Mexico 911

Saturday ~ September 1, 2001

Donny and Eric meet us at the airport in Zihaut. They have already been in Mexico a week and have lined up everything, including a taxi with a cargo rack on the roof. Brad and I attach our board bags with twine and nylon and we make the hour or so drive to Nexpa. The surf is flat when we arrive, but the beer is almost cold.

Sunday ~ 9/2

The point is too small, so we hike down the beach and wade across the rivermouth. We find some nice sand bars around the corner, and waves just big enough to ride. After about two and a half waves I brush against something as I’m paddling and feel the sting throttling my fingers. Soon others are stung and we realize there is a massive flotilla of jellies overwhelming the beach.  We drift back to shore carefully, trying to paddle without touching the water. The locals call the jellyfish the agua mala, and say sometimes it lasts for a week or more.

Tuesday ~ 9/4

The agua mala has subsided, but so has the surf. We walk down the beach again in search of waves but find the ocean barely licking the shore. Returning to the palapas we pass a couple jeep loads of policia taking lunch break near the rivermouth. They watch us suspiciously as we hike past, standing with weapons slung around their shoulders. Most look about 18 years old. They take turns firing their large military rifles into the river.

The pounding of the waves wakes me up sometime during the night, a much more comforting explosion than gunfire.

Wednesday ~ 9/5

The swell has roused the masses from hibernation. There are twenty people on the beach watching, and ten to twenty out surfing already.  Hard to count heads in between the lumps and whitewater. Going from zero to double overhead is disconcerting. I get some Nescafe from the restaurant and join the spectators on the beach. What am I waiting for?

Thursday ~ 9/6

When the swell is up the point works like a machine. You can jump in the river and get swept halfway out to the peak. If you catch the right wave it’ll take you hundreds of yards down the beach, and you can jump off your board and land on the sand. You can grab a Corona from the restaurant and sip it as you hike back to the river for another lap. But catching the right one isn’t so easy. Under-gunned and out-paddled, I end up drinking beer at the restaurant, hoping for another chance tomorrow.

Friday ~ 9/7

Nothing helps a person find religion like a solid day of vomiting. Bienvenido a Mexico. After the feverish stupor passes I feel as if I have had some sort of epiphany.

Saturday ~ 9/8

In the morning the swell has dwindled to nothing, but after lunch the waves suddenly pump back up. Though weak, I follow the crowd back into the water. Dark, scary clouds swarm toward the point from the horizon. The wind picks up out of nowhere, and lightning strikes partition the distant sky. The water quickly empties and the point morphs into victory at sea.

Monday ~ 9/10

Two straight days of wind and rain. I slept in my board bag last night because it was the only dry real estate left in our leaky palapa.  Everything we have is packed into plastic trash bags in an impossible attempt to fight the moisture. Finally we evacuate to the restaurant to drink beer and thumb through 10 year old magazines.  There is nowhere else to go. The river is swollen and dangerously close to overflowing its banks. Surely this little fingernail of beach culture will be washed away into the ocean soon.

Tuesday ~ 9/11

It starts with some locals joking about the bombing of America. Through a Spanglish amalgamation we learn of the planes crashing. Being so far removed from civilization it is hard to find a moral compass, and nobody is sure what to think. Outrage? Confusion? Apathy? A strange combination of all three?

The proprietor of the restaurant and palapas tells us we can watch the footage of the plane hitting the towers at his house. He has a satellite and generator, and seeing is the only way to truly believe. We can’t come inside because we are too wet and dirty, so we huddle outside his window standing in a puddle. We stare at the image playing over and over again on his big screen television, totally oblivious to what it really means.

Wednesday ~ 9/12

Nothing soothes the soul and overcomes the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune like good waves. When the point turns on the rest of the world disappears. The waves command your full attention.

Thursday ~ 9/13

The sun is shining and the surf is up, but we have to start packing. Our taxi driver is here to pick us up, twelve days after he dropped us off. Everybody is scheduled to fly home on Saturday. I watch waves peel methodically down the point and try to devise ways to extend my stay. I already miss Mexico and I haven’t even left yet.

Friday ~ 9/14

Arriving back in civilization we discover all flights into and out of  the U.S. have been cancelled. It seems unlikely that we will be able to fly back to Cali as expected. We try to drown our disappointment in Dos Equis and tacos al pastor.

Saturday ~ 9/15

No flights leaving. No flights scheduled. We are holed up in the cheapest hotel we could find. Not planning to stay past today, the pesos are running low. For 6 pesos we can take the shuttle into Ixtapa with our surfboards. In front of the jetty to the Marina we find a short little wedge breaking amidst a crowd of scrambling tourists and locals.  No one is catching decent waves, but we paddle out anyway. What else is there?

Sunday ~ 9/16

The celebration of Independence Day begins early, with a parade. There are children in costume, military types in jeeps, and dancers with long flowing dresses. The entire country seems to be celebrating by waving Mexican flags, honking car horns, and drinking tequila. Somehow we end up with a bottle of El Presidente.  Gunshots and fireworks blast into the wee hours of la manana.

Monday ~ 9/17

Another day with no flights home. Eric decides he’s sick of playing the waiting game in Zihaut and breaks out his plastic. Since he and Donny have no jobs and no attachments, they decide to charge some bus tickets and hit the road to Puerto Escondido. Brad and I stay behind, hoping to get on the first plane back.  Between family and work we both need to go home. With nothing else to do, we pay 6 pesos and get on the shuttle with our surfboards.

Tuesday ~ 9/18

We met Juan surfing at the jetty yesterday. Turns out he is the captain of a 120 foot yacht owned by some rich dude in San Diego. Once a year Juan sails the yacht North from Ixtapa, picks the dude up, and takes him somewhere. In the meantime Juan takes care of the yacht in the marina while his Venezuelan girlfriend basks seductively on the deck. Brad and I have decided to enter a business agreement that involves trading one of our surfboards for Juan’s money. Juan is Puerto Rican and understands the power of American dollars. He provides us each a couple crisp Benjies, and we get on the shuttle feeling rich. Two hundred dollars is almost more money than I’d come to Mexico with in the first place. But pondering the tan lines of that Venezuelan on the yacht I realize just how far from rich I really am.

Wednesday ~ 9/19

Cash fortified we splurge and hire a water taxi across the bay to check a surf spot called Los Gatos. We find nothing but sunburned gringos and overpriced beverages. One of the bartenders tells us that the reef was breaking head high yesterday. Of course it was.

Thursday ~ 9/20

The false report of a flight departing for LA has caused a mass migration to the airport. We wait in a long line of taxis only to be told that there will be no flight today. Better luck tomorrow. We return to the hotel and wonder if it is worth the trouble of unpacking our board bags to surf mediocre close outs at the jetty.

Friday ~ 9/21

Finally a flight is leaving and we are on it. Every person on the plane was trying to escape Mexico much like Brad and I, and landing in L.A. passengers applaud as if some group victory has just been accomplished. As great as we feel, we don’t realize how much America has changed during our absence. That’s going to take a while to sink in.


This is the story of how I escaped from Mexico. (from Mister Mustache and Other Stories)

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