Good Mexican Beer & Bad Mexican Cops

For years my friend DT and I would talk about driving down to Mexico, and now, in the summer of 1984, with us both in our early 20’s, we were finally doing it. DT and I had the stereo blasting and we were singing to Who and AC/DC and the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack. By now L.A. was familiar territory, and I’d spent a lot of time in San Diego. It felt odd to be “just passing through.”

We stopped at the border and bought auto insurance, just like everyone and their brother told us to do. It made me nervous about making the border crossing, but we got through quickly and soon were driving in Tijuana. That in itself is not a problem, because everything is in English and there are Americans everywhere.

The highway heading south out of Tijuana was lined with unbelievable poverty; shacks built out of scavenged wood, parts of old billboards, crumpled corrugated tin, all up and down hills with no plumbing and no electricity. And there were little kids everywhere.

“Holy shit, Jer,” DT was saying, “we’re driving in another country! Another country. Can you believe that?”

I was all too aware of that fact, yes. Once outside of Tijuana the signs were no longer in English, and the speed limit was posted in kilometers per hour.  I had nothing to translate on my speedometer; mine didn’t have kilometers on it.  I drove a little bit slower than those around me and hoped for the best.

The thing that struck me during the drive down was, well … you have a nice highway, smooth and straight, nicely maintained … but then all the underpasses looked half finished. Like they built the structure and got it so that it could be used, and started putting the finishing touches on it — tiles, paint, whatever — but then stopped half way. The tiles and building material still sat on pallets among the weeds, unused, obviously there for years.

I saw that over and over.

EnsanadaWe made it without incident all the way to the seacoast town of Ensenada, and drove through to look for the ocean. In front of a nice looking marina there was a short middle-aged Mexican cop with a mustache standing in the middle of the street, and he waved at me to stop.

Mexican jail, was all I could think of. Raped up the ass by prison guards.

“Hi,” I said through my rolled down window.  “How are you doing today?”

“I need to see your registration,” he said in broken English.

I quickly dug through the Volkswagen’s little glove compartment and produced my registration, handing it over.

He glanced over it, squinting like he couldn’t quite see, and then he said, “This is no good here.”

“What?”

“This is no good here.”  He walked to the front of my car and pointed at the license plate.

“Excuse me?” I said, thinking, Mexican jail.

“Where these plates from?”

“California,” I told him, and then realized … these were a brand new design of plates, white instead of blue. He’d probably never seen them before.

He walked back up to my window, still holding my registration.  “Is no good here.”

I stared at him, not knowing what to say. He stared back, registration in one hand, the other hand empty. His empty hand was palm up, fingers gently rubbing together.

Oh my God. He wants bribe money. I knew my dad usually solved everything down here by bribing the local cops, but I never thought I’d end up doing it myself. Still thinking Mexican jail, I panicked and dug out my wallet, and handed over a $20 bill.

He smiled.  “I let you go this time.”  Handing me back my registration, he waved us to drive on.

I put the VW Bug into gear and eased away, out into the street and driving aimlessly along while I shook and felt sick to my stomach. DT later said I was white as a ghost. “You handled that well,” he told me.

“Fuck!”

“It was better than getting a ticket.”

“Fuck!”

I drove around another twenty minutes looking for a likely hotel, and got completely confused and ended up going the wrong way down a one way street. I quickly pulled into a parking lot, followed immediately by another cop car.  This time, though, they had a legitimate reason to pull me over, and they told me to follow them down to the police station.

Mexican jail, I thought.  Raped up the ass by prison guards.

“Can I pay the fine to you?” I asked. “Instead of going to the police station?”

One of the two cops said no. The other one said yes. I paid them $20, which made the “no” cop very agitated and nervous.  They let us go with a “warning.”

This left me afraid of getting back into my car. “I don’t want to drive anywhere here anymore,” I told DT. “Not a single damn block.”

“Let’s just leave the car here and walk,” he said.

That sounded good to me. “We’ll find a hotel, drive the car directly there, park it, and leave it there.”

About five blocks away we found a standard looking hotel, nothing fancy, and went in to inquire about rooms. I was worried, already being down $40 with nothing to show for it — well, besides not being in Mexican jail — so I was worried about having enough for the room. I figured it would be about $60 for two nights.

I was wrong. It was $17 for two nights. I asked him several times to make sure, thinking there was a language translation error. No, there wasn’t. Wow, I thought, cool. After we paid and left with the keys, we went up to look at the room — it wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t bad — I was ecstatic.  Finally I could relax.

“Beer!” I said.  “We need beer!”

Across the street we were able to buy two six packs of really good Mexican beer for about $2, and that was after they upcharged us for being Americans. Back at the hotel we filled the bathroom sink with beer bottles and ice, and were all set.

Popping open a couple, we sat on the beds and drank.

We were in Mexico, and we were drinking beer.

Yeah.

Drinking beer.  In a hotel room.  With no television.

In Mexico.

“Okay,” I finally said, “this is boring.”

“I know,” DT said, “let’s go to a bar.”

“Yes!”

Ensenada in the mid 1980’s was really nice as long as you were right on the water. Inland it was a rickety desert town that existed in a perpetual tan haze of dust. I saw garbage in the street, bashed and dirty cars with cracked windows, and throngs of Americans wandering around buying touristy Mexican-themed junk made in China. The Mexicans seemed to look at us in terms of dollar signs.

We wandered from bar to bar, happy at how cheap the beer was, and finally ended up at a really loud, crowded place where the drink specialty was to have you hold a bugle to your mouth while they poured booze through it, and after you’re gagging on that, they kick you in the head. I watched this happen in total disbelief, over and over, amazed that it left the victims on the floor laughing hysterically. They even did it to a cute, dark haired American girl, though she didn’t seem to enjoy it much, and ended up slugging her boyfriend.

About eleven o’clock we decide to start heading back to the hotel. I remember I wanted to do some writing in my journal, and besides, we had not slept for about 36 hours. So we’re walking back in the dark, through some pretty spooky neighborhoods, and passing this one building a guy comes walking up to us from a stairway. Panhandler, I thought. But no, the guy said, “Hey, you looking for girls?”

“What?”

“You looking for girls?  Pretty, naked girls?”

“Yes,” DT said immediately.

“Down here,” the guy said, pointing to the stairs. The stairs which led down into a basement.

I was not at all sure about this, but DT was already going down the steps, so I really didn’t have a choice. Once through the doors we were hit with a wall of loud music and flashing red and blue lights. Shockingly naked women danced on a stage and on the bars and on several tables.  One did tricks with her shaved vagina, blowing out candles and shooting ping pong balls with amazing accuracy.

The audience was full of American sailors. In uniform. All of them bellowing, whooping, and shoving each other. I don’t know why, but that made me feel a lot safer. We sat down, and from the shadows were immediately joined by two beautiful Latino girls. The one beside me said, “Buy me a drink?”

“Um, okay.” I had the feeling I had no choice in the matter.

I sat there awkwardly drinking with this girl while other women wiggled their naughty bits at me and begged for money. DT got into some animated laughing conversation with his girl, and at one point something was announced in Spanish and his girl said, “Oh!  That’s me!” She told DT she’d be right back, and then ran up to the main stage, stripped her clothes off, and showed all her deep dark secrets under harsh stage lighting. DT whooped and hollered like his horse was winning at the races.

My girl seemed to be in the same bleak mood as I was, and she hardly touched her drink.  “So,” she finally said, “would you like for to make love with me?”

“What?”

“I like you,” she said.  “I would like for to make love with you.”

“Are you serious?”

She nodded.

I was thinking to myself … she is a hooker, right?  This is going to cost money, isn’t it?  Can I afford to do this?  Do I want to do this?

“I … um,” I stammered, “I just broke up with someone.”

¿Que?

“I have a broken heart,” I told her.  “I can’t really … I mean, I’m not … you know. In the mood?”

¿Que?” she said again. I think I was treading outside her limited English vocabulary. “You no want to?”

“I would like to … I mean, you’re beautiful and all … but my heart is not in it.”

“Oh.” She nodded, not looking me in the eyes. Her expression remained bleak, but not disappointed. I got the impression that she was miffed that she’d wasted valuable time drinking the expensive drink I bought her.

She stayed exactly long enough to not count as leaving immediately, then thanked me for the drink, kissed me on the cheek, and got up. I watched her walk to the other side of the room where she sat down next to a very drunk sailor. She was with him maybe two minutes before they got up and left together.

Meanwhile, DT’s girl had finished her dance and returned to him, and apparently made him the same offer. Turning to me he said, “I’ll meet you at the hotel.  Later.”

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure.” He and his señorita got up and left.

I sat there alone, watching the naked women frolicking in this den of alcohol-powered depravity, feeling like a wimp. DT had the balls to go off with one. Why didn’t I? How, I wondered, will I ever become that great American writer if I don’t do things like get freaky with a hooker?

Don’t think I hadn’t noticed that writers seem to be overly fond of prostitutes. They all have hearts of gold. All of them. Just crack open a novel and read. It’s there in black and white.

I finished up my beer — and the rest of the drink that my would-be hooker had left — then stood up and threaded my way through the brawling sailors and squirming live pornography, out the door and up those filthy concrete steps to the street above, feeling very much like having come out of the proverbial Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.

I was drunk, exhausted, and nervous. I have no idea how late it was, but it was pitch black out there and I had only a vague idea where the hotel was. I started walking, making each far-and-between street light my continuous goal, searching for familiar landmarks.

After twenty minutes I found the hotel, stumbled my way up to the room, and was about to put the key into the lock when I thought … what if DT is here with his woman?  Actually, I hoped he was, otherwise I’d be worried about him. So I unlocked the door anyway, opened it a couple inches, and called into the darkness.

“DT?  You here?”

No answer.

“Hello?”

Nothing.

Crap, I thought, and stepped inside. Fumbling for the light switch, I braced myself to find him dead on the floor with his throat cut, or something equally horrible. The dim light bulbs came to life, revealing a bleak, lonely room.

The ice in the bathroom sink had long melted, and the beer was warm. I popped one open anyway and guzzled. Beer is the one thing, I decided, that I can really count on.

I waited for a while, and then waited some more. An hour passed, and I was so tired I was delirious. Finally I crawled into bed and tried to sleep, but couldn’t.

Another half hour went by, then I heard a noise from outside.  Thudding footfalls up wobbly steps, and then a key in the lock. I sat up just as DT came stumbling in, looking bleary and covered with sweat.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“So what happened?”

“Well, let me — hold on.” DT went and got a beer. He popped it open and quickly drained half of it before continuing. “Well, we went … we left, right?  Yeah.  She led me to this other building, like half-way across town. And we go in to her room, and we kiss for a bit, right? Then she stops and says it’s going to cost forty dollars.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. I say, no problem. Yeah. So she kisses me a bit more, and she’s got her hand down my pants, then she stops and says, she’s got to go get something, she’ll be right back.”

“Get what?”

“I don’t know. A rubber, I guess.”

“Oh.” I grinned. “How was it.”

“Let me get to that.  So, I’m sitting there in her room, waiting.  And waiting.  The walls are paper thin, you can hear people talking and arguing on either side.  There was a fight or something, you could hear things falling.  Lots of shouting.”

I’m sure I was looking at him in horror.

“So I keep waiting,” he says, “and I look at my watch — an hour has gone by.”

He paused, looking like he didn’t want to continue.

“So?” I said. “What happened?”

“I sobered up and got the hell out of there!” He laughed and then guzzled his beer. “It took forever to find my way back. I wandered all over the fucking place.”

“Jesus.”

“So, what did you do?” he asked.

“I came back here and couldn’t sleep.”

He wasn’t surprised.  “Oh. Okay. Well, I’m going to sleep.”

And sleep we did. Well past the next morning and deep into the afternoon. When we awoke, we cleaned up and went out again, and I decided I was brave enough to try driving. Down to the beach somewhere, is where I wanted to go. I was thinking about that golden time I spent as a child down here, where I met that girl named Linda during the weeks my dad was waiting for a part to repair his Caddy.

I wanted to find that beach. I wanted to wade out into the waves with a beer in my hand and commune with the past. I wanted to resurrect something dear from my memories.

We didn’t get a half mile before a cop pulled us over for no reason whatsoever. He, like one of the ones from the day before, tried to tell me that my license plates were invalid in Mexico.  After parting with another one of my precious — and dwindling — $20 bills we turned around and went straight back to the hotel.

That’s it, I thought. I’m done.

We had passed a Tourist Bureau office a few blocks up, and while DT went to take another nap in the hotel, I walked over to complain and get some advice. The well dressed man inside welcomed me in and sat me down at his desk. I told him about the cops and the money and asked him what I should do.

He shook his head, concerned and sad, and said, “Don’t give them twenty, they’ll be happy with ten. Also, get their badge numbers and report them to me. I will take care of it, I assure you.”

I thanked him, we shook hands, and I left.

DT and I laid low the rest of the day and that night.  Money was running low and I was worried about having enough for gas on the trip back. I remembered all too well what it was like being stranded on that long stretch of Interstate 5.

Early the next morning we left, making it out of town without any more police encounters, driving up to the border where customs looked at us like we were drug smugglers. My lack of concern, and happiness to be back in the bosom of the USA, convinced them we were innocent.

It took all day to get up through San Diego and across the Los Angeles basin, and it was well into the night before we were making that long boring shot up Interstate 5 through no-man’s land. I was freaking out because, on the radio, there was a brand new John Lennon song, and it was really good. “What did they do,” I asked DT, “raise John from the dead and put him in the studio?”

It turned out to be his son, Julian Lennon. It gave me chills. It was seriously like hearing his father’s ghost.

It wasn’t long after that when we noticed someone’s car was in deep in the meridian between the north and south bound lanes, flashing their headlights anytime a car went by. Of course no one was stopping. I remember no one stopped for us, either, on our original ill-fated Mexico trip. “Poor bastards,” DT said.

“You know, I bet they’re girls,” I said. “That’s a girl thing to do, just sit there and flash your lights.”

“Let’s go back,” he said.

Going back on Interstate 5, especially in that area, is no easy task.  We had to drive 15 miles up the road before finding a place to turn around, and drove 15 miles back to see them still sitting there flashing their lights.  We pulled over, and sure enough, it was two terrified teenage girls.  It took us a couple of minutes to convince them it was safe to open one of their windows an inch so we could talk to them through the crack.  One was a beautiful blond, the other one — equally beautiful — had jet black hair.  I immediately thought Betty and Veronica from the Archies.

betty and veronica“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It runs,” Betty said, “but it won’t go.”

“It made this funky noise and then a dragging sound,” Veronica said.

I went and got a flashlight and looked under the car. Their driveshaft had come detached from the transaxle and lay on the ground. “Um,” I said, “you need a tow truck.”

Betty got brave enough to get out and look.  “Oh great!” she exclaimed.  “Can you take us to a phone?”

“Sure.”

Remember, this was in the mid 1980’s. There were no cell phones. We drove them 40 miles to the nearest pay phone, then waited with them for a tow truck, then led the tow truck back out to the car. The tow truck driver looked like your typical beer bellied guy with food stains all over his shirt. I was concerned with leaving the girls with him there, alone, and as it turned out DT was too. He did a really smart thing … he wrote down the girl’s names, and got the tow trucker’s name and license number before we let them leave.

Veronica had her dad’s credit card and so wasn’t too worried about being stranded. We reluctantly left, but not before both girls gave both of us a kiss. I remember driving away feeling like a genuine hero.

Later, at home while I was recovering from the trip, DT called me sounding excited.  “Dude, did you hear?”

“What?”

“The news, have you been watching the news?”

“No.”

Apparently while we were down in Mexico, there were a string of murders along the highway we were on by Mexican ex-police who’d been fired for corruption.

The victims: American tourists.

Adventures With Henry J. Davis II

Henry J. Davis II

Last Monday evening, on February 10th, my father passed away. He was going to be 94 on April 2nd this year.

He was a sailor, an engineer, a pilot, a lumberjack, an inventor, an entrepreneur, and an adventurer. He was a millionaire more than once, but couldn’t seem to resist risking each fortune on the next thing that captured his interest. He knew the weather better than the TV weatherman. He flew airplanes by the seat of his pants. He crashed several of them, too, but always walked away from the wreckage.

Women seemed to find him irresistible. Sometimes I wonder how many half-brothers and sisters I have out there.

Fiercely independent, brilliant with mechanics, he designed and built things way ahead of their time. He also had a love of rebuilding cars and airplanes. He also occasionally had a dismissive disdain for the law.

My best memories of him are of when he would pull me out of school for months at a time and take me on one of his adventures. One especially stands out, when we went searching for pirate treasure down in the Gulf of California.

Isla Patos

Honest to God, the trip started with a treasure map.

Dad pulled it out and showed it to me, pointing to a tiny pinprick of an island labeled Isla Patos floating to one side of an oblong sea. “This is where it would be,” he told me. “This is the logical place for the pirates to hide their treasure.”

“Cool!” I don’t remember which pirates he’d been talking about, or exactly why Patos Island was the perfect place for them. But I clearly remember the thrill of hearing about pirates.

“What I want to do is go down there with a good metal detector and search around. I bet we come up with some Spanish doubloons!” He looked at me with a smile in his eyes. “How about it? Want to go?”

I was about 11 years old and in the mood for hunting pirate treasure. “Yes!”

“Well guess what,” he said. “We’re going.”

At the time, Dad had a big bronze 1964 Cadillac with 5-inch fins. He’d put a trailer hitch on it and hooked it to our boat trailer, on which sat the TI-KA II, a 25-foot Trojan cabin cruiser, all wood and heavy as a house. It was Dad, Mom, me, and Taffy our long-haired Chihuahua, and an 800 mile drive down to the Sea of Cortez. I couldn’t wait because I knew there would be new and wondrous lizards to catch down there. I didn’t really think we would find any pirate treasure.

The trip down was long and boring. I spent it as I usually did, stretched out in the back seat and trying to sleep, not wearing a safety belt (back in the 1970’s it wasn’t yet a law). Instead of staying in hotels, Dad would pull over to the side of the road and we’d climb up an aluminum ladder to eat and sleep in the boat while it sat on its trailer. My most vivid memory of the drive was that during one of these stops I saw my first and only Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) which was ten inches long with a green body, a blue-green tail, yellow feet, and a yellow and black head. Around it’s neck was a “collar” of black. I couldn’t catch it, though, because it surprised me and was way too fast. It disappeared down a hole in the ground, gone forever.

We had a moment of excitement while we crossed a checkpoint down in Mexico, as the Mexican customs agent decided to search the boat and found Dad’s .22 rifle onboard. I remembered sitting in the car behind my mom, frightened, and kept asking her, “Is he going to arrest us? Is he?” and my mom kept going, “Shhh! Shhhhh!” When my dad and the guy started smiling and joking my mom relaxed. My father had slipped the customs agent $20 and told him he wasn’t about to go anywhere without a gun to protect his family, and the custom agent said he didn’t blame him, and that he would do the same.

We spent some time in Hermosillo, which I remember was hot, flat, and trashy. Then we went on to Guaymas which is a port town, and we launched the boat and Dad rented us a birth at a local dock. This place was cool.

I swam in the warm salty water, diving with my mask, snorkel, and fins. I would swim under the boat and check out all the fish in the clear water. On the dock there was a Fanta Soda machine that took 20 centavos for a bottle, and we got a 15 centavos refund for the empty bottles. The exchange rate at the time was 7 pesos per dollar, so the sodas cost a few pennies at the most. We stocked up the boat with food and supplies, and one clear, sunny morning left on our adventure. It was one that was going to last a lot longer than my dad anticipated.

Dad had taught me how to handle the boat, and so I was an all around junior swabbie. If I wasn’t piloting, I was riding up on the bow. I was also the one designated to jump off onto a dock, or onto a beach, or into the water if necessary, with the responsibility of “dogging” the boat. That was Dad’s sailor talk for tying it to something so that it wouldn’t float away. So I spent most of the trip on the bow, getting darker and darker with each passing day until I looked like a sun-bleached-blond Mexican native. As Dad followed the shoreline, and I peered down into the clear water and could occasionally see the bottom. Every once in a while a porpoise would show up and swim alongside, giving me a big thrill. They were camera shy, though, because every time my dad pulled out his super-8 movie camera they would disappear. They probably thought it was a gun.

In the evening we would beach the boat, and I would hunt around for lizards but found mostly land crabs. They were odd, silly-looking creatures with oblong eyes, and sometimes very sharp claws. To either side of the boat were miles upon miles of virgin beach and not another soul in sight.

When we entered the straight between Tiburon Island and the mainland it was like going from the ocean to a river. It wasn’t at all that deep, and so I had to keep a sharp lookout so that Dad wouldn’t run the boat aground. Also, the big island made me nervous because my dad had told me stories about the Seri Indians who lived there and how they used to be cannibals. The rumor was, he told me, some of them still were. So as we were traveling along this wide, shallow river, teeming with sea life and the bottom littered with strangely-shaped sand dollars, I would look up to see Seri tribesmen. They waded far out into the water off the island side, fishing with nets and spears, and staring at us with an intensity that frightened me.

The truth was, however, that the Seri Indians (they call themselves Konkaak, which means “The People”) were not and never have been cannibals. The rumor of cannibalism was a lie spread long ago by those who wanted to persecute them. I didn’t know any of this then, of course, and they scared me something terrible. Especially when we anchored at night.

At the north opening of the straight we could look out across the expanse of water and see Patos Island, which was nothing but a big white point. The island was so white because, as my dad put it, “It’s covered with bird shit.” But the water beyond the straight was so rough that we got sea sick and had to turn around and head back. It was decided we’d go find a nice sheltered place in the straight and recover, and wait until the seas calmed down before making our run to the island.

Dad chose a secluded stretch of beach and Mom threw the back anchor out, and as the bow slid into the sand I jumped off with the line and ran up the beach. I found a boulder to tie it to and quickly secured it. Dinner was prepared while I explored the beach and the desert beyond. Later, after the lights were out and we had settled in for the evening, I remember staring out the window and seeing nothing. It was absolutely black outside except for the stars. There were no lights on the shore anywhere.

The next morning when we woke up it was obvious something was wrong. The boat was leaning far to one side, and my dad started laughing. The tide had gone out and the boat was nearly all the way out of the water.

tiburon_isIt turns out that the tide is extreme between Tiburon Island and the mainland, because an immense amount of water is funneled in between the island and mainland shores, and also because it’s so shallow. So this water will vary up to 25 feet between high and low tide, and as the tide is changing the current is so swift it literally looks like a river flowing. We propped the boat up and then my dad had to dig a hole in the sand under the propeller so that the shaft wouldn’t get bent under the weight of the boat. When the tide was completely out, the boat was six feet away from the water.

There was about 20 minutes when it was safe for me to go out in my little rowboat. At low tide there was no current, and I paddled around with my face nearly in the water checking out all the fish and sea life. After fifteen minutes or so mom and dad started yelling for me to watch out, and I looked up to see two large fins breaking surface. At first I thought they were porpoises, but as they went past (and they were close) I saw they were too thin and both were longer than my little boat. No doubt about it, they were sharks.

My parents decided it was time for me to paddle back to shore.

Land bound, I wandered around through the desert looking for lizards and watching out for snakes. This region had the only known “rattleless” rattlesnakes, who don’t give any warning at all before they strike. I’d read all about them and so was on sharp alert, but I didn’t see any during the whole trip. I did see a lot of very interesting lizards, mostly whiptails (family Cnemidophorus) and some funny little guys with striped tails that curled up and over like scorpions, called Zebratails (Callisaurus draconoides). The Zebratails were exciting to me because I had never seen them before.

There’s another creature that lives down there that I discovered, but it was not a pleasant discovery. As we were waiting for the tide to come back in, I was walking up and down the beach in about a foot or so of water (well out of reach of the sharks) and I stepped on something squishy. Split seconds later it was like I’d stuck my toe into a 110V electrical socket. My whole body vibrated with exquisite pain, and I screamed and yelled and danced around the beach thinking I’d lost my foot. Looking down into the water, I saw a flat thing go swimming away.

It turns out I’d stepped on an “electric ray” which was lying buried in the sand. I really believe that, in the second or so I was in contact with the creature, my 11-year-old mind thought I was going to die. I ran screaming and crying to the boat and my parents thought I’d been bitten by a snake or something. No, not a snake. I can handle snakes … this was a little monster. After that encounter I no longer walked in the water without wearing rubber-soled tennis shoes.

When the tide finally came in and we could get the boat off the beach, we went back out a ways and saw that the sea between us and Patos Island was still far rougher than Dad wanted to face, so we headed back in again for another night. This time we anchored far offshore, hoping to avoid being stranded once again come low tide.

Mom and Dad woke me up late the next morning, acting all excited, and told me they’d seen the strangest rabbit on the beach. They told me it was huge, and pink, and went around laying eggs. I looked at them with first alarm, and then complete skepticism. They had to out-and-out tell me it was Easter before I realized what was going on. Easter had been the farthest thing from my mind, and it was definitely the most bizarre one I’d ever had. My parents, planning ahead, had stowed away a bunch of colored plastic eggs, filled them with candy, and gone and hidden them around in the desert next to the beach.

After my Easter egg hunt, we had breakfast and then pulled up anchor. The tide was coming in and my dad wanted to make one more attempt for Patos Island. We were stretching the gas very thin as is was, and so his plan was to ride the fast tide to the island, anchor and explore, then ride the tide back when it changed. So we were heading out there, and the current was indeed pushing us along quickly, and that’s when we saw the first whirlpool.

You’ve never seen a whirlpool until you’ve seen one in the Sea of Cortez. Of course I was only eleven, and to me it looked like it could swallow the boat. At least, it looked like it could swallow my little rowboat. In reality I don’t think it would done anything to even the smallest boat but make the occupants dizzy, but it’s definitely not something I’d want to be swimming around. I could imagine an ancient mariner seeing something like this, then telling family about it, and the family telling friends. After a week the story would go from “scary whirlpool” to some gargantuan maelstrom of water that sucked down entire ships.

That was just one strange side effect of the strong tide. The next one caused us to turn back and forget about Pato Island. As we were heading out of the mouth of the straight, there was this very strange looking wave that didn’t seem to be moving. It was just this steep hill of water, and the closer we got to it the more frightening it was. It was eerie, looking like something caused by a sea monster. My dad nosed up toward it and then shook his head, and turned the boat around.

I don’t think it really scared my father, I think he was nervous about how low our gas reserves were getting. The TI-KA II was not a sailboat, and we were a long ways away from any kind of gas station. We had what was in our tanks and also some 5 gallon cans, and we were approaching the halfway point. My dad had rethought our chances of getting back, took into account he had his wife and young son with him, and decided not to chance it.

I’ve since learned that this phenomenon is called an upwelling, where a strong current underwater hits some feature on the bottom that causes the current to turn upwards. They’re not especially dangerous, just disconcerting, and we could have gone around it. But instead we turned back, and sadly never did make it to Patos Island to treasure hunt. Our adventure, however, was far from over.

The Crisis I Slept Through

We made it back to port from our aborted treasure hunt and filled up with gas, and since we had a few spare days left on the vacation, dad decided we should go out and explore some of the nearby sea coast. It was only a few hours before sunset when we came across a beautiful cove and anchored off shore. This was an area of dramatic ocean bluffs, but beyond some jagged rocks there was a secluded sand beach that was lush and picturesque. We had to go ashore in my little boat because of the rocks, and we didn’t spend a lot of time there. I can picture it all in my mind, illuminated by the “beauty light” of oncoming sunset. Soon it was time to go back to the TI-KA II for dinner. After dinner I spent some time fishing, and caught some strange rockfish which we let go, then it was bedtime and soon the lights were out and I went to sleep.

In the middle of the night a storm came up, and the swells reached lord-knows-how-big (the way my father tells it, there were 40-foot whitecaps).The size of the swells pulled the anchors right off the bottom and sent the TI-KA II adrift toward the rocks, which would have smashed the boat to pieces and quickly killed us all. My dad started the engines and backed the boat away from the rocks while my mom pulled up the stern anchor, but with the waves and the turning of the boat, the anchor line got caught in the propeller and killed the engine. The boat was dead in the water, adrift, and heading for disaster.

So, with a steak knife clenched in his teeth, my father dove overboard in the dark, in a storm, and swam under the boat and cut the anchor line away from the propeller. My mom said she watched the rocks get closer and closer, and by the time my dad climbed back onboard she thought it was too late. But he scrambled up to the helm, started the engine and threw it into reverse, backing away as waves broke over the stern and sent water streaming into the boat. When he had a chance he turned the boat into the waves and headed back toward port.

I’d gone to sleep out in the cove, and woke up – disoriented – back at a berth in Guaymas. I was somewhat upset because I was looking forward to more exploring and maybe some lizard hunting. I couldn’t understand why we were back at the dock. My parents thought this was hilarious, and they told me they couldn’t believe what I’d slept through.

When they told me this story, I was glad I had slept through it.

And that, my friends … that was what it was like growing up with Henry J. Davis II as my father.