San Ignacio is every oasis that has ever been dreamt of. The Jesuit mission town is located only 80 miles south of the 28th parallel that divides Baja Norte and Baja Sur.
The way there is a road of the damned, however, where even the yucca and cardón cactus keep their distance. To the east: roan cinder cones of the extinct Tres Virgenes volcanoes mark desert cicatrix. The sun burns but has no color, leeching away every shade not sandy or tan. Then suddenly, like driving off a cliff, you drop into a wide arroyo and a miraculous pool of green—a forest on the moon—San Ignacio's date palms. An underground river rises in this canyon, forming a tranquil spring, sustaining life. In the center of San Ignacio, as much a fruit of the spring as the dates, lies its 18th-century mission. Begun by intrepid Jesuits in 1733, the church was finished by the Dominicans in 1786, with a columned façade carved from lava stone, four-cornered steeple and magnificent dome. Across the road, dense, hoary ficus shade a wide plaza, framed by tiendas and restaurantes. Nearby, hillside caves house prehistoric art—long-gone animals and strange human shapes—whose origins are still unknown.
To arrive at San Ignacio from out of the Desierto Vizcàino is the essence of travel. I think of the time, not so long ago, driving home from an epic week at Scorpion Bay with my brothers Matt, Michael and our friend China from Cape Town. Four- to six-foot at Third Point and uncharacteristically empty; the experience of surfing perfect waves in the desert, bridging the littoral that separates the arid land from the vibrant sea, is one of surfing's most rewarding paradoxes. On the journey home, smug in our sense of attainment as we rolled into San Ignacio from the south, we discovered that the Rio de Ignacio had flooded the road just outside town. We approached the flood as the late afternoon sun softened its blaze, and ribbons of golden light haloed the fronds and cast thick, dark shadows across the water. A gang of kids splashed and swam in the makeshift water park where we joined them for a swim in the desert.
Then a skinny six-year-old jumped onto my back from behind. His little hands wrapped around my face, his little finger, like a gouge, caught my left eye socket. The harder I struggled the tighter he gripped, compressing the eyeball, scooping it like an avocado pit. The pain was, well, blinding. I submerged, forcing him off, then staggered back to the car with the heel of my palm pressed to my face. Laying in the back of the van, I took the hand away: nothing. Blank. Blind. Shit.
"Playing with kids," I'd say, explaining the pirate patch and the prosaic manner in which I lost my eye. Two hours later I started to see light; by ten o'clock, blurry figures. At midnight we stopped to pee and I looked up to see the stars through a bloodshot eye and wanted to kiss somebody.
Now when I drive through San Ignacio I see it with both eyes and think, "Almost." –Sam George
More cautionary tales from our Path Less Paddled, originally appearing in our Winter 2018 print issue: