My First Baja (Mis)Adventure, Part 2

I’ve been told that the real Baja starts south of Ensenada. As my roommate and I drive further south, we indeed feel like we’re in an alien country.

Several hours south of Ensenada, at El Rosario, the highway veers abruptly southeast towards Bahia de Los Angeles (Bay of LA). People like us heading south fuel up here at this small town. Its Pemex is the last gas station for dozens of kilometers.

After fueling up, we decide to pull off the main road and get one last look at mother Pacific before we salute the Sea of Cortez, still several hours away.

There’s a good reason there’s so many junked cars in Baja. The main highway from Tijuana all the way here so far has been mostly smooth as silk. But an excursion off the highway requires the queasy to stock up on Ipecac and bibs.

On the side of these washboard roads, several cars look like they’ve been through Mad Max desert warfare.

Most Mexicans don’t drive battlefield tanks and Hummers and SUVs like Americans do; still, it’s a wonder that any standard-sized boxy and rickety sedan makes it all the way to the ocean, somehow escaping muffler disembowelment at the hands of the carsick-inducing, giant-pothole-filled, rocky, bumpy, dusty and unforgiving terrain.

On a map, it doesn’t look like it takes long to get from the highway to the ocean, but the speedometer barely rises above 10 mph on several sections of the precarious drive.

We notice several cars whose tires appear to be flat. We think that we’re going to lose momentum and get stuck at the bottom of a hill on some boulder trailing the seemingly too-poor-to-afford-decent-tire commoners. We later learn that you’re supposed to deflate your tires while driving on these washboard roads so it won’t be as bumpy.

Driving over these washboard roads with excess PSI, my testes feel like they’re where I feel my heartbeat; my heart feels like it has swapped places with my testes.

We finally reach the sand some 35 minutes later. Being able to drive on the sand is a unique experience in itself. There are few places in the U.S. where you can drive up on coastal sand. The mountains here come right down to the south end of the point.

The river mouth here is wide and full. The water is 4/3 mm wetsuit territory.

Families are camped out on the beach building fires and barbecuing. I can only watch surf videos and read magazines to fantasize about the days in the U.S. when you could do that legally.

We’ve succeeded in making it back to the highway without leaving El Rosario a parting gift muffler. As the Highway 1 cuts through saguaro-dotted valleys, I feel like I’ve accidentally eaten psychedelic mushrooms.

Any minute now Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner will streak across the road and leave dust-devil tornadoes.

Sure, I could go to Arizona and see this landscape, but in Arizona, these saguaro monuments aren’t sandwiched two hours between two major bodies of water. Plus, the roadside taco stands are a lot better in Baja.

We’re at least eight hours south of the border and I at least feel like I’m in “the real Baja.” (Though I’ve been told by others that “the real Baja” begins in Baja Sur, more than halfway down to Cabo.)

Finally, the Bay of LA is within sight several hundred feet below this last hill. I will never forget this view. Perfect turquoise water, several cinnamon-colored Morro Bay Rock-sized islands, all contrasting brilliantly in color with the green cactuses and arid, tan landscape.

We make it through a military checkpoint, and drive by ocotillos and other Dr. Seuss looking plants. The flora in this part of Baja seems like it’s not of this planet.

We pull into our campground, Camp Gecko, run by an affable medical doctor named Abraham.

We rent a cement-floored cabin to store our gear, but we sleep outside on the sand, the gentle flat wave ripples audibly lapping against the beached kayaks and canoes.

The moon graciously waits to rise above the copper rusted offshore islands in the east till after 10 p.m., so for a few hours an amazing cosmic opera illuminates the sky. I feel like I’m on the ethereal set of the movie, The Truman Show. If I reach my hand out, the sky will refract and create Doppler waves.

During the day, we kayak in the same waters as the mammoth whale sharks, hike, veg, and talk to our camping neighbors.

Many patriarchal expats here look like Ernest Hemingway with white bearded, sunburned haggard looking faces. But man, are they friendly and able to tell a story.

Our neighbors tell us to explore Gringo Point, or Punta La Gringa as it’s known to the locals.

My roommate and I, along with two nice girls who are camping on the other side of us, park on an embankment adjacent to a rivermouth. We climb up a few hundred feet to the top of a promontory. My roommate and I practice being the ignorant gringos we are and make every phrase sound like Spanish. We need to go to the bathroom, but there are no port-a-potties here.

“Necissito Pissar,” I tell my roommate. The girls leave us to our primordial urges and laugh at us when they see the unfavorable wind pushing a urinary jet stream towards our hiking pants.

We climb down and feel our quads engorged with blood, decelerating our bodies and protecting us from the slippery pebbles. We reach some boulders down the leeward side of the mountain.

We’re about 350 miles south of the border and 12 hours from home. I figure the Sea of Cortez this far south must be like a Jacuzzi. WRONG! It’s even colder than the Pacific (this time of year [May]; come August, water temps will reach 85). Right now, the water temp is probably 55 at best.

Even a 15-second dive is a painful ice cream headache.

Imitating iguanas, we lay on the boulders to absorb their warmth. After a lunch of Cliff Bars and fruit, we hike back up the promontory. When we get to the top a trio of gringos screams at us, “Hey is that your car?”

When we parked a mere two hours ago, we didn’t factor in the tides. The tide has come up and the cove inlet is rapidly swallowing my roommate’s Subaru. We race down the hill, cross over a waist-deep stream that was bone dry earlier. With arms raised overhead so as not to soak our backpacks, we silently wonder if the water, which is now tire-deep, will seep into the doors.

My roommate hauls butt into his car, starts the motor and drives with the two passenger side wheels submerged. He successfully drives his car to the top of the bank. If those people hadn’t of been there, we would have been royally screwed.

After some more potential gas tank breaking off-road driving through Ocotillo mazes, we head back to the campground for some much needed Coronas.

The four of us cook rice, beans, veggies and the fermented soy product Tempeh while listening to Cajun music. When we invite the other neighbors over for a bite, they can’t believe that we have no meat cooking. Tempeh?

After dinner, we drive into the small village and get some drinks at Guillermo’s overlooking the Bay, listening to a Mexican SKA band. We’re the only gringos there.

Life is good and I haven’t even surfed all weekend. My board is resting inside the dusty and gut-wrenched insect-splattered board bag.

And that’s part of what a surf trip is all about: having that peaceful easy feeling, exploring, knowing that the waves will always be there waiting…


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