I BREEZED THROUGH northern Baja. My first stop was Ensenada, where I inadvertently attended a church service. The pastor said, “Is there anyone new in the audience tonight?” and after hesitating I raised my hand. He greeted me, several people got up to shake my hand, and one lady gave me a pamphlet about how I could become the person God wanted me to be. It was nice to be there. It was nice to sit. My eyes wandered over to a young girl who was there with her husband. She was gorgeous. In front of her was another girl, also with her husband, also gorgeous. I listened to the pastor, who was holding his bible over his head, talking about how people should read the scripture from an actual physical book instead of on their iPhones or Kindles. “But I have nothing against technology,” he said. Then he started on a rant about homosexuals and I got up to leave.
Stay south. Always south. I wanted to get to mainland Mexico, because I was convinced Baja was only for gringos. Sure, mainland has its gringos, too. But I somehow find the Baja gringos more obnoxious. They come down, stay for 20 years, never learn Spanish, and think they own the place. My friend Corey and I camped on the Sea of Cortez one time at a place called Playa Coyote and were told upon arriving that we had to talk to the “chief” to see if it was OK to camp there. The chief of the camp. The leader. It was infantile.
My first surf stop was a place called Playa Socorrito, just north of El Rosario. I was desperate to get in the water, desperate to surf. I drove down a long dirt road past a sign that said, “Private property: Ask familia Aguilar for permission,” but a guy who seemed preternaturally quiet told me I could just drive down to the beach and look at the waves.
The setup was cobblestone and the wind onshore, but there seemed to be a decent right working. The problem, however, was access. One had to traverse several hundred feet of rocks covered in barnacles and other sea creatures to get to the water. I cut my foot and finally got on my board, stroking for the outside, but I still didn’t have my leash on. I made the first few duckdives scared of losing my board and also of diving straight into a rock. Then, after getting my leash on, I saw fins.
My first inclination, of course, was to soil myself. But the fins seemed too fat, too rounded to be sharks. When I looked closer I saw they were porpoises, sitting almost motionless in the water, probably feeding, making half-hearted attempts to surf waves, and then they disappeared quickly, as if they had somewhere important to be. I sat on my board and couldn’t stop looking beneath me. When you surf alone you have nothing to distract you, so your mind and eyes wander. I fixated on the boulders beneath me, studying their undulations, their pink and beige and black colors. I tried to see if anything was moving. And only after this did I look up to see if there were waves.
I got a crappy left and tried to get some rights but they all closed out. Finally, after much sitting, I got one small right that stayed open, and I rode it all the way to the beach, watching the cobblestones flash beneath me. Back on the beach I looked out at the blue ocean contrasted with white spray and thought, This is the real Baja. This is what you hear about. The complete lack of people. The freedom. I should camp here, I thought, but I knew I wouldn’t. I knew I’d keep going to El Rosario where I’d get a cheap hotel room, take a shower, and then lie on my bed going on Tinder or Instagram or talking to people on Facebook. I packed Wendy up and drove out, past a wretched-looking dog, her teets sagging beneath her, chained to a pole. After passing her I waved to the quiet guy and said “Gracias.” And then I continued toward El Rosario.
I STAYED ONE NIGHT in El Rosario, where I drove out to a place called Punta Baja to look at the wave. The tide was too high. It reminded me of a wave in Morocco called Imssouane, but not as epic. I talked to a Swedish guy and a Norwegian guy making their way by Jeep from British Columbia to Panama. They were nice but didn’t surf. I assumed everyone who came here surfed. I wanted to ask them for a cigarette but didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable, so I kept quiet. They were reading. How quaint, I thought, and also, What are you guys doing here?
That night in the hotel, as predicted, I de-evolved into a mess of Instagram and Facebook and ice cream and beer.