Among the ocean’s vast, turbulent and unpredictable swells lies a sort of tranquillity. Atop a surfboard is one of the few ways to begin to understand the precarious juxtaposition of power and peace that is the world’s great watery desert.
Lying in the sun, letting the swells routinely lift and drop you and your board, waiting for a wave. This is the essence of the tranquil ocean. This is one side of the water’s power.
Pointing the board inland, your calm demeanor leaves you, it seems to become silent as your entire being focuses on swimming to match pace with a swell soon to explode into a break.
No longer is the water below you tranquil, quite the opposite, it has burst into a roar of white foam pushing you along, waiting for your bail to send you tumbling beneath masses of water. This is the other side of the ocean’s nature. This is its incredible power hidden underneath its surface.
This is the heart and soul of the Baja, Mexico’s legendary surf destination.
The surfing along the endless beaches of the Baja is, in many respects, second to none. However, what makes the Baja surf trip most memorable is perhaps the extreme nature of many of the surf destinations along the very rural, almost primitive stretches of Mexico’s western-most peninsula.
With unmarked, rugged dirt roads stretching through miles of desert, and paved roads looking more cratered with potholes than a moonscape, the Baja roadtrip is not just a simple jaunt down a coastal highway. It is an adventure.
Upon crossing the border from southern California, the Baja traveler is thrust into the throng of wildly chaotic traffic surrounding the smelly, dirty, infinitely crowded border metropolis of Tijhuana.
Upon successfully weathering the barrage overloaded jalopies and boarder jumpers crossing the badly engineered and maintained steep curves of Tijhuana’s city highways, the Baja traveler enters into the (virtually lawless) stretches of scenic highway one.
Running the length of the peninsula begins as a surprisingly well-maintained road connecting Baja Norte (north Baja) to Baja Sur (the south). It is kept in order mostly as a result of tollbooths manned by the Mexican army.
Drive south for several hours and it will soon become apparent why the local license plates are labeled with the Spanish word for frontier.
Just south of Ensenada, one of the few major cities on the entire peninsula, lies a police/military checkpoint marking the beginning to the true, unsettled Baja.
Roads become even more difficult to traverse and being self-sustainable becomes essential. Along roadsides are several wrecked and abandoned cars giving drivers a foreboding feeling.
Nighttime driving is almost out of the question as black cows wandering onto the roads are prone to causing accidents and there is constant rumor of banditos who will stop you in the night and steal you car.
No part of driving in the Baja is convenient, even the police are corrupt, looking only for bribes with disregard towards any laws (whatever they may be).
Nevertheless, embarking on a trip down the Baja is never like leaving on a quiet, relaxing vacation, but rather an unpredictable expedition into a different world.
If all of the obstacles along the way can be avoided or overcome the result of the trip will be unforgettable.
The perilous rural roads will have their rewards for anyone brave enough and any vehicle resilient enough to cross them. For what lies at their outlet is usually a rare image in the United States.
The rugged rigor of the rural Baja recedes as the rough dirt gives way to smooth sand and desert gives way to beach. The vast ocean holds up the horizon and no one of authority in sight means nights can be spent next to the water in the soft sand.
The Baja adventurer can finally let out a sigh of relief because, for a short time at least, there is nothing to worry about. Not, at least, until the morning tide and the surf sets begin to roll in.