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.
So, we’ve been on the road for two months now. How are we doing? Oddly enough, I think it has taken us this long to get into a groove so we are now feeling more and more at home in Baja. Maybe we’ve just been jobless and roaming around for long enough now that it feels normal.
We spent another week at Conejo, which we really enjoyed, but we needed to move on, mostly because we were out of ice (see last post for details). After sitting through the second rain storm in two weeks (mind you, it literally hasn’t rained here in the last two years), we decided to head south and explore some dirt roads to find more surf. We ended up at another point south of Conejo, only to the be one of two campers there, with almost the entire beach to ourselves. We stocked up on basic food supplies at the Mini-Super in the tiny little town nearby, and luckily found some ice. Mexico is so awesome for this stuff. Mini-Supers are like little convenience stores, usually attached to someone’s house and if you dig around in a dark corner or ask for something, you can often find what you need. When we asked if they had ice, the woman went into her house and brought back two plastic bags filled with ice, like they had filled the bags with water and set them in the freezer for a few days. Perfecta! We set up for three nights to see if the surf would shape up for us, only to have three days of blistering offshore winds and close-out sets.
How’s Baja? Well, Baja is incredible, and it’s right up our alley. It’s wild, rugged, desolate, rough, delicate, and beautiful all at the same time. We’ve seen a fair amount of wildlife, mostly coyotes who tend to come into camp to torture Dozer. I was reading in bed a few nights ago to hear a coyote lapping away at Dozer’s water bowl. After sticking my head out the door with the flashlight, the coyote took off for the bushes, only to come back later that night to yip and howl near our camp. Last night, we awoke to a cacophony of coyotes yipping, barking and howling right in front of the truck. Dozer barely lifted a head and lazily gave a “woof” from his cozy bed in the camper. The two very large rainstorms have produced a shock of green in the desert, and with any luck, we should see a nice early bloom in a few days. If the desert seems alive at times, then the ocean is writhing with life. Every wave that passes is full of fish swimming through it. Every day, whales create plumes of spray by breaching and slapping their tales. The intertidal zone crawls with creatures like urchins, crabs, anemones and other strange invertebrates. We are constantly surrounded by osprey, blue herons, cormorants, gulls (of course) and so many other birds.
Have I mentioned the wind? Good God, Baja is windy. The wind is a constant topic of conversation. When will it start? How hard will it blow? What direction will it come from? How should we park the truck to minimize the wind in camp? Most areas on the Pacific have a prevailing wind – typically from the northwest. But every so often, it throws a curve ball, so we are always on our toes. The easterly offshores bring hot, dry wind from the east and along with it, some good surf potential, dragonflies, bees and flies. The westerly onshores bring chop and slop to the surf, but are cooler and more damp. The southerly winds – no bueno – they are good for nothing. Let’s just say, we try to embrace the wind, ’cause it’s not going away anytime soon.
How’s our Spanish? Ha! We have a Spanish book with us. Something like one of those “Be Fluent in Spanish in 30 Days” deal. At the beginning of the trip, we said we would go through a chapter a day. Of course, we have totally shirked this plan, so our Spanish, let’s just say it gets us through. Because we spend so much time off the grid, we don’t really speak much Spanish other than to some fisherman, or someone who collects money for camping or firewood. So, when we come to “town”, it takes a while to ramp it up again. However, every so often, when the cosmos are aligned and the skies part for the heavens, I do have those moments of clarity when it all comes together and I actually put together real sentences with correct verb conjugations. It does happen.
How’s the surfing? We caught some good surf at Conejo, both at the point and at the beach break. The beach break was good and challenging, providing steeper drops and faster waves, and we were able to use our short boards more here. But, this surfing stuff is hard! It is true that it takes years upon years to learn, refine, advance in surfing, and while we know we are progressing, sometimes it doesn’t feel so. We also thought we would be surfing more, but good surf depends on good conditions. These conditions can change dramatically and again, each spot has so many variables – tide, wind, swell size, swell direction and so on. It’s the surfers curse. Like I’ve said before, it’s like heroin. We need it.
How’s the camping? Two months in the camper, and all is peaceful. It is a constant struggle to keep things clean and sand-free, but we’ve got a system down.
How’s Mexico? Fabulous as ever.
Let’s see, we’ve had some challenges: ear infection, stingray wound infection, significant stitches on the face, gnarly stomach flu, big rainstorm, a dead refrigerator and so on.
Here’s the deal – yep, all those things have happened in the last month. But, we know that this is part of traveling, and part of putting yourself outside of your perceived comfort zone. We are not on a vacation. We are just living life for a year, albeit a less conservative life than most. Not to be so very cliche, but “it beats sitting at a desk.”
We spent a few glorious days on the gulf side, relaxing next to the blue, blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. It was a good reprieve, but as those who know us, we were itching to get back to the surfing on the Pacific. So, we decided – We’re going to Disneyland! Well, okay, not the Magic Kingdom, but Scorpion Bay. Scorpion Bay, San Juanico, is literally one of the top 20 surfing spots in the world and it can get nutty there because it is such a big surfing destination. It is a series of right point breaks (of course) that are perfect, just perfect peeling waves. I know, sounds stupid, crazy, dumb, but they are – perfect. But – the caveat – but, it only holds a very small swell window, and that window very rarely fires after September. But – we did manage to catch it on a small south swell. It was silly fun. Goofy fun. Almost juvenile, laughing, like in junior high type of fun. Even at waist high, its a ridiculous wave that sends you giggling across the ocean, wondering if it’s okay, legal, should I be doing this as an adult? Can this really be this silly fun? It was.
From Scorp (local lingo there), we headed to Conejos which is a killer place. We drove through the most insane rainstorm – literally a place that appears to be one of driest places in the western hemisphere – to Conejos. Conejos is a fairly open beach, with a small fish camp on the hill, and a very rare (in Baja) left point. Most point breaks are “rights” in Baja. Conejos is cool with great camping, and Nardo, a very friendly, cross-dressing Mexican that collects the fees for camping. The water is some of the clearest water we have ever been in, and the fishing is incredible. While we surf, we dodge schools of Jack Crevalle, Corvina and large Mullet.
Well, as all good things may come to an end, our refrigerator in our camper decided that it liked Baja so much that it would be a good final resting place. Ahhh… here we go again. Off to La Paz to figure out a solution. Here’s how it goes:
Aside from the brief diversion, we are trying to just roll with things as they come. Dozer has a new appreciation for chihuahuas and we have a new appreciation for Wal-Mart.
We are heading back to Conejos to enjoy more surf, fishing, lounging and beach time.
Take note that we have posted more photos on our Picasa PhotoPage. Some are decent, some are not so good, but they are all there for now.
Estamos listos para mas adventuras!
We spent a total of three weeks at The Wall. Even when conditions were marginal, there was almost always some surf. We knew if we sat long enough, we would see some classic Wall waves and conditions, and we did. We had been hearing bits and pieces about a storm brewing up in the Aleutians, so we waited, knowing it would send surf our way. And it did. The bigger sets rolled in at double overhead size, with most waves at head high and up. We discovered its namesake. The waves hold their shape as perfect peelers sending a surfer down a fast, long wall, like a one-way ticket on a freight train. We both managed to get some of our best waves of the trip (so, far, anyway), so we were pretty darn happy.
Halfway through our stay at The Wall, Chris’ foot swelled up like a balloon from the stingray wound. At the same time, I started having some ear issues, likely a combination of residual from a minor head cold and repeated ocean water flushings. We had to go to town anyway to resupply a few things, so why not take a short trip to the clinic? The doctor’s office was a dingy room with a small exam bed and a big wooden desk with the only thing on it being a giant book titled “Directoria Farmacia”, dated 1999. The doctor was very friendly but spoke absolutely no English so this was a good, if not comical, exchange. Lots of hand gestures and re-enactments. Imagine Chris trying to say this in Spanish:
“About 3 weeks ago, I got stung by a stingray in Abreojos. No, the barb did not get stuck in my foot. Well, I don’t think so. Maybe. Can you feel it? Yes, we were camping. No, I did not see a doctor at the time. My foot swelled up and I took a whole giant dose of Cipro, but it didn’t do anything. Yeah, I’ve been surfing the whole time. I might be allergic to Penicillin, but I don’t remember. It was when I was a kid and I had an allergic reaction after getting a shot of Penicillin.” And so on.
So, $650 pesos later (about $48 US), we walked out of the clinic with a confirmed stingray secondary infection, a minor ear infection and handfuls of multiple kinds of heavy duty antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, probiotics, and some topical gel stuff to put on sore muscles (not sure how we got that in the midst of our mangled Spanish, but it will come in handy for sure.)
We left The Wall to head north to Alejandros, per recommendation from our friend Marc. Alejandros is a beautiful cove with sand dunes on one side and nice wooden structures to camp next to and protect you from the wind. There were two other people there, father and son Canucks, but we were hedging our bets that a really big swell was coming and when it’s really big at The Wall, it’s about the half the size at Alejandros. The following day, the surf was small and mushy, but beautiful clear water, a sandy bottom and yet again another great day to be surfing. There were three of us taking turns catching waves, whooping it up and goofing off in the mellow surf.
Lesson learned: Never let your guard down. It was nice to have some easy, long board waves for a day. As I stood up on a, no kidding, thigh high mushburger (that means slow, cruiser and, well, mushy) wave, my leash (stupid leash!) got caught under foot and I tried to kick it out from beneath, and fell off the back of the wave. My foot hooked the leash and the board bumped me just below my left eye, just enough and in the right spot to split it open like a little sausage. I hardly even felt it hit, but felt the split. And with a bloody frown, I paddled in to shore to inspect the damage.
So, after Chris’ futile attempts to super glue and steri-strip the wound back together, it was off to Guerrero Negro again for doctor visit #2. We went to the hospital this time as the clinic was closed. The doctor was very kind and spoke pretty decent English, but mostly sang Eagles and Rolling Stone lyrics while sewing me back together. “Take it eeeeaassy, take it eeeeaasy…”. I asked if he could trim up some of my wrinkles or give me some collagen while he was already working, but no luck. Stitches are to stay in for seven days, and then Chris can take them out for me. That should be real good time.
As Chris says, at least I have good timing…. the surf appears to have died a bit in the Pacific; so, we are now on the gulf side, for a little R&R, basking in the sublime beauty of the Sea of Cortez. We are able to camp right on the beach and swim and snorkel in the clear warm water. I can’t do much but go for walks, collect shells, swim (head above water), and read Steinbeck’s “Log From the Sea of Cortez”, a great read about his 1940 Baja expedition to collect intertidal flora and fauna. Chris is recovering from a stomach bug… my, how we can’t travel without various injuries and ailments.
Hasta próximo, y mas cuentos interesantes venir.
It’s always mañana. One thing this adventure is teaching us is the virtue of patience and it’s one thing that neither of us excels at, until maybe now. This is good for us and a sharp diversion from our very “I need to know, have and do everything now” lives in Bend. Yeah, we are pretty laid back in Oregon, but it’s still easy to get wrapped up in the busyness. At home, we found ourselves repeating the patience mantra every day as we squirreled away every dollar so we could be here.
Listen up, Grasshopper. Here, moving fast is not an option.
Exhibit A: Mexico
Mexicans use the term “mañana” often. Literally, it means “tomorrow” or “morning”, but it is actually used in a very loose form, meaning “Someday soon, when I get around to it. Or maybe not.” This is used all the time, and if you are not used to it, you become severely misled that something will actually happen tomorrow. Last week, Ilseo (he is one of the brothers that owns the land that we are camping on here at The Wall) stopped by to chat with us and see if we wanted any firewood or lobsters. Sure, we say, we’ll take anything he brings. “Mañana”, he says. About five days later he brings us some firewood.
Getting things done in civilization also takes a fair amount of patience. We stop by the lavanderia to drop off our laundry. It’s 10:30am and no one is there yet, even though the little hand painted sign says “Abierto (open) 9:00am”. Every Mexican town of any size has a propane filling station, as most people cook with propane and they bring the tanks to be refilled at the station when needed. We stopped to refill our little tank, and lo and behold, we apparently don’t have the right kind of valve and they turn us away. But after talking with the guys working there and standing around looking at them like we are helpless, they eventually take the tank, do something magical to this wrong valve, and bring it back filled. With a little patience, the impossible becomes possible and what is typically a 10-minute job takes about 45 minutes. And so it goes.
Exhibit B: Surfing
As any surfer knows, waiting for waves can be excruciatingly painful. With mountain biking, you can hop on your bike every morning and expect to pedal for a while. The trails don’t move. They don’t go the other direction suddenly one day. They don’t disappear. You don’t see them diminish in size one day and jack up into unrideable mountains the next day. But the waves are different every day and, while it seems impossible, the largest body of water on the planet, the entire Pacific Ocean, can go completely flat in a matter of a day or two. Any new surfers that show up at camp are subjected to a flurry of questions about the swell forecast. You see, they are presumed to be the last people to have been near a computer or phone and likely checked the swell before they left their last post in civilization.
Surfing here is also a bit of a game revolving around the wind and the tide and most afternoons are too windy to surf. So, while we are on a “surf trip”, we find a lot of other things to do besides surfing when there is no swell in the water or too much wind. We build stuff, move rocks, fix things, read, write, work on our Spanish, visit with other people, walk in the desert, reorganize the camper, try to catch fish, work on crossword puzzles, draw, play with the dog, stare off into the ocean, do yoga, and take naps.
That said, for surfing, the wait is always worth it.
Exhibit C: Fishing
Every fresh fish we, actually just Chris, catches is so good and delicious. So, kind of like surfing, you begin to continually seek more of it. But some days, there are no fish to be had, even though we know that here at mid to low tide, the flat sandy bottom in places is paved with Halibut. Chris’ last fish, several days ago, was a 29” White Seabass, treasured amongst fishermen. Chris, being the less seasoned fisherman of the bunch, walked around asking everyone “What the hell is this giant thing?” while veteran fishermen gawked and rolled their eyes in jest at the novice with the prized big fish. It was big and beautiful and we had two days of ceviche and another dinner’s worth of fish. And as I sit and write, Chris is on the shore trying to catch tonight’s dinner. Mañana, mañana.
Exhibit D: Dozer
Even the dog is learning about patience, if that’s even possible. Every single evening, like clockwork, a lone coyote cruises through the desert, across the dirt track, right past our camp and on to the beach. And every night, Dozer posts up in his favorite spot to greet his new buddy. Last night, as we were eating dinner at dusk, Dozer took off like a bolt and we jumped up from our chairs to see the silhouette of our eleven-year-old black lab mix chasing the coyote over the crest to the beach. I don’t think he knows that he’ll never make friends that way.
It’s all about patience. Mañana, mañana. ¿Quien sabes? Posiblemente mañana.