Baja is a consistent adventure producer. No trip south of the border is uneventful. Your life is permanently balanced between chaos and heat, mixed with sand, rocks and surf. My experiences are rather sparse, I have only 4 one week adventures to draw from. But these trips creased the fabric of my being.
Extremes seem to be the norm south of the border. Nature provides interesting and curious twists in the varied inhabitants. The effects are apparent to even the most casual visitor. Every aspect of life is reshaped to form the unique adventure. Its nice to have a 3rd world to explore, even though the main highway has been paved for the past 20 years.
Windsurfing played the role of drawing me into Baja. My infatuation with the sport eventually brought me to a then not so famous secret spot. It was a point designed to produce winds. The swell exposure was ideal for most Pacific storms. The setup is magical, outside bomborra reefs for those north west juice sessions, and inside points and reefs that catch the slightest southern swell. I heard the stories from veteran sailors. This is the place to expand ones time riding the sinusoidal energy. If you make it, you will have a great time.
The directions were cryptic. Drive X miles south of El Rasario, turn right on a dirt road, follow it 41 miles to the ocean. Bring all provisions. Sounded great, an escape from the din of California living. I had to go. Plans were executed and my cousin elected to fly into LAX and join me for the adventure. Night before d-day a buddy calls saying he will also be driving down and if I could give his buddy a lift. No problem ,I said, I'll pick him up in route at 6:00am.
My unexpected passenger lived next to the university (gals galore) for obvious reasons. When I got there he was passed out and moving around only if I yelled a lot. It took a few hours to get it together and hit the road. Time was of the essence since we had to get my cousin at LAX. The traffic gods smiled upon our adventure and we hooked up, boards stacked on the roof, baggage squeezed into every corner of the Trooper.
To expedite matters we exchanged currency before entering TJ. We were duly warned about the police policy to pull over Americans exceeding the limit traveling to the coast toll road. We obeyed the limits even though we were a good 30 mph under the flow of traffic. In fact we were creating traffic by traveling so slow. Cresting the long road up to the pacific escarpment we finally saw a sign for the toll road and the end of the police shakedown zone. Or so we thought.
My cousin was driving as we pulled into the first toll station. I was riding shotgun and our passenger was drifting in and out of consciousness in the back. Out of the corner of my eye I see a Mexican police officer, around 250 lbs, running towards his car while trying to stuff some food in his face. He jumps in and bangs on the dash while trying to start his ride. We pay our toll to a polite gentleman and start driving off slowly expecting the police to pass us.
Surprise! We were the reason for for the officers' haste. They pulled us over about 200 yards passed the toll booths and proceeded to check us out. This was one of those 'lets see if we can find something' kind of investigations. The fat officer's partner went though the front of the truck while the other asked for ID and for us to get out of the vehicle in barely understandable English. Our passanger woke up in the commotion and stepped out of the vehicle. I'm 6'4'' my cousins 6'3" and our passenger was a 6' Rugby fanatic beer gussler. We cast big shadows on the short officers. Having found nothing the officers started threatening to take us "downtown". We naturally played dumb and hoped they would get bored. They eventually did but not before giving us a good laugh trying to pronounce Connecticut (my cousins home). Moral of this incident, hide your toys, sailboards stacked to the sun is an obvious invitation to meet the local constables.
We stopped in Ensanada, for cheap fuel and even cheaper Mexican brew. Space in our ride was at a premium. Our back seat beer lover decided he needed two more cases than would fit in our Japanese tin can. We obliged him but he had to carry it on his lap for the remainder of the trip (approx 8 hours). He didn't seem to mind, and neither did we a few days later as we started to run low on brew.
Our calculations failed us and we hit El Rasario at nightfall. Finding the turnoff proved a crap shoot. There was no one to ask, so we hoped for the best, made a right at the designated missing mileage marker and started down our first Baja dirt road. Driving a bit too fast down the washboard, kicking up the fine slit and creating an expanding cloud that billowed behind us. Nature called due to cervesa over consumption several times on a road that kept forking down to the Pacific coast. Miraculously we took all the correct forks figuring we would stay on the most traveled route. The dark of the Baja night obscuring the twisted terrain. At around the two hour mark during one of our nature stops we felt the distinctive dampness of the pacific ocean. We were close, so close, that we almost ran over the tent of a camper as we descended into a steep arroyo. The 4 wheel drive bailed us out pulling us into a open area within a 100 yards of the ocean. We all passed out, under the stars hoping for a dawn of waves stacked to the horizon.
I slept fitfully, unable to get comfortable on the rocky ground, yet too tired to move due to the 20 hour drive. Visions of scorpions finding solstice under my bag, kept popping into my REM cycle..
Morning came with the typical Baja costs. My head ached, and I was covered in a fine layer of dust that was liquefied by the morning dew. My ears were ringing, a whoosing sound similar to LAX from a distance. I sat up and gazed upon the brown Pacific? Yea, brown from the waves stirring up the sediments of the sea. The swell was pumping, a solid 4-6 with larger waves. The scale of the place totally disoriented me. The waves looked great but I had a hard time gauging the size until a 15 foot sailboard mast started to disappear from a daybreak aqua nut sessioning on the bomborra. This is the place!
The waves were wrapping in from the bomborra all the way to the fisherman's ejido. A distance of 3 miles. The waves were stacked to the horizon, I kept rubbing the silt into my eyes expecting the vision to vanish. It didn't, we were stoked! Highlights of the trip included a ocean rescue, a 20 lbs fresh box of crab claws for $5 and watching our beer disappear at an alarming rate. Accommodations are strictly bring your own. The facilities non existent. The commodes are aptly named, Kaka 'rroyo. This place was a 'hole'. But the swell held for several days, the calluses expanded, burst and finally bled signifying an end to a great introduction to Baja surfsailing.
The return to stateside was relatively uneventful. The dirt road proved to be the adventure, silty arroyos taken at 40 mph would cause a cloud of dust to enter the vehicle blinding passenger, even though the air vents were turned off. The visuals of the Baja desert are unique. The cacti have a cosmic appeal and the absence of wildlife and any noise beyond the roar of the combustion engine provided a timeless beauty all its own. The harsh environment is duly celebrated by a variety of desert road kill. Victimized vehicles in a variety of bizzare striped down contortions from accidents on the dusty road to the pacific. The small village we blasted through unnoticed on our drive in looked like a adobe shanty town, untouched by modern convinces like electricity or running water. A timeless place stranded in the dry vastness of the Baja desert.
This was my introduction to Baja and I was hooked. The next year I went down with a buddy to shoot some video. We didn't have the waves but the trip seemed a perfect counterpoint to the California rat race. The following year I went down with a few friends to expand the sailing adventure by taking Zodiacs loaded with gear 8 miles south to a unsailed but promising point. This trip proved to be quite eventful. We had brought down two zodiacs, one with racks to load sailing equipment. Five of us and one dog loaded up and set out with an increasing tail wind. Within a few minutes one of the Zodiacs started to deflate causing a transfer of most of the provisions into the big zodiac that already had all the sailing stuff and three guys. I was the piloting the big Zodiac having had a few hours experience running an outboard motor. The deflating zodiac was kept afloat by a foot operated air pump. The decision was made to continue since the wind was picking up and limiting our choices. We motored down to the point and found the landing was 3 to 4 inch round cobble stones. Trying to land the zodiacs took a lot of brute force to drag them up the cobbles safely away from the increasing south swell. We did our best to recover and make a good showing sailing a new spot. I rigged an appropriate sail and started to put my harness on when a sharp cracking sound startled us. I turn around and saw my rig laying there tweaked, from the spontaneous unstressed failure of modern molding technology. Luckally we had a a spare so I was able to sail. The wave was akin to Waddell in Central California. Lumpy from the wind but it held up well and broke in predictable sections. I sailed a couple hours and returned to shoot some video. This spot turned out to have a spirit of its own.
Vegetation was extremely adapted. The area was obviously rich in sea like. Muscles the size of my feet grew on the rocks. The plants were all wind sculpted and adapted to a harsh changeable environment. We landed just before a stretch of pacific escarpment, at the base of the small bay below the point. The point turned out to be a groin or low point made up of washed rocks from the huge arroyo. Our wind protection was a cliff allowing a stacking up of the wind. There was a seasonal camp there among the low trees and brush, piles of shells testify to the areas productivity. The camps leftovers were hard to date, the sneakers could of been 30 years old and still looked like new. Dry weather has interesting preservational effects on many things. Garbage was struned everywhere. As if someone spread it around so you can always see some.
We explored walking up the escarpment for a view. This place was alive yet there was no sounds or traces of life anywhere to be seen. The view was phenomenal, the large arroyo dogleged around a 3000 foot butte. The butte extended to our normal sailing site over 8 miles away. The colors were a subdued grey to dark brown hue. The visibility was moisture laden grey and the sky a dusty orange as we watched the sunset.
This place was starting to talk to me subconsciously. I got spooked and decided to sleep in the large zodiac. Sleep was not the proper term for what I did all night. I kept hearing things all night and slept in only short clips. The sounds of the area stirring my soul. Visions of shadows among the darkness as the fog enveloped our camp.
Fog has the curious effect of magnifying sounds. My morning appeared as a grey haze as my ears were ringing from the sounds of the night. I was toasted and this was only the beginning of the day. I had a pounding headache, but from what, our quota was only 2 brews. Then I tasted the smell of it. I slept in the zodiac with the gas vent open! Now I knew this place was spooked. I normally have great odoriferous faculties given the size of my proboscis.
Dazed, I got up and just stumbled around until everyone got up. Breakfast was harsh, and a bit thin due to a provisioning shortfall. Water was also running low. Breakfast was ingested nevertheless. Senses started coming on line with some coffee. The surf's roor started to replace the sound of my blood pounding through constricted capillaries. The surf sounded loud but its always hard to gauge in the fog. The visibility was a few hundred yards, but also hard to determine. The waves seemed about head high, but you couldn't be sure without something to scale to. The breeze was picking up so we hustled to break camp, load-up and head home.
We decided to launch the big zodiac first since it took all of us to move it. Our traveling photographer got the front starboard pontoon and I had the helm and the port side. We pushed off and promptly banged the hell out of the prop even though it was lock in the up position. We cleared the rocks as I dropped and locked the motor down. Punching the throttle the motor raced and pushed us over the first whitewather wave. It was about a 3 footer. I look ahead and it looked clear, so I gun it trying to get the balloon boat on a plane and out of the impact zone. But if was not to be.
Ahead loomed a ramp, the first wave of the southern juice we so adore. I made it easily over the ramp breaking the pig into a plane going down the backside of the wave. The next wave started jacking but I felt we were out far enough so it wouldn't break in the few seconds we needed to pass it. Well my brain didn't have enough data or failed to process it in time. But the next thing I know I'm off the throttle going straight up into the heavens and watching the phat photog phly through the air. The moment was so intense time froze for me and I became totally detached from the activity. The image of 4 sailboards silloweted against the azure sky, hanging there like bad art, permenetly burned into my synapses. Adrenal shock. The split second spent suspended was timeless.
I didn't feel the landing as I came down stern to the sea and bow to the heavens. I remember bouncing up off the balloon boat and catching the rack as it splintered sending a nasty looking spiked end towards the rubberized canvas. I snapped to as the cool ocean smacked my face. I had a hold of the broken rack trying to push it away from the fragile rubber skin. The boat had turned beam to the surf and I saw the next dark shadow approach like my dreams of last night. I decided to stay with the boat and try and start the motor. The next wave broke and a 8 ft wall of white water washed down the struggling injured balloon boat and the dazed captain. I recovered jumped in and tried to start the stalled motor. No luck, the damn cord only pulled out a foot. Here comes the next wash and, wow the zodiac is on the wave. I gasp as the mess starts to accelerate into the shore covered with muscles pointing their sharp ends towards the food producing sea. The zodiac would shred and we would be walking a couple of days with no food or water. I decided to to jump off instantly and body drag to slow this ride down. Luckally the wave let off and my journey continued.
Sixty seconds into this ordeal I got my first break. The set ended and there was a lull. In fact the beach launchers were getting ready to intercept the balloon before it pops on the razor edged muscles. I started to consciously breath to get some sense into my mind. I recovered quickly and helped push the boat safely away from the crustaceans and onto another steeper cobble beach. We collected our junk which was being scattered ashore by the waves.
The motor was our prime concern. Our faith in modern propulsion was shaken but quick to recover once the motor sat of a few hours and dried out. The problem healed itself, the Mercury fired on the beach and we all breathed a sigh of relief. It took us a good 2 hours to get things together for a second try. Our muscles ached as we carried the boat back to our original launch spot. The rack was hastily lashed together and a spotter was positioned upon the escarpment to give us notice of an approaching wave lull. We waited an additional 15 minutes for the next lull since the swell was building. We also lost our early morning window of calm winds. The winds were picking up rapidly.
The decision was made to have only myself in the boat for the ride through the surf since the added weight of passengers just slowed the craft down. We got the all clear from the spotter and off I went, prop banging on the rocks and a rooster tail of water spraying the launch crew. I ran over a couple of 3 foot white water waves but then broke free of the impact zone with an early plane and a lull in the wave sets. The beach crew successfully launched the leaking zodiac and then had to swim out through the surf to the awaiting boats.
Finally we were ready to motor home. The wind was a solid 15K and building. The wind swell was short and coming from the direction we were heading. The loaded zodiac was not getting on a plane and filling up with water from the waves washing over the sides. The trip home was miserable. It took over an hour to motor, my steering arm getting stretched by the additional torque being generated by the flooded balloon boat. Somehow we made it back. and landed safely. I was wreaked. I just crawled into my sleeping bag and passed out.
I awoke to the sounds of a clean strong 4'-6' south swell. Everybody was sailing, I just sat back and watched, while my arms ached and my head pounded out the rythmn of another Baja sailing adventure. This is the place!
My last trip down to the sailing spot was 1990. The area was getting very popular, the arroyos were filling up with crap at an alarming rate. But the spot still produced some nice waves and wind. The secret for traveling in Baja is simple. Look poor, act poor, drive a piece of junk and you wont get hassled. We took my buddies 66 Dodge outfitted with a free cab over camper. It looks like hell and its scary going over 50 mph due to excessive play in the steering. But its the perfect Baja machine. It was spray painted international orange and was pealing everywhere. We hid the sailing stuff inside so we were invisible to the locals. It was funny seeing the little kids doing double takes as we got out of the truck for fuel stops. The road in was an extra slow drive but one where you can enjoy the scenery. The sailing spot was unchanged. Campers sprinkled around the low escarpment, full of happy sailors and surfers saying to themselves. This is the place.
back to baja