Drive Thru Baja
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
"Pull over here, Ya right there," my copilot yelled, and so with a quick jab to the brake pedal and a screech of the tires, I whipped our trusty '89 Landcruiser, off the side of the desert highway, to an abrupt halt. "Check that out mate!" Exhausted and a bit delirious from the countless hours of staring at nothing but cacti and granite boulders, I rubbed my eyes to make sure that I wasn't simply seeing a figment of my imagination. After all we were in the middle of the Baja desert, and a lush palm tree filled mirage wasn't such an outlandish prospect. As the second vehicle of our convoy pulled up beside us, the overwhelming look of relief in their eyes signaled to me that I wasn't hallucinating, and we had in fact somehow stumbled onto a verdant, tropical oasis in the middle of the Baja Peninsula. For a moment, we sat there in the shade of the palms with our backs against the cool granite walls rising from the ancient, sand-covered riverbed at our feet; and after a few six packs of Indio in the refreshing shadows of early afternoon, all was right. The preconceived sentiment that this excursion was a bit more than any of us had originally signed up for had faded; and for a fleeting moment there were no worries, just 7 "compañeros", their surfboards, and the 500+ miles that still lay between us and our destination at the southern tip. We were already more than halfway there from a mileage standpoint, it was only day 1… and yet quite honestly just the beginning. The following are excerpts from the captain's log of our fortnight pilgrimage:
Day 0: Laying comfortably, sprawled out across my bed, my ear twitches as sound waves pass through the ear canal and my head instinctively turns toward the sea. I don't even consider moving from my prone position between the sheets, as this is the last time I'll awaken to the comforts from a restful sleep for the foreseeable future. I can smell the freshly brewed coffee mom has waiting for us wafting out of the kitchen and through the air down the hall. It's within that cup of black-bronze espresso that I'll find the energy to keep moving through what would turn out to be a day of epic proportions only fitting for the odyssey we were about to embark on.
I suppose it all really started the night before, with the arrival of our crew; Pa'a and Danny, fresh off a waveless stint in Santa Barbara but with a batch of fresh blades from the Roberts factory itching to feel some salt on their fiberglass skins. Bradley, the Seattle regular foot currently residing in Orange County who was just stoked to have made his last minute pick up; and Shane, a seasoned journeyman/taco ordering extraordinaire. Finally with Pepé, the '89 Landcruiser, and Ralphie, the '02 Montero, packed full like a mutant can of sardines; we pulled on to southbound highway 1 in search of cheap beer, empty waves, and a couple Aussie mates(see-sick cvnts) who, a few days earlier while talking story and slinging boards out of the K38 Surf Shop, I'd promised a ride to a magical little place called Cabo.
Day 2: The search for gas commences, and we stumble onto the fact that we've arrived on election Sunday in a sleepy fishing village by the name of Abreojos. Nearly everything is closed, including the internet cafe which was our means of checking back with society in hopes of getting an update on our situation as Hurricane Blanca was set to hit within the next 18 hours
A return to camp found everyone in the water hoping to score a few before the impending storm. After watching the boys stack clip after clip for the camera, we drank a few beers back at base before walking up the point to take a gander at Razors; a slabby righthander, that was absolutely going off, and had me psyched to paddle out. I couldn't get in my wetsuit fast enough. I swear I was in the lineup before I even had my leash on. Trading rifling(see-fun little) barrels with braddah Brad and a couple Floridians before a hurricane, "doesn't get any better than this." When my arms turned to noodles I swapped my borrowed Bob Hurley 5'9 for a pair of swim fins and my SPL housed Canon 7D and headed back out to sea with Pa'a and Danny; hoping for a couple keepers in the most magical light I've ever seen. Now I'm off to join the others in anticipation of dinner which master chef, Peter Luke, has prepared for us. Gonna have to have the discussion about Blanca and what our plan is for tomorrow when she descends down upon us like an avalanche of water and wind. Turn tail back north or press through down the peninsula to our destination on the cape? Nos vamos a ver mañana.
Day 3/4: I woke up to the first raindrops of the looming storm sprinkling down upon my face. At 4am the confines of my sleeping bag felt especially warm and comforting. While it begged me to stay for just a moment longer, I knew there was no choice but to dismount from Pepé's roof, roust the others, split south, and hope for the best. With spirits low about our ability to continue this southbound journey, the crew holes up in a... Well hotel is one word for it, and it's about to lose the battle to stay afloat above the rising storm waters. "It doesn't get any worse than this."
The downpour is incessant at this point and the streets of Santa Rosalia look more like rivers ready to swallow any vehicle that dare pass through. Upon realizing that every establishment was closed once again, we luck into the only place brave enough to unlock it's doors; El Gran Pollo, and upon gorging ourselves on roasted chicken, coca cola, french fries, and wifi; we sit perfectly contented. As Danny boy exclaims, "It doesn't get any better than this!"
We fire off the next day with nothing but Scorpion Bay on the mind, and after our morning duties at restaurant Doney, we wind our way through the pristine coastline of Santaspac. For 20km the vast, inhospitable, desert landscape looks downright inviting as we wind our way along highway 1 through hidden coves and cliff top corners, while the aquamarine waters of the Sea of Cortez lapped at the untouched beaches below. A hard right near the sign for the pueblo of Rosarito saw us onto the washboard shortcut for San Juanico, and after 3 hours of terrain that would make even the gnarliest of tough mudders whimper with defeat, we lucked into pavement once again, albeit not for long.
The last bend around the point to the village of San Juanico led us into an arroyo that had washed out due to surging floodwaters. The concrete bridge had been decimated, left in shambled bits of river rock and rebar. What Danny swore was easily, "a two hour project" of helping a local load his flatbed in order to rebuild the bridge with stones from the side of the cartera; looked more like a rebar infested nightmare, ready to debowel any tire that dare pass through. The waters of the succumbing flood felt refreshingly welcome on our sun caked skin as we waded in to give it a better look. When we encountered our first iron spike in the road, Pa'a declares, "no wayz, brah!" The piece of rebar is sticking out from the ground just inches below the surface, the old man with the pick up assures us they can be moved, as he rips the strip of metal from it's resting spot and sends it on its way. I can't help but notice the minefield of metal we're going to have to negotiate, and by now, the water was up to our waists. I can see the headline now, "American and Australian tourists drown attempting to score perfect waves!" I shake the image of being swept downriver by the flood waters, in my steel coffin I call Pepé, from my mind and call for a group huddle to decide our fate.
We go. Turning around was the call, and before dark we were in Ciudad Insurgentes for a plate of flautas. We traveled on in hopes of scoring a mysto lefthand point we were told might be good, but with 30yr old directions and a few too many close encounters with the local "traffic" on the road, we decided we'd had enough when "BAM!!" A shot rings out, but in fact it's just a tire that's burst pulling off the side of the road. An old mile marker pole had done us in, and there we were approaching the middle of the night with a blown tire in a barren stretch of Baja. With the speed that the Aussies jumped out of the car with, you'd think they'd done this once or twice before, and after determining that "wheel brace" is really just Aussie speak for a tire iron, we were on our way once more. Between their campfire cooking techniques and their automotive handiness, one could tell that Ben and Pete were professionals.
Day 5: What started off as an early strike mission for Punta Conejo turned into a hellacious four-wheeling excursion through washboard roads, mud flats, and endless stretches of sand. After taking over somewhere near the middle of nowhere, I let my inner compass take over as the maps and our bullheaded approach had gotten us nothing but lost all day. "That way," I declare as my finger susses out a very vague and general heading, and wouldn't you know we found pavement once more. A quick stop for snacks and directions found us in Todos Santos for more supplies before the search for surf continued. After keeping to the theme of "right down any dirt road" we stumbled into a little surf colony on the far edge of town completely worn out and totally psyched for what turned out to be the most refreshing surf of the trip so far. We rejoiced over the wedgey little beachbreak, with peaky rights and lefts. The Pacific had never felt so good. Cooling off with small, rampy lefts under the shadow of an old Spanish mission was the perfect way to cap off our drive down. Master chef is at it again and I've already spotted a massive helping of pico de gallo being housed in an empty, Costco sized, Redvine container. I must go and partake in this feast.
Day 7: It's 5:15 am and I can hear Pa'a psyching about his visit to Squid Roe before he's even within the gates of the hostel. As the entire crew, minus Beno who's stayed behind with some lass from his home country, comes stumbling up to Danny and my position within our hammocks, I can already tell that we've missed out on an epic first night in Cabo. Sometime around 11 we venture out into San Jose where we met the Coffey girls, thanks to Bradley's expertise, and offered to show them where to find the town square. After a brief goodbye we were off once again. This time Pete led us on a walkabout of what was surely the entire east cape, in search of what we were told were the best fish tacos in town. He assured us his directions were "spot on mate," but Danny was suspect and asked if the lady had simply told him to "keep walking all the way out of town." Once we recovered from losing our way the first few times, beaten and succumbing to heat stroke, we stumbled into the palapa thatched establishment we had been told about. The ice cold beers and copious amounts of fresh ceviche were fit for kings. After a shower, shave, and a nap we were off towards Costa Azul in search of hot female pro surfers and almost more importantly, CF cards to replace the one that had just melted down during the last import to my computer. Thankfully Sage and Lakey's photographer Willi Kessel was on hand to save the day and offered up two of his memory cards with a simple message of pay it forward.
Day 8: I'm not sure if it was the birds or the mosquitoes that woke me this morning, but all I knew is that by days end I would find a hot shower and a soft bed… or die trying. We say goodbye to our home for the last two days and hit the road once more; although luckily only for a short time, as we had decided that we deserved a few days of luxury at the Marriot in Cabo San Lucas after more than a week of "roughing it" down the peninsula. The first thing I noticed when we stepped inside was how much our crew looked like a bunch of dusty travelers compared to the other tourists attempting to check in. Actually, that's a lie, the first thing I noticed was how marvelous A/C felt on my cracked, sun-blistered skin. After a couple of suspect glances from the hotel staff as I'm sure they were wondering where this rag tag band of travelers originated from, we were welcomed with open arms and a slew of room keys. Upon lugging all our backpacks and board bags through the lobby and up to the fourth floor, the anticipation of first world comforts had reached its zenith. With the room key in the lock of the door, just begging to be pulled out, I could take it no more; and when the light turned green signaling that it was time to enter, an overwhelming rush of delight flooded throughout our crew as the door opened and we set our eyes on the luxurious quarters we were to call home for the next two days. Showers with soap, shampoo, and even conditioner for everyone!
After another fish taco filled lunch and a refreshing nap in an air conditioned suite, we went back to the beach at Costa Azul for one last round of live music and beer. This time around, a band by the name of Hirie was laying down the reggae vibes. By the time they'd played their final encore, Pa'a was nowhere to be found. There we were in a sea of 5,000 people, on a beach at the southern tip Baja, 1,000+ miles from the USA and we'd lost one of our own. Pacing the beach yelling his name, I was beginning to think the worst. Had he gotten in a fight and was laying face down somewhere in the dark, or had he been taken in by the local policia for god knows what? Of all of us, the kid who looks the most mexican and doesn't speak a lick of spanish would be in dire straights if he wound up on his own. Meanwhile, Bradley insisted he must be shacked up with some chick and if so, "he knows what he's signing up for," and right about when he had me convinced, we spotted him. There he was plain as day with one of the biggest dudes I'd ever seen right in his face, looking as though he was about ready to cold clock Pa'a at any moment. We sprinted up to find out what the commotion was about, and as it turned out he had been off with some girl; the angry dude's daughter in fact, what a legend! We whisked Pa'a away and got the hell out of there, picked up Danny back at the hotel and are on our way out to the hustle and bustle craziness that is Saturday night Squid Roe. Tonight is our full crew's last night together as braddah Bradley is leaving in the morning to fly back home so he doesn't get fired before his new job even begins. Safe to say we'll make it a night that's impossible to forget.
Day 9: Never drinking again, that's my motto for the rest of the trip. From what I remember, last night was insane. The flashes in my memory help recall shots of tequila and gorgeous female pro surfers. With Danny back from dropping off our compadre at the airport, and looking for a bit of relief from the sweltering heat, we took to the pub. After a few hours there, we decided it be best if we let our livers rest, so we hopped on a water taxi out to the famous Los Cabos Arches at Lovers Beach. When we asked the panga driver if he'd come back in a few hours so we could surf he gave us a baffled look as though to say, "you crazy white boys!" When we round the bend on the beach we saw why our captain looked so bewildered, it was flat, save for an eight-foot shore break unloading on dry sand. We couldn't help but laugh as we removed our fins from their fin boxes and proceeded to try our hand as skim boarders instead; overall an amusing time for everyone, especially for the people on the beach that looked on in awe at the eclectic bunch of hooligans who took pleasure in copping beatings over the hard as concrete ground.
Back at the hotel and after a dip in the pool and another shower to boot, I came to the sad conclusion that I was never getting all the sand out of my scalp. Beaten, literally, none of us objected to another Peter led taco walkabout; primarily because we didn't have the energy to, but this time Pete came through without delay. What is usually an empty dirt lot on a side street behind the Pemex during the day, transforms into a local mom and pop run taco stand complete with portable grill, plastic tables, pop-up awnings, and even more importantly; THE BEST TACOS we'd eaten… to date. We capped the night with a mandatory serrano pepper challenge, where we called the Aussies' manliness into question, in regards to spicy food that is; and while it went down relatively easy, so did the subsequent beers they ordered after. Pa'a meanwhile nearly slathered his cucumbers in toothpicks instead of salt, which I explained would help cut the heat. With to-go orders in hand we took off back in the direction of our hotel knowing that one day, hopefully in the near future, tacos El Guero would be seeing us again.
Day 10/11: With bellies full and bags repacked, we're on the move once again, and just as quickly as we'd blown into town, we were out. Seeing as how the contest was over and the zoo of pro surfers had left the beach at the famous righthander, we tried to make up for a lack of surf over the past 4 days by spending the entire afternoon trading waves. Back on the beach and about to say our goodbyes as Danny and Pa'a were contemplating staying behind for the upcoming swell, while meanwhile Beno and Pete had a ferry to catch for the mainland the next day, our new friend Kai enlightened us about the possibility of scoring a fickle east cape spot that could be perfect in the morning. When you're blessed with a squad as tight-knit as ours, it's something you don't take lightly; and not wanting to accept that our trip was coming to an end, we decided to band together for one more night of debauchery. Little did we know we'd get a bit more of it than I had been hoping for.
It's 2am and a flash of light wakes me from my slumber. I peek out from my position to see three pairs of red and blue lights pulling up beside our encampment. "Uh oh," I think, this can't be good. A bit too groggy to truly handle the current situation about to unfold, I roust Danny in hopes he can make this trouble disappear without too much commotion. After a few tense minutes, Danny comes back to inform me that two bandits are on the loose and possibly headed in our direction, but that's not all, the kicker is that they also happen to be completely jacked on methamphetamine. With everyone awake at this point and a brief, heated conversation about our plan of attack; we were stricken with the age-old question that not even The Clash could resolve, "Should we stay or should we go?" While the older generation made a valid argument in regards to the idea that we weren't in fact invincible no matter what dire straights we had previously overcome on our sojourn down the peninsula, and that if one of us were to perish in a standoff with a couple of tweakers… well let's just say it wouldn't be the best way to cap off what has easily been one of the greatest adventures of any of our lives. In the end, logic and rationality lost out to the idea of grandeur and fame that came with vigilantism, that only the younger generations' dogged view in regards to our own mortality could sustain; and with that at the forefront of our minds, the spearguns were dug out of the boot. We entrenched ourselves within the sand whilst simultaneously concealing our fortified position within the shadows cast off by Ralphie and Pepé, in order to establish a perimeter with clear lines of sight in every direction. Meanwhile Beno, Pete, and Shane had enough of our misguided antics and locked themselves within the confines of the Landcruiser. We spent the remaining few hours of the night attempting to sleep in 20 minute shifts, although I'd be highly suspect if any of us claimed we truly got any rest. I hate to spoil the ending for you, as the events that took place that night could be written in a book all it's own, but I must skip ahead to inform you that it is with much relief I'm able to say, no one died that night. Although there was a hairy moment when Beno was almost taken out by friendly fire while relieving himself in the pre-dawn hours.
When the sun finally rose over the sea to the east, and that glorious light signaling the end of the night flooded into camp drowning out our worries of the dark hours we'd just endured, a great sigh of relief was taken by everyone as we could breathe easy once again. With the concerns of the night before nothing now but a distant memory, we washed away our sins of the trip with one last surf together in the mediocre waves lapping against the shore; and although they weren't the perfect waves we had originally set out for, I think we all realized in that moment; we were simply gifted the ability to be alive and present, trading waves with no one out but our best friends. As my feet hit the sand and with my final wave in the bag, I pause to stare out towards the horizon and let the overwhelming feeling of euphoria really sink in. I knew once I made it back to the cars that the goodbyes would ensue and our trip would be over and this feeling would fade, so I took my moment to reflect on all that had transpired over the last two weeks. The sadness that comes with the conclusion of any great adventure was starting to creep up, but I could only laugh as I shook it off knowing that it could in no way offset the pure bliss I had experienced throughout this trip. A trip I'd been waiting 23 years for, a trip that my father had done 30 years before, and a trip that I would no doubt do again, and so with that in mind I returned to camp in order to say adios; but it wouldn't in fact be goodbye, nothing more than hasta luego, because I know deep down that I will see you all again. For now, I point the car north, back home, and onto the next adventure.