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Surfing Baja 1979

Following is a fictional account (based on my own experiences) of a surf trip to Baja written by a fictional English character named Livy Tinsley. It’s chapter fifteen of The Tradewinds, and is written journal style. Livy is a writer for the New Yorker who has been thrown in with 3 surfers and a photographer. Her editor just learned how to surf in Hawaii and now wants to run a story on surfing. The time period is early Spring.

Baja is a place

by Livy Tinsley

(3,000 words)


Baja,

deep baja.

Mestizos,

indios,

cactus,

joshua trees,

riverbeds trickling,

Catholic shrines.


Before Europeans there were three tribes, the Cochimi in the north down to Loreto, the Guaycura from Loreto to La Paz and the Pericu in the Los Cabos area. They were mostly fishermen who ate the fruit of the cactus and hunted game and gathered the root of the agave or mescal. It was noted by Hernan Cortes that there were “abundant pearls” in this land that, at that time, they believed was an island. The Jesuits came in the 17th century and established seventeen missions and introduced Christianity. The effort to subdue the natives failed largely due to the harsh weather conditions. Hurricanes, torrential rains and overdressing made life for the Spanish uncomfortable and the local population was decimated by the introduction of European diseases.


In 1823 a successful rebellion resulted in the creation of Mexico. Native rock art is the only evidence of the existence of the indigenous people. Baja is a wild place that only six years ago was almost impossible to travel in the average passenger car. Mexican One, the transpeninsular highway is now paved, but solitude is still Baja’s greatest commodity.




Marchday

daymarch

the day marches,

we march behind, along with, and sometimes ahead

of the day.


Mexico will even things out.

Springmex,

green, even, cool this time of year,

purple soon,


larkspur,


but green now, moist,

hard to conjure the drymouthed days of


summer,

Sweet August,

dust-dry days and salt-dry skin,

cool cerveza to slake the thirst.


Marchthough,

marchthoughts,

the world’s rolled outa bed to lay in the sun,

to shed the Afghan winter.


cold, cool, warm, fog, hot then dry

dry,


sounds like I’m longing for summer,

summer,

south


Mexican One...

Day 1


Not sure of the day. So far we’ve traveled 700 miles. 4 days into it and first day with waves. The guys’ve been crazy for surf. They’re glowing today. Eyes alight with the ocean. Strange journey. All this way to ride a wave like others they know at home. It’s the emptiness they say, the quiet, the being away and the elemental purity of a nearly untouched land.




After a long overnight drive to a small Ejido south of Ensenada there was a day of rest. Trent and Jay struck up a game of football (soccer) with some of the local kids. The villagers went mad for ‘em. Loved the gringos and laughed at their awkwardness on the field. A couple of the kids showed up later and we traded them T-shirts for fish and in the morning we headed south for a place we’re calling Rattlesnake Gorge. It’s a beautiful setup with cliffs to either side and a sandy spot in the middle of a fifteen-year flood plain. The occasional rain has created a triple reef/sandbar break and the guys went mad for it, and having discovered a cheap outlet for Corona, we all celebrated our good fortune of surf (I surfed for the first time today) with a middle-of-nowhere no one-to-worry-about party in the wilderness. They’ve shown themselves to be gentleman and I’ve told’em about the guy in Europe. Good lads, a respectable, earthy sort. Live by a code of chivalry and sharing.




Just beyond Rattlesnake Gorge we found a rusted old school bus sinking in the sand. The wheels are gone and we’re all guessing maybe some hippies got lost on the way to Woodstock. “Summer of Love” run out of gas. Inside I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. Remnants of parties all over; a bong inscribed with “FURTHUR” after Kesey and the gang. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test bubbled over, desiccated in the sun. We’ve dubbed it the “Magic Bus” after the Who song.




Third day was an all-out beeline through the desert with burritos for breakfast in El Rosario. The trip seemed to start then. Remote, gone, last outpost on the Pacific behind us and nothing but pot-holed road in front of us. Huge cactus and white stones everywhere, drinking. We stopped a lot in the desert to wee in the brush. Had a margarita somewhere near Guerrero Negro and a guy gave us a tip on some camping on the Gulf side. Long road off the highway, dirt, like washboard, shook the bloody hell out of the bus, but with a beautiful sunset going on around a triple-peeked set of hills we came over a rise in the road and Tristan began to wail. In front of us, a mile or so off, was a spit of land with large swells rolling like caterpillars. I got “stoked” with all of ‘em and am feeling like I’m getting a peek at the draw of the sea. Then we got stuck in the sand. Slowed down to get a better look at the surf and sunk.




This morning we’re situated just below a sort of airfield and adjacent to a rudimentary lighthouse. The Aussies next to us were calling it 10-15 feet and said the place wasn’t holding the swell the day before. Today it’s dropped off a bit and the guys are calling it clean, better with the tide, and the word is the wind turns offshore in the afternoon and adds a crispness to the surf. This spot’s too dangerous for beginners but there are lots of beautiful shells on the beach. Tristan, Trent, and Jay came in saying the rock reef shelf is like a racetrack and “gnarly.” I saw them all get tuberides and wonder what that must be like.




A man who calls himself Ismael came by this morning to check on all of the campers. Nice sort, salt of the earth, or the sea in this case. Says he’ll have lobster later, a dozen for $10.00. There’s a mellow break further up to the point and Jay took me up there for a surf. I stood up on nearly every wave and Jay was hooting. Feel like I’m a natural to this.




I am possessed by a primal energy,

a tribal tension,

the residue of millenia




earth


wind


fire


water




elemental simplicity fueled by

an adrenal stream and

pumped by an infant heart




Woke up with “The Ballad of John and Yoko” in my head this morning. Thinking of the guy in Portugal, dreamed about him, maybe someday we’ll do that. I’m different now and so to must he be. Success as a writer can only go so far to carry one on. Someone to share it with seems a better place. I know someday I’ll see him.




Three flat tires, a busted gas tank, and three days later we’re sitting at a long left-hand point a couple of hundred miles north of Cabo San Lucas. A steel-framed lighthouse and a plywod shack are the only “Civilization.” Should’ve been to Cabo by now but the ocean gave us another incredible swell. I’m what they call a “goofy-foot” which means I surf with my right foot forward. Here I can ride with my body facing the wave. Nice little waves on the inside cove here and I’m riding a 9’6” longboard and’ve begun being able to turn and ride down the line.




Note: The people here are extremely friendly and accommodating. Two fisherman drove all the way out into the middle of the desert, pulled our gas tank off and patched it with marine tar. Charged us five dollars then bought us beers with the money they made. One of their wives made us a drink called horchata from condensed milk with cinnamon and sugar added. They say it keeps you cool. I’d drink gallons of it in the summer.




Fish for dinner tonight. We traded a couple of beers for fish the size of small white sharks. Should mention the wonderful snorkeling on the gulf side. Stopped there a couple of days ago and paddled into the Bahia Concepcion (Bay of Conception). The water there is quite warm and the contrast between the watery world of the gulf and the outlying land seems an optical illusion. Jagged, dry and rocky peaks sweeping into a calm sea. Sand fleas are a nightmare there but Trent filled an empty can with stove fuel, lit it, and they all started to jump in and away from us.




Discord among the ranks. Went something like this:


“Livy’s mine man,” said Trent.


“Yours,” said Tristan.


“I mean my responsibility.”


“I was just trying to help her.”


“Look there’s a brother out there who’s waiting for her.”


“She’s not you’re goddamn fire hydrant man.”


“Just keeping an eye on her.”


“Well ease up. No one’s trying to move in.”