Aug 31, 2008

Another World

We awoke for the ferry before sunrise. Arriving at the dock we encountered a scene I would describe as “organized chaos”. Loading our vehicle was an adventure in itself. “Back in?” Okay… In the middle of twenty semis not taking their time.

The sunrise was epic over the hills north of La Paz. Frigate Birds circled overhead in the morning rising air. The crossing was smooth as could be, with sunny skies and no wind or swell (sometimes it's a good thing).

We arrived in Topolobampo at midday. Immediately, we noticed the difference in humidity. The temperature was about the same, but much wetter. The land is green with the rainy season’s bounty of water. And at the same latitude across the sea, Baja laid dry and barren.

The area around Topo and Los Mochis is planted to crops, industrial agriculture style. Corn and sorghum fill thousand of hectares. Signs proclaiming the miracle of genetic engineering and chemicals line the road. Fields are planted with the newest strains from American corporations like Monsanto.

"Maximum Genetic Technology"

Huge yields are pumped out of the fertile soil. Pollution was evident in the drainage ditches, barren and filled with eutrophicated green water. We saw the land rapidly eroding as the rain fell on newly tilled soil.

Dead water near chemical plant

Further south the land becomes velvet waves of green hills. We passed through Mazatlan only long enough to know we didn’t want to stay. We filled water and fuel, and slept on the busiest street in the world.

Tepic is the next large city you come to driving south on the coast route. It is high in the mountains, and the air became fresh and cool. Apples and coffee are grown, as well as carrots and sugar cane.

We hit the coast for the first time in a while at Playa Sayulita, a huge destination for euros and ex-pats because of its tranquil beauty and good beginner waves. As you approach the beach it gets really packed in, hundreds of houses and stores filling the valley. It looks like a cool scene, though. Coffee shops and local art galleries are abundant, and people cruise around on foot meeting each other. A river comes out and makes the break, but the water didn’t smell too good…

After passing another monsterous hotel being built and getting lost in the maze of Punta de Mita, we came to Puerto Vallarta. Oh Vallarta, que paso? Why are their so many hotels? And more hotels are being built as I type this. We really didn’t see the draw. Come to Mexico to stay in a crowded cement building, shop, and inhale exhaust.

Our favorite part of Vallarta was leaving it. The road on the outskirts to the south hugs the cliffs and valleys. The sheer rock walls are covered in vegetation with numerous cascadas (waterfalls). We found a spot on the Mismaloya river to rinse the salt off, and slept to the sounds of agua dulce.

We stopped in Manzanillo to get a part for the truck tranny, and liked it. It was definitely a tourist town, because of the long stretch of beach and nice weather. Unlike Puerto Vallarta, it was small and well done. The streets are all very clean, and the people friendly. This has actually been true in most places.

We made it to Pascuales with enough time to see how the surf was. Overhead choppy peaks pounded down, impossible tubes spitting spray. A few guys were out getting drilled.

The next day we awoke to a beautiful sunrise and some fun waves. It was a little torn up from the night’s wind, but we got a few. It is a hard wave to surf, breaking fast and heaving on the sand. Some great rides are possible.

Coming in, we were approached by a local kid named Alfredo. While talking he mentioned that he had broken his board pulling into a tube a week before, “en tres pedasos”, in three pieces! He was born just up the road, on a little ranchito a mile away from the break, where his wife and new baby boy stay while he works at Karla’s restaurant at the beach.

Passing on the stoke!

He seemed like a really good kid. He was concerned about the sea turtles on the beach. People come at night to poach the eggs as the female lays them. They are considered an aphrodisiac, and fetch good money. Poachers were out the night before, taking the eggs illegally. Alfredo wants to start a turtle preserve like they have down the coast, and take the eggs only to raise them in a safe place, then set the babies free.

Alfredo de Pascuales with his new C.I.

We decided he was a great candidate to give one of the boards donated to us by Channel Islands. To go with his brand new stick we gave him a Pro-Lite leash, wax and some stickers. We handed it to him and the smile on his face couldn't have been any brighter. He invited us to come back to Pascuales anytime, and we would have a home. Mi playa es tu playa.

Self contianed village, staying true to the roots

Passing into the state of Michoacan is like passing through a time warp. The area is protected from development, and preserved for the indigenous people. The most idyllic villages pop up here and there as the road winds through hills and valleys, rivers and cliffs. Children joyfully play with each other outside in their lush playground, free from the modern world entertainment of T.V.s and computers. They are happy this way. Living simply without many possessions seems to have that effect.
Fimiliar sight of kids playing soccer

We made it to Rio Nexpa later in the evening. The onshore wind concealed fun, peaky point surf. We stepped foot on the beach, and the first person we came across was a familiar smiling face. Kelley had come from Pismo Beach with her friend, Kelly. Kelley's dad had been on the Royal Pelagic surf charter boat that Aubrey had worked on last year. It was an instant connection to say the least and definitely not a coincidence to finally meet each other! The Kelleys hosted us for dinner that night, and we met Flaco and Pablo, who turned out to be two of the best surfers at the point.

Kelly, Pablo, y Flaco playing a good game of cards

We paddled out the next morning and got some fun overhead and clean storm surf. Peaks on the point gave the normal lefts and some rights broke further up towards the river mouth. The water was hot chocolate, brown from the runoff.

Flaco Ripping!

We stayed at Chicho’s campground, located on the tip of the point. We camped under the shade of numerous coconut palms. The fruit litter the ground, and can present a real hazard. We are safe though, and are reaping the benefits of the wind-fall. We had a harvest party and drank nothing but coconut water and ate the fresh meat all day. It is such a rich food that you really don’t need anything else. So good!

Coco harvest 1,2,3

Chicho has a restaurant and cabanas on the point, and an orchard up the river where he grows limes, avocados, tamarindo, and mangos. He composts the kitchen waste from the restaurant, and we added worm castings that I brought from Cabo San Lucas. The worm castings have red worm eggs in it, and they will grow and eat the compost to make fertilizer for his orchards.

He is interested in sustainability, and we made a copy of Introduccion a la Permacultura for him. We talked about different needs of local people. He thought education was very important, as new ideas and ways of doing things are readily accepted, they just need to be demonstrated.
makin' good shit

An example of new ideas was a composting toilet we built for his campground. We built it from a 50 gallon drum, some 2” pipe, and plastic plywood left over from the local skate ramp. It took about 2 hours to make, and was made from 100% salvaged materials, all readily available. Also, it keeps all human waste out of the waterways, as there is no drain. Chicho was surprised how simple it was, and other locals were excited to build their own.

Worm castings, or better worms, are put in the drum first to eat all the human waste, which they convert into fertilizer. Carbonaceous material like dried leaves, sawdust, and also wood ashes are put on top of your business to soak up the moisture. It takes 6 months for two people to fill one drum, and then it is left for another 6 to decompose. Then it is harvested and put on your trees, dark and rich with no smell!

Managing human waste is a big issue in Mexico. If a home has a flush toilet, it needs to have a septic leach field if there is no sewer connection. This is a big expense for people, and many times corners are cut and the leach pits are not satisfactory. Furthermore, there are no aerobic organisms to consume the waste once it is put so far down into the soil, so it just rots. Organic waste is processed more thoroughly in the top layers of the soil, where it is active with critters to eat it.

It is so great to see the interest in sustainability from the people. We are grateful for this, and are excited to share what we know. We are also learning every day. It is a blessing and a joy to connect with like-minded people and share ideas and experiences.

We stayed at Nexpa for about a week, scoring overhead to double overhead surf every day. Light offshore winds groomed the peaks in the morning, and the rainy seasons afternoon showers left us with plenty of time to hang out with our new friends, work on projects, do yoga, and make epic food. It was a stellar time and a hard place to finally leave.

But as the swell dropped, we decided to should continue on towards our goal of reaching Oaxaca. So we said our goodbyes and hit the road, the turtle and its shell lumbering along the windy and bumpy roads of southern Michoacan.

Thanks for sharing the beauty!

Aug 19, 2008

Angels are Everywhere

Even after a couple weeks without a cell phone at hand and internet access as your daily bread, the buzziness of modern living still lingers in the conditioned mind that is ruled by time. Always trying to race the clock, 'cause there is "never enough time". It's so very easy to slip out of the present; to be somewhere and be thinking of somewhere else. Where's the next wave, who are the next people to meet...there's always more to do. It could always be different, it could always be better. The mind is never satisfied, it will always want more. But beneath the endless stories we create in our minds remains the forever the stillness of the present. Perfect just as it is. But by entering into the torments of the storm we may learn to appreciate and recognize the gifts of the sunshine and that of rain.

So we learn.

As we raced from Scorps to our next destination we realised a vehicle the size of ours should not travel much faster than a slow run on the washboarded, rocky roads. There is too much that can disintegrate- like the vent cap over our bed. It fell to pieces and then on the ground, shattering the plastic. How would we keep the rain off our bed? And a storm was approaching…

We pulled into Ciudad Insurgentes straight to a Segundaria (Thrift Store), which had a truck parked in front with a cab over camper that looked like it had its cap replaced. It was then we met our Angel of the Day, Jaime.

Jaime seemed like he could fix anything, and he proceeded to do so. We spent about three hours cutting metal and reinforcing the cap. He did all of this, and then when I asked how much I owed him, he replied; “You don’t have to pay me, I do this for a hobby.”

Amazed, I forced a sleeping bag full of clothes on him to pay him somehow. This and an eight pack of beer seemed to be more than enough. I learned that Jaime was not preoccupied with earning money, he seemed to have faith that he and his family would be fine.

Our next stop was Ciudad Constitucion. It is one of the larger cities in Baja, sprawling for miles. It seemed to be pretty well off again, lots of nice cars and the people were not desperate. Large industrial farms surround the city, the desert turned into productive land with the addition of water and fertilizer. Cactus is razed and crops like alfalfa, corn, and sorghum are planted in their place, mostly for cattle and chicken feed to supply the millions of tacos served every day.

We needed some supplies, but getting them proved to be easier said than done. We made some copies of the “Introduccion a la Permacultura, which detained us long enough to get caught by a huge storm.

The rain came down in buckets, just after finding a dry place to park our rig at a body shop owned by a man named Genaro. The streets immediately became flooded, washing away months of debris, like plastic bottles and used motor oil! I took a much-needed shower in the rain, avoiding placing my feet in the water that soon became almost knee deep in the street.

street surfin', ready to ride anything

Genaro’s son didn’t seem to care about the water quality though, and soon had one of our boards out in the street, riding the wake of cars passing by. Aubrey entertained the kids with stickers and games, while we repaired the cap.

The storm lasted for a couple of hours, and must have dumped a foot of rain. It came as quick as it went, and we headed out of town at sunset under clear skies, through the flooded streets of Ciudad Constitucion. Again, Genaro did not ask for any money, but I paid him anyways. He seemed to be more fulfilled by the act of helping and connecting than getting paid.

Punta Conejo is a true left hand point, one of the only ones in Baja. Pulling up you get a great view of the setup. Long lines peel into a huge bay. A few shack of fishermen are a little ways up, out of the continual wind that carries with it salty sea spray from the swells crashing on the cobblestones.

Rabbit Point

The fishermen go for oysters, said to be the best in all of Baja. Piles of shells are everywhere, and they really are the biggest oysters I have ever seen. We pulled up amid the piles and hit the water. An overhead swell was rapidly becoming more crumbly with the onshore wind.

There is a rancho that has a well and showers for campers. They charged us four dollars per person per day to camp, and a man who may have been a woman once came by to pick up the fee. The campground could use dry toilets to accompany the luxury of showers.

We left the next day, as the wind was strong and the swell was dropping. The fishermen seemed to keep to themselves, and we didn’t have much interaction with them. They launched their pongas from the shore with a Land Rover. Seems that vehicles are a high priority for people here.

We made our way to La Paz to deliver a suitcase from my employee Martin to his family. He is in the states to earn enough money to buy a second business. The family runs the first one, a small abarrotes, or convenience store. His mother Marta lives there with the other children, ranging in age from 25 (Martin) to 8.

La Familia Martin

The Pacific side of Baja is quite a bit cooler this time of year. Also, fresh water flows out of the ground and creates an oasis of palms and fruit trees. The lure of water in the desert is great, be it sweet or salty, and we flocked to it like bees to honey.

Desert becomes farmland, and then food forest as you approach Todos Santos. Huge acreages are plow farmed to annual crops like tomatoes and zucchini that are sold worldwide. Organics are growing, and Del Cabo is supplying Trader Joes with year-round summer crops from here.

Ten minutes south of Todos in Pescadero, ancient mango trees line the roads. We soon found “Mango Alley” and proceeded fill our bellies and bags with perfectly ripe ground-score! The locals were also all parked up, shaking the trees to get the ripe ones to fall. The trees were pumping, tapped into the groundwater and surviving fine without any care, save eating the fruit.

Licking our sticky fingers, we found a beach with a set up that looked promising. Turned out, Los Cerritos would deliver some of the better surf of our trip so far. A large headland blocks the consistent north-west wind and creates a rip current along the inside of the point. The current makes an easy paddle out and some nice sand bars.

another sweet one for Aubs

A small crew of locals live on the beach there, next to the new restaurant in palm shacks associated with the Diablo Blanco surf shop. We surfed and met the crew, great kids and great surfers. A man came up and asked me about my shoulder, he could tell it got tight sometime. He soon had both Aubrey and I on his table, working out the kinks of driving and surfing. Rough life!

da boyz of Los Cerritos: Rofino, Juan, y Carlos

The massuese’s name was Mario, and we soon learned that his brother had a small Permaculture site nearby. We stopped to visit Mario’s friend who sells organic fruit of all varieties; mango, papaya, guanabana, banana, lychee, limon, and more. We got to talking while shopping and he said he was convinced that organic was major, so I gave him a copy of Introduccion al la Permacultura. I hope to come back and see his farm some day.

Mario took us to Rancho Pilar, stewarded by his brother Cuco and his wife, Pilar. Cuco is a potter and makes handmade Mexican sandals, huaraches, out of recycled car tires and webbing. Pilar is also a potter and makes jewelry out of beach pebbles. Besides being artisans, they are turning a salty and dry piece of desert into an edible oasis.

Raised vegetable beds and a palm nursery surround their kitchen and workshop. Neem trees and fan palms create shade amongst natives like mesquite, pitahaya, and cardon cactus. They have lots of water, and are expanding operations with the goal of being self-sufficient. I passed on some seeds of vegetables and trees and a copy of Introduccion a la Permacultura. We did a quick design for their nursery, envisioning many fruit trees there soon.

sharing seeds with Pilar

They are starting a hostel, and are building a cob house out of the native earth for the dormitory. Campsites are carved out of the bush, with trails winding through the scrub connecting them. They also support WWOOFing, or Willing Workers On Organic Farms, and we talked about projects for them.

We had made plans to meet up with Aubrey’s friend, Jessica, who lives in San Jose del Cabo, so we hit the road for a sunset surf. We pulled into Cabo San Lucas and our jaws dropped! We had no idea the size of the city. As Jessica’s fiancé Fernando put it, Los Cabos is the Heart of Mexico.

Fernando was born in San Jose del Cabo. If Cabo San Lucas is the Heart, then San Jose del Cabo is the Blood. A huge fresh water estuary defines the eastern edge of San Jose, the source of all the water for the thousands of hotels, condos, department stores, restaurants, and its 500,000 inhabitants. The sewage treatment plant is right along side the shore.

It is always amazes me to see water so abundant in the desert. On one side will be cactus and rocks, on the other palms and rushes. It is such a miracle! It also amazes me to see how and for what the water is used for, and how the source is treated. Management plans seem to be- suck it out as fast as you can and use it for whatever you want. There is an irrigated strip of grass on some parts of the road medians in Los Cabos. A few sod farms have sprung up, using overhead sprinklers in the mid day heat to irrigate.

All toilets are flush, by law. A composting toilet was built in Pescadero, and the users were fined $6,000 pesos ($600 USD) for not paying a water bill. Revenue from utilities is important for the Mexican Government, making alternative technologies potentially difficult to be permitted. Permaculture will need to fly below the radar, a tactic its practitioners are apt to do anyways.

el estero de Los Cabos

The task at hand in Los Cabos is daunting. It is basically an American suburb without many of the restrictions for development and investment. Home Depot, Costco, OfficeMax, and other multi-national department stores moved in the last decade. The desert and its extremely fragile ecosystem is being graded for more luxury hotels, leaving scars when the money to build runs out and the rains wash away the topsoil that took thousands of years to build, filling the arroyos.

Plastic is the new native species. Bags blow in the wind like leaves of the dinosaur tree, and bottles line the shore like beached jellyfish. It seems that everything purchased at many of the stores is either made of plastic or is packaged in plastic. If you didn’t get your fix, they will bag it for you. Plastic or plastico?

It is hard to imagine how life as usual can continue for much longer in Los Cabos. Still, the bulldozers continue to run, anticipating more disposable income in the form of tourist dollars to recoup the investors’ money. A million tourists, all comfortable in their air conditioned rooms with ocean view and room service.

The amount of electricity needed to run a million air conditioners boggles the mind, and the doors are kept open, cold air blasting you and spilling out into the desert. Some of the largest stores I have ever seen can be found in Cabo, all of them kept at a comfortable 65 degrees while the asphalt in the parking lot could fry an egg.

It seems like the government wants businesses to use electricity. After all, the more use, the more revenue. Most energy companies are state-run, gas at PeMex, propane at GasPasa. Furthermore, many seem to like the conveniences afforded by consumerism, and would not give them up unless they had to. Sustainability may only happen in the event of a catastrophe, when people have no other choice.

We did meet locals who were concerned about the situation. We went to a party, and talked to Luis, who had been chosen by N.O.L.S. to be the local representative on a kayak journey in the sea of Cortez. This had impacted him greatly, living simply and learning the native flora and fauna. He has started a local non-profit to promote environmental awareness and re-forest the land with native trees. I gave Fernando a copy of Intruduccion a la Permacultura for him to read and share with Luis.

On our way to repair our water camera in town we were struck by a car as we were parked on the side of the road. We were in the cab of the truck getting ready to leave, when we looked up to see a car sliding sideways towards us on the sandy road. He had tried to pass a truck and bumped his backside on it merging back into his lane, sending him into a spin.

It all happened so slow that I first thought that I could prevent the car from hitting us by thinking it. It still hit us, crumpling the bumper of the Dodge and pretty much totaling the guy’s little Nissan zipper. At first I thought he was going to drive away, as he started his car up immediately and started moving it out of the way. Turned out, he had insurance and the claims adjuster came out and we got an estimate for $690 USD for the repairs. This is almost exactly the cost of the ferry to the mainland. We left on this note, ready to escape the madness of “Cabo San Locos” for some coastal solitude.

We felt Los Cabos has fulfilled man’s tragic flaw to a tee- that of counting all of the eggs before they hatch. This is so evident as you travel to the East Cape, up into the sea of Cortez from Los Cabos. Mansions line the coast, completely dependent on water being trucked in from the estuary.

This time of year, 90% of them are empty, which makes the situation feel very eerie. It feels as if their eggs didn’t hatch, and all of the effort to build in a way so out of tune with the natural surroundings has come to a halt. It seemed like a premonition of what’s to come.

We drove through the upper class ghost towns on our way to Shipwrecks, a right-hand reef/point combo spot. We pulled up early in the morning to chest to head high wind swell. The water was crystal clear, as the sand is composed of heavy chunks of shells and decomposed granite soils and doesn’t obscure the clarity.

We surfed a couple of times, getting some fun waves and trying out the video camera. Jessica and Fernando came out to surf, and we all celebrated the full moon with fish tacos and ceviche. A crew from Los Cabos came out for the full moon as well, and DJ Magic spun stylee trance beats on the turntables while we hula-hooped in the moonlight.
The East Cape is possibly the most scenic in all of Baja. Huge thunderheads cluster over the Sierra, delivering life-giving rain to the mountain peaks that slowly makes its way down to the coast. The turquoise sea shimmers in the sunlight, the white sand bottom highlighting the color of the water.

Local homesteads appear here and there, their humble yet functional casitas clustered in areas where there is water, in stark contrast to the Malibu-style monstrosities of the ricos (rich). Slim cows meek survival by munching the new green growth from the first rains. The people all smiled and waved as we passed, huddling in the shade of their porches.

Further along the East Cape, the sea becomes still and clear. Cabo Pulmo has one of the best living coral reefs in all of Baja. We snorkeled with the rainbow hues if the reef fish. We watched as angel fish, parrot fish, puffers, and a myriad of wrasses flowed in and out of the reef with the waves.

The Eaast Cape is close to La Paz, and appears that it is following suit the example set in Los Cabos. Almost the whole way, barbed-wire fences line the road, with huge Propiedad Privada (Private Property) signs every 100 feet, explaining that the land is now owned by such and such investment firm. 24 hr security patrols the perimeter, making sure nobody steal the cactus. The land is no longer accessible to the public, and it is only a matter of time and money before hotels line the coast like in Los Cabos.

After leaving the coast, the road ended up having the best scenery so far. You climb into a steep mountain valley, which was planted to mangos many generations ago. The trees cover both slopes of the cañon, surviving off of the rain that falls here at this time of year. Water seeps out of the cliffs and down through the steep valley of huge granite boulders. We drove higher into a cool rain storm, washing off the dust of the dirt roads.

After missing our chance to buy our ferry tickets for the day, we made our way to Playa Tecolote (Owl Beach). The water was the same amazing azure blue as the East Cape. We quickly donned our snorkeling gear, and made our way around the point to the south. We swam with a huge school of fish, and marveled at the myriad reef fishes, including a moray eel.

Returning to the beach, we noticed the amount of trash there was. People had come and left everything they brought. It was a real buzz-kill to see this filth, so we did a little clean up of the area close to the point. Some locals saw us, and Aubrey remarked to them how much of a shame it was to see so much trash in such a beautiful place. They smiled as if they had no idea what we were talking about.

Trash cans line the beach, some of them filled to the brim, trash spilling out and blowing into the sea. Other bins were empty with bags of trash lying on the ground immediately below them, and more trash all around. I wonder how often the trash collection is.

Perhaps the people are used to it, and therefore either don’t care or don’t notice. Maybe if they step on a broken beer bottle they will notice. What’s shocking, is that trash collection is free in Mexico. There is no charge to take it to the dump. Problem is, the dump is just an empty field with more trash than normal. There is no lining or fences to keep the trash from spilling out into the surrounding landscape. Trash is a huge issue in Mexico.

A fortune could be made starting recycling in Mexico and other countries in Central America. Plastic, aluminum, glass; all of it! The only thing needed is education: teach the youth to do it for their future and their children’s future. I think it can be done.

Aug 7, 2008

Bienvenidos a Mexico

Without much pomp or celebration, we left Ojai at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday the 27th. The night before we had a wonderful impromptu dinner at my Mom’s house with her friends and Aubrey’s parents to see us off, so we felt that we could leave after saying our 10th goodbyes. We also knew there was a swell running and we hoped to catch a bit of it.

It turned out that this was perhaps the best time to drive through L.A. and environs, as all it’s citizens were tucked neatly in their beds, while visions of barrels danced through our heads, motivating me to drive til 3:30 a.m. and the border outside of Tecate. We found a deserted lot and parked up to the sound of dogs barking off in the distance, announcing our arrival to their owners.

The morning light gave us our first glimpse of Mexico and Baja California Norte. Tecate is actually quite a nice town; very clean and colonial despite being so close to the globalization nation of ours. We crossed the border without much more than a look from the border guards, which was fine with us as we were smuggling quite a stash of fresh fruits and veggies from my mom and dad’s homes. There was no way they were getting my avocados!

El desierto

The road from Tecate to Ensenada is beautiful. Rolling hills and chaparral are dotted with little ejidos and the occasional mini-super. We rolled through Ensenada without stopping, until we saw a sign for “Organic Produce’! Café Bohemia is run by an ex-pat couple, whom fed us some amazing sandwiches while we used their wireless and shopped for produce. Epic!

The next day, after swearing not to drive in Baja at night, we arrived in Abreojos at 10:30 p.m. to the sound of our camper jack grinding on the ground- it had fallen out of its support and was dragging after only 15 mins on a dirt road. This alerted our presence to some campers nearby, and one came to our aid. His name was Bruce (my dad’s name), and he showed us where to camp.

In the morning we awoke to some swell, about head high and a little mushy. We decided to get wet, despite feeling that there were more waves further out the point. After a bit, we were over it, and headed up the point more only to find overhead reef break surf with only two guys out. Out there! The wind was picking up, but we had a good session, paddling a lot.

Aubrey at Abre'

I was pretty much wasted after powering on the camper and driving many hours per day, so I basically slept all afternoon. I awoke to the winds howling offshore, and we took a walk around to find some waves. Without knowing the breaks, and having no-one around, we were kind of at a loss; so we decided to walk to town.

solitude in the salt flats

Abreojos is a town of about 1000 people who rely mainly on fishing. The fishery is a co-operative, and was saved from the ravenous clutches of the Japanese in the ‘70’s. The fishery is supposedly still in good shape, as evidence of the many people still living off of the bounty of the sea. We sampled some of this bounty, tasting corbina tacos at a local taqueria “Las Palmas”, with the most amazing hand-made flour tortillas ever. We met some friends; Viro the cocinera, a cute puppy who we wanted to steal, and some skater kids. Fish eagles chirped “hello” from atop the light poles as we walked by, their nests made of the discarded ropes and nets of fishermen.

Pongas de pescaderos

It seemed like the people were pretty well off here. Everyone drove nice cars and had homes. Trash was an issue, however, plastic blowing all over the salt flat approaching town. Evidently, the town is on sewer systems, and the sewage flows straight out into the lineup of the wave in town. Reports of surfers contracting hepatitis are not uncommon. Dry composting toilets would go a long way here and in more places in Baja, saving water and keeping the waste out of the ocean.

We thought we might be able to make it to Scorp’s by the afternoon if we left Abre’ early. What a mission it proved to be! And we learned again one of surfing’s most profound lessons: NEVER LEAVE SURF TO FIND MORE DOWN THE ROAD. Wait it out and bide your time if you can.

The road along the coast through Mulege and Loreto really is beautiful. The sea is a translucent turquoise color, highlighted by crystal white sand. Cardon cactus and Ocotillo line the shore, and springs here and there support palms and bananas.

We pulled into San Juanico under the cover of darkness, but I could immediately tell a lot had changed since my first visit 3 years prior. Street lights and paved roads greeted us and showed us the way to the point, past “Gringo Hill” and its many new houses. Land speculation and development fueled by the proximity of epic point surf and cheap land had begun to become more evident.

We found a spot out on third point, past the Cantina and its exorbitant rates of 100 pesos ($10 US) per night per person to camp. Yeah right! The last thing I’m going to do in Mexico is pay a gringo to camp amongst disease carrying flies and grommets on ATVs.

Waking up the next morning, our fears were realized as we looked out onto onshore, knee-high slop. Oh well, lesson learned, again. At least we had a nice place to camp on the bluff overlooking 3rd point… at least for now. The following morning we were informed by Tito the policia that we could not camp there, or on Zona Federal (Federal land).

The swell did improve a bit later, and we managed to find some fun rides, perfect for the fun shape and the sinlge fin.

It seems that everywhere there are waves to be ridden and money to be made, a bittersweet dilemma exists; that between development and preservation. I guess it is inevitable, “progress”. Though it is hard for me not to be jaded, having traveled extensively in Central America, and seeing developments devour the land. The speculation by foreign investment drives the price of the land up, and the locals can no longer afford to buy it, and they are enticed by the high prices to sell their own, forcing them into cities or unproductive plots.

San Juanico is no exception, and is perhaps the best example in Baja of this dilemma. There are a lot of gringos here, some for the summer and a few for good. Trailers and haciendas line the point, and legal battles over the right to profit underlie the tranquil setting.

Though I don’t think the Mexicans mind much. After all, they are profiting too. Land that was selling for $15K US a few years ago is now worth $150K. I was offered two properties by the man selling gas, only $35K for 100 some square meters of barren, wind-blown desert. What a bargain! I guess everyone wins…

The main issue in my opinion is the long-term sustainability of the town. Water is a premium, and is pumped from one well. Rain is infrequent, if it happens at all. Yet the toilets in town are the flush type, leaching that precious elixir of life into the ground, carrying our feces with it.

Still, life is good for most. Food is available. Beer is a complement to meals. Everyone has a car. San Juanico is rich by Mexican standards, and only stands to get richer as the gringos gobble up the point for their Mexican getaways. This presents a great opportunity for sensible design, an example that can be duplicated in communities with greater need. The kinks could be worked out here, where there are more resources and time for experimentation.

Human waste can be converted into soil by red worms, or turned into methane for electricity and cooking fuel. Water can be harvested from the marine layer with fog screens, and re-used as many times as possible. Wind breaks of nitrogen fixing trees can be planted to shelter fruit trees raised on grey water, and perennial vegetables can be grown under those. Surf boards can be constructed from agave stalks grown right on the point. Lots of potential!

The Amazing Organic Garden of San Juanico

Yesterday we visited one such site taking advantage of that potential. Howard "Howie" Lange has started a small-scale organic farm here in San Juanico, selling fresh fruits and vegetables to the locals and gringo transplants. He can grow year-round here, producing lettuce, chard, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, melons, and strawberries! They sell every leaf, generating enough income after only one season to hire one full time and another half time employee. The soil is amended with worm compost, made from the castings of red worms fed with horse manure and food scraps.

Howie, el Jefe del Jardin

There are plans to expand the farm to a larger plot somewhere outside of town. The demand seems to exceed the supply so far, and that only looks like it will continue, as more and more people are flocking here to take advantage of the (relatively) cheap land and (relatively) good surf. We gave Howard some seeds that we brought with us, with the promise that he would grow them out, sell the fruit, and save the seed to share with others! Plant it Forward!

Aubs picking New Zealand Spinach. Yum!

Many thanks to Mike Kuntz for hosting us at his Baja Bungalow Art Compound, and his very gregarious good hospitality and humor. He is a true living surf legend, traveling the world before most were off the couch, finding unridden waves and getting 57 second nose rides. He has created quite an oasis here in the desert, and you can find him at Second point when it is going off.

Last night we stayed at the Stanley’s Surf Shack right off first point. We had a great session riding mini perfection at Firsts, and then returned to eat fresh Yellowtail caught by locals with the help of Drake. There was quite a crew of us, including Bo and Drake Stanley, Mary Osbourne, Haley and Sierra from Santa Cruz, Jaime from SLO, Kirra from SoCal, and Tim and Evan from Patagonia in Ventura.

Muchas Gracias Amigos y Amigas!

We are now journeying South towards Cabo San Lucas and the East Cape, exploring the coast as we go, making new friends and riding new waves. Paz!