last opportunities for us as regular footed surfers to go our preferred direction – right. Soon enough we’ll be taking the ferry to the Mainland where we’ll find almost exclusively left point waves which is on our backhand. Boo-hoo. We’ll also be meeting up with a few Bendite friends (Melanie and Lawrence Fisher) who will be flying into Cabo in a few days, as well as Todd Simmler, who is currently working as a kiteboarding and mountain bike guide in Los Barriles. Gulp. More wind!

Un abrazo,

Chris and Katy

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