Baja Blast: Chasing Summer Under the Mexican Sun
Some people just represent a lifestyle. Others eat, sleep, live and breathe it. The idea of traveling free and easy versus actually doing it. Former Wayward buyer, and forever friend, Darcie Gray, is the latter. After an opportunity came up to move to Baja and teach kiteboarding for the winter, she dropped everything, kitted out her Ford Transit Connect van, loaded up her surfboards, kiteboards, dual sport bike and headed south to fulfill a dream. While we definitely miss her around here, and have serious jealousy seeing her sunny Instagram photos come through, we’re glad we’ve been able to keep in contact.
As someone with boundless energy, full of positivity and brimming with a near-constant smile, it’s not hard to believe Darcie’s quickly adapted to the Baja life, making friends and even being cast in a Pacifico commercial. Through the barriers of slow wifi and “Baja time” we were able to catch up with her to learn how the trip south went, what she’s been up to and what to do when we come visit.
First off, where are you and what are you doing in Mexico?
I’m currently situated in La Ventana, between La Paz & Los Barriles along the Sea of Cortez, in Baja Sur. I came to La Ventana to coach kiteboarding for the winter. I arrived mid-November and just recently received my work visa. Not short on adventure, I’ve spent the last three months traveling around Baja, exploring and enjoying everything about being here, I have absolutely no complaints about the work visa being delayed.
How did this opportunity arise?
I’ve been kiteboarding for 10 years, and have taught it in Seattle for the last two. Having spent the last 33 winters in the Pacific Northwest, I was ready to escape and chase some good weather for a season. I was inspired by others who were traveling and living abroad, and decided to take this opportunity to move to Baja for the winter. What I didn’t expect was that I would absolutely fall in love with it here. I’m already planning on moving back down next winter.
You drove your van all the way to Baja and were planning on living in it. How did the trip south go?
Let me start by saying I am the ultimate procrastinator. I had my Ford Transit Connect for almost a year with plans to build it out. Up to this point, I had installed a wood floor—that was it. It was all I had done in a year to make it more livable. Needless to say I had some work to do before living out of my van for five months. The decision to move to Baja came about rather quickly, in the end I had given myself only five days to do the rest of the van conversion for Baja.
I chopped my to-do list in half, and spent those days sewing insulation panels, figuring out storage options and putting in a bench and sleeping platform for the van. I woke up the morning I was scheduled to leave and started packing. I mean, you definitely don’t want to overthink packing for five months on the road. Somehow, I managed to leave town with most of the right things: four surfboards, all my kiteboarding gear, my motorcycle and a cooler full of beer.
I drove from Seattle to LA where I was planning to wait a few days for my work visa. I spent my days in LA working on small van projects, surfing and riding my motorcycle around the city. A week and a half passed and still no sign of the visa. Don’t get me wrong, surfing everyday isn’t bad, but I was starting to feel anxious about getting to Mexico. One morning I saw a friend post on Instagram that they were on their way to La Ventana from the Pacific Northwest. They were going to reach SoCal the following day, stay the night in a quiet campground just north of the Tecate border, wake up and cross the border the following day. I knew I needed to jump on the opportunity to drive down with them, but there was one catch—they were taking the “bumpy” way down, as my friend put it. With both of them in very dialed off roading vehicles, their plans spanned three days of driving, one night of camping off the beaten path and 23 miles of off-road adventuring.
“And just like that, my vision of driving my van to the southern tip of Baja and living out of it for five months became a reality.”
I was more than ready, but was my van? Did I have tires that could handle off roading? What kind of clearance did my van have? Did I have a full-sized spare? Did I have a skid plate? Did I bring an extra gas can? The answers:
Tires: No. Stock Continentals with 2 ply sidewalls…
Clearance: Just barely. 7-10″ in the good spots, lower everywhere else…
Spare: Yes. Whew. At least I had that…
Skid plate: No. It’s just a big piece of fabric, a dust cover really…
Extra gas: Nope. Left that at home.
And just like that, my vision of driving my van to the southern tip of Baja and living out of it for five months became a reality. I was filled with anxiety. Would my van even make it? Would I get five flat tires along the way? Did I even have enough money to make it? Without work, once there, where would I stay, how would I make money?
Finally, I told myself to stop thinking. I got in my van and just started driving to the campground to meet them. The campground felt miles away, it was dark and late when I got there, we chatted, had some beers, they laughed, but assured me we’d figure it out if I got five flats along the way. The next morning, we woke up, had coffee, and I told myself to just go—and keep up.
The trip through Baja was one for the books. We made it, my van made it, all my tires made it. It wouldn’t hurt to be slightly more prepared next time, but considering this trip is a story of how to not to be prepared and make it anyway, I consider it all a win!
Sounds like quite the adventure. Are you still living in you van now?
This is my favorite question. A lot of people have asked me, and let’s say, I gave it a good effort… does that count?
Honestly, van life only lasted about a week and a half. One night while parked on the side of a quiet road, my van was hit by another car. Thankfully there was no damage to the van, but startled by the situation, I ended up renting a little casita in town the next day. I now have running water and a bathroom, an indoor kitchen and a balcony. I’m managing the upgrade in living conditions the best I can 😉
You also brought your dual sport bike along with you. What has it been like to explore the desert and ride around there?
Bringing my motorcycle, a Yamaha XT 250, was the best thing I could have packed. Learning how to ride in deep sand has been a huge hurdle, but I’m finally getting the hang of it. The secret is to go as fast as possible, keeps the revs up, stand up and lean back.
One of the coolest rides I’ve done so far was a nearly 70-mile round trip on dual track cut into the hillsides overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
Aside from riding off-road, I’ve been exploring nearby towns and cities by motorcycle. Recently I’ve taken day trips to La Paz and El Triunfo. It’s amazing to be able to explore Baja by bike, I would recommend it to everyone!
It seems like you have a pretty good group of friends down there with you. What other sorts of adventures have you gotten yourself into?
I’ve recently taken up spearfishing and freediving, learning all I can about the native fish to this area of Baja, the best ones for food, while also learning how to clean and fillet them. On calm mornings I work on my freediving skills, and have just recently caught my first few fish. It’s incredibly rewarding to catch your own food, then prepare and eat it.
Outdoor adventures are countless here. I’ve hiked through some beautiful arroyos and hillsides, spent nine days island hopping through the Sea of Cortez by boat, and chased waves on the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula.
I’ve got to say though, one experience that tops them all is when I was cast in a Pacifico commercial—true story!
What surprised you the most about living full time in Baja that most typical vacationers wouldn’t get to experience?
I think having the luxury of time and being here long enough to truly explore is the biggest difference between what others experience on vacation.
My number one recommendation to anyone visiting is to spend at least one night sleeping under the stars. The sky, unaffected by city lights, is stunning here. The number of stars you’ll see is unbelievable. If you’re timing is good, you might even be able to swim at night under the stars in the bio-luminescence!
When it comes to food, try everything. One of my most favorite places to eat serves up the best Tacos Al Pastor. It’s also BYOB, actually any place that doesn’t serve alcohol lets you BYO.
What has been one of the more difficult parts of living so far away from the Northwest?
I’ve got to say it’s been incredibly easy to adjust to living here. The pace of life is easy and mellow. But (there’s always a but, right?) fast internet and reliably hot showers are something I truly miss. Viva la Baja!
What are your plans for the future? How long are you planning on staying down there?
I’m here until April. I haven’t made any formal travel plans beyond that, but there are a few other places I’m considering traveling to before making the trip back to the NW for the summer. I’ll be spending the next few winters back down here and am already looking forward to continuing to explore Baja.
Now that you have the local knowledge, what’s one thing a visitor to Southern Baja shouldn’t pass up?
Talk to as many locals as possible, and go and eat where they go! If you make it to Todo Santos, visit the Campamento Tortuguero – Concervacion y Proteccion de Tortuga Marina. Here you’ll get to help release newly hatched baby sea turtles into the ocean. If you visit La Paz, it seems touristy, but go swimming with the sea lions! It is one of the coolest underwater experiences I’ve had yet.
Lastly, can we come visit?
Yes! I’ve got cold beers waiting!