Wrote this post into my notebook on December 29, 2017 while on a short surf trip in Baja, Mexico.
This morning I awoke at dawn to the gentle crashing of waves and the rush of Mexico’s Highway 1 outside my window. In many ways, this place is reminiscent of my hometown, San Clemente, California- all red tile roofs and palm trees and adobe walls painted white.
Yet, in other ways, it is not. Sudden moments of clarity, awakening me from the parallels of home, reminding me that this place is foreign.
The air is salty, but at home there is a sweetness to the sea breeze. Here, one can smell the dirt in the air- it settles onto rusted cars and worn highways, between the cracks of dilapidated buildings constructed haphazardly along the border and the makeshift tin roofs providing shelter beside the highway.
It is the smell of earth, entangled with the aroma of the sea, reminding travelers that all must be brought down to earth in this place.
Baja, Mexico. The “Wild West” of California. The last remaining frontier for curious surfers, youth and adventure seekers alike to feel as if they are living in an old school surf film. In pursuit of our very own Endless Summer.
At the Tijuana Border, border patrol waves our car through. No flash of a passport. No inquiry as to our reason of entry into Mexico. One would imagine there is a right of passage, a hero’s journey of sorts. Perhaps, the real journey begins somewhere along the dirt roads ahead, crossing the threshold between security and risk.
My parents used to visit Baja in the 1970s. Two tan, California surfers in their 20s. They’d pack up my dad’s VW van, drive down the coast, and sleep under the stars on the remote beaches of Baja, spending their days surfing and fishing and enjoying solitude together under the Mexican sun. Sometimes, they wouldn’t see another soul for days on end. My dad would converse with locals in Spanish, my mom snapping Polaroid photos of their journey. Their time in Baja was a fleeting escape from their lives as college students, my father studying geology, and my mother studying nutrition. In Baja, they were just two young surfers in love, with each other and with the ocean, in pursuit of perfect waves and long summer days.
Paradise, like love, can be fleeting.
The Wild West has become more traversed, more developed. A higher risk, both a result of crime and publicity from mainstream media, has warded off many prospective travelers.
Despite reports of crime over the past few decades, mainstream culture continues to spread.
On the drive to Puerto Nuevo, I notice a single stuffed cartoon toy, a ‘minion’ from the Pixar film “Despicable Me”. The toy is perched at the window of a ramshackle home with a tin roof. A Winnie the Pooh blanket covers what appears to be a child’s bedspread, and it reminded me of a similar blanket I too, owned as a child.
At the border, I see a child play with a stick and a lime wedge. Another sells candies to cars at a stoplight. An hour away, these children would be playing games on an iPad, or completing their homework for school.
A dull ache fills my heart. The kind of aching borne from wanting to solve the world’s problems, yet being rendered, in the moment, helpless to fix them.
There is only a man-made border separating these worlds, dividing lines imposed by countries and culture. Yet only an hour drive from the high-rises of San Diego, from the manicured streets and opulent displays of weath there are tin roofs and unpaved roads, beer is cheaper than water, because clean drinking water can be difficult to find.
And I wonder, despite the aesthetic differences between these two places-
Is happiness is any different?
Is the executive in the San Diego skyscraper, closing a multi-million dollar investment, truly happier than the man working at the dive karaoke bar we frequented in Baja?
Is there a real difference in happiness? Obviously, in basic necessities and comforts, yes. But in actual happiness?
After their days of college Baja trips, my parents continued on to have successful careers. My father became an executive in the action sports industry, and my mother, a dietician at a top hospital. Soon after their Baja expiditions, tents on the beach were replaced by hotel suites overlooking the Pacific. A VW van was replaced by an SUV with car seats. Cooking fresh caught fish over an open fire was replaced by nutritionally balanced, home cooked meals for a husband, wife and three children.
The adventures of the Wild West, replaced by the comforts of home.
Yet, in hindsight, when my parents spoke of when they were the happiest, it was not a moment predicted in the distant future. Happiness was not found in a backyard swimming pool, in a promotion, in a paycheck, or in recognition or success.
For my parents, happiness was found in spending time together. Being young and in love. Living simply. Happiness was unattached to material acquisition. Rather, happiness was driving down to Baja Mexico together, hand-in-hand, windows down, along an unpaved dirt road next to the sea, Five Summer Stories playing on cassette. Happiness was surfing until the orange sun set into the horizon and silver white moonlight began to shine upon the ocean. Happiness was untouched horizons, new experiences. Happiness was being together, being in love.
I close my notebook, a freshly brewed cup of coffee awaiting in the beach house. The swell is building, and clean lines from outside set waves are beginning to form on the horizon.
The air is an aroma of sea air and dirt. Of coffee, and surf wax.
Another day in the Wild West, and there is living to do.
x. Natasha Overin