by Jim Foreman
Carlos Garza lived with his mother, father and six sisters in the tiny fishing village of San Lucas, located at the very southern tip of Baja California. Their house, like all of the houses in the village, was nothing more than four walls made from sticks from dead cardon cacti woven together. There was an ample supply of building materials around there because the hardy cardon sprouted from any crack or crevice where soil was trapped in the tumble of rocks which formed the naked hillsides. The roof was thatched with palm fonts, which not only kept out the sun and rain, but its nooks and crannies also provided a home for a colony of small lizards which scampered about catching flies and other insects. There was plenty food for the lizards because the cool shade offered them a place to escape the wrath of the sun which bore straight down during the long, hot summer. His mother kept the dirt floor of the house dust-free by a daily splashing with water. Fresh water was so scarce in the village that she used sea water for this purpose, resulting in a floor which was hard as a rock and flecked with deposits of salt where the water formed small puddles before evaporating.
From the open doorway of their casa, which faced toward the south to take advantage of the cool breezes that drifted in from the ocean in the summer and capture the warming rays of the sun during the winter, they could look out across the sheltered bay at an unusual rock formation known as "The Friars". The rocks were so named by the Jesuits who came to the tip of Baja shortly after the Spanish began exploring the new world. To them the rocks looked like Friars tending their gardens. Later arrivals who were less spiritual and more carnal in their ideals saw the rocks forming the outline of a nude woman lying half in and half out of the water. No matter what visions the rocks might provoke, they effectively sheltered the tiny bay from the vast Pacific Ocean which rolled and crashed against them from the west.
There were fewer than a hundred residents in the village of San Lucas. They had no school, no store and no church. Carlos had heard that there was a much larger town, San Jose del Cabo, some distance along the shore to the east, but he had never been there. In fact, he had never been further from his home than three or four kilometers along the beach to the east. Just west of the protective rocks lay Cabo Falso, but the Pacific ocean beat against it with such fury that few men dared venture there, much less young boys. There was a real church at San Jose del Cabo and a resident Padre who would ride to Cabo San Lucas on a mule once a month to say mass, perform marriages and do other things that only a Priest could do. Nine year old Carlos wished that some day he could go see the big city and the church, but knew in his heart that he would never be able to.
Being the only boy in the family, it fell his duty to catch fish to feed his family. Catching fish was easy if one knew how, but if he should fail, all that would be on the table that night would be tortillas, nopalitos and beans. Only once in a great while would his father go up in the hills to snare a rabbit or trap some quail as a change of diet from fish. On very special occasions, someone would butcher a pig or young calf, which would be shared with everyone in the village. When this happened, Carlos wouldn't have to catch fish that day.
Early each morning, Carlos would go down to the beach to gather limpets, shrimp, clams and sand crabs that were trapped in small pools left by the receding tide. These would be the bait that he used to catch the fish. Some fish would take one kind of bait while others would not. He had to have just the right kind of bait for the fish which came to the rocks that day. If he did not have the proper bait, he would catch no fish.
Carlos had to gather his bait just after sunrise, or the sea gulls and pelicans would swoop down and eat it all, then there would be none left for him. He kept the bait in an old pot with some sand and water until it was time to use it in the afternoon. He could not catch the fish in the morning because it would spoil before it was time for his mother to cook it that night.
After siesta when the sun moved off toward the Pacific, Carlos would take the pot of bait and his hand line and walk out on the rock jetty to fish. The rocks had been put there for tuna boats to tie up when the cannery was in operation. There were usually several other boys about his age there, also catching fish for their families. Girls never went out on the rocks to fish because that was man's work and girls didn't know how to fish. All that girls were good for was to giggle, gather firewood and scold their little brothers.
Standing with his back to the sun, Carlos could look down into the water through his shadow and watch for just the right type and size of fish to come along. Many different kinds of fish would gather in the shade of the rocks, but he had to be careful to catch only the best ones. Some fish, such as the Sierra, had dark meat and had a strong taste. Sierra was good only when salted and smoked. Others, like the Trigger Fish, had such sharp teeth that they could bite right through his line and he would lose a valuable hook. Also, he didn't want to catch a fish so large that he couldn't pull it out of the water because he would not only lose the fish but also his precious hook and line. He did that one time and it was almost a week before his father could find another line and make a new hook.
The most desired fish to catch was a small Dorado, which got its name from its beautiful golden color. Carlos would bait his hook and unwind the proper length of line to allow the hook to descend to just the right depth where the Dorado swam, then he would stand silently, watching the water and waiting for a fish to come to the shade. When the desired fish swam by, he would drop the baited hook right in front of it and he would usually have a fish on his line within a few seconds. One big fish would feed his family, but it was usually easier to catch two or three smaller ones. He usually caught an extra fish or two which he would give to the old people of the village who didn't have any young boys to catch fish for them.
Life in San Lucas was very hard. At one time, all of the men in the village made good money working at the tuna cannery, but when it was destroyed by a Chubasco, as severe wind storms are called in Mexico, it was not rebuilt. Now all that the men had to do was sit around and talk about the times when things had been better.
Carlos had seen many ships pass by, a kilometer or two off shore, but few of them ever stopped to anchor in the natural harbor at Cabo San Lucas. During the Chubasco season, ships would occasionally enter the harbor to escape a storm, but the people on them seldom ever came ashore.
Carlos was eleven years old when a large, white ship pulled into the harbor, dropped its anchor and put a small boat over the side. It was during siesta when the ship arrived and most of the people in the village were taking their afternoon nap. Carlos was searching the rubble which had been the tuna cannery for nails from which his father could make fish hooks, so he was the only one to see the men come ashore. He rushed to where the small boat was being beached and greeted the men. One of them, who seemed to be the leader, asked Carlos to take them to see the Jefe or Caudillo Delantero of the village. This man spoke Spanish when he talked with Carlos but spoke a strange language which Carlos didn't understand when he talked with the others from the ship. The village had no mayor, so Carlos took them to see the Delegado, who was the closest thing that they had to any sort of legal authority. He listened as the man explained that his name was Doctor Carter and he was a professor at a school in a city called San Diego, which was located in the Estados Unitos. He said that they were there to collect sea life from the waters off Baja California and would like to hire someone who knew the area to guide them.
"I am the greatest fisherman in all of San Lucas," boasted Carlos. "I catch fish for my family every day and can show you how."
"I'm not interested in catching fish, Carlos," Doctor Carter replied. "We are here to gather things like limpets, sea worms, urchins and sand crabs, but I'm sure that I can use your help."
"Why do you gather bait if you don't want to catch fish?" asked Carlos.
"We study them in the school where I teach," answered Doctor Carter.
"If you are a doctor, can you cure my Grandmother of her sickness?" asked Carlos. "She stumbles and falls down a lot."
"I'm sorry, but I'm not that kind of doctor," replied Doctor Carter. "Actually I am a professor in a college and many professors are also referred to as doctors due to their education."
"You are one loco Gringo," said Carlos. "You are a doctor who can't cure sick people and you gather bait but do not want to catch fish."
"I know that it sounds strange to you, Carlos, but that is the reason why I'm here," said the professor. "You seem to be a bright young man. Would you like to work for me for a couple weeks. I will pay you well"
"There is no tienda in San Lucas where I could spend money and my family will have nothing to eat except tortillas and beans if I am not here to catch fish for them," replied Carlos. "If you give them food in cans like the Norte Americanos eat, I will go with you."
"You are a very thoughtful young man, Carlos, and I can't think of a better deal than giving your family food in exchange for your work," said the professor. "I'll have supplies for them brought ashore and you can start working as our guide after we have had our breakfast tomorrow morning."
"If you want to catch bait, you must be at the beach when it is just light enough to see," said Carlos. "While you are eating, the sea gulls will be having your bait for their breakfast."
"Whatever you say," replied Dr. Carter. "We will meet you on the beach as soon as it is light enough to see."
Two weeks turned into a month and Doctor Carter and Carlos developed a close friendship. When the professor and his students had gathered all the specimens they wanted and were ready to return to San Diego, Doctor Carter told Carlos that he would like to talk with Luis Garza, his father.
"Mr. Garza, I have come to like Carlos very much and would like to do something for him," said Doctor Carter. "My wife and I have no children and I would like for Carlos to go to San Diego with me and live with us while he goes to school. He has never been to school a day in his life and I would like to see that he gets an education. Many changes will take place in Baja during the next few years and he will need an education."
"I already know more about things that live in the sea than you do, so what could you teach me?" demanded Carlos.
"I'm not talking about Marine Biology," said the professor, "I'm talking about your learning to read and write and to speak, not only proper Spanish, but also English."
"But it is so far away and he is my only son," replied Luis. "Many of our sons go norte and never return. I might never see him again."
"I assure you, Mr. Garza, that I will see to it that Carlos returns to you by the time that he is eighteen years old. Whether he chooses to remain after that or not, I cannot say. All that I want to do is to give him a better chance in life than what he has now."
Luis Garza sat with his head lowered in thought for several minutes before he stood and embraced his son. "Many young men in Baja have no fathers, but now you have two.