travelog 15

Lobster & Co.

Our campsite for the next few days seems to be at first glance very secluded and lonely. No village within sight, no cabin of a fisherman, no other campers.

Only seagulls, flowering dudleyas, wind and the blue Pacific with white waves. The next morning we learn otherwise: the first visitor is on his way with a golf clubs. He circles our vehicle curiously but soon disappears after that behind a cliff. The following visitors are more persistent. After inspecting the truck, they sit down on the rocks and have themselves a beer (the empty bottles are disposed of in local manner - they are dropped wherever the drinker stands). Soon the two men become impatient and begin to loudly attract our attention. We have no other choice than to answer all their questions. They are local fishermen, José and Chaparro. After an hour of chat (in Spanish!) Martin leaves with them. He just wants to get fresh fish at Chaparro's hut but the three men do not return for three hours.

Proudly they present me their catch of the day: 3 small fresh fish, 2 octopuses (pulpos) and a baby crawfish (langosta).

It's very easy to catch pulpos - if you know how! Chaparro has many years of experience in this field. At low tide he climbs over the dry rocks in front of his cabin. Time and again he peeks under small rock overhangs. The octopuses love to be in these small caves at low tide, he explains. Soon he discovers tentacles and squirts a little bleach under the rock. Then he waits patiently. The octopus doesn't like the taste of bleach and so he soon creeps out of his hidingplace. The elegant move when the animal "rolls" out of the hidingplace is very impressive. Chaparro grasps the pulpo courageously, and the tentacles coil themselves around his hand and sinewy forearm. It seems to be hard to gain control over the fighting animal. Then, with some fast handwork, he turns the body of the pulpo inside out and paralyses the animal. After that he smashes the still squirming octopus on a rock and kills it. The final task is to clean the animal in the water and to take out the innards. That's how Chaparro caught two octopuses. He then also finds a small crawfish under a big piece of seaweed. Martin tries to convince him to release the poor animal into the water but the two men absolutely want to bring it as a present to the señora (Julia!).

And here's the deal: we receive the ingredients for the lunch for free but we have to prepare them in our kitchen. While José and Chaparro snip onions, tomatoes and garlic, I'm fighting with the two octopuses and the crawfish which does not want to be put into the pot. We fry the fish until they are crispy and serve them with lots of lime juice and olive oil. We have lunch all together outside in the sun and we drink water - Martin confessed to the fishermen earlier that we don't drink alcohol... (otherwise our wine supply would have gone very fast!). The food is delicious even without a glass of wine, the surrounding landscape is fantastic and the company very entertaining. José and Chaparro like it so much that they practically don't want to leave us.

The next day we wait in vain for Chaparro, who had promised to bring us some crawfishes. We then go searching for his home where we finally find him. He's already a little bit trembling because he ran out of his 90% alcohol (normally someone would use this kind of alcohol to disinfect wounds). Besides, he missed the low tide in the middle of the night by oversleeping and therefore he had to postpone his visit to town (and of course the liquor store) until later.

We take all our coffee utensils from PocoLoco with us, since Chaparro's dwelling is definitely not prepared for visitors. His hut consists of two small rooms, all together not bigger than 180 sq ft.

In the kitchen are two worn-out cups, a plastic plate and some bent flatware. Chaparro cooks on a grill which is put up on a small table, all of it homemade, all of it in deteriorating. In the bedroom is a folding bed and a bedside table with three comic books. He owns a woolen blanket, an old wet suit (which he got one day as a gift from an American scuba diver) and the clothes on his body. He lives (together with his dog) on fish, octopuses, clams, sea urchins and crawfish, always depending on the luck of his catch. From time to time he earns a little bit of money selling crawfishes to tourists, or he smuggles langostas to El Rosario where he sells them to a restaurant. Now he's pretty excited because today's catch from his three fish traps will allow him to buy more alcohol.

At low tide little Chaparro gets into the water and looks for his traps. The first two are empty but at the third he waves excitedly: there are three langostas that found their way into the trap. We take some pictures of the catch and lucky Chaparro and pay him 90 pesos (about $9) for the animals. Then we stow them in our fridge. The following ride on the transpeninsular highway not very relaxing: we both hope that the federales have no checkpoint on this part of the road. If they catch you in the wrong season with live crawfish (we didn't realize until later that we bought them during the legal season!) you pay a fine of $600 per animal - Mexicans can also go to jail.

We are lucky and reach a nice camp spot high on the Pacific without being inspected. Not far away, we can watch migrating gray whales on their way to Alaska. Our three crawfishes crawl around in our sink and Martin already calls them by name. It is to be feared that we have to release them in the end into the Pacific...

But it should not come to that yet. We heat the water in our biggest pot. Then comes the most terrible moment of the dinner pleasure: we drop the live crawfishes into the boiling water. All the horror stories about howling and crying don't prove well-founded; the langostas die without a murmur! We enjoy them with our last bottle of champagne, lots of lime juice and melted butter. Our plan to keep the third crawfish for a nice appetizer for the next day doesn't work very well. The meat tastes so delicious that we eat all three without problems. Only the shells are left behind for the turkey vultures, ravens and coyotes. We have definitely decided to visit the fishermen from Punta Baja again. The next time we will bring beans, bread, milk and t-shirts as small presents.

May 1999

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen