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March 8, 2008

Day One

Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9

It’s midnight, and outside of a Garage in La Selva Beach, California, eight surfers are loading four SUV’s the last of several thousand pounds of gear.

But on closer inspection, it isn’t the typical gear you’d expect to see on a 10-day, 1500 mile drive down the Baja peninsula. There are dozens of boxes of children’s clothing, books, and toys. Five mountain bikes are stacked precariously on the roof next to a formidable array of long and short boards. Wetsuits and wax are stuffed next to bags of watercolor paints, paper, brushes, and science kits.

The plan is simple: after more than two decades of surfing Baja, we felt it was time to give something back. For nine months, we’ve been planning, collecting donations, and more than $6500 in cash from generous people throughout California. For this trip we’re going to drive the Baja, surf until we can’t paddle. Along the 1500 miles of narrow paved roads, torturous dirt tracks, towns and villages, we plan to give EVERYTHING away, including the trucks.

Driving in Baja Norte.
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More than nine months in the planning, this trip is the evolutionary brainchild of Robert Ellenwood, 48, and Rob Brough, 42, both of La Selva Beach. Each of them gives credit to the other for originating the trip. “Bob planned about 95 percent of this trip and I did the last five percent,” Rob Brough says with a self-deprecating shrug.

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March 9, 2008

Day Two

The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. In total darkness, I heard Bob Ellenwood ask me: “should we rally the guys for an early start?”

Already imagining perfect wave all to ourselves, I thought about it for a second. But I was still too bone-weary from yesterday’s 650 mile 18-hour driving marathon to stir.

“Let’s let the guys sleep for another hour,” I said. But instead of falling asleep, I listened for the next 60 minutes to the most incredible cacophony of snoring, snorting and farting. At 6 AM, the room was lit up by the hiss of a blue gas flame. Joe started his tiny gas stove and in about three minutes he, Mike Sullivan, Bob Ellenwood and I sat on the beds, and, using a stack of surfboards as a table enjoyed a couple of cups each of French press coffee.

Our First Donations

When Randy, Jeff, Rob and Wyatt finally stirred, things began to happen fast. We packed up our personal items, headed down to the Suburbans and began to pitch items overboard as if we were men on a sinking boat. The FFHM has a large room, and as we removed items from the trucks, the room seemed to shrink. Medical supplies, camping gear, clothing, two surfboards, two skateboards, some tennis rackets, a Game Boy, four mountain bikes, a huge bag of soccer balls, a globe, and several dozen small classroom microscopes soon created a narrow passageway as the items piled up alongside each wall.

FFHM.
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The rigs at FFHM.
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As we worked, young a dark-haired, sleepy, Edith, the manager wandered out in her pajamas, slippers and Adidas jacket. A few minutes later, she was joined by Steve Dawson. With his portly frame, white beard, glasses and fishermen’s hat this former locations scout looked like an actor himself.

“I worked on the movies for more than 20 years. I did Terminator and other movies.”

Then, in another of those amazing Baja moments, Steve told us that the beautiful building behind us used to be a theater. Built during the 20’s, it hosted the rich and famous from Hollywood and LA.

Bob shot some video of handing Mr. Dawson the keys. That moment felt great. This 1988 Chevrolet Suburban would be used to help:


  • A school with 100 kids

  • A day care center

  • A center for invalid kids

  • To take food out to migrant labor camps

  • A fire department and ambulance service—the only ones in the area


In short, FFHM offers all the services normally offered by government agencies, and they do it all with donated goods and services. Their ambulance service, for example, responds to emergencies up to 400 kilometers away in either direction. Their fire department is the only one that has a jaws of life to extricate people from mangled cars in horrific accidents that occur with frightening regularity on these roads.

Finally, there was nothing to donate except the Suburban. Bob and Steve Dawson stepped next to the huge white car. A few photos were snapped, and thank yous were exchanged. We piled into the three remaining cars and headed to breakfast. We drove for 6 or 7 hours to Santa Rosalita, a tiny assemblage of random plywood homes on a beautiful beach. After stopping in town to buy gas the way it was sold before Pemex stations arrived (siphoned from 5-gallon cans,) we headed into the desert to camp.

The Honored Mate Ceremony

Setting up camp.
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The honored mate tradition started with the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo trip. The honored mate for Baja3000 is Bob Ellenwood. In tonight’s beer-soaked, tequila shot-sodden handoff, next year’s HM is Joe Zucolotto.

The Honored Mate, or HM. Tradition started with the guys’ trip to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo in 2002. The guys’ trips were getting out of hand. Months of email would go back and forth with incessant wrangling about where to go and when. It was decision-making by anarchy. On the Ixtapa/Zihua trip, the HM tradition was born. Each year an HM would be selected, and it was up to him, and him alone to determine the timing and destination of next year’s surf trip. Since the HM tradition, guys’ trips have surfed Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and North Carolina. (Yes, North Carolina. That’s where that year’s HM, Danny Neumann happened to live).

The HM ceremony follows a very carefully prescribed set of rules. There is a suitcase-sized HM box that holds, among other things, shot glasses, a bottle of local hooch, photos and mementoes of past trips such as coins or photos. There is a long “prayer” that the HM must read invoking the “spirits of stoke, righteous provider of swellage,” and other hilarious invocations for good surf.

Near the end of the ceremony, any guy who feels like it may then honor the HM. He may get up and say a few words, often slurred, abut their friendship, past misadventures, real or imagined personality flaws.

Personally it is this part of the ceremony I find unique, and often touching. Guys don’t often express their feelings for one another, even though those feelings are real. These guys have a unique friendship based hanging out since high school or college, starting businesses and raising families together, and of course, surfing.

March 10, 2008

Day Three

The Beautiful, Seductive Seven Sisters

The crew was moving slow this morning after last night’s revelry. Today’s blissfully short drive was all off-road through white dunes and occasional patches of smooth multi-colored pebbles. Our goal is Tres Alejandros, a beautiful right point break guarding the entrance to a wineglass-shaped white sandy bay. There are 5 or 6 plywood shacks on the beach that offer some protection from the increasing spring winds. Ranchers rent the shacks to surfers for $5 a night.

Wyatt messing with the donated bikes.
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The waves are small, one to two feet, but Mike Sullivan and I are into the water as soon as we stop the truck. The water is nearly as cold as in Santa Cruz and the place looks like Playa Cerritos many hundreds of miles to the South. The big difference is that except for a single rancher’s home, there is no one around. The place is blissfully abandoned. The water feels great. Each of us paddles out in the fading light and catches many small waves.

Extreme Retirement.... Wolfgang and Luber in the middle of nowhere.
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For dinner, the team breaks out the small gas grill Jeff Olson put together. The chicken legs we bought earlier at a small market are salted and peppered. Wyatt boils potatoes and slices chayote into cubes before sautéing it in olive oil. We’ve gathered wood for a fire, but it is too green and sends up clouds of acrid smoke. Coupled with the smoke billowing from our grill, the camp resembles an out-of-control tire fire.

Punta Alejandro
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The perfect setup at Alejandro's
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Miguel, high and tight
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Sully sliding in early
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Sloppy Joe, doin' what he does best
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Olson crusin'
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The trip's one casualty
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Wyatt with a little style
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Brough goes down the line
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After last night’s revelries, everyone is exhausted this evening. Shortly after dinner everyone heads to bed.

March 11, 2008

Day Four

On to Mulege

It takes about 90 minutes to break camp, and we are getting more efficient at it every time we do it. The drive to Mulege is the first time Mexico Highway 1 cuts across the peninsula. We hug the coast drifting past snow-white dunes adorned with soft green sage. Gradually, the road veers eastward into the gigantic Vizcaino Desert, a massive nature preserve. We stop for lunch and a clean, glass-fronted restaurant and one of the hombres inside tells us that the Vizcaino Desert is the home of the Desert Bighorn Sheep. Outside on the highway, we see turn-off signs pointing visitors towards sites that contain Indian petroglyphs.

Gradually, the road makes a sweeping turn towards the east, past a giant red-rock extinct Volcano of the Seven Virgins. The climb from the west is gradual but the descent going eastward is dramatic, spiraling down serpentine roads. Highway shrines and flattened guardrails tell stories of those who didn’t make it.

The views are spectacular. With views from the highway framed by golden mountain flanks, the Sea of Cortez shimmers iridescent blue. The road funnels us into Santa Rosalia. This town, once wealthy due to mining, is where we gas up. Mulege is only 30 or 40 minutes down the road.

A Palm Oasis in the Desert

Where water flows....
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Mulege Mission
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Palms are everywhere, and after a couple of days in the desert, their lushness transfixes me. We check into a mostly abandoned hotel near the end of town, where the views looking over the rooftops and palm-tops are magnificent. For dinner, the proprietress points us down the road that lines the canal and down to the beach. There we have a great dinner of fresh fish tacos, rice and beans, and beer.

The Sea of Cortez from the "Hotel Rest-Bar"
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The Hotel Rest-Bar
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A Sudden Change of Plans

Back at the hotel, I borrow Mike Sullivan’s cell phone and call my friend Tony Channin, who is in Todos Santos. Tony is the founder of Channin Surfboards and a pioneer in the surfing industry. He was the first to design and build a custom shaping machine.

We need an on-the-spot surf report, and there are few guys in the world better prepared to give us accurate, unbiased information than Tony Channin.

I put Mike’s cell on speakerphone so all the guys can hear it. Tony gives us the words we’ve all been dying to hear: Todos has a south swell of 8 feet or more, great shape, clean, glassy with no wind. “If I were you guys, I would get your asses to Todos right away,” he concludes.

Planning our attack on Scorpion Bay
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Nearly on the spot, we determine to head back across the peninsula. But we won’t go to Todos. We’ll take the dirt road out of Mulege, across the Mountains, past an abandoned mission, and drop into legendary Scorpion Bay.

If it works, tomorrow could be the mother of all surf trips: serious, long-distance off-roading, incredible scenery and history, ending with mind-blowing surf. Stay tuned.

March 12, 2008

Day Five

A Hellish Road to Surf Paradise

It’s easy to see why the early padres chose Mulege. The town straddles a narrow, but not-too-steep, riverbed lined with lush palms. On a bend in the river a hundred feet above the town sits the mission that the padres built just about the time the US declared independence. I love this mission with its neat stones perfectly laid and mortared, vaulted white-painted interior ceiling and soaring belltower.

Inside the Mulege Mission
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The Belltower
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A long rope hangs down from the bell. No one was around so I gave that rope the gentlest, most respectful of tugs jus to hear that sweet timeless sound. Donnngggggg! The noise hung in the air, dissipating into the desert and filtering into those green palms.

A strange gargoyle at the Mission
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Cameraman Boobity
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Back in the car, we dropped down from that celestial mission, driving through town and turning onto the road to the Mission San Miguel. At first the road turned to mile after mile of teeth-shattering washboard.

Then, it got rough. Really, really rough.

The journey begins
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For several hours we slither from one canyon to the next, the 350 cubic inch Suburban motors growling up switchbacks while baseball-sized rocks ping off the underbody of each car. If our air-conditioner worked, which it doesn’t, we would dare not turn it on for fear of adding additional strain to the sweltering motor. Inside the cab, the only thing keeping our bodies attached to the frame are our seatbelts we wear as we drop into one neck-snapping ravine after another. We’re probably averaging 10 miles per hour, often less.

There is nothing out here and no person, no cow, no goat. For the entire 6 hours of this trip not a single car passed us, and we passed no one coming the other way. We passed three ranchos, but each of them was abandoned as far as I could tell. We crossed several small streams, and traveled for dozens of miles down other dry arroyos. At one point, we scraped the undercarriage of our ‘91 Suburban, knocking loose the muffler. With a straight exhaust pipe and nothing to throttle the sound, the big motor now had the throaty, aggressive growl of a Daytona 500 car.

Three hours in
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Team Westside in the distance
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Incredible scenery
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Dust coats our skin like a fine abrasive. Now the inside, as well as the outside, each car is desert-colored. Our hair is matted and caked. Black, gritty boogers sit caked inside our nostrils and dust grinds in our teeth. There’s dust between our toes and our skin is coated with fine powder. We need some salt water to wash it all off.

At last the downhill grade eased and at around 4 PM we got our first glimpse of blessed blue ocean. Forty-five minutes later, at Scorpion Bay each of was racing the fading sunlight, furiously tugging on hot, dusty wetsuits.

A Surfer Must Have Designed the Waves at Scorpion Bay

This bay is huge and encompasses seven different points, each with different degrees of surfing challenge. On the second point sits a great palapa restaurant bar and a few sleeping palapas that rent for about $10 to $15 a night per person.

One of the three others out at the second point
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Olson goes and goes and goes
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Brough had his back hand on the lip for what seemed days
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We surfed just below the palapas. The waves break at the point and peel perfectly for hundreds and hundreds of yards to the right. The shape is perfect, with steep walls that ever sectioned once the entire evening we surfed. The wave is so long that it is usual for a surfer who catches one to go to the beach and walk back instead of doing that arm-wearying paddle. When it is too dark to see, Mike Sullivan and I, the last of us catch a last wave to the beach.

Scorpion Bay lines
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That evening, beneath the twinkling colored Christmas lights hanging from the restaurant palapa a great fresh fish dinner, with lots of beer and margaritas sets the eight of us back only $15 each.

March 13, 2008

Day Six

On the Road Again: El Conejo

It’s cool at night in the Mexican desert, and we slept blissfully in our screened palapa. But at 6 AM it is foggy and already breezy outside. The sea is textured. Not great for surfing. The decision is made to push on to Todos Santos, a 6 or 7 hour drive away, and only an hour from the magical tip of Baja at Cabo San Lucas.

Early morning at Scorpion Bay
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Compared with yesterday’s mountainous terrain, the deserts around Ciudad Constitucion and Insurgentes are flat and dotted with an occasional alfalfa field. But the young man in spotless dry-cleaned shirt who pumped our gas tells us “there is no work here, no money. The money is in Cabo.”

Pemex stations, the only fueling in Mexico
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We roll on. A couple of hours past Insurgentes, we turn down another dirt road to check a point called El Conejo, or the Rabbit. It’s windy at this broad, flat point that sticks out into the sea. At the north end are 4 or 5 tarpaper shacks. A lone Mexican surfer from the East Cape of Baja is camped several hundred yards away.

El Conejo lighthouse
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“You should have been here yesterday,” he tells us in Spanish. “The surf was bigger and the wind stayed down.”

We roll on. We switch on the interior fan in our car, and it shoots out a giant cloud of choking, blinding dust. On the 15-mile long road out of El Conejo, the muffler pipe on Team El Dorado’s Suburban snaps. Now their car, like ours, sounds like a Daytona stock car. With each passing hour I gain respect for Mexicans who keep their cars running in these torturous conditions. They pay 30% more for a car than we Norteamericanos, and they drive them in conditions that are at least 50% rougher.

The road out of El Conejo
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In La Paz, Highways Simply Disappear

No map can guide a first-timer through La Paz, and across town to successfully find the road to Todos Santos. Here’s why. In the Mexican way, this major paved 4-lane artery narrows to 2 lanes, then gives way to dirt road before disappearing into the trees along a small arroyo. After a few hundred yards, the road re appears again, the concrete street is again located, and eventually it blossoms back into four lanes.

There is a missing connection, a failed highway synapse. The road just ends. In a town where the highway signs proclaim that La Paz has 199,000 habitantes, and probably a million in actuality, the highway department apparently simply forgot to connect the dots.

We dove around the block, stopping four or five times to ask pedestrians abut the correct route to Todos Santos. They all confirm: Yes, THIS is the highway. Our Suburbans and 4-runner growl down the well-traveled dirt embankment and emerge a few hundred yards onto neat, wide concrete-paved road.

This Mexican moment was bought to us by the La Paz department of roads and bridges.

Rolling into Todos Santos
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We roll through the desert and emerge an hour later in Todos Santos. Darkness is fast approaching. I lead the team up to the right point break at La Pastora. Again we struggle into wetsuits and paddle into 4 to 6 foot sunset surf.

In La Pastora, only an hour north of the southern most point of Baja, we once again scramble to get into the water before the sun sets
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The boys review the days events
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Wyatt rushes to get out
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Sully, always stoked like a kid on Christmas morning, was on nearly every wave
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Wyatt hooks into a left
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In the evening we drive to my home, just 2 miles south of La Pastora. Jeff Olson makes a fire in the small chiminea fireplace on our second-story deck, and everyone is asleep before the fire needs to be stoked.

Casa de Brozda in Todos Santos
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March 14, 2008

Day Seven

Mexico’s Miracle Mechanics

Need a great mechanic? Try Mexico. This morning the 4-Runner won’t start and we can’t figure out the source of the problem. In addition, the mufflers on our two Suburbans both need the attention of a competent welder.

Todos Santos is only 6 or 8 blocks long in each direction. There are only two paved streets in town. There are no yellow Midas muffler signs. No auto electrical shops with advanced diagnostic equipment. What’s obvious in Todos Santos are a handful of restaurants, a couple of schools, a few curio shops, the famous Hotel California, and not much else. There is a phone book. It lists people by their first name and it sells for 70 pesos at the only bookstore in town.

Finding auto repair is a word-of-mouth effort. The team sets off to find a mechanic who can weld mufflers back together, and one who is an electrical systems wizard.

In a few minutes the right questions are asked of a few helpful locals and market forces work a near-miracle. An electrician rips into the dashboard hacking at wires and surgically removing a car alarm system that had shorted out and no one knew had been installed. It took him about five minutes to fix. Ditto for the muffler guy. Total bill for repairs to all three cars: about $40 US, or 400 pesos. We are on the road by noon.

The Mechanico shop in Todos
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Welding two mufflers for $30/300 Pesos
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The auto electrical wizard with Wyatt and the exhumed alarm
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The Mexico and Mexicans Most Tourists Will Never Meet

Abut three miles east of Todos Santos, opposite hundreds of acres of huge white plastic-covered tomato greenhouses, behind 8-foot high chain-link fence and gate that are guarded 24 hours a day sits several rows of fibre-board homes. Each home measures about 12 by 15 feet and shares its one-half-inch-thick walls with neighbors on three sides. Instead of doors each home has a single opening with a cotton sheet through which waft the smells of frying tortillas, meat and beans. There are no windows in any of the homes. Water comes from four spigots mounted in the courtyards. The bath and toilet is a separate concrete building at the far end of a dusty courtyard.

This is the Empaque Labor Camp, and our guides are Elena Ascensio, the Founder of the Classroom on Wheels, and Aaron Baldacci, a volunteer. Elena’s a petite, beautiful 30-year old Mexican woman who speaks flawless English in addition to Spanish. A teacher in another local school, Elena founded Classroom on Wheels three years ago to enrich the severely limited educational opportunities in the camps.

Elena Ascensio and Aaron Baldacci with their new branded Suburban
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“Even though the children go to school at the camp, the teachers are so de-motivated that they often don’t even show up for school,” Elena said.

Empaque houses perhaps 50 to 60 families, each with many small children. Parents work in the tomato fields owned by one of the world’s largest growers, Batiz, who imports the laborers from the poorest parts of Mexico, often Chiapas. The people are darker-skinned than most Mexicans, often a bit shorter in stature, and the subjects of prejudice and discrimination by their countrymen. The children, however, are just as boisterous as kids anywhere.

Just inside Empaque Labor Camp
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The guard waves us through the gate. Immediately the Baja3000 team gets to work disgorging hundreds of pounds of books, clothes, toys, games, soccer balls, puzzles, paper, art supplies, paints, pencils, and crayons. The kids tear into everything faster than we can unload it. Soon our concrete-floored, tin roofed, chain-link fenced play area is squirming with dozens of kids. The excitement ratchets up each time we open a new box.

Unloading the clothes, toys and school supplies
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Everyone is on the floor: the kids, we 8 Gringo guys, Elena and Aaron, adults and parents from the camp. The kids light up with the twin stimulants of attention, and exciting new stuff to explore. The play goes on for 90 minutes. Some of us are drenched in sweat. At the end Aaron leads the kids in a few songs, including this one sung to the tune of the French Freres Jacques:

“Hola, Hola!
“Como estas? Como estas?
Muy bien, gracias, muy bien gracias!
Y-y tu? Y-y tu?”

Spending time with the kids, playing and handing out goodies
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Heading out of the camp was tough
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Soon it’s time to leave. Down the road a kilometer or two is an outdoor restaurant called El Gato, and for two hours Elena and Aaron answer our questions about the lives of migrant laborers throughout Mexico. For me, this intimate discussion is one of the high points of the trip. We have a common experience in visiting the camp, and expert interpreters to help us make sense of what we have seen.

Elena heads out in the Suburban
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Out to San Jose Del Cabo

With a few hours of light remaining, we strike out to San Jose del Cabo. The plan is to check out Monuments and Zippers, then just grab a cheap hotel to crash in and prepare for the final donations on Sunday. After about an hour drive we pull into Cabo San Lucas. Everyone who has been there before is shocked at the growth and traffic. We soon discover that our arrival was during semana santa or holy week, so EVERYTHING was booked solid. The GPS tracking of that evening looks like a spiderweb, starting in town and fanning out until we finally find an expensive room for the crew at the Suites & Hotel J&M. One objective is to have a safe place for the cars and cargo. When the decision is made, Rob guides team El Dorado in through the narrow passage off of the street into the protected courtyard interior. While focusing on the sides and urging Joe to proceed, a cooler on the roof is scraped off the Suburban and destroyed by the sneaky, low plaster roof.

The sneaky roof
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Baja3000, winner determined

The trip, "Baja3000" is named for each team's budget, $3000. In addition to this challenge, Bob had a gaggle of grueling guidelines, each of which had points associated with them. Teams were judged on journaling, photographing remote missions, wildlife, locals without teeth, staying under budget, you name it. Team Westside was out from the get go, but teams El Dorado and Burbank had a spirited debate, rich with exaggeration, lies and yelling. In the end, Team Burbank is awarded the trophy and bragging rights.

Baja3000 trophy
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March 15, 2008

Day Eight

Sleeping in

After all of the travel, we took a bit of a break at Marina Sol, enjoying the pool-side restaurant and plush condo amenities. Thanks to Ron Whiting we are able to get a room during semana santa.

Room 601, with all the frills
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Energized and rested, we set out to wash and repackage the rigs
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The Comunidad Biblica de San Jose Del Cabo

At a major junction where the road to La Paz interects with the road to San Jose del Cabo, there is a huge three-story tall building named, in English, the Golden Palace.

The Golden Palace
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On the third floor of the Golden Palace Building are two large rooms that house the Communidad Biblica de San Jose del Cabo. The Church was chosen as the last stop and donation of the final two vehicles due to their outreach program they have in place, assisting those with great needs in the rural rancho's and villages. One room is outfitted with folding chairs occupied by several dozen well-dressed Mexicans. The room next door is a play and activities space. It’s 10:30 and the first words of a nearly 4 hour-long service begin. The Baja3000 team members are scattered throughout the room. The service starts with several songs, readings from the Bible, announcements. Then there are more readings.

As it’s Palm Sunday, the children are hustled out of the church and into the next room to prepare for a procession. Dressed all in white, a dozen or so children file back into the church singing and waving palm fronds.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

After the last guitar chord is strummed and the palm fronds put in the trash, the minister gets up ad addresses the congregation, working the crowd with a Southern Baptist-style call-and-response:

“Do you believe in miracles?”
“Si,” comes the tepid response from the parishioners
“DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? He pushes.
“Siiiiii!” The crowd is starting to come alive.

They sense something, but they have no idea about what will happen next.

“Today a miracle has come to the church. Today these 8 Norteamericanos have come to us with an amazing gift….”

Working the crowd like a master showman, the minister holds off on naming the gift. Instead, he asks each of us to stand and introduce ourselves.

“These gifts are something the church needs very much,” the minister says. “Our friends here have brought us two cars and many supplies we will be able to use for all our programs. The cars are a Chevrolet Suburban and a Toyota 4-Runner”

The Rigs
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An audible gasp throughout the church sucks the air out of the room. As a gift of thanks the minister then presents our group a beautiful token of thanks, a scroll and shirt depicting an Aztec Warrior playing "Pok Ja Pok", a game between gods and men, suddenly a sincere round of applause echo's the room. A few minutes later, dozens of parishioners are inspecting the cars, bouncing in the seats, and posing for photos in the “miracles” parked in the lot out front. They inspect the sleeping bags and camping supplies, their youth group will be heading to the La Paz area shortly on a spring trip.

“These will be perfect for our camping trip to La Paz next week,” one church member exalts as he holds a sleeping bag aloft for all to see. One of the Deacon's wife, Stephanie, who spoke perfect english, explained that these gifts are from God which will be cherished and used in Gods name to help others in need.

The presentation
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Baja3000 donated $1,650 in cash for the title transfers on the cars
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Palm Sunday dresses
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Thirty minutes later, we file over to the minister’s home to drop off the cars. Until these cars are registered in Mexico, Mexican citizens are forbidden to drive them.

These church members play by the rules.

Signing over the rigs, Bob is too legit to quit
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The minister’s wife invites me into their neat single-story concrete block home. It’s got the usual comfy middle-class furniture, framed photos, and plush carpet. She’s also got a nice collection of baseball-sized geodes, the rocks with quartz crystals inside when you break them open. I admire a striking purple one. She tells me she found it in the desert and insists that I take it.

“I couldn’t,” I stammer. But she insists. To refuse further would offend her. I take her beautiful gift and will put it in a special spot in my garden.

Hunting For Surf, and a Lesson in Real Estate

The East Cape beckons. From anywhere in Cabo San Lucas, you can see the huge sloping point that stands like a gateway to the Sea of Cortez.

The decision is made: we’re going for it!

We surfed the East Cape together back in 1996, and it was close to perfection. Back then, a single strand of dirt road threaded together a series of unpopulated points, bays and beaches. Eager to rediscover the Cape, we wish the minister and his family buena suerte and pile into a rented truck and Team Westside’s Suburban.

Million-Dollar Homes and a Billion-Dollar Marina

A half-hour later, we are in San Jose del Cabo, scurrying back and forth on unfamiliar roads like mice trying to escape a maze. Million-dollar homes stand in rows along desert ridges. Colorful real estate pennants snap in the breeze.

Then we bump into the marina, and it’s huge and new and raw. Except for perhaps 15 boats, it is completely empty. The Mexican government just finished digging this massive desert ditch as part of a larger plan to create a string of marinas every 200 miles along the coast of Baja. They’re turning the desert into yachts. Hotels. Tourists. Dollars.

Lunch at the new marina
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Enormous ships
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We stop for lunch at a simple but delicious waterfront restaurant, then re-ignite our frantic, lead-footed search to get outta this damned place and find some surf!

But nothing, nothing, nothing at all is familiar. I’ve never seen such a complete makeover of an area in such a short time. In places, we might as well be in Orange County, with its cul-de-sacs and sidewalks. At last we claw onto a likely-looking road and start looking for Las Palmas or Nine Palms.

New development
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Twelve years ago we camped and surfed at Las Palmas, a fine right point break. Today we can’t see the beach because homes block the view to the water. Our only indication that we are in the right spot: one home has a huge gate with wrought-iron palm tree designs.

Baja sunset
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We’re racing the setting sun, and losing badly. The wind is chopping the tiny surf into whitecapped lumps. No one, except Mike Sullivan, has the slightest desire to get wet. At dusk we turn back to town.

July 16, 2008

Day Nine

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8

Time to Go Home

Pack your duffle bag with rancid clothes. Wrap fetid wetsuits in plastic bags. Tie 15 boards on top of the car for the last time. Head to the airport. Another guys' surf trip is at an end.

We'll always remember this trip differently. This trip was about getting waves and good times, but it was much more about giving.

I think Jeff Olson summed up the trip best in a short note he sent to the Baja3000 crew shortly after we returned to the US.

Jeff said: "It was way more work than any other trip we have ever done, but the most fulfilling ever. I will never forget those kids at the labor camp. Their faces just lit up when they saw all the great stuff that we brought to them. I also would suggest that we put Elena and Aaron in our daily prayers. They are truly special people. Thanks to all my buddies for a very memorable, successful, and fun trip."

Here's to next year!
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