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Surfing Mexico with the Magical Mystery Micro Bus
note: Todd / Mark - You know I didn't take any pictures. If you see this, pass over some you like.It was around the end of April at about 30 when I quit my job in Perth, Australia. Todd Kerr, Mark Bredmyer, and I had other plans. We were to fly to southern California, buy a van and drive south to Panama; surfing along the way. I flew out a fortnight early to procure the van. My brother Warren had a friend near Santa Fe, New Mexico with an old 1979 VW Bus. His name was Andy. Andy had recently bought some land on a river about 45 minutes east of town. The only problem with his bus was that it needed a new head gasket. I paid Andy $1000 for his old green van. Warren and I flew out to Albuquerque, rented a car, and spent the next a few days rebuilding the engine and visiting with Andy. Andy was focused on building his new home in preparation for a new baby on the way. Once we got the van running, Warren named it "The Magical Mystery Micro Bus". It was green with a white top. In place of the back seats was a toolbox forward of the rear gas tank and engine. The toolbox was the same height as the engine/tank so two cut sheets of plywood covered them all. This made for a nice sleeping area with storage below. We drove down to Albuquerque, dropped of the rental car, and drove the van together to Solana Beach, California where Warren lived. I then drove up to Los Angeles airport in time to picked up Todd and Mark. The three of us then spent a few days at my parent's house and then back with Warren in Solana Beach. Warren, my sister Lia, and some of their friends had plans to go camping on the beach for the long Memorial Day weekend. They had a spot all planned out in Mexico south of Ensenada. Todd, Mark, and I decided to join them on our way south. We left early to surf and spend a night in Rosarito. Next day we drove to the camp site at the end of an arroyo south of Ensenada. From the main, road we headed north down the arroyo along a dirt road. Then it veered west for a while. Before the water, the sand turned to rock; round rocks about fist size and bigger. There was no real beach here. It was a big round rocky water front. There was a nice break with head+ high waves. The sound of water crashing on big round loose rocks was awesome; especially at high tide. Warren, Lia, and their friends made it to the camp site the next evening. My old Michigan friend Dietmar Melchiori also came down. He was working in east Los Angeles area. With them they brought a pig. They had just bought it from a Mexican rancher along the way. It was dead, cleaned, and de-haired. Warren wanted to see how to cook the pig underground. A Hawaiian guy had showed me how to do it years ago and I had tested it myself a few times since. We set about collecting rocks and digging a pit in the sand near our camp. Both were easy given the conditions. Next we sparked up a big pit fire and got the pig started for the night. After surfing, kayaking, and exploring the next day, we ate the pig. There was too much meat and since we didn't have refrigeration, we ended up tossing the extra meat, carcass, and chicken wire some distance up the arroyo. On the same day, there was a dune buggy hooting around on the seashore but it got stuck on the steep wet rocks as the tide was coming in. The owner had to give up and leave it. Later that evening it was completely engulfed; rolling around by the ocean's waves. Every once in a while you could see a tire or two pop up out of the foaming water. The next day at low tide it was in close to the same spot. The owner was no-where to be seen and people were starting to pick on it for parts. Since it was a VW bug with similar parts to our VW bus, we decided to take some parts before the tide came in much further. We collected both rear tires, distributor cap, and rotor. At the end of the weekend when everyone else headed back north to work, we headed south towards La Paz. Every time we stopped to surf along the way we noticed the water getting colder. The best surfing was always in early morning because the wind would pick up in the afternoon and mess it up. From La Paz we were to take the ferry to Mazatlan but decided it would be fun to check out the south end of Baja California first. So, after exploring La Paz for a day, we continued south to San Jose del Cabo and found a camp site with a decent surf break south of town. The break was only a short walk south along the beach from camp. During our stay a mangy looking little dog that was loosing a lot of hair kind of adopted us. An older guy who liked to be called Pepe came by often to talk and tell us stories. He was always trying to sell us things and get us to do things to make money. One thing he told us about was timeshare opportunities. One day we all went to listen to a timeshare opportunity and walked away with free blankets. I went to another session myself on another day and walked away with a free bottle of tequila. We wanted to go deep sea fishing so Pepe connected us with a couple friends of his who owned a boat. We fished for Marlin and caught a Sailfish. It was a big one; over 50kg. We took turns reeling it in and eventually, after about an hour of fighting, landed it on board. The second mate cut it up. We took half and gave the rest to the fishermen. With no refrigerator, we ate and passed around fish day and night for the next few days. That sailfish made many great tasting red fillets of meat. After returning to camp from our fishing trip, we noticed the dog was missing. We asked Pepe about him. He said the dog was sick so some guys took him out in a boat, tied him to a brick and tossed him overboard. A couple from Melbourne was staying at the same camp. They had spent the previous winter snowboarding in Whistler, BC. Now they were living out of a van, exploring around and surfing like us. Thy guy had a complete old set of dive gear and was short on cash. I bought all the dive gear off him. For the rest of our trip, I went hunting for clams and fish often. Some times, Todd or Mark would come diving with me; breathing off the spare regulator. They would hold onto the tank so that we would stay together. While at camp one afternoon, I decided to go fishing from the surfboard with a hand line. After paddling out beyond the breakers, I started jigging my bait off the bottom. Then I got to thinking about what would happen if I caught a decent size fish. Would it pull me off the board or drag me through the water for a while; possibly a long ways off? With this thought, I stopped fishing and paddled back. We spent many days surfing, fishing, and exploring around Cabo San Lucas, Todas Santos, and San Jose del Cabo. We checked out the Hotel California in Todas Santos of Eagles fame. Then we decided to check out the coast north east of San Jose. We discovered an arroyo about an hour north of town. On our way in we passed an old rancher with what looked like his ~6 year old granddaughter. I took a picture of them with the Polaroid camera we bought just for this purpose and gave him the photo. There was a goat herder who lived in a wooden shack at the mouth of the arroyo. He let us camp in front of his house a bit closer to the beach for a few weeks. While we were there a hurricane passed to the south feeding us double overhead high waves for many days. There was an excellent left reef break just offshore from the arroyo. We caught great waves there, ate fish, and hiked along the beach collecting shells. We also drank a lot of tequila. Two or three times I noticed blood in my stools and it concerned me. After thinking about what could be prompting it, I realized that each time I had drunk tequila the night before. I stopped drinking tequila and never noticed blood in my stools again. During the few weeks we were camped in the arroyo, a few parties of campers / surfers came by for a day or so. One guy who was there the whole time was from Santa Barbara. He came with his friend on a boat and they stayed in a bay north of us. Between us was a natural rock jetty that submerged about 200 yards offshore. One day he came by all excited telling us about an encounter with a Mako shark while hunting off that jetty. The next day Mark and I happen to go to the same jetty to hunt with our giggies. We swam well past where the jetty was submerged and never seeing any fish. Suddenly a huge school of fish came in under us. We dove down for a sure catch. Visibility was only about 20 feet. I heard Mark's giggie hit a rock. At the bottom of my dive I saw the end of the school. The fish were getting culled by what was likely the same Mako our friend had seen the day before. The water was too murky for me to see his whole length but his head was probably a meter wide. I faced him with the giggie and fully felt and said under my breath "get the fuck out of here or I'll kill you". As soon as he saw me he gracefully turned to the right and headed back offshore. When I came up I told Mark about the encounter and said it would be wise for us to stop our hunting. Fortunately, he had missed his fish so there was no blood in the water. He quickly turned around and thrashed the water as fast as he could all the way to the beach. I slowly followed behind him not wanting to make waves or stir up water. By this time, Todd and Mark were thinking more about Las Vegas and London than taking the ferry over to Mazatlan and continuing south. They did not want to continue. I was pretty disappointed because I was really looking forward to exploring the Mexican mainland and other countries south to Panama. There was another couple we'd met in San Jose who lost their ride but really wanted to drive south to Panama. I considered bailing on Todd and Mark and accepting them along as partners. This was only a brief thought. Todd and Mark are great friends and I couldn't bail on them. So we started driving north to Los Angeles. We were somewhere north of LaPaz and had just filled the fuel tank. I was driving and we were going through mountainous terrain. The narrow two lane road had no shoulder with steep banks on one or both sides of the road. Then the motor died. No power. A glance at the rear view mirror displayed fire. Flames were raging from all the rear motor vents; from behind and from both sides. I quickly turned the ignition key to off and put the transmission into neutral. Fortunately, there happen to be a small pullout with a building a short ways and we were able to coast there. Once stopped at the pull-out, we jumped out of the van. The guy driving behind us had been watching the flames. He had a fire extinguisher. While he sprayed the fire, we tossed everything out from inside and off from top of the van. We expected it to blow as the fuel tank is just in front of the engine. It if had, we would have been blown up with it. By the time we had the van unloaded, the fire was out. Fortunately, the fire had fused the plastic fuel lines shut. It also burnt all the electrical wires and melted all the other plastic stuff. Maybe the van could be saved. The engine was fine; just the plastic and rubber were fried. I wanted to try. The alternative was to hitch north with only the stuff we could carry on our backs. This wouldn't have been too bad for Todd and Mark but most of the camping gear was mine and I didn't want to walk away so easily. A guy lived in the building where we had stopped. He had beer. We all bought a beer and discussed options. It was decided that Mark would stay by the van while Todd and I would hitch north in search of help. In what seemed like almost immediately, an RV stopped to pick up Todd and I. A guy led us inside the air conditioned RV and gave us each a beer. Not noticing time or distance, we talked while we drove north to El Rosario. El Rosario is a small fishing village. The fisherman there mainly harvest sea urchins for sale in Japan as an aphrodisiac. There was one auto type shop in town. We went there and met a yank who lived and worked there. He was a Vietnam Veteran who was disgruntled with the USA and spoke fluent English and Spanish. He thought it would be a fun challenge to help us rebuild our van's motor. This vet introduced us to a fisherman with a Toyota truck. We told him the van was maybe 60 km south of town and he said he'd tow us back for a tank of gas and a case of beer. After buying gas and beer, we started driving back south. Todd and I sat in the back of the truck. Every few minutes, this fisherman would toss out another empty beer can. After many cans of beer and well over 60km of driving, he wanted to turn back but we urged him on. An hour or so after leaving El Rosario, we came upon the van. Mark had re-packed it and was ready to go. Our attempts to tow the van with the tow strap failed two or three times. Each time the tow strap broke before the van had momentum. Fortunately, the fisherman had a wire line. We hooked that up. While Todd and Mark sat in the back of the fisherman's truck, I sat at the wheel of the van to steer through the tow north. The terrain between us and El Rosario was mountainous and the wire line holding the van to the truck had no flex. I did not want to apply breaks unless absolutely necessary for fear of breaking anything. Often I watched the slack wire travel underneath the van and did my best to not let it override a tire while not steering off the road. Todd and Mark watched wide eyed. I steered white knuckled all the way back to El Rosario with thoughts of something snapping or worse, and more likely, the wire overriding a wheel sending all of us flying over the side of a mountain. By the time we made it back to El Rosario, the clutch in the fisherman's truck was fried. For the next couple of weeks, we lived in the auto shop's dirt driveway with a few local dogs. We took the engine out and replaced the melted fuel injection system with a four barreled Ford carburetor fabricated to the intake manifold. Some time in the middle of this work, Mark and I took a trip north to Ensenada for parts. Todd stayed behind with the van and gear. An upper middle class guy from Ensenada picked up Mark and me on our final leg into town. He invited us into his house for dinner and to spend the night. He also advised us on where to pick up the parts we were looking for. The next day we purchased our parts and hitched back south to El Rosario. Among other things, we had a new fuel pump for the van and a new clutch piece for the fisherman's truck. A day or two later, we had the van running. We could not have accomplished this without the veteran's help. I had bought along a stack of fresh $1 bills for special situations. I gave most of the stack to the auto shop owner and the rest to the veteran. Then we drove back north to Ensenada for the night. At a bar in Ensenada I met a very big and fit body builder. I asked him how much time he spent in the gym working on his chiselled body. He said he had all day every day for the past three years thanks to the California State Penitentiary System. Once back in the states, we stayed with Warren at his place in Solana Beach. Todd and Mark had grown accustom to sleeping in the van while I always slept outside on the ground. While back in Solana Beach and even while at my folk's house in Palos Verdes, Todd and Mark continued to sleep in the van. In Solana Beach Mark told me that he though he knew why the van had caught on fire. The fire started shortly after Mark had finished smoking a cigarette. Instead of putting it in the ash tray, he tossed it out the window. The burning butt must have traveled back and been sucked into the motor's side vent where it landed on a hot oily engine. In Solana beach we started thinking more about the future. Todd and Mark were planning to go to London and organized their plane tickets. I was planning on moving to Colorado and finding a work. We drove to Los Angeles to spend some time with my parents and then with Mark's Aunt. After reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Todd and Mark really wanted to spend some time in Los Vegas. They dropped me at my folk's house in Palos Verdes and drove there. Something bad must have happen on their road trip because the engine was running quite poorly once they returned a few days later. I loaded up van with what I would be bringing out to Colorado, dropped Todd and Mark off at Mark's Aunt's house and started east to Colorado. Todd and Mark had warned me to keep an eye on the oil. Judging from the smoke out the tailpipe, she was burning a lot. By the time I got West Vegas, it had burnt through over three liters. The van was running rougher than ever. I didn't want to risk the exposure through the desert and over the Rocky Mountains to Denver so stopped at the first exit in West Vegas with thoughts of selling her. I stopped at a truck stop and called a few junk yards; finding one that would pay $200 for the van, rack, and toolbox. With that money I got a week long one way U-Hall rental that took me back to Colorado with enough time to get organized and figure out what I was going to do. Fortunately, feeling good.