We met Mickey Muñoz as fate would have it, in Todos Santos. It’s an amazing turn of events, complete with a premonition. Allow me to start from the beginning.
When we were staying in San Juanico, I came across a book in Matt Hickle’s exquisite bathroom, with a title that caught my eye. About to take a shower, I sat on the covered toilet and opened it to read. ‘No Bad Waves’ by Mickey Muñoz. Legendary water-man and shaper, I know this because I’ve seen his boards in the quivers of prominent surfers, and have been fortunate enough to sample a few. In fact, one of the best sessions of my life happened to be on a borrowed 11’0” Mickey Muñoz stand-up paddle board. So I was thrilled, inspired, and hungry to soak up the knowledge and wisdom in this particular book. Proving itself worthy in less than a few minutes, I reluctantly put it down, not before taking a picture of a sage-like quote by the author himself. I later posted it on Instagram, respectfully crediting the man I hold in such high regard. Not to mention our experience at Scorpion bay was other-worldly, waves fit for the gods. Happy to have found such a gem in such a place, though not thinking much of it, Scorpion bay is thousands of miles away from everywhere and anybody, and we never would have guessed we’d meet him. Note-worthy, Ingrid happened to have the same experience as I, even took the same photo of the same quote. Should have seen it coming but how could we?
Months later, I’m playing guitar in the back of the health food store in Todos Santos, Pura Vida, with my new friend and prolific percussionist Kurtis Parsons. He and his wife run the joint and we were practicing for a gig we arranged that would be in store, featuring the various musicians around who were interested in coming down and sharing the space. Kurtis breaks to greet someone, we start to talking and somehow in conversation Mickeys name comes up. I exclaim ‘Mickey Muñoz! That guy is awesome, we found his book in Scorpion Bay, what a legend” or something like that, anyway the guy who we met, Josh, says ‘this is his wife’, and points to this beautiful, quiet and clearly stylish woman standing beside him. My eyes go wide. ‘It’s an honor and a privilege. Where’s Mickey?’ She pursed her lips in a thin smile, ‘he’s just down the road.’ Turns out they had busted a ball-bearing on the ride down and ended up at the service station on the corner, a few doors down from Pura Vida. What Luck! the legend himself, Mickey Muñoz. ‘can I go say hi to him?’. We called it quits on the rehearsal and I bolted out the door.
Sure enough there he was supervising the work being done and trying to work out when the parts would arrive with the manager of the shop. They were hoping the parts would arrive late afternoon, but Mickey and Peggy ended up staying overnight right there in the truck which is actually a tricked out camper outfitted ingeniously by Mickey himself. Recognizing him immediately, I introduced myself. “Hi Mickey my names Matty Liot, that is some rig you got there!’ and it was. Toyota 4x4, extended cab, with boss tires and an insert, maybe 6 boards on the roof. He swung the back doors open wide, revealing the interior. ‘check it out.’ he said. Killer space, very well put together, everything in it’s place, well stocked with all you need. ‘I rigged up a pole extension for drying towels.’ response upon questioning the use of the pole trapped to the roof. ‘i built the roof box out of teak 20 yrs. ago.’ Astounding, because the thing looks like it was built last week. “ I can set-up camp, tables, chairs, shade, make margaritas, and break it down, all in 30- 40 min. piece of cake. It’s all in there, ready to go'. 'Can I go get my wife to take a picture of you with your rig?’ ‘Sure you can.’ I ran back to Pura Vida, ‘Ingrid get your camera, Mickey Muñoz is outside!’. She comes out and nails the shot in the late afternoon light. Formalities behind us, he then introduced us to a local liqueur we’d never heard of and after a blast of semi-short, and fully amusing stories, he wasted no time in offering us some. What a legend. His map of Baja was the best I’ve seen on the whole trip. He showed us the route he took down the east side of Baja, following the Gulf of California, and where he cut through the mountains to access a few surf spots he was kind enough to let in on. Even went as far as showing us where he has a house on the East Cape and invited us to stay for a night. Peggy in the meantime, quiet as a mouse but ever attentive, is on hand for any details Mickey inquires about and to make sure he isn’t repeating stories. They even had two dogs hidden in the cab, Jane and Hoa. We were beside ourselves. What kindness, what generosity, what hospitality, how cool are they! We assured them that if we rounded the cape, which was inevitable, we would most certainly drop by.
Well, almost a month later, we called them on it. Having left us with both their cell-phone numbers, I tried Mickey’s first, no answer. Peggy picked up, ‘Hi Peggy it’s Matty Liot, we’re nearing your neck of the woods is the offer still up?’ ‘ Matty… oh yes! do come we’ll still be here for the next 2 months. when will you arrive?’ How’s tomorrow late-afternoon sound?’ ‘Great, see you then.’ I was so super-stoked. We drove till the road turns to dirt, and dirt turns to sand and gnarly rocks embedded in the earth. the track runs along the ocean. I had heard a great deal about the East Cape and how it’s the prettiest and most alluring part of Baja, and after driving the length of Baja, I was hard pressed to find out if it lived up to it’s name. Slowly but surely, it does. The road runs along the breathtaking coastline, hardly a soul around but a few locals lounging in the shade of a palapa, pointing the way. A fisherman or two, some families picnicking on the beach, the most pristine and picture perfect settings. It wasn't even near sunset. The track gradually rises till your looking at the ocean far below you and just when your thinking that nobody lives out here but jackrabbits and coyotes, you round a point and see the outpost, or settlements. No stores or hotels, just a single restaurant and an arroyo. Lots of cacti and giant bugs. Where’s Mickey house? I remembered he said he lived near the arroyo and thought I saw from a distance what looked like his rig. We went to scout it out. Funny thing, I stopped the van 500 yards short of his driveway and had Ingrid walk in just to be sure it was in fact the Muñoz’s because the roads were so bad, I had taken all I could bare till that point. Those last 500 yards were a doozy.
They welcomed us with open arms. We were overjoyed. Their place is so cool. Arroyos in Baja are the most magical places and this was no exception. We parked the van and got right to it. Mickey made Ingrid and Peggy Margaritas, I had an Ice-cold beer. We chatted into the sunset. You can’t imagine how beautiful this place is. You simply have to see for yourself.
There are houses around but most are empty and none are close enough to hear anything, you feel alone out there. This is an issue because Mickey said there is some thievery going on, he had even been robbed of all his tools, they basically emptied his garage once. Now he bolted a lock-box to the floor and uses it regularly. About the neighbors, he did mention the awfully wanna-be modern looking house across the arroyo sometimes inhabited by a Canadian family, who runs there generator night and day when they’re around. Obnoxious. As van people we know about this. Get a solar panel for Pete’s sake! A lot of times you’ll be camping somewhere and there’s the token RV overrunning their generator, disturbing the serenity and tranquility of the environment. The reason most people are there to begin with. If you want the comforts of modern life, stay home!
Anyway, the next day turned out to be one of the greatest of my life. I went for a paddle on a beautiful board hand shaped by Mickey, decided not to take my camera and as I got out onto the open water heading for the point, a school of manta rays start launching themselves out of the water relentlessly. Closer and closer I got until they were practically jumping onto my board. Man those things can swim! they were a little wary of me but it didn’t stop them too much. They make a loud splash as they belly-flop back into the water. I hung out with them for a while, then headed back towards Mickey’s place where of course there is a rideable wave right out front. There wasn’t much swell but I was able to pick off a few, skirting the reef by a foot or two. Then lo and behold, wouldn’t you have that a whale spouts on the horizon not that far of shore and it’s coming right towards me! Ok. I start paddling towards it but quickly freeze in my tracks as it basically swam right next to me. I could see it’s eye looking at me and the barnacles attached to its body. It banked to the right and swam off as fast is it came in. it got so close it scared me. It wasn’t small. It was beautiful. Why didn’t I bring my camera? this is a question one often asks himself in Mexico when caught without it, something cool is bound to happen or a picturesque scene almost always presents itself. I paddled back in shouting all the way back to Mickey’s.
The next day we all went for a paddle. The girls went off on they’re own ahead of us and I had the pleasure of a one-on-one paddle with Mickey, this time I brought my camera. He elaborated on some great stories that I asked him about and showed me a few tricks with the paddle. We even paddled down the beach where there is another peak and picked of a couple of fun little peelers. I was elated. There is a lot of controversy surrounding stand-up paddle boarding in the surfing world, but I was enthralled with it the first time I saw Laird on one in the tube at Teahupoo, in Surfer magazine.
Stand-up paddle boarding is super fun, and great exercise for the core muscles as well as every muscle in your body. Mickey knows this, he’s 75 and he only rides a stand-up paddle now. He has plenty of good reasons why, but I needed no convincing. That was an all time high for me. What an inspiration. I felt like the young grasshopper surfing with the noble sage.
We saw a boat on wheels drive down the beach and launched itself right into the ocean. Mickey said it was made in New Zealand and told me a story about it. One time during a pumping swell, they launched that thing into double overhead surf and by the grace of God and the skin of there teeth they made it out. They motored their way down the coast to some bar, somehow beached the thing, drank some cocktails and went back home. How they made it there and back was dumbfounding to Mickey, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Ignorance is bliss I guess.
We stayed with them one more night and then since it happened to be Baja Burning Man the following night, they invited us to join them. What a blast, the whole ‘town’ gets together, somebody builds a giant ‘man’ and they burn it down. All the while eating, drinking, and making merry well into the night. They build it below the high tide line, so the ocean is the fire safety and designated fire extinguisher after the party is over. I brought my guitar and ended up jamming out with some righteous cats and even participated in a jam put together by a prominent musician who happened to be in town, thanks to the Todos Santos music festival. Which was a great show by the way. We saw Jeff Tweedy play a solo acoustic set, headlining the first nights festivities. He was on fire that night, purring like a well tuned engine, powerful and sensitive.
Baja burning man was a total hit, I guess word got around that we came with the Muñoz’s so people were extra friendly with us, instant respect. Thank you so much Mickey, you’re the man. I miss those guys. They were so good to us, the community was so well mannered. Good people. They invited us back to their places to jam, or to roll us a few joints for the ride out. Righteous. We would have loved to stay but alas, we’d been in Baja for more than 3 months and were running out of time on our visas and vehicle import permit.
The next day there was a pop-up market with organic veggies galore, even a vegan taco stand! Unheard of in Mexico. Ingrid picked up a couple of free books as part of our re-supplies and we decided it was the perfect day to get going. ‘If you stay till Saturday you can come to our friends wedding, it’s going to be in the arroyo!’ Mickey and Peggy were hosting this upcoming event. We even met the bride and groom, they stopped by for a meeting to discuss some details. I played them a few tunes, and made the drawing sitting on Mickey’s patio. What a treat. We reluctantly said our goodbyes, Mickey explained us how to get to shipwrecks and said if it was good, to call him. It wasn’t. We went on and made our way around the point now finally traveling in a northerly direction headed for Cabo Pulmo, a nature preserve deep in the heart of the east cape. For me this was a victory lap, especially after finally getting the right amount of air pressure in my tires, much thanks to Mickey’s advice. ‘Slow down!’ he said laughing. I’ll never forget all the stories, their kindness and hospitality, waking up for sunrise, ‘Rip Van Winkle!’ the name Mickey called me when we were caught sleeping in, in the van, and the jest between Mickey and Peggy, the way they called each other ‘darling’, truly admirable. We are forever indebted to you, the experience was invaluable. I can now say I know a legend of surfing, one the originals, one of the best.