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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, (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!


On Becoming a Surfer (and a Writer)

It’s 31 degrees, there is snow on the ground, and I sit in my house in my hooded sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers, listening to my old dog snoring, reading my first published piece on the front page of The Inertia.

A few weeks ago, after submitting a sample, I got a notice that I was accepted as a contributor to this great website. By pure fate of all of our names starting with “K”, I happen to be on the same page and RIGHT ABOVE Keala Kennelly and Kelly Slater, among many other incredibly talented contributors. That’s right. While I will never surf monster Teahupoo like Keala or win 11 World Titles like Kelly, I like to think we are all amigos, if only in cyberspace.

By consequence of being so excited, I can barely write, so it’s best to check out it out by following the link:

Or read below:

One of my very dear friends told me that for much of her life, the image that would come up when she thought of her future was eight neatly stacked, square, white, modern dinner plates. These plates somehow represented her success in life after completing college, sucking it up as an intern, then working her butt off in corporate America. They were the pinnacles of achievement, those plates, but she couldn’t care less about those plates now.

My snapshot of the future, for as long as I can remember, is an outdoor shower, and I have no idea where this came from. I grew up in a pretty average family in inland Southern California. I was an only child, with two professional working parents, good grades, off to college at age 17. My outdoor shower is a pretty functional looking shower, in a tropical setting, with a tile floor, and a bamboo screen surrounded by thick foliage. If I look closely, I see a surfboard leaning up against the wall. It turns out the shower is a side note; my dream was to be a surfer.

So, five years ago at age 34, I embarked on what I now know is the hardest learning curve in the world – surfing. I’m athletic and stubborn, two good things to have in the water, but while I was full of gumption and spunk, I thought I failed a lot. I didn’t catch enough waves, I couldn’t get my feet in the right place, I went over the falls (still do), and mostly, I deferred. I thought that because many times I was “the worst surfer in the water”, that I didn’t deserve waves, so I pulled back. I let others take waves because I thought they were better than me. Until one day, an acquaintance of mine paddled up to me, got in my face and yelled at me for being stupid, saying “You deserve waves as much as anyone else out here!”

I cried that day.

So, what did I do? After much saving and planning that involved quitting our comfortably secure jobs, I went, with my very supportive surfing husband, on a year-long world surf adventure that included Mexico, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This here is what I learned.

I stopped trying so hard. One of the most interesting compliments someone gave me was that I am so passionate in everything I do. And more often than not, I am called the “100 Pounds of Fury” among other interesting (and perhaps not so nice) descriptive phrases. Surfing has taught me that maybe, instead of jumping into things head first with no helmet on and my hair on fire, I should take a more peaceful, flowing path. Take waves, and other things in life, as they come, but stop trying so hard, stop swimming upstream.

I also now know that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Being a female surfer at breaks that were dominated by dudes from all over the world was, so far, the hardest thing that I’ve done in my life. There were days where I felt like a small, defeated “chick” in the water. But I still paddled out and caught waves. I tried my best to hold my head high and be a surfer.

And most importantly, I can call myself a surfer.

Because, when are you really, truly allowed to call yourself a “surfer”? I’ve asked myself this question a few times. Is it when you stand up on your very first whitewater wave? Or when you can pull off floaters and aerials? Is it when you surf a certain number of days per week/month/year? It was a cold Christmas morning in Baja when I was almost surprised to discover that I had become surfer, when I paddled out into overhead waves, full of gratitude and grace in that cold morning. The path to becoming a surfer resides in your heart, it is endless, and filled with potential.

I may not have an outdoor shower, but I will always be a surfer. And you should be too.


Journey’s End…Or Not

Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.

What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089

This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.

This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.

We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!

Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!

We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.

Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:

  1. Bemo ride in Krui, Sumatra. 18 people in one tiny minivan. Slowest driver ever.
  2. First day hiking the Temples of Angkor. Perhaps the hottest place on earth, at least we thought so.
  3. Our last day in Kuala Lumpur when we went to Batu Caves. The locals were sweating.
  4. Pushing our tuk tuk up a dirt road in Sri lanka after the clutch went out. I had to push and run along side the tuk tuk while Chris steered.
  5. Sitting on the train in the station in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The power went out, the fans turned off, I had at least seven people touching me. Curry odors were emanating out of every pore.

Scariest Transport:

  1. The “taxi driver road rage” night in Sumatra. After our driver took us to his “friends” restaurant where we proceeded to get totally taken, he decided to really scare us by driving like an insane person while we begged and pleaded for him to slow down.
  2. Ojek (motorbike taxi) ride in Bangkok. It was three of us on the tiny motorbike trying to pull our knees in tight enough so they wouldn't hit cars as we wove through Bangkok traffic at high speed.
  3. Driving Highway 1 in Baja, near El Rosario. This section of highway is so, so narrow with big trucks, cows, and giant potholes.
  4. The flight from Jakarta, Indonesia to Colombo, Sri Lanka when the four traditionally dressed Arab men stormed the front of the plane before we hit the runway to land, and the flight attendant screamed at them to sit down. Apparently they just wanted to be the first in line to get off the plane.
  5. The descent through the Ella Gap in Sri Lanka on a packed bus. The driver was hopped up on betel leaves and was careening down the road, one hand on the wheel, the other on the horn.

Top Five Medical Emergencies:

  1. Getting stitches in my face in Guerrero Negro, Baja. The only English the doctor knew was The Eagles and Rolling Stones songs. He did a fabulous job sewing me up and was a pretty good singer, too!
  2. Chris going to a government hospital in Akkaraipattu, Sri Lanka with a fractured hand. This one is hard to describe, but to give you an idea, Chris had to argue for a while to get the radiologist to put the lead apron on him while he was getting an X-ray. The tech tried to explain that it's the same amount of radiation that we get from the sun. The argument ensued, with Chris replying “yeah, but I'm not standing on the sun!”. He eventually gave him the apron.
  3. Stingray wound infection in Baja. A few weeks after it happened, Chris foot swelled up like a balloon, so off we went to a clinic, to try to explain everything in Spanish.
  4. Finally going to a hospital in Bangkok after eight days of stomach woes and fever. After two days of shopping at Chatuchak Market and (literally) holding it together while walking by the giant dried fish vendor, it was time to see a doctor.
  5. With only five days left, I came down with a sever sore throat and fever in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. AT THE SAME TIME, the chickens at our guesthouse were dying. I was convinced I had Avian Flu until I went to a clinic in Pottuvil and got antibiotics for a throat infection. Ah, the perils of travel.

Best Wildlife Encounters

  1. Elephants, elephants, elephants. Sri Lanka was amazing for elephant sightings! Elephant Nature Park in Thailand was an incredible place to learn more about the complex life of a pachyderm.
  2. Ocean and desert wildlife in Baja, Mexico. The intersection of rugged desert with the Pacific Ocean created a surprisingly vibrant ecosystem. We saw coyotes, snakes, osprey, herons, tons of migratory birds, whales (almost every day), dolphins, sharks, seals, fish, and more.
  3. Leopard sighting in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. We were pretty excited to see this big cat in the wild. Kudos to Sri Lanka for their National Parks.
  4. Monkeys. We know, we know, lots of people don't care for monkeys. They are kind of like the squirrels of the tropics. But we have to admit they are pretty cool when you see them jumping from tree to tree.
  5. Cobra? While we didn't really WANT to see a cobra, it was kind of cool to see a cobra. Sri Lanka has the highest “death by snakebite” in the world. Yikes!

Best Food:

  1. Every fish that Chris caught in Mexico. Halibut, corvina, white sea bass, sierra. We cooked or made ceviche every way possible. Good eats!
  2. Thai cart food. Pad thai, satay, Penang curry, it's all delicious. I think Thais could cook tree bark and it would be delicious.
  3. Rotis with dhal and coconut sambol at blue ocean in Arugam bay. I ate this virtually every day. It is a very simple, but very satisfying and delicious meal. We had heard varying reports of Sri Lankan food, but found it to be fabulous!
  4. Baja fish tacos with a cold Mexican macrobrew. Tony's in Guerrero Negro and El Viejo in Los Barriles are at the top of the list.
  5. Banana, chocolate and coconut rotis at Okanda. There's just something about gorging on these after a four hour surf session that feels oh so good.

Best “Locals Only” Activities:

  1. Seeing Kelly Slater win the 2011 Hurley Pro at Trestles in California. Hanging out with the best surfers in the world was a great way to start a year long surf trip.
  2. Watching Indonesians clear big jumps at the 2012 Indonesian Motocross Championships on modified scooters. It was hysterical being the only “Bules” in a sea of thousands of Indonesians.
  3. Hiking in the jungle for an hour with Mexican teenagers to a surf break. Diego, Bernardo and Daniel were exceptional people, great surfers and just a joy to spend a day with. They also kinda made us feel old.
  4. Swerving around elephants while driving our tuk tuk in the pre-dawn hours. Driving our own tuk tuk in Sri Lanka was a complete blast and gave us the freedom to explore the east coast of the country.
  5. Going to a Mexian rodeo, complete with amateur bull riders taking shots of tequila before attempting to stay on a bull. Viva Mexico!


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!

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