July 21, 2011

Malarrimo Beach: Treasure Trove of the Pacific

It is a beach-comber's paradise, this J-shaped cove. Upon its shores, the ocean currents conspire to deliver a large portion of the Pacific's flotsam. Anything and everything has been found here. Throw something into the water, off the coast of Japan, and the chances are it will wash up here: Malarrimo Beach, Mexico.

Malarrimo Beach

People come from miles around, most of them Mexican, though a fair few on road-trips from the USA or beyond, to sift through the ocean's offerings. After a good storm, where high waves have crashed heavily upon the coast, the volume of treasure-hunters rises considerably. Much of what is found here is trash, but there is also a strong likelihood of discovering something quite remarkable.

The tides are powerful out there. Before a storm, in the 1970s, buried it with sand, there was a huge shipwreck lodged on this beach. The ship hadn't floundered here. It had been carried the distance from the depths of ocean. Whole engines have washed up on this beach, dislodged from wrecks out in the wide Pacific basin.

The list of what else has ended up here is seemingly infinite. It includes: large timbers from sunken galleons; sea-bleached trees; the carcasses of sometimes large, sometimes rare, marine creatures; antiques of all varieties, though with an emphasis on those found in seacraft; torpedos and other items from the two World Wars, as well as those from earlier battles; and electrical appliances (in a camp on the beach, made entirely from salvage and driftwood, there is a rusting refridgerator. It too came from the sea). They are all well washed. The beach does not smell like a junkyard.

Malarrimo Beach

There are plenty of stories of people taking the adventure trip to Malarrimo. Most, it appears, are young men, turning the journey into a rite of passage. A quick search of the internet will uncover many of them. The below is from the stories of Mike Humfreville, who travelled there, with friends in the 1960s:

We walked east along the sand with cliffs on our right and the sea on our left. Gradually the cliffs lessened and quit; they were replaced by wave-like rows of flotsam and jetsam, ten feet tall. High tide lines from stormy weather, one behind the other, running parallel to the beach. Ocean currents during storms piled the objects in deep collections for miles, as far as we could see, looking eastward.

The most striking items were also the largest: whale ribs and vertebrae. The ribs were up to ten or twelve feet long. Vertebrae were up to two feet thick. Tony sat on one and his feet barely touched the ground. The larger spinal discs, used to separate two vertebrae, were two feet in diameter and two inches thick. Like huge tortillas.

We each wandered throughout the collections of floatables: light bulbs, bottles, plastic trash, sea weed, lava, bones, large hollow glass balls the Japanese use to support their fishing nets, piles of driftwood and formed lumber, wooden implements of unfathomable origin and utility, dead fish, sea lions and whales. We looked through the debris for the better part of the morning. It would provide a junk dealer with a career, picking through the rubble before the next storm struck and rearranged his showroom.

Source: Baja with Mike.

The whole story is worth reading. It covers several days and miles and reads like the ultimate boy's own adventure novel.

Malarrimo Beach

The flotsam collections work like this because the confluence of currents, which propel the tides of the Pacific, sit side by side here. Caught between the Kuroshio Current and the California Current, Malarrimo Beach acts like the end of a conveyor belt. Anything falling into the water eventually ends up there.

The beach is in Guerrero Negro, in Baja California, though right on the border with Baja California Sur. It is one of the most Westernly shores of Mexico; in fact entering Guerrero Negro requires your watch to be put back an hour, as a timezone latitude line is crossed.

Getting to Malarrimo Beach isn't so easy though. The highway, north-west from the town of Vizcaino, passes through the desert for long miles, before the turning to the beach is sign-posted at San Jose de Castro. The access road has been trampled down by generations of feet and, latterly, the passage of four wheel drives. It's a real wilderness passage, without tarmac nor the levelling of a digger. Those attempting to drive along it without four wheel drive risk getting stuck in the sand. (See a map here. Malarrimo Beach is at the center of it.)


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