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When Camping in Mexico Goes Horribly Wrong

The latest instalment of a brand new WL series The Chronicles of Gnarlier recalls the time a former surf industry rep Craig Outfield and a group of 5 friends went to Mainland Mexico for an off grid surf trip, and came very close to paying for it with their lives.

Craig picks up the story:

I’d always wanted to go on a surf trip to Mexico. We’d all been to Morocco, I travelled a bit around SE Asia and the South Pacific but was really keen for a trip like you used to see in the surf mags; tents, a pick up truck, fishing rods, classic old school no frills. Out in the desert cooking a pot of smokey beans over an open fire under the stars – and maybe even a bit smokey pot, too.

There were six of us in our group. We found a quiet surf zone near the border between Jalisco and Colima states to start out and figured we’d work our way down the coast with no real fixed plan, other than to try and get to down Acapulco just after Christmas and end the trip with a bang down there, after being in wild for a few weeks.

Anyway, we found a farmer not too far up the coast from Manzanillo who said we could use his land to camp on if we were cool, and for not much money.

So we set up our Millets tents, and got our Mexico on. The waves weren’t particularly great but we were having a great time; wearing boardies all day in December and basically loving it. After a few days you get into the rhythm and relax, time slows down and the days sort of blend into one, only really nuanced by swell or wind.  

Most of the surfers stuck to main surfing hubs, and it was also kind of between seasons, so it was totally uncrowded, mellow and about a cruisey as a surf trip gets really. Lots of siestas, and just super relaxed.

Beers were basically as cheap as water, and we’d generally drink a few with dinner by the campfire each night, to get a beer buzz on to aid sleep on what was basically a concrete hard, stony field. My back would start to twinge before I even got in my sleeping bag just at the thought of it. 

There was the main highway off in the distance, but basically nobody around at all except us, we were in the middle of nowhere. Then one night, about a week into the trip I heard vehicles approaching in my half-sleep, at 3am. 

Pretty much the next thing I knew I was face down, naked, with a gun in the back of my head. That would be bad at any time, but at 3am when you’re half asleep and in pitch dark, you can’t grasp where you are and what’s happening. It’s like full panic as you’re trying to figure out what the fuck is going on, and it doesn’t seem real.

They grabbed us all out of our tents one by one, pistol whipped us, punched and kicked us, and demanded to know where our money was. I told him where I had a hundred bucks or so, straight away.  

One of the boys, Neil, was all flustered and couldn’t remember where he’d stashed his cash, and was in a bad way. He was crying, freaking out, and one of our crew, Pablo, who spoke fluent Spanish, said later that Neil came pretty close to getting a bullet in the head. They thought he was holding out on them, but basically he was having a panic attack and couldn’t process where he’d hid his money, let alone tell them.

Another lad, Sam, got roughed up with a few punches, rifle-butts to the stomach, like all of us, but also got a thumb up his bum. A Mexican bandito not only robbed his money and beat him up, but shoved a thumb ‘quite a long way up’ his bum, presumably for fun rather than business. He wasn’t sure. It seems sort of funny now but I can assure you at the time we were not laughing. 

Anyway, one by one everyone got a good going over. I had no doubt we were gonna get killed after we’d handed over our stuff. The vibe didn’t seem like shit-us-up-to-make-us-cough-up, it seemed like these guys actually wanted to do us in. 

They ordered us into one tent, and we were crouched inside in a huddle while they got in our truck and did laps around the camp, coming closer and closer, faster and faster. I think they were wild drunk, basically out of control. They ran over our boards, all our other tents and then stopped the truck near us. 

The reverse lights came on, the engine was revving and they were shouting at each other in some kind of argument. Pablo was like, ‘Get down, get in the middle, they’re gonna fucking run us over!’

The truck whined in reverse, picking up speed coming straight for us, then skidded to a halt right on the tent. The wheels where over the corner of the tent, I could feel the exhaust pipe basically in my back.

I clearly remember the canvas flapping in the truck’s exhaust above my head, and we were literally cms from being crushed. Six guys, all nude, in a two man tent, in the pitch black Mexican night. Bleeding, sobbing, waiting for death.

After some arguments about whether or not to run us over, the no vote won and they told us to stay inside – if we got out they’d kill us. Eventually we inched out. The first thing I did was puke up in the fireplace, and then we all ran and hid in the bush until morning, pretty sure they would come back to finish us off. 

There was a river at the bottom of the field, which someone had said they’d seen crocodiles in, earlier that week. Anyway, we all kinda hid on the banks wondering if we’d ever see morning. The farmer came and got us the next day, and was really pissed off it’d happened on his land. He was almost pissed off with us.

The cops came out later in full gear with M16’s and bullet proof vests and all that, and said they thought it was the same gang who’d killed someone a few weeks earlier. They never caught anyone for it. There was a story in the local paper about us, generally speaking, when you go on a surf trip, you don’t want to be making headlines in the local newspaper. That’s when you know you fucked up.

We rented an apartment in Manzanillo, and basically didn’t go outside much at all. We went down to Rio Nexpa to surf after a while but the waves were pretty terrible, most of our boards were broken and we just didn’t really feel like it. Pablo only really told us the full extent of what was being said years later, it turns out we were even closer to dying than we thought at the time.

Rio Nexpa. Via www.seabreeze.com.au

I did go back to Mexico a few years later, but didn’t camp, I stayed in surf lodge bungalows. We passed by really close to where it’d happened, we pretty much drove right past the spot as we headed down the coast, but I didn’t give it too much thought. Well, a bit. I didn’t even mention it to the people I was with in the car at the time. As the old saying goes, shit happens.

I guess shit just happens that bit worse at 3am in a farmer’s field in Mexico.



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