A long surfing drought ensued after we left El Salvador for Guatemala. We chose to venture inland to explore the lush mountains, colonial cities, and still lakes surrounded by volcanic rings. We were held up by a gas tank leak that forced us to camp in a mechanic’s parking lot in Xela, the second largest city in Guatemala.
When the car breaks down, you’re forced to camp where you can. Mechanic’s parking lot in Xela, Guatemala. Photo: Wyatt Fowler
After the tank had been haphazardly patched back together we were anxious to get back to the coast and quickly made our way to Mexico. Once we were safely across the border, we thought we were home free, only to find we were stuck in a bureaucratic limbo. We were essentially being held captive in Tapachula, a Mexican border town, trying to fix a paperwork snafu for Bessie so that we could roam freely throughout the rest of Mexico.
We couldn’t go back to Guatemala as we had given up our insurance there when we crossed the border, and couldn’t get past the aduana (customs) in Mexico without the necessary paperwork. We wound up sitting in the hotel room for two weeks with wrappers from the Oxxo (the 7-11 of Mexico) littering the floor and an almost empty bottle of rum on the nightstand, talking about evacuation plans if the paperwork didn’t come through.
We missed the swell of the decade sitting in a Los Pinos hotel room. In the days after, we had to endure seeing videos and pictures of Mark Healy’s insane bombs at Puerto Escondido, as well as all the rest of mainland lighting up. We would see the aftermath of the swell and the erosion of the beaches when we visited Puerto and Pascuales. We never got the right paperwork, but a sympathetic customs agent finally gave us a pass and told us we had three days to leave her country.
Barra is beautiful. Photo: Wyatt Fowler
Two days later we had only made it to Barra de la Cruz in the state of Oaxaca, the second of ten states we needed to pass through to get to California. Maybe it’s because we had just been released from captivity in Southern Mexico and as a result hadn’t been in the water since El Salvador, but Barra de la Cruz was beautiful when we pulled up to the beach right before dark after a full day of driving. The surf was small and the crowd was diminishing with the light. We hopped out and surfed for twenty minutes until total darkness forced us in. We set up camp while we were still wet and being attacked by mosquitos. It felt great to have the ocean on our skin again as we cooked our rice and beans in the crisp Mexican night.
We never really figured out the time zones of Central America. Mexican daylight savings confounded this problem and the result was my tent being shaken and Wyatt whispering at me to wake up in complete darkness. I unzipped the door and stuck my head out.
“What time is it?”
“I think its five.”
“Are you sure?”
Back in Costa Rica dawn patrols started with a four forty- five A.M wake up, wiping the sleep out of our eyes, grabbing a banana and water bottle and trying to make it to Playa Hermosa by five. We would usually arrive right on the heels of first light. Clean, glassy waves would feather and crash, with the pink and yellow colors of the sunrise still reflecting on the mirror of the blemish-free ocean. Pelicans would glide over the troughs of the swells as we contemplated our paddle out. On the four miles of black volcanic sand that constitutes Playa Hermosa, you could always find an empty peak at five in the morning. We cut our teeth at Hermosa, and there could not have been a better spot.
Pre-dawn patrol in Barra de la Cruz, Mexico. Photo: Wyatt Fowler
I’m still not sure if it was actually five A.M. in Barra, whether daylight savings somehow screwed us up, or if the sun in Mexico just rises later, but we waited an hour and the darkness was still impenetrable. We grabbed our boards and flashlights and headed down to the beach. Halfway to the beach we were joined by an Aussie couple, also toting flashlights, who informed us the sun would rise in fifteen or so minutes. We could barely make out the lines of white appearing from left to right in the sea from the beach. With our sight impaired we relied on our sense of hearing to discern that the swell had picked up considerably overnight. We waded out while the black in the sky turned the navy blue it turns before the arch of the sun appears in the east. The Aussies, Wyatt, and I surfed by ourselves in shoulder-to-head-high, right hand, peeling waves for half an hour before the hordes arrived.
Barra is beautiful. Besides the clear blue waves that break with machine-like consistency and similarity, there’s the coast itself. The waves dredge off a rocky, cactus-studded cliff before peeling down the sand bottomed point all the way to the beach.
The sand was a beige white and the sun, now fully risen, was baking the land and the water. It was what I had pictured in my head as the quintessential Mexican point break. We surfed until we couldn’t, which was a little shorter than normal, as we still had to work off the damage caused by two weeks of living in a hotel and eating convenience store food. Still harboring some delusions that we had to make it to Baja as quickly as possible or risk being arrested (the aduana had told us we had three days to leave the country), we said goodbye to the first wave we surfed in Mexico and hit the road for Puerto Escondido.