Off-Grid in Mexico / Outdoor Adventures / Surfing

Life in a Little Off-Grid Surf Community

Life in a little off-grid surf community

I’m often asked what it’s like when you’re in The Real Mexico and living as the locals do, being entirely self-sufficient, exercising an immense amount of patience (what I call “Baja time,” which isn’t all that different from “island time”), and as a result, becoming surprisingly flexible, resourceful, and creative.

When the nearest major town is an hour away (and the first eight miles to the highway are all off road), you really learn to make do with what you have and appreciate the things you always take for granted.

Spending time at the Boat Ranch is sort of glorified camping. And just like camping, you’re incredibly at peace the whole time you’re there and you come home revived, wishing you had more time in the dirt and under the stars.

Baja surf community

Our property

View from our boat

What makes it just a step above camping, however, are the few amenities in our community that make it a little more comfortable (especially for the ladies… because let’s face it, guys will sleep on the floor and eat tuna from a can if it means a week of offshore winds and uncrowded waves).

Take the bathroom, for instance. We have two communal bathrooms at the Boat Ranch, and you might as well label one for “Men” and the other for “Women.” The men’s version has an outdoor shower (which admittedly feels awesome on a hot day) and a urinal crafted from a large shell. It’s a fairly recent addition to the Ranch, and in fact there have been quite a few improvements since the first time I ever set foot in this surf community three years ago.

Outdoor shower

We used to have a rickety old water tower that held two reservoirs. Seriously, the thing looked like it was standing on stilts. One day last year, the tower collapsed — right on top of one of the old (uninhabited) boats. Our neighbor likened the scene to an A-bomb exploding at the Ranch. Luckily, no one was staying at the Ranch at the time and the defenseless boat was already on its way to being dismantled for firewood.

A new (and much more bomber, for lack of a better word) structure was put up in its place, and we increased our water capacity to 600 gallons between two new reservoirs.

Water reservoir

The reservoirs only supply the residents at the Ranch. When full, they can last a couple of months with only one full-time resident using the water judiciously. But more often, when a few of us are spending time at the Ranch with our friends, the reservoirs last a few weeks at most.

With Baja California suffering the same drought that’s plaguing its northern neighbor, it truly puts our daily water usage in perspective between the dishwashing, the toilet flushing, and the showering.

When the reservoirs are empty (and sometimes, they empty at the most inconvenient times — like in the middle of a dirty dish), we buy more water from one of our neighbors on the cliff. He pulls his water truck into the Ranch and refills the reservoirs; it’s sort of a side business for him.

Is the water safe to drink? I’ll be honest, I don’t drink the water. It’s highly mineralized with a very strong taste. But I do find it safe and suitable for rinsing vegetables, washing dishes, and brushing my teeth.

The balcony below the water reservoirs belongs to a guest room that was built to accommodate friends and family. And below the guest room is a storage room for tools and other toys.

Next to the water tower is our main bathroom, or what I like to call the women’s bathroom. It was originally built to appease the wife of our longest-running resident, who has been coming to the Boat Ranch with his uncle since he was a kid. Thirty years later, he serves as our unofficial mayor and oversees any improvements made to the parcel.

Almost all of our friends who visit are surprised when they see the bathroom. Most just assume they have to relieve themselves in an outhouse (and for some of the other homes neighboring the Ranch, outhouses are the norm). None ever think they would actually get a hot shower after a surf.

Bathroom

Bathroom

We have a Western-style bathroom that’s shared by the community, and by community, that usually means two or three of us at any given time. The toilet is tied into a septic system. The shower is heated with a tankless water heater and though it doesn’t look like it from this angle, the stall can easily accommodate two people with plenty of room to spare. One of our running jokes at the Ranch is “save water, shower with your girlfriend.”

It’s a rather luxurious treat when you think about where we are, and because of all the women coming and going, it always smells lovely — rosemary shampoos, bergamot soaps, coconut lotions. Hey, it’s the little things.

We also have running water in our outdoor kitchen, albeit cold running water. We are very conscious with how much water we use day to day, as the kitchen is where we go through most of it. When you think about how often you wash your hands, or turn on the tap to rinse a glass, it adds up to many, many gallons before you even do a load of dishes. And we see it from the number of times we empty the soaking tub that sits in our sink. No water ever goes to waste in the kitchen.

Our outdoor kitchen

The gray water flows down the sink, through a pipe, and into a 5-gallon bucket under the counter. When it’s full, we haul the bucket around and water our landscape: palms, geraniums, bougainvillea, euphorbia, cactus, and other succulents.

For a desert home we only visit a few times a year, we have a decent amount of greenery on our property. The plants are adapted to our infrequent watering, the occasional winter rainstorm, and the dense layer of fog that rolls in during the summer. It’s a perfect example of how efficient and beautiful xeriscaping can be.

Surf life

Now that we’ve been here for a couple of years and gotten into a routine, we’re starting to think about our other needs — conveniences that would allow us to spend more time down south. Our neighbor just installed satellite Internet and found it to be surprisingly fast, so we might start sharing the service with him. (It’s still a mental struggle as to whether or not we want to be connected while we’re here, but truthfully, we need it if we’re going to be working remotely.)

We’re seriously looking into a solar water heating system for the kitchen, and that will be a priority this year.

We’re still undecided on putting solar panels on our roof, as we haven’t come across a huge need for power yet. At night, we light our way with oil lanterns and solar lamps, and we charge our various devices and tools with a portable power pack plugged into a 60-watt panel. For now, that suits us plenty.

The wonderful thing about being a part of this community is that we have our own sharing economy. We’ve borrowed a generator from our neighbor to run heavy-duty power tools. We have access to another neighbor’s big gas grill if we want to barbecue for a crowd. Though we’re on our own, we’re not actually alone.

I imagine that life at the Ranch isn’t all that different from life in other off-grid places. It’s simple. It’s peaceful. And once you’re here, you realize you don’t need a whole lot to be happy.

View from our bungalow

Beachfront accommodations

Sunset at the Ranch

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

26 Comments

  • Farnash Creek Ranch Hamilton,
    February 23, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Just finding this post! Love it !

    Reply
    • Linda from Garden Betty
      June 10, 2019 at 1:24 am

      Thank you!

      Reply
  • Kari
    January 12, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    This is so cool. I am from the East coast, and have never seen old boats turned in to dry home. That’s an awesome re-use! Love human imagination, creativity and capacity for community!

    Reply
  • Kimberly @ KimRidge Farm
    February 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Gosh, this reminds me of Peru so much!

    Love your last shot. Such a dramatic sky! And the silhouettes!

    Thank you for the post. It brings up some memories to my mind.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 12, 2015 at 11:38 pm

      I haven’t been to Peru yet, but it’s been on my list and I have a feeling it’ll seem like home once I visit down there!

      Reply
      • Kimberly @ KimRidge Farm
        February 13, 2015 at 4:52 am

        When you decide to go, send me a note. I’ll give you some safety tips, reputable sources, and places to visit. I worked there for a year-and-a-half.

        You will most likely land in Lima, go to Miraflores for surfing and paraglading. You don’t need to bring your equipment. Rent is cheap. Just bring your wetsuit. Water is cold, unless you go there in the summer, which is in the winter by the way 🙂 They have a great restaurant in the shopping mall in Miraflores. Try ceviche there. (I’ll look up the name for you when you go).

        If you don’t object organ meat, try anticuchos. And if you don’t object alcohol, try Pisco Sour.

        Obviously, everybody goes to Cusco for Machu Picchu. Don’t bring pro camera there. They won’t let you in with big photo stuff. And visit Lake Titicacka in Puno.

        If you like mountains, Huascaran is a must. Don’t go climbing right away though. You will need to acclimate for 22,000 plus feet above sea level. People get sick there all the time, no matter how well fit they are. Good news, is that you can buy dexamethasone and other good stuff without a prescription. Doctors are cheap though. You may also be interested in Alpa Mayo trek. It’s gorgeous. Make sure the guides make pachamanca for you up in the mountains.

        Go there open-minded, but very, Very, VERY careful.

        By the way, it was Peru where I learned Euphorbias 🙂 among many other things 🙂

        Kimberly

        Reply
        • Linda Ly
          February 13, 2015 at 3:32 pm

          Thanks for all this wonderful information! I’ll file it away for when I’m ready! But no guinea pig recommendation?! 😉

          Reply
          • Kimberly @ KimRidge Farm
            February 14, 2015 at 8:42 am

            🙂 Good cue or guinea pig is tough to find. We tried them at some recommended restaurants in Peru and they were overcooked. Too burned on the outside and dry and chewy inside. I don’t know why restaurants have a tendency to over-grill them.

            And then, we had cues at somebody’s house in Ecuador. They grilled them on open fire while cranking rotisserie manually, non-stop. That was unbelievable! I am salivating just writing about it.

            The juices were dripping and coating and caramelizing the skin until the perfect degree of golden-brown. The best part was the ears. The hosts let us break off all of the ears from about 16 cues and eat them before they brought them to the table. The cues were served earless. The ears were crunchy on the outside and kind of sticky, collagenous on the inside. The brain was the second best part. The legs and the back were just perfect.

            Later on, I spoke with a native Ecuadorian about cues. And he said that preparing a cue is an art form. He doesn’t know why, but restaurant cues come out dry even when they don’t over grill them. He also mentioned that it was not only the cooking process that’s important, but also selecting the right animal to butcher.

            I have some good local friends there. I can ask them for recommendations on cue if you are interested. May be they’ll invite you over. They are very hospitable people.

          • Linda Ly
            February 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

            I laughed out loud when you mentioned breaking all the ears off and eating them before serving the cues. Now that is true nose-to-tail cooking and dining! 🙂

  • Blake Nolan
    February 10, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Thanks so much for this. It looks amazing. I wanna head down there sometime in early April, is there a website, email, phone… etc… I’d love to get a reservation down there. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 12, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Sorry, but the Boat Ranch is a private community. We do not rent out our homes.

      Reply
  • Stanley Law
    February 10, 2015 at 3:23 am

    Oh MAN.

    I’ve always wanted to see pictures of this place, I’m so happy that you ended up documenting this.

    Have you thought about setting up a couple of solar stills? It would be relatively trivial to design/build/execute an automated system that could pump up water from the ocean, pour it into a small reservoir, and develop water vapors from the sunlight that would eventually condense into potable water over the course of the time that you weren’t around. You could probably get a couple gallons a day per still.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 12, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      That sounds a lot more involved than we’d need it to be. We already have a fresh water supply; the next project we’re looking into is a solar water heater for the kitchen.

      Reply
  • Laura
    February 9, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Ahhh… thank you! I was wondering if you all had quit going due to some news articles I read a year or so back. It still looks amazing!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 12, 2015 at 11:27 pm

      We go a few times a year but will be starting some major projects soon, so more updates to come!

      Reply
      • Kent Layton
        December 19, 2015 at 1:02 pm

        Like what ? Havent been there for a while, yet i plan to return. P.s. the ladder to your entrance was made by a Green Beret who i kept from retaliating on a Navy Seal for taking his wife. It is solid Oak, divited and gusseted and stronger that any ladder i have ever seen, It has 3o coats of thin varnish on it as well Kent Layton the guy that started the boat ranch 40 years ago, It has changed and morphed, kind of like life does, Kevin Hansen does a good job of taking care of it Have fun

        Reply

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