Archive for the ‘Surf’ Category

After having surfed only left handed breaks for most of Mexico’s Pacific Coast I had been anticipating getting to Barra de la Cruz and it’s now famous regular footer rights (youtube). I had tempered my enthusiasm considering how late it was in the season and that there are essentially no more south swells until May; but given the surf in Puerto Escondido we timed the remainder of that swell to peak as we rolled into Barra.

We drove straight to the break, skipping our normal routine of finding a place to camp and setting up before venturing out. My heart sunk as three lonely surfers paddled for fat, mushy, ankle biting rollers. Since we had decent internet in Puerto I had deduced the right tides and peak timing to be the following morning. We rolled back up the hill to town still hopeful it would turn on.

The setup in Barra seems to have learned something from many of the ills that plague other small towns that suddenly have become inundated with throngs of surfers. The ejido has set up the beach and the break as a community project and a park of sorts. You have to pay MX$20 per person per day to access the beach, they have bathrooms and a community run restaurant/bar on the beach but no individual ownership or accommodations on the beach or at the break. All the amenities are in town.

We stayed at what appeared, and also rumored, to be the best spot in town. Pepe’s Cabañas has nice clean toilets, cold-water showers and a little restaurant that serves up local Oaxacan food like tlayudas. We rolled in and asked how much to camp alongside the cabañas. Pepe, who speaks fluent English, replied: “something, not much, cheap.” The three surfers in the water were from a group of Aussies and a couple of British girls that had been there for 3 days without so much as paddling out for a look prior. I convinced the Brits that 7am would be the only chance. We set our alarms and were in the water by 7:30.

The first couple sets were lowly drawlers that barely let you paddle in. But about 8:15 the tide switched and started sucking out and the wave came to life. It wasn’t firing, the best waves of the day were barely shoulder high with the bulk coming in waist to chest. But it was amazingly fun. Instantly I knew that I have to come back. It lines up and races ever so perfectly, even really small, you could tell that with just a bit more swell…

The waves lasted around 3 hours and promptly shut down. Not horrible for a three foot swell coming from the northwest into a break that faces southeast. Pepe ended up charging us MX$60 to camp, pretty cheap indeed, the cabañas run MX$100 per night and have two full beds. He said that May was probably the best time to come. He said the waves are about 2 meters everyday, nothing huge, just perfect and fun, all day, with hardly anyone out. Boys, clear your calendars; Interjet has flights from TJ to Huatulco in late May for ~$400.

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Puerto Escondido

Of all the spots we’ve been Puerto Escondido is the one spot I could see myself living in for a while. It has everything I want: fishing, diving, ruins, and of course surf. It seems to have all the amenities of a decent sized city: central market, grocery stores, reliable internet; all the trappings of beach town: surf shops, copious bikinis, beach-side bars; yet none of the ridiculousness of the traditional high-rise fabricated Mexican resort towns that offer quintessential gringo snow bird desires, but retain none of the culture of true Mexico. Zicatela beach, where we are camped out in a “campground (more like an alley)” behind the Oxxo, is a mix of retail tourist shops, sidewalk craft hawkers, restaurants, palapa comedors, hotels, bungalows, cabanas; a little mix of everything. The beach runs for a couple miles in either direction along a quaint road with slow moving traffic, pedestrian plazas with umbrellas and lounge chairs dotting the sand.

I could see renting a huge house on the hill above Zicatela beach with a big group of friends or even the extended family and kicking it here for a week or more. We’d rent a jeep and some scooters and explore the surf breaks outside the city and shop for Oaxacan crafts or book a dive trip or reel in some huge fish. There is surf for everyone with beginner and intermediate breaks surrounding the Mexican pipeline. Zicatela itself is the most challenging wave I’ve ever surfed. The first day I got out a little late and the wind got on it after two waves. The next day the swell picked up and it turns out I got on it a little early. The offshores were kicking pretty good, holding the faces up for some killer barrels and some even more killer closeouts. I dodged sets for about an hour, picking off the tweeners and not really making the sections. I had seen a few guys get some really good ones so I called it and retreated for the camera.

It turns out that 95% of the people in the water were doing the same thing I was, dodging the sets and picking off the smaller ones. There were a couple of yahoos stroking into the bigger sets but they mostly got crushed in closeouts but on occasion they would make a few. Puerto Escondido, Zicatela specifically, is not like other heavy waves I’ve surfed. I’ve ridden Pipeline at 5 feet, Pascquales at 6 feet, and Black’s at 10 feet, but Puerto Escondido is way more challenging at 3.5 feet. Pascquales is heavier, Pipeline has way more serious consequences (reef versus sand), and Black’s has a tremendous amount of water moving around in every which way which can make for serious shoulder burn. But what makes Puerto scary-hard is that it is totally inconsistent and shifty. First off, it is well over-head to double overhead on the face at 3.5 feet. The peak warbles and slides around, the takeoff is anywhere within 100 yards of the last one. Its also incredibly hard to judge, wave selection is critical (mine was atrocious), I never quite knew exactly what the wave was going to do, big A-frames that looked like they were perfect would wall up and close out without warning.

Finally, once the off-shores died it got a lot more predictable and a looked super fun, it also got crowded, fast. Included are a few videos and pics, mostly from post off-shores, you can see the rest of the publishable ones on Flickr and YouTube.

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Seriously, the place has two names. Every guidebook calls it Playa Ventura and every map labels it Juan Alvarez. I’m guessing that the later was the original and it didn’t quite have that ring that brings in the tourists. Regardless of the name it is a beautiful Mexican beach town filled with enramada restaurants and little casita hotels. We ate and camped in front of some really beautiful rock formations in what is supposedly a fun little beach break. We wouldn’t know considering there is still no surf. Plenty of time for reading and writing though.

So Cute...

Every night I go out of my way to ask the purveyor of the enramada or rv park or whatever spot we are camped about the security of the place at night and whether it is safe and chill. My new favorite Mexican phrases include seguros and tranquillo. The answer is usually pretty straightforward, if it is safe that is. If not, there is some general stumbling around until you get something along the lines of mas o menos (more or less safe – thanks that tells me a lot) or es peligroso en los todos de mexico (the whole country is dangerous).  The purveyor of our little enramada gave me the straight answer, totally safe, muey tranquillo, especialmente en la noche. Apparently her definition of safe and mine diverge slightly. Honestly it seemed pretty chill and we stayed up reading in hammocks well into the night. About 3 or 4 in the morning I woke up to what I thought was some sort of seed falling on the van, a weird echo. And then I heard it again, and then I realized we weren’t parked under anything, so my initial estimation of seeds falling on the van was not all that possible. Turns out, some baracho hombre (drunk dude) decided to hunt pigeons or some shit at three in the morning with a .22 caliber rifle. I was never really scared of the boy scout gun and the guy never really got that close to the van but I didn’t really go back to sleep until the ruckus subsided. I’m pretty sure that the incident had nothing really to do with Mexico. Dudes in the country, and this is as country as it gets, as country as rural Kansas or as country as rural Alabama, get drunk and go shoot some shit in the middle of the night, the only real difference is that there were quite a few people around and the cops never showed, oh and guns are legal in Alabama but not in Guerrero.

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Lewis decided to check out Zihuatenejo for a couple days and we have, in the interest of time eliminated all overnight stops that we can easily fly to on another trip. We dropped him off near the marina and unsuccessfully searched for parts for the fishing reel – it’s a lost cause. After making the required stop for helado (ice cream), we pushed south for another hour to a pair of small beachside highway towns. We had heard rumors of a really good beachbreak accessible only by four-wheel drive that broke on any size swell. After some semi-serious off roading we ended up on the top of a cliff with a short walk down to a perfect, albeit small, right hander peeling off over and over again. We grabbed our boards and scrambled out for a quick sunset session, fully planning to camp it right there on the top of the cliff. I jumped in and stroked for peak. Just as I reached the outside, about 10 meters further out, unmistakably a fin sliced through the surface, its owner disturbing the evening glass off ever so slightly. It wasn’t a big fin,  but it wasn’t a dolphin either. 98% sure it was el Tiburon, a shark. I’m also, in retrospect 95% positive it was a small shark and most likely totally uninterested in me. Fight or flight doesn’t do percentages or rationalization either. It says turn the fuck around and paddle into the next bit of whitewater that will take you to shore yelling for Natalie to go in as you cruise towards the shallows. Natalie was still on the inside as she continually refuses to listen to my badgering her that she isn’t duck diving correctly. I think Jesse will have to teach her when we are back stateside.

Ultimately we decided to not camp on the cliff and make the 3 km trek back to La Barrita, a beach town of 10 houses, and camp it an an enramada restaurant hoping for comparable surf there in the morning. A continually more dismal swell forcast has us fanging it to Acapulco for the lunchtime cliff divers and possibly to Oaxaca State by nightfall.

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Cliff Divers!

I had high hopes for Troncones and the surf spots nearby; the Ranch/Secret, Salidita and the Troncones beach breaks. But the swell has been just dismal. Lewis and I broke out the long boards just to get wet one day but its been puny. We took the opportunity to do some laundry, catch up on some internet and drink some cocktails. The spot we are camped in is the newly opened Troncones RV Park / Casa Canela (not sure which is the correct name but it is south of the T and across the street from Roberto’s Bistro). We were the first ever guests and Lewis was the first paying customer in the casita’s they have for rent. John, the owner of the park, is a really nice guy who went out of his way to help us out on a couple fronts. The park itself is a good spot, they have some work to do still, putting in a pool and some formal showers and an upgraded bathroom would go a long way to justify the cost which was high for us but reasonable considering that Troncones is a full gringo town and ungodly expensive. Coming from Nexpa everything was at least 5 times what we had been paying.

Laura doing the dishes

But Troncones was not a bust in any sense. The park owner’s daughter, Laura is living there part time and was a very gracious host. She seemed pretty stoked to have some new faces her own age to kick it with and we were super appreciative of her “guide service”. The first day we kicked it pool side with some friends of hers that are the caretakers of the fully gringofied Tres Mujeres.

Our local escort showed us to the local watering holes, hooked us up with pool access and organized a bon fire. Local knowledge is really the most valuable when its about something to see or do that isn’t in the guidebooks or tourist mags. On Monday, Laura invited us to join some other locals and their tourista accompaniments for a potluck picnic at the waterfalls. About an hour slightly south and then east of Troncones is an off the beaten path dirt road with river crossings to a series of waterfalls and natural slides perfectly appointed for some cliff diving and launching yourself carelessly down the river. Jumping off of stuff is fun. Seriously. I’m like a twelve-year-old child when it comes to slides and thrusting myself off of something semi-serious. Skydiving, skiing, cliff jumping… bring it on. Some may refer to it as a mild case of adrenaline junky… I call it F U N, maybe I’m missing my safety compass but I’ve yet to break something that the doc’s couldn’t put back together. I had to include the picture of some classic Mexican engineering too: the foot bridge tied together with barbed wire, careful where you step – no utilitarian safety compass in this country.

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Classic Nexpa Left Hander

I’m not sure whether it is that I have been to Barra de Nexpa before or that it is truly a special spot. I’m guessing it is most likely a little bit of both. Either way I was borderline giddy when we turned off of the highway. We have been anxious to get a little further south so oddly we considered skipping Nexpa and fanging it to Zihuatenejo. We don’t know what our return date is quite yet, but we may have to be back in San Diego on December 30th, considering we need 10 days to get home, that means that we may have as little as 3 weeks left to do as we please. Where does the time go?

Nexpa, and the upended cabana

Eventually sanity and reason mixed with some nostalgia won over and we decided on a couple days in Nexpa. Shortly after pulling off of Mexico 200 we ran into Lewis, a solo traveler from Reno, whom we had surfed with in La Ticla. Lewis is hopping from town to town by bus; a mode of transportation that while economical and efficient, often leaves him with a pretty long trek from the highway to the beach or town on foot, lugging his board and backback along. He jumped in the van as I, probably annoyingly, pointed out places to stay and eat to him and Natalie.

Chicho and a good size Snook his uncle shot with a spear gun...

The plan was to camp at Jorge & Helen’s place. I had stayed there before and thought the grassy area adjacent to the palapa would be an ideal spot to park the van and camp out. There have been rumors for some time that La Familia Michoacana has essentially moved in to Nexpa and had been harassing the business owners there for protection money and had started some land ownership disputes. The whispers that I had heard were that the bulk of the residents had been able to comply or work it out with the cartel but that Jorge and Helen were experiencing on-going headaches. The talk amongst the gringos in the water was that yes this was true and it seemed pretty likely considering the restaurant was closed and the hammock palapa seemed deserted and abandoned. Two ratty, forlorn hammocks is the only evidence that I had siesta’d away the afternoons there just two years prior. Their units still appear to be in good condition and there were people staying in them that had booked with Helen over the internet. Helen and Jorge were conspicuously absent, Helen having taken the kids to England for schooling in the winters as I was told was her custom now regardless and Jorge being in the United States for some other reason, planning on returning in January.

With that camping option now seeming less attractive we pulled up adjacent to a palapa next to Chicho’s restaurant – the best food in Nexpa, and amongst the best we’ve had on the trip. Lewis rented a cabana from Chico on the other side and we took to doing what you do in Nexpa, surf. The long left hand point break was considerably smaller than when I had surfed it before but the first day we got it head high and a bit bigger on the better sets. Despite the lack of swell it was still working properly and producing long, fun rides, the smallest day kicking up some little peelers that made for epic, all-time, Kassia Meador style longboarding.

Broken Reel... sad 😦

When the surf was blown out or we had enough we spent some serious time fishing. One day catching 20-some 15 inch jacks. Lewis also hooked into a large needlefish with some not-to-be-trifiled with teeth. Saddly my brand new reel broke. Nothing horrific but hard to fix and find parts in Mexico. Chicho’s uncle and I went on a spear fishing adventure, we didn’t catch anything that day but the man was a total badass. Probably in his early 60s, totally fit, the dude carried a monster spear gun and had it anchored to a boogie board that he used as a fish float for when he shot something big like a 40lb snook. He free dove with a weight belt and stayed underwater for several minutes at a time. He was and is still under the impression that I am also such; senior badass free diver, what he didn’t know was that I would come up for air and dive back down twice in the time that he was under once. Visibility was such that he couldn’t see my frequent surfacing for what it was and thus assumed that I was under for the entire time as well.

Needle Fish Hook Surgery

Other than the change at Jorge & Helen’s and a beachfront cabana with an eroded foundation that was now upended on the beach, Nexpa was as I had remembered it and remains a place I’ll come back to again. Lewis has taken up riding with us for the time being, he also had planned on Troncones as his next stop so we saw no sense in him bussing it when we were all headed there together.

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We spent a bit longer in Ticla than we originally anticipated, mostly because we just had no motivation to pack up camp. It turned out to be the right choice after all. Friday night, a couple of gringos with Colorado plates pulled into Ticla and camped next to us just after sunset. As they were walking by I heard them comment on the van and our California plates. I took this as an opportunity to chat them up, being Coloradoans and all. John, Nick and Kelly are all teachers at a school private school in Guadalajara. John and Nick, Denver-ites, have been in Mexico teaching for several years, Kelly for four months. They spend their weekends exploring the beaches and surf breaks of Mexico. We spent several meals, cervezas, and surf sessions kicking it with them and their friends Rodrigo and Lucy from Guadalajara.

Another friend of theirs, a gringo med student, arrived for some surf sessions on Saturday as well. Turns out that this guy was one of the people that got robbed while camping at Ticla. The stories of the armed robberies at Parador Turistica and Amalya’s are ubiquitos in San Diego, everyone has a friend of a friend or knows a guy that was there. But here was a real life participant, so we got the story first hand, under the ramada where it actually happened. There was probably more than one incident, so I can’t deny or confirm specific rumors but the gist of it is that yes, armed robberies (with knives and guns) took place, no one was injured, a Mexican was taken hostage for a couple of hours as a get-away driver, and they took as much money and high dollar items (ipods and the like) as they could. Other lower profile crimes have been occurring at Ticla as well, board and clothing theft, etc., but no one has been hurt. It’s been over a year since any of the major incidents have taken place and there are many rumors that the culprits have been identified and punished. Some say they were initiations for a cartel, local wannabe thugs from nearby Maruata or La Placita and that other rival cartels solved the problem; others think they were kids or crimes of desperation. Regardless it seemed totally surreal being camped there, feeling totally safe, leaving boards out on the racks at night, walking up to town for dinner and back well after dark.

Obviously, Nick, John and company didn’t have too many reservations about coming back to camp here and didn’t seem to overly cautious or scared. Nick it turns out spent a year in Fort Collins for eighth grade and went to Boltz, yes the same Boltz of the aforementioned mug that I have been carting around Mexico. He got a kick out of the Phoenix mug and recognized the names of a few of my brother’s friends. Weird.

Also weird are lizards falling from the sky. We purchased a hammock from one of the beach vendors, which, greatly contributed to our lack of motivation to continue down the road, that, and some fun surf sessions. We spent many hours lounging or reading under the palapa curled up or spread across the hammock. Despite her reluctance to making the initial purchase Natalie wasted away in the thing; until, reading one afternoon, a lizard fell from the roof of the palapa landing in the hammock with her. While she is not normally easily spooked or troubled by things like lizards, being a park ranger and all, this sent her launching from the hammock catapulting the poor lizard, who was probably just as surprised at his fall, across the sand.  I can report that both are unharmed.

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The state of Michoacan is one of the wildest, most undeveloped in all of Mexico. It has a stunning coastline of cliffs and rivermouths, fertile valleys and hillside agriculture. I imagine the drive along Mexico 200 through Michoacan to be amongst the best in the world. It’s incredibly hard to know where to stop and what to see. Luckily our new friends from Guadalajara pointed out a few stops on the map and several that weren’t. Incredibly beautiful beaches with Black Sea Turtle estuaries, ecotourism lodges, fishing villages, camping spots, tiny palapa and enramada restaurants line the curving, treacherous, no shouldered, untrimmed road. In roughly 100 kilometers we stopped at places called Ixtapilla, Palma Sola, La Manzanerilla, La Llirona, El Faro Bucerias, Maruata and we finally are camped for the night at Tizupan, about 50 kilometers north of Rio Nexpa. Some places had surf, others snorkeling, all of them were muey bonita.

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The last couple days we have been camped out at La Ticla, a few kilometers south of Colima along the Michoacan coast. A pretty fun little surf spot with great camping and bungalows/cabañas filled with Canadians (British Columbia), Italians, Canadians (British Columbia), Spider Man (Mexicans), Canadians (British Columbia), some expat Brits, Canadians (British Columbia), a few Texans from the South Padre part, Canadians (British Columbia), and us. Our campsite here is something to behold. It seems that we are manifest destiny campers, how much ever space you give us, we’ll utilize it all. We’ve been spots where we barely had room to put out the awning, totally fine. Currently we are parked along a 30 foot X 10 foot palapa with a concrete and stone patio, lights, electricity (2 prong ungrounded tho), board racks, and a few tables and chairs. We are using it all. It looks like we are camping with 10 people, not 2. We have a dining area, a kitchen area, boards on the racks, laundry strung from end to end. Most Mexicans live more modestly than we are currently camping.

The waves here have been super fun. The first day it never really glassed off so we jusr cooked dinner and kicked it. The next morning it was a couple of feet overhead and built throughout the day, it got a bit heavy when the offshores were up and the bigger of the sets definitely cleaned up the lineup. I was in the water for five to six hours and must have caught close to a hundred waves. This morning it was mellower and had backed off to shoulder to head high but was lined up for 50 to 100 yards. So fun, maybe I’ll drag the camera down around the corner for some surf pics a bit later.

The swell seems to be backing off through the weekend and we have no idea what is in store since we haven’t had internet in over a week. With the swell fading we’ll probably move on south.

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