Archive for the 'Travel Tips' Category

Feb 02 2009

Is Baja Safe Again?

Published by under baja,Mexico,Travel Tips

The Most Compelling Reason for a Baja Trip

The Most Compelling Reason for a Baja Trip

Photo: Mike Marincovich (Surfline)

The glory for surfer and their love affair for Baja ended abruptly in the fall of 2007 with repeated violent car jackings and a startling increase in violence and killings in Tijuana by drug gangs. The two were not unrelated. Baja fell off the map for most of us and most likely the magical beach breaks and points of Baja were left empty through 2008. Surfline discusses whether it’s safe to return. The short of it: not really. It’s still risky, but can be done when done right. Surfline article quoted below:

Dedina cautions, however, that this doesn’t mean that surfers should not still be vigilant. Dedina also warns that just because Mexican police seem to be helping in the border corridor now, that doesn’t mean surfers should ignore the long history of corruption tied to police in the region. “Most police officers are not our friends,” Dedina said. “Just this past weekend, a WiLDCOAST staffer asked a Tijuana police officer for directions to the border, and he was extorted to pay $80 for parking ‘illegally.’ And longtime residents of northern Baja still advise on avoiding highway travel after dark.”

Polischuk seconds Dedina’s advice about staying off the roads after sunset, and is also still wary of the police. “Despite the current control of the Tijunana-Ensenada toll road corridor, you must still use common sense,” Polischuk said. “If the police puts his lights on, you drive to the nearest public area, Pemex station or small store. The police are aware of this practice and expect it. The car should be clearly marked.”…

Despite the progress in safety measures along the toll-road corridor, Baja is still growing increasingly more dangerous for surfers. Not because they are targets – they’re not – but because of the narco-criminal culture that infests Tijuana and Northern Baja. The Mexican government and Calderon administration have had virtually no effect on stemming the violence associated with the drug war. If, because surfers haven’t read or heard reports of attacks they begin to think the violence and instability in the region has been remedied, and return to Baja thinking it is the Baja of old, they run the risk of getting caught in the crossfire…

Mexico is on the edge of the abyss — it could become a narco-state in the coming decade,” McCaffrey wrote. “The Mexican State is engaged in an increasingly violent, internal struggle against heavily armed narco-criminal cartels that have intimidated the public, corrupted much of law enforcement, and created an environment of impunity to the law.” He went on to opine, “Mexico is not confronting dangerous criminality — it is fighting for survival against narco-terrorism.” …

The message here isn’t don’t go, but rather, be smart when you go. “For an average surfer the sight and sounds of Baja may be a bit different,” Polischuk said. “You may hear some sirens; get passed by a speeding caravan on their way to mop up the latest violent mess. But remember, unless you have a coke addiction or are a gunrunner, surfers are not part of this violent cocktail of greed, power and money.”

According to Polischuk, that’s fine by him. The pros outweigh the cons in his book. “On most days I can surf alone or with a few people,” he said. “The experience of scoring empty point breaks and reefs, even on a weekend, is because most Americans are scared and staying at home.”

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Jan 24 2009

United Airlines Jacks Surfboard Fees to $175 Per Board One Way

Published by under Travel,Travel Tips

In a move that screams “We really don’t give a flying &*$% about surfers,” United Airlines recently raised their fees to $175 per surfboard per way. Brendon Thomas of Surfer Magazine writes a letter to United after having to pay $700 for board fees on a roundtrip flight to Hawaii. Last year airlines raised carry on fees across the board, but United’s surfboard fee seems to target surfers specifically. Write United Customer Relations expressing your dissatisfaction on their fees (it’s a web form).

To put it in perspective, you can fly with golf clubs that weigh up to 50 lbs in place on a checked bag (no fee), but flying with a 6 lb surfboard costs $175.

While one particular airline jacking fees on surfboards is not particularly troubling, but when it starts a trend it becomes a serious barrier for surf travel. Let airlines know now that unfair surfboard fees are prohibitive.

United Customer Support Contact Page

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Sep 12 2008

Delta’s Excessive Boardbag Fees – Petition

Published by under Travel,Travel Tips

Wired Magazine has a good post on Delta’s new excessive boardbag fees for surfboards. They are $175 each way for domestic flights and $300 each way for international flights. What’s interesting is that they don’t charge for golf clubs (heavier than surfboards). Here’s a list of sporting goods you can check for free on Delta: golf bags weighing under 50 pounds, scuba gear, snowboards, pistols, rifles, shotguns, fishing equipment, javelins, parachutes, ski gear and vaulting poles. In general airlines have jacked up fees for surfboards in recent months (list of boardbag fees on major airlines). Some of this is understandable considering what’s happened with gas prices in recent months and how airlines have started charging to check in any bag. But Delta’s fees are just plain excessive. Either they don’t care if surfers fly on their airline, they want to actively discourage them, or they just think they can get away with it. Sign a petition here to protest these fees on Delta.

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Aug 27 2008

Where to Learn to Surf for $20/day

Check out for the guide to the places where you can learn to surf for $20/day (hint Central America and Asia). Beats trying to learn in the crowded line-ups and cold water.

Most Surfers on a Wave, Brazil

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Jun 24 2008

Mexico Shark Fallout – Blame the Surfers

Published by under Sharks,Travel Tips

There’s no question there was some serious fall out from a series of three shark attack within one month in ZIhuatanejo, Mexico (two attacks were fatal). Theories abounded, locals went on a shark killing spree, and media flocked in. Everything from La Nina to Mexican drug runners were blamed. The area which relies on tourism has most likely taken and will continue to take a big hit. LA Times wrote an article that summarizes the incident and responses well.

Outside Magazine Blog published a post that suggests that some locals in the area and “critics” have called into question whether the surfers are to blame noting a certain “reckless selfishness” that surfers display by surfing in areas that might have sharks. Well, I couldn’t find any other reference in any media source that cited locals stating this. As to “critics,” who exactly are these critics? Aside from factual reliability of this statement, it ignores the fact that the last shark attack in the area (in Nayarit, a state 200 miles away!) was in 1972!!! That ranks it as one of the safest surf areas in the world for shark attacks. So to suggest that surfers are knowingly paddling out into shark ridden areas is absurd, as of the attack in April it had been 35 years since there had been an attack within 200 miles!

Shark attacks are nothing new, in fact it’s what sharks do and what they will always do. They have to eat, occasionally they mistake one of us for prey. It’s unfortunate and has tragic results, but also extremely rare (there’s an average of 3.8 fatalities annual worldwide and only 1 in 2007). It shouldn’t keep people from the water although when attacks do happen in certain areas, surfers and swimmers should exhibit caution. Surfline lists a few precautions:

Here are a few things you can do that will reduce the likelihood of an encounter. Don’t surf those areas that are utilized by grunion during their spawns – larger predatory fish will frequent these areas. Don’t surf after sunset and before dawn – sharks are known to migrate towards land at night. Don’t surf a beach where a recent shark encounter or attack has occurred – this one is obvious, the shark could still be in the area. Don’t surf near pinniped haul-out sites – they are a primary prey species for adult white sharks.

2 responses so far

May 11 2008

Avoid the Scam. Travel Tips: Car and Truck Rentals-Mexico and Beyond

Published by under Destinations,Travel Tips

There’s always some sort of racket with car and truck rentals abroad. On my last trip to Zihuatanejo and Guerrero, Mexico, I rented a car through Orbitz and Thrifty for $200 for days. It was supposedly their full size car, Orbitz even offered third party insurance through Access America for $99 for the entire trip. 10 day car rental and insurance for $299 for ten days. Yes, too good to be true. We arrived, the car was a wreck (even though it was Thrifty), and they claimed they didn’t accept third party insurance. We drove the car off reluctantly after buying their insurance, hit one speed bump and the muffler came off. Somehow we were able to return it later that day and exchange for a truck without them realizing that the muffler was ruined.

What happens often in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and all these surf destinations that never happens here with rentals is bargaining, even with the big name brand companies like Thrifty, Avis, etc. Which is why I would recommend not reserving a car in advance. First off, you never really know what you’re getting, and secondly, you won’t be able to bargain and they’ll likely charge you extra for insurance claiming it wasn’t included. In most major destinations, they’ll have plenty of cars and trucks. By not reserving, in advance you’ll be able to check different vendors (more destinations also have non-brand label rentals also, cheaper and a bit sketchier) and work out the best deal.

Here’s a list of suggestions for dealing with rentals on surf trips:

  1. Check to see if you need an international driver’s license for the destination (you can get one through the AAA office, they’re around $20). You don’t for Mexico and most of Central America.
  2. Figure out in advance in you need a 4×4 or not. For lots of destinations, you don’t need one and they’re often more than twice as much.
  3. Make sure to bring soft racks and straps with you on the trip.
  4. Don’t book in advance unless it’s high season and likely to be busy at the destination. (Also, check into booking and then canceling the rental if you find a better deal).
  5. Get prices from a couple different rental agencies at the airport, make sure they include full insurance coverage. Get prices also from third party rentals, often in pick-up area of airport.
  6. Agree on price and contract. Also, make sure you get the best exchange rate or better yet, negotiate the price in local currency instead of dollars. On my last trip, I negotiated a better rate with the agent only to find out he gave me a 10% higher exchange rate.
  7. Go over their insurance policy. Many agencies will have tiered levels of “full coverage” some of which have very high deductibles. Check the papers and make sure they’re in order, local police often will use any mistakes, etc to bribe you.
  8. Visually inspect the car or truck very closely including the windshield and undercarriage. Make sure they have a spare and jack. Don’t rent car or trucks that look like they’re in bad shape.
  9. Keep the paperwork in the car in a safe place.
  10. Get contact numbers from the office in case of problem. Lots can and will go wrong. It’s a lot easier if you can contact their office directly.

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