I just got back from my second trip to Mexico with a van-load of friends, miscellaneous water toys and my Hobie Mirage Tandem Island. I can’t stop smiling. We caught loads of fish, explored beautiful islands, paddled with dolphins, played bocce ball in exotic locations, and made the most of the changing wind/ocean conditions.
The trip was a huge success. Our mission was to complete the loop around the Sea of Cortez that we’d started on a similar trip two years previously. On our first trip we’d worked our way down the (Cortez) coast of mainland Mexico with particularly memorable stops in Bahia Kino and San Carlos, then we’d caught the car-ferry (cost us about $900 with our long trailer) across to Baja and worked our way up the coast until we ran out of time in Loreto (a few of us had to get back to work, significant others, and “real life”) and had to point the van toward the US border with the pedal to the metal. On this most recent trip we were focused on the coastline between San Felipe and Agua Verde (a remote village a couple hours South of Loreto).
Our formula for fun and relaxation was simple. We’d try to find beautiful beaches less than 2 hours sailing distance from islands and rock spires (where the fish hide), and make a base camp for a few days with our tents, guitars, paddleboards, and other toys. The ideal beaches would either be remote enough that nobody would bother us or (the best scenario) lightly populated with a few friendly, retired Canadian (Canadians are such nice people) motorhome dwellers who don’t mind watching over your stuff while you’re out at sea. Both of these scenarios are very easy to come by on the Sea of Cortez. Everyone we met (Mexicans, Canadians, Americans) was nice, accommodating, and perfectly willing to help us in exchange for a Halibut or Grouper cooked over the fire and/or a few Pacifico cervesas. Retired people on beaches seem to love making friends, and they’ve got tons of free time.
Was Mexico safe? This question always comes up when I tell people about these trips. My answer: once you’re 2 hours South of the border I feel like it’s safer than much of the USA. Stories that I’ve heard about needing to bribe corrupt policeman, getting robbed along the highway, needing to bring porno mags and cigarettes to pacify shady cops with…these don’t seem to be true anymore based on the 6-week(2012) and 4-week(2014) trips I’ve taken down there, and conversations with dozens of adventurous retirees who RV camp down there for months at a time.
There are many military checkpoints along the roads in Baja, but the military guys seem to be all business and primarily focused on making sure that you’re not smuggling cocaine around. They are, without a doubt, a time toilet that increases your drive time, but I don’t think I’ve been delayed for more than 20 minutes at a stop other than the ferry terminal (several hours). Pro-longed drive times in Baja are part of the deal, with road construction from flood damage, unexpected dirt road sections, etc. Start your travel days early to avoid driving at night (although we drove at night several times once 4-5 hours South of the border, and it seemed fine). Bring a vehicle with at least a Subaru’s level of ground clearance and a full-sized spare tire.
Asking for directions to anything more than a couple of miles away can be an exercise in frustration in Mexico. I’m not sure if it’s because many Mexicans haven’t travelled much beyond their immediate town, or if they make a sport out of making up wrong directions, but we were steered wrong more often than we were steered right (even by government officials). Ask a gringo.
The only places we’ve encountered shady cops and hassles have been around Ensenada, at the ferry terminal in La Paz, and anywhere along the mainland side once you cross out of the State of Sonora. The state of Sonora (the Northern-most state along the Sea of Cortez) has some of the lowest unemployment in Mexico and the government goes out of its way to stamp out corruption amongst cops. They are hungry for tourism and even post up billboards along their beautiful highways (get a map printed after 2013 to find the newest roads) deeming Sonora a “hassle-free zone.”
As soon as we crossed out of Sonora we got stopped/hassled by a cop who was trying to trump up a speeding ticket (we don’t speed in Mexico) and get a bribe. Thankfully Wayne, our 6’9” Spanish major on the trip, was able to talk us out of it. The only other significant hassle we had was the inspection guys at the ferry terminal in La Paz trying to tell us that pocket knives and Leathermans were illegal so they could confiscate them (we got them back). Knowing basic Spanish isn’t critical in Baja, but you’ll probably hang onto your pocket knives and speeding ticket money a little easier.
I think the Tandem Hobie Island (with trampolines) might be the ultimate Baja vessel for general adventuring and fishing. It’s extremely stable, can carry up to 4 people (2 on the trampolines), and the Hobie Mirage pedal system makes it possible to propel the vessel with your feet when there’s no wind (ensuring that you’ll get back to base camp). On top of all that, it can be transported on a stout roof rack or small trailer, making it possible to launch it in remote locations with sketchy roads. With a few sets of hands, or one of Hobie’s largest plug-in wheel carts (get the big one), it’s easy to launch the Tandem (or single) Island from almost any beach. We frequently have a 200lb spear fisherman (or woman) on each of the trampolines and it’s worked famously. On our next trip we will probably install a Lowrance (brand) fish finder on the Island.
One of the main fishing activities we do is Hawaiian sling-spear fishing. We only knew a little from what we’d read going into the first trip, but it proved to be fairly easy to pick up if you can hold your breath for more than 30 seconds. You’ll need a wetsuit (with gloves), snorkel set (with fins), something to string fish on, and a sling-spear/pole-spear with a good spear tip. If your spear tip doesn’t have good barbs on the end of it, fish will swim off the end of it (bring an extra tip on the trip, they’re available online). You may want to bring a file to re-sharpen your spear tip, since you will be shooting it into rocks and often need to hold a speared fish against the bottom of the ocean for a moment during it’s initial struggle to not be food. A SCUBA-style weight belt with one or two weights will help you dive deeper in pursuit of bigger fish.
A book such as “The Baja Catch” is a good idea to show you which fish are good to eat (ie. Pufferfish are poisonous, and Angelfish are a protected species). Look for Groupers, Hogfish, Halibut, Sea Bass, Triggerfish, etc. The Sea of Cortez has one of the most dense fish populations in the world. Fish are everywhere.
Our usual method to ensure a robust campfire dinner is to sail the Hobie out to an island or rock spire with trolling/casting gear for one person and 2-3 spear fishermen. When we get there, we leave one person in the boat to pedal around with Hobie “Mirage” propulsion while bait casting (using “crocodile” lures or pieces of fish we’d caught before). The others will dive down reef or rock spires with pole spears. When a spear fisherman has filled his/her stringer, he’ll signal the person on the Hobie for a pick-up and the boat can swing by and grab the fish and/or diver. Having a boat that’s low to the water (and with large out-riggers for stabilization) aids in teamwork to get the fish (and divers) on/off board and makes it insanely fun.
There are probably lots of books written on good camping sites. Some of our favorites are Puertecitos (hot springs in the rocks at high tide), Playa Gringo (just North of Bahia de Los Angeles), Playa Coyote (Bahia de Concepcion, paddleboard with phosphorescent algae blooms at night), Playa Escondida (Bahia de Concepcion), Agua Verde area (beware of driftwood scorpions and have a 4x4), Pichilingue (jump off point for Isla Espiritu Santo), beaches North of San Carlos (mainland), beaches North of Bahia Kino (the gringo area). I’m sure there are many, many more. There’s a bit of real estate development going on in Mexico, so sometimes you’ll return to find someone has built a beach house where you camped on the last trip. Some of these beaches have fees, but it’s usually very cheap ($3 to $20 per night). Negotiate! Part of the fun in Baja is exploration.
If you need a night indoors, spending an evening in Loreto or Muleje is a lot of fun. We found Loreto to have a very cool downtown core with a fun karaoke bar, occasional Luchadore wrestling matches to see, etc. The food is fantastic in both towns, and they offer a much more authentic cultural experience than the packaged/white-washed version of Mexico you’ll find in Cabo. We did some deep sea fishing in Loreto, found some hikes just South of town with beautiful canyons and waterfalls, and checked out the mission in San Javier.
That’s about all I’m going to blog about on Mexico for now. Since we are a business, I will put a shameless plug in for selling kayaks to you in Mexico. Myself and my friends do a trip like the one above at least every other year in the month of November (sometimes into early December). If have a place in Baja and are interested in getting a kayak or paddleboard (see brands we carry on this website), we might be able to arrange a cheap or free delivery, especially if you don’t mind us using it for a week or two at the campsites (see above) that we will be staying at on the way South. If we were to do more damage than a few superficial scratches, we would not hold you to the sale of the watercraft.
Since our kayak business is closed in the late Fall and Winter, we have time to deliver watercraft to exotic North American locations. Ask and you may receive.
by Andrew Laughlin