Baja with Busy Sam
This place has a beautiful and alluring name, but some things are better left unsaid. I’ve wanted to come here for a very long time, but it’s not an easy mission. We’d talk about it each year. “We should go next year,” we’d say. Many years went by and it never happened. But this year was going to be different. I felt it in my bones that a bucket list kind of trip had to happen. And this was it. I had a few friends in mind for such a journey, but I was prepared for them to say no, and therefore also prepared to dive deep into Baja alone in my 1985 Volkswagen van. Thank goodness my friend and go-to adventure partner Sam (@ssmurch) was down for the mission and we started to put the pieces together. Sam and I kept a journal and thus these words are straight from the dusty road.
We packed up the night before and departed Ventura at 6am with a clean, well organized and packed van. Minimal maxism you could say, with key essentials like max trax, gas cans, water jugs, a collapsable trash can to pack our trash in/out, a metal grate to cook over fire, tarps, shade structures, extra tent stakes, and so much. We stopped at Russell’s Donuts for brekkie sandos, apple fritters, and other sugary treats for the road. We made good and consistent progress before final errands in San Diego before crossing the border. One of the stops was for ‘edge trim’ to put on the light bar of the van that was vibrating so loud that we could hardly talk to each other. So fucking annoying. Did the edge trim help reduce the noise? Hard to say.. but no, it didn’t.
We crossed the border and motored onward. It was hot, dry, dusty, and loud with light bar vibration as motored at van speed through a mix of desert and salt flats. Many hours and taco stops later, the sun began to set and it was time to find a place to crash. We found some palapas, but they were full. Dang, we thought. This was not good. The sun was setting and we did not want to drive in the dark or crash in a random spot off the road. It was too early in the trip for that. After some further discussion, we charmed the young lady with our simple Spanglish and she let us rent a simple little palapa on the Sea of Cortez. Thank goodness! Upon arrival to Palapa 29, a father/son mobile bar rolled up. I ordered a virgin Pina Colada and sucked it down with great joy. We then whipped up some simple quesadillas (and by we, I mean Sam). Then we passed out. Andrew in the van. Sam in the palapa. A few hours of sweaty slumber before a 5am wake up, a quick coffee, and another very long day of driving.
Day two started off with a 5am wake up call. Sam got the coffee going and we hit the road . Compared to day 1, it was much more scenic and what you’d expect deep Baja to look like. The first half of the day was cruisy paved roads and mixed with gas stops, taco stops, and military checkpoints. I have many of the checkpoints marked on a map, but not all of them. And when you are traveling with a few things that maybe you aren’t supposed to, the checkpoints add a bit of stress. At one checkpoint, they opened all the nooks in crannies in the van. They even patted down Sam. In his pocket was a carton of cigarettes. They asked him to pull it out. Fortunately they didn’t open it up. If they had, they might have found something they shouldn’t have!
Many hours later, we came to where the paved road ends and the where the dirt road begins. This was our final push to our ultimate destination. It was a critical moment where we had to make the final decision. Would we take the shorter yet more dangerous route, or the longer, paved way around. It was a tough decision. As what you read online it says ‘PROCEED WITH CAUTION, 4×4 REQUIRED”. I know my rig and we were feeling optimistic, so we let some air out of the tires for the softer sand continued onward on dirt roads with no car in site until our final destination.
After two full days of driving and many hours on isolated dirt roads, we arrived to our destination. We cruised the zone in search of an ideal campsite with views of the multiple surf spots and settled at a wonderful little spot on the cliff. The sun was setting so we quickly threw up the tent, grabbed our boards, walked barefoot up the point with our logs and caught a bunch of super fun waves. It felt so good to be out of the van and to settle in. After surfing, we set up the kitchen and cooked up a tasty dinner, then passed out so hard in the tent. No rain cover, doors to the tent wide open, ocean breeze flowing right through, and the sweet sweet sound of mother ocean crashing on the rocks.
After a great night’s sleep, Sam was up just after first light and got the coffee going. I could smell it from the tent as peered out watching the surf. We downed a few gulps of Joe and walked up the point with our boards. The walk out was quite sharp and our feet were not ready for it, but we toughened up as the trip went on. We surfed for a few hours before heading back to make breakfast and finish setting up our camp. It took some time to dial our boards, set up the kitchen, and our sun shade which proved essential for protection from the mid day Baja sun. We also met our lovely neighbors from Australia who we spent some time with. Ripping surfers. In love. Living the dream/travelling.
Anyways, breakfast was tasty. We relax for a while. Andrew naps while Sam tinkers with the sun shade which is getting caught in the wind like a sail. The stakes are pulled out and Sam is on it. A second tie down, big rocks onto of the stakes, and anchoring to the van to ensure stability in the wind. This is how Sam earned the name Busy Sam, by constantly securing the tarp and tidying the campsite.
It didn’t take long to get into our Baja flow/routine. Each day, Sam would get up before me and make coffee (thank you, Sam!). Then surf. Breakfast. Siesta. Surf. Hang. Prep dinner/snack. Sunset session. Dinner. And bed. It was a beautiful life down there. No cell phone reception. No distractions. Nowhere to go. It was simple. And beautiful. And the perfect reset.
Early in our trip, two serendipitous things happened. First, Sam lost his his special hat in the water. He thought it was gone forever to the see, but shortly later, an older Aussie fellow with a an old school soft surf helmet and piercing blue eyes paddled up to Sam with the hat. His name was Christo and sure enough, he knows everyone at Patagonia and thus we were instant friends. Apparently, Christo’s board shorts started the whole Worn Wear concept. Christo was a very kind to us and made us feel welcome/at home/looked after. He would stop by our camp on his 4×4, he taught us about the teaching us about the area and how the newly paved road into town impacted the near shore fish population. Apparently there was 1 fish truck per day, now 7 and all of the near shore fish are gone from the gil nets they use. “Change is inevitable”, he says.
The second serendipitous occurrence was meeting Jamie and his wife Sarah in the water. Jamie and I started chatting and guess what, he is from and lives in Boston which is where I am from. He and I were instant friends. Then he started talking to Sam and sure enough they had met a wedding a number of years ago.
Jamie and Sarah became fast friends we took a fun little excursion to a beach break down the way. We were hesitant to go as moving the van meant de-rigging our shade structure. It also opened up the possibility of getting stuck or something happening in the van. I was quite happy to have the van stationary until we departed, but rumor or a sick little beach break was enough to the risk. We scoped it with binos. I was nervous to drive the van on the sand (I’ve been stuck many times before in Baja attempting the same thing), but apparently you never learn a lesson until you do, so we went for it, and I’m glad we did. Driving the van on the beach is on of the most joyous things for me. It brings me true joy as seen by my “ear to ear smile” according to Sam.
After about a week, our time in this special place was coming to an end. We we woke up, packed up, and let the tide drop out a bit before paddling out for a last surf. We surfed for a while all to ourselves which was nice, then headed in to finish packing, eat some tacos, and hit the road. It was a gorgeous drive through the desert, giant cacti, cows, dust, long vistas. In proper Andrew fashion, we stopped along the way to take photos. At the end of the dirt road we put air back in the tires kept going. We found a tasty 3 course fancy meal and crashed in a little hotel.
At 5am we were back up and at it. The soft morning light came up as the coffee kicked in. Military checkpoints, random fires burning on the side of the road, a lovely skinny dip in the Sea of Cortez. The clear blue water was super refreshing in the Baja heat. Shortly later we smelt gasoline. WTF. We stopped to assess found gasoline pouring out of the engine back. Fuck. We unloaded the trunk so we could access the engine compartment. A fuel line had torn. Andrew suggested we trim the line and reconnect it, and it totally worked. WOW. Thank goodness the van didn’t catch on fire. That could have been bad. So onward we go, closer and closer to the border. Our last stop in Baja is for some paletas. Mango and watermelon pops. Yum. We at these yummy treats as we waited in the border line and cruise back home toward Ventura. Tired. Salty. Dusty. Sweaty. Chinese food dinner. Shower bed.
Overall, Sam and I felt very thankful for our experience in Baja. The waves, the community, surfing a new spot, problem solving. It was awesome. And a while this spot is not a secret, it’s great to be reminded that even well known spots have their moments and plenty of goodness left to discover.