We follow one photographer, surfer, and overland traveller – Ross Ruddell, as he prepares to embark on an epic journey down the pan-American highway, surfing his way from California to Tierra del Fuego, over the course of three years. This is his story. You can keep up to date with Ross’s adventures right here, and at Project Bliss.
Over to Ross:
I put the new California license plates on my car and felt an immediate surge of adrenaline. A month before I left for Baja I got a new drivers license – my first brand new (aka not renewed) one since joining the military. In my picture I have a beard and no longer look like a 12-year-old.
Finally I had my paperwork straight. I had new registration an updated license, Mexican car insurance and a full tank of gas. I left San Diego (for the second time) excited, nervous and caffeinated out of my mind.
I crossed the border in Mexicali – and immediately went to the immigration office to get my tourist card. 3 minutes later I was back in my car- fully legal to be in the country for up to 180 days. “Easy”, I thought, “probably shoulda done this the first time.”
Originally I had no intention of driving through Northern Baja to Sonora and beyond – the plan was to drive south along the Baja coast and catch the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. That would put me only a 5-hour drive from Sayulita and my extensive scouring online had me dreaming of right-hand point breaks with girls in bikinis on the beach.
That obviously didn’t happen and I was some 2,000km North of that dream when I crossed the border. So, I embraced the suck, and embraced the drive- knowing I had some serious ground to cover.
I was beginning to feel like an old pro driving through the small towns of Sonora. I knew that stop signs were more like suggestions and a left blinker meant it was safe to pass on the freeway. Checkpoints weren’t meant to be scary and they offered a chance to practice my Spanish. I slept the first night in my car in a truck stop filled with big rigs loaded with goods and headed south. Just like me.
The next morning I semi-backtracked to Nogales to get the temporary import permit for my car. It proved to be easy and again I was homefree.
Sonora is a pretty big area to cover and I pretty much ripped through the entire state in two days. I broke a few big rules about traveling in Mexico and developed a bad habit of driving at night. Partly because it was scary and fun and partly because I wanted to get to Sayulita as soon as possible- I needed to surf!
I got into the northern part of Sinaloa and all that ran through my mind was the drug cartel and how they probably followed me on Facebook, knew I was coming, and were patiently waiting to murder me. That didn’t happen. I did continue to drive at night on some pretty sketchy roads but I think the adrenaline/fear combo kept me from falling asleep. Eventually I pulled in to an abandoned gas station (obviously the safest place for a solo traveler) and slept.
I awoke to a bright sunrise and only a few hundred kilometers away from Sayulita. I drove for a few hours, stopped at my first beach on the Gulf of California, had lunch, and pressed on. I was hell-bent on making it to Sayulita.
And I did. I pulled off the MX-200 at about 1:00 a.m. (the main road to town) and found a small, tree-lined enclave to hide myself and the car. I only slept for a few hours when the sounds of some mutant Mexican roosters echoed through the jungle at ear-splitting volume. “Fine, I’ll get up,” I said, keenly aware that an old neck injury flared up overnight, putting me in a stellar mood.
But – I made it. I was back on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. I bumped into town, got some muscle relaxers at the pharmacy, slammed a red-bull and set out to find some surf.
It was flat. And apparently had been flat for a while. I found a local surf shop and talked with the owner. The season was off to a slow start so I thought I would explore the beaches anyways.
I drove to Playa Monterey, Litibu, and San Pancho. Each offering a slightly different version of paradise. I settled on Playa Monterey and set up camp for the night while watching a wonderful sunset.
In the morning, with the surf still rivaling waves on a lake, I decided to explore more of Sayulita. My first international trip was to Puerto Vallarta when I was about 14 and I vaguely remembered the town. The small but bustling village sits on the ocean with cobblestone streets winding out from a town center. Vendors line the roads selling food and fresh coconuts. Tourists are everywhere and the village caters to them. Yoga studios, quinoa shakes, turtle tours, and guided hikes are advertised everywhere. I heard more English being spoken in my first morning there than in California.
I went to the town center, and immediately spotted a group of kids having some sort of break-dance battle. Intrigued I walked up and struck up a conversation. They were all locals and came to the square to dance and show off for girls. I dug them for a while, and shot a few photos. Most of them were capable of handstands and flips but I wanted in in the action nonetheless. They put on Daft Punk’s newest album Random Access Memories and I got down. They cleared a circle for me and I did my best to showcase my limited b-boy style. As I’m sure you can guess- I’m not that great. But it got some good laughs from the kids and they shared with me where a good beach was that was cheap to camp at. We swapped Facebook information and I went to get lunch with a plan to find the beach they were talking about after.
Following some basic directions and aided by my new GPS I found what they were talking about.
A few palm trees were towering over a small sand lot with a palapa on one side. A lone man with a dog sat under the shade. I walked up and asked if it was ok to camp for the night, and how much it would cost me.
“Cincuenta pesos para un noche.”
50 pesos a night. Done. Deal. I’ll take two please.
I pulled my car in, strung my hammock up and made camp, steps from the sand and ocean.
That’s where I am now, currently writing this in that hammock, the small waves lapping the shore, the moon illuminating the beach. The old man left for the night, headed to town to get more beer and cigarettes. He put me in charge. He also left me his dog, either for my own protection or for me to have a new pet. My Spanish is really bad all I caught before he left was “perro (dog) nuevo (new) and amigo.
I have plans next week to meet back up with the British folks I met in Todos Santos in Mexico City for the holidays. We rented an apartment right in the middle of downtown and I am stoked to celebrate with them.
My team has been hard at work shaping my website and posting to my Facebook. Check those out for more of what’s been going on during the trip.
For now, I’m back on the road and under the stars, happy as a friggin’ clam.
Ross Ruddell, 29
Sayulita, Nayarit, MX