Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Home sweet, southern Baja, home.

Three hours from Punta Conejo is the Peanut. The Peanut is our home down here in southern Baja and after a couple days of roughing it in the Conejo sand we decided it was time to head for our home base. At the Peanut, life is pretty good, we've got shade, a clean place to cook, a sink with running water. Best of all, we've now got a brand new bathroom with a flushing toilet! All carved out of a piece of desert where there is no electricity or water supply (our water is trucked in).

CON KSO at the Peanut docking station.
The newest addition- a legitimate flushing toilet.
The best thing about the Peanut is its close proximity to a few different surfing options. Within a few hours in either direction we've got right and left point breaks, beach breaks and a couple reef breaks too. Now, to be honest, none of them are what you'd call "world class" and it takes a lot of good luck to catch any of them on a really good day but, they're nearby and if you can read the weather signs, you can score some good days. Lucky for us, the second day we were here, the winds started to clock around to straight offshore. When that happens, the surf starts getting really good.

The winds switched offshore and the surf went from okay to seriously fun.
Nothing too big or life threatening just good shoulder high fun waves. Rumor has it, something bigger is on the way.
 We've been surfing the local point (about a 5 minute drive from the Peanut) for the last couple days. I'm cooked off, sunburned and tired. The rumor on the beach is that something size-able should be here in the next couple of days. If the winds cooperate, I may be pulling up stakes and launching a surf patrol to the spot that's been inhabiting my brain for the last year. It's time to scratch the itch.

The best part of surfing down here is hooking up with old friends, my good old buddy Marcos lives down here about 6 months out of the year and surfing with him is a highlight. Surfing with friends is the best and during the winter, coming down here is like a reunion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Path to Conejo.

Driving up and out of the Sea of Cortez is one the best parts of the trip. There's the sapphire blue of the water over your left shoulder and, as you drive past Loreto, the craggy mountains just to your right. This area tends to get a lot of rain in the summer so those jagged peaks are always specked with giant green cardon cactuses, thick trunked elephant trees and other cool desert plants. It's a beautiful area. This day would be a medium length day of about four hours to our next stop, the big left point break of Punta Conejo.

The road into Conejo, drop your tire pressure and take it slow- there are blind curves and sharp rocks... and you're a long way from help.
When it's breaking, and the wind isn't cranking, Punta Conejo is one of my favorite waves. It's not hollow, gnarly and fast so if you're a short board ripper you might be disappointed. It is, however, a cobble bottomed, left point break that has enough power and a long enough tapering wall to allow you to get really jamming down the line. And the wave can be long. I've surfed over a hundred yards many times. On special days I've stretched waves all the way from the top of the point down into the fish camp which is probably three hundred yards of leg burning, left handed fun. It's a favorite of mine- if it's on.

Unfortunately, the surf gods decided that I'd have to work a little harder for my waves. The surf was only fun for one morning session. I paddled out on my 9'0 stando and snagged anything I wanted since I was surfing all by myself. I only came in when I'd surfed close enough to camp to smell breakfast being made. It was a perfect morning.

Dakotah giving path goers a little advice on their travels.
Although the surfing was not so hot this time at Conejo, the camping, as usual at Conejo, is really good.  With four wheel drive, I can drive out onto the sand berm away from the cliffside surf/camp ghetto to where there's tons of firewood within easy reach and clean white sand. Watching surfers walk past our camp we noticed that the walk up to the point was a bit of a slow process. This was due to the broken oyster shells, sticks and sharp rocks that had to be navigated in bare feet to get to the paddle out point. Dakotah and I quickly decided to help out the surf community by building a clean sand footpath. We collected rocks, cleared a path and hand-sifted the sand to make sure anything sharp couldn't poke a barefoot. It took us a whole morning but we built a really nice little path, everybody was stoked on it and we had fun doing it. Each time somebody walked our path it made us happy to have made a great spot just a little bit better.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sea of Cortez Campsite

Leaving Shell Beach we zoomed up the coast to Guerrero Negro, the border town between the Mexican state of Baja Norte and Baja Sur. We try to mix up our driving days alternating really long days with days that may only require three or four hours. Yesterday we were on the road for almost ten hours so today would be a shorter, "easy" day. Our goal was a small beach on the Sea of Cortez that has two things going for it: a couple of beautiful campsites and small restaurant/bar that sells good food and insanely potent margaritas (the bartender, Pepe is a margarita artist). Crossing the border between the two states, we paid the optional-but-not-really-optional twenty pesos to have the bottom of our car sprayed with "pesticide". Next stop would be a beach-side campsite. 

Art hour at our beach campsite. 
After a couple of margaritas and a papa rellena (stuffed potato) we hit the sack in the back of CON KSO. Late that night we heard a moto pull into the site next to us- it was our friend Matt who was riding down the peninsula solo on a DRZ400. Matt's what I call a Baja cowboy- he knows the nooks and crannies of the peninsula, speaks fluent Spanish and is just the kind of guy you want to travel with in Baja. I got up and welcomed him into camp- he was cold and tired having made up huge offroad miles to reach camp that night. I made sure he was set up and crawled back into my warm sleeping bag.

Matt's wheels.
The next morning we got to catch up and hear the tales of his offroad moto trip over a cup of hot, black coffee. The riding sounded really gnarly but I have to admit, it's something I'm going to have to do sometime myself. I told Matt about the natural hotsprings that I'd heard were just a couple coves away. I wanted to ride my moto over to them but two margaritas and the late hour of our arrival made it impossible. Matt said he'd go see what they were all about and report back to me about them. Saying our goodbyes, we hit the road leaving Matt to explore the hotsprings and making tentative plans to meet up at Punta Conejo, my favorite point in Baja for stand up paddle surfing.

And then there was surf! Words later, surf now.

The wind has been a little off. Blowing down the coast it's created fun waves for goofing around but nothing really to get too excited about. And then it switched offshore. Talk to you later... I'm out there!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Day 3: A little bit of night driving- never a good idea.

After scoring our tourist visas we hit the pay road towards Mexicali. We’d eventually take the cutoff for San Felipe, Puertecitos and out to Laguna Chapalla. At Laguna Chapalla the road would reconnect with the main north to south highway in Baja, Mex 1. We prefer this longer but more scenic route because it allows you to avoid the dreary agricultural region between Rosarito and San Quentin, we call that area Baja Sorrow. Baja Sorrow is a long stretch and it’s really ugly and boring. There are no ocean vistas just lots of small towns with topes, stoplights, slow trucks and slower buses. No thanks.

This is where you come off the road, back onto Mex 1 at Laguna Chapalla. See that white SUV right at the tire shop across the highway? That was the dumb gringo who was hauling ass on the road when he should have aired down and taken it slow. He shredded two tires and drove the last couple of miles on bare rims. Dummy.
Our route is much more pleasant. There are very few trucks so you don’t have to make any sketch pass maneuvers. The highway is new, it’s wide (sometimes four lanes) well paved highways and the Sea of Cortez over your left shoulder once you get past San Felipe. It’s our route of choice every time we drive south. Gassing up in San Felipe we continued south through the desert. The road here was a bumpy dirt road just a couple years ago, in the last three years, the government has been going full time trying to get this stretch paved all the way to the Laguna Chapalla reconnect. It’s both cool and not so cool. On one hand, the road will be a high speed work around to avoid Baja Sorrow. On the other hand, it’s sad to see the beautiful and pristine desert being gouged open for a road and there’s always the reality of the “good roads bringing bad people”. For example, take a look along any of Baja’s well paved routes and you’ll see plastic trash bags snagged on cactuses, dumped vehicles and garbage. Change and progress are inevitable, I guess. I’m glad I got to see it when it was still a little bit wild.

Can you see CON KSO down there? This is the end part of the Laguna Chapalla road, you can see how excavators are cutting up the hillsides.
Hitting Tecate put us behind a couple of hours so it was getting dark by the time we reached Mex 1. The CO2 PowerTank that I carry with me allowed me to air all four times back up to 80psi in about ten minutes, which is fast but is still a time drain when you’re trying to race the last light of day. I hoped we could reach Guerrero Negro, the halfway point in our journey before dark but it was no becoming obvious that we’d be driving in the dark part of the way. This is never a good idea in Baja. It’s not the cartel, or bandidos that you have to worry about here, it’s the two ton black cow that’s standing on the road just around the next corner. Cows on the road cause all kinds of death and destruction down here. 

That cooler lid is all the warning you'll get before you bottom out in this pot hole. See the previous post and you'll get to see how deep that hole really is.
Figuring that we only had a couple of hours in the darkness to make it to a nice hotel in Guerrero, I told the girls we were going to roll the Baja road dice and go for it. Bad decision, we almost didn’t make it. Two thirds of the way there, we hit a very deep, very gnarly pot hole that I missed as I was dodging a couple others. The right front tire banged down into the hole (which is why you buy the best tires you can afford before you drive into Baja- a blow out would have meant rolling the truck) and threw CON KSO to the left- straight across the dividing white line! If there had been a truck in that lane at that instant, we would have all been dead. CON KSO being slightly top heavy went into a wobble, weaving in the road. Being cool paid off here because jerking the wheel to the right would have increased the wobble, maybe rolling her. With stability control warnings beeping and a couple of girls hollering, I eased her back into the proper lane and made the decision I should have made earlier, we were getting the hell of the night road.

Shell Beach, at least that's what we call it. A safe place to camp half way down and a way better option than driving at night.
I knew that a couple minutes up the road we could take the Punta Rosalilita turn off out to one of our favorite camp-over spots. We call it Shell Beach. There’s actually a goofy, mushy, dead-end right hand point off the beach if you were amping to surf you could have at it. We, on the other hand had just finished almost ten hours of hard driving and we just wanted a safe harbor for the night. Safely tucked in into CON KSO, we called it a night.

Liza got one at shell beach. The surf's been pretty small so finding other things to do is important. The girls like to collect shells and stash them all over the truck in plastic bags. I'm not so sure if I'm a big fan of the collections.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tecate: Visas and Borders

Apologies for the road report delay- sometimes WiFi is hard to find when you get yourself off the beaten path. So here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened since we last escaped Tijuana.

The next morning we woke up early, said goodbye and good luck to a friend riding a moto to the tip then we hatched a plan to hit the Tecate border station for our Tourist Cards.

The Tourist Cards are important to us, they give us a legal tourist status, for six months, in all of Baja. We’re in a foreign country we might as well play by the rules. Plus, since the girls are flying home, I didn’t want them walking up to the airline ticket counter and then having to explain why they were in Mexico illegally, better to deal with the hassle now instead of kicking the can down the road. So off to Tecate we went. 

This is why you don't drive at night- the white jug is all the warning you'll get. On the road to Laguna Chapalla after leaving Tecate.
Getting the tourist cards in Tecate ended up being simple to do. Since we got there early in the morning, there was little to no traffic and we were able to find a nice parking spot for CON KSO near the Mexican border station. We asked the guard how to get to the Immigration office and he said we should just walk through the turnstyle and the building is right there. Well, I think we actually may have walked across the border back into the United States because once you walk through the revolving gate, you’re heading north, I could see the United States, it would have been easy to just keep walking (maybe “they” were watching us with some pre-Snowden secret surveillance). We hopped a small fence and walked across the road, hopped another small fence and walked back into the Mexican checkpoint where the Immigration office was easy to find.  It was empty except for the friendly official who had a desk for us to sit at, pens for us to use (that’s a first) and was able to take our fee instead of sending us to a bank to pay which saves a lot of time and hassle. In a couple more minutes we were back in the truck heading off towards Mexicali. Another problem solved.

Safe and sound, day 3 on the road at Punta Conejo. Surf was small so it was all about arts and crafts, camp projects and shell collecting.
Getting into Tecate early gave me a chance to get the lay of the land since I didn’t have to worry about traffic buzzing all around me. It’s really a simple layout and I’ve got a much better feel for how to get around. In addition, seeing how much easier and stress free it is to cross at the tiny Tecate border station with it’s easy to find Immigration building confirmed in my mind that we’ll be using that crossing point for both entering and exiting Baja. Again, a little bit of a hassle ended up delivering another useful set of data points.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Crossed and double crossed.

Crossing the border is easy, blink your eye and next thing you know you're in Mexico. That's the easy part. Getting our FMM (Tourist Card Visa) is usually easy too. Typically I pick them up at the San Ysidro crossing, you pull over once you cross the border and the Immigration office is right there. Supposedly (thanks Matt), it should have been just as easy at the Otay crossing.

Made it! CON KSO in a safe port: Hotel El Portal in La Rumorosa
Was it? Hell no. Nothing's that easy. The Otay crossing is being totally remodeled and the station is torn up.The Mexican Customs guy took a deep breath and tried to explain how to navigate the maze that gets you to the Immigration Office. The deep breath told me everything I need to know. He was basically saying (in Spanish), "There is no way you're going to ever figure this shit out Gringo, because I barely know how to find the place myself- but I'm gonna tell you anyways." I asked him if we could just park right there in Mexican Secondary and walk the hundred yards to the new building. A long stare pretty much said it all (which was, "You are not my problem now, welcome to Mexico have a nice day"). We drove out and gave it a half-hearted attempt, ending up in a light industry area right next to the border wall, prime El Chapo/Cartel tunnel rat real estate. Feeling extremely out of place, we said fuck it and headed for Tecate and La Rumorosa. We'll have to figure out the visa thing later. I don't really need one but the girls will when they fly out of San Jose del Cabo.

This is what 700 pesos (about 40 bucks) gets you in La Rumorosa... pretty sweet. Super clean and close to a great restaurant. And oh yeah, all the electrical shocks you want from the light switch. Bueno!
Driving to La Rumorosa should have been easy. Was it? Hell no. Pro-tip: pay attention to what you're doing when driving through TJ during rush hour. I got the ol' Texas Suck-Off and was siphoned off the main highway into a never-never land of OXXO mini-marts, Pemex pumps, tire shops and furniture stores- there was even a fucking clown walking up and down the jam packed road. As if my shit was freaked out enough by the Death Race 2000 swirling around me.

Eventually we navigated out of that mess (thank you geo-stationary satellites) and here we sit in cool, little hotel El Portal in La Rumorosa. There's a take away lesson in all the day's craziness: If you don't swing at a couple fast balls you're never gonna learn how to hit them. What the fuck does that mean? It means that if we never put ourselves into trying circumstances we really don't grow and learn. I did not enjoy getting lost, but I learned from it. I always tell my chem students that they've got to get used to making mistakes because that's the only way you get where you want to be. So today was my learning day, stay left and dodge that Texas Suck-Off.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Baja Ready.

Full fuel tank. Full propane, PowerTank, water. Tires at 80psi, airbags up to 70psi. ARB freezer powered up, camera batteries charged. A couple thousand bucks changed into pesos, PB&J, coffee, granola, surf wax (warm water), five sets of fins.

The new moto mount. Super sweet but driving at night is definitely not going to be an option. The headlight beams do make it through the bike to the road but there's a small bit that's reflected straight back into the cab.
Two standos, 9'6 longboard, steel leaders, Krokodiles, filet knife, three hand planes, four sets of swim fins, two mask and snorkel sets, three body boards, two Kialoa stando paddles (Methanes... the best), four Staun deflators, four pairs swim trunks, six tee shirts, two pairs flip flops, iPhone, iPod, Yamalube, chain lube, 18" inner tube, 21" inner tube, three passports. There's more but that should cover the most important stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Let's wrap this up.

Was it really a year ago?

Yep. Okay- let's tie up some loose ends. We'll start with the ending to last year's Baja story. Here it is:

The "asshole" is an expat dick who lives at Alejandro's, which is one of the most beautiful little coves in Baja- made a million times better by the super fun right hand waves that peel off it's northern rocky point. The place is sweet, fun waves, great fishing, sand bottom, good camping. You'd think that if you found yourself living there year round, you'd be all smiles and sunshine. Naw, not this dick. He's perpetually grumpy, always trying to be the biggest asshole in the lineup and always winning that competition. Worse of all he's a middle aged pony tail dude,  Senor CockFace has locks like Fabio. Yes, he is a hair farmer. 

We crossed paths- he barked, we laughed. He flipped us off. We laughed.

And our Baja trip was still awesome.

The End.

And now let's get ready for this year's southern ramble.

This spot is my primary objective.
CON KSO is locked and loaded. I've added some upgrades to the old girl. There are many small things but the greatest hits include a custom, always-hot, 12volt circuit into the back of the cab (of course it's fused- come on now),  this will allow us to fully power up our ARB freezer, I added an additional new awning off the back so that the western sun blazing through the camper's back door won't interrupt my noon nap, cold central Baja nights demanded some insulating window shades so we complied (Reflectix- if you don't know about this stuff... google... you'll love it) and finally I added a 4" receiver off the front of CON KSO so that we could carry a moto and have our custom back porch with us. Pics are coming as soon as I've got a second.

This year's going to be an interesting one because the girls are flying back halfway through the trip leaving me to make my own decisions for about twelve days. I've had an itch that's needed to be scratched at a certain hush-hush region and that is high on my Baja to-do list.

We leave in two days. And the itinerary is pretty set- we'll be spending the first night up at elevation before pushing hard for Guerrero Negro. Come along for the ride- this should be a good one.

Pics and words are on your radar- please be vigilant.