It had been four months since our last Mexican beer together; four months too long. I traveled north and Kaitlyn traveled south to reunite on the East Cape of Baja in the middle of the desert and the Sea of Cortez. The adventure began in a cube shaped rental car and a drive at dusk down a lonely desert road that was fringed with cacti, the sporadic cluster of skinny cows, and the random landmarks that we were told to look for in order to find our way. The harsh landscape inspired a feeling of lawlessness. It was time for that first Mexican beer. It became apparent upon initial observation that only the determined can survive here, and there is something inherently beautiful about that.
As the arid mountains devoured the last light, we turned left at our final landmark and shortly thereafter we pulled into VidaSoul, a beacon of life in an otherwise seemingly deserted human oasis of private homes. We walked into the bar to find tequila happy guests dancing their last song and a group of determined cows quenching their own thirst in the pool. Our bedroom overlooked the swell saturated sea and gratefully satiated desert souls that depend on the fresh water pool. The cows returned everyday. VidaSoul is an architectural marvel and luxurious haven in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We dropped off our board bags in our room, and then we found our own tequila happiness.
Sleep came easy and fast in our king-sized Tempur-Pedic bed with soft white linens and the lullaby of the Sea of Cortez drawn out into the balmy night. The eager anticipation of waves woke us up before daybreak though. By the time we had finished our first cup of coffee, we had already made friends with a group of surfers from San Diego who were heading out for their last surf. We tagged along and found the wave that we would surf for the entirety of our time on the East Cape. One was even so kind as to let me use his brand new board since mine had sustained some damage during transportation. He helped me to repair it though in time for our sunset surf.
He became part of our tribe for the next three days since he was staying longer than his friends. We met and befriended an inspiring collection of gypsy souls, adventurers, professional campers, cross continental drifters, and free spirited surfers who found what we had soon discovered about life in the desert by the sea. It was like everyone was meant to be there in that exact moment in time. Everyone whom we met possessed the same positivity, minimalist philosophy, and citizen of the world vibe. We became part of something before we even knew that it existed.
Our timing was impeccable. The waves superseded our wildest expectations. We were surfing overhead to double overhead flowy rights that peeled from a coral reef that was teeming with parrotfish and sergeant majors to an inside reef covered in sea urchins. If you caught the right wave in the right place, the dance between you and the sea lasted for hundreds of meters. It didn’t always line up though, which spaced out the thin crowd even more and gave everyone the chance to catch ample waves. Everyone in the water seemed to share the ideology that the waves belonged to no one and everyone. This is how it is supposed to be.
We refueled and recounted our waves over fish tacos for lunch and the most exquisite veggie pasta and margaritas every night for dinner. Antonio and Juan took exceptional care of us from dawn until after dusk. Antonio had a sweet stoic face and the gentlest demeanor. He looked at us like we were his daughters. He reminded us of an old boat captain that we had had a few years ago on a surf trip to Ollie’s Point; determined and sage-like. Juan wore a permanent smile on his face and made sure that we had everything we needed. They were our desert guardians.
It became impossible not to wonder how such a place as VidaSoul came to be all the way out here. How was construction and operation even possible with nothing but sand roads and not even so much as a small food store anywhere nearby? There hadn’t even been any measurable rain in the last six years. Then we met Joan. Joan is the owner of VidaSoul and her son is the visionary architect. While we didn’t have enough time with her to get the complete detailed story, we found out that the initial days of VidaSoul were quite eerie and only possible through impressive determination.
It was the middle of August in 2004. I was working out here alone and it was 100 degrees at night, so I had to sleep outside in a hammock. In those years, we didn’t have any storage so the boxes of beer were outside and the burros would come and eat the cardboard. On that night, I cleaned up the kitchen and then went outside to relax in my hammock. It was so hot that I couldn’t sleep. I returned to the kitchen for a snack and realized that the freezer had defrosted and it had fish juice coming out of it. I had to clean it up, but afterward realized that I was covered in the stinky smell of fish. The offensive and potent smell was everywhere. There was no escaping it.
I returned to my hammock and now I couldn’t sleep because I was covered in fish juice. However, I eventually drifted off, but the sleep didn’t last long. I woke up to a very startling sound. I could hear beer bottle rattling and then I saw the burros running away. This was quite curious to me, so I got my flashlight and walked around my camper. I encountered an animal that was as dark as night standing next to my generator. I shined the light on it, but it didn’t as much as move a hair.
I ran the light down its body and discovered that it had a long tail like a lion. It still never even flinched. I just stood there ten feet away trying to decide what one should do in this type of situation. I slowly backed away from the large cat. Eventually, it slowly sauntered off into the night, but as it did it would occasionally glance back and my light would catch its yellow demon-like eyes glaring back toward me. I finally returned to my hammock. Even though I reeked of fish and might seem like a tempting feast for the wild cat, it was just too hot to go inside of the camper. I then realized that the initial noise that woke me was actually the roaring cry of the cat. It was terrifying.
In the following years, I saw this same cat or a relative of this animal walking up my fence line and then jumping over into the neighbor’s yard on a prowl for a meal or just a drink of water. There was one that even came inside of the building that is now the restaurant before we were occupied and had any doors. The smell of fish must have been initially too inviting to resist, but I am still here to tell the tale.
We ended up having to seek refuge on the Pacific coast near Todos Santos from a two day wind storm. It was strange being back in civilization. We surfed a sketchy and sharky feeling point break that was far bigger than it appeared from the shore. The water was cold and a single local was out who told us that we picked a hell of a day to paddle out. We drank warm beers on the beach to warm up after a heart-pounding exit through a heavy and seething backwash shore break as the sun was setting. The call of the East Cape was too strong though and we returned as soon as the wind broke.
Our tribe had dispersed and it was just the two of us now. Our final days at VidaSoul were blissful and every moment, past and present, honored great gratitude. Our journey came to a close as were we driving for one final last surf check. We encountered a lone desert burro walking up the road. We got out of our car and he walked right up to us. His sweetness was the embodiment of this place. He seemed to have relished in the encounter as much as we did. We had our final words and loving contact, and then he turned and walked back into the desert as we turned and left the desert.
Huge Thanks to VidaSoul Hotel for having us
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Writing by Jenn Parker
Photos by Kaitlyn Shea
Photo 10 by Deb Crowell
Photo 11 by Nathan Weldon