We dove for clams, and now we will show you how to cook them. In Baja, Mexico. The “Sea of Cortez”
We dove for clams, and now we will show you how to cook them. In Baja, Mexico. The “Sea of Cortez”
Check out our recently published article on Baja, Mexico in Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine. I posted the article below, along with some screen shots of the magazine, but I recommend you go to their website and check out the entire issue. CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE ENTIRE ISSUE.
“You’re driving through Mexico, are you crazy, it’s so dangerous, you might die.” This is a common response we receive when telling people about our upcoming travels through this unaccustomed country. My usual response entails something along the lines of, “Really. What do you mean? Have you ever been there?” This is traditionally followed by an answer of, “Nooo. No, I’ve never been there.”
In the overlanding community, it is a fact that Mexico stands out as a major highlight of any Pan-American adventure. This is mostly due to the country’s abundance of culture, incredible food, warm people, and one cannot forget that it’s great on the budget. As these parking lot conversations arise before your departure, attempt to just nod and smile. Don’t be rude. You know the real deal. You did your homework.
On Halloween 2013 we headed West in the Toyota Tacoma (the Taco) on the Southern most road in California. We were making our final preparations to cross into Mexico, at the Tecate border. This sleepy border town had no line and no stress, but we were rookies. There was no denying that we were nervous. After all, it was our first international border, and with us we carried a truckload of personal possessions that would be bringing us to the southern most tip of South America. In the end, we psyched ourselves out for no reason. It was easy, and Baja awaited with an abundance of possibility.
Baja has fish, and fish is good. We camped in Punta Conejo close to the river mouth. When I say river I actually am referring to the dried-up dirt arroyo that bared more resemblance to a Fred Flintstone highway. But over millions of years of floods and river deposits, a giant river rock reef translates into an abundance of fish to eat and waves to be surfed, making this desert wasteland paradise to some. It was paradise to us. Sunrise surfcasting off the point was a guaranteed meal, or should I say meals. It was here that enough fish were caught, in 45 minutes each morning, to not only feed ourselves everyday, but also our fellow campers. The fish was also provided to the landowner who happily accepted Pargo instead of the small suggested camping fee. In the surf lineup they called me “the fish slayer”. This was a good thing. Amongst the catches were Snapper, Corvina, and trigger fish, just to name a few. As a result of the ocean’s bounty, we were able to invent new recipes and make some new amigos. When you catch your own food, you don’t have to buy food. It is like putting money in your pocket, which extends your trip. This is Baja.
On the Sea of Cortez we managed to find a less traveled nook not far from the highway and we were able to park right on the beach. The sea was calm and clear, like a toilet for the gods. There was no one around. “Lets get snorkley!” After about an hour of diving in the shallow crystal sea, I counted over one hundred chocolates in my black mesh bag. Chocolate pronounced, “cho-ko-la-tae,” is a clam native to Mexico. “Clams for days” was the phrase of the week. When we craved some variety, we switched over to scallops. These were additionally as abundant as the clams, but required more work. In hunting for Scallops, the end of the shell peeks out of the sand like a shy man at a singles retreat. Armed with a gloved hand, I wrenched at the creature. After a period of strangling and struggling, the ten plus inch shell fish finally revealed itself in its entirety. The process of cleaning scallops is messy and takes some time, but when your camping in Baja, time you have.
There are fish stories for days when overlanding Baja. I’m only scratching the surface. In addition to the surfboards and fishing gear, it is wise to pack a camera, because your friends won’t believe you. When you are not surfing, you will be fishing, and when you’re not fishing, you will be eating your catch. This baron desert is surprisingly abundant in sea life and if you should have the urge to fish, you will be successful. Besides remote camping and hunting for your meals, Baja provides plenty of opportunities for organized campgrounds (with hookups), cheap accommodations, and fish taco stands for miles. After not showering for weeks at a time, and finding fish scales in your pockets, campgrounds begin to provide a certain unprecedented sense of comfort. There is an ability to get a room in town, or gorge one self on the never-ending array of tacos, simply due to amazing affordability of this region.
If you’ve spent time in the desert you know that it possesses a magical quality. You know the polarity of it’s landscape, representing both strength and an undying sense of unforgiveness. Baja is all beautiful, spellbinding, and dangerous rolled into one narrow peninsula jutting off California. It is best to remember that one must always travel with water, the proper recovery gear, and perhaps extra gas. On some of the roads, you might not get a passer-by for weeks at a time. Also bring your warm cloths because Baja can be cold, depending on where you are at any given moment. And always bring paper maps because your GPS might stop working all of a sudden.
We spent over 6 weeks surfing, fishing, driving the dusty dirt roads, buying hundreds of fish tacos, and traveling with friends we made in the desert. The stars were bright and the whales were swimming, but, as always, there is a time when one must move on. We drove the Taco aboard a two-story ship, parked on the top deck exposed to the sky. We were the only noncommercial, non tractor-trailer truck aboard the crowded vessel. The sky was clear, the truckers were drunk, and we departed La Paz before sunset. We set up camp as if we were back in the lonesome desert, popped the top, and spread the blankets. On the chilly clear night, the constellations were stunning. In less than twenty hours we landed in Matazalan, Mexico.
I remember the day we crossed. The feeling of nervousness. A sense of uncertainty about this new place with it’s curious smells. Driving down Baja, heading South, the roads becoming increasingly narrow, winding through a barren cacti-strewn landscape. We camp alone at pristine settings composed of red-tinted mountains and deep marine hued water. The days are slow, the sun is hot, and most hours are spent in self-reflection. We continue to explore deeper into the country, venturing across the Gulf, a freighter chugging diesel through the night.
There are many wonderful meals eaten, recipes discovered, fish caught, and street food enjoyed. Friends are made, moments are shared. I recall full moon parties, party waves, dog parties, and all that goodness. The late nights of conversations, storytelling, and laughter. So much laughter. We explored new towns, cities, villages, markets, beaches, and sites of the archeological type. There are markets with meats. So much meat. But, what about the avocados, mangos, limes, and papayas. One must include warm, hand-pressed tortillas, and the spicy flavorful soups. We discovered the warmth of people, richness of a culture as expressed in the vibrancy of their art, music, food, and dance. There were waves to be surfed, and surf to be reflected upon. We stared at the ocean for hours on end and the days just seemed to melt away. Adios Mexico. I will really miss you.
We drove aboard the Santa Marcela today. This is a large freighter ship which transports vehicles from Southern Baja to Mainland Mexico. The Toyota (Big Red) appears to be the only non-commercial, non-tractor trailer vehicle onboard. There are two levels on the ship, on which the trucks are parked. Big Red happens to be nestled on the top deck exposed to the open air in the way back wedged between a tractor trailer carrying a hazardous chemical, a tomato truck, and the port side of the ship. Judging by our spot on deck, I’m guessing we will be one of the last vehicles to exit the vessel. The crew, along with the truckers, all seem to fear Lupe and pass Big Red with extreme caution (we assume that this is because of her breed, and in most countries south of the boarder people own dogs for security, so most people assume she is peligroso.) Now we relax truck-side, tequila in hand, gazing at the new moon, and listening to diesel burn as we await our 16 hour journey to Mazatlan, Mexico.
Our experience in Baja, Mexico (which I like to refer to as Canada Jr.) in my opinion has been a good preliminary run before we enter the real Mexico. Minus the number of California expats and weekend warriors who come down to surf and fish, I was impressed by the number of Canadians who RV down south for the Winter. And what a great bunch they are, beer in hand and numerous stories of near RV collisions with trucks on the narrow two lane blacktop. Mex 1 is the highway which runs from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas and, at best, the road runs one lane in either direction, with zero to 6 inches of shoulder to a drop down on both sides. There are thousands of roadside shrines, which I’m guessing are where casualties occurred on these dicey highways. Not to mention the dangers of driving at night into roaming livestock.
The trip so far has been an epic one, but the surf has been mediocre at best. I think it’s the time of year and my lack of checking the forecast and just straight up hunting for wicked surf. There was one memorable head high day in Punta Conejo where the wind blew off shore most of the day and produced a super long left that rolled so perfect. The water was like glass and once noon hit everybody (like 8 people) went back to shore for the day while me and my new surf buddy, Craig, had it all to ourselves. I also had some of the best fishing days of my life off this rocky arroyo point. I was able to barter my camping fee with fresh fish, as well as feed most of the camp for a couple days.
Big Red has run flawlessly. We are quite proud of the old girl. We have found our way in more than a few predicaments where the road turned from bad to worse, turning around was not an option, mountain on one side and 100 foot drop to the sea on the other, while rock crawling up steep terrain in remote locations. For the most part our maps tell us what type of condition the road is in. The red line is a highway, the double line is improved dirt road, and the dotted line is the kinda road. So far Big red handles the double line with no issues at all, until yesterday, when we were headed North from Los Barriles to La Paz. Judging from the looks of “old foldie” (our map) we thought a relaxing scenic drive up the coast was in our future. The “over the top” gringo estates littered from Cabo up the East Cape were becoming few and far between the more North we went. This two lane dirt road was becoming a one lane snaking kinda road. “But this is a double line on the map.” A couple miles later put it in 4wd. Steeper and steeper, more narrow, now we are rock crawling in spots. I do see the evidence of a fresh dirt bike tire track, which make me think that people do actually travel this terra firma. We agreed to keep pushing on (also because there was no options to turn around.) We’re not scared of this dead drop cliff. Yea yea, blah blah blah, many miles later, stressful times behind the wheel, 4wd tires bouncing and skipping, shooting stones from under my Goodyears, the end was finally in sight. For the record I’m not a high five kinda guy (I despise football and most sporting games where high fiveing is a regular act of celebratory exchange.) but screw it, “gimme five baby.” lets get the fuckouttahere. It could have been a lot worse but I’m pretty sure the completely flat tire I had today at the super market was related to this endeavor. Tire plug kit out, compressor clamped to the battery, no problemo lets keep pushing on.
We would recommend absolutely anybody to drive down the Baja from the states (or from anywhere). Seniors, families, singles, or lovers, they all do this trip. As long as you keep your eyes on the road, and are not a complete idiot you should have little to no issues. There is uncrowded surf, an abundance of seafood to be caught then eaten, cheap accommodations (if you camp on the beach its free) and don’t forget some of the most epic scenery in the Americas. Mexicans are generous people with a proud culture, and they will make you feel very welcome in Canada Jr. Its been such a great transition from those everyday encounters you have with your average asshole in the states in the parking lot of your local Home Depot, or any parking lot for that matter.
We have all heard the rumors that Baja is abundant in the fishing department. Well, we can confirm that this is, in fact, true. Between diving for shellfish, spearing, and surfcasting we have been successful in gathering many meals, for ourselves, fellow campers, and friends. The ocean has been good to us. The act of sharing the daily catch, as well as knowledge regarding the local sea life, is a wonderful way to meet fellow travelers. A camp can take on a true community feel when people come together to talk about fishing. In addition, finding creative ways to prepare newly identified sea life, with limited resources, can be a lot of fun!
You have all seen the famous Sardinetaco barracuda fishing video, but that was just the beginning. Once we departed from the Bahia de Los Angeles, we headed for Concepcion Bay. With a little advice from an expat who ran the local fishing supply store in Mulege, we were confident that the shellfish we saw while snorkeling were, in fact, delicious. We dove for fresh scallops and clams, gathering about 4 dozen scallops (in a couple hours). The next day we gathered an estimated 100 clams in under an hour. The satisfaction of self-sufficiency and the fresh taste of the ocean left big smiles on our sun-beaten faces. These meals were not only delicious, but they were great for the budget as well.
A few days later we arrived in Scorpion Bay (San Juanico). At this location we had no luck diving for shellfish, or surfcasting, but the spear (Hawaiian Sling) was the big winner. We were spearing small fish that I believe are called grunts, but I am not exactly sure. Either way they were plentiful, fun to spear, cooked whole with Old Bay, and super tasty.
We hit the hot spot when we headed to Punta Conejo. With a little advice from the dude who ran the RV park called Palapa 206 in the city of Ciudad Constitucion we had bueno luck. The first morning we woke up at Punta Conejo, I was surfing by sunrise and amazed at how I was surrounded by fish in all directions. At any given time, in the early morning, there were countless fish jumping all around me. Being surrounded by fins in the water left me with an eerie feeling, especially because no one else was out there (or on the beach). The next morning I was fishing before the sun came up and BLAMO!! 10 casts later I had snapper, tuna, corvina, etc. The next day it was the same thing, and so on. The Corvina was huge and one of the snappers was also a beast. While I was gutting the fish on the beach I was attracting attention at the surf break. People in the camp were stoked because we all got fed, I negotiated our camping fee with fresh fish, and there was some epic surfing to boot. And the rest is history. Thanks dad for teaching me how to fish back in the day. I guess I remember all those things you taught me.