I don’t speak too much Spanish, but I know what “Baja” should translate to. “Adventure“. Because it’s always an adventure when I venture south of the border down that skinny, jagged peninsula. Or should I say that we get to really test Murphy’s Law (I know, Murphy is an Irish name, but c’mon, when does anything go wrong in Ireland in comparison to Baja?).
When things go wrong, that is where the adventure truly begins. And boy was it fun.
For weeks we had been tracking Hurricane Lorena running up the coast of Mainland Mexico. Is it going to hit our camp? Is it going to send extra swell and perfect conditions? The anticipation was killing me as I woke up each day leading up to the trip and checked the new path five different forecasts were reporting. In the end, Lorena wasn’t the problem. Mario was (I always preferred Luigi in Super Mario Bros. – should have known). Hurricane Mario, which was downgraded fairly quickly, swung out wide. Sorry, not as much swell was forecasted now for the week, and to add insult to injury, lots of onshore winds. And by the way, you can’t even get out to the camp because the Port where you need to travel by boat from is closed. So, let’s hang in Loreto until it passes.
Loreto is a cool little town, especially when you’re with cool people to wander around in it with. We had a group of eight and the camp held twelve, so we were a little timid about who else was going to join us. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the others were even more fun and down to earth than we were! And the ringleader had a handlebar mustache (good start already), was friendly as can be, and can play a mean game of Liar’s Dice. We all quickly became good friends, but while in Loreto, we were still just getting to know each other.
After a night stay in Loreto, we waited to hear when the Port was going to open. I’d rather be sitting in front of onshore slop than in front of the flat Sea of Cortez and so would many in our group. Handlebar Mustache Man took the lead on cornering our host. I quickly followed in support when I heard what he was up to. But our pleas fell on (somewhat) deaf ears. Nothing our host could do about a closed Port and he really liked Loreto as a base to wait it out. We went with it in the end.
We didn’t have to wait much longer until we heard news. The Port is open and we are off! Onshore slop, here we come – come hell or high water.
Turning onto Mexican Highway 1 heading south, conversation was bumping with enthusiasm and joy.
Until it wasn’t.
What just happened?!? We heard the trailer that was holding all of our boards and bags make a terrible sound. Was that the back gate dragging on the highway? Oh no! Are all of our boards rolling out all over Hwy 1 like a yard sale for any Semi to use as speedbumps?
Phew!! No. Trailer is still following us (with the back gate closed), but the trailer sure doesn’t look like it’s tracking straight. We pull off on an area that had a shoulder (thankfully) to assess what was going on. Our lead van was ahead of us, but they’ll notice we’re missing soon enough and call or swing back around.
The tires were still on the trailer. Okay. Check. The hitch was still attached to the trailer. Okay. Check. But the hitch frame doesn’t look like it’s attached to the van!! What the?!? The frame isn’t attached on one side. The bar is completely corroded through and dragging on the ground. Not sure this one is going to make it.
While Baja certainly has a high probability that your plan will quickly veer off into another direction no matter how many four leaf clovers and lucky horseshoes you bring with you, it’s also is one of the best places where the seemingly impossible becomes possible. You just need to take a moment to think. What did we need? How can we still proceed on? Let’s make it happen.
If only we could find a welder. Soldadora?! Yeah. That’s it! All we need is a welder! Easy breezy! Weld the frame back on the car and boom, we’re back in business! Leaving the trailer with Carlos, we set off to find a welder. Super simple solution, we thought.
First place right up the road was closed. Or just no one was around (siesta time). That would have been too easy. Second place was closed, but there was a gent sitting outside that said he could weld. Looked like a Mexican Chris Malloy. Except that he also looked like he was drunk, and had some sort of dementia. Probably not a good choice. Fourth place had the equipment, sober (we think) employees hanging out doing nothing, but couldn’t work for us because of some contract agreement they had with “corporate”. But they sent us to someone they knew had the skills. Hopefully he’s available.
On our way to that fifth welder, the other side of the hitch frame broke. Of course it did. And we were one block away according to the map. Our jimmied contraption to hold the other side of the frame on was still working so we just checked to make sure it could hold the whole entire hitch frame before finally rolling up to the fifth welder.
He was working on some kind of window frame lying on a few sawhorses. All that stood around him was a metal frame of a building, no walls. Just a metal, rusting roof overhead, some tools and workbenches on the right side, and what looked like an 8×4 cement pit in the middle.
Without much fanfare, he motioned for us to back the van in over the cement pit. What luck we thought! We joked that he was just trying out his Halloween costume and he really wasn’t a welder.
After a quick inspection (cigarette in hand near the gas tank), he went to work on the frame, and in as little as an hour he was done, reinforced the corroded frame with solid steel pieces. Meanwhile, we passed the time watching in awe, eating at a Chinese restaurant (in Mexico keep in mind), and chatting with another amigo who apparently had another pit across the dirt lot. He brought over chairs for us to sit in, and just hung out.
The kindness and fortitude that was shown that first day was inspiring. After saying our deepest thanks to Antonio (our welding hero), we all piled back in and on the road to the Port.
The Baja desert is quite beautiful, especially in southern Baja where there were smooth arroyos running in between serrated cliff faces with reddish dirt and shale. We drove up through the mountains, passing golf courses (really? In a desert where water is scarce?), shacks, cacti, and roadside fruit stands. On our left were the islands in the Sea of Cortez where the water showed a brilliant turquoise blue and green.
The main heartbeat of the Port town we rolled into was fishing. The locals here eat, breathe, and die fishing and the ocean. We transferred our bags and boards into twenty four foot pangas on a trailer, jumped in, and trailered our way to the launch ramp. There were fishing pangas on trailers coming and going on that main artery. The sun was going down and a large handful of boats were heading out for some productive night fishing. One trailer in particular didn’t let a flat tire stop them. They just limped out onto a shallow sandbar, drove the Toyota 4Runner pulling it through the corroding salt water to back the panga in. Off they went into the night. No worries. Such a stark contrast to my OCD maintenance on my Wakesurfing boat! I don’t think they flush their boat, wash it down (and trailer) and wipe clean when they are finished for the day. LOL!!
Being on the water felt great. We were racing towards a large sandspit on the island we were going. It was dusk, and the Bay was rough from the relentless wind. But we were loving it.
As we approached the sandspit, I looked around. How the heck are we going to cross this? Night had fallen and I didn’t see any channel or throughway. But headlights on the beach showed up away from the main town. The truck was pulling a trailer. He backed the trailer into the water on a rock strewn beach. It felt a little like we were a part of the drug cartel, doing something not so legal, far away from prying eyes. But he was there to take us across the sandspit so that we save hours of boating around the headland. Not a bad gig I thought.
On land but still in the boat, slowly trailering through the sandspit to the other side at night was an odd experience. Halfway there.
We launched on the other side of the sandspit with the open ocean to our left. Then we sat there floating in the dark, looking up at the night sky. Clouds started to disperse which brought more and more stars into view. Jupiter and Saturn loomed bright. Apparently, there was only one trailer guy working that evening so we were waiting on the second boat to cross the sandspit. Our captain, Carlos, definitely pulled rank and got us across the sandspit first.
Reunited with the other boat, we proceeded to cross the Bay in pitch dark. Bioluminescence lit up the spray coming off the boat. Blasting through swell and windswell, we stumbled our way to another headland across the bay. There looked to be a bonfire on the cliff and a few moving headlamps. As we approached, we could hear the surf breaking to our left. How close to the waves were we? It sounded like at any minute we could be engulfed by a set.
But Captain Carlos knew exactly what he was doing. At just the right moment he would lay on the gas and ease off to navigate us into a small cove. We were greeted by friendly smiles with headlamps attached to their heads.
Once on land, we all took in our surroundings. Cerveza senor? Si!!
The rest of the week was a blur of surfing, coaching, laughter, and fun. Surf conditions lined up each day with good winds and waves every day. But it wasn’t the surf that was the main attraction on this trip. Don’t get me wrong, the surf was super fun. And I mean FUN. But what really made the trip were the people.
With me came six amazing human beings that I am honored to call not only my clients, but my friends. We conducted a variety of coaching sessions throughout the week. I was thoroughly proud and impressed with their progress since when I first started working with them to the start of Day 1, and then again impressed and proud of their progress from Day 1 to the end of the trip. Everyone struck some kind of adversity (one literally struck in the mouth!) but persevered and improved immensely.
Cary – hamming it up
I recall a specific moment when I was sitting in the water during an in-water coaching session watching the group at the top of the point as a set rolled in. Each one of them took off in the perfect spot, with plenty of time to get to their feet, smiled and laughed as they weaved and navigated the wave, riding closer to the pocket with more control than ever before. My heart filled with joy as I watched this. Absolute heaven.
Also joining us on the trip was my older brother. We had never been on an official surf trip together in our lives so this was also such a blessing for me. Several sessions with just the two of us took place as we attempted doubles and figures eights on the same wave (one half figure eight was achieved). During a big lull on one particular session we saw a sea turtle come up for air, the sun hit the water from behind the clouds and then two waves came through – one for each of us. Definitely some higher powers reaching down and saying “hi” to us.
Finally, our four new friends from Oregon, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento. Three sixty-five year old friends who have known each other since middle school and the adult daughter of one of them. What truly inspired me was their depth of character and overall attitude. Getting to know each one in turn was another highlight of the trip and I was blown away with their values, humor, and zest for life. Age is just a number.
As we departed our oasis in the desert, it’s safe to say that we will all miss it, and will certainly miss each other as we get back into our daily lives. But that’s the thing about adventure. It never really ends. Just another chapter.
Until that next chapter, I’ll see you in the water.