Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Olas de diversión en Ensenada


     After a mid-morning low-tide surf at Sunset Cliffs with smooth small conditions and an uncrowded lineup, we packed up the truck, took our time enjoying a lunch and motored south of the border stopping just north of Ensenada.  My companions had once before spent time at the The Motel California, a cute little place with five oceanfront rooms and a well manicured grassy yard leading down to the beach.  Arriving, we were pleasantly surprised with ocean conditions and although the wind was on the verge of howling, the surf looked good, the air was warm and the sky was clear.  It was promising that tomorrow morning would present us with fun surf to start the day with.  We settled into the rooms and instantly began the relaxation process.  For me, this quick trip to Baja was all about surfing, eating, practicing spanish and having fun with friends.  


In the distance, Punta Banda straight ahead, Todos Santos on the right side of the horizon
     Relaxing on the patio that evening, we looked south across the windcapped Bahia Todos Los Santos and saw fishing boats chugging back to port.  Cruise ships were returning to sea, sneaking through the 7 nm  gap between the mainland and Isla Todos Santos to the Southwest.   Punta Banda, a prominent peninsula making up the southern border of Todos Santos Bay, was looming 8 nautical miles due south.  Jutting out nearly 5 miles and rising almost 2000 ft to its peak, the Punta Banda area possesses some of the finest ocean rock gardening I've ever played in and got me daydreaming of past trips I've made with sea kayaks.  Steep cliffs and an expanse of scattered rocks makes it very picturesque and fun to explore.  Add a touch of vibrant Mexican culture and powerful pacific swell and you've got an incredible paradise for sea kayakers just hours from the United States and easily accessible.  South of Punta Banda the rock gardens stretch for another 8 miles and are chock full of caves, pourovers, slots, stacks, surf breaks and extreme fun.  Dotted with fish camps and pocket beaches perfect for siestas and lunch breaks, the remote stretch is doable for beginners and experts alike, long boats or short.  Although easily accessible, preparations must be perfect since there is no coast guard, cell service or paved roads.  Help is not easily available and paddlers should be prepared to sort themselves if an incident occurs.  Charts are limited as is tidal and current data.  The fish tacos, tequila and fun, however, are truly unlimited.    

    Isla Todos Santos is made up of two islands accessible only by boat and best known for "killers", a surf break off the north island that is capable of holding waves up to 60 feet tall.  Looming over the bay, Todos Santos is a delight to stare at and has this unnerving mystical aura around it.  It made me wish I was traveling with sea kayaks as the paddle out to the island chain is not that long.  Come Sunday morning, Todos Santos was much more visible and detail had been shed onto the buildings and lighthouse.  It looked entirely more friendly and now made me want to paddle out to it even more.   The skies were clear, the air was still and the sea was completely flat, except for the clean 2-3 footers breaking at the point outside the motel.  Eating up and then suiting up, we paddled out for a morning surf with three locals who graciously shared the small lineup with us.  I paddled an 11' 11" single fin sup and caught dozens of slow rides working on cross-stepping, slow cutbacks and surfing goofy.  My cohorts were using a mix of short boards and longboards and riding equally well.  On the inside, the waves stood up steep and left room for a few quick moves on the face before spilling back down into the sea and bouncing off the shore.  As the changing tide altered the shape of the waves, onshore winds picked up and distorted them more.  That was our cue to call it a day, paddle in and bask in the sun for a few hours before feasting on mexican.  


     The next 24 hours were filled with more of the same - surfing, eating, relaxing, kicking the hacky sack and just fooling around.  We never spoke a word of work and were able to reconnect with each other after a few months of little contact.  Although the Monday morning surf was a bit smaller, it was much cleaner and better formed.  The session was super fun and we met the same three locals ripping it up on the inside.  We even played musical boards in the lineup and I got a few nice rides on a longboard.  After a few hours surfing together, one by one, we made our way back to land and dried out.  Sadly, it was time to pack up and move out.  

     Later that afternoon we stocked up on Mexican snacks and fruit and took the scenic route east towards Tecate.  The weekend plan was executed perfectly until we got into the border crossing line.  What can normally be a long 2-3 hour wait morphed into a tamale-infused haze, hot Mexican sun-drenched 7-hour-long border crossing from hell!  Within that half-day of suffering each of exhibited various traits of the 6 stages of border crossing syndrome previously unknown to us.  If you're not familiar with BCS (border crossing syndrome), it's like a helpless form of road rage that lasts twenty times longer and typically goes undiagnosed.  Being essentially helpless, one may lose control of their bodies and minds, shaking uncontrollably, swearing at kids, honking, crying, laughing, screaming and acting like a honey badger.  When one hits the final stage, the only option is to open the mustard Atun y vegetables soaked in vinegar and hope for the best.  Surely an inside joke, had it come to that, the words I'm writing would be much, much different.  Luckily, we snapped out of it around 9:30pm when we were miraculously transported into the United States and were allowed to shift out of first gear.  The confusion still apparent in our glassed-over eyes could be smelled on our clothes and in our hair.  As the air finally cooled off and the sugar from Mexican Coke slowly absorbed, we reached the comforts of Ocean Beach and shook off the awful stress of the border mayhem.  Sharing smiles and cocktails before sleeping, we had already begun reminiscing and cracking jokes at the expense of the holiday.  Nice trip.  


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