Former Tracks editor, Phil Jarratt, reflects on a life-long love affair with Mexico. From the pages of Tracks issue # 577
Ah, Mexico, sounds so simple I just wanna go! - Mexico, James Taylor, 1975
Mexico has provided the soundtrack for much of my surfing life, so is it any wonder I’m a little smitten with the place, and have been a regular visitor for 45 years? In the early days it was James Taylor and Carlos Santana, of course, but then on my first trip to LA in 1975, I heard Waylon Jennings sing Ain’t No God In Mexico from a front table at the Troubadour, and the very next morning we were driving across the border, heading for the rights of San Miguel and the delights of Hussong’s Cantina, singing, “…where the womenfolk are friendly and the law leaves you alone.”
It doesn’t get old. As I write, I’m listening to my highest rotation album on Spotify: Adios Mexico by the Texas Tornados. Sick, huh?
I guess it started early years in Bali when we hung out and roomed with the first Yanks to show up. I think it might have been my room-mate Bob Pierson who said: “Man, Bali is like your little Mexico.” I immediately wanted to go to his big Mexico, and I did soon after.
Since I was editor of Tracks at the time, and this publication has always upheld family values, I’ll only admit to a fleeting obsession with Tijuana’s dirty mile of live entertainment featuring farmyard animals, Ensenada’s milder atrocities being more our style. And the surf? Well, the water was chilly and kind of grey like the sky, but Baja had its own kind of magic that lasted for several years, until we discovered Cabo.
The luxury hotel corridor between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo was just starting to take shape, and we didn’t know that the racy inside section at Costa Azul was called ‘Zippers’, but for those of us who hadn’t been to the mainland yet, this was real Mexico. Cabo SL was gringo party-town, but we preferred the old school cantinas of San Jose, where hirsute cowpokes breasted the bar, eying the colourful senoritas, while their cows grazed on the paddocks outside.
There was plenty of fun surf around town, but we soon discovered the real deal along the bumpy dirt track, over the hills and down along the coast of the Sea of Cortez. East Cape was just one right-hand point after another, linked by dust and cactus and little else. This was where Mexico really got under my skin, the first time. Like the song said, life was easy, and the law left you alone. Even many years later, when we took a house in the village of Los Zacatitos, halfway between San Jose and my favoured Nine Palms Point, I discovered that not much had changed when driving the dirt track home after a big night of bar hopping. We had stocked up on roadies for the half hour trek, and were well into them when the siren came up behind me.
I wound down the window and the cop asked me in broken English why I was driving so slowly. He eyeballed the mountain of empty Dos Equis on the floor and asked if I had been drinking. “No sir, but my friends all have.” He nodded and drummed his fingers on the roof. How much is this going to cost, I’m thinking. He scratched his chin whiskers and said, “Drive little bit faster, it’s not normal. Hasta la vista.”
Another time, driving down the Cortez coast from La Paz, we fetched up at a fishing lodge called Rancho Buenavista, hot, sweaty, tired, and without a booking. We were done driving for the day, but they didn’t have a room. The manager looked us up and down, sat us down in the club bar between a couple of large stuffed pelagics, brought us cold beer and told us to wait while he worked something out. We got a spare staff room for $50 and no charge for the beers or the subsequent jugs of margaritas.
And then, sometime in the late 90s, I finally discovered the mainland. First it was Puerto Escondido, the big closeout, for which I’d left my run a bit late. On two trips that hideous A-frame was right out in front of our hotel, shaming me because it was so far beyond my comfort zone I couldn’t paddle out. But then we discovered the left-hand point of Zicatela at the other end of the bay, where the swell was still solid, but the wave was forgiving, and having caught a few, you could lie under the palapas drinking icy cold beer and smirk as everyone else took a hiding.
In the new century Corky Carroll re-entered my life and put La Saladita on my radar. I love the long-lining left – now home to the Mexi Log Fest – and I love the pace of life at the Carrot’s beachfront hacienda. The one-time bad boy of world surfing is now a contented old guitar-strumming hodad with a beautiful Mexican wife, still ripping the lefts apart, albeit on a tuned-in SUP.
Our last few Mexican sojourns have included plenty of quality Corky and Raquel time, but we’ve also started to love exploring the far parts of this amazing country, from the galleries and colonial splendor of hillside San Miguel de Allende, to the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan, from the Caribbean sands of the Mayan Riviera, to the markets and street food of Oaxaca, and even the museums of bustling Mexico City. Love it all. Can’t get enough of it.
Is it dangerous? Not since I gave up on the donkey bars. Travel advisory: know where you are going. Do your homework, and I don’t mean watching Narcos Mexico.