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Disarming El Cabron

Strangers in a Strange Land

Friends told me when you adventure where you want to drive a crappy old car and let your hair grow out. Also, avoid shaving and grow a beard and downplay anything of value. The landscape doesn’t appear as I imagine. I envisioned a greener landscape with point breaks around every corner. This is desolate desert, dusty and endless. It seems to go on and on to the horizon. Not too different from the landscape in Mad Max with Mel Gibson.

The roads slant away from the natural flow of driving where my truck feels like it’s about to roll over. We keep driving through a wasteland and after about an hour from our destination, I notice a white van pull up from behind. It looks like an old van maybe from the early 80s. The van passes us and as it drives around the front of my dusty grey 1983 Toyota 4X4, I see “FEDERALE” in bold on the back of the van.

Buffalo prepped us for the trip and recommended we stash $20 bills in various places in the cabin of the truck.

“If the FEDERALES pull us over, we’ll just give them a $20 spot and hopefully they’ll go away,” reminded Buffalo.

Buffalo has been down here several times and is wise for his young years. He speaks the language and has a sophisticated vocabulary, especially for a surfer. He got his nickname from a pact he and Boxer made when they spent a whole summer sleeping in an old beat up Buick in a buffalo field in Hanalei, Kauai. It was an affordable way to spend the summer in the nations most expensive state and still ride the best waves in the South Pacific. At the end of the summer, they branded their memories by getting tattoos of buffaloes on their ankles.

”I’m glad I have this old beat up Toyota 4-wheel drive,” I shared. It was the best $5900 I ever spent.

And Buffalo added, “And not to mention these mangy beards on our faces.”

"I know what we’ll do, we’ll pray in Spanish!” I exclaimed.

Buffalo smiled with an amusing smirk. My nerves entertained him because I hadn’t experienced anything like this before.

"Dios Mio," My God, be with us as we journey on this surf adventure.

"Gracias por Una Vida fina and mucho Amor." Thank you for a nice life and much love!

After praying for about ten minutes, the FEDERALE dropped back behind us and eventually disappeared.

We stop in a port town about an hour and a half from the border and for the first time ever I am able to enjoy an authentic taco. The tacos are fresh with crunchy cabbage and a sweet aftertaste. The fish is deep fried with a batter similar to what I had experienced previously but this tortilla is smaller and has a sweet crunchy kind of a taste that I really enjoy. Buffalo mentioned we should slam a Corona to kill any bacteria involved with these tacos. 

"Take a look Hammer, outside that harbor is one of the premier big waves here in North America,” Buffalo proclaimed.

He continued to describe how big swells build from the west and the south and march to this harbor to wedge up like giant mountains of turquoise and jade that any big wave surfer would charge.

After chilling for a while near the harbor we jumped back in the car and caravanned further south for the next half an hour or so. We come up to a roadblock with four soldiers in camouflage holding machine guns. They watch us slowly drive through to our destination. As we pass them, my heart flutters a bit, as I haven’t seen this before on land. The only other time was when my father and I went on a fishing trip down here on the coast. The Navy boarded our charter boat scanning routinely for drugs.

We drove on for another hour or so keeping my eyes peeled on this strangely banked road making sure the truck went forward. We approached a very tiny village and the smell of onions permeated the air. This reminds me of Gilroy.

Buffalo motioned for me to take a right near the onion fields. I cruise down the dusty road, heading west, and few of the Vaqueros in the back of pick-up trucks are flipping us off. Buffalo says to just keep driving forward as you sometimes see this. Do we continue along the dirt road a little rattled and I marvel at how these crops can grow with so little water? This isn’t Cali with abundant green artichoke and brussel sprout crops.

We drive to the end of the dirt road and pull up to the point break. It’s as if we just entered a time capsule and pulled up to Pleasure Point fifty years ago. I remember seeing landscape pictures of Santa Cruz in the 1950s and 60s that were hanging in older restaurants on the wharf.

On our arrival, there are glassy head high rights rolling through similar sections to the Point. Up here on the cliff are no roads or houses, just a dusty bluff, a dirt road and places to camp. We even have some warmer fog present, not quite the nip like Santa Cruz, but nevertheless… fog.

Both cars pull up in anticipation of the surf. Boxer yells out,

“Hey look, we got a shoulder high swell and it’s not bad. Let’s hit it.”

Boxer is always the most excited to charge the waves and motivate the group.

At this time my hips are bothering me so I decide to be a team photographer. I purchased a small disposable waterproof camera. 

I had a lot of fun using these to take barrel shots at 14th Ave when we were bodysurfing and snapping pictures of endless beach-slamming barrels. One time, Johnny Boy and I even decided to pull a wing-wave, as I call them, and shoot barrels right at each other (left and right) and snap photos of us sliding right into each other in the close-out section. We eventually got tired of eating sand sandwiches so we took a break from the activity for a while.

I capture a few sweet shots of Buffalo carving the upper lips of these southern waves like a pilgrim carving a turkey on Thanksgiving. I also manage to grab an unusual photo of Boxer doing a Jack–in–the–box pop up through the roof of a barrel, a very rare occurrence in the surfing world.

After a long day of crowd-free surfing, we change, get comfortable, and plant ourselves around a warm campfire. The Lion is preparing some dinner, and Otto is pouring tequila for the boys. Our bellies warm and bliss fills our heads. Now we can relax and anticipate the days to come. As we begin settling, a white Chevy truck pulls up at the edge of the field and a man steps out intently looking our way.

He creeps out of the onion fields like a disheveled possum after a long night. He’s wearing a red and grey flannel shirt with a vaquero style hat and farming boots. He’s holding what appears to be a gun. He walks toward us and spins his pistol around like cowboys in the old West. He stares strangely at us with a non-verbal, “What you doing here on my property?” type of gesture.

We all look at each other and wonder what is he doing here? My feet are just starting to warm up and I’m diving into my second anchovies, cheese, and cracker appetizer. I glance at Buffalo and he returns curious glances back to each of us. I wondered if this man is the owner of the fields or maybe a worker or someone... communicating that he didn’t want us here. No one else is here on the cliff so maybe he scared away all the other surfers and campers?

He approaches our camp and walks around the fire spinning his gun repeatedly. He has the presence like he owns the bluff and the beach and demands payment and recognition.

He circles three times (really felt like three hours) when I ask Otto and Buffalo if we should offer him a shot of tequila. 

They nod and reply, “Yep… great idea.” 

Buffalo offers, “Quires tequila?”

El Cabron does not reply but glances in a yes fashion and sits down, still staring through our circle with a collective, mysterious gaze.

Otto pours him a decent size shot of Don Julio and hands him the glass. He downs the shot in one swoop and smirks a sort-of-smile. We feel some relief and continue on with our appetizers. I notice the frequency of his pistol spinning begins to slow and now feel more comfortable.

Beside the fire, the Lion jumps to action and sets up a makeshift kitchen on a big piece of driftwood with the shape of a small table. It’s about five feet across and somewhat flat. To our amazement and I’m sure to the cabrons, he spreads out 20 tortillas overlapping each other across the length of the makeshift table. He adds refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and when he adds the onions, El Cabron finally smiles. We all sigh with relief and reciprocate with big nods. The Lion pulls an ace out of his pocket and makes a five-foot-long burrito that blows the hat off El Cabron. He smirks, smiles, and drools. The Lion slices up the giant burrito into sections that are edible and brings one over to our undesirable friend. He chows down. Otto obliges and supplies him with another shot. The mood is definitely easing up.

I decided to top it off by pulling out the harmonica and blowing some smooth notes his way… I play the only song I know in Spanish and sing in a celebratory mariachi sensation, “Brincan y bailan, los peces en el rio.” (Swimming and dancing, the fishes in the river).

We all pulled out our best to appease this guy and it worked temporarily at least. We are all hopeful he is satisfied and will leave soon.

That night was the worst sleep of my life as I woke up every hour wondering if El Cabron was going to steal our stuff or kick us off the bluff. Looking back now I think he was looking to collect rent in his own personal way. He probably didn’t own any land but felt it his right to tax a few surfers on adventures in his home territory.

We enjoy two more days of wonderful point break waves and leave confident that we could return and pay an unwanted visit to our less than a desirable friend. All it will take is sharing tequila, some rare and unusual dishes, and world-class music to disarm El Cabron.

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