TexasBoys and the Big Fish
Madrugada. Dawn. Running offshore at 210 degrees, the swell from the west still sleeping. For sixty minutes we ran at speed. Past the patch of palm fronds anchored in 40 arm-length fathom brasas of water that are used to create shade and attract dorado and are called Los Muertos, dead ones floating in the sea. Past the color change from green to blue at about 45 brasas. Past the invisible latitude of the Tropic of Cancer. To either side we watched billfish jumping. Eight, nine, ten jumps across the water. Before 90 minutes had expired, we had passed the jumping fish. We knew they would all be inside and we could then work the billfish from the outside in. Lines and baitfish lisas into the blueness and slowly the panga turned to course and settled at a cruise proper that the lisa swam atop the water.
Then several hours passed and the air warmed. Sweat on brows. Arms hanging loose while fists gripped rod butts inserted into wooden holders. Earlier, there had been idle chatter amongst the crew, but now all had settled to experience the moment, and there was only One in the panga. All around jumped the billfish. The espectadór lookout standing abow the panga enjoyed an expansive, sparkling, encircling, blue vista from which to verify that the marlinhunters trolled surrounded by billfish.
Lady La Mar slept still as glass. Tones of deep dark blue mottled over metallic luster. White streaks astern, one long, a second short, skipping over the mirror. Soft hum of the engine. Two rod tips in the air. Lines to the lisa. No talk. Only can you know the moment after the hunt is long and the will is strong.
Suddenly shouts and points the espectadór, and the billfish rips through the long bait and jerks off ten meters of line. Then the Grim Reaper, La Guadaña, drops the lisa and makes another circle to attack again. The nine-year old arms holding the golden 30 have burned and peeled and tanned during their stay in Las Barras and already they have fought and lost to the billfish. Now as the lisa hangs as wounded prey and the Reaper circles for her final savagery, the young arms tense and the eyes watch the black blade of death streak across the blue mirror to the target. Remember the rocking chair said the air. The giving is the most important said the sea. El que parte…
Fiercely La Guadaña strikes the lisa and sears off another five meters of line before again dropping the bait. Ritual and rocking chairs prevail when the nine-year old does not strike back and thus avoids the false pass. The black fin turns again toward the glowing white ribbon of lisa hanging in the sparkling metallic blueness.
Slowly the billfish approaches the lisa. She grasps the bait and begins to chew, causing a soft jerk on the line held by the nine-year old. Rocking chairs prevail when the tanned arms do not respond and instead the thumb goes to the spool in anticipation. More soft jerks. Then the line begins to spool away, gaining speed. The rod butt moves to the fighting belt. The right hand leaves the spool and slams forward the strike lever. Hopeful arms jerk strongly back and a white thin line slices upward from the blueness and points to an explosion of whiteness across the blue mirror as La Guadaña ignites with the sting of the hook.
The nine-year old clasps the rod tenaciously as white line smokes off the golden 30 and the billfish greyhounds eight times over the blue mirror. The fisherman sits on the front bench of the panga. Only a simple leather fighting belt around a slender waist. No chair and no help. The panga motor has been turned off. No chasing today. Only the fish and the rodsman. Only the cobweb of line. Only the cosmic connection.
A half hour passes as the young rodsman pumps to gain line, but the billfish streaks away across the mirror in several leaps. Finally the tired arms bring the billfish to the panga. The nine-year old has held on for over thirty jumps and a long fight in the hot sun from the bow of a panga. The billfish had thrown the hook sometime during the savagery, but the nine-year old carried luck when the hook found the dorsal fin and the carefully prepared leader of the past winter threw a half hitch around the bill. Fin hooked and bill wrapped, the Reaper had been able to pull sideways against the nine-year old armed only with 30-pound line and no boat to help him. Ritual had prevailed and the rocking chair dancer had won.
Now forever will live the ritual in another dancer. Lore is further embellished. El que parte y recomparte le toca la mayor parte. To he who shares and reshares, to him is the reward of the biggest share. To he who dances and dances, to him is the reward of Lore.
Prelude to Discovery
Karen and I were in Mazatlán sipping at the Copa de Leche. Directly across the wide boulevard was Playa Olas Altas. Being an old Mazatlán surfer, I mentioned that Cannon’s had the best break, a fine left slide for a goofy footer like me, but dangerous because of the sea urchins on the rocky bottom. She preferred to stare at El Crestón, the massive black mountain at the entrada to the cove that harbors the sportfishing boats. So I stared, too, and recollected fond memories. In addition to surfing, I had fished offshore Mazatlán since my youth in the 1950s. I suggested we stroll over to the caleta and watch the capitanes return from a day at sea.
An ambitious peddler had placed some plastic chairs in the shade of palms and offered us cold ones from his bicycle-mounted ice chest. While sitting there, a capitán and his deckhand wandered over from their boat to take advantage of the shade. “¿Que hay?” I asked. “How’s it goin’?” “Pura verga,” frowned the deckhand. “Not even jack.” The fishermen had ended their day early because the Gringos who chartered got drunk and sick. Not only no fish, but no tip. I offered to buy and they accepted. Despite the gloom, a conversation ensued.
Over several paradas, we spoke about politics, the Church, the police, guajillo chile, their personal lives, mine, ambitions, and our children. Also, we discussed Mazatlán fishing. I had been doing it longer than had they, so I earned a slight respect not usually afforded a Gringo tourist. They acknowledged that the fish were disappearing. They blamed it on the Mexican government for putting up with the Japanese. Moreover, they said the competition to charter tourist fishermen in Mazatlán is fierce. Boat prices are the cheapest in Mexico. Survival is by tip, not wages.
They reported that the only current action in Mazatlán was sailfish and small tuna. Dorado were lacking. All the sailfish were being taken on white hookless nylon rope which had been frayed, and when hit by a sailfish would entangle in the bill and allow the tourist to land the fish without any skill. The capitán called this “la pesca a mechudo” or “fishing with long, dirty, messy hair.” I called it Mazatlán disgrace, not fishing at all.
As for the nylon rope mechudo, it is to ensure success by removing the risk of failure to set the hook by greenhorn tourists. The mechudo puts more fish on the rack. To come into the dock and be unable to hang fish on the trophy rack is to lose revenue due to poor advertising. To release a captured billfish is to fail to hang fish on the rack, and is a guaranteed loss of revenue. Fish on the rack keeps the family fed and the children in clothes. To calm the concern of the few sensitive fishermen expecting to release their catch, such infrequent anglers are told that the fish are given to orphanages. This is false, as they are sold by the fleet owners for mangrove wood smoking and subsequent sale to the public. The capitán and the deckhand told me these things.
I left the platica in sadness. I recalled December and January days in the 50’s and 60’s when hooking five striped marlin off Mazatlán was common. Also common was that we released our catches. That conservation-minded tradition terminated in the early 1970’s. Consequently, because Mazatlán capitanes in specific and Mexican capitanes in general abandoned their catch-and-release programs, the sport fishing which made Mazatlán famous declined to the absurdity of roping fish for tourists. The tourist dollar funded the war against the billfish.
The next day I decided to stroll by the market to see the local fish. And I did, and that’s when I heard about Dimas. Mongers calling to customers. Róbalo. Sierra. Pargo. Jurél. Of course, the vendor knew the names of all the fish. “¿De donde vienen estos pescados?” I asked him. “Dimas,” he answered. “¿Al norte?” I probed. “Si, pues.” All the fish had come from Dimas, a railroad stop to the north. I recalled it from my topographic map. “¿A como se llegan los pescados?” I asked. “De camión,” he responded. The fish arrive by truck. “¿Cada día?” I asked. “No, Güero, cada dos o tres días.” No Blondie, every two or three days a supply of fish come. The vendor dismissed me by returning his eyes to the crowd of potential customers, and I returned mine to the fish.
This happened in the Mercado Municipal Pino Suárez by the cathedral in old Mazatlán. It was about noon in early February, and the concrete floor was soapy white from being scrubbed and washed to remove the blood and drip of slaughtered fish and animals brought through the mercado. From the mercado I strolled to the boardwalk Malecón to find my taxista friend León. And the next morning, with borrowed fishing tackle in the trunk, we were rolling northbound in León’s red cab, rumbo a Dimas.
La Bara de Piaxtla
The new autopista toll road between Mazatlán and Culiacán was under construction and closed to traffic. Ni modo. Who cares? León ignored the warning signs, and turned onto the fresh asphalt; we were the only disobedient car. When we arrived at where we thought we should turn, there was no marker for an exit to Dimas. Actually, there was no exit. There was a cow trail. At that moment there happened to be a cowboy present, and I spoke with him and he said to turn and we did and soon we were bumping our way over rocks into the miserable railroad station called Estación Dimas.
There was a gasoline station in Dimas, but no one was there, so we stopped a señora on the street and asked about the fish. She told us to go to a village to the south. On the coast. La Bara de Piaxtla. It was pronounced pee-ahscht-lah. No one uses that name though. Locals call it La Bara. She pointed to a cow trail bordered by thorn brush. “Se van por ahí los camiones.” That’s the road the trucks use. So we turned in. It was about nine o’clock and high overhead scurried mare’s-tail clouds.
The cow trail unexpectedly widened into a narrow road and we discovered that we had entered through a field. Now the road was through a sparse forest of gray trees. Every couple of hundred meters we would see hanging in the trees blue boxes used to trap Africanized bees. In the low spots of the road lay branches used as fill. There were a few wooden corrales in the forest and a few fields had been cut so as to create a clearing.
About a half hour later we came near the sea. We could see sand dunes and hear the surf. Then we came upon the edge of the litter. There were paper, cans, plastic, and food bottles for about two hundred meters before the first house. Wind pushes the litter against anything that will stop it, so the thorn brush appeared decorated with white plastic ribbons shredded from plastic bags. Then the village of La Bara.
We stopped at the third house because there were several people standing around. We began to talk through the open window, but during the conversation we got out and stood with la gente near their houses. They had never spoken to Gringos about fishing. Yes, there were pangas. The weather was fine and the sea not rough. Yes, there are sierra and the dorado are farther out. Rent a boat? “No estamos acostumbrados de estas cosas.” We are not accustomed to renting boats to Gringos. The boat needs gasoline and that costs 1300 pesos a liter. Will you pay for the gas? Yes, we will pay that, and also we will pay for the capitán and his ayudante helper. How much will you pay them? Five dollars an hour. They shuffled around a bit.
I looked at the house walls made of long sea drift sticks tied together to form a sea-shined wall. The sea drift sticks are la bara, so the village is named La Bara, or Seadrift Sticks. Some coastal villages have names using the word barra, like Barra de Navidad. Barra means sandbar. There is no sandbar at La Bara. The words bara and barra are pronounced differently by the villagers of La Bara.
Then one of the men spoke and gestured. We have this young man to take you and here also is his helper. I nodded. Fine, let’s go see the boat.
La Bara consists of about twenty or thirty sea drift houses. There is an adobe school which held four students when we passed. There is an adobe church which has no door or seats. There is no electricity except for car batteries attached to TV sets. Fresh water is precious and is captured from roofs and water trucks, not wells. There are no vehicles. There are numerous dogs. There is litter everywhere. Privacy and restrooms are at a premium. The men urinate wherever any form of privacy exists plus places in the open. The women have a few secret places, one of them visited by Karen.
The pangas were all lined up around a beautiful cove protected from the wind by a point. We watched a man carry a pair of twenty-pound red pargos from panga to playa. All the pangas had nets in them. The fleet looked great and I smiled before I could catch myself. Some time passed while the capitán and ayudante brought fuel. Our panga was as good as any of them. About twenty-six feet long, fiberglass, 75 hp Yamaha Enduro outboard, a shackle-style anchor, a push rod, no oar. Just right. Then aboard and heading out.
Just around the point, the capitán set his net that had been stored between the second and third bench seats. It disappeared under water, begging the question of how he would locate it for recovery.
Then we were trolling feathered jigs along a beautiful rocky coastline. Where the rocks ended, we came beside a white beach bordering a calm cove curving to the next rocky point. Sierra mackerel hit our jigs. The water looked very good. We turned offshore and headed out about two miles. The water looked exceptional and the sierra stayed with us. The swell was strong, and when the breeze freshened, slight chop whitened the dark sea. “Ya viene el aire,” spoke the capitán. So we turned shoreward and found a small cove. We bottom-fished with bait and watched how a handline wrapped around a beer can works as a fishing reel called a pieola. We cast jigs and took small jackfish. The water looked good. I found myself staring offshore. The water really looked good.
Back at the home cove of La Bara, we unloaded the panga and reloaded the red taxi, and then ate some fresh corn tamales offered us by one of the villagers. I watched the fishermen on the beach. I studied the fleet. Our young capitán told me that several years ago a Gringo had come. He parked his camper by one of the beaches and stayed about a week, all the while just sitting in the sand being observed by the curious village children of La Bara. Real potential here I thought. Good water. Good fleet. Good capitanes. Good vibes. Nobody here. All the right signs. La Bara.
On the way out, we did not pass again through Dimas, rather we found a trail leading directly to the autopista. Just one more time, now the last back road I thought. Out on the pavement our talk ceased, some slept, and the smoothness and quietness presented me that treasured flash of exuberance spawned by something found. That’s all there was. Then a great calmness engulfed me and I smiled out the window to the west. Toward La Bara.
Other than the spring striped marlin run of March, the best time of the year to fish for billfish, dorado, and wahoo off Mazatlán is May and June. The blue water comes close to shore and the sargaso seaweed franja riptides form ribbons which attract fish. The same best time should prevail for La Bara, as it is near Mazatlán and on the same shelf break. Gringo school will be out at the end of May. My oldest son would graduate from the fourth grade. His graduation gift would be a trip to La Bara.
My collection of Mexico maps first shows La Bara on a 1970 topographic sheet. The first highway map on which I found the village was published in 1988 by Pemex. La Bara is not on the bathymetric map of the area published in 1983. On any map La Bara is spelled La Barra.
We found La Barra on a map of Sinaloa state published in 1987 by Hector F. Esparza Torres. Of interest, another coastal town was shown to exist at the next point north on the coast. Points offer safe harbor and this one was called Punta San Miguel and the village it protected named Celestino Gasca. There was shown a road connecting Gasca with La Cruz de Elota, a town larger than Dimas. Like Dimas, La Cruz is on the railroad and is not on the coast. La Bara is almost on the railroad, and it is on the coast at a point offering harbor. Celestino Gasca is on both the railroad and the coast at a point offering harbor. The only map that shows Gasca is the map by Esparza. There exist many similarities between La Bara and Gasca when the only source of information is maps. Similarities breed curiosity.
Native guides are essential for good exploration. I wrote to my taxista friend León, shared with him my thoughts, and asked him to make a reconnaissance trip. Dimas is closest to La Bara. Check it out for accommodations and supplies. Farther north of La Bara is La Cruz de Elota, a town larger than Dimas, likely to have better facilities than Dimas. Tolls are expensive, so they must be considered. There is a toll booth at Marmol, just north of Mazatlán. Is there a toll booth between Marmol and La Cruz? We could consider La Cruz if there is no toll booth.
León made several trips to the region. Between middle February and late May, he sent several reports. Always his letters opened with greetings to my family and expressions of hope that everyone was in good health, that I was well with God. He closed his letters in the same way. León visited the only hotel in Dimas, reporting that the few single rooms are small, although each room has its own bathroom. In La Cruz, he examined four hotels. The best one was the Hotel JR. It has a restaurant, but no kitchen in the rooms. It is air conditioned and very nice. The other three are less attractive. La Cruz is a small town, but there is everything we want there. While in La Cruz, León learned of Playa Ceuta, so he investigated. There is a large panga fleet. Ceuta is on a marvelous beach. There is no hotel in Ceuta. A strong west wind drove the waves so high that when León was in Ceuta none of the fishermen had ventured out. The autopista has toll gates only just outside Culiacán and again at Marmol. This gives us free access between La Cruz and La Bara.
In early May I telephoned native guide León to learn the current situation. León reported a change in the autopista. The escape road at Marmol had been blocked to all but tiny vehicles. This ended free and easy exploration, and we were glad that we had accomplished everything before the closure. Along with this highway information, León wished me safe passage on the road. We agreed to meet in Mazatlán at the conclusion of our fishing adventure.
Throughout late winter and early spring, we rodsmen practiced fishing techniques. We put the fighting belt on each young rodsman and sat him in the rocking chair with a rod and coached him through the motions of the offering of the bait and the strike that follows. I played billfish to give them some idea of the force on the rod tip and the reel. The game was a wonder to the rodsmen. The exact process of the baiting and striking and the hand work required on the reel captured their attention and challenged them to perfect it. As we played on, their comfort grew with their perfection. And so the dance truly began when we pretended La Bara and rocked in our imaginary ocean battling the billfish. Always the dance will spawn ritual. The embellishment of ritual produces lore. Lore is Tells which capture the essence of truth as opposed to the facts. Lore, to close the circle, creates new dancers, who then move as one and recall rocking chairs and rituals.
Arrived a farewell one evening. Just like our red hollyhocks, Anticipation had crested and could rise no higher, and she, like the hollyhocks, glowed in florescence. Anticipation had shared passage with us through the past winter. Throughout her stay, Anticipation had caused joy. Without her company, there would have been no rocking chair. No ritual. Certainly there would have been no dance. No lore. Anticipation must attend for these wonders to occur. So, just as had Search crested upon discovery of La Bara, giving birth to Anticipation, now too Anticipation had crested. Her departure gave birth to Expectation and her running mate Hope. It was time to go.
Our spring trip to La Bara was the inaugural of many to come. But First Times are only once, and are memorable by this unique designation.
We traveled for a day and a half over a smooth autopista. The last hour we had come beside the sparkling ocean and our expectations also glittered. Then ahead we saw a sign indicating a rocky side road to La Cruz de Elota. We slowed and turned and smiled at the twin steeples of the cathedral in the distance. Brown dust rose from the road as we entered the village. Women with water buckets fought the dust by sprinkling the ground in front of their houses. Except for the slow creep of the cruiser carrying the marlinhunters, nothing moved in the still heat.
Four hotels were examined. As had forecast native guide León, the Hotel JR seemed best for us. It loomed at the eastern edge of the lazy town, a shoe box painted bright purple. It was Just Right Hotel and we dubbed it our Purple Palace. After unloading and moving in, we went for a slow cruise through La Cruz scouting supply stores. Everything we required could be found. By late afternoon the people began to stir and the streets filled. Women set up stands along the street front where they could sell home cooked food to other villagers during the evening. The sprinkling of the dusty roads accelerated as the hoof traffic increased. Lazy La Cruz. Our home for a dusty while.
Then time to travel to La Bara. Back on the autopista heading south. The shimmering blueness of the Pacific to our right, the rugged peaks of the Sierra Occidental to our left. Just ahead and off to the west lay Gasca, a green oasis of palm trees on a red dirt point. A cow trail leading through a closed gate headed to Gasca. We passed by slowly, looking west, and then continued south. The mountains came to the surf and from the top of a rise we saw twin points protruding into the blueness. The far point held a speck of whiteness that is the faro lighthouse at La Bara.
Across the long bridge over the Río Piaxtla. Another set of twin steeples in a green palm forest announced Dimas. The exit from the autopista was unmarked, being only a cow trail leading through a cut in the fence. Dust boiled from the trail as we moved toward Dimas before finding a second cow trail leading toward La Bara. The trail changed to a rocky road and we bumped and wiggled our way through a brown scrub forest. Blue box bee traps hung from slender tree limbs. Quail ran across the road and hawks sat atop tall cactus as we came to the railroad. An ancient yellow sign encouraged us to yield to the train rather than to yield our lives. We crossed and inched our way beside a dry lagoon where sat a tall pink spoonbill. From the distance came the boom of surf meeting high cliffs. Then the edge of the litter. Now everyone sitting tall with anxious eyes. Leaning forward. Still and quiet. Suddenly the first bara stick house. And beside the road a small white sign. Barras de Piaxtla, 360 habitantes.
Now to find a capitán and a panga. Ahead we saw a familiar house, the bara where we had found our first capitán. We had his picture from that trip. We showed it to a young women who mistakenly claimed it was her father. A neighbor correctly identified the capitán as Pedro Martinez Martinez. From the doorway of the bara appeared Alicia, the wife of Pedro. Her husband was inside with a cut foot. She saw his picture and left to show him. Pedro appeared and we renewed our friendship. He could not go fishing but would arrange someone to take us.
Together we moved into the baras to where Esteban lived. He would ask his friend Ramón to captain for us while Esteban played ayudante. But Ramón was unable, so Esteban approached Carlos to captain. We discussed a business arrangement with Carlos and we agreed on $50 a day for the boat, with us buying the gasoline and tipping the ayudante. The coming morning we would arrive at dawn. Carlos needed sufficient gasoline to run out two hours and troll all day and return. He was to have fresh lisa baitfish for trolling. We shook hands with the capitán and ayudante and looked across the cove at the pangas.
The beach was littered with dead fish, oil cans, shredded nets and plastic. Long lines snaked across the brown sand from the baras to pangas out in the water. Nets filled the pangas. All black 75 Enduro outboards propped astern. All white boats. No lust for individuality. The comfort of oneness.
Smiling over the covey of pangas in the cove, we discussed the fishing to come. None had ever done it before, so none knew what to expect. None had ever even seen a rod and reel. None had ever dressed a lisa for trolling. None had ever seen a billfish hooked and fought. Yet not a man would be hindered by this lack of experience, as all expressed strong opinions about the venture.
All beliefs floated were discovered to be opinions without foundation. Contemplation of our venture had never occurred previously so all paths had to be investigated. Exploration. There was considerable disagreement about which fish might be present. Local fishermen do not normally venture far enough offshore to see billfish or large dorado. Local fishing is with nets and hooks near shore. No billfish had ever been caught at Las Barras. Billfish in the past have been seen jumping. Recently, no one has been out far enough to see any jump. Opinions, observations, exploration, esperanza.
Dusty dusk with orange in the west when we drove away from the village and returned to La Cruz. There we shopped for groceries and ice. Back in our comfortable hotel, we prepared the ice chest and other boat gear. Then we unpacked the fishing tackle and began arranging it for the coming adventure. Remembrance joined us that night. She smiled from the sofa and listened about the coming dance.
Four thirty am. Packed and driving by five. Women sweeping the dust from doorsteps, sprinkling water on the street front. Dogs stirring. Dust hangs directly over road with no wind to blow it. Past the cathedral, across the railroad, dusty and bumpy to the autopista. Then smooth and quiet and cool and to the east a ball of orange emerges from the silhouette of the sierra and the glassy sea to the west shimmers silver. Off the autopista and dust and rough and a lone horse rider before coming into Las Barras.
We found Carlos at the beach. Esteban hobbled up with a freshly cut foot. We recalled that Pedro had cut his foot as we looked at the litter everywhere. Arrangements had been made for a new capitán and ayudante using the panga of Carlos. We met Capitán Alfredo and ayudante Cruz. This last-minute changing of the crew would be the rule over the days of fishing. While in Las Barras, we had two different pangas and three different capitanes and four different ayudantes. Some of them had nicknames. There were men named TexasBoys, Cafe, Gabacho and Tello. TexasBoys became our favorite, not because he turned out to be Pedro Martinez Martinez, our original capitán, rather because of friendship and respect for him and his family.
At long last load the panga. The bait is fresh from a morning cast net. Now push the panga out into the water. Men appear from the shade near the beach edge. Push and roll panga across stick baras laid over the sand. Pole out into the cove far enough to unprop the motor. Pull the starter cord. First pull fire. Now around the point and between the tall sentry rock and the lighthouse, and before us spreads a shimmering silver sea expanding forever to the west, and the cool wind and hum of the outboard announce the arrival of the marlinhunters and the beginning of the hunt.
The first known habitation of Las Barras was a by a pair of Gringos, an elderly couple. During their stay, the Gringa died and her husband buried her atop a small hill overlooking Las Barras. Locals refer to it as Cerro de la Gringa. Following this establishment of settlement by Gringos, the first Mexican family moved to the cove in 1973. This family head is now the Commissioner of the village, both an honorary and political title. All the land is owned by the Mexican government. Dwellings are owned by those who build them. No dwellings may be built within 500′ of the lighthouse.
Settlement of Las Barras has led to stores, a church and school. Two months previous to our arrival, the government installed a water system for the village. There are hopes for electricity during the present administration. There are hopes for an improved road so that a bus can arrive, as presently there is no public transport and it is a seven-mile walk to the Dimas highway. During our stay at Las Barras, we provided transport to pregnant mothers going to the Red Cross in Dimas. We also hauled tambulaca gasoline cans to fill with panga fuel for our days offshore, as there is no gasoline in Las Barras and no way to get any unless you have your own transport.
Women of Las Barras tend house, tend the children, and attend church. Their stick houses are their castles. Twice each day, the dirt floor of a woman’s entire compound is swept, the debris placed in a hole dug in the yard. Anything too big for the hole is thrown into the street. Urination occurs along the back-fence line. Plastic walls around holes serve as bathroom walls for stooling. Chickens are free to run throughout the house and property. The family sleeps in the single room of the house. There is a shaded area attached as a porch for outside socializing. A kitchen is attached to one end of the house. An old oil drum is the stove which is fueled by baras from the scrub forest. Since two months past, a faucet can be found in the yard. Before that, the little girls had to carry both fuel baras and water for their mothers.
Men of Las Barras earn money from fishing and diving and netting. Gill nets are used in the near shore waters. Oysters and lobster are taken by divers. Handlines take near-shore fish. Shrimp in season are taken by nets. Trucks from Mazatlán come to collect the fish. All the economy is based on fishing. All the men’s time is spent fishing or waiting to fish.
During our time in Las Barras, we saw a plethora of marine wealth. Offshore we saw whales and oceanic sunfish and sea turtles. Diving on the reef near Playa de la Hincha Huevo (Itchy Balls Beach), we saw oysters and lobsters and shellfish. Near shore we saw rooster fish, corvina, pargo, jack crevalle and snook, these as large as any in the world. In the cove we saw shrimp that would go two to the pound. People in La Cruz told us that Las Barras is the greatest fishing hole around. Fishermen in La Boca de San Lorenzo and Las Arenitas told us they envied the fishing in Las Barras. The fish sellers in the Mercado Principal of Mazatlán all know of Las Barras by reputation, and the best-looking fish in the market always come from Las Barras.
Our inaugural adventure there put us on course for many subsequent visits to the stick village and the blue offshore water.
Southbound to the Hunt
The night before our fourth departure for Las Barras, the greatest hunter of all rose through the saddle between Tao and Yang. With his trusty dog Sirius, he had arrived from the Equator east of Taurus, his belt and sash sparkling, his long bow drawn, his brightly tipped arrow Aldebaran aimed toward the Ram, and of course he was Orion. Down Whitewater hung his lantern Quarter Moon.
Now anew begins the dance. First the ritual of preparation. Pack the strong rods and the golden carretes and the leather fighting belts now stained and scratched and possessing the prized patina. Then the loading of our trusted brown cruiser. Straps and cinches and rods atop. Ritual. The dance. Then the overture, the snap-crackle of wheels on gravel signaling departure. And lastly the symphony of wind through the windows and the hum of the highway. Mantra. The dance.
Ahead in the deep distance shimmers the silver the unknowing call heat mirage. But for dancers, no fantasy is the vision, rather it is the Spirit, luring and seductive, the one called Lore, leading the marlinhunters southward to the sea and the hunt.
At Nogales we arrived at the border. La frontera, the frontier, it is called in Spanish. But here, Mexicans call it la cicatríz, the scar, in reference to the line left by the Gringos after they stole all the Mexican land north of it, land that is now in America, that country called by these same Mexicans El Norte. Mexicans say that Gringos have spent their lives crossing frontiers. Early on Gringos crossed the frontier marked by the Mississippi River, the gateway to the West, something to be tamed Gringos claimed, and thus the extermination of an entire culture called the Native Americans. Later for Gringos came the final frontier, outer space, to go where no one has gone before. For Mexicans, the frontier most remembered is the one the invading Gringos crossed at Palomas and Veracruz.
Now we hunters would cross the northern scar, and at that instance would be fused all the anticipation and all the romance conjured by myth. Each of us carries inside us our own real frontier. And for we marlinhunters, the northern scar is the doorway to our encounter with Lore.
On southward rode the marlinhunters. Then finally off the autopista, bouncing over the rough and rocky trail into the village of Las Barras de Piaxtla, stopping at the familiar bara stick hut of TexasBoys. Friendships renewed themselves. Gifts were passed and received, and the clothes, toys, rod holders, hats, and compass were enjoyed by all.
Inside the bara spread the heavy fragrance of TexasBoys and his family, an aroma distinct from that of our ranch house on the Rim. The essence was different because the fishing family eats differently, and thinks and loves and fears differently. The timid might suffer an unpleasant scent, but the initiated discover that smoke, foot-worn dirt, and mildewed clothes produce the perfume of the coming hunt.
With gifts delivered and plans firmed, we loaded back into our cruiser, headed to the Purple Palace Hotel in La Cruz to spend the night. As we pulled away from the bara of TexasBoys, he called to us. No te levantes con el pie izquierdo. Don’t get out of bed with your left foot. Superstition claims this act will cause mala suerte, bad luck. Actually, the dicho saying is a reminder to honor the spirits, as bad luck stems from a failure to acknowledge the mystics. Through recognition by esoteric beliefs called superstitions, the mystic is honored and out spins Lore.
Offshore in the Panga
In the still light of dawn, we creep past the indolent dogs who invariably lie in the dusty road and do nothing but replace themselves through inbreeding and are called politicos.
Then all aboard the panga skiff “El Chicano,” and we curve around the point, passing between El Morro the friendly sentry rock and the welcoming lighthouse faro, the expansive Pacific now spreading before the bow of the panga. A wide blue vista. Sparkling. Inviting. The hunting waters.
Our opening rumbo route would carry us north and away from the fertile Two-ten waters. Already had we searched Two-ten and quarry was scarce. So we must search still farther. Always the search. First by reason and experience, then by hunch and hope before arriving home to luck and the mystical. The fundamental task of all hunting is to locate the fish and raise it. By whatever search. The capture is less crucial and not altogether essential. Detection of the fish is more critical than capture of the fish. So the search is cardinal and is designed to yield most effective detection.
TexasBoys and Capitán Doble call the search la busca. This comes from the verb buscar, meaning to look for. La busca is intended to locate the quarry. Then begins the chase, called in Spanish la caza and performed by cazadores, hunters. The chase is intended to result in union between hunter and quarry. The Spanish for union is casar, which in common usage is the word for marriage. Casar and cazar are pronounced without perceivable difference, nor, perhaps, without distinction either.
We find hunting water in seventy minutes. Nearshore green has become offshore blue. A small franja riptide has been passed, the rip marked with bobbing mangrove seeds that float vertically so as to produce an apparent backbone for the franja. Also float blue-bubble man o’ war quemadores and white agua mala jellyfish. Sinuous, continuous orange trails of dolphin fish dorado eggs mark the rip. Northwest bears the franja. Elegant terns drift in the rip, their black-topped heads turning to watch us. “El Chicano” slows to his idle and we arrange the gear and soon silver lisa baitfish swim properly presented astern.
Rodsmen aseat nalgas on the second banco bench seat cast sharp eyes across suave lady La Mar, seeking any sign of the fish. Capitán Doble stands and steers and stares incessantly across the horizon, hoping to spot the quarry. Abow the panga stands the espectadór, the looker, ever alert while maintaining balance by grasping the bow line. The espectadór is charged with detecting the fish. This particular hunter must be especially vigilant. Should the quarry come suddenly and surprise the espectadór, then vigilance is lacking and the quality of the hunt is tarnished.
The highest-most vantage is essential for maximum detection, thus the standing abow by the espectadór. The charter boats out of resorts employ elevated flying bridges for the purpose of detection. But water-level pangas naturally equalize hunter and quarry and thereby greatly enrich the hunt.
Sun climbed above the silhouette of the eastern sierra and so awakened Breeze. We welcomed Breeze and were thankful that Wind had not come instead. The previous day macho El Mar had worn a southern white coat wrinkled from swells driven by Wind. We hunters had been wet most of the day and our bodies made salty-sore and fatigued by the bounce of the panga. The espectadór could stand properly abow only with great concentration and fitness. But hardship in the panga was quietly accepted and then softened by the physical effort of each hunter. The danger of the rough sea was accepted emotionally, as was the risk it presented. For we hunters know that never is the hunt free of hardship and risk. Even with weary eyes and tired bodies finally ashore last evening, we hunters were not disheartened that the quarry had successfully escaped us, and we felt only impatience that Night’s black horse must pass before we hunted again.
Now suave La Mar lay quietly as Breeze caressed her. Abow the panga, the eyes of the espectadór searched continuously. As did those of the rodsmen and Capitán Doble. Overhead soared frigate bird tijeras and occasionally there passed a white gaviota gull to laugh at us. Barilete tuna skipped and echarras cast themselves into flight through the air. Hours appeared and then vanished. Yet no hunter could spy the fish.
Proper it is that the hunt be lengthy before is found the fish. Only after the hunt is long and the will is strong can a hunt be adjudged laudable.
Suitable quarry is scarce. Unless quarry is scarce it can never be deemed apposite. So, for each hunter comes first a hunt for determination of befitting quarry. Only after appropriate quarry is defined can the hunt begin. Worthy quarry is by definition scarce, demanding of the greatest respect and etiquette. Never can quarry be equal to the hunter, so equalization must always be sought. Charter boats and big reels are less equal than pangas and light lines. Because heroic quarry is scarce, and because equalization is sought, success is never guaranteed, and risk of failure inherently looms always over the hunt. To hunt lacking etiquette is to seek unsuitable quarry by advantageous method. This results in an experience which fails to qualify as a hunt.
Breeze sighed and lady La Mar drowsed in the sunshine. To the east our friends the cliffs and peaks and landmarks smiled at us. Twin pairs of yellow butterflies kissed into and through and out the panga on their way to see the west. A diving duck trio first circled widely around the panga and then danced momentarily above the luring silver lisa astern “El Chicano.” Natural. Mystical. Unifying. The misty spirits the unknowing call haze shimmered against blueness, and softly and surely swept all aboard into the hunt.
Breeze awakened Appetite. During the sharing of the ritual guacamole, the paleta verde green popsicles were passed and the güeros whiteskins accepted while the morenas brunette-skinned Mexicans declined. That day the popsicles offered were plump green jalapeño chiles. Only occasionally will TexasBoys endure chile and never will Capitán Doble. They claim that chiles “me enchilé,” make enchiladas of them, make them “in chileds.” To call a green pepper a green popsicle is most amusing to the fishermen of Las Barras. It is equally amusing when the swarthy Mexican refers to the blond American as a chilero, a pepperbelly. This American racist reference is usually spoken by Anglos referencing Hispanics as habitual pepper eaters, which actually few are. It is equal in intent to white racists associating black people with watermelons. Even the gulls laughed at this role reversal.
We conversed as we shared food. TexasBoys voiced that in Las Barras lives a fisherman whose real name is Cruz. But in Las Barras no one uses real names and he is known as Cacharpa. Also in Las Barras, out in the cove, lives a panga with encrypted blue letters across her bow proclaiming her also to be Cacharpa. TexasBoys tells and Capitán Doble nods in agreement that a cacharpa is an oversized coin worth almost nothing. Big, but worthless. It is notable that Cruz is trim and well to do. The panga is sleek and well kept, the color of care and love, priceless to her owner. Neither appears big and worthless.
We contemplated whether the pelicans we call juezes could be also termed cacharpa. The black-coated, white-shirted pelicans always seated sternly on the faro rock ledge resemble a bench of judges, juezes. Could a judge be called cacharpa? Most assuredly, chuckled TexasBoys and Capitán Doble.
Talk turned to the game of estimating the weight of any caught fish brought aboard the panga. No one involved in the competition is allowed to hold the fish. All weight estimation is based on visual skill alone. We have a handheld scale to ensure correctness of estimate according to El Zebco, the scale manufacturer. Wagers always appear during this circumstance and the best estimate earns a dubious honor. That is, the winner is declared to be a brujo, a witch doctor, one who knows without apparent reason to know, and thereby wins the game by mysterious means.
The villagers of Las Barras declare that brujos are always evil. Ashore after the hunt and several cold Pacificos, the winner of any weight estimation contest is exposed as “el es brujo.” Everyone cautiously laughs except the children, whose eyes widen noticeably at the very mention of the phrase. The villagers claim that brujos cause only badness, lo malo. When questioned about curanderos, or curers, the villagers contend that these gifted healers are not brujos because they bring happiness and hope, never sadness, even when their prescriptions fail to bring bienestar, well-being, la limpia, the cleaning, the cure.
Then we spoke of the need, or lack thereof, for a compass. Usually the way home is well marked by the distant mountains and coastal landmarks. Only when the fog comes is a compass desired. And by what means does function a compass? How does a compass see through the mist? It is a mystery. So a compass is called a brujula, almost a brujo.
Capitán Doble can little read or write. His fisherman’s hands are scarred from fin and hook punctures. The children counted the white marks as he held open his palms. During the counting, lady La Mar swept past, her waves and ways being Capitán Doble’s world, one he is revealing to the children. On the other side, counting is the way of the children, the world of books and numbers, one they are exposing to Capitán Doble through their gift to him of the compass.
As we conversed, the five-year old called Panga Rat scurried about “El Chicano,” further earning his offshore name. Back ashore, he is called Corajudo. The word is derived from corazón, heart. One with heart is blessed with coraje, courage. One with courage is a corajudo, a troublemaker, cocky, one who pouts, a brat, a contender. It is a compliment nonetheless, as it implies strong willed and spirited, a leader. A corajudo is expert in getting his way. A doer. A corajudo is smart and displays prowess. Pouting and throwing fits are early signs of strong will and are welcomed by the villagers of Las Barras. A corajudo always questions authority and finds that most of the pueblo will follow him. Pancho Villa was a famous corajudo. Also corajudos were Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Maggie Thatcher, and Moses and Truman and Napoleon and Hitler.
Speaking with the villagers of Las Barras requires adjustment to a Spanish dialect in which the letter “s” is often omitted. Those who speak in this manner are indicated to “se comen los eses.” They eat their s’s. When this trait is brought to the attention of the speaker, it is confessed that, yes, the speaker “habla mocho.” This means he speaks as a cutoff, treating his words as Gringos do their old blue jeans to create shorts. The fishermen opine that such dialect is common all through Mexico with the exception of Jalisco state, where Spanish is spoken correctly and completely. And why only in Jalisco? Because there are many rich there, and the campesinos are influenced by the speech of the rich. In other Mexico, where there are few rich, the campesinos speak pelado Spanish. Pelado means skinned, bald, lacking fullness, poor. In Chihuahua state the people speak golpeado. This is talking with a punch, a chingazo, an aggressive tone, spitting out words, assertive, insistent, and forceful.
In Las Barras lives a male homosexual called Polo. He is renowned as a chef and sought by other villages for cooking at local fiestas. Everyone calls him Mujer, woman. Despite this apparent derogatory tagging, Polo is actually well liked. In the machismo society of Mexico, this is an anomaly, as homosexuality is considered vulgar to the extent that many male Mexicans hold their nose when referring to homosexuals. Male homosexuals are called mariposos, a corruption of the word mariposa meaning butterfly and always feminine. Thus a male homosexual is a male butterfly and every macho Mexican male knows that butterflies can never be masculine.
Male homosexuals are also called jotos. This term is a corruption of the word jota, feminine and usually meaning the letter J. Also a jota is a dance, especially popular amongst the members of Pancho Villa’s army. The dance normally occurred between two male dancers, this due to the lack of women in the camps. After the Revolution, if a man continued to dance the jota with other men, he was suspected to be homosexual and referred to as a joto. Still another word for male homosexual is maricón, from marica, meaning sissy. Maricón is a big sissy. Of interest is that lesbians are considered masculine, thus earning the designation marimacho, or Mary the macho.
With the guacamole consumed and with our panzas llenas corazones contentos, bellies full and hearts happy, the chatter ceased and “El Chicano” slid smoothly and quietly over the blue mirror of lady La Mar. Still no sign of the quarry. We cruised in silence for awhile and then TexasBoys began to hum softly. The melody was easily recognizable and smiles curved the faces of the rodsmen. It was a jingle composed the previous May and references the beach known as Playa de la Hincha Huevo. Itchy Ball Beach. The name comes from the folktale that if a fisherman sits under a particular tree on the beach, his scrotum will begin to itch. Huevo means egg, but is the common slang for testicle. The hincha huevo is an actual tree, rare, found only in Sinaloa around Mazatlán and in Oaxaca. The tree is the progenitor of the expression “hincha huevos,” literally “itchy eggs,” but which means a man is so annoyed that his “balls are itching.” He might say “ya me hincho los huevos.” The jingle goes Ya me voy al Itchy Ball Beach. En mi pang, pang, pang panga.
After awhile the humming quieted and the rodsmen aseat nalgas nestled contentedly as the search intensified. The bench seats in a panga are called bancos. The bancos are narrow and hard and can become uncomfortable after only a short while. Discomfort is magnified if the sea is rough. Relief can be obtained by a soft cushion. To the laughter of the Mexicans, we have come to refer to our cushions as nalgas. This christening originated after one day offering TexasBoys a sandwich to be served on hamburger buns. During preparation of the sandwich, the bread was used to mimic buttocks, this to explain the English slang word buns to reference the posterior anatomy. The normally solemn Mexicans laughed loudly at the association. Nalgas is the Spanish for buttocks, or buns. And it is upon buns which one sits, or in our panga, on cushions called buns, or nalgas.
La busca lingered on into the still day. “El Chicano” bobbed only slightly as he slid over the blue water. The sea surface appeared as glass, as nalga de Indio, slicker than an Indian’s buns. Rodsmen quiet. Only the sound of suave La Mar lapping against the bow of “El Chicano.” TexasBoys yawned and stretched and then slowly swept his arm across the encircling blue horizon. No le hace. It doesn’t matter. Muy codo La Mar hoy dia. Very elbow is the sea today. He meant she was a tightwad, an elbow. Ya viene la pachocha. Soon she will come with her money roll. Then he settled again. Rodsmen aseat nalgas.
In 1810, the Mexicans initiated their break from Mother Spain. A priest named Hidalgo led the rebellion with a famous appeal from his parish in Dolores. The response from the masses is known as El Grito de Dolores, the Cry of Dolores, for at the close of Hidalgo’s plea to seek liberty, the multitudes shouted Death to the Gachupines. This battle cry spread over Mexico throughout her war for independence. The origin of the word gachupine is unclear, some claiming it is from a Nahuatl word, others from a rich Laredo family. Regardless, a gachupine is a contemptuous insult pertaining to anyone having anything Spanish about them. Light skin, blue eyes, education, political position, property ownership and police for such are all gachupines.
While “El Chicano” floated along, we joked about the gachupines. We shared a story whereby two Mexicans in an American bar were discussing politicos. The word gachupines was stated often during their conversation. Sitting nearby, a Gringo listener, speaking no Spanish, periodically heard the phrase “got you penis,” followed by unintelligible words until he heard another “got you penis.” TexasBoys laughed. We floated quietly a moment. Then Capitán Doble declared soberly that even without Spanish, the Gringo had been quite correct. Politicos got you penis, whether in Mexico or El Norte, so gachupines is the word in both languages.
We shared a story about the spelling of the English word socks. Socks is the English spelling for pronunciation of a common phrase in conversational Spanish. Eso si que es. S-O-C-K-S. This is translated as That yes that is, or That’s it. So if you agree with something, spell socks.
We floated quietly for awhile and then TexasBoys began to hum a waltz. We all enjoyed the dance. It was an old step called Sobre Las Olas, Over the Waves, composed by a Mexican Indian in the 1880s. TexasBoys hummed some more while “El Chicano” waltzed with lady La Mar.
There swept over us a rising quietness as the last strains waltzed over the waves. Mystically appeared that stillness of when the moment is one by all. Sky and sea merge and blend to erase the horizon and create whole blueness. Nothing is seen, all is blue, one. A sudden whistling sound settled over everything. The ringing of the moment only. The heralding of the presence of Lore.
Suddenly came the fish in a rush to surprise. But the vigilant espectadór abow the panga would not be caught off-guard and called warning to the rodsmen whose keen eyes instantly marked a razored black streak slicing across blueness. The marlin’s tail, the scythe of the Grim Reaper, La Guadaña, partner for the coming dance.
The death of La Busca the search and the birth of La Corrida the dance occurred upon union of hunter and quarry by a passionate kiss through the light line. Engagement. Then corrida.
First a fandango with lively jumps and leaps and much shaking. Then the tango, hard and solemn, passionate drama with much tugging and snapping. Then a pañuelo, wide circles, pulling to part but not, slowly spinning as though attached by scarf. And in finale, a delicate minuet, close and proper, affectionately subdued, closing with bowing attachment. La corrida completa.
Now at the panga is the partner in dance. She twists and shudders for never has she suffered capture. No longer is she the Reaper, rather she is the seized. The rodsman has become La Guadaña.
Death is anticipated through fear. Instead comes La Toca. The dancers come together for embrace and the hook is extracted and the ballerina is held by the bill and nursed in the water until exhaustion is overcome. And then the dancers part slowly, she swimming away, disappearing into the blueness. The Touch.
La Toca is the feeling that comes from that moment. The feeling is of something one. What is one is the cosmic connection. The mystical union of the billfish and the hunter. The moment is one and won by all and so honors the Mystic and spawns Lore.
The Eastern Hunt
Came then the time for a long trip to Eastern El Norte, one that would last almost a month. We had worked and endured and sometimes suffered for thirteen years for a chance at this hunt. It had been the longest of all our searching.
Out the canyon and down to the desert and across the Río Bravo, away from civilization, to the airport. Crowds and noise and the wilderness of population. Then aboard and up and away from the Rim and across America to the far coast and the thorns and thickets of urban wilderness and a ride toward empire buildings on an island. As the taxi emerged from the tunnel under the river and entered the city, a metallic click announced that the driver had locked the doors. He said this was prudent, that once at a stop light, four whores had suddenly and without warning jumped into his cab. One hooker had pressed a straight razor to his neck while the others robbed him. As the driver spoke, outside the closed window, which seemed a television screen, panhandlers swarmed, filth blew, and the scene served notice to all hunters that never easy is a worthwhile hunt. So began the twenty-four-day search.
In the mornings, we sweat-soaked, suited fish were packed into a silver can and driven under the streets by a turbaned mustache while sermons were shouted and our vision limited to armpits of other fish grasping overhead handles. Space was precious and newspapers were folded lengthwise for reading. Once out of the can and into the grand central factory, the fish swarmed toward the conveyor belt that assembled them in pairs and hurried them to a second level where stairsteps were named with capital letters, the most befitting of which read MOB.
After emerging from the underground Styx, the view changed to one of a gray canyon between a walled street. Darting yellow cars, all quick to honk and screech and scratch for space, intruded everywhere. On every corner stood a cart selling breads to brown coats and to girls wearing baggy sweaters and tight black stretch pants stuck into oversized boots.
Sanctuary of a sort was the inside of a building guarded by bluecoats who kept all but the W2’s at bay. From high above, looking out a permanently closed window, one could see across the canyon and peer into other sanctuaries where white shirts and red ties scurried about.
Evenings produced a second canning process, returning we fish to our point of origin, where we could look behind us across the river back at the financial district, seeing stalled cars attempting to cross a huge bridge that looked as though it should be falling down. We walked along Montague street, by the basement down the stairs, no music in the cafes at night, narrow and bordered by brown-stoned shotgun houses and small ethnic restaurants with single digit prices on windowed menus that pleaded come in because it was always good, cheap and filling.
Once properly completed, the twenty-four-day search ended. The urban wilderness disappeared in the rear-view mirror, the jet streaked westward, where ahead lay civilization, hiding in the desert and the high mountains. The night of the return from the East brought a warm welcoming coyote symphony that filled Whitewater for over an hour.
A week later arrived a thick package containing documents. The first period on the opening letter was found half-way down the second page. No matter. The prize was present. The engagement was firm. We had boated a Wall Street marlin.
A Lull Between Hunts
Shortly before Christmas, we had designed an icon to silk-screen onto the front of T-shirts. The icon pictured a marlin leaping from the sea, a full brinca, and in the background a rodsman abow a panga, attached to the marlin by a cobweb of line. Under the logo was a curved inscription reading Las Barras de Piaxtla Expedición de La Pesca V. The shirts arrived two days before Christmas. The marlin had been hand-painted, bringing her to life, and she lured us with the smell of the sea and the hope for a tight line.
By Yule moon, the stash beside the fireplace had grown. The pile included three large colorful posters of sensuous buxom blonde Gringas, seductively advertising famous American beers. These pinups would be gifted to Panza at the deposito in La Cruz. The gift posters would be accompanied by a bottle of the brew advertised by each Gringa. Also in the stash lay leather gloves and new blue jeans. The pile would continue to grow until our ides departure when it would fill the rear of our land cruiser to create a well stacked sleigh heading south.
The customary ledger listing weeks until departure to Las Barras was maintained. As the weeks at the top of the list were crossed through, a feeling of history began to develop. Time was made sensitive by the graphic. How far we had come was manifest by seeing the crossed-out rows grow with respect to the size of the whole array. Had we chosen to cut-off as opposed to cross-through each week as it passed, we would have seen only the approaching departure. By maintaining the past, we could see how far we had come as well as how far we had to go. The graphic created reference. Reference invited Anticipation into our circle.
The end of the American football season brought passage. A tradition died. Lore was threatened. The television network which had pioneered professional football telecasts lost their 38-year old broadcast rights in a bidding war to an upstart network. Because of this business deal, a culture vanished. The two figureheads of the doomed culture were both old men. One had been a respected kicker, the other a championship coach of a legendary team. The kicker had been a broadcaster for 32 years, his voice magic, his foot less. The squint-eyed coach had come along thirteen years ago to join the kicker on a broadcast team. Together they combined to polish the Art of Telling. They became bigger than the game itself, they became legends. Of most importance they created the Lore of the game.
But then on a gray Dallas Sunday came final game day, the last telecast, the day the music died. During his opening overview of the game, the old kicker ended his introduction with ”… And vanished like Gunsmoke.” Surely he was referencing a previous death of tradition, an earlier threat to Lore, the night Matt Dillon died. Without tradition Lore will vanish. Fittingly, Lore threatened always spawns contemplation. Along the Rim that cold night lay hollow hearts, and moisture glistened on desert-hardened cheekbones. The children knew that a torch had expired when a roomful of men seemingly unconnected all fell silent and mystically rose together as one at the end of the game, when their two old friends bid farewell and signed off into the blackness, leaving nothing but Empty.
The full moon of January is known as Wolf. It occurred about the anniversary of our discovery trip to Las Barras. During the year since then, we had practiced piscatorial pleasure four times at Barras and always enjoyed la toca. We had boated half our billfish strikes. But we had not even touched the potential of fishing anything other than blue water; the estuary remained untested. As a fishing hole, Las Barras anda muy bien. More than the fishing of Las Barras makes it special, however. The friendships are warm. The giving and receiving is genuine. The exchange of cultures is rewarding to all. This life education for our children is priceless, yet essential and free. Las Barras is a treasure. Not just howling at the moon.
A business trip to the South occurred in early February. It was the family’s first separation of the year. During the trip, gifts for the villagers of Las Barras were purchased – for our village lady friends glossy Gringa dresses, for Ramón Loco a colorful shirt and dress coat, for Ramón Viejo a warm coat with a wool collar, for Capitán Doble’s family an assortment of clothes and toys for the children, for TexasBoys’ family some toys and bedding, for Telma’s children some toys, and, finally, for our honored friend in the village, a cap with the word Texas inscribed in front.
The trip to the South brought an opportunity to visit good friends. From Chihuahua City thirty years previous had arrived in El Norte the educated and charming Rogelio and Olga de la Fuente. Rogelio and Olga, with son Roger III, started a restaurant and grew it first into an established neighborhood eatery. But what Rogelio really wanted was a wine museum. Although traditional Mexican restaurants are noted for margaritas and beer, Maestro Rogelio successfully created in his eatery the ambiance of a great wine cellar. He continually improved his collection of vino fino with purchases made during foreign travel.
Entering the restaurant from the street doorway, one is greeted by flags of all nations hanging as decoration. Through the brightly colored banderas one will usually see Rogelio seated amongst the spirits at his personal table near the kitchen. However, Rogelio will be seated only until he sees someone enter. Then he becomes afoot and moving. Cuentista Rogelio claims he started the business as a way to corral people into an inescapable situation where he can talk while they eat enchiladas norteñas and listen. Rogelio knows history, philosophy, literature, metaphysics and the arts. Esposa Olga is a master linguist and most importantly knows the most dichos.
We talked about the languages. Spanish speakers always first recognize the other person. ?Cuanto le doy? How much to you I give? Le escribo la carta. To you I write the letter. In English the speaker always recognizes himself first. How much do I give you? I am writing you a letter. Emphasis is placed on exact opposites – I in English, you in Spanish. This fundamental distinction carries far into the cultures.
Olga knows that the Spanish tongue of Mexican Norteños is greatly influenced by a dialect created by the Pachuco gangsters of El Paso. The dialect is called caló, accent on the “o.” Pachucos were the gang members of the 1950s, archetype “greasers.” Their slang developed into a secret language now used by everyone along the frontera and in the barrios of large Gringo cities. Words such as pistiar come from the Pachucos. Pistiar means to drink alcohol. The word comes from the Pachucos corrupting the word pisto, a jigger, into pistiar, to use a jigger, or to drink alcohol. Now the Pachuco pistiar is used all across Mexico and El Norte.
Roger III, the true hipster of the family, offered that the Pachucos added a popular word to Gringo vocabulary also. Tocar is a word of several usages. It can mean to touch, or to feel, or to play, like play the guitar. Also the word is used to indicate that it is your turn to do something, like wash the car. It can mean to win. The word for curfew is toque de queda, literally the obligation to stay at home. While enjoying pachequear, an action considered winning, playing, or getting high, Pachucos use the word toque. A toque is having your hit on the joint being passed around. The word is pronounced tow-KAY. Gringos ears hear toke, like let’s have a toke.
Also during the trip to the South occurred the obligatory visit to another great eatery called Café Mérida. Here rules El Primer Jefe, the giant manager wearing jug-handle ears who welcomes diners to his turf with a wide grin and huge arms ushering guests into the dining room. The setting for dinner is a full wall mural of a verdant Maya city in Yucatán. Above the mural are the names of all the Maya Gods. Dinner with the Maya and Ah Puch. Across the room is a wide bar and tall windows to view the damp southern lushness outside. Cena a Mérida.
Over a bandeja de enchiladas verdes being enjoyed by a Gringo, El Primer Jefe recounted a story. He told that a few months ago a Mexican gang member robbed a store across the street from the restaurant. El Primer Jefe watched as the cholo ran behind a nearby house and quickly stuffed the moneybag in a garbage can just as the cops arrived. Summarily the cops cuffed the cholo on suspicion and then put him into the patrol car for questioning. El Primer Jefe watched awhile and then crossed over to where the interrogation was occurring. He could hear that obviously the cops knew no Spanish and the cholo knew no English. As El Primer Jefe was standing there listening, a pocho came by. The cops asked the Mexican-American to translate for them. So the pocho asked the cholo about what happened and the cholo confessed as to what he had done and where he had hidden the money. The cops asked what the cholo had said. The devious pocho, with an eye toward the trash can, replied, “The Meskin said that you cabrones are shit and not men enough to take him in.”
We diners stared at El Primer Jefe while occurred a brief silence as the tale was absorbed. Then erupted laughter and expressions of doubt about the veracity of the story. His jug-handles wiggling, El Primer Jefe frowned that sadly it was true, and that it is an example of how Mexicans slowly, surely, quietly and continually violate and abuse their own people. Les dan al otros la chinga quedito. They give to the others a silent fucking.
During the trip to the South, the psyche of the hunter came to the forefront. Contrary to the unassertive, never will the hunter trade freedom for security. Hunters do not dress in timidity. Nor in fear, nor in self-doubt. Believe all hunters that failure is transitory. As is success. As is life, pues el rumbo pasa. The only continuum is the Hunt itself. That is why hunters ride for their money, why they rope for short pay. Always searching. They never know what they will find. They cannot know where they are going. Adventure. An unknown end. All hunters hope for that shared moment when at last comes embrace with La Toca.
The Ides of March
Sunset on the eve of departure fell a little before six. This was an hour and a half later than on the shortest day of the year, for on the solstice the sun had set just before 4:30. The windows had been open in the house all day because of the warm sunshine. In the Garden Spot apricot buds swelled red before spurting pink blossoms and in the trees along the road elm leaflets threatened to peek green. Spring filaree on a brown lower pasture. Swollen tulip wombs stood beside new tall yellow daffodils and young iris shoots reached for the sky. Winter was fading.
New Moon hid in the heavens the night before leaving, her absence promising a slender silver return on the horizon during the coming sunset out on the desert. In the black night sky arrived Orion between Ying and Tao. His black and white horses Castor and Pollux hid from him behind the Blue Mountain.
Strong rods strapped atop the land cruiser. A marlinhunter steps back and takes a long careful look, that final sigh, and then softly taps the hood of the cruiser when all seems still. Standing in the comfort of encircling darkness, the soft swoons of night birds rising from the high meadow, we are warmed when Tranquility joins us, gifting the pause that sends the magic rushing to begin again the dance. Some believe the wise man travels while the fool wanders, and others vice versa, but the brujo holds that every perfect traveler creates his own country.
Now come the ides of March. Beware the ides of March. Do not fail to honor the mystic. Otherwise one is doomed.
The opening act of Julius Caesar contains the essence of this message. In the very first dialogue, a cobbler claims to be a mender of bad soles, a surgeon to old shoes. He says, “Sir, I can mend you…When old shoes are in great danger I recover them.” This message of souls and divination is to remind the audience to believe in magic and to honor the mystic. Immediately following this dialogue, Caesar reinforces the theme when he asks Antonius to touch Calpurnia because “the elders say it shakes off the sterile curse.” By this, Caesar honors the magic men, the elders, the brujos, by recognizing a superstitious cure for ridding oneself of a mystical curse. In the very next breath, however, Caesar strangely denies his proclaimed respect for the mystic. From the crowd calls a soothsayer, a speaker of sooth, reality. This blind man, speaking in a tongue shriller than all the music, warns Caesar to “Beware the ides of March.” Caesar studies the soothsayer and then discards him: “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him.” With this action, Caesar denies the mystic and is thereby doomed.
Sooth means reality in Greek and truth in Latin. The word is carried into the present as soothe meaning to ease one with the truth. The previously respected word soothsayer, however, has not been carried into the present. After Aristotle, a soothsayer became equal to a fortune teller. Aristotle straightened everybody out. Aristotle and his linear process of analysis and thought straightened out all the mystical curves mapped by those astrologers, brujos, curanderos and shaman who preceded him. Mysticism was aborted from the spectrum of reality for Western man because mysticism is not scientific, of course, meaning it cannot be explained by a repeatable experiment.
Shakespeare was neither first nor last to place the mystic in high esteem. To honor the mystic is taught by Master Obi-Wan Kenobi when he encourages “Trust your feelings Luke Skywalker.” The blue cowgirl with the big thumb recognized the mystic when “Abandoning all that she had been taught she replied that feeling was superior to knowledge.” That German poet from the 19th century urged us to “Never rely on reason as the mystic is stronger than so-called reality.” These teachings are not lost on we marlinhunters, and never will we be heard crying “But for my own part, it was Greek to me.”
On the Road to Las Barras
La Cicatríz. The Northern Scar. We pass from one side of a street to the other, from one country to another, from one language to another, from one currency to another, from one sentimentality to another. The Gringo Federales ask us upon departure if we are carrying arms or more than $10,000 currency into Mexico. We say no and they wave us on through. We know that when we return to this checkpoint upon departure from Mexico we will be subject to a severe search by the Green Uniforms and their dogs before being allowed reentry into El Norte. Across the street the Mexican Federales wave us past with no questions asked and we drive through the littered crowded border town toward the highway south.
Borders are volatile areas, interfaces, zones of transition. Borders are lines where clean meets dirty, the interface where the trash piles up. Gringos and Mexicans alike denounce the border as the place where the worst of everything accumulates. The border is where the rudest people live, where you get ripped off, where the worst drivers are concentrated, where the most graft and corruption is centered, where extremes can be identified easily. We ease through and are content to clear the clutter and noise.
Twenty kilometers out of town we come to the first Control. The customs and immigration federales control all passage through this point. We obtain a free tourist card in the first building and pass to the second building for a car permit. To bring a car into Mexico one must have an international credit card and title to the car. If the car is not removed from Mexico and the permit not canceled upon exit by the tourist, a fine is levied against the credit card holder. The car must enter and exit Mexico at the same border station. This process is intended to stop car thefts in El Norte designed to provide stolen cars for resale in Mexico. Equally, it is to stop tariff-free cars from entering Mexican ownership.
In Imuris, the road from Cananea joined the autopista. Cananea is the site of the great copper mine that hosted a wildcat strike by Mexican workers in 1906 that helped set off the Revolution of 1910. The mine was owned by the original Gringo Bill Greene, who with consort of the Díaz dictatorship, so severely abused Indian workers that they rebelled with the cry that “Greene go.” Imported Arizona Rangers, along with Greene’s mercenaries, all being the first Gringos, assisted Federales in killing thirty miners. The mines became the national symbol of the Revolution. The strike is memorialized in the emotional ballad La Cárcel de Cananea.
In 1989, during the night at gun point, modern Federales evicted the Mexican miners and shamelessly passed title to a foreign company which had purchased the property during Mexico’s economic crisis of the 1980s. The chinga quedito all over again. O maldición de Malinche, nos siguen llegando rubios. Cuando dejarás mi tierra Marina? Damn you Malinche! The blondes keep coming. When will you leave my land you whore?
A half hour passes and ahead we see the pueblo of Santa Ana, named for the Mexican politico who shaped Mexico 1823-1855. Antonio López de Santa Anna is the archetype caudillo, a politico who despoils the country for his own desires and leaves it weak, disorganized and stunted. The first caudillo of Mexico was Iturbide, who proclaimed himself emperor. Castro of Cuba is a caudillo, as was Somoza of Nicaragua, Papa Doc of Haiti.
Santa Anna appears in Mexican history in 1823 when he declared a Mexican republic over the monarchy of Iturbide. Santa Anna was 27-years old and it was less than two years since the Spanish had been kicked out. Five years later he led victorious troops against a Spanish invasion at Tampico. He became President in 1833 when he was 36-years old and he would periodically hold high offices throughout the coming quarter century. Santa Anna was from Veracruz and spoke an accented dialect of Spanish. He loved sensory influences such as food and distractions such as women, who found Santa Anna attractive. Most of all he loved card playing and cock fighting, his specialties, as he was a profound judge of men. Santa Anna was especially loved by his troops who held him in highest esteem as a courageous leader. He lived on a hacienda named Manga de Clavo, literally Nail Sleeve, but more akin to Iron Arm.
The administrations of Santa Anna remain the most corrupt in Mexican history. His hands always over-reaching and in more than a dozen cookie jars, Santa Anna was known as Quince Manos, Fifteen Hands.
When he was 39-years old Santa Anna suffered a full-scale rebellion in Texas. Mexico lacked money to quell the rebellion, so Santa Anna mortgaged his hacienda and secured a loan by putting up four Mexican states as collateral. He led 6,000 troops to Texas where he practiced viciousness until laziness caused his capture by a former Governor of Mississippi known by the Indians as Big Drunk and by Texicans as Sam Houston. Fearful for his life, Santa Anna called off the fight and signed any papers the Texicans placed before him. When Santa Anna got home he disavowed everything he had signed. Mexicans today allude to Santa Anna and his episode with the Texicans by throwing out a joke wherein John F. Kennedy arrives in Heaven to be greeted by Santa Anna saying “Now you know why I let them have it.”
Two years later Santa Anna was threatened by the French for Mexico’s non-payment of debt. The French shelled Veracruz and Santa Anna rushed from Mexico City to lead his troops in defense of the French invasion. During that successful campaign Santa Anna lost part of his left leg. By the age of 41, Santa Anna had thrice led troops defending Mexico from invading armies. Twice he repelled the foreign invaders, only at Texas did he fail.
At the age of 51, Santa Anna led, for his fourth time, troops to defend Mexico, this time not against the Spanish, French, or Texicans, but against the Gringos. He was defeated in several battles and the Gringos captured the halls of Montezuma after a one-year fight Mexicans call the American War. This defeat caused Mexico to lose half her territory to the big bully Tío Sam in El Norte. Even though Santa Anna suffered the blame for this debacle, by age 58, Santa Anna ruled Mexico once more. However, it was a short-lived administration. On his 60th birthday Santa Anna departed Veracruz, the old caudillo bound for Venezuela, where a pilfered fortune deposited in foreign banks awaited him. He sailed away on a ship named for the first caudillo Iturbide.
Two hours into Old Mexico we arrive at the railroad station of Benjamin Hill. Here the railroad from Tijuana merges with the line coming south from Nogales. Here also is the second Control. Although we are waved through going south, we know that on the northbound return, we will be questioned. This Control is used to check ID on all Latinos traveling to the Gringo border. Any Latino other than a Mexican must have a current USA visa and a round trip ticket to the USA in order to pass. The intent at Benjamin Hill is to stop Central American ilegales from reaching the border and crossing into El Norte. There is a Control similar to this just north of the Guatemalan border in southern Mexico near Tehuantepec.
The railroad station is named for Benjamin Hill, a Revolutionary war hero who, like Pancho Villa, served as friend, confidante, advisor and soldier for Alvaro Obregón. For this faithful service, Obregón rewarded Benjamin with death by poison. Such intrigue was common during the turbulent first quarter of this century when Mexican labor violence was harbinger to a violent Revolution which in turn spawned post-revolutionary violence. Most of the shooting stopped by 1920 and a bean farmer from Huatabampo named Obregón became President. He arrived at the top by murdering his old friend Benjamin Hill. While President, Obregón ruled as a dictator. In 1923 a brief rebellion intended to overthrow Obregón failed. During this rebellion, Obregón had friends of Pancho Villa kill the famous war chief because Obregón feared his old friend Villa might join the rebellion. Obregón himself was killed by a rival politico five years later.
Farther on down the road, we would ease through Obregon’s memorialization, a large modern agricultural city called Ciudad Obregón. Still farther along, we would pass near the village of Huatabampo, birthplace of Obregón. However, we would salute Huatabampo not for Obregón, but for the more important reason of it being the basecamp from where the ten-year old arms had first fished from a panga.
At the state line between Sonora and Sinaloa we arrived at the third Control. Again, the southbound traffic is waved through while all traffic headed north will be detained. This is a very serious Control manned by the darkest of Federale thugs. All northbound vehicles are halted, made to park over an inspection trench and the occupants forced to evacuate the car. The automobile is then searched inside and out for anything illegal, or anything legal that meets the fancy of the Federales. Fancied items are confiscated. These desirables include binoculars, walkie-talkies or anything that might be used in military or police work. The stated reason for the confiscation is that the bearer might use the items against the Federales. The actual effect of this Control is to expose all travelers to the worst examples of police abuse, all done in the name of drug control intended to stop the flow toward drug hungry El Norte. It is at this Control that everyone has an equal chance to be robbed by the police.
… we’ve been travelin’ quite a bit.
South of the border, where the Law & Order
Is kept by Federales who just grin
And tell you they want to be your friend.
Controles are always a little tense and light moments are appreciated. Some of the Federales try to use English. One time an officer looked at the children and said “Chillerens?” We nodded and he looked at their mother and said “My wife?” We laughed and corrected him and he blushed. Another time the Gringo at USA reentry asked what we were bringing back and we answered two plastic fish we had bought at the market. He looked soberly at us and replied, “You mean you have all those rods and you have nothing to show but two plastic fish?” We laughed and said we had left the real ones in Mexico. He waved us through. Still another light incident happened at the USA reentry point. We had stopped just before the border to spend our last pesos on gasoline before departing Mexico. Then we continued into El Norte. We were directed to the search area and we parked there. As we stepped out we heard the Gringos exclaim “Whoa! What do we have here?” As a prank, the Mexicans at the gasoline station had tied a huge snake onto a wire attached to our trailer hitch and we had dragged it right into the main inspection station for US Customs. The Gringo police tried not to laugh but most were unsuccessful. The children thought it hilarious and wondered what kind of snake it was.
On this Ides journey to Las Barras we would make a side trip to the coast in the Los Mochis area. Back in the 1960s, the bays, estuaries and offshore waters there abounded with sport fish. The fishing center had been at Topolobampo and the Yacht Hotel. Unfortunately, the drug rings in the 1970s began to use the hotel and it was closed. By the 1980s, Topo was the site of a Pemex tanker terminal. Now it is seldom remembered as a sportfishing Mecca. Rather than visit Topo, we would explore the adjacent bay to the south, hoping to find a village still in an earlier time.
Bahía San Ignacio hosts two villages, both on the east shore. Surprisingly, each are named as exit roads off the autopista, despite their small sizes. Huitussi and Cerro Cabezón. We planned to first visit Cerro Cabezón because we wanted to fish offshore at Roca San Ignacio Farallón. We hoped to find a panga and capitán at Cerro Cabezón. After Cabezón, we might visit Huitussi.
About thirty kilometers offshore spires Roca Farallón, the rocky top of a volcano jutting from the ocean at the edge of the Farallón Trench. Farallón means cliff or palisade. That the jagged rock is home to dozens of lobos sea lions and birds, and that in the water are jurel, sierra, and cabrilla are recollections from a last visit to the rock 25 years previous. For one traveler, our sojourn would be an authentic Roca Farallón revisited, a chance to view history. For all of us the trip to the roca offered an adventure.
In the evening we arrived at Cabezón and found a fishing dock where the trucks come to load fish. Several fishermen and a buyer stood around and we talked and eventually arranged for Capitán Mois to carry us the coming morning to Farallón, which locals call El Cerro.
Madrugada brought a wide mud flat with the tide eventually close enough the float the panga and we soon slid smoothly over a slick bay. Between islands and high cliffs covered with cactus, we wove our way toward white mancha in the distance. The panga worked through the foaming breakers at the boca of the estuary and we shot into the open sea. Already ahead and twenty-two miles distant we could see El Cerro. We watched him grow as we approached steadily, the green sea changing to blue a few miles from the rock. Finally there, we settled to drift and stare. El Cerro is a spectacular glistening white eruption from a shimmering blue sea swarmed over by flocks of flying whitewashers and guarded by troops of lobos who bark upon intrusion.
We fished around the rock for awhile but had no strikes so we began to troll in a southwesterly direction toward deeper water. Already we were in the blue and our presence brought a curious dorado to the panga for a look at the strangers. Later we came near two tall black fins thrusting from the blueness. Tailing marlin. A pair. Dos Guadañas. Their slightly swishing tails ignored our offerings.
Capitán Mois did not use the word Gringo. Instead he used the term Rinche to mean Gringo. This is because his grandfather had lived along the Texas border during the Revolution and had been hunted by the Texas Rangers. The Rangers were feared by rurales because of the level of brutality practiced by the Rangers. To the ear of a rurale, the English word ranger sounds like the Spanish spelling of rencher, a meaningless sound, not a word. Furthermore, this pronunciation is awkward, so rencher became the similar sounding but more easily spoken rinche.
Of most importance, rinche is also more expressive of the true feelings of Texas border rurales about the Texas Rangers. Rinche rhymes with pinche and pinche comes from pinchar meaning to penetrate. Pinche is the common Mexican equivalent for the gerund form of the English F-word; vulgar English commonly employs the word fucking as an enhancer, like my fucking car, or your fucking ol’ chair. Pinche is used the same way, as expressed during the insult Qué pinche cabrón, meaning You fucking cuckold, or pinche maricón, fucking queer. Pinche also means stingy, as in No seas tan pinche, Don’t be so stingy. Someone who is especially a tightwad is declared pinche codo, a fucking elbow, a double insult employing two words for stingy, pinche and codo.
Unknowing Gringos hearing the expression pinche cabrón interpret it to mean You fucking son of a bitch. This translation insults the mother figure, which is contrary to the intent of the exclamation. Pinche cabrón is directed at the father figure by implying him to be of such low character that even his wife has no respect for him; she is publicly expressing her disrespect by being unfaithful to him. His wife runs around on him. He is not macho. He is nothing but a fucking cuckold.
Texan Gringos have adopted the word pinoche, pronounced in Texan as pie-noche, emphasis on the pie, to mean the corporal target of the F-word. Pinoche is mostly used as in the phrase Get some pinoche, Get some pussy. Non-Texan Gringos say penuche. Both words are derived from the word panocha, which can mean sweet bread, raw sugar, or kneecap. Go figure.
Capitán Mois revealed facial expressions of initial surprise, then puzzlement and finally a frown when we referred to campesinos by the word rurales, rural people. The Capitán explained that during the Revolution the federales who protected the interests of the dictator Díaz were called Rurales to shorten their title of Federal Rural Police. Starting to chuckle, the Capitán smiled and arched his eyebrows when declaring that some old timers, certain viejos, might take offense at being called a Díaz cop. And the more he thought about it the softer became his chuckles and in the end we left the Capitán smiling and wondering even more about those pinche Gringos.
La Cruz de Elota
We departed Cabezón and drove southward for several hours until ahead sparkled the sign to La Cruz. We curved off the autopista and cruised toward the familiar white twin steeples in the distant palm forest. The newly paved access road already showed wear from just a few months use by the big trucks detouring from Carretera 15 around the still impassable Río Piaxtla bridge. Entering La Cruz the Corncob, we slowed to creep along the dusty street. We arrived at the plaza and passed beside the tall elegant church with its wide doors open to the masses. At the edge of the plaza, we noted a change. The stop sign had been turned to stop traffic from the train station rather than traffic from the western entrance to the town.
Not having to stop, we turned left onto the principal town street. The shops and stores remained unchanged, just as we had left them the previous November. The same vendors sat in sidewalk chairs awaiting the same customers and nodding to the same passersby. Road dust had been sprinkled and it lay still so as not to intrude into the stores and coat everything Sinaloa brown. The barbershop and liquado stand each enjoyed a single customer. The hardware store and auto parts house enjoyed only platicadores, blabbermouths. Ahead, on the outskirts of town, just past the gasoline station and the ice house, towered a giant white cross, the namesake of the village La Cruz. And across the road sat the purple shoe box called the Hotel Jota Ere, which we call not the Hotel JR, but rather the Purple Palace, our basecamp at dusty La Cruz.
For the fifth time in less than a year, we pulled into the parking area and entered the hotel reception. It was old home week again. Carmen smiled us in and we signed our names in the spiral notebook that is the register. Afterwards we parked in the littered, enclosed lot in our spot by the stairs beside the entrance to the restaurant and bar. During the unloading of everything but the village gifts, Alberto and Chinto came with a cerveza from the bar to renew our friendship. Alberto told us that the water is off the usual one day out of four, but that there is hardly anyone at the hotel so the full cisterns are more than adequate. Upstairs we found a clean room with beds and sofas and chairs and bottled water and a spotless bathroom and a good air conditioner, all the Gringo comforts.
Before leaving La Cruz for Las Barras, we visited the Deposito La Cruz, our place to buy beer. Panza runs the deposito. He smiled us in and we gifted him some pictures we had taken of him and the deposito. Also some American beers for his collection. He responded with a free case of Pacifico, no deposit necessary for the bottles. We packed the longnecks in fresh ice he provided, chopped from a block, the old-fashioned way. Then came the surprise for Panza. We unrolled one of the three gift posters advertising famous American beers. The poster displayed a lustful blonde Gringa seductress luring the male viewer of the poster. The reaction in the deposito was instantaneous approval. Since the sex object was blonde, no one’s mother was insulted, so the gift could be received in good taste.
Rurales, rural Mexicans, campesinos, countryfolk, call beer bote. The word is from botar which means “to throw it away or toss it out.” Some think that bote is a boat, and it is, but amongst rurales a bote is a giveaway. It is something to be shared. If anyone wants a beer and does not have one, always he is offered a bote. A beer drinker is a pistiador, and a big drinker is said to be muy pistiador. One who is muy pistiador sometimes becomes so ebrio, inebriated, that he becomes a vicioso, a stumbling drunk. By then the drinker is bien pedo, well farted, or, as in English, shit-faced. Drinkers who make a habit of this activity are prone to gastarse el chivo, spend the goat. To spend the goat means to spend the family food money on beer. Such a villain is accused by declaring se gastó el chivo, he spent the goat.
Bote? (Throw aways?) (Want a beer?)
Ándale pues. (Come along now.) (Bring it on.)
Que Charro, no? (What Charro, no?) (What about Charro?)
Muy pistiador. En carcel. (Very drinker. In Jail.) (Big drinker’s in jail.)
Vicioso? (Vice prone?) (Fallin’ down drunk?)
Bien pedo. (Well farted.) (Shit-faced.)
Se gastó el chivo? (He spent the goat?) (He spent Mamma’s grocery money?)
Dice la mujer. (Says the woman.) (His wife says so.)
Leaving Panza, we continue through La Cruz on our way to Las Barras, stopping at two additional places. First at Clementina’s for oil for the panga gasoline. The old Señora will be asleep when we return from Las Barras. Second at the Tablosa store for the best produce and sweet breads in dusty La Cruz. Then to the way out of town. We pass a pickup full of PJF police, the blackshirts in black-armed military shirts with shotguns and machine guns, the modern equivalent of the Díaz Rurales. After a right turn at the taqueria, the dirt street changes to pavement at the edge of town. We travel two kilometers and then turn left over the railroad tracks toward the autopista and Las Barras.
We cruise southward beside the sea, the late afternoon sunshine painting a silver sheen across the slickness. Just beyond Celestino we climb along the side of Cerro Viga. The road cut is through white volcanic tuff. Cerro Viga is the mountain range that protrudes to the coast and is the landmark called by panga fishermen Punta San Miguel. The road cut of the autopista is the long white scar across San Miguel we see from offshore.
There is a parking area for the scenic view at San Miguel. Sometimes present will be a rurale with his cart selling cocos helados, but as we pull in and park, we find ourselves alone. We look to the distant horizon and see the next point jut into the sea. It is black and is called Punta Prieta, Dark Point. This is the point at Las Barras. The knowing can see the speck of whiteness that is the faro, but the brujo can taste the candy cane.
La Llorona is The Weeping Woman. Betrayed by the father of her children, she became crazed and drowned her children and herself. The Lord, El Señor, commanded her to search for and to find her lost children prior to her admission into the Spirit World. Nowadays, her misty figure is known throughout Mexico. She is the cantante de lagrimas, singer of tears, forever wailing and weeping as she seeks her children. She is the chill wind that wails through night canyons. She dresses in black and her face changes from that of a horse to that of a creepy white blank. She is the darting shadow in the fog. Her long fingernails serve as claws. She is known to lure and then attack men. La Llorona has been seen and heard continuously around foggy San Miguel since the cutting of the mountain for the autopista.
Once La Llorona is known to frequent a spot, the spot is considered to be mal puesto, badly placed, put in a bad light, a bad put, hexed. A curandero is consulted and a remedy is prescribed. The curandero knows how to remove a hex because he has received el don, the gift of healing. In the case of La Llorona frequenting San Miguel, the curandero called for the placing of a 55-gallon drum of water at the scenic view. This remedy is a variation of placing a pail of water by the doorway of a house so as to absorb any mal vientos, evil winds, attempting to enter the house. Across the parking area, we can see the big black barrel containing the prescribed protective liquid. The unknowing might conclude the drum to provide a considerate source of water for hot engines.
During the first year we frequented Las Barras, we witnessed an unpleasant effect of the new autopista. Clearing of barra forests was initiated and progressed steadily. Access brought pressure to extract resources. Slash and burn and plant. Unless the soil too rocky to farm, the trees that form barra forests have been cleared. Between La Cruz and Punta San Miguel all barra forest has disappeared. Only the rocky mountain soil arriving at the coast discourages still more clearing toward the south. It is no wonder that La Llorona is weeping for the abuse of Mother Earth by men.
Arrival at Las Barras de Piaxtla
Now we enter Las Barras. The familiar politico at the first bara greets us with a good chase and lots of barking as we creep into the village. Stopping at the bara of TexasBoys we find the smiling fisherman. We renew friendships and unload gifts. Then over to see Capitán Doble where the acts are repeated. Arrive Ramón Loco and his father and others, and soon there is a group, and soft handshakes are shared.
Warm feelings and smiles calm the moment. Many times is honored the mystic. Rurales remark or respond with the phrase Si Dios quiere, meaning If God wishes. They view their lives as being in the hands of El Señor. Such being the case there is no sense of urgency in a rurale. Mañana is reasonable. This is because life is transitory and not so revered by a rurale as by a Gringo. Death is the gift of permanence. And all things are possible Si Dios quiere.
After discussing arrangements for the coming day, it became time to go. TexasBoys wished us good night with a dicho for the ride back to La Cruz. El muerto a la sepultura, el vivo a la travesura. The dead to the grave, the living to mischief. Live life to the fullest. We honored this wisdom by keeping a watchful eye for La Llorona as we slipped quietly by San Miguel.
La Cruz was dark and closed by the time we returned from Barras. Only the gasoline station remained open. We pulled in. Out of the shadows jumped several young boys, all with pieces of newspaper and pails of water to clean our windshield for a tip, a propina. The window washers are gamines, orphans, who live at the station during the night because it is the only place with lights. Most of the gamines are under eight years old.
As they washed windows and we filled our panga gasoline tambulacas, in the darkness in front of the icehouse wall flashed suddenly an apparition. To the oldest rodsman, the fantasma appeared as a big city street scene, downtown at night, red and yellow lights, twenty gamines in a ring around two fighting gamines, two ragged destitute children six years old with sticks and broken bottles trying to bloody the other, two baton-wielding cops standing by watching the fight. The unknowing quickly looked back toward town, thinking the phantom to be late headlights illuminating the icehouse wall. Seeing no headlights they then returned their eyes toward the icehouse, but they looked through the fantasma and did not see it, instead focusing so to see only an icehouse wall that stood black and blank. The oldest rodsman recalled such real-life fantasmas in Bogotá, Colombia.
After securing gasoline, we tired hunters crossed the road to the Jota Ere and entered the restaurant for a quiet dinner before bed. Afterwards, finally fed and finished until the coming morning, we all lay still with our impressions from the day. Impressions are what the self receives from its encounters with the non-self. Gifts from the mystic. One hunter promised to Pythagoras that he would smooth his bed promptly after arising in the coming morning so that his imprint left on the mattress could not be used without his permission.
In the Pelican’s Courtroom
All day we had hunted the fish only to return ashore sin suerte, without luck. Now at the cove, we sat around the stick house barra of Esteban and gossiped, la platica. We sipped Pacifico from brown yellow-labeled longnecked bottles. Long-billed, black-robed pelicans sat on the bancos of the pangas and also on the sidebars, ready to judge. The platica eventually turned to Gringos and El Norte and the juezes ruffled a bit as they settled in to adjudicate.
A fisherman named Ciego had seen El Norte. He had spent several years in California and had learned English. Working at a steady job, he had owned a car and lived in a rent house, sent his children to the public school, become a pocho, a gringoized Mexican. However, he did not like the life style he had seen, so he came to the stick village of Las Barras.
Ciego spoke about a Mexican novel. One of the characters in the story mocks the Gringos by corrupting a patriotic hymn to sing My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of felony. Ciego said he had been very impressed by this line and that it was the reading of it that eventually caused him to depart El Norte. Ciego was unable to translate the essence of this corruption for those in the circle of cerveza sippers.
After a suitable pause, Ciego spoke further. He was reminded of what had been written about Gringas in that novel, especially that American women are not free, that they exchange their mother’s cradle for that of their husband, and that never will American women use the word “escape” when discussing this dilemma, as they refuse to confess that they are prisoners of male domination. Ciego reckoned this as the reason that 14-year old girls can dance naked at El Norte bars, but are refused drink because they are too young.
Ciego remarked that this arrogance surpasses completely the Gringo view of Mexican machismo. He said, “We Mexicans also dominate our women, but we are less pretentious about it. We are sensitive about expressions degrading women when a woman might be considered a daughter or mother figure. To insult the mother figure is unpardonable. That is why our sexual advertising images are all blondes.” Correct. There are no natural blondes amongst rurales, so no daughter or mother is insulted when a blonde becomes the object of lustful men. The blonde is a pantaya, a TV screen, an illusion.
Bare toes poked at the sand and brown bottles tilted in the air. Occasionally spit struck the sand. On the point, a couple of juezes moved to where they could be closer to a Señora walking with a cook pot in hand. Ciego told about an incident he had witnessed in Culiacán. He had been in a hotel and had overheard a breakfast table conversation between some Gringos. The hotel air conditioner had been out all the previous night and one of the Gringos complained that Mexicans do not care about such things. Mañana mocked the Gringo. Ciego, however, knew that a group of people had worked all night on the electrical problem, that the responsibilities of the hotel had not been shirked.
The same Gringo had then asked his companions if they had noticed that there was no center stripe on the highway. When nods indicated that such had been observed, the ugly Gringo retorted that there were no stripes because the Mexicans steal them. Laughter from the companions. Ciego, however, knew that the road in question was new and that the stripe simply had not yet been painted. Also he knew that the road had been constructed solely so that Gringos could arrive easily at a very scenic tourist spot. Ciego concluded that the Gringo had been unable to be satisfied with the best of what was available, so he would have to restrict his activities and be less than a whole person because of his prejudices. Ciego stopped speaking and pursed his lips. Two juezes landed on the sand and waddled over to stand near the tilted sidebar of a beached panga.
La Pausa joined our circle for awhile after Ciego spoke, but then she melted away. Breaking the silence, Sordo threw out a joke he remembered from Cabo San Lucas. A Gringo tourist sees a Mexican gordo laying under a shade tree in the middle of the morning with a panga pulled up on the beach. Who owns the boat asks the Gringo? Me says the Mexican. Thereby begins an exchange in which the Gringo preaches use of the panga to create enough income to buy more pangas so as to allow the hiring of employees to build an organization that will eventually provide the panga owner enough income to have sufficient leisure time to lay on the beach in the middle of the morning. Soft hums nodded approval. Several juezes altered their posture.
La Pausa came by again, but she left hurriedly, seemingly called away. By air to land on pangas arrived three more juezes to attend the hearing. Ciego spoke softly again. He told that Mexicans stereotype themselves. Rurales. Chilangos. Indios. This causes dissent. In El Norte, Latinos use extortion as a tool for securing slave labor or for stealing money from other ilegales. Failure to yield to the extortion brings the probability of being turned into La Migra, the Gringo cops. Life as a mojado, wetback, is difficult enough without brother against brother. La chinga quedito is what Ciego called the civil fighting. It is that soft slow quiet violation. Ciego opined that la chinga quedito is the everlasting abuse that relentlessly continues over and over amongst Mexicans everywhere. Around the cove a dozen juezes shook uneasily and feathers ruffled to varying degrees and even one fowl cry skipped over the cove water.
Then came a proper long visit to the platica by La Pausa. She brought quietness. Still as one beside the cove. Macuche is poured and rolled and inhaled by one of the older fishermen. Fresh botes opened. Los chupadores sip again. Juezes on the point and seated in the sea, juezes balanced on panga bars, juezes benched everywhere. Chamber proper. La Pausa slides away. Charla más.
A fisherman called Mudo began his plea. He had been taken to the county cárcel in San Ignacio by La Guardia because he had been drunk in Dimas. Another fisherman named Sordo also claimed to have suffered such. The two compared notes about the experience, especially the fine levied.
“También? No me estás culiando? (You too? You’re not assholing me are you?)
“No pues. Me llevaron. Les meto el dedo! (No way. They carried me. To them I inserted my finger!)
“A cuanto les das? (How much do you give them?)
“A cien.” (A hundred.)
“Pélame la verga! Me sacaron de tres! Hijos de La Chingada! (Skin me the dick! From me they took three! Those sons of Raped Women!)
The story was followed by the soft hum of agreement accompanied by almost imperceivable nods. Brown bottle bottoms tilted silently upwards. Another solemn juez landed on the banco of a beached panga and joined the bench to judge the circle of sippers.
Mudo continued his plea about the night he was arrested in Dimas. He cried that he had been at a velada, a reunion. His youngest sister had attended with her current novio, her boyfriend. During the socializing, the boyfriend had left the side of Mudo’s sister to sit with some of Mudo’s cousins, one of whom is an infamous mujeriego, womanizer, who had brought along some female friends. This abandonment of Mudo’s sister was seen by Mudo as betrayal by the boyfriend, and as such demanded that Mudo defend the honor of his sister. Mudo had challenged the novio and a brief scuffle had ensued before being quenched by onlookers. Mudo had departed the velada in humiliation and had proceeded to drink enough to become bien pedo. It had been under such circumstance that La Guardia had seized Mudo. He was carried to San Ignacio despite his excuse of defending his sister against the malinchista.
During the Conquest, the Spaniard Cortés received a gift of 20 slaves, amongst them a 16-year old native girl first named Malinalli, called Malintzin, but known as La Malinche. She became his lover, interpreter and negotiator, so powerful that Cortés himself was diminished beside her as evidenced by Cortés being called by the natives El Malinche, man of La Malinche. Spanish historians disguise her as Doña Marina. She is recognized as the mother of the first mestizo, Martin Cortés, her son’s father being Hernan Cortés the Conquistador, making Cortés and La Malinche the symbolic parents of the family line called mestizo and a culture called mestizaje. Amongst a majority of Mexicans the figure of La Malinche is that of a traitor, a turncoat, someone who sold out. To refer to someone as a malinchista is the way to express such traits as had La Malinche. Politicos are malinchistas if they want to open Mexico to free trade such as the North American Free Trade Act, this labeling because they have sold out to the foreigners. Rurales can be labeled malinchistas if they leave their peers during social events in order to be with more powerful people. To do such is to betray one’s peers by being a social climber. It was for this latter reason that Mudo had reacted.
Mudo had referred to the police as Sons of Raped Women. Sons of La Chingada. Most Spanish speakers are insulted by the common vulgarity hijo de puta, son of a whore, son of a bitch. Mexican rurales are also. However, Mexican rurales insult with a phrase mostly unused outside Mexico, hijo de La Chingada, son of a native woman raped by the Spaniards, raped by the Gachupines, son of a raped woman. And it is because of La Malinche that the Chingada occurred to spawn these hijos de La Chingada.
Toward the closing of his plea, Mudo ended almost every sentence with a la chingada. A la chingada. May justice be served. May justice be served. Then Mudo fell silent and sipped from his brown bottle.
Pausa stepped into our circle after Mudo had stopped pleading. During the silence, brown bottle bottoms raised and lowered but none seemed able to tilt the juezes benched amongst the pangas. No feathers ruffled. No fowl cries erupted. Quietness lingered but then left abruptly when a loud dogfight erupted on the beach. Pausa stayed to watch the politicos debate and then she slipped away too.
Then Sordo spoke. He began his plea by telling that he had been drunk in Dimas because his wife and three children had left him unjustly. The family had been together for ten years and the separation shattered his life. His Señora had left because Sordo did not offer her enough. She complained that the water in Barras is poor and the village is without electricity. She had nothing to do and since Sordo had no panga his Señora saw no future. She had gone home to Mamá down in Colima. Sordo had helped her pack and to prepare the children because she had told him that she was only going home to nurse her sick mother. Sordo learned that the separation was to be permanent only after he received a missive from her asking him to come live with her family in Colima. He had immediately traveled there and begged her to come home, reminding her that he had been in Barras twelve years and if he left he would lose his property and all he had built. She refused him and Sordo returned home alone to Barras.
At once he became ill from susto, fright from El Malo. A curandero had been called and Sordo had been treated by barriendo, sweeping. He had been placed on his back with his arms outstretched to resemble a cross. The curandero had then taken a barba de chivato, billy goat beard, and swept Sordo with it. Afterwards a fresh brown egg was rubbed on the soles of Sordo’s bare feet. The egg was then broken and poured into a bowl to be placed under Sordo’s bed for the night. The next morning the egg yolk was examined for mal ojo, evil eye. None was found and Sordo was pronounced limpia, cleansed of susto.
Following the healing Sordo had tried to recover his life but had slowly turned to el bote for companionship. Behind his back he knew that he was being called cabrón, a big billy goat, a man with an unfaithful wife, one of the strongest of condemnations. Yet while seemingly on his way to the bottom, Sordo became touched by La Suerte. His Señora had challenged him to arrive in Colima with 600 pesos and if he did then she would return to Barras with him. She knew that Sordo had almost no chance of meeting the challenge. However, Sordo and LadyLuck came together when Sordo suddenly and without reason was gifted 600 pesos by a strange benefactor, a bienhechor, a well-maker. Upon hearing this, Ciego said he did not see how this could happen and he asked Sordo to explain his sudden blessing. Sordo responded with a shrug and the two words Ni modo, which means that there is no explanation because it cannot be explained, it just is. The fact remained that Sordo was back on his feet and planned to leave on the bus for Colima the coming morning.
Sordo finished his plea and wet his lips with a sip. Other brown bottles lifted toward lips while Pausa and Quietness approached us from the shade. Suddenly a loud outburst exploded over on the point and quickly spread across the cove. Juezes began to posture frantically and to cry in an uproar and flap their robes in irritation and take to the air in a ruffle of feathers. In an instant the air was filled with cackling and hissing juezes climbing high and then dive-bombing the howling dogs fleeing the beach. The juezes attacked every politico in sight before returning to their respective benches to calm their ruffled feathers and cease their fowl cries.
The hearing came to a close after the judgmental dive-bombing. Ciego, Mudo and Sordo, or Blind, Dumb, and Deaf, ceased looking, speaking, and listening, and the chupadores ceased sipping and spitting, and toes ceased poking and probing, and the cove became covered once again by Quietness. We marlinhunters loaded our land cruiser and headed toward La Cruz, hoping that our morrow’s hunt might also be touched by Sordo’s mystical LadyLuck.
In the Panga
Madrugada on the ide of March. Soft pink in the dawning east. The cove surface is ebony slick. Gaviota flotsam linger toward the estero. Stillness prevails even as footsteps swish over the sand. Shifting fishermen loading pangas. A few sniffing politicos roaming the beach. The tall slim twin palms beside the church seem as lily alter flowers for the cove. A long barra poles “El Chicano” our panga toward deeper cove water. The anchor rope rubs and squeaks against the bow as it is pulled from the cove by TexasBoys. Then Capitán Doble lowers the black Enduro prop off the flotadora and pulls fire and we spin around and curve and sweep through the portal between candy cane El Faro and rocky El Morro into the hunting waters.
La Mar sports her birthday robe. She wears no swells that wrinkle. She wears no whitecaps. Capitán Doble declares La Mar to be sin plumera y nalga de Indio. That is, she is without feathers, without whitecaps. Also, she is hairless and slick, like the buns of an Indian.
Running offshore, the view over the shoulder of Capitán Doble of the emerging coastline is distinct and familiar. We pass Punta Prieta and the sea arch called Ventana Prieta, recalling that the two children had first passed through the arch the previous autumn. Soon these landmarks begin to diminish in scale and the view opens to a mountain silhouette in the morning east. La Mesa the tall long flat mountain lies on the south end of the silhouette. On the skyline north of La Mesa lurks El Muerto, a mountain shaped like a grave mound. The foot end of the grave slopes down to a valley and then Sombrero Chino appears to rise from the foot of the grave. Further to the north looms massive Punta San Miguel, wearing a white cicatríz from the autopista. Just at sea level peeks up the white cliff of Care, with cinder cone Chicayota protruding from the grayness between the coast and the mountain silhouette. The ten-year old arms and his new companera put us on proper bearing to the hunting waters.
Blue-green water appeared only after a long run of 120 minutes offshore. Because of the distance and despite the imperfect water we put lines into La Mar. Comienza la busca.
There is always a proper passage of time between arrival at hunting water and the stillness that will eventually follow. Rodsmen rustle around to settle. Cold iglesias are served, and tortillas with salsa casera. Platica, chatter, entertains the rodsmen awhile.
TexasBoys refers to a particular villager as muy burro. He could have meant one of several things. The burro is a major character in Mexican culture. Commonplace incidents in everyday life are described by referencing a burro. This animal is considered to be stubborn, truthful, intelligent, dumb, and well-endowed with respect to maleness. Someone who is muy burro can be any of the descriptors, depending upon the way the phrase is expressed. One who is prone to brag or lie or bluff or exaggerate is said to tumbada del burro, knock down the burro. A situation which is uncomfortable is said to be donde burro atado, where the burro is tied. Past indiscretions are where burros are tied, so references to tied burros are intended to solicit flash points of emotion. Another use of burro is a popular joke tag claiming that a 15-inch television screen is an illusion, but the burro has 15 real inches. A popular rhyme is El mar hace perlas finas, el burro hace peder las burras. The sea makes fine pearls, the burro makes burras fart. Of course, the burro is the subject of many rurale dichos, sayings. Entre menos burros, mas elotes. Fewer burros, more corn. Vuelta la burra al maiz! declares that the burra returns to the corn, meaning Here we go again!
Listening to laughing TexasBoys relate his story of the muy burro villager sparked recollections about the fisherman. His nickname was derived from the movie Texas Across the River, a western starring Dean Martin. The film was shown frequently on his local television station, and he watched it so often that he could imitate Martin. His impersonations resulted in his friends tagging him TexasBoys. He was 36 years old when we met him, had lived in Las Barras for a dozen years, been married to Alicia for ten years. During an early trip to Las Barras we asked him how he earns money and he answered that he works as a helper to panga fishermen when their regular helper is unavailable. Also he dives on La Labrada Reef, near Itchy Ball Beach. Previously, he capitáned his own panga, but three years before, he cut his foot badly and it became infected and he almost lost his leg. He sold the panga in order to pay doctor bills. Without a panga, TexasBoys describes his life as that of a pauperrimo. This word contains the English pauper and the Spanish perro, dog. Life of a poor dog. TexasBoys claims that if he had a panga he would have a greater range of opportunity. He declared that with a panga, tu eres tu propio patron, you are your own boss.
Pangas are built at Reforma and Mazatlán. The style of each is distinct. The Reforma panga is considered the better. Each style provides 22 and 23 foot versions. The bancos of the Reforma panga are narrower than those of the Mazatlán style. The Reforma panga has inside ribs along the deck and high sides, each of which are lacking in the Mazatlán style. Reforma pangas have closed storage boxes which are lacking in the Mazatlán style. Reforma pangas have less bow bounce than do those from Mazatlán. The village of La Reforma is on Bahía Santa María west of Culiacán.
Capitán Doble suggested that a panga might suddenly appear mysteriously and he reminded TexasBoys of Sordo and his sudden benefactor. TexasBoys shrugged and accused Capitán Doble of being a brujo. Then he said Dios no cumple antojos ni endereza jorobados. God does not fulfill whims nor straighten hunchbacks. This sobering possibility quieted the crew of “El Chicano.”
Astern the panga lured our trolled bait. The lisa being presented had been swimming in the estero a few fresh hours previous. Before la madrugada, TexasBoys had slipped “El Chicano” into the sleeping estero and used his cast net to capture a sufficient number of lisa. Entry into the estero from La Mar had been tricky due to the new moon and the high tides that accompany it. Skill is always required for panga entry into the estero. La panga must become a surfboard that rides the outside swell into the choppy shore break and through the foamy white soup into the calm water.
The estero at Las Barras has a small shallow mouth; Capitán Doble says this is the reason big fish seldom enter. Juezes have a major court at the boca del estero, all of them benched in the sand facing the wind, judging everything entering and leaving. Driftwood and sand dollars, estrellas, abound. Across the surf and in the distance stands candy cane El Faro and dark El Morro. The winding waterways leading from la boca curve through green mangles, occasionally opening to vast sand flats.
Across one of the channels stretches a black hose that carries the water supply from Dimas to Las Barras. People from Dimas claim the water to Las Barras is contaminated at the gathering site for the hose. Always near the hose at the mangle edge is a small pole canoe for maintenance needs. One of the estero waterways extends inland and passes under the railroad bridge. The children recall a long train with soldiers hanging out the windows of the cars and the clap of the rails as the train passed over the trestle. Another waterway wraps around like a snake and ends very near Las Barras, and when exit from the estero is impossible due to the surf, pangas are tied here. In the bottom mud of the estero live clams. Oysters grow from the mangle roots. Lisa are taken by cast nets thrown into the waterways from fishermen abow drifting pangas. El estero is a natural resource for the rurales of Las Barras.
Stillness drew Appetite aboard to chase away the lingering Pausa. While some of us munched on paletas verdes, we discussed the various words for hot meaning spicy hot. Calor means hot like hot weather, so it is incorrect to say chiles are calor. Caliente means something hot from physical fire, so irons and motors become caliente, but not chiles. Picante implies something hot from spice and it is the word of choice amongst Gringos who do not say caliente. However, picante is not commonly used by rurales. Picoso is more often used to imply hot from spice. This comes from picar meaning to prick or to sting. Pico de gallo is a famous salsa using the word picar, and the polite translation implies the sting from the peck of a rooster inflicted by his beak. Most rurales, however, use still another word for hot spicy food. Most often they say enchiloso. This is from enchilarse meaning to enchile. If food is enchiloso, they often exclaim me enchilé, I enchiladed myself.
Tingling chile lips aboard the panga. The ten-year old arms in charge of the pattern troll moved our course to 285. The brujula he had found under the Christmas tree had become his Companera, his running mate. After only a few days he had become a skilled panga navigator. Also, he had become more aware of the shoreline silhouette because he was now using it for landmarks.
Perhaps to cool his lips, someone began to whistle a familiar refrain that allows lyrics to be easily invented to fit the tune. It was originally a marching song for the army of Pancho Villa. The troops with their families made up countless verses during the Revolution and new verses are still added today by singing rurales. The name of the song refers to the hated dictator Díaz, said to resemble a dried-up old maid, a cucaracha. Also the word means cockroach. Villa’s rival against Díaz was Carranza, known by his nickname Cockroach. This anomaly allowed supporters of Villa to abuse both adversaries at once with a single word. Soon almost all of us joined in the whistling. La Cucaracha.
Una cosa me da risa,
Pancho Villa sin camisa.
Ya no puede caminar.
Porque no tiene,
Porque le falta,
Otra mota que fumar.
One thing makes me smile. Pancho Villa without a shirt. Now I can’t walk, because I don’t have, because I lack, another joint to smoke.
After the whistling trailed off and a long visit by Pausa had stilled us, we talked about another song from the Revolution. One about a woman named Adela Maldonado, but called Adelita. She is the soldadera, the brave Lady who came with her man to the battle, not only to fight, but to nurse and cook and support. There is no canción equal to Adelita for moistening the eyes of rurales. Some cannot sing it at all for the emotion it renders. The Spanish lyrics tell this English story: Adelita was mistress to all my pleasures. Never come to think I could forget her or change her for another woman. If Adelita wanted to be my wife, if Adelita were my woman, I’d buy her a dress of silk and take her walking in the barracks. Now the trumpet calls me to battle to fight like a valiant soldier. In the streets the blood will run, but I’ll never be seen forgetting Adelita. If perhaps I should die in the battle and my body is left on the field, Adelita, for God’s sake I pray you for my death to weep.
We spoke about the El Norte culture of American football. The story was told of the recent severe unpopular change in the culture and of the feeling of helplessness to prevent such hurtful change. TexasBoys declared that to avoid pain one needs stability and permanence in life. He said that heroes are desirable because they bring stability. Discussion of this sentiment brought a memorable tale from Capitán Doble. He spoke about Los Muertos, the floating palm fronds that create shade to attract dorado, the thing that can be anchored and always found and can be depended upon to offer security and to never change, to be permanent like death. He said Los Muertos gifts to the fisherman the feeling of permanence. Gringo futbolistas, he said, are adrift because Se fallan Los Muertos. Adrift because they have lost the feeling of permanence, they have lost Los Muertos.
Far ahead we saw a silver flash on the water. Una brinca, a jump. Marlin said Capitán Doble. Actually it was a vela, sailfish. Rurales call any fish with a bill a marlin. From we Gringos the rurales of Las Barras learned that vela, marlín rayado, marlín azul, and marlín negro are all distinct. The common usage of marlin for any billfish explains why Mazatlán fish vendors advertise their smoked sailfish as marlin. To them there is no difference. All the great fish are one.
For all hunters most important is the opponent. The partner in dance. Absence of a worthy opponent makes impossible that mystical union between hunter and dancer called la toca. Worthiness defines the size of the opponent. Size is relative as opposed to absolute regarding dancers. A large animal may in fact be an unworthy opponent because it lacks certain character whereby its absolute large size is diminished to a relatively small size. Venado deer shot from blinds by sportsmen may be large animals, but are small opponents and so are unworthy. An opponent is always relatively small in size, and thereby unworthy, if it offers nothing at the end of la busca because la corrida produces no toca, no magic. Never comes the Mystic to the unworthy. Size, and thereby worthiness of the opponent, is measured by stamina, cunning, and strength, all displayed in la busca and la corrida. Only the biggest opponents in this sense, and thereby only the most worthy dancers, produce the magic, the touch, la toca. And so it is that only arrives the Mystic from the worthy.
Blueness replaced the horizon. Stillness. Nalga de Indio. The shrimp boats of November had vanished, carrying to market their cargo of freshly harvested camarones azules sized two dozen to the kilo. They had been replaced by the shrimp boats of March capturing camarones azules sized one dozen to the kilo. The torpedo-shaped porpoise toninas did not stain La Mar as they had in the autumn, when swimming and blowing along with the panga they had provided the first delightful sighting of their kind for a laughing five-year old reaching out to touch. In the blueness above no crooked-wing tijeras soared high and silent, lurking to rob an unsuspecting gull. At water level no petrels fluttered like butterflies nor sat like teacups, nor did any shearwaters skim silently over the water top in a long glide. Not a single booby kamikazed into blue La Mar to verify the name pato buseo, diving duck, and not a single gaviota passed by to laugh. Stillness.
The glistening black scythe of La Guadaña suddenly thrust upward through the blueness. The espectadór shouted warning and pointed. Her blade stood rigid and quivered not. The marlinhunters began to circle and the shining scythe turned slowly with them. Silver lisas passed near Guadaña, first the short then the longer. Yet not did she move to the kill. Slowly the black fin began to sway and ripple the slick water. Then a long soft swish and La Guadaña glided toward the glowing lisa. Quietly and certainly she eased beside the enticement and seductively nudged it. Then sway away she did. Another long swish of the tall black scythe and a looping turn to just tag the silver lisa, her touch. The tease of La Guadaña.
And then a sweeping wide turn with the tall black fin dancing and swaying and slicing through the blueness on a final swift rush toward the lisa, while in the panga the marlinhunters tensed for the coming strike and watched as La Guadaña bore through but under the lisa and continued streaking away into the blueness, leaving a trail of piscatorial laughter and a silent panga filled with disappointment.
“No le hace,” laughed TexasBoys. “La cura para la desilusión es saber que mañana volvemos a cazar. ¡Ya a la cerveza!” It doesn’t matter. The cure for disappointment is knowing that tomorrow we will return to the hunt. Now let’s have a beer!
Our inaugural trip to Las Barras occurred in February 1992, the year of completion of the toll road between Culiacán and Mazatlán. The account rendered herein was hand-written at the actual time it transpired. During the summer of 2020, I transcribed my hand writing to text in order to present it to readers in an appropriate format. As a matter of curiosity, I investigated contemporary Las Barras, where I had last visited some twenty-five years previous. The spot has developed into a destination. At least one hotel is there, plus several restaurants, and some vacation homes. The village enjoys electricity, water and a modern school. The primitive fishing village we discovered is gone forever.
Sound Track Texas Boys and the Big Fish
We always prepared a cassette of tunes to carry on our rumbos south. Road music and panga music.
- On the Road Again
3. LA Woman
4. Born to Run
5. I Wasn’t Born to Follow
6. Hot Rod Lincoln
7. The Call Up
8. Fishin’ Blues
9. Santa Esmeralda
10. Black Magic Woman
This one calls up La Guadaña with her black blade of death.
11. Papa Was a Rolling Stone
12. Riders on the Storm
13. White Rabbit
14. Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress
15. La Grange
16. One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer
17. Lose This Skin
18. Mr. Bojangles
19. West Texas Waltz
20. Tangled Up in Blue
22. Flag Decal
23. Southern Man
24. Hard Drivin’ Man
25. Tampico Trauma
27. Hotel California
28. Sultans of Swing
30. Alberta Bound
31. Goodbye to Old Missoula
Waltzing over the water.
32. Me and Bobby McGee
33. The Street Parade
34. You’re Gonna Miss Me
35. Freeway Church of Christ
36. Camelia La Texana
The actual title of this narcocorrido is Contrabando y Traición . This drug ballad, written and performed by Los Tigres del Norte, the Tigers of the North, Treason and Contraband is perhaps the most famous narcocorrido ever composed in Mexico. The ballad is about a couple running pot north from Sinaloa into the United States:
They left San Isidro bound for Tijuana with their tires stuffed with the bad weed. They were Emilio Varela and Camelia la Texana. When passing through San Clemente, at the check point they were asked for their IDs and where they were from. She was from San Antonio, a honey of heart, a chick that if she loves a man can give him life. But be careful with her if she feels wounded. They arrived in LA and passed through Hollywood. In a dark alley they changed the four tires, delivered the herb, and got paid. Emilio told Camelia good-by, that with her part of the dough she could restart her life, that he was headed to San Francisco to be with the owner of his heart. Seven shots rang out. Camelia killed Emilio in that dark alley without anyone knowing anything. As to what happened to Camelia and the cash, nothing more is known.
Camelia la Texana is the ultimate femme fatale. Mexican bathroom walls display scrawls warning: Don’t swordfight with Zorro, don’t piss against the wind, and don’t dance with Camelia la Texana.
37. Sobre Las Olas
The waltz “Sobre las Olas” is the best known work of Mexican composer and violinist Juventino Rosas (1868–1894); it was first published in 1888. “Over the Waves” has served as the foundation for other compositions, including: Somewhere, My Love (Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago), and The Loveliest Night of the Year, crooned by Ann Blyth in MGM‘s film The Great Caruso.
38. Todos Juntos
39. Gracias a la Vida
40. Cárcel de Cananea
41. La Llorona
42. La Cucaracha
43. Six Days on the Road
This is one for the ride home.