the first time i heard about this magic place called “cuatro casas” was in 2009. i met my good friend jose noro in san francisco for a one month road trip with the classic recipe of not having any fixed plans other than to skate, meet old and new friends and to generally see and experience as much as we can. jose had already spent a month in s.f. when i arrived and heard about this “bowl party”, organized by skaters from ensenada that was taking place at a “hotel /hostel with a bowl / pool out front” called “cuatro casas” in mexico, located “just a day’s ride down the coast from tijuana”. the description definitely triggered our imagination and we were both super excited to go as we’d never been to mexico before. jose’s old friend steve bailey, who had done numerous trips to baja california, was to come with us, so we went to l.a. to pick him up. it was the first time i really met bailey and i straight away became a fan of his very laid-back style and open minded ways and jose and i were more than happy to embark on this trip with someone who knew the country and local customs so well.
upon entering mexico, steve explained to us that it’s generally better to not stop anywhere around the tijuana area at night as there’s been a lot of muggings and carjackings; and a fancy rental dodge like ours with american plates would have been a good target. so we headed directly and slightly paranoid onto the motorway in direction of ensenada, located on the west coast just two hours down from tijuana. with around 1/4 million inhabitants, ensenada is the third biggest town in baja and a perfect place for a stopover: it has cheap hostels, good bars and restaurants and all kinds of shops to purchase the necessities for the further trip. we spent a short and intense night getting a taste of the local food and the vivid nightlife and skated a perfect ditch the next morning. after buying what we needed, we hit the road further south.
leaving the city, the country-side stretched out far and wide and revealed mexico’s rough beauty. arrangements of wooden shacks and makeshift houses formed small villages along the road. the streets soon alternated from asphalt to dirt and led us over fertile green hills and valleys up into the mountains. the views here were breathtaking: nature as far as the eye could see without any sight of modern civilization. on the horizon smoke stacks obscured the sky, signs of the common bush and forest fires that torment the inhabitants of california every year. after a long ride deeper into the mountains we became alarmed. the road led us directly into one of the fire zones. the vegetation was thin, mostly weeds and grass, so we decided to enter anyway. after a few miles through dark smoke, we saw a lone farmer with his dog in front of a shack on which the flames were closing in. we stopped to help him keep the fire away by shoveling dirt onto the burning bushes or simply stomping them down.
a good two hours later we had put the fire out and celebrated with our new friend and some warm beers. the sun had gone down in the meantime and gave way to a perfect starry night. we headed out of the mountains and decided cuatro casas could wait until the next morning, and we slept in some dunes at a beach close by that bailey knew of.
we continued our journey at sunrise and took in the now flat and dusty-green landscape along the coastline. it did not take very long until we saw a rooftop mural painting with a big wave surfer and a guy frontside airing a pool saying “hostel cuatro casas: sleeping, surfing, skateboarding – next right at the car wash – 10 miles to the beach”. we left the main road in the next village and entered a dirt track. we got all excited about coming closer and celebrated with a cold breakfast brew, speeding down a bumpy dust road. later i found out that some of the tracks we passed were actually part of famous rallies like the “baja 1000”. after an adventurous ride we reached the ocean and headed for the small village to the right. “cuatro casas” translates to “four houses” and the name credited the actual situation. the small village was not even one km long, located up on a cliff right at the water front. i didn’t count all the houses but it was definitely not more than ten. upon entering we were being welcomed by a pack of dogs that chased our car, and there it lay in all it’s pride: a big white house on a cliff, glowing in the midday sun, just a stones throw away from the water.
we jumped out and were welcomed by the owner richard, who showed us around. richard’s age was hard to guess, he’s a lively and energetic yet laid-back american in good shape with a dark surfer-tan, who could be 45 or 65.
we took the tour and checked out the ammenities: the “showbowl” looked amazing, a steep kidney shaped replica of a backyard pool with a lot of space to hang out and a bbq right next to it. we took a stroll around, cats and dogs were taking naps under a van in the afternoon sun; right next to it lay a set of giant bones that actually exceeded the length of the car: remains of a giant whale that had recently stranded on the shore. after a tour through the hostel and a quick tryout of the bowl, the mexican locals
arrived; tecui, wero, molina and all their friends welcomed us like brothers: music, food, drinks, sessions and stories were shared and the party went on!
there would be many stories to tell about the next three days, for instance how we got the rental car stuck driving a giant 666 into a sand field that turned out to be a mud-lagoon; or the late night beer-buying-offroad-rides in molina’s 4×4 vw bug, with jose and me watching each other getting ready to die on the next curve; and all the parties and sessions of course. but this is all for you to experience yourself! i only wanna say this much: if you are ready for a little adventure cuatro casas is a one-of-a-kind destination. skate rat or not, the place is magic, with a special tranquilty, amazing views, bowl, surf, bbq, wide countryside and super nice hosts. it’s cozy and tidy and the accommodation ranges from private double-bedrooms over decent bunk beds to the possibility to camp in front of the hostel. check richard’s website for the latest prices and activities and make sure you have a breakfast with him and his wife! check the following mag and blog for the skate scene in baja and go to “roots skate shop” in ensenada to hook up with the locals!
Words + Photos: Lars Greiwe