CONTINUATION OF “A HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO BAJA: PART TWO”
We woke early to a flat ocean. There were embers still smouldering from the night before where we had lit a raging bonfire and danced around it, drinking wine under the stars as a memorial to my lost board. I saw a figure standing down at the water’s edge so I rolled out of bed and stumbled down the beach to him. He introduced himself as Carston; he was from Canada but was building a house in Todos Santos. He was a 40 something legendary surfer who had spent his days travelling, surfing and working on boats. He told us that there were waves in Los Cerritos a couple of bays around. We caught a ride right to the beach where there were a couple of palapas, a restaurant and bar and a surf rental shack. A volleyball net was strung up and there were an assortment of travellers hanging out. I rented a board and paddled out into the clear turquoise water. I stayed in for hours catching some nice rides. My snapped board was forgotten. We needed supplies so we caught a ride into town with some of the Mexican surfers from the rental shack. We bought some beers and cracked them open in the back as we bumped back down the dirt road to the beach. A raspy blonde who insisted she was native American was driving and kept passing out beers and apologising for the dog food packed up in the back. We got back to the beach and feasted, read and napped under the palms. I bodysurfed laughing at nothing then surfed until sundown until I had to return the board. We finished the day with some exhausted beers at the bar on the beach. I felt happy and content as we sat there under the blanket of stars.
We stayed in Los Cerritos for a number of days. It just felt right; there was a swell and good person around us. During our time at Cerritos there were some really great sessions, barrels at sunset, staying out until the water turned pink and oily and the few remaining guys out turned silhouette like a poster for a 70’s surf flick. There was even some full moon naked surfing. It had become our home for a time, but time was moving on and we had to do the same. There would be more Cerritos to come.
BIG WAVES AT PUNTA CONEJO
We woke one day to Carston standing at our tent. He told us he was going to Punta Conejo a massive point break somewhere round the other side of the peninsula and asked if we would like to join. He pulled me aside and said he had a board for me…he had seen the snapped remains of my old one that morning in San Pedrito. Soon enough we were in his camper van racing along a dirt track for miles. I grinned as Finley Quaye blasted out onto the surrounding cacti. I was a little nervous though, Carston told me that the swell was big and it could peak up to 20 feet. I remembered the heart in mouth feeling of north shore Hawaii and the horrendous wipe outs and hold downs I had had. But I told myself now was the time. My confidence and skills were peaking after a 7 month stint in Hawaii and I was at the point where I could really push myself harder. After all, I may not have the opportunity to be in this condition again. I had imagined pulling up over the hill to see five-story waves peeling around the point but as we did, the wind was all over it. So, instead we parked up on a sand dune under the campervans faded sun roof. We lazed on deck chairs, reading, swapping stories and waiting for the wind to change. I surfed at sunset on big unpredictable waves and snapped my leash so had to paddle in. The sunset was incredible and we feasted on the most deliciously moist and tasty steaks I have ever had. We were all in an extremely good mood, out here in the desert laughing and yarning. I slept like a pup.
The next few days were spent surfing some great waves at Punta Conejo. It really was an incredible spot, just us in the middle of the desert perched on the top of this sand dune in a campervan and a tent. A couple of times in between surfs, I went off on a wander through the desert or along the beach, listening to music, not a soul in sight. I was feeling in really great shape. Surfing all day, sleeping extremely well, eating fruits and vitals and we hadn’t brought along any beer or smokes. I was even taking jogs along the beach and Carston had been teaching us some strength endurance training techniques. I was in peak physical condition and I’m glad, because the next day I would need every ounce of it.
I woke at 6.30 to the pounding of surf. It echoed out across the desert and I lay in my sleeping bag my imagination running amok. I clambered out of the tent and looked out at the ocean. Massive walls of whitewash were pounding the beach and beyond them I could see the dark lines out to sea of monsters growing. Before I had even woken up I was jogging lazily down the beach in the early morning mist with my board tucked under my arm. My heart was beating in my ears as I got to the paddle out zone. Both my board and I were battered before I had even paddled out beyond the break. There was so much water moving around that I felt like a cork in the Niagara Falls. I paddled out back where only Carston sat grinning, a wild look in his eyes. “It’s big” was all he said.
As I sat out in the water there was an eerie feeling and the sky was as grey as the ocean. They faded into each other and it was difficult to see the silent waves building until they were almost upon us. Sets came but I was psyching myself out and kept pulling back. I’d paddle and look down the line at the steepest faces dropping off into oblivion. A couple of times I went over the falls and was held under doing endless somersaults getting pulverized by the waves. 10ft faces pushed forward and pounded the shore with extreme force. And it was getting bigger. I knew what I had to do, that it was time I took a drop. I started to paddle not daring to look what was looming behind me. I vaguely heard Carston yelling out “paddle Avi! Go!” and so, with my heart pounding so hard I thought it would explode and vocalizing to myself “Fuck! No! Yes! Go!” I launched onto the wave and everything went silent. I could hear my breathing and my heart in my ears as I practically fell for what seemed like meters on end down the vertical face, finding my feet doing a massive bottom turn, back on the face, thunder from behind me, skidding, speed wobbles across the wave, almost being swallowed by the barrel, extreme force from wind, spray and up flying over the lip into the air, losing my board and diving deep into the ocean. Screaming under water and fist pumping, shaking, kicking…
I paddled back to Carston who was in awe. “Holy shit!” was all he said. I stayed grinning until my mouth hurt. The day turned into afternoon and we kept surfing, the waves kept coming until I was too sore and burnt to continue and paddled in. I dragged my feet across the beach, my arms barely able to hold onto the board, and felt it may in fact not be possible to reach the campervan. I ate two bananas, three protein bars and a rock melon before I knew it. After a much needed and deserved day nap we broke camp in the scorching sun and head back to Todos Santos. We stopped in La Paz on the way for a couple of dos equis and the most delicious tacos in history. We didn’t stay for long in Todos Santos, as we just had to stock up on provisions for the next mission – East Cape.
After a quick feed and stop at Carston’s house, we took off. It was hard to believe that this was the same day I had surfed Punta Conejo. We listened to “world music” as a mist fell over the green hills. Drumming and wailing of various sorts. We once more passed Cabo, almost holding our breath as we drove through the traffic and hoards of people then sighing in relief when it became just us on the road again. We turned onto a dirt road with wild horses galloping across the red dirt and into the cacti. My journal reads “here we are at nine palms, setting camp beneath a palapa as the sun sets and the surf breaks…” says it all really. That night after some salmon Mac n Cheese I slept on a reclined deckchair under a million stars with lightning flashing orange on the horizon from time to time.
I was well into week three of my Mexican standoff and had fallen into a pattern of waking and moving and surfing and sleeping. I woke from my slumber in the deckchair before sunrise. I paddled out to nine palms point and surfed while the sun came up. The break was a really fun right point break, kind of mellow on high tide but a couple of faster rides came through, bigger with more push. The water was that clear tropical turquoise colour under which you expect to see giant sea turtles weaving around mounds of coral. Exhausted once more (it seemed to be a routine these days) I paddled in and had yoghurt, banana and mango. Carston had obviously had a good surf session too as he paddled in grinning then slathered himself in Mango jumping around saying “I am the Mango Man!” Anna stayed in longer determined to get some nice long rides. It was hot, the sun was high and bleaching the sand and everything it touched white. Carston and I talked about meditation and conscious dreaming while peeling mangos in the shade of a Palapa. Anna had paddled in; excited for the wave she had caught. I stretched out and smiled to myself at the friends I had made, the waves I had found and the whole damn trip. I went for a massive walk around the point listening to music and wearing a large straw sombrero. I even stumbled upon a beautiful brown and very naked woman lolling in the waves, out there in the middle of nowhere, no one in sight.
Carston invited us to stay. He had told me he had made some good business decisions when he was younger so he had a bit of coin. He was building his dream house in Todos Santos and it was a surf chalet extraordinaire. Mango and palm trees littered the garden and a stone driveway cut through the lush orchard to his house. It had a big old door that looked like it was made from an old boat and the rust orange and Corfu blue window pane house looked as if it could have been fashioned out of clay. The house was all tiled and wooden with Jimbae drums and paintings of waves. The bathroom was made of rough stone like a cave, as if it had been chipped out of a rock face. There were massive balconies on either side made with driftwood pillars and bamboo awnings. There was a large open kitchen and a big old wooden table, a TV area with bamboo couches and blue cushions. Pretty much the perfect mix of luxury and rustic, I was in awe. Anna and I cooked dinner and we had a few bottles of wine. I realized that I hadn’t been inside a house since Coyote Cals which felt like a decade ago and felt very happy with the little family I had adopted.
After a few days of surfing and simply hanging out I became restless. I walked around mindlessly mostly just ambling along in the heat. My head was full of lucid dreaming and personal legends from conversations with Carston. I had started to think maybe it was time I head back…that my journey was done, that I had to move on before I became part of the landscape here. I felt immersed in the moment but also was often distracted by plans forming. It was a strange time. It was one of the only times during my travels in which I felt Adrift in the world. Just a piece of lamb’s wool caught on a fence. I’d go from a mild panic about my empty wallet to a state of great calm in mere moments. I was so tired, my body was skinny and exhausted and so was my mind.
We were back at los Cerritos where days stretched out with lazy surfs, reading, beers and naps. I started having some big nights for loss of any other options, and would walk under the full moon, listening to music in a daze, barefoot into the desert. I was starting to go a bit crazy and so was everything around me. The waves were gnarly and unforgiving, my leg got slashed by my fins and I got stung across my chest by a jellyfish. Some wild dogs attacked me and there was a great storm that destroyed the tent in the middle of the night causing us to make a wild scramble to the closest palapa. There was a wild fight that I got involved in, trying to break it up, between some of the Mexican workers and some Americans. It just seemed like everything was getting churned up and was ready to explode. Anna and I head to La Paz for a day to escape the storm that was brewing and to break up the monotony of the last few days. The tropical storm found us anyway and La Paz turned into a river. We head back to Todos Santos and Carston’s palace for shelter.
That night I cooked pasta with chorizo which was to be the death of me. In the middle of the night I started getting chronic cramps which would eventuate into full on food poisoning, streaming sweats, shivering then burning, throwing up, my body contorting in wild directions, whimpering in the fetal position praying for sleep or for this demon inside me to pass. I remember scrambling outside into the garden in a semi lucid state, sweating and shivering, collapsing into a tree. Apparently I slept for two days after that only managing to get out of bed to use the toilet. I don’t remember much of it. There are little flickers of Carston helping me out of bed, the blades of the ceiling fan, Anna with a cool face cloth. But it was all a bit warped and hazy. Anna left for the East coast with some other kiwis we had met in Punta Conejo and had been hanging out with a fair bit at the Pescadero surf camp. I had a bleary half awake good bye hug and she was gone.
As soon as I got better Carston drove me down to San Pedrito where my board had snapped. It was his 40th birthday so we surfed it in with silence. I had a moment, fully realizing this was my last surf in Baja and became overwhelmed by emotion as the sun rose and caught on the offshore spray of the waves. It was the same view that I had taken in that day my board broke, which seemed like years ago. The little burnt out palapa still stood where we had slept.
I was skinny as a rake and had no money. I had to get back to San Diego somehow. Carston dropped me on the edge of town and gave me a little bit of money. He gave me that “god speed you poor bastard” type of look and he was off. I hitched to Loreto to find Rodolpho my Mexican friend from Coyote Cals. All I had to find him were his phone number (no answer) and trailer number in a town of trailer parks.
After a fruitless search, I slept on the beach with no tent and was held at knife point by a drunken Mexican who soon realized I had nothing worth stealing and spat on me before wavering off into the night. A little bit shaken I chain smoked to keep me awake and to keep my mind off my enormous hunger and the fear of getting more knives in my face. A few hours into the night another figure stumbled my way. His name was Emilio and he promised to be my securidad. I was too tired to argue and if he was really planning to kill me when I fell asleep then so be it. I woke suddenly at sunrise over a calm Loreto Bay, the mountains and isles silhouetted. And there was Emilio drinking a beer standing at the foot of my sleeping bag. He smiled and repeated “securidad”. Amazing. He threw me a beer. I hadn’t eaten for almost two days and the beer was difficult to get down. I gave Emilio three t shirts and thanked him before having a shower in the sea and heading into town to continue my hitch.
I was so incredibly weak and had spent the last of my pesos. On my walk back to town I had to take three breaks to catch my breath and sit down. I was almost delirious as I head to a Banamex Banco ATM cubicle and put in my card knowing it was empty but praying for a miracle. I looked at my bank account and let out a whimper. My eyes watered up, I opened my mouth to say something but nothing would come out. There, in front of me, was a figure telling me I had muchos muchos deneros. My fingers shook as I withdrew money, scared that it could disappear at any moment. But it delivered clean crisp notes so easily that I gasped, then laughed, then cried, then laughed. As it turns out, my final pay check from my job in Hawaii had been sent to my Mum who had banked it “just in case I needed it”. I almost ran to the closest food stall and inhaled a sandwich and some juice, threw it up, and then ordered another. I bought a ticket to Ensenada where I thought I might stay in a hostel and treat myself to a night on the town in celebration. I wandered through the streets of Loreto, buying more food at every corner, my bags safe in storage in the bus terminal. I felt like a real tourist. For once on this trip I wasn’t hauling a giant back, sweating bucket loads trying to get a ride to the next beach. I looked in shops, bought trinkets and complimented paintings in little stalls. I had a beer on the promenade. I felt like an entirely different person. Before long I was sitting on an air conditioned bus on comfortable clean cushioned seats as Shrek played in dubbed Mexican from a little TV by the driver’s seat. It was a bizarre state of affairs as we drove past Santa Roselia and Mulege where I had slept in the truck, through the desert where I had crashed. It was like a little montage of the entire trip. Of someone else’s trip. I imagined all the characters I had met standing on the side of the road as I passed. All the people I had met and lifts I had got. I watched no movie, read no book or wrote any words. I just stared out at the countryside which had hosted me for a while.
I woke in Tijuana. I had slept passed the Ensenada stop and now was at the bustling terminal buying a ticket first thing in the morning to San Diego. I was once more hauling my bags in the early morning chaos trying to get on the right bus. Then, quite suddenly, and without warning I was sitting with a bagel and cream cheese and a large frothy coffee in downtown San Diego, with cops behind me laughing “Just one more day of weekend Frank, it’s all I need” “Mondays are never easy Jerry, never easy.” I was back in the thriving metropolis of downtown San Diego. A security guard even told me to not sit on a seat outside a massive glossy building. I guess I looked homeless.
Pretty soon I was In New York working in a Bar in downtown Manhattan and living with hipsters in Brooklyn. The Baja trip seemed like it was done by a different person in a different world. One evening I went with some friends to a rooftop Mexican bar where a mariachi band wailed out into the night and pitchers of margaritas were flowing freely. We were sitting around a big wooden table laughing and telling stories. One girl drawled “I would looooove to go to Mexico” and before long the table was bubbling with talk of spring break trips to Cabo san Lucas and Tijuana. I sipped my beer and listened to their stories before the conversation was swung in a different direction. I silently slipped out and leant against the balcony with the New York skyline in the distance. I have been to Mexico. I said it out loud to myself just to hear it. It felt like a secret. Was I making it up? I couldn’t begin to tell my story, where would I start? How could I explain a journey of this magnitude? Did I need to? But I had done it, that I knew. And that was enough. Maybe I’ll write about it one day. I smiled to myself as I turned back to the fiesta on this rooftop in Brooklyn.