What’s your perfect surf trip? Good waves go without saying, and a lot of us, if we travel far, are looking for empty breaks.
I tend to meticulously plan my routes. Using my local knowledge and resources online, I tailor the route to the breaks that I expect to pick up the swell the best. But I’ve followed my plans so closely, it’s to a fault.
Two years ago, my friend Chris and I planned a Baja mission past San Quintin. There was some south on the way, and a northwest to follow as the weekend progressed. We researched all the spots that we would check along the way. The truck was laden with beer, boards, and water and we were in high spirits. The morning we crossed the border, we saw rifling lines at La Fonda from the road, and we we’re soaring. Our thinking was that it could only get better the farther we went south. Two days and a lot of driving later, we didn’t see good waves again until we had returned to K-38.
We were so stoked on going “deeper” into Baja that we blinded ourselves to what was given to us that first day. Other memorable adventures ensued in that pursuit, but in hindsight we wished we stopped at La Fonda and posted up. No regrets, but it was pumping.
We are challenged with opportunities each day of whether to keep striving for something better or realize a good thing when you have it. Surfing, and my friend Chris, have taught me to relax, go with the flow, and don’t stress the details. The whole point is to get away from the grind and have fun. But bigger waves at better breaks, deeper in Baja, are always calling.
My most recent excursion to Baja was a much pleasanter and relaxing experience overall, despite a couple debacles. We left Santa Barbara at noon on Easter weekend, and spent hours in LA traffic. We had already lost the longboards to a strapping malfunction earlier, and they were damaged, but not beyond the help of duck tape.
The plan was to push to Baja and camp somewhere along the coast north of Ensenada, but with sunset approaching, all we wanted to do was catch a couple waves. We pulled off at Trestles and scored clean shoulder-high waves to ourselves for over an hour. The first, and maybe the last, time I’ve surfed there with hardly anyone out.
Part of me wanted to push on to Baja to get there, but I remembered that one of the most enjoyable aspects of a surf trip is how the course can change, often for the better. Recognizing those changes and following them is something I’ve slowly learned, despite years of stubbornness. The decision to stay at Trestles for the night put us on the right path for the rest of the weekend. Had we not stopped, we would’ve carried our frustration into finding a camp at night; instead we were relaxed, refreshed and ready to charge across the border early the next morning.
Two days later, I locked my keys in my car—we knew the boards weren’t the last debacle, but I was thinking a flat tire was next…After nearly two hours of finagling, we got inside. But not before I had enlisted the help some fellow surfers at the beach. We met a rad couple down for the weekend from Huntington, and we hit it off sharing waves and hanging out at the break over cans of Tecate. It was great to make friends who were just as enthusiastic as we were to surf and take missions to Baja. You never know when the events of the trip will take or who you’ll meet because of it.
Go with the flow.
Ok, I know I usually write about green business and everything ecological, but let me start by saying there is nothing more organic than staying alive (keep reading).
I have been through some crazy situations in my life but this hits the top three for sure.
I have lived through a category 5 hurricane in Jamaica, I was chased by armed bandits by car through corn fields in the hills of Puerto Escondido, and I was on a boat in Indonesia (returning from G-land) when ‘the’ tsunami hit. However, the event that happened a few weeks ago in Rio, Brazil, in some ways trumps all of the aforementioned.
I am still unraveling the feelings around the experience and not sure where those disjointed perceptions will land.
While on a surf trip to Brazil this summer my partner and I went to dinner down the road from our apartment in Barra, a suburb of Rio. This particular restaurant had the best pizza I have ever had in Brazil: the cheese tasted like it’s flown in straight from Italy and the garlic was fresher than a northwest swell in October.
During dinner we spoke a lot about our stay in Rio, in fact we were leaving the next day so it kind of felt like a review of the last few weeks of our trip. The conversation was super positive, people had been so gracious to us, kind and helpful—everyone from the bus drivers to other surfers in the water.
We finished dinner and went to take a bus home. We discovered that you can take a bus for $2 or a taxi for $20 and as we’d learned the lay of the land, we had tried to take more buses than taxis.
Unfortunately we got on the wrong bus. Once we realized it, we got off and tried to figure out where the next bus stop was. We saw one a few hundred yards down the road and walked to it to wait for our ride home.
We stood there alone and I had a strange feeling inside, like something was not right or was about to happen.
And then it did.
As we were standing there, two guys on a motorcycle rode up to us in the dark. I stepped forward to see what was up and once they got closer I noticed the guy on the back had a strange look on his face.
I looked down at the rider’s hands and he was pointing a .45 Magnum at me. You see, I know a thing or two about guns, in a previous life (earlier in this one) I would have been the one holding a gun (with a badge) and I put guys like this one behind bars. Maybe in some kind of twisted universe this was my karma.
A .45 will rip a hole through you big enough to put your entire arm straight through the exit wound. As they approached the gunman said something in Portuguese but even if he had screamed in my ear I wouldn’t have heard what he said, my whole world and all my senses were concentrating on that gun. In what seemed like a nanosecond
I told my partner to run and we bolted out of there like lightning running toward the oncoming Brazilian traffic. We didn’t turn around until we had sprinted quite a distance, there was no sign of them following. We ran across the road and flagged down a taxi to take us home.
There is nothing like having a gun stuck in your face to get a little perspective on life.
It’s strange because in that split second that I saw the gun I had no fear, I knew exactly what I had to do and there was no question about intent or motive. The guy was too far away from me to charge him and I knew instinctively that it would be difficult for him to hit a moving target (i.e. us running) from the back of the motorcycle as they inched forward in the opposite direction.
Let’s be clear, it wouldn’t have been impossible, a bullet travels much faster than a human but I knew that was the chance we had to take. I also knew that even if we gave them our wallets and money they could still have shot us dead in the street, and I wasn’t going to test that theory.
I know how ruthless Rio gangs are and if you haven’t seen the movie Cidade de Deus based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Paulo Lins, you must watch it to get an understanding of how easily a life can be taken.
I knew that I’d go down fighting or running my ass off, I hedged on the latter as our best option and somehow all my instincts knew this and I ran like a cheetah.
Of course later I doubted everything, I should have tackled the motorcycle, I should have gone Bruce Lee on them and done a flying Jeet Kune Do kick.
I should have taken the bullet for my lady as she got to safety, but the reality is that what happened happened, and nothing else matters. I never thought I would die taking a bullet in Rio, but damn, you just never know what life is going to deal you.
I wanted to write about this experience to help remind you of the preciousness of life and also to pass along a few tips if you happen to venture to Brazil for a surf trip:
1. Don’t hang out in dark places at night, stay in well lit areas.
2. Stay in a hotel close to the beach that has security.
3. If anyone approaches you by motorcycle don’t stick around to see what they want.
4. Don’t take a bus at night in Rio, grab a taxi.
5. Celebrate your life TODAY, you never know when it will be over.
Life is about clear perception and how you show up in each moment, it’s about the awareness surrounding your daily movements, and it’s about a vital living action. This is why we all love surfing so much, it puts us in ‘the zone’ with very little effort. I hope these tips will help you have a safe trip as you venture to unknown places in search of that perfect wave.
I know that Portugal has been showing up on the international scene for the last few years with all the big waves riding that has been going on at Nazare (loco bastardos) but don’t be fooled by all the hoopla, there are tons of fun ‘normal guy’ surf spots around the country that deserve a surf trip or two.
Just a few years back I did a trip to southern Portugal and explored the cork forests while researching and developing the world famous cork traction pad. While on that trip I stumbled upon Sagres and thought you should know about it before planning you trip to Portugal.
The extreme south of Portugal is one of my favorite areas—why?
The answer is simple, exposure to two swell windows (which you know I love) which means that if one window shuts down, you are an hour away from another. The west coast picks up the NW swells that hammer this sea faring nation in the winter and the south coast can have epic surf when it’s too big on the west side homeboy (and yes that happens often). The end result is that there is always a waves somewhere within a short driving distance.
You can base yourself in Sagres and venture out to the coves and inlets of the south or explore the beach-breaks around the northern cape. This is a terrific surf spot, with waves that tend to be best in spring, autumn and winter.
Sagres itself pulls in most of the swell, a beautiful wide bay that reminds me of Palos Verdes in California (but without the stink-eye locals). There are tons of hotels situated near the water, surf shacks on the cliff and plenty of good restaurants to fill your post surf crazed hunger.
If you plan on hanging in this area fly into Faro and rent a car at the airport, you’ll be in the surf in a few hours after landing which is always a huge bonus.
Are you coming from France or some other European location?
Not to fret senior jet setter; within Europe you can fly cheaply to Faro on a number of discount airlines. But don’t forget that they will charge you dearly for your surfboards (check out our online boardbag airline fee schedule). Here are few links to help you find your way around and to check the forecast:
If you are up to exploring the rest of Portugal (which I highly recommend) then check out this breakdown of some of my favorite spots which are easily assessable by car.
For More Information On Traveling To Portugal see http://www.momondo.co.uk/news/
By Erika Fitzgerald
Whereabout combines he feeling of wandering discovery with the comfort of local community, providing travelers an authentic experience. This nomadic resort village, founded by bicycle advocate and long time resident of San Luis Obispo County Vanessa Amerson, is set to launch its first tour this spring, with a mission to connect travelers with local communities in an active and immersive way. Guests on the tour will experience the surreal beauty of San Luis Obispo County as they bike from local wineries to scenic destinations, dine on locally grown food, and connect with local hosts while staying on the land. As the Whereabout vision developed, Amerson saw increasing opportunity to influence the way people travel.
For Amerson, the Whereabout experience began with a bicycle. “The bicycle brought me a sense of resilience and resourcefulness; it allowed me to take care of work, school, and family without depending on a car.” After this initial spark, Amerson became a bike advocate as a way to share her newfound sense of self-empowerment. As the national advocacy movement shifted from the environment to the economy, she realized the opportunity to combine bike advocacy and community. “I can serve my community and Whereabout guests by creating mutually beneficial relationships with local vendors and artisans,” Amerson explains. This vision has led to partnerships and with local farms, tour guides, and winemakers.
Reflective of its origin, the Whereabout journey will allow travellers to shed the stress of their everyday lives and connect with something real. Amerson encourages travelers to opt for the train: “As soon as people step on the train they begin the process of transformation.” Once off the train, travelers are greeted by Whereabout staff to continue their journey. As the journey continues by van and bicycle, guests are immersed in the beautiful Central Coast landscape – from rolling hills and iconic oak trees to rugged coastlines and scenic beaches. After beginning each day with fresh locally roasted coffee and a wholesome breakfast, guests spend their afternoons exploring the scenic open space and local communities at leisure. At the end of each day, guests come together to share a family-style table to farm dinner with local purveyors while trading stories of their day’s adventures. To Amerson, this is a way to not only highlight local producers, but also to encourage genuine interactions between people and place, patron and provider.
As the journey winds down, guests reflect back on their shared experiences and begin to reconnect with their daily lives. All the mementos, bottles of wine, and foodstuffs purchased during the trip are safely stored by the Whereabout team and delivered to guests at the end of the trip, allowing them to keep their load light as they explore the Central Coast. At the end of the trip, “Your body feels great and you feel like you know yourself again,” Amerson explains.
The Whereabout model will continue to develop and evolve, with the ultimate goal of interlinking local communities throughout the entire West Coast, from Canada to Mexico. Within the next 5 years, Amerson plans to share the Whereabout model with communities beyond the reach of San Luis Obispo. “I would like to see other communities benefit from the Whereabout mission,” she says. Before long, car-free travelers will be able to link from one Whereabout tour to the next, knowing that they are experiencing the authenticity of each place, from the locals of that place.
To find out more and participate with the kickstarter campaign visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031216598/farm-and-winery-camping-for-catered-cycle-tours-in?ref=email
You may be a little cautious of the unpredictable weather that the Emerald Isle has to offer. Fear not! The rugged coastline of the island means a wide variety of beaches in every single part of the country and in this article we will explore the top 5 Irish surfing destinations. From beach, reef and break points to choose from it’s no wonder that Ireland is the international surfers choice for their sporting vacations. If it is your first time surfing, researching holiday blog sites might be a good idea before leaving. But with fantastic surf schools in every corner of the country you have very little to worry about. We have put together a list of some of the best surfing spots in Ireland for hitting up the waves, enjoy!
Bundoran in County Donegal has been coined the surf capital of Ireland. The tourist season now peaks all year round with surfers travelling to the seaside town from every corner of not just the country but the world to enjoy the waves of the north west coast. With a plethora of surf schools to choose from you will be spoiled for choice. The town itself compliments the surfing atmosphere with its lively pubs, clubs and delicious seafood restaurants.
Strandhill and Enniscrone beaches are the two most popular in County Sligo on the magnificent west coast. They are ideal for seasoned surfers who wish to brave the elements. For beginners, there are plenty of surf schools dedicated teaching you everything that you need to know. Easkey is another famous surfing town in West Sligo. Its big waves and clean waters are unforgettable.
Lahinch is the prime surfing location in County Clare. Its exposed coastline makes it the perfect location to hit the waves. The surf schools in Clare are the epicenter of activity during the summer months. It is an idyllic location for beginner surfers. With a bit more practice why not take a trip to nearby beaches of Doolin, Doonbeg and Spanish Point? Each popular locations for the more experienced surfer.
The southwest coast is ideal Ireland’s greatest surfing secret. The diverse coastline of Kerry gives you a lot to choose from. From Banna Beach to Inch, Ballybunnion to Brandon Bay. Inch and Banna are both long, sandy beaches bordered by the soaring Kerry mountains. You won’t beat the breaks in Ballybunnion, four miles of golden sands and the Atlantic cliff break proves a challenge for even the experienced surfer. Brandon Bay is the longest beach in the country reaching almost 20km of the coastline. It is the ideal Kerry beach for beginners as its gentle breaks make it the ideal environment for learning on.
Tramore is the main surfing location not just in Waterford, but in the east coast of Ireland. It is an established surfing town and home to Ireland’s oldest and one of the country’s most active surf clubs, the T- Bay Surf Club. Bunhahon is another wonderful surfing beach not far from here, and they both rival what’s on offer on the west coast.
The watersport world waits on the entire coastline of Ireland. There’s plenty to do in each of these destinations when the surf is up too. Where better than Ireland to enjoy the local cuisine, pubs, clubs and culture? So grab your surfboard and enjoy the Irish coast and know that there are many more locations to explore beyond the top 5 Irish surfing destinations.
Here are a few more spots from our bros at The Ocean Sands Hotel.
The restaurant and general store downstairs sees a lot of foot traffic—surfers looking for a post surf Gatorade; traveling San Salvadorians; and gobs of local, and some not so local, El Salvadorian surfers, who bring the ladies running the hotel to their wits end sometimes.
Drinking starts as early as 8am and continues until after dark when the restaurant downstairs closes around 8pm. They drink a lot, talk loudly, and laugh more than anybody else I’ve encountered. One Salvadorian surfer has been staying at the hotel as long as we have and his laugh is legendary and unmistakable; you really can’t help but laugh once you hear it.
However, a crowd of ruffians assembles downstairs to drink and smoke all day on the weekend and some weekdays. Daisy, the woman in charge, when the owner, Don Allen, is away, kicked them out one night. They’re returned bright and early to continue their revelry. They rarely surf, but compose a substantial part of the “surf bum” population in La Libertad.
They asked us to join them, and in effect buy them some beers, when we returned from surfing. We said we’d change and meet them downstairs soon. But it wasn’t soon enough, as Daisy kicked them out. They told us from out the barred open window that they were treating us like gringos from now on and that we weren’t allowed in the water. Oh the drama!
We encountered a situation where tourists had blown some dough consistently, and now it was expected after a certain point. The group was strong enough to threaten and impose their expectations on extended guests of the hotel.
They don’t seem to understand the difference between the cost of their day-long drinking and my budget of mostly food and water to stay ready for the surf, something they didn’t seem to concerned about.
It got so bad, Daisy quit. At the crossroads of La Paz, we’ve encountered the seedier and rougher element lonely planet mentions. Things have cooled down at the hotel, but I’m off to explore San Salvador and hunt down some good coffee in the picturesque Ruta de Las Flores.
On whole, El Salvadorian’s are very cool people. They have a uncanny ability to spark up a conversation and get a laugh. It’s provided some consist motivation to practice my Spanish.
I didn’t end up getting the tutor, as he was unavailable for a week, and I have also lost my debit card, so I’m being very frugal (another one is on the way). I found a spanish workbook in the downstairs library which is in a pile of fiction and nonfiction books mostly in spanish. The only books in English were on the afterlife—not that appealing at the moment. The textbook, all in Spanish, has been pretty helpful along with my dictionary, and direction from Nico.
While not a top-32 event, we saw the likes of Josh Kerr and Damien Hobgood in the water, looking to pick up some more contest points for the ASP tour. The quality of surfing was awesome, and watching accomplished surfers revealed the potential of the wave, getting us psyched for our own time in the water.
The contest drew people from all over El Salvador; its quite a big deal to the community and everyone is laughing and bubbling with energy. This is the first surf contest I’ve watched, and it was not a bad alternative despite that the waves were firing.
Food and drink vendors with tents, grills, and coolers packed with meat and beer stacked themselves along the smooth stones of Punta Roca. Many made fortifications to their week-long camp by building up rocks around their tent to gain some elevation, visually enhancing it against competitors; to protect it from the tide; and to firmly establish their prime real estate.
I either sat on the rocks or grabbed a chair if one’s available and watched the contest 50 yds away under the shady tent with a cold Pilsner in hand. On high tide, you couldn’t get any closer to the action without getting doused by the spray of a wave, and even then, sometimes that was unavoidable and a welcome reprieve from the July heat.
Give El Salvadorians a surf contest with great waves and they take it to a whole ‘nother level. The cheers following a mighty hack and the howls and groans from watching a heavy wipeout built the background noise to the announcer’s coverage.
Often when there was a break in between sets of waves, a pretty girl would walk by captivating the attention of everyone under the tent. If she was with a guy or anybody for that matter, the crowd was silent, but eagerly chattering quietly and laughing.
If the girl was alone, the crowd erupted into a roar of cheers, calls, hoots, whistles, claps, and laughs that usually drew a shy smile from the girl of interest. It’s all very friendly, even chivalrous, and a fun part of the culture to experience.
The week following has turned La Libertad, specifically the touristy and surfing area of La Paz, into a ghost town comparatively without the traffic of the Reef Pro.
The surf is usually best and the most crowded in the early morning (6am to 11am), but I’ve found it exceedingly difficult pull myself out of bed early enough, though I’ve been managing to get up around 6-630 to at least watch the surf. We were doing the same thing we did at La Bamba in Mexico, but now we have a little shelter from the day’s heat and the luxury of the AC.
The late afternoons and evenings are when we’ve scored our best sessions. If the wind picks up, it usually glasses off by the evening and the temperature is cooler. Punta Roca faces south, so the sun sets everyday to the west above the point, much like Santa Barbara sunsets. When the waves are heavy and the sets have pushed an ocean mist into the air, combine with the setting sun, it is reminiscent of some memorable sessions I’ve had in Santa Barbara.
The sun set is replaced by the massive thunderstorms that move towards us from the North East. Its mesmerizing being caught between two powerful forces, riding one for enjoyment, and enjoying the other from the shelter of our third floor balcony.
Across the street from our hotel., we’re bombarded by a local restaurant’s monotonous playlist of about 20 love songs like “Take my Breath Away” and “Forever Starts Tonight” that they play on repeat. They’ve also played some interesting Spanish covers of “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Last Kiss.”
When I was making plans for this trip, I went through a number of potential routes from starting in Panama and working my way up Central America to only visiting one or two countries.
I ended up buying a ticket to Mexico. And now, after weighing out my options at the halfway point of my trip, I’ve bought a return ticket out of San Jose Costa Rica for September 10. Fortunately, I had the foresight to set my plans in motion, but not get strictly attached to the outcomes. It’s placed less pressure on meeting my destination deadlines on paper and allowed more emphasis on enjoying each spot I visited, which is after all why I’m taking this trip.
This means I’ll be spending little if any time outside traveling and busing in Nicaragua. I’m bummed about it, but I’d rather save it for another time and really enjoy it by spending quality time amongst the people, countryside, and at the breaks.
Punta Roca is a great wave that delivers pretty good consistency and is great for working on my technique. We’ve surfed plenty of times now with 5 or less surfers in the water when there is consistently 20+ every morning. I love surfing this wave–there’s usually a barrel every set. There’s really no reason to leave, but I’m looking forward to a remoter setting at Punta Mango.
I’ve met a lot of travelers doing a trip similar to mine. Few spend more than a week in each spot. They stay for a few days and move on. And for the most part, they hadn’t encountered any great surf. Many of them got their best surf at La Bamba and that was the longest they stayed in one place.
I’ve surfed Punta Roca overhead and barreling by myself because I was patient and willing to wait for the right time. It’s less stressful to stay in a spot longer, and you also get better deals on accommodations.
Nico, the Frenchman I’ve been traveling with, is leaving to visit his girlfriend in the U.S. for two weeks. I’ll be staying close to La Libertad for at least another week waiting for my debit card to arrive…keeping an eye on the swell…and will be catching a bus to Punta Mango, a remoter break east of Punta Roca.
It’s supposed to be a heavier barreling wave, and I may spend as many as three weeks there, waiting for the right swell. Nico will rejoin me with the van, and we may be able to do some beach camping for a little bit.
Yesterday, I got a bus into San Salvador, mainly to track down a short story book in Spanish (hopefully, I’ll be able to read and understand it well someday). I also ended up seeing the El Salvadorian Museum of Art.
I really enjoyed the color choice of the artists. Some of the paintings have heavier themes as they were created around the civil war and the tumultuous periods prior. I’m heading further inland today to the Rutas Las Flores, a string of towns filled with local artists and craft makers amid volcanoes and coffee farms—the real reason I’m leaving to the coast: to find a great cup of coffee.
By the last week in August, I’ll start making my way to Costa Rica, and I have to stay a night or two in Nicaragua, and maybe a few more, if its pumping. I’m meeting my girlfriend, Brandy, in Costa Rica, for the remainder of my trip in September. Looking forward to her company and white water rafting and hiking in tropical paradise! Hopefully, I’ll be surfed out and not surfed starved by that point.
This will be my last post for a few weeks, when I’ll hopefully have some exciting stuff to share from Punta Mango. Thanks for all of your support and guidance! And special thanks to my roommates for gracefully accommodating a sub letter in my absence, and Vu for coming through with the replacement debit card!!
Guest Post by Wave Tribe Customer and Friend Walter Gualt
Since my last post, I decided to join a Frenchman named Nico in his 4×4 E350 van for some beach camping at Concepcion Bamba, possible further exploration into the more fabled point breaks of Salina Cruz, and to later check out the Mayan ruins at Palenque in the Chiapas.
We camped at La Bamba for two weeks, maybe 100 yards from the break. Our camp was fortunately and unfortunately positioned right by the entrance to the beach; we had to take only a few steps to check the surf, but we were also privy to all the foot and surf tour traffic.
I surfed at least twice everyday and as many as four times per day while at La Bamba. We watched the winds switch from onshore to howling offshore, too strong for the size of the waves and we were pushed off them . I loved being right on the break, waiting for the optimum winds, crowd, tide and waves. The end result was that I was surfed-out and exhausted after two weeks.
One afternoon, a thunderstorm moved in right on top of La Bamba; we hunkered down in the van for over an hour as the deluge emptied over our camp and thunder cracked and clapped in the gray abyss above. As the storm subsided, the ocean glassed-off and the waves started pumping. Smooth head high sets rolled in. Nico and I were the first in the water and lo and behold we were joined by Taylor Knox, Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson, some of the best and most progressive surfers in the world.
A couple hours earlier we were studying surfing mags with pictures of these guys, and now we were trading waves with them. Like a jungle mirage, they had appeared out of the thunderstorm. It was my fourth session of the day, but being in an intimate setting with just pros and no one else, I stepped up my surf and gave it everything I had. I left the water almost in a fever, completely drained and too tired to cook up our standard dinner fare of pasta with tomatoes, onions and garlic.
Some of the surf towns, like Barra de la Cruz, have sufficient organization to charge visitors for use of the beach, as proceeds go directly back into the town. Bamba wasn’t as organized. The night before we arrived, there was serious argument over who should be collecting money for beach access. A fight broke out, as some surfers staying at Bamba’s only surf camp, CocoLeoco, were charged twice in one day.
A couple times, a group of these guys came around asking for money, 30 pesos for day-use. We didn’t pay them cause what were we paying for? Security, no. My boardshorts were stolen off our clothes line on our second night. For facilities at the beach like Barra de la Cruz, no. We would have been paying for their beer money.
Around midday sometime during our second week, a group of us were sitting at our camp hanging out, and these guys asked only one of us for the fee. One grinned, rubbed his belly and said, “Necessito comida, muy hambre.” I need food and I’m hungry! We ignored them till they left.
They got the message after that that none of us would pay them. Kind of like the street dogs that come around camp looking for scraps. They can be aggressive, but as soon as you reach for the ground, they bolt off thinking a rock is coming after them next. Sometimes it takes a good blow to the abdomen, but they usually get the message.
The bugs were feasting on our feet and legs. The sand flies and marsh flies were the worst, leaving hundreds of itchy bumps. Life on the beach is tough!
Over our stay, we had met a lot of the folks living in town, and they started becoming quite comfortable coming by our camp to hang out. Even asking for things. It’s at that point that it’s time to move on. It’s not to say that we wore out our welcome; we were becoming even more welcomed. But then it’s not private and it’s not beach camping any longer. We had become a recognizable and semi-permanent fixture of the beach, and after two weeks of surfing, walking into town to buy food and water, and conversing with the locals, it was time to move-on.
Before heading into the mountains for the ruins, we wanted to spend a night at another right point called Chepehua, which was available to the public. Some of the other more exclusive points further east are not safe to visit (slashed tires) unless you pay a guide from Salina Cruz +$250 per day to take you there. It’s bullshit because the beaches are public, and there is technically nothing they can do; but they do anyways. This monopoly on these excellent waves is reinforced by travelling professional surfers and sponsored kids who stay at the Salina Cruz camps for a week or two, where all their meals are taken care of for a couple grand. And I think they assume that most gringos travelling in the area have that kind of money to blow in a week. One look at our van would tell you otherwise.
Exhausted after a surf, I opted for the beach restaurant’s only dinner dish besides fish. It turned out to be shark, and I ate way too much. It was a fitful night of rest, but I was looking forward to a little hiatus from surfing. We were all packed up enjoying a homemade espresso, one of our little luxuries, before we left; it was around 8 am, and we were confident we could make it to San Cristobal by nightfall.
The van didn’t start. We tried for a half hour, before deciding to wait. Nico said humidity could be preventing the car from starting; it had rained heavily the night before and our car was facing west, opposite of the rising sun. We waited, and tried again repeatedly over the next two hours, taking off the air filter and cleaning some corrosion off the spark plug heads.
Our attempts to start the van continued to fail and were halted when the battery died. Several tour guides who had dropped their groups off helped us eventually start with their Dodge Ram trucks (the vehicle of choice for Salina Cruz surf tours). Nico caught a lift into town to buy a new battery and air filter. After he arrived in the early afternoon, we installed the new battery and air filter, and the van started without a hitch. Perfecto! We spent the remainder of the afternoon surfing some great waves at Chipehua.
Still reeling from my shark overdose the night before, I was so excited for another hearty pasta dinner. It’s the only relief we have from Mexican food!
We woke Thursday morning , confident that we were leaving our car troubles in the Mexico at that beach, and excited to finally hit the road for San Cristobal de Las Casas and visit the Mayan ruins in Palenque!
But of course the van failed to start…it had rained even harder last night, and we had forgotten to turn the van around so it would be facing the sun in the morning. We waited a couple hours and tried again. Nothing. Another hour. Nothing. At noon, we knew our moment was upon us. In the last hour, we’d cleaned more corrosion off the spark plug heads and were ready to go. On the second try, the mighty 7.2L V8 roared to life. Slamming doors shut we waved our hasty goodbyes and took off before the van could change its mind.
On the road again! Acceleration was rough and a few ks down the road we pulled over to a roadside mechanic. Everybody in this area of Mexico only speaks Spanish, so Nico does all the talking; I try to listen along and put together the words I can recognize. They told us we needed new spark plugs.
Back on the road, the van was sounding pretty good and we decided to push through Salina Cruz; we didn’t want to stay there anyway.
An hour and a half outside of town, we lost all power. The engine died and steering froze. We rumbled onto the side of the road exasperated. We had pushed our luck too far…fortunately, a mechanic was working nearby. We enlisted his help, and he flagged down a passing truck he recognized to give us a jump. Our problems were beyond his skill level, and he directed us to an automotive electrician 10 minutes up the road in Niltepec. Not sure if we were in the right spot, we stopped at a roadside tire shop to ask for directions. The van died, and we couldn’t get it started. Nico caught a ride with a bicycle taxi into Niltepec, found the automotive electrician named Rufino, and brought him back to the van. We got another jump and made it to Rufino’s shop.
Niltepec is a fairly good sized community just off the freeway, but tucked away and easy to miss. Suffice to say, gringos rarely, if ever, pass through. Rufino worked for the remainder of the afternoon, trying to find the source of our problems. He tested the alternator, and it was working. In the evening, under the light of my headlamp, he showed us a computer chip that acted as a capacitor of some kind for the battery and the alternator. It was almost still smoking and totally fried. We spent the night in the van in front of the Rufino’s shop, and, across the street, ate a pretty good dinner of empanadas and some local dish that was excellent—all heavily fried! Nico caught a bus into town in the morning and bought a replacement chip. Rufino installed it, and the van started smoothly, but the battery was not charging.
After another hour of work, Rufino, frustrated, had no idea why we weren’t getting a charge. He spotted a penny on the floorboards of the driver side and asked what was written on the front. When we told him, he told us to pray. Probably the last thing you want to hear from a mechanic in a remote town in Mexico! We waited and paced anxiously for another hour. Rufino discovered a short running to the alternator, rewired it, and we got a charge. For 500 pesos (roughly 40 dollars), a service worth 500’s more in the U.S., we were back on the road. In high spirits, we climbed into the highlands of the Chiapas. Our now happy and nearly purring V8 pulled us into the range leaving the coastal wetlands below us.
The first major city we passed through was Tuxtla Gutierrez, and it might have been through the grueling rows of streetlights on the main drag, had a kind businessman on an errand with his daughter not gone out of his way to guide us to the city bypass on a busy Friday afternoon during rush hour traffic. No one has ever done that for me, and I’ve never thought of doing that for anyone else! He played a huge part in smoothing out the otherwise stressful start to our day, when we didn’t know if the van would be leaving Mexico with us.
The little maps in our Lonely Planet guides were very poor representations of the streets of San Cristobal, the mountainous piney city we planned to stop in for the night. The streets were skinny, poorly marked, and often required three point turns in the van. We karate-chopped our way across town, until we found a hostel to our liking at Rincon de los Camellos. We left early the next morning. My first night in a hostel wasn’t bad, aside from some noisy roommates, one of which came stumbling in a 6am and proceeded to incessantly cough and talk in his drunken slumber; I think he spent most of the night outside, and it was cold.
Our road to the Mayan ruins at Palenque wound through the Chiapas, a historically turbulent area known to house bandits. The people are mainly indigenous Mayans, and life hasn’t changed very much for them. Some sell cokes and chips from little roadside huts. Mostly a corn-growing region, they clear steep hillsides and plant their crops on some sections so vertical you wouldn’t think it possible to walk up. Banana trees mix in with the pines, epiphytes and corn fields.
As we neared Palenque, it become obvious that were on the “touristic Mayan route,” as people aggressively tried to sell us fruit and other snacks from the road; a rope was held across our path—sometimes by kids—until it was imminently obvious we were not slowing down!
We arrived at El Panchan, our base-camp to launch into the ruins, in the late afternoon. El Panchan is a cluster of bars, cabanas and rooms for rent in the jungle right next to the entrance of ruins. We settled at the Jungle Palace, a cluster of cabanas and stayed in Cacao, a hut with ample concrete deck space hanging over a quietly gurgling stream.
We took our time in the morning enjoying a much needed rest and big breakfast before tackling the ruins. Many tourists take a shuttle because the park is a half mile from the entrance and uphill. We were dripping with sweat from our walk when we arrived at the entrance. Guided tours were offered by season veterans all the way down to adolescent kids. We couldn’t find a group large enough to split the cost, so we wandered through on our own. And there was plenty of historical information on signs in front of each ruin describing the building and how it came to be.
Palenque is a relatively newly excavated ruin with only 10% visible—the rest of it is buried by thick jungle, including the largest structure in the area, three times bigger than the first temple currently worked on by archaeologists. Breaking up the beautiful view from the back of the park overlooking the entire ruin, three generations of Italians on a tour provided some comic relief as they ascended the tallest temple, laughing, shouting and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The next day we set out down a trail called Centero Motepa that punched straight into the jungle, starting with an observation deck over a cluster of cascading pools whose chandeliers created a terracing waterfall that reached far into the depths of the green. The trail followed the stream up and crossed several times before the gravel ended at Mayan marker for a water/sewage duct leading away from the ancient city. The architecture and planning was impressive considering the system in the heart of the ruins, and this offshoot that likely cut through dwellings. It was 4-5ft deep and lined with cemented volcanic rock from the area. In some places, large flat stones still covered the duct, even bearing reliefs and Mayan symbols that were still visible through the moss that covered them and plants that crept in around them.
We heard a rumor that unexcavated ruins could be found along the trail, and maybe we had just seen it at the aqueduct. We were sorely disappointed when the muddy trail we now followed ended at the fence of private property. Perhaps these uncovered ruins required a little more exploration and trespassing…nevertheless, we turned back and explored one of the stream crossings that was a wide open area of pools. As we made our way deeper into the gently cascading pools, we made out an enormous glowing waterfall lit by the midday sun, veiled by the Jungle.
The entrance was under a log sprouting a thick patch of mushrooms, and we contorted our bodies underneath it and over a sliver of uneven riverbed rock while dodging spiders and their large snaring webs. A tall cascade of falls, 15-20ft, opened up before us, and it was surrounded by a green wall of Jungle. An incredible sight—that light-brown, reddish tint of the falls; the yellowing oval leaves that had fallen and become wedged, now reflecting a rainbow of colors, mostly shades of orange; the long ropes of vines hanging the from the ceiling; and the green fronds of the jungle reaching out over the water.
The roar of the jungle in that place was intense, even overwhelming at times. Swimming pools worth of water was flowing; some bugs delivered piercing calls above the general hum of the others and the frogs; and the sun beat down through the top of the forest canopy. It was so loud. There’s really no way to express it in words.
At our feet, around the base of the falls, we treaded on what looked like light brown reddish rocks, the same color as the falls (probably from the heavy amount of limestone in the area and calcium carbonate in the water). Upon closure examination they were snail shells. Thousands of snail shells ranging in length from 1-4 inches! The shell had been discarded by the creature and hadn’t been picked by another looking for a home. The shell didn’t move and was slowly covered by the limestone, petrifying it in a way. However, some shells were only partially covered and some were clean blue-gray. Maybe this was the count of the local snail population by “shells in regular use.” A rolling stone gather’s no moss right!? Or they could just be recent. I don’t know, but it was cool.
I climbed up the pools, and they continued into the green abyss of the jungle as far as I could see. With the roar of the jungle and gurgling vortex in front of me, I felt on the edge of being lost in the jungle. There was something drawing me in, deeper and deeper, almost like a trance. I was snapped awake by Nico yelling below me “Don’t get lost in the Jungle!” Wow, classic. Except this time it was real, not some joke before a hike. It was crazy thinking that people had been appreciating this place for nearly 2000 years, and, probably at one point, when Palenque was at its height, it was a very special place for the Mayans. I made a concerted effort to crane my head away and climb back down. Time to leave the jungle! And back to more van trouble…
It hadn’t started in the last two days, and it rained hard every night. We spent the next morning running the fan and cleaning all the spark plug heads, trying to dry it out. It started after a few hours, and we quickly departed for the town of Palenque to solve our troubles once and for all, and before the van changed its mind, again!
Finding a mechanic is not one-stop shopping in Mexico. There are mechanicos, but they don’t work on electrical components—they tend to specialize in tire changes. Automotive electricians, or just electricians, seem to be the most knowledgeable and the hardest to find among the plethora of roadside tire shops. Also, auto parts are fairly easy to come by in Mexico, but not so much in Guatemala or El Salvador. We couldn’t afford to break down in either of those countries.
The electrician we found spotted a spark plug that had been chewed through, maybe by the mouse we’d found traces of in the van (we’ve also been housing an ant nest that migrated into the van from a tree in Barra de la Cruz—we’ve got them on the run and their numbers are dwindling!). One new spark plug and an oil change later, the van was sounding better than ever. Hopefully, this would be the last dog we’d have to shake off in Mexico.
We returned to the Jungle Palace for one more tonight before heading to Guatemala. And it was an interesting night: we slept fitfully and were awakened early in the morning by someone cutting through the mosquito net walls of our cabana…
We descended out of the Chiapas and into the coastal wetlands, crossing the border in the evening. The most noticeable things about Guatemalans are that they smile and laugh a lot more than Mexicans, they all drive Toyotas as opposed to the Nissans all over Mexico, and they drive wilder, especially the hard-cornering chicken buses, which, for whatever reason, are the most powerful machines on the road, over-taking anyone on the hills. It was raining and dark when we arrived at Huehuetenango (way-way). We found a cheap hostel but parked the van in front of the police station, so we’d come back to something intact in the morning. We had our usually fare of espresso and PB and Js, and were heading for Lago de Atitlan, a lake surrounded by volcanoes in the heart of the country. I missed the exit, so we were forced to cut through a back road, notorious for bandit activity in the past, and man, was it a back road. Thousands of patches and potholes composed a road that twisted through the steep ridges. At one point, the road was completely washed out, and the redirected route was all dirt and took us through the river at the bottom of the canyon. We made it to the lake safe and sound, but it was invisible in the clouds and fog. Skunked! We caught a glimpse on the other side where we stopped for a bite. The road towards the coast was just as bad until we reached the coastal highway. We camped on the black sand beaches of Sipacate and enjoyed a hearty meal of pasta.
We crossed into El Salvador early, but the extensive paperwork to bring a vehicle took two hours. We spent our first night in a touristy resort area at El Tunco. Even though we stayed at a hostel, it felt a little fake.
Yesterday morning we motored 10 minutes down the road into La Libertad, and found a more authentic vibe much to our liking. As I sit writing, I’m looking over my balcony at the premier point break of the Central American coast: Punta Roca. We’ve paid in advance for our two-week stay, and I’m looking into taking a Spanish language course while I’m here. Stoked to be back at the beach!
We pulled up to 9 Palms on the Southern tip of Baja, the hurricane was spinning just a few hundred miles off shore and the temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees—which was a welcome reprieve from the June heat. As we drove the dirt road out from San Jose I could taste the anticipation, it was as hot and suspenseful as the jalipano chile that I had at the juice bar before we left town. The storm had pushed in clouds as far as the eye could see and every few miles there were red streaks of light that shot across the sky like a Jedi’s weapon.
One thing I love about surfing is that you are surrounded by uncontrollable elements, and nothing speaks more intimately to a seasoned surfer than an approaching hurricane. So much of our life is calculated and we are taught from childhood how to fit in, belong, follow the crowd, obey authority—all those things fall away once you throw yourself down a steep blue-green face without any idea of what will take place as the pit swallows your dreams and ambitions and turns them up-side-down.
When we first paddled out my bro got swept down the beach and he didn’t make it out, I popped out the back after battling several sweeping sets. I was out there alone, and it felt like I was in the womb of life, with turbulent waters swirling every which way and a current so strong that if I stopped paddling it would carry me down to the rock pile and I would get chewed up like a blender gone rogue. The clean-up sets tasted like a sour lemon, sometimes I liked it—but mostly I didn’t.
I felt alive. Endorphins raged through my body like a formula one race-car roaring and nothing else mattered in my life, not where I had been nor where I was going.
My buddy made a second attempt and made it out, I was glad to see him and I felt more at ease having a wing man while those sea mountains marched through the line-up and crashed on the point unleashing a sound that sounded like the Greek God Zeus’s laughter.
I long to get back to that place where fear and exhilaration dance on the shores of my life and I am grateful to surfing for taking me there again.
Surfing Northern Baja – Hire A Guide
I have been traveling to Baja for 35 years—it is likely the one place on the planet that has served up some of the best waves of my life. For the last few years Baja has been plagued with negative media and unwelcoming stories. Coyote Adventures, started by Ivan Feerman, was born out of one surfer’s desire to change all that.
How did you get the idea to start Coyote Adventures?
First of all thank you for doing this feature on your site Derek, It’s a true honor. The idea came about from the love of surfing and adventure.
My wife knows I love Tijuana and surfing, and while working in a Pacific Beach restaurant she actually suggested I should consider taking people on taco and culinary guides to Tijuana. I gradually developed the idea more into surfing and started integrating other aspects while bouncing off ideas with my friend Jorge.
I also wanted to demystify what the media has created—the drug and violence information we receive on a daily basis can be very debilitating. I feel so fortunate to be able to travel so easily into México and experience the colorful culture, food, music, art, waves and freedom my country of birth has to offer. Of course, when I travel I do it in an environmentally and socially consciousness way.
I want to share this experience and show people that there is a different face to Baja. They shouldn’t be intimidated by the thought of traveling and surfing there—it’s likely not what they think it is. When I go back to visit my family in Baja and surf, or simply spend the day with my wife or friends, we have a blast. In addition, my aunt and cousin are dentists so I always get the perks of that as well, it’s a great resource just across the border.
There is also a boom of the culinary scene there, the wine region is outstanding in Ensenada, the music is fantastic, and the murals of Tijuana are creative and beautiful. Our visual arts collective www.eye-94.com also had a show there this past November. There is a re-emergence and revival of Tijuana, and you do not want to miss it.
How is the trip different when you travel with a local?
I was born and raised in Tijuana, México. I studied up to 11th grade in High School there and finished off in San Diego. I have lived in the United States for 11 years now—having knowledge of both cultures is ideal.
I know my way around Tijuana and Baja really well and my immediate family lives in Loreto, Baja Sur (Southern), very close to Scorpion Bay, San Juanico.
I grew up traveling Baja roads with my family, every summer we would drive to visit my grandma. We would fish, swim, hike, hunt for rabbits and quails and enjoy the beautiful climate; I am a true water and desert kid.
I have traveled extensively throughout Baja and feel that every time I end up meeting a local, I have an awesome experience. Local knowledge of a location will always show you a side of a place that you may have never even imagined existed.
What are some of the spots you surf with your clients?
The common surf spots, depending on the season, run all the way from Playas de Tijuana to San Quintin. This includes Playas, Baja Malibu, Termoelectrica, Muelle (Pier) Rosarito, Playita, Popotla, Calafia, k36 (Bus Stops), Teresitas, k38, k42 (Raul’s), Campito, Chivos, Campo Lopez, La Fonda, Sal Si Puedes, San Miguel, M’s, Stacks, California, Punta San Jose, Punta Cabras, Erendira, Camalu, Cuatro Casas, and many secret spots in-between.
Do you feel that traveling through Baja by car is safe?
It is definitely safe as long as you do it by day, and I don’t say this because of hijacking. I say this because of the lack of illumination on some parts of the road.
Once you get passed Ensenada there are many areas where it’s pitch black and there are a great number of semi trucks traveling all the way to Cabo San Lucas on this very narrow highway.
Animals are another road hazard; you never know when they will cross the road and it’s especially dangerous at night.
Have you ever had any run-ins with the police or narcos?
Honestly, the narcos obviously do exist but you would never know where they are or who they are for the most part—they do their thing and the rest of the population does theirs. If you have no reason to interfere with their business, then there is nothing to worry about. I have never had an incident of this sort in my 32 years.
The cops on the other hand tend to be thieves, although I believe they have gotten much better. They used to come up with any excuse to pull you over and try to get a few bucks. This is not the case anymore, and since they have gotten stricter with drinking and driving policies, most people which go out now tend to take taxis and avoid the $1000 DUI fine. You don’t get out of jail until you pay it with time or dinero.
I recently witnessed an example in which my friend had a few beers at home before he picked us up at a bar to give us a ride to my other friend’s house later in the evening. There were four of us in the car, we got pulled over and my friend ended up getting the breathalyzer test. He was past the legal limit, so they asked for money.
One cop talked to the driver and the other lectured us on how we should not be placing people in danger while driving. He was very cool about it and once they realized we did not have any money in our wallets they told us to park the car and take a taxi home. So we took a taxi home and it made me realize it had been the most humanly possible incident I have ever had with a cop in general. The city has truly changed.
What are some tips you could offer to other surfers traveling through Baja?
Respect the culture and the people, try to blend in, learn some Spanish. Don’t drive on the road down the peninsula late at night, always be conscious of your surroundings, and most definitely don’t drink and drive.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Baja?
I have many, but right now it is Erizo (sea urchin in Spanish). This restaurant is in Tijuana on Avenida Sonora, where my mother and her family grew up. It is located where the new gastronomic center will be located and it is owned by Chef Javier Plascencia. He is at the forefront of a new revolutionary style of cuisine called Baja Med, which is truly outstanding and affordable.
My wife and I recently had an incredible lunch there that included clam and scallop ceviche in a cucumber, jalapeño, and tomatillo sauce. The ceviche was accompanied by a Tijuanero Taco that contained grilled octopus, shrimp, and skirt steak with a sriracha aioli and cilantro. Next to that was a shrimp taco with cheese (called quesa taco) and a Baja style chowder made with maiz. Is your mouth watering yet?
Where do you stay?
I usually stay with family and friends but if I was taking someone on one of these excursions there are many awesome places to stay. Some examples would be the K38 Motel, La Fonda Hotel, Hotel La Mision, Hotel Calafia, Popotla Trailer Park, Hotel Las Rocas, Raul’s Surf Inn, Baja Seasons, Playa Saldamando, San Miguel, Hotel El Cid, Hotel California, Cuatro Casas Hotel and Coyote Cal’s.
There are so many beautiful Mexican ranches around the Santo Tomas region that offer campsites, water springs, showers, pools, grills and more—it’s where the local families go and they’re great.
I noticed that you go to 4 Casas, do you know Ricardo and Teresa the owners of the hostel?
I have camped there before but I have not actually stayed at the Hostel. I know they have been there for a very long time and I had planned in speaking with them about my new company. I have heard many nice things about them and I would definitely take excursion groups there once I have some contact.
Tell us about your company?
If you want to have a great time with someone who’s a native, knows the region, the culture, the breaks, and the language—well, don’t hesitate to give us a try. We help organize many different types of tours, from seeing the tourist site across the border to exploring Mexican cuisine as we chase waves down the coast.
You tell us the experience you want and we’ll make it happen, from camping along the cliffs to sleeping at the ocean’s feet in a hotel. The company is fresh out of the box, so if you are looking for a unique experience send me an email or give a ring.
For more information on Coyote Adventures check out there webpage www.coyoteadventuresbaja.com
This interview was conducted and edited by Derek Dodds, eco warrior and founder of Wave Tribe. All photo credit by Ivan Feerman.