Undoubtedly if you're a California surfer you've heard the scary stories coming out of Baja. To tell you the truth, what's happening in the border region of Northern Baja has been heavy enough to make me think twice about my casual day trips. For those who don't know, here's a quick summation of the latest happenings:
• Three San Diego surfer/kiters carjacked in the early morning hours driving through TJ to the toll road. Highlights: Fake (or not) police pulling them over, guns to heads, execution style kneeling postures, highspeed flight to the border, thousands of dollars in vehicles and gear lost.
• Fishermen carjacked on their way south, again in the early morning. Highlights: Blue lights in the rearview mirror, guns in faces, tweaked out looking "police" with masks, everything lost.
• Family of four pushes for home from San Quintin, pulled over by blue lights at night on toll road. Highlights: Same as before but this time forced to drive into the hills above Rosarito, thrown onto the ground, robbed and abandoned.
• Surfer and girlfriend pulled out of their RV in the middle of the night near Quatros Casas surf spot. Highlights: Bullet fired through the side of their RV, robbed and assaulted at gunpoint.
I am certain that some will believe that these stories are fabrications. I can assure you that they are not. In one case the victims are guys I know fairly well from surfing and kiting. The stories are true. Luckily nobody was killed in these incidents but the trauma they all faced will effect them for the rest of their lives. In all four cases the victims stated that they'd never go back- I don't blame them. In each case, however, there is a thread of commonality that ties the crimes together.
In the case of the carjackings: All were traveling at night. It seems now that driving on the toll road in the darkness in an offroad equipped vehicle may be asking for trouble. The toll road and the road along the border fence that leads up to the first toll booth do not afford you immunity. In addition in each carjacking the vehicles were newer 4x4s (two were F250 4x4s and one was a Honda Ridgeline 4x4) it seems the bad guys know what they want, singling out these particular vehicles. As far as night driving goes, I have to admit that I frequently broke this rule. I'd usually cross the border around 3am, leaving early allows you to steal hours in the day, effectively giving you an extra afternoon of surfing. I've also done the 20 hour marathon of driving from Cabo to San Diego. I'm done with driving at night down there. As my friend Marcos always says: "Bad things happen at night".
As far as the Baja campers are concerned: It's pretty well known that the Quatros Casas/Camalu/Outskirts of San Quintin areas are very sketchy places. There's always been dark happenings in the Shipwrecks/Quatros Casas area, now that meth has found its way down there it is bound to get worse. In my circle of Baja travelers, Baja Sorrow (the region around San Quintin) has always been off limits- the surf has never been worth the potential trouble. In the case of the RV bound campers, the guy supposedly had been going to Cuatros for many years. I was surprised to hear that he chose to camp away from the relative safety of the "surf camp". For you readers out there, Allan Weisbecker wrote about this area in his book, "In Search of Capt. Zero". You'll remember it as the spot where the hills had eyes. And where a Mexican rancher invited him to shelter in his walled compound for the evening. It was, he insisted, safe for nobody at night. I wholeheartedly agree.
Do I think it's safe to travel by car in Baja? I think abiding by the two guidelines I've described can put the odds in your favor, but I've always been one to follow my gut. And right now my gut says there's some real strangeness afoot down there. I may give it a pass until something has been done to restore my confidence (I wouldn't mind seeing their Army patrolling that stretch in their Humvees). Importantly, I don't think these dark tidings have enveloped the whole peninsula. As a matter of fact, I think once you're past San Quintin, the odds swing even more in your favor. Whatever you decide to do, be safe, don't drive at night and stick together.