By Carla King
In my last post you’ll find the trip report from Mulegé to San Juanico (Scorpion Bay) the hard way and the easy way.
San Juanico is a fishing village on a protected, south-facing bay on the Pacific side of Baja Sur. It’s said that surfers in the 1970s attempted to hide its location by referring to it as Scorpion Bay instead.
In winter the waves are just a couple of feet high so perfect for a noob like me. The surf slides off the point in regular “point breaks” that carry surfers (northeast to southwest) on rides as long as 60 seconds, which is why you’ll see Scorpion Bay listed in Top Ten Surf Spots lists all over the internet. There are seven points and more point breaks, and you can also surf at the river mouth south of town.
As soon as I arrived in San Juanico I drove onto the wide, white fishing beach, called Panga Beach or Playa Pescador. It was mid-afternoon and the boats had all come in but some of the fishermen were hanging around mending nets, smoking, and tinkering under the hood of their trucks.
Looking south, I could see where motorcyclists and 4x4s could ride the beach, except at high tide, when you can get stranded.
The first expat locals I met were Bill and his dog Gus on a play date with some other mutts enjoying the warm sunshine and cool air, skipping and rolling on the boundless beach. I asked Bill if he’d mind being the tourist information booth for a moment and he graciously gave me the lay of the land. It didn’t take long. From the wide, flat fisherman’s beach where we stood, he pointed across the road to the town and then north to the bluffs at the second point (the beginner point) where he said I could set up camp for 150 pesos a night with clean bathrooms, showers, and a restaurant.
I didn’t need supplies so I headed up to the bluffs and parked. I didn’t move the truck for two days.
Camping in San Juanico
Camping in San Juanico is simple. There are no hookups, no lines in the sand, no picnic tables or concrete slabs. You just find a spot and go pay 150 pesos at the Scorpion Bay Cantina and Campground. There are clean bathrooms and (cold) showers, but you can pay them a few more pesos to use the hot-water shower upstairs. The restaurant has decent food and slow internet.
One of my neighbors was David, a surfer and rider with a KTM dirt bike. After talking a while about riding around the world (RTW) we identified a mutual friend, Sherri Jo Wilkins, who he rode with for a time in South America during her RTW trip some years ago. I’ve learned that in Baja, that maxim about seven degrees of separation shrinks to two or three degrees.
Just next to me was Tim, a traveler and surfer, musician, writer, and poet, who joked about “waxing up for the two-foot waves.”
Yet another was a couple from Washington state who’d just arrived in a Sprinter van. Patrick said he wondered why it took them 40 years to get here.
Later I’d talk with another couple from Idaho who park their RV here every winter, and a guy from Washington who found the spot in November and said he probably wouldn’t leave until they kicked him out.
Other accommodations on the property include three rock and screen palapas. Two sleep eight people and one sleeps four. The price includes a shared bathroom with a hot shower. There’s also an apartment, suite, and two rooms.
SUP in Scorpion Bay
I spent the next two days paddleboarding and even caught a few good waves. There were usually only a couple of people surfing at a time, though I hear that when the surf’s up starting in May, the campground is crowded and so is the surf. For me on my paddleboard, this was exactly the right way to experience it.
The six or seven points of San Juanico
Punta Pequeña, or Little Point, is the name for the series of six points that the fishermen count when they’re going out to sea but, as far as I can tell, surfers consider the small point at the north end of Panga Beach the first point.
I was camped on the second point, the one with the shallow sandy bay that’s good for beginners at the Scorpion Bay Cantina & Campground.
Paddling to the lighthouse at the third point I came within winking distance of a gray whale wallowing in the shallows to scrape off her barnacles on the volcanic rocks just under the surface. She kept her big eye on me as her calf emerged on her far side, and I gave them wide berth, gliding by within 20 feet of the mama.
A few minutes later, a pod of bottlenose dolphins circled languidly, feeding. A school of silvery fish skipped on top of the water and sea lions barked from the rocks. Pelicans skimmed the water and rose over my head close enough to stroke the light gray down on their bellies.
The third point at the lighthouse is legendary for waves that connect to the second and first points on big swells, providing long, long rides for more advanced surfers. The fourth, fifth, and sixth point offer bigger waves but are more exposed and get blown out from the wind.
Out around the last point are the estuaries, a haven for bird watchers.
Back at camp
Back at camp, I had to decide whether to set up my tent before dark or just sleep in the truck. Tim was sympathetic. “So many decisions!” he said, with a wink. “Such deadlines!”
David pulled his wetsuit on and went out to SUP surf while his dog Kai kept watch.
I watched the light change as the sun went down. The tent? Why bother? I reclined in the truck bed and drank a beer, eventually falling asleep to the sound of waves.
In the middle of the night, I woke and strolled along the cliffs, the Milky Way a bright wash of light across the sky. A truck rattled by on the dirt road with its parking lights on so as not to disturb the few campers. The next day I’d explore north of camp and find a few neighborhoods of gringo houses, each on its own acre or two, facing the water.
My lame attempts at surfing
The next morning I tackled the waves, such as they were. Paddling out, I studied the pattern. Yep. Every five or six seconds a wave broke on the point to swoop diagonally across the bay. I caught my first wave accidentally. I felt it push and stepped up, paddling hard, caught it and stepped back to just ride it, surprised at how effortless it felt.
Exhilarated, I tried one more, failed, and failed again, and succeeded, and then failed, and succeeded one more time again, always just one more time.
A guy paddled by with fishing gear and said he’d been catching a lot of Cabrilla, one of my favorites. His girlfriend was sitting on the beach, bummed out because she’d shredded her foot on the reef the previous day.
After a couple of hours, even with my wetsuit and booties on, the cool breeze started my teeth chattering, so I reluctantly carried the board up the slope to camp.
The thing is, the cliffs are right there and there’s nothing for anybody to do but surf or watch other people surf. Consequently, the guys had a few tips for me as I dried myself in the sun: Look behind you. Step forward. Step back. Bend your knees. Watch out for the reef. Wow, you’re going to be sore tomorrow.
In the afternoon I walked to town to explore and buy some wine, my contribution to dinner. The town was even smaller than I thought. The liquor store is also a gringo grocery store the owner stocks with almond milk, crackers, martini olives, pasta, and many other things from home, at a premium, of course.
I found the gas station next door, one of two in town, I heard. This one run by Pancho.
I wandered through town and found the Abarrotes Lupita grocery store, shockingly short on fresh produce, and El Burro, a recently-restored restaurant popular with motorcyclists. The food looked great and the ambiance was pleasant with a cactus garden and roof deck with ocean views.
I wasn’t surprised to see Wendy and Rob of the East Road in town. They were staying at the Scorpion Bay Hotel and planned to take surfing lessons. We all laughed about missing the fact there was a highway and talked about the second water crossing. They said they were able to use the ledge as their truck is much narrower than the Tacoma.
Back at camp, a local came by selling live lobster for 100 pesos; 150 pesos for the big one.
David turned the big guy into the surf portion of a surf-n-turf burrito feast.
That box is a surprisingly drinkable Chardonnay from the liquor store that cost only 80 pesos. Later I’d find out there’s a beer store in town. Well, there’s a beer store in every town.
A couple camped next to David brought shrimp and guacamole.
While I was in town I took a quick look at the Scorpion Bay Hotel and Cowabunga, both good options, and there are half a dozen rooms above the grocery store in town at Motel 7 Puntas, but I missed Casitas de San Juanico. Next time! You can also check AirBnB and VRBO for rentals.
You can rent surfboards at the Scorpion Bay Cantina & Campground, Scorpion Bay Hotel and I’m told El Burro rents and sells or trades boards and gear.
The state of the stores
Unlike in Mulege, where we are spoiled by a wide variety of fresh local produce, San Juanico’s store was stocked only with the basics: onions, garlic, tomato, tomatillo, and peppers. The only green vegetable I found was zucchini. I was told this is typical, which is why the Friday farmers market is so popular.
Dalia Meza’s on the plaza serves sopas on Fridays. The sopas I’ve tried in the past are too greasy for my taste, but Dalia’s are crisp and dry and topped with pork, a chard and garlic saute, tomatoes, and a sprinkling of cheese. Delicious!
This was my exit from San Juanico, a bellyful of sopas and sore muscles from surfing. I took the easy way back to Mulege, which took exactly the same amount of time though double the distance. Find details in the previous post.
Carla King has been writing about her motorcycle adventure travels since 1995. Read about her misadventures in North America, China, Europe, India, and Africa, and current adventures in Baja at CarlaKing.com.