When traveling to surf destinations, you often meet people who have been, and will be, on the road for months at a time. These people are, almost without fail, either dope growers or Europeans with (to an American) amazing parental leave benefits. For example, in Pascuales, we met a couple from Sweden who’d brought their two little children to Mexico for an extended period of time because each parent is given 18 months of leave at 80 percent salary to be taken at any time up until the child is eight years old. So why not trade in the dark, cold Swedish winter to surf your brains out in sunny, warm Mexico for the equivalent of a semester or more while your kids learn Spanish in the local school?
And then, in La Ticla, a woman struck up conversation with me, asked where I was from. California, I said. Oh, I’m from Oregon, she answered. Ah, I’m from Northern California, I clarified. You probably know Humboldt County. As she responded that of course she did, another voice chimed in. I’m from Arcata, the blond dude behind me announced. He was on his second month of travel, had come over on the ferry from Baja, would be heading back that way in a week or so, maybe back in Humboldt by the end of February, beginning of March, depended on the surf and such. We chatted for a bit and at some point he mentioned being a cannabis farmer thereby confirming the absolutely obvious.
I’m sure there are a few people who save up money and are able to take time off from “regular” jobs (not to imply that working in the industry isn’t work) to go on epic journeys, but that percentage is so small as to be negligible. So as often happens, I find myself asking myself, as people who’ve lived in Humboldt County for 20 years, Why did we avoid becoming pot growers? Seems so silly in hindsight.
But of course, I love my job and the life we’ve created and even if I only had seven days in Mexico, they were so blissful that for days after returning, people commented on how glowing I looked. (Showing up with a tan in Eureka in February will have that effect.)
Anyway, four-and-a-half years ago, I went to Mexico. A couple weeks ago, I went back.
This time I brought my own surfboard – a first for me, flying with my board – and my friend Alanna. Both Alanna and I tend to work a lot, obsess about doing all the things and doing them well, and otherwise move through life in a way that prompts people to suggest maybe a little relaxation might not be a terrible idea. The idea of a week free of emails and texts appealed greatly.
We stayed in Manzanillo, where a good pal of mine has a house (Casa Pelón!) and once again hired Antonio, a surfer and lifelong local, to be our guide. The entire trip provided the expected pleasures: warm water, a lack of stress, a steady diet of tacos pescado, papayas and cervezas. And we tripped around some of the same places as last time, including the amazing Iguanario Archundia. But this time Antonio also encouraged me to check out La Ticla, a well-known spot on the global surf travel circuit. The minute we arrived, it was obvious why people come from all over the world to stay and play. We loved it so much that what was supposed to be a one-night adventure stretched into three days.
But before La Ticla was Pascuales…
The first time Antonio took me to Pasquales, I’d had no idea what to expect. Being neither an experienced international traveler nor a big-wave-chasing surfer, I definitely wasn’t prepared for Pascuales’ infamous thick, bombing, barreling, heavy, heavy waves. I did paddle out on a borrowed surfboard, then spent a lot of time terrified, somehow managed to catch a relatively small wave to shore and got the hell out. This time I was still nervous, but I knew what to expect, had my own board and some time to mentally prepare. Fortunately the waves were “only” a little overhead, slightly more on the sets, which normally is well within my comfort zone, but these waves at Pascuales break so steep, hard and heavy (did I mention heavy?),
If you’re an excellent surfer able to swing to your feet and tuck into a barrel in one smooth, beautiful motion, you will fit right in at Pascuales. If you’re a competent surfer who gets up a little on the slow side, you can still catch some waves – I caught some waves! – but will also have this experience: the wave comes at you, thick at the lip and pitching forward; you push rational thought aside and paddle yourself in front of it; the momentum of the wave grabs your board; as you elevate yourself from prone to standing, you are too slow, the wave is too steep, your board drops away below you; you, however, do not fall, because you are now sucked into the wave as it erupts upward and over, taking your body with it before slamming you underwater, the leash of your board stretched hard against your ankle, you unsure it will hold or which way is up or why you are here doing this thing at all.
And then you manage to catch a wave without falling off your board and afterwards your guide makes some guacamole using an old surfboard as a table while you drink cervezas and talk to the Swedes and the sun glows warm on your back. Which is why you are there doing this thing at all.
Antonio showed up at 6:30 a.m. Listo? Vamonos.
We drove for over two hours, through little town after little town. It was not wholly unlike driving the coast of Northern California or Southern Oregon, except palm trees instead of redwoods. I asked Antonio what the people in the towns did. Farmers, he answered, and slowed down so I could take a photo of a plane dusting a banana crop.
Everywhere, trucks full of men barreled down the road, always with two men in the cab and several standing in the bed. Some of the men piled in the back – farm workers, I presume – hung on to high rails, waving as Antonio drove around them. In other trucks, gleaming black ones, the men remained planted and balanced, holding on to only their automatic rifles. We did not drive around those trucks. I suppose one gets used to the equivalent of roving SWAT teams around, but the intensity of la Policiá intimidated and I found myself consistently relieved when they’d fade into the distance.
But those blips of mental discomfort evaporated the moment we reached La Ticla. We arrived to Parador Turistico, a sprawling, government-endorsed, collection of cabins, cabanas and camping spots. Very soon I was in the water. A few minutes after paddling out, a dude nearby did a doubletake and said, in an Australian accent, Hey, I surfed with you at Pascuales.
I surfed with you at Pascuales. Never did it occur to me, at 48 years old, as a person who only learned to surf at 30, that I would be surfing various spots in Mexico running into people with whom I’d surfed before. Especially someone who’d witnessed me actually catching waves at a break that I’m definitely not qualified for. I was so high with happiness that I caught many, many waves at Ticla. And Alanna captured them all! I have few photos of myself surfing and while part vanity to be sure, I also wanted to see how I looked so I could figure out where to improve. (But mostly vanity. Here I am! Surfing in Mexico!)
We ended up extending our stay another night. Waves, walks on the beach, fish tacos, huevos con papas, mas cervezas, naps in hammocks, journaling while sprawled out on the warm sand – I could’ve stayed forever. I haven’t stopped thinking about going back.
EPILOGUE – SFO PARKING GARAGE
Arrived back at SFO at 9:45 p.m., acquired our baggage, made it through customs. I suggested to Alanna that she wait with the luggage and I’d get the car, drive around, pick her up curbside so we wouldn’t have to haul everything across the airport. Smart, right? I hadn’t written down the car’s location, but remembered pulling straight into the International Parking Garage and finding a spot immediately, easy-peasy. I air-trained over to Garage A, elevatored down to A1 and the car was nowhere to be found. Huh. I knew we’d taken the elevator to A2, where the walkway to the terminal is, because getting in the elevator with my surfboard was a bit of an ordeal. Maybe we’d taken the elevator down, I thought. I went up to A3, still no luck. Back to A1. I pressed the emergency button on my keychain, hoping to hear my car alarm go off. Nothing. Was I misremembering? Had I become Kramer in that Seinfeld episode? Did I actually park in the other International Garage? I took the Air Train over to Garage G. Definitely not. Back to Garage A. Back to A1. Back to A3. Back to A1, this time in hopes of finding an office where I could ask if maybe my car was towed away for some reason unbeknownst to me or otherwise get help. As I exited the elevator for the now-countless time, all the while sending apologetic texts to Alanna, an angel in the form of a parking lot attendant noticed me. You look like you’re looking for something, he said. My car! I exclaimed. I thought it was here! Did you come straight off 101? he asked. Yes! Did you find a space immediately? he asked. Yes! A5, he said. You’re on A5. I thanked him effusively, then rode back up to A5, where my car had awaited the whole time.
I’ll never not note my parking location again.