Baja California - Part 1 - The Unknown

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Raw, untamed, wild, majestic. These are some of the many words that come to mind when thinking of Baja California, Mexico. A handful of people warned me of Mexico and how frightening it is with the presence of the cartel and the constant looting. Books even warned me, but that did not stop me. I crossed the border with an understanding that this is not American soil, that this is a wild region. I knew the risks, but I also knew the rewards. Although my trip was cut short due to my “old man” back pains, it was not a failure. I spent 2 days exploring many areas of Northern Baja. 

It was morning when I crossed the border. The marine layer had not burned off yet. A quick chat with the Mexican boarder agents and I was off cruising past Tijuana, Rosarito, Baja Malibu and so on. The surf looked decent and no one in the water. I resisted the urge to pull over and catch a few waves and continued down the Mex 1D. A couple hours past and I arrived in Ensenada. After a few wrong turns, I got by bearings straight and headed out of Ensenada and further South into the real Baja.

Passing the first of the military checkpoints was nothing short of scary. Your heart races for no reason. You know you have nothing to hide. That intimidation of seeing a masked man with an automatic rifle looking at you as a slowly drive up is surly to put your heart into overdrive. A simple wave of the hand and you are through the checkpoint. No inspections, no conversation, just a wave on through. “That was easy”, I said to myself.

After passing through Ensenada, the highway turns inland to Santo Tomas. To me, the biggest fear on the road was the 16-wheelers. They have no regards for anyone or anything on the road. They seem to have a one-track mind; get from point A to point B in the fastest time. They barrel down the highway passing you and coming feet away from your bumper. To them, there are no lanes, just one huge one. All resources led to saying to stay off the highways at night and I understand why.

As the highway veered back toward the Pacific and through another military checkpoint, I entered the town of San Quintin. A heavily populated town (in Baja standards). Seemed like a good stop to fuel up. Looping around to get to the PEMEX gas station, I found myself in a back ally. Not a place I’d like to be. Slowly passing by, a local yells at me. Who knows what he wanted. All I wanted was to get to the main road, get fuel, and continue south. The alley ended ahead with no sign of an exit. “Shit”, I shouted in my car. Not only did I not acknowledge the local yelling at me, but I know have to pass him up again. Luckily, an ally way to the right led to the main road and I fueled up and got the hell out of there. Normally, something as minor as a local yelling at you wouldn’t put me on edge, but being as deep into Baja as I was and being one of the few white guys passing through, I can’t help but be a little frightened.

Out of San Quintin, the road turns East, moving closer to the Pacific. No developments, no towns, no nothing. I turned off the highway and onto the dirt roads leading to the water. As my car was showered in soil, I just couldn’t help cracking a massive smile. My Subaru hugged the loose gravel and got me to waters edge with ease. The surf was nasty, but the winds were howling from the northwest. It had to clean up in the morning when the winds died down. I did hear this area is known for the windy conditions it gets in the afternoons. I continued south on the highway, foolishly not looking at my map before headed down.

Another checkpoint was in sight. Again, a simple wave and I was through. I arrived in the town of El Rosario and when the highway made an abrupt left, I realized I had gone too far. I pulled off the road and looked at the map. The next section of the highway heads inland for 100’s of Kilometers until it ends back up on the coast in Baja Sur. I made the call to turn around and try my luck at the area I had checked out just past San Quintin. As I approached the military checkpoint again, I had a bad feeling. A soldier holds his hand up, not to wave me through, but to stop. The soldier speaks to me in Spanish. I reply with “I speak very little Spanish”. One of the few phrases I know in Spanish. Another soldier walks over who speaks some English. I’m asked to get out and open the back for inspection. They converse in Spanish. I can only imagine what they think a white guy in Mexico is doing traveling alone. All the military personnel were very kind. The English speaking one even asked me who has better Mexican food, Los Angeles or San Francisco? I replied with San Francisco of course. After a few minutes of talking with him, he sent me on my way. 

I exited the highway again and checked out a few more spots and then I found the perfect one. A place known as, Valle de Tranqulo. A small grass hut sits right on the beach. Not a sole in sight. As the sun set and I sat under the grass hut playing my guitar, one can’t help but imagine what California was like before it was developed and modernized. I’d put money on it that it looked much like Baja. The light dimmed and I hunkered down in my car on my make shift bed. Lights out.

As the sun rose up over the desert hills and the waves crashed, I felt paralyzed in my car with the back hatch opened looking out at the water. Such tranquility here (no pun intended). The tide was way low, but pushing in. A simple deflating of the tires and I was cruising down the beach. Not far down was a nice little beach break with a few options. Parked it, had a cup of tea, suited up, and paddled out.

Water was cold. Cold enough that I wish I brought some booties. I sat and waited. The sets were slow, but they were coming in. A few waves here, a few waves there and then I spotted an outside set. I paddled out, turned, and hit the peak in prime position on this head high wave. As a sped down the line, the wave formed perfectly on the sandbar. The ride was only for a few seconds, but I will consider it one of my best waves in my life so far.  Hours passed and the tide started to push in killing the waves and putting my on alert. High tide means no exit off the beach. I caught a few more waves until my lower back tightened up. Not the first time it’s happened. It was more painful when paddling. I paddled in. After a couple hours of waiting and monitoring I made the decision to leave. It’s always a tough to make a decision to leave such a beautiful place, but if my back was to become a more serious issue, this is not place I want to me. I packed up and headed north.

Passing through all the checkpoints was slightly different this time. 2 of the 3 stopped me to question me and search my vehicle. Again, I get it; a white guy traveling alone is slightly suspicious. The border approached with San Diego in the background. After missing the border entrance twice, I made it to the entry point, except it was the wrong one. This landed me in secondary inspection. 2 hours passed and again, after questioning and searching, I was released back into the US. All in all, Baja is a beautiful place and I think it has improved itself in protecting tourists. Although I had not been there prior to the government change, the horror stories I had heard seemed non-existent during my stay. That is to say that I would never let my guard down while exploring Baja and there’s much more exploring to do.

Check out the video from the trip —

https://vimeo.com/68423982