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…
A week ago yesterday I crossed the border from San Diego, California into Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. I spent my few days in Southern California seeing friends and saying a few last good-byes.
Last Sunday I snapped a board in half during a less-makeable session in Del Mar. Monday morning I woke up early, packed a few stray bags, did some last minute maintenance and I split. I turned off my GPS, put my phone on airplane mode and got on the 5…the wrong way. Reading is hard. After a semi-legal U-turn I was headed South, finally.
With some choice music for the iconic crossing I was rocking out with the windows down to Kaleo’s “Way down we go”, the weather a perfect sunny and 73. It was only a 15 minute drive to the border and I breezed to the head of the line. Immediately I was flagged down and told to pull over. Yay.
An officer told me in Spanish to drive up onto the density scanner platform to have my vehicle scanned. In my mind my car just looks like a surfer’s car, with some redneck mods. In this officers opinion I looked like the stereo-typical single-white drug smuggler. My Subaru was loaded down and packed to the gills.
I was told to exit my car and stand behind the giant concrete wall to protect my huevos from being rancheros. 10 minutes later I’m given the international sign of “you’re good”, two thumbs up!! A few seconds later i’m back in the driver seat, volume to 10, windows down, ocean on the right.
Navigating sans GPS was not something I had planned on. But apparently GPS actually means NAPS (North America Positioning System) and i didn’t have Mexico loaded on mine. Nevertheless it wasn’t that hard to follow signs for the 1 South, though I was keenly aware that I was not in and English speaking world anymore. Relying on my half semester of foreign language 10 years ago in High School (thanks AHS!) I snaked my way to Ensenada.
Planning to camp just South of the surf spot called K38’s I pulled into the dusty lot and was greeted by a crowd easily larger than anything I’d seen in San Diego last week. Just packed with surfers, campers, and massive RV’s. Not the scene I was feeling for my first night in Baja. I was ambitious and wanted that idyllic feeling of being on the beach under the stars by myself. It was only 10 a.m. so I figured I had until about 4 to find a suitable spot. I topped off the 1/4 tank I had burned, and even managed a few words of Spanish
conversation with the gas station attendant.
Tracing the paper map of Baja with my finger I stopped on Punta Baja. The 1 leads right by it and there’s a road to the beach! This is what I want! I looked both ways 7 times before I pulled out onto the freeway
because the jitters of driving in Mexico hadn’t even begun to wear off. Its such a sensory overload. The smells, the lack of American signs/markings on the road, the feeling of lawlessness is overwhelming. I crept up to below the 60 km/h speed limit and pushed on.
Roads are definitely not well marked South of the border and I was a little apprehensive about the future of the trip, not being able to reliably know where I was going. Eventually I just took a right off the main Mexico Highway 1. There was a painted sign that said Punta Baja, and thats all I needed. I followed the road around for about 10 miles, just dusty, vacant, desert. I came up a rise and stretched out before me was the beautiful Pacific Ocean again. My big, blue security blanket. The dirt road turned into loamy sand and I pushed harder on the gas to stay afloat. Eventually I got to the ocean, without a soul in sight. It was about 2 p.m. and I decided that here was as good as anywhere to post up and get my bearings. I made camp, made a fire, and cooked some food into that evening. The sun set about 5 p.m. and stars came out soon after. I crawled in my sleeping bag, headlamp on, and read until I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean, only a few hundred feet away.
Tuesday I woke up to my beautifully sunny beach blanketed in a thick, grey fog. I quickly broke down camp, washed my face, brushed my teeth and headed back to the main road. Getting back on pavement again headed south made me smile. Paved road was a little comfort that had me on a solid path.
I stopped for gas and looked again at my map. I was itching for a surf and wanted to sample some of Baja Norte’s prime right hand breaks. I decided to pull the old “when I see something I like, I’ll stop” and
got back to it.
Later, after a delicious (and insanely inexpensive) lunch of carnitas tacos, I pulled a right hand turn onto dirt road just after San Quintin. My next main landmark on the map was El Rosario, but that town was inland and I wasn’t ready to leave the coast just yet. I followed one of the countless dirt roads West, hoping I’d find some surf.
After about an hour without seeing any other form of life I made it to the top of an overlook and scoped my surroundings. Below me, much to my surprise, was a little campsite with two wooden shacks, a trailer
and a few stick bungalows. An old man was in a chair, peeling fruit. He was about 200 yards away but I waved and he waved back. I decided to walk down and say hi.
“Esta bien para mi encampmento aquí?” I asked (It’s ok to camp here?).”
“Esta bien, aquí, y a todos a la playa,” (it’s ok, here or anywhere along this beach) he said.
I introduced myself and learned that his name was Jorge, He had lived along this coast for 43 years and was born in Ensenada. I pulled my car up to the little stick bungalow he told me his kids made for
traveling campers when they were young. I unpacked and set up camp. It was only about 2 p.m. Small, but clean waves were wrapping around the rocky beach and I definitely wanted to rinse off the road grime that
had built up on me. It was by no means an epic session, but it got the cobwebs knocked off and I smelled a little better, not having showered since I left SD two days ago.
Changing back into some clothes I walked over to Jorge’s place and watched him expertly pick Pitayas (cactus fruit) with tongs and place it in his basket. The fruit and covered in thorns but a quick slice with a knife reveals the juicy and sweet inner treasure. He gave me a few, and we ate the snack watching the sun dip down. I made us both dinner and we listened to the AM spanish radio he had in his shack. Darkness came soon again and I cleaned up, thanked Jorge for letting em camp on his property and went to bed.
I broke camp the next morning, and Jorge asked for a ride into town. We packed up and drove to El Rosario. I was feeling a bit run down and wanted to get some solid miles under my belt. I didn’t have a stopping place in mind so I just pushed South again. I finally broke pace and got to Guerrero Negro, the 28th Parallel and the dividing line between between Baja Norte and Sur. There is a huge military base and hotel called the Halfway Inn. I thought Id check in for the night, get a good meal, check in with the family and recharge.
After a good dinner and some texts back home I was ready to hit the sack. I took a wonderful shower (with soap!) and slept like a rock in a coma.
Thursday morning I was determined to see Loreto and the fabled white sand beaches. I made the town by about 1 p.m. and was greeted by a lovely little city. Cobblestone streets ran like veins to the center of the city with colorful buildings lining them. Huge mountains to the East and the gorgeous aqua-marine blue Gulf to the West. After a few quick swims and some quality beach time I scoped a place to make a base for the night. I found a spot outside the city, near the town Napolo. The sunset that night didn’t disappoint and I was watching nature bust out he color palette as she set the sky on fire.
Friday came and I started to think about where I wanted to go next. La Paz was the next biggest town. I figured I would go there, check it out and then decide. Back on the road. Besides a few military checkpoints the a few gas stops nothing major happened. The desert held to its name and was pretty barren, except the vast fields of Cacti. Rolling hills gave way to huge Moab-like rock formations. Huge mountains turned to rock pillars and back to mountains again as I drive through Baja Sur.
I got to La Paz and stopped at a coffee shop for some wifi and a bagel. A few months ago I had met some other travels doing the same trip on a Pan American traveler Facebook group. They were staying down in Todos Santos (about an hour and a half from La Paz) and offered up a place to stay and chill for a while. I was pretty keen on meeting up with some other people and after a quick text to my new friends I was again headed South.
I grew up knowing where Todos Santos was and knowing there was great surf. Having some new friends to meet up with and a place to stay gave me a much needed energy boost. I rolled into the quaint little beach town of Todos Santos in the late afternoon. I stopped at a cafe and got some internet to get further directions to the house I would be staying at.
Reece (my new online friend” told me “the dirt road, with an un-numbered white house”, 10 minutes North of the center of the city. “This shouldn’t be hard to find,” I thought. Right. But I did find it and was met by I eventually made it and was greeted by Reece his wonderful girlfriend Nancy, Ross (Reece’s cousin) and his amazing girlfriend Dee, their dog Frank and the two overland beasts of vehicles. They are doing the same trip but in some pretty tricked out Toyota Landcruisers. I had vehicle envy but a huge smile on my face as they let me into their rented home for the month.
These people were the first I had really met on the trip and I was so grateful for the offer of a base camp for a few weeks. Before I left on this trip I was told about the kindness of others I would meet and this group went above and beyond to open their doors and make me feel at home. Ive only been here a few days but we have shared meals, stories and drinks. We are already making plans to meet up for New Years Eve in Mexico City! There’s not much more I could ask for at the moment. There is surf, sun, and a perfect little beach town I am calling home for the moment. Im a week in and happy as a damn clam.
Ill check in soon.
Ross Ruddell, 29, Atascadero, Calif.