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Hitch hiking Baja Mexico and the search for surf


DRIVING

Most seasoned Baja travellers will warn you not to drive fast and definitely not to drive at night. In fact, one should not try to drive at all. Most of the roads are narrow with no shoulders leaving little margin for error. The hazards are endless. Apart from the aforementioned narrow roads, the potholes, drunken truck drivers, wandering cattle, unlit highways and travelling peasant families make driving seem more like a high level Nintendo game. But of course, I wasn’t to know.

We woke to a sand encrusted tent, the wind had blown a gale throughout the night and now we were pretty much part of the sand dune. We walked the length of the cobble stone beach, already the fatigue of the past ten days were very clear. We caught the first ride from the small town at the end of the beach which happened to be a truck transporting mounds of seaweed. To demonstrate my optimism at this point I must quote from my journal: “I sat, sinking into a mound of seaweed but the views were great and we had caught the rides within seconds of putting out the thumb. I was in great spirits, eager to see what the road ahead of us would bring.” Never mind the seaweed! We were dropped at the main road and after a petrol station coffee and some fruit we were amped to be back on the road. After waiting for a while on the side of the road we caught a ride with Ricardo who was going all the way to Rosalita. We couldn’t believe our luck. We drove through scorching deserts, really nothing in sight, just endless desert split by a cracked road, Cacti towering on either side. We drove for miles, and after a while I could see Ricardo was starting to doze so we pulled over to stretch our legs. After stretching and relieving our bursting bladders I heard myself say “want me to drive?” And there I was in the driver seat trying to decipher this ancient tin can machine with gear sticks sticking out from the roof. I managed to get the car in gear and lurched forward, the steering wheel drastically off centre, dodgy breaks and needless to say, dodgy roads. Potholes dotted the road, I felt like I was in a real life mine sweeper. Trucks would race down the centre line and cattle would lazily stroll onto the road with reckless abandon. Every time a truck came I had to swerve off the road and back, everyone clutching the doors. I slowed down and tried to take it easy but when three trucks came racing down the centre of the road I veered to the right only to see some cows trotting my way so swerved back into the line of the oncoming trucks then spun back towards the cows until I lost control and we went bumping off the road and into a ditch, glass shattering, dust billowing, everyone was shouting out, I heard Anna shout “what are you DOING Avi?!” until we came to an abrupt halt. I was rattling off every swear word I knew as we all leapt out of the car.

Ricardo managed to bump the car to the side of the road as we picked glass out of each other’s hair and nursed minor wounds. Ricardo was insanely calm as he assessed the damage. I, on the other hand, was shaking, sweating and swearing in between 5000 “por favors!!!!” over the next hour we accrued an assortment of people offering advice; me cowering trying to help. Everyone was speaking rapidly in Spanish and casting quick glances in my direction. I knew they were plotting how to kill me and sell my organs to pay for the damage. Eventually we waved down a car and changed the tyre, broke off the excess glass and were on our way. Due to this unforeseen accident we had to drive all the way to Guerro Negro where I would empty my bank for Ricardo. I knew it was massively beside the point but I couldn’t help think of all the breaks we were passing, all the notches on the map that I had hoped to get to but would probably not turn back to. My spirits were low and I looked out the window wondering for the second time what the heck I was doing here. I remember looking at my feet and seeing a Dora the explorer doll, still in the box, that Ricardo had no doubt bought for his daughter on his trip up North. My journal goes on for many pages with “what an idiot! IDIOT!!! Why couldn’t I just…” etc. It goes on to read “I’m stuffed, so exhausted….from sun, travel and crashing cars…here’s to good waves and back to the basics.

FLASH FLOODS

My next entry reads: “what unexpected turns this trip is taking. I am sleeping in a freight truck with 3,000 cartons of pineapple juice in Santa Rosalia.” It had rained throughout the night and we woke up to more of it. Much more of it. We hitched to the next small town with my board tied precariously with old rope to the roof of a dodgy two door Toyota. The guy started the car with a spoon. We got dropped off at a PEMEX station and sat playing cards without landing a ride for over an hour as the rain came harder and harder. We finally got a ride with Eduardo in his pineapple freight truck. It was a scary as hell ride. Eduardo would cross himself and kiss his cross that hung around his neck before attempting any particularly dodgy boulder strewn windy decent down through the mountains. He was going all the way to La Paz so we decided to go with him that far before heading to Todos Santos. We had crossed the dividing line that separated Baja Norte from Baja Sur and it felt like a new chapter. I cringed at the amount of surf we would miss but I had learnt that you had to take what you got out here. And there would be waves to come.

The amount of rain that had fallen had started creating flash floods and we became stranded in Santa Rosalia. Traffic was backed up and shops had been washed out completely, there were landslides and the roads were blocked. The whole town closed down and everyone, including myself, helped with the cleaning of roads and sweeping out the shops. My journal reads “And so here I am, the hills have crumbled down onto the road, so I’m sweating my arse off on the sea of Cortez listening to Mexican rock with a couple of cervesas after some impromptu volunteer work.

It was a sleepless night in the truck. Eduardo snored like a freight train so I tried sleeping outside until it started to rain again so had to squeeze back into the snore fest. In the morning we got the news that the roads were still blocked. We reached the damaged area where whole entire strips of road had been swept away leaving massive chasms. We helped in creating Makeshift paths for traffic and so we were allowed to pass but ended up only making it to Mulege. There was an entourage of trucks driving the same path and we befriended two other drivers called Javier and Alfredo. We stopped for the night at a truck stop. I looked around at my company and thought about the bizarre situation I had fallen into. I was leaning back with a feed and a beer with these truck divers at this truck stop in a tiny town. I couldn’t have foreseen this. After some card games which I found difficult to decipher, although I think I was winning, we all retreated to bed. A whole herd of trucks sleeping silently huddled together like cattle in the rain.

THE SEARCH FOR SURF

I had started feeling anxious for a wave. It had been over a week of flash floods, bumpy roads, car crashes and much ground covered with not as much surfing as I could have hoped for. We woke early and drove to Loreto for the best fish and shrimp tacos I have ever had. We exchanged drivers outside La Paz and drove to Todos Santos with Javier. We were let off in what seemed like a ghost town and wandered into the night. We found our camping spot after being chased by some furious dogs and fell asleep with the sound of mangos hitting the ground, the overripe smell of fruit lingering in air. It was a sticky tropical night and I lay awake and smiled as I heard the echo of waves reach me from across the desert.

The next day Anna was desperate to get a surfboard and since we had become quite reliant on each other I said of course I would come along on the ride before our next stop. The day was as hot as a furnace, the egg yolk sun hanging heavy in the sky. The search for a suitable board took us to Todos Santos town, the surf camp at Pescadero, along the long stretch of beach to the surf shack at los Cerritos and eventually and crazily, to Cabo San Lucas where we found a good board. We got a lift back with Bill and trophy wife Kathleen then had to bus it back to Todos Santos, too late to move on.

We woke early. I had a fierce determination to get a proper session in. The purpose of this trip was slipping away and I was questioning what exactly I was doing on this peninsula of cacti and sand. We hitchhiked to San Pedrito. There had been many missions to the coast from the road, some easier than others, but this really took the cake as the worst one yet. The road turned into deep sand so every step was an effort. My board bag hadn’t got any lighter and it was a stinker of a day. The sweat poured down my face as I fell into a trance, one foot falling in front of the other in a steady rhythm. From time to time I had to swap the bag to the other shoulder wincing in pain as my chaffed and sunburnt skin strained under the weight of the bag. We reached the beach and lo and behold, there were waves, a heavy beach break and further down some great hollow lefts were peeling off the south point. I practically ran down to the point where we found an abandoned Palapa. I pulled out my board and to my absolute horror saw a crack running through the middle of the clean undinged belly of my board. I ran my fingers over it and applied some pressure, shaking my head denying what I was seeing “no…no…no…” I repeated to myself. I ripped it out of the board bag and ran out to the pounding surf and leaped on my board and paddled out. I turned round as the first wave came rolling in, caught it, spent two seconds on the face and then felt the board give way under me. I gave out a mighty “NO!!!!” before becoming engulfed by white wash, both halves of my board beating me and scratching me as if accusing me of its condition. I swam in and stumbled over the rocks, slipping, bleeding and furiously untying my brand new leash and kicking my brand new board across the sand. I stormed off down the beach feeling entirely defeated and broken. I knelt in the sand and hung my head. I’m not going to lie; the beginning of something resembling tears was building inside me. I was so hungry, so weak, so hot, so tired and now my sole reason for being here was destroyed. My money was gone with my board and now I just had a useless massive floppy board bag as my pack. I tried to speak to myself but a whimper came out. I ran into the ocean, the curer of all things and dove under, screaming at the top of my lungs underwater.

The day somehow turned around. Anna, who was and is an amazing girl, lent me her board and I stayed out for hours which was some of the best surfing I have done. The waves weren’t particularly that good, but the severe intensity with which I attacked them made me carve like a pro. Or so it felt. When my arms became heavy, I stayed out even longer. When my stomach rumbled, I stayed out longer. I surfed three long sessions that day until the sky tuned red and the palms lining the beach turned into silhouettes. Our little abandoned palapa was the only structure on the long stretch of coast. I could see from where I sat out on the water that Anna had strung up her hammock and was collecting firewood. The two halves of my surfboard were propped against a log like tombstones.

LOS CERRITOS

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.

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