My First Baja (Mis)Adventure, Part 1

I’m not even out of my apartment complex parking lot when I realize that this roadtrip 12 hours down into Baja will be a series of mishaps.

First ominous sign: I can’t untie my crusty, decade-old surf straps from my car, to my roommate’s. For some reason I feel like I’ve just drank 12 beers and can’t figure out how to loosen the straps to fit my boards on to the top of his ‘97 Subaru. I’ll need the Jaws of Life to loosen them up. We’re now one hour behind our planned departure time.

On the road for about half an hour, I realize I left the firewood and ice in my trunk with the trunk open. Too late now – no turning back. At least when I get back from Baja, I’ll have a swimming pool in the trunk of my car.

Before we cross the border, my roommate and I pull off the freeway for gas. We’re about 10 minutes north of Tijuana, trying to get back onto the 805. We’re hopelessly lost. All around us are obese fast-food junkies gazing suspiciously at us and nobody seems to know how to get back onto the freeway. Turns out we’re only a couple blocks away. Another 45 minutes burned.

We get past the border and pull over one hour south of TJ in Ensenada so we can get temporary travel visas. Perfect … nobody in line … we’ll be back on the road in a short time and setting up camp at an offroad point break in just a couple hours.

Handing over my passport to the customs inspector, I feel that I’ve shaken the cobwebs off. Our luck will begin to change.

“Lo siento (I’m sorry) señor. Your passport is expired.”

I think like Homer Simpson: “Doh!”

“Tu eres un idiot,” my roommate says to me.

“Si, soy un idiot muy grande,” I say, looking at the inspector. “Yo tengo la pasaporte vieja, pero tengo mi licencia de conducir.”

I had accidentally picked up my expired passport from my unorganized drawer, leaving a freshly minted passport that I just picked up two days prior in the drawer, where it would party with stamps, pesos and paper clips for the long weekend.

I’m thinking we’ll have to settle for hanging out near Ensenada. Or we can risk an unfriendly encounter with the federales if we proceed further south without a visa.

Thankfully, the inspector, after a little posturing, decides to be super cool and let us trek on in search of uncrowded Baja waves.

A couple hours south of Ensenada we have no idea where to camp for the night. The sun has started to descend behind the verdant hills between Highway 1 and the ocean near Santo Tomas. I’m thinking we’ll have to sleep in our car the way this trip is going so far.

With the sun about 30 minutes away from setting it’s imperative that we find a place to camp soon. My roommate and I are in virgin territory, both of us having never ventured this far south of the border before and both of us being of the “Let’s Wing It” philosophy of road trip preparation.

About 20 kilometers from the next major town, San Vicente, we see a sign for a campground called Baja Malibu Sur – which will come up in 12 miles.

We pull off the main highway, and feel like contestants in the Baja 500. The sun is about two finger-widths above the horizon. We’re probaly about 45 minutes from the end of the road. We cross a few washboard roads and ravines that are actually filled with mid-tire high water from the previous month’s heavy rains.

This is both our first time doing “extreme” driving and we’re loving every pothole and skull-crushing bump. Still, I’m apprehensive about setting up our tents after dark. The twisting dirt road seems to go on forever. When we finally reach the campsite, the first couple of stars twinkle overhead. Although there are other campers, the remoteness of the ocean from civilization is both exhilarating and intimidating.

A whipping bone-saturating onshore wind makes tent setup impossible. My roommate comes up with an idea to move the car to the side of the tent so that it blocks the wind.

I take the keys and start the car and within three seconds I hear a sound not unlike 100 teachers running their nails down the chalkboard. I fail to see a concrete barrier right next to the car. The passenger door is severely scratched up and won’t open. A General Lee, Dukes of Hazard entry is now required to get in the car.

My roommate doesn’t have the energy to scold me and he already has called me an idiot once today. He’s more concerned with setting up the tent and he realizes that his idea of moving the car isn’t so ingenious: in addition to his car being badly dinged, the wind has now shifted, howling at us like a hyena, while other campers are enjoying the warmth of their RVs and cervezas and the entertainment of two not so bright gringos setting up camp, making giant burros of themselves.

Staking the tent down is no picnic either. The hard-packed sand might as well be concrete. We pound the stakes with propane canisters, which is probably not the smartest thing, but of course we forgot to bring a hammer and shovel with us…

The next morning the 55 degree water is not worth getting into. The waves are only a couple feet and choppy. An ex-pat gringo with rotted teeth and short of a few trillion functioning brain cells, who for some reason is building a house right in the middle of the campground tells us that there’s no forecast for good waves. We’re better off going to the other side of Baja, to the Sea of Cortez, where we can at least kayak and enjoy warm weather.

(To be continued…)

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