Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
Neither Rachelle or I grew up on the ocean. To us the ocean was uncharted ground as our comforts align with the mountains and rivers. Sure we have both spent time in and around the ocean but nothing prepared us for our first day kiting in Los Barriles. Quickly we realized just how friendly those flat and shallow waters of South Padre really were. Confident with an artificial realization of our kiting skills we made our way into the deep blue to spend time with the world below the horizon. The swell was like nothing we had ever experienced, as the salt water burned our eyes while bobbing like a floater with the marine filled depths surrounding us from the neck down. We’re not in South Padre anymore as my first attempt on my newly gifted 5.5 surfboard from my uncle Gary gave me more challenge than enjoyment. It all makes sense as the past advice from our instructor Lisa Tedford came ringing through my ears. “Go to Los Barriles, it will make you a better kiter. If you can kite there you can kite anywhere.” As both Rachelle and I got blown downwind, Taylor was there on the ATV to come retrieve us with a slight smile on his face. A silent smile which spoke a thousand words. Welcome to kiting in Los Barriles, you’ve got some work to do!
Our first afternoon and evening on January 6th ended with a relaxing soak in the local resort hot tub and a reunion with a family from my childhood. Much of my younger years were spent at Dan and Kym Meehan’s house in Lower Deer Valley as I heard stories of another life in Mexico. Never could we understand how Taylor's skin complexion resembled that of a culture south of the border while the snow fell in Park City…he must go to the tanning beds. Taylor lived a silent double life, one that was not talked about in our group of friends. We all knew he spent time in Mexico but not until this recent trip to Baja did I quite understand what he was doing during all those school breaks.
North Beach, a place where gringos from all over come to enjoy the wind and ease of beach life. A location Taylor called home for 6 years as he gave us a quick orientation of the area. Free camping in Baja is easy to find. If you see a dried up river bed, also known as an Arroyo, feel free to set up camp as this government land is available to anyone. However no permanent structures are allowed and for good reason, as hurricane season changes the arid calmness of the Arroyos. Fresh water floods the desert landscape transporting rocks and trees down into the salty Sea of Cortez. While permanent structures are forbidden, creative temporary comforts are created from the minds of seasoned Baja dwellers. Brad was our neighbor to the West and he had been coming down to Baja since I was in grade school. He had it dialed with a trailer, van, outdoor kitchen, shower structure, ATV, beach games, windsurfers, tandem kayak, SUP boards, and a huge shade area. We were welcomed to the beach as Brad was always willing to lend us a hand or allow us to use some of his gear. He was a wealth of information and we appreciated all his help throughout our stay.
Just to the south of us on the water was Luke and Faith, a couple from Pistol River, Oregon in love with kiting. Also seasoned veterans of North Beach their arsenal of toys kept growing as we admired from the distance. It started with a trailer and grew to a small compound including a dune buggy, multiple dirt bikes, a truck, small fishing boat, shade dome, kites, couches, sound system, tables, and a love seat on the roof of the trailer in order to take in an elevated view on this prime beachfront property. Needless to say we hung out with Luke and Faith not because they had all the comforts of a modern home but rather they were both awesome people with fantastic attitudes! A little zealous of our seasoned neighbors we set out to create a unique camp of our own. One Walmart 10’ x 10’ plastic shade structure, one green tent, one portable toilet, one tire, collapsible table, multiple camp chairs, two yoga mats, cam straps, and a lot of envy. Unfortunately our cheap Walmart shade structure did not stand the winds of time as the 30mph gusts broke down the plastic skeleton, snapping the joints, destroying the integrity and sole purpose of this purchase. Clearly we were the new kids on the beach as comments and stories began to circle back to us of the doubts our structure would last more than a few days…the critics were right.
On January 14th we made our way North, about an hour, to La Paz in order to secure ferry tickets to Mazatlan at the end of the month. This is when the logistical ring-a-round the rosy began. Once at the Baja Ferries office in La Paz our minimal Spanish was mimicked with the limited English of the employee selling ferry tickets. After a 10 minute conversation we finally had a meeting of the minds as I whipped out my credit card to pay for the ferry. “Can I see your vehicle permit for the tickets,” asked the women. “We don’t have one yet, I replied.” We were so close to getting our tickets and now we were instructed to drive to the actual ferry terminal about 25 minutes away in order to secure a vehicle permit, required to drive on mainland Mexico. No problem as we loaded back into the Rambler enjoying the beautiful ocean and beach views along the way. Once at the terminal we finally realized the gravity of our mental lapse in Tijuana. Forgetting to obtain our tourist visa at the border we were now being denied a mandatory vehicle permit in order to transport to the mainland. No amount of dinero could bypass this official Mexican Governmental document, well that's probably not true but I was not quite ready to give up more pesos than necessary. Frustrated with the turn of events we decided to spend the night at Tecolate Beach just 10 minutes from the ferry terminal. Our mental stamina was empty as were our stomachs while a small beach bar distracted us from our frustrating day with a fresh large whole snapper on the menu. It was like they knew we were weary as a jolly old Canadian and his robust friend offered us a joint before sharing a greeting. There are many Americans in Baja but what I didn’t realize is how many Canadians make the pilgrimage to these laid-back climates. It makes sense however since the winter takes a much stronger hold of Canada compared to that of the States.
In the morning our logistical run around continued as we made our way to the Migration office in La Paz hoping to obtain this elusive tourist visa. For the record this is our 6th stop at a Migration office as every other time these offices have been closed for some reason or another. Another opportunity to practice spanish as I explained our situation to the officer. She understood me just fine, as she countered with a throughout explanation, not taking into account my novice Spanish skills. Fortunately my spanish was competent enough as I was able to get the gist of her explanation; unfortunately I did not like her answer so I asked if anyone spoke English in hopes of a different outcome. Sure enough a similar explanation came from another officer in my native language. You must fly back to Tijuana, in order to obtain a visa, or fly to another country and then return to Mexico acquiring a visa at the airport. Shit!
Disappointed with the verdict of our trial we set off to snorkel with the Whale Sharks in La Paz. These amazing animals are born in the Sea of Cortez while feeding on the plankton rich environment near La Paz. This awe inspiring experience was one of a kind as we swam with these massive animals trying not to be sucked into their filter feeding mouths. If you make your way to La Paz swim with the Whale Sharks...it will not disappoint.
On January 20th, 2016 we set our sights on the small fishing village of Cabo Pulmo. While back at home during November/December, Rachelle became PADI certified for scuba diving in hopes of exploring the depths of the sea. Cabo Pulmo is a protected marine environment home to over 40% of the oceans species and the last remaining governmental protection area in Mexico. You know it’s going to be an adventurous dive when the dive master pulls you aside asking a very serious question. “How is your fiance with large animals?” Since this was Rachelle’s first certified open water dive I wanted to make the dive master was aware of this to keep an eye on her. “What kind of large animals”, I replied. “Bull Sharks!” Upon further inquiry the dive master let me know they had 5-6 Bull Sharks circling them yesterday at the same dive site planned for the day. Rachelle is incredible at keeping her cool in stressful situations but this had not yet been tested at a depth of 65 feet. So there we were on the small boat speeding towards the dive site with known Bull Sharks and a new diver...i’ll admit I was a little stressed! With rough seas and wind on the surface we immediately dropped into the water and descended into the depths. Sure enough not more than 3 minutes in the water did Rachelle and I spot our first Bull Shark in the wild. Quite a way to begin your scuba diving experience, staring into the eyes of the world’s most dominant predator. Uninterested, as he was outnumbered 7 to 1, the shark made it’s way back into the deep blue in search of more manageable prey as the schools of fish dominated the surroundings. Our second dive we encountered even more marine life as we got lost in a never ending school of Jack fish, while catching a glimpse of a couple Eagle Rays, giant Sting Ray, Green Eel, and the beautiful echos of Grey Whales. Marine life is thriving in this protected park!
We caught wind of the Todos Santos Music Festival from fellow kiteboarders in La Ventana. Peter Buck from REM established this festival to help the kids of Todos Santos pursue higher level education. Upon arrival in Todos Santos we made a stop at La Pastora Beach witnessing some large waves. These surfers sped down the face of these powerful waves as Rachelle and I blasted music from our Bose speaker cheering them on while having a dance party on the beach! Saturday, the closing night, a free concert in the town plaza featured the talents of Death Cab for Cutie, La Santa Cecilia, Drive-by Truckers, and The Jayhawks. John Paul Jones (from Led Zeppelin) even showed up on stage at various points with his mandolin! Todos Santos is a prominent artsy town just 1 hour north of Cabo attracting surfers from all over the world.
Sometimes there are moments when traveling when both of us throw up our hands, frustrated with the constant decision making involved with unplanned travel. Should we stay or should we go? The full moon was upon us as the desire to watch the moon rise from the Sea of Cortez conflicted our thoughts to stay in Todos Santos for another night or sped to La Ventana in order witness the moon as it grows from the watery horizon. This confliction often causes us to not do anything and further frustrate our minds as our indecisiveness gets the best of us. Not this time however as I pointed the Rambler towards El Pescodero Beach, only discovered with vague directions from a local the night before. Not another person in sight and light onshore winds we decided to improve our paragliding kiting skills in anticipation of our upcoming paragliding trip to Colombia. Three hours later, satisfied with our efforts, the sun began to set on the west coast of Baja; lighting the sky with natural pastels as we rested our heads for the evening.
Our relationship is based on love with constant movement and adventure a strong factor. Without movement we become irritable and short with each other focusing on the little negativity in each other as opposed to the resounding positivity we see in one another. Yoga has been influential in both our lives as a way to slow down and release energy in a meditative way. The next morning, on January 25th, Rachelle led us through a morning of Yoga and gratitude for the beauty of this earth.
Most of our kiteboarding efforts were focused at our home base of Los Barriles while the kiteboarding world called La Ventana one of the bests in the world. Just 45 minutes north of Los Barriles is the kiteboarding mecca of La Ventana dominated by white faces and the english language. Old salty windsurfers mixed with the new school kiteboarders in the constantly windy town. Retirees young and old brought their campers to the beach to harness the power of the wind from December through April. The main campground looks like a refugee camp as people pack side by side waking each morning to stare at the ocean and sample the wind with their fancy wind-meters. Bypassing the busy campground dominated by the old salty windsurfers we opted for the known sands of the arroyo similar to our base camp in Los Barriles. Here is where we met Brian as he inquired about the height of the interior of the sprinter disadvantaged with his stature and realization of van life. Brian was over 6’6” tall providing a challenge for erect comfort even in the tall ceilings of the Rambler. Introducing us to his camp we joined the group for an afternoon of kiteboarding and margarita happy hour in the evening. Aaron, Gena, Dave, Alli, and Ed graciously welcomed us to their camping area for a couple nights as we explored the waters of La Ventana along with the ample network of singletrack biking trails throughout the mountains.
I even managed to practice a real life self rescue in La Ventana as I accidentally caught the lines of my kite around my bar sending the kite into a “death spiral.” Ejecting from the power of the kite I slowly drifted downwind while my board drifted even slower, losing sight of it in the distance. About 30 minutes later I washed ashore, at the end of the bay, as the sun retreated behind the mountains. Gone was my board along with the wind, as the water began to flatten, slowing the drift of the board further. Daybreak was my opportunity to search for the missing board as I packed my kite and made the long, 2 mile walk back to camp. My eyes opened the next morning as darkness still blanked the bay of La Ventana. One thing was on my mind as I set off for a morning run retracing my defended steps from the day before. Hope was my salvation as I passed a dead sea turtle on the lightly lit sand, making my way past other humans sipping their morning coffee. The sky began to illuminate with the promise of a new dawn to a new day as I headed further and further from camp. Alone on the sand a promise of light crested over the mountains falling into the sea. We must have faith the sun will shine just as my faith and hope for this material object would come through the darkness. Rays of light brought hope to the day as it brought a warm smile to my face. There it rested in the soft splash of the Sea of Cortez...my board, ready for a new day.
January 30th, 2016 marked the one month time frame since we had left the frigid cold of Park City in search of warmer climates. This day was different from most other days in Los Barriles, where was the wind? The sea sat flat just as the cornfields of Nebraska were absent of elevation. Today was the day to do something different as we set out on Brad’s tandem sea kayak with Punto Pescadero as our target. Punto Pescadero laid just south of our beachfront property praised for it’s abundance of fish and sea life. Armed with our snorkels and mask we set off on a long 2 hour paddle towards the point which only looked like a stone’s throw away. After spending about an hour in the world below our appetite was suppressed by nachos, calamari, and margaritas at the Punto Pescadero Hotel. Rudely interrupting our meal was the breaching of Mobula Rays as this school of 15 flew over 1 meter out of the water. The Sea of Cortez is a truly magical place encompassing so much life it is hard to comprehend.
Author: Jeremy Wilstein
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