Just north of the border crossing into Mexico we met at Denny’s with our two new online friends, Ben and Rob. Rob, found Dillon through a VW forum and invited us to tag along on his surf trip to Baja in his 71 bus. He has been a regular at a few small surf spots down the peninsula over the years. We were more than excited to be introduced to off the beaten path spots by someone that is fluent in Spanish to caravan with for our first south of the border exploring with the bus. Having never met the guy we were about to head into Mexico with we were anxious to see what our future had in store. Rob was our parent’s age and had enough enthusiasm for all of us combined.
We grabbed a beer with Ben in San Diego before the Denny’s meet up so we knew he fit in with us well. He is our age and after leaving the Airforce has been driving an 86 Vanagon around the US and Canada for the past few months. He found us on Instagram and the rest was history. He was wanting to head into Baja but needed some motivation for a timeline so he decided to join.
Upon reaching the border crossing we followed Rob, the caravan leader the wrong way down a one way, then Ben proceeded to scrape his tire on a metal pole creating a screeching sound, announcing to the Mexican government that the VW shit show has arrived.
We acquired our tourist visas and were on our way to the casa of Eduardo, Rob’s Mexican friend he met surfing in Baja years back. Our drive by take on Tijuana was that it wasn’t nearly as grungy as we had been lead to believe, but we were only taking toll roads. Regardless, we didn’t risk getting caught in border drug cartel situation and continued to Ensanada. Eduardo joined the crew speaking minimal English which gave us a chance to practice our Spanish. We later learned that he probably spoke more English than we did Spanish but he was sweet to sit and listen to our broken Espanol. Our first night in Baja we camped on the coast at a spot called El Socorro where Rob brought the land owner bags of groceries in exchange for camp fees. We were completely awe struck that we were camping for free right on the water with only one other person as far as the eye could see.
The next morning we packed up and headed to the remote surf spot known as ‘the wall’ for the hand stacked morter-free walls people built in attempts to block the wind for camping.
At the wall we set up camp strategically with the 3 westys to block the wind. Camp was about 100 ft. from surfing and fishing. Dillon caught some small halibut that we made ceviche with. Ben speared a smaller fish we cooked up in cast iron over the fire.
Dillon wearing his new cold smoke jacket. http://www.coldsmokeco.com/shop/kunnak-shirt-jacket/
Our time at the wall was our first full dose of life unplugged, with more time on our hands than we knew what to do with. With the extra time I was quickly reminded of how much I love to cook, something we enjoyed in pre-bus life but rarely made the time for. Camp fire sing a longs, reading, yoga, beach walks, surfing, practicing Spanish with Eduardo, and fishing filled our 5 days at the wall.
After 5 days we packed up camp to head south towards Abreojos. The westy caravan moved out for the hour long dirt road to head farther south.
Of course it was easier said than done to get three volkswagons from point A to point B. We were cruising in the back of the caravan when Ben’s pop top caught a gust of wind, making it look like the entire top of his van was about to rip off. After the challenging task to waving down the other two vehicles ahead of us, we all pulled over to realize he simply didn’t completely lock down the pop top. Back on the road and we were cruising south for the next surf spot. Three minutes later we noticed liquid spraying out of the back of Rob’s bus. Again we attempted to wave the crew down from the back of the caravan to find out that it was gasoline spraying out of gas cap (mexican gas station attendants fill your tank for you, and his forgot to tighten the cap all the way) which would have easily led to the back end of his bus catching on fire, a common cause of death for VW’s.
We made a stop in the land of the Dr. Seuss cacti, also known as the Mexican giant Cardon, which on average grow to be 30 feet tall but can reach up to 60ft!
A few hours after the cactus viewing we stopped to fill up and with the help of some locals, Rob learned that his carb failed. A mechanic nearby replaced one of his jets and he was headed back to California. And then there were two.
Rob was planning on returning to the US regardless of the mishap, so the bus and us plus Ben continued south to Gurerro Negro. This town left a lot to be desired. We unanimously decided to keep rolling south after a good night sleep in a hotel there, but not before we tracked down a new air filter, as ours fell onto the exhaust. The worm clamp holding it on loosened up after the many miles traveled on the bumpy back roads of Baja. After searching all of the auto parts stores in town, we decided duct tape, the old faithful, was our only option. In the parking lot of a large market in town Dillon and I used almost an entire roll of the silver magic to complete the repair, one that made Ben question why the original filter creators hadn’t been as genius as us…clearly duct tape was a far superior choice. We were determined to contact the materials engineer for the company and fill him in.
As we were reattaching the duct tape filter, an older man who spoke a bit of English came up to shoot the shit with us about our bus. The bus has proven to be an incredible icebreaker, regardless of language barriers, socioeconomic status, or just the American social norm of not wandering up and talking to strangers too frequently. The man told us he might have a filter the correct size at his house. He returned empty handed but insisted we come to his shop and see if the filter there would work. We followed him through town, back alleys, to a huge hanger. When we pulled up we looked at each other, wondering why we thought it was a good idea to willingly follow a strange man in Mexico to an area with few people around into the middle of nowhere. We enter the warehouse with Ben and unfortunately the filter he had was not the right size, but he wanted us to take it anyways, in case we needed to jimmy rig it in a tight situation. As we drove away with the filter that he refused to take money for we couldn’t help but compare his generosity to the daily occurrences in the US. How often does a stranger approach you without soliciting and not just offer a phone to use as if only going through the motions of being a good human, but drive to his home to help you and when returning empty handed, continue the search taking over an hour out of his day just to make your life a little easier.
Arguably the most challenging part of traveling for Dillon and I is the need to constantly be assessing the safety of the situation and the intentions of the people surrounding us. Traveling with another person/vehicle (Ben) allows for more room for acting based on our beliefs that humans are innately good, but in poverty stricken areas people steal and take advantage of others, gringos especially, not out of mal-intention but out of necessity. It is times like the air filter man that Dillon and I are appreciative of our ability to trust our instincts and abilities to accurately judge the character of those around us, and to have gauged the situation correctly. We have had nothing but positive interactions with the locals thus far. In fact, people in Baja continually left us awe struck with their hospitality and generosity.
The next town we spent time, Bahia Asuncion, the locals filled our fridge with fresh fish and abalone and would not accept money in return. They invited Ben to play with them during their weekly band practice/jam sesh. It was quite a treat for Dillon and I, the not-so-musical members of the trip, as a Mariachi style band comprised of 4 men in their 70’s dressed in traditional Mexican garb were in town to play at the local fishing festival, were at the practice. The band humored Ben with playing songs he knew, such as Tequila and La Bomba.
Our time in Bahia Asuncion is a testament to why we love life with our home on wheels. We were planning on driving straight to Abreojos but as we approached the turn off, we decided on a whim to check out Ascension, the small town 5 km off of our initial route. We pulled in a ended up staying for 5 days. There was some fun off road spots we explored searching for a surf spot and found ourselves a bit stuck. Yet another perk of traveling in a caravan.
Abreojos was calling our name. It is a small fishing village known for its point break. The washboard roads for hours from Bahia Asuncion left us more than ready to set up camp and not drive anywhere for a few days.
The swell was relatively nonexistent in Abreojos but Dillon found ways to keep busy! He was able to jump on a boat for a day with a local captain, heading about 15 miles off shore in search of Yellow Tail but the temps had dropped and the yellow tail had fled the area. Fortunately this big ol grouper was enough to fill the fridge! It is customary in the fishing villages to give a majority of your catch to the captain for he and his family. With this grouper there was plenty to go around.