Way down we go
A week ago yesterday I crossed the border from San Diego, California into Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. I spent my few days in Southern California seeing friends and saying a few last good-byes.
Last Sunday I snapped a board in half during a less-make-able session in Del Mar. Monday morning I woke up early, packed a few stray bags, did some last minute maintenance and I split. I turned off my GPS, put my phone on airplane mode and got on the 5…the wrong way. Reading is hard. After a semi-legal U-turn I was headed South, finally.
With some choice music for the iconic crossing I was rocking out with
the windows down to Kaleo’s “Way down we go”, the weather a perfect
sunny and 73. It was only a 15 minute drive to the border and I
breezed to the head of the line. Immediately I was flagged down and
told to pull over. Yay.
An officer told me in Spanish to drive up onto the density scanner
platform to have my vehicle scanned. In my mind my car just looks like
a surfers car, with some redneck mods. In this officers opinion I
looked like the stereo-typical single-white drug smuggler. My Subaru
was loaded down and packed to the gills.
I was told to exit my car and stand behind the giant concrete wall to
protect my huevos from being rancheros. 10 minutes later I’m given the
international sign of “you’re good”, two thumbs up!! A few seconds
later i’m back in the driver seat, volume to 10, windows down, ocean
on the right.
Navigating sans GPS was not something I had planned on. But apparently
GPS actually means NAPS (North America Positioning System) and i
didn’t have Mexico loaded on mine. Nevertheless it wasn’t that hard to
follow signs for the 1 South, though I was keenly aware that I was not
in and English speaking world anymore. Relying on my half semester of
foreign language 10 years ago in High School (thanks AHS!) I snaked my
way to Ensenada.
Planning to camp just South of the surf spot called K38’s I pulled
into the dusty lot and was greeted by a crowd easily larger than
anything I’d seen in San Diego last week. Just packed with surfers,
campers, and massive RV’s. Not the scene I was feeling for my first
night in Baja. I was ambitious and wanted that idyllic feeling of
being on the beach under the stars by myself. It was only 10 a.m. so I
figured I had until about 4 to find a suitable spot. I topped off the
1/4 tank I had burned, and even managed a few words of Spanish
conversation with the gas station attendant.
Tracing the paper map of Baja with my finger I stopped on Punta Baja.
The 1 leads right by it and theres a road to the beach! This is what I
want! I looked both ways 7 times before I pulled out onto the freeway
because the jitters of driving in Mexico hadn’t even begun to wear
off. Its such a sensory overload. The smells, the lack of American
signs/markings on the road, the feeling of lawlessness is
overwhelming. I crept up to below the 60 km/h speed limit and pushed
Roads are definitely not well marked South of the border and I was a
little apprehensive about the future of the trip, not being able to
reliably know where I was going. Eventually I just took a right off
the main Mexico Highway 1. There was a painted sign that said Punta
Baja, and thats all I needed. I followed the road around for about 10
miles, just dusty, vacant, desert. I came up a rise and stretched out
before me was the beautiful Pacific Ocean again. My big, blue security
blanket. The dirt road turned into loamy sand and I pushed harder on
the gas to stay afloat. Eventually I got to the ocean, without a soul
in sight. It was about 2 p.m. and I decided that here was as good as
anywhere to post up and get my bearings. I made camp, made a fire, and
cooked some food into that evening. The sun set about 5 p.m. and stars
came out soon after. I crawled in my sleeping bag, headlamp on, and
read until I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean, only a few hundred
Tuesday I woke up to my beautifully sunny beach blanketed in a thick,
grey fog. I quickly broke down camp, washed my face, brushed my teeth
and headed back to the main road. Getting back on pavement again
headed south made me smile. Paved road was a little comfort that had
me on a solid path.
I stopped for gas and looked again at my map. I was itching for a surf
and wanted to sample some of Baja Norte’s prime right hand breaks. I
decided to pull the old “when I see something I like, ill stop” and
got back to it.
Later, after a delicious (and insanely inexpensive) lunch of carnitas
tacos, I pulled a right hand turn onto dirt road just after San
Quintin. My next main landmark on the map was El Rosario, but that
town was inland and I wasn’t ready to leave the coast just yet. I
followed one of the countless dirt roads West, hoping id find some
After about an hour without seeing any other form of life I made it to
the top of an overlook and scoped my surroundings. Below me, much to
my surprise, was a little campsite with two wooden shacks, a trailer
and a few stick bungalows. An old man was in a chair, peeling fruit.
He was about 200 yards away but I waved and he waved back. I decided
to walk down and say hi.
“Esta bien para mi encampmento aquí?” I asked (Its ok to camp here?).”
“Esta bien, aquí, y a todos a la playa,” (its ok, here or anywhere
along this beach) he said.
I introduced myself and learned that his name was Jorge, He had lived
along this coast for 43 years and was born in Ensenada. I pulled my
car up to the little stick bungalow he told me his kids made for
traveling campers when they were young. I unpacked and set up camp. It
was only about 2 p.m. Small, but clean waves were wrapping around the
rocky beach and I definitely wanted to rinse off the road grime that
had built up on me. It was by no means an epic session, but it got the
cobwebs knocked off and I smelled a little better, not having showered
since I left SD two days ago.
Changing back into some clothes I walked over to Jorge’s place and
watched him expertly pick Pitayas (cactus fruit) with tongs and place
it in his basket. The fruit and covered in thorns but a quick slice
with a knife reveals the juicy and sweet inner treasure. He gave me a
few, and we ate the snack watching the sun dip down. I made us both
dinner and we listened to the AM spanish radio he had in his shack.
Darkness came soon again and I cleaned up, thanked Jorge for letting
em camp on his property and went to bed.
I broke camp the next morning, and Jorge asked for a ride into town.
We packed up and drove to El Rosario. I was feeling a bit run down and
wanted to get some solid miles under my belt. I didn’t have a stopping
place in mind so I just pushed South again. I finally broke pace and
got to Guerrero Negro, the 28th Parallel and the dividing line between
between Baja Norte and Sur. There is a huge military base and hotel
called the Halfway Inn. I thought Id check in for the night, get a
good meal, check in with the family and recharge.
After a good dinner and some texts back home I was ready to hit the
sack. I took a wonderful shower (with soap!) and slept like a rock in
Thursday morning I was determined to see Loreto and the fabled white
sand beaches. I made the town by about 1 p.m. and was greeted by a
lovely little city. Cobblestone streets ran like viens to the center
of the city with colorful buildings lining them. Huge mountains to the
East and the gorgeous aqua-marine blue Gulf to the West. After a few
quick swims and some quality beach time I scoped a place to make a
base for the night. I found a spot outside the city, near the town
Napolo. The sunset that night didn’t disappoint and I was watching
nature bust out he color palette as she set the sky on fire.
Friday came and I started to think about where I wanted to go next. La
Paz was the next biggest town. I figured I would go there, check it
out and then decide. Back on the road. Besides a few military
checkpoints the a few gas stops nothing major happened. The desert
held to its name and was pretty barren, except the vast fields of
Cacti. Rolling hills gave way to huge Moab-like rock formations. Huge
mountains turned to rock pillars and back t mountains again as I drive
through Baja Sur.
I got to La Paz and stopped at a coffee shop for some wifi and a
bagel. A few months ago I had met some other travels doing the same
trip on a Pan American traveler Facebook group. They were staying down
in Todos Santos (about an hour and a half from La Paz) and offered up
a place to stay and chill for a while. I was pretty keen on meeting up
with some other people and after a quick text to my new friends I was
again headed South.
I grew up knowing where Todos Santos was and knowing there was great
surf. Having some new friends to meet up with and a place to stay gave
me a much needed energy boost. I rolled into the quaint little beach
town of Todos Santos in the late afternoon. I stopped at a cafe and
got some internet to get further directions to the house I would be
Reece (my new online friend” told me “the dirt road, with an
un-numbered white house”, 10 minutes North of the center of the city.
“This shouldn’t be hard to find,” I thought. Right. But I did find it
and was met by I eventually made it and was greeted by Reece his
wonderful girlfriend Nancy, Ross (Reece’s cousin) and his amazing
girlfriend Dee, their dog Frank and the two overland beasts of
vehicles. They are doing the same trip but in some pretty tricked out
Toyota Landcruisers. I had vehicle envy but a huge smile on my face as
they let me into their rented home for the month.
These people were the first I had really met on the trip and I was so
grateful for the offer of a base camp for a few weeks. Before I left
on this trip I was told about the kindness of others I would meet and
this group went above and beyond to open their doors and make me feel
at home. Ive only been here a few days but we have shared meals,
stories and drinks. We are already making plans to meet up for New
Years Eve in Mexico City! Theres not much more I could ask for at the
moment. There is surf, sun, and a perfect little beach town I am
calling home for the moment. Im a week in and happy as a damn clam.
Ill check in soon.
Ross Ruddell, 29,
Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico