A few Hundred Miles from the US Border, Guaymas and San Carlos have become Popular Destinations
An old fishing town, Guamas is a simple desinationClick thumbnail to view full-size
"We 'Ave Fund Your Bote!
San Carlos and the Fat Policeman.
San Carlos lies a ten minute drive north from Guaymas, a port on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of Mexico (and occasionally as the Vermillion Sea owing to its sunset-coloured persona). Guaymas is on the mainland in the huge desert state of Sonora, a place that has fostered revolution, including Yaqui Indian insurgency, which no army had ever been able to tame.
Guaymas itself is not an important tourist destination, whereas San Carlos certainly is, having good hotels, trailer parks and a practically land-locked marina. The resort also has a wild and wonderful tidal estuary, fronted by a long, narrow beach, ideal for camping.
Which is what Helen and I did that memorable Christmas some time ago. We had arrived from San Diego in a battered Chevvy, towing an old, handsome wooden speedboat. This humble craft little knew San Carlos Bay would be its last resting place.
It was Christmas Eve. We pitched our little tent to the gentle sound of the Sea of Cortex going about its usual business, and set about gathering dead wood for our cooking fire. As we got this going with the coffee pot aboard, one of the fishermen wandered over from the camp about a quarter mile up the beach. We exchanged our “Buenas Noches” greetings, two of about only 12 words I knew back then. Our new friend, Manuel, pointed at the fire. “Mira,” look, he said. Scurrying about a piece of wood not yet on fire, was a scorpion, its stinger raised, body engorged, and obviously more than put out. I looked for a twig to rescue it, but Manny casually reached over and flicked it into the fire with a calloused forefinger. “Peligroso,” (dangerous) he warned, “Son pequenos pero muy malos.” (small but bad). I found out later it was one of the Bark Scorpions with a sting that could certainly make you sick, but not actually put you in the ground.
We bid Manuel, buenas noches again and crawled into the tiny tent anticipating a good night’s sleep after a weary 400-mile drive from the border. Mexico’s roads are adequate, but you need to concentrate as cows, drunks, and assorted wildlife casually cross about 100 feet in front of the car. And I was towing the boat, remember.
Just after sunup, I heard a screech from outside the tent. I stuck my still weary head out of the flap and lurched in surprise. Some insecure campers had arrived while we were dead to the world and pitched their tent about 20 feet from ours! They had another mile of pristine, empty beach they could have used. Helen and I were very disgruntled and more so when the whole tribe arrived in front of our tent, the youngest, a boy of about 6, screaming and holding his finger. “He was bitten by this!” fussed his dad. He indicated a flattened bark scorpion on a saucer. “Do you know if they are poisonous?” Aha! Our chance! “My goodness,” I said…well, you can’t write f--k! “They are really dangerous, you need to get him to a doctor right away.” “We’re not staying here” whined the overweight mum. “You run Willie to the doctor in Guaymas, and we’ll pack up the tent and be ready when you get back.” I believed I even offered to help.
So we quickly lost our unwanted intruders - aren’t some people insensitive? And settled down to enjoy our proposed 6-week stay. (Actually, we only planned a couple of weeks but we tried leaving once, got 100 miles back towards the States and returned to San Carlos, we liked it so much…and we were young and “in lerve!”)
Mexico was very relaxed about guns back then, especially hunting rifles, I had bought two with me, God knows what I was planning to shoot down there. As it turned out, it was just beer cans bobbing in the briny. But even this was nearly our undoing.
One of my rifles was a Winchester 33, I think they called it. Made quite a bang! So we fired off a few rounds each morning and one day I was surprised to see two very overweight Mexican police, in full uniform, appearing to gather shells as they strolled by our camp! As they passed, they studiously ignored us, but slyly glanced into our boat pulled up on the beach. This happened daily, until I realized we were definitely under suspicion when…
“Smuggling drugs,” said the commandante we had been summoned to see in Guaymas, our confiscated guns propped against his desk and his own pearl-handled magnum holding down our passports and visa on his blotter.
“What” we cried in unison, “We hate drugs!” We didn’t bother to tell him we didn’t consider marijuana a drug, but luckily we didn’t have any and were enjoying a healthy vacation away from whisky, wine and stuff you roll yourselves. I hadn’t discovered coke in those innocent days.
This might be time to insert a warning which I am sure you will have all heard before. Anyway. Leave you drugs at home before coming here. It’s not that Mexicans hate them, they use them as much as Gringos do, but they are a way to make money down here, so they lock you up, appearing most indignant and muttering about 20 years in the slammer, all to get your nearest and dearest to pay the extortionate “fines” and other bribes that will be extorted by lawyers (read scum) and those holding dear little Wayne or Penny..
We eventually managed to persuade our commandant we were innocent tourists, as was the case; he even returned my rifles for a “fine” of $100 US. Fines down here always mean “mordida,” the bite, or bribe.
And we were back on the beach, ready for the next adventure in what was proving to be a mildly eventful trip.
It came as we were nearing the end of our brilliant holiday. I went to find the boat trailer parked near the road across the rough ground at the back of the beach which was subject to flooding.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, it was gone! Trailers would be of great demand here and this would be on a coastal rancho somewhere, stripped, if not being used as is.
Now what? I put the problem to Manuel. “Eet not insured?” he managed to convey to me. “No” I frowned. But, suddenly, one of the ideas which often got me in hot water occurred. “But the boat is, with Seguras Tepeyac.” A large Mexican insurer backed by Sanborn’s. I had bought a policy on the border, more on impulse that worry about loosing this old wreck. “Manuel,” I said. “Can we, er, sink the boat out in the bay?”
You wouldn’t believe the amount of rocks it took to load that poor boat until water was lapping at the gunwales! It was as if it were clinging to life! Manuel and I finished a bottle of tequila to give us Dutch courage (he had seen the attention the police were giving us). He towed my sad little craft out into the middle of the bay during a moonlit night, her ridiculously large, malfunctioning Mercury 80-horse motor leaning drunkenly from the stern. I hefted and swung Manny’s heavy, double-bladed axe and it caromed off the slippery hull, completing an arc parting Manuel’s hair, nearly topping him like an egg. He shook his head sadly. “No, Roberto, estas borracho, dejame ayudarte.” (You‘re effing legless, let me do it). That boat clung to life as resolutely as Gordon Brown clings to the Prime Ministry. ( and with the same futility). Manny did manage to chop a hole in the hull and she sank out of sight where, I imagine, she still remains to this day, a refuge for crabs and other marine creatures.
Well, we got back to the USA without further drama and claimed for the boat. Well? You would’ve too!
The first letter we got from Tepeyac said, “We ‘ave fund your bote!” It was accompanied by a picture of a 20-ton trawler in Cancun. This sort of nonsense went on for a year with Tepeyac “funding botes” and us denying they were ours.
Finally, they gave in to an extent and sent a cheque for $800! The ‘bote had been insured for 10 times that, but they said “Dees ees the marcut valued!” Or something like that.
So that was the end of our eventful trip to one of the most singular places in Mexico. Life went on without my Helen, but I know she’s out there somewhere reading this humble hub. Hi, sweetie! Y’all, do visit this area, you’ll be delighted no matter how much it has changed.