A Beach Less Camped
Years ago I was on a roadtrip with two friends through the southern part of Baja California, with a paper map as our only navigational aid. We were searching for a specific beach near Bahía Concepción, where we planned to camp for the night. The map wasn’t very accurate — or it may have been user error, but let’s not dwell on that — so, when we saw a pristine white sand beach on a small peninsula jutting out into a bay just off the highway, we exited and parked our car. Surely this was the beach we were looking for, the one several friends had mentioned was beautiful and a perfect place to camp, if a bit busy. It had to be!
But this beach wasn’t busy in the slightest. We parked next to a simple palapa at the end of the sandy peninsula, giving a fair amount of space to the only other group on the beach, a Mexican family playing with their kids in the water. As the sun set over the bay, we put up our tent and the family began to pack up. We realized we might have an entire beach — an entire bay, from the looks of it — to ourselves. We couldn’t understand why people had told us the beach might be busy, assuring us it was still worth it. Maybe we just had great luck!
Before they left, the father of the family dragged a huge piece of driftwood down the beach, leaving it next to our firepit. I thanked him with my terrible Spanish, and he waved as they took off, leaving the beach solely to us. We lit a bonfire, ate the gas station empanadas we had bought when we had stopped to get a lighter, and opened a bottle of rum. The moon rose huge over the bay and we stripped naked, swam into the water to greet it. I moved my arm and a flurry of neon green sparkled around me in the water. “BIOLUMINESCENCE!” I shouted like a mad scientist, and we burst into a frantic laughter, refusing to believe our night could have gotten even better. Everyone who had told us about this beach was right, and we were giddy with joy.
Of course, we weren’t at the right beach. (And we’d never make it to the right beach, thanks to an overturned truck blocking the peninsula’s one highway the next day, forcing us to turn around.) But even when the breeze died, leaving the desert heat to bake us in our tent all night; even when the gas station empanadas forced one of us to have diarrhea in the ocean; even when we were awoken around 5 am by the sounds of knives sharpening in the dark (fishermen, we learned, after what felt like hours of pitch-black terror), we all still consider this night one of the greatest of our lives, one we never would have experienced if we had reached our intended destination.
Getting lost — or even giving ourselves the chance to get lost — is becoming, well, lost. We’re all connected all the time, so even if you don’t know where you are, it’s a safe bet that your phone could tell you your coordinates within a few square feet. (And, even if your phone’s not telling you where you are, you can be damn sure it’s telling several corporations, so they can better sell you camping gear for your next adventure.)
When you plan your vacations around what looks cool on Instagram, you end up in places that are beautiful, yes, but also ravaged by tourism. Places like Tulum, Uluru, and Maya Bay, closed indefinitely due to destruction and pollution from too many like-minded tourists wanting to Instagram from the beach from the movie The Beach. Think about that: a low-tier Leo DiCaprio movie no one remembers with a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes has destroyed an entire ecosystem. Out of all the reasons why we’re destroying parts of our planet, that may be the dumbest.
But on a more superficial — and yet still important — level, you end up with less interesting memories and experiences. There’s no way whatever photo I would get from a 15-minute trip to Maya Bay could beat my memories of magical-turned-horrible night of camping on a barely-visited Mexican beach. There are no new stories to find on the road often traveled, and you’re not likely to learn anything new about yourself or the world. If you came all this way just to see the famous place, you could have just stayed home and opened Instagram.
So grab some gas station empanadas and strap on shoes that can withstand miles of anxiously retracing your steps. Throw your phone in a lake, or at least put it in airplane mode, and hit the road in whatever direction looks strangest. Get lost.
See what else Danny writes (like his Tina Fey commercial) at www.dannygottleib.com.