Archive for April 24th, 2007

October 2005

Gone Fishing

I’ve been so curious about our local panga boat fishermen. I see them every morning before sunrise on their way out to sea. I just had to go too, so I ventured out to Punta Lobos before dawn one morning to catch a ride and find out what life is like as a Todos Santos fisherman. I waited in the dark for them to start showing up, and one of the early birds offered to take me right away… José Romero Espinoza. I went down and waited for José and his buddy, Eugenio Nuñez Villalobos, to load their day’s supplies and ready the boat for the big launch. The tides had caused the dunes to look like ominous cliffs that morning. Oh boy! I was in for an adventure.

Being the fragile milkmaid that I am, I was told to get into the panga and the guys would push it down the dune and jump in as it hit the water. That was a thrill! We were off and motoring in no time. As we rounded the point, a big boat, “The 200 Miles,” was there throwing out bags of free shrimp heads that the fishermen use for bait, along with the boxes of calamari they pay 90 pesos a box for. The decision was made to go for red snapper, locally known as huachinango. I was happy to know we wouldn’t be going for marlin, which would have been a much farther ride and a lot harder for my first time. My stomach was already doing some leaps. José was so kind to ride around the old port and show me all the barking sea lions hanging out around the rock formation known as King Kong.

As we made our way north, José pointed out the most glorious sunrise as it came through the mountains.

José. Photo by Mark Gordon

Eugenio. Photo by Mark Gordon

MM: So, José, how long have you been doing this?

JRE: For 25 years I have been fishing every day. I have a vacation only when there are storms.

MM: And you can earn a nice living doing this? You own this boat?

JRE: This is my boat, given to me by the government, as part of a cooperative. We all fish for the cooperative. For snapper we can get 26 pesos per kilo. You can get 40 pesos per kilo of marlin, but it’s against the law to sell it. Anyway, it takes lots of gas to go looking for marlin. For snapper, we can stick closer.

MM: So if you catch plenty of fish, it’s not too bad for working from 6 a.m. until one or two in the afternoon, I guess.

JRE: And I am my own boss really. I make my own hours, but if you want to earn a lot of money, you have to work really hard.

MM: So where are the fishing rods? I don’t see any.

JRE: We don’t use rods… just drop lines and hooks.

MM: NO WAY! You catch fish by hand?

JRE: We put the bait on three hooks at a time and lower the line down and we use these finger guards so we don’t get cut up as we bring the lines up and down.

MM: That’s amazing. And you catch all kinds of fish this same way?

JRE: Yes… we go further out, sometimes even 30 miles, to catch marlin, but we catch dorado, cabrilla, sierra, even sharks this way. When the water’s warmer in September and October, there might be tuna. We use nets for shrimp, too, but that’s when the water temperature is cooler.

MM: Does your family ever go with you?

JRE: You must have drunk tequila last night.

MM: We won’t go into that. Do you have a childhood nickname?

JRE: Oh, I’ve had many. I don’t like them. I tell my friends not to call me names and I won’t call them any.

MM: That’s fair. How do you know if it’s ok to go out? Things can change dramatically out here so quickly.

JRE: Oh, the weather is told by the wind, the current, the sky, and the marines come around to warn us of any storms.

MM: I bet this can be pretty dangerous sometimes. Has anything ever happened to you out here?

JRE: About two months ago I had a bad accident by Rancho Nuevo. These boats are not built for bad weather. We got caught in a huge wave and the boat flipped.

ENV: Yeah… I got out and got to shore, but José was caught under the water, under the panga. The air was being sucked out. A huge wave came and slammed into the boat. He was released, but had a dislocated arm and shoulder.

MM: Oh no! How scary. Has anything really funny ever happened?

JRE: Oh yeah… my friend caught a marlin and it actually jumped into the boat and landed smack on top of him! Knocked him to the floor.

MM: That is pretty funny. I still can’t imagine you catching marlin with just a drop line in a boat this size.

JRE: Well, you struggle for hours to get it on the boat. If you catch one, the tail hangs over the side. Sometimes we take people out sport fishing. They usually like to bring all their own equipment. We give 30% of what we make to the co-op.

MM: Is there competition between all the fishermen to see who brings in the most fish? Do you use cell phones to let each other know where different ones are running?

JRE: Cell phones are used when someone is in trouble… nobody will tell where the fish are.

MM: Oh, so there must be some friendly competition, I guess. It looks like you’re mainly catching snapper today, but what’s that fat fish you’re bringing up as well?

JRE: That’s cochito. It’s got a really thick skin. It’s good for ceviche. If a cochito sees a net, you know it actually swims backwards.

MM: That’s hysterical. I never saw a fish back up. José, did you always want to do this? Was your dad a fisherman?

JRE: My dad was a farmer. I have always loved hunting, fishing, and the sea. In fact Eugenio and I are going hunting after this.

MM: Well that’s a full day. Have you traveled at all? You speak English pretty well.

JRE: I have been to Palm Springs and Mt.Hood, Oregon. That was the first time I was in snow. I’d really like to go to Puerta Vallarta and Mazatlan.

MM: Do you have any American friends?

JRE: Yes, some surfer friends and the people who come to go sport fishing with me.

MM: You were born and raised here in Todos Santos. How do you feel about all the changes happening here?

JRE: I was born in 1953. I think paving the streets was a big change. There’s still not a lot of crime. There’s more equipment available to buy for fishing.

MM: Is there anything you’d like to say to all your friends who might read this?

JRE: In the ocean you have to take care of yourself and take care of the ocean. Just have fun and be careful!

MM: Thanks, José and you too Eugenio, for taking such good care of me today! Can’t wait to experience the rush of getting this boat back up that sand dune! I’ll have that beer now.

JRE: My whole family lives here, but only one of my four children likes to fish. They get sick.

MM: Hmmm, I can relate to that right now. Do I look green?


June 2005

Pump Up The Volume

Anyone who buys gas at the Todos Santos Pemex station eventually gets to know all the guys who work there. Each of them has always been very helpful and kind to your Milkmaid. One of them, Marco Antonio Orozco Miranda (whew!) was born and raised here and even speaks English! He’s from a huge family of 11 kids. (He will be identified as MA, since we are both MM and that would be most confusing for you.) Pump up the Volume

MM: Marco, how long has this station been here, and how long have you worked here?

MA: It has been here for 25 years and has had three owners. I’ve worked here for two years.

MM: Does the current owner live here in Todos Santos?

MA: No, he lives in Monterey, but visits a couple of times a year. He is very nice.

MM: Does he also own the new station in Pescadero?

MA: No, that one is owned by a different group.

MM: Oh, so there must be some competition for the same customers. Has that one impacted your business here?

MA: Yes, there is competition, and I’d say our business has probably dropped 20% now. The main difference between us, though, is that we carry diesel fuel and they don’t.

MM: You know, Marco, there are many nightmarish stories about what goes on in the various Pemex stations. Have you heard all the horrible tales of tourists getting ripped off? Things like paying with dollars and getting the wrong change in pesos because of their unfamiliarity with Mexican money. Or not starting the meter at 0, or in some places the meters being adjusted to pump less gas than is shown, and therefore the customer is charged for more than they really get? Are you aware of any incidences of dishonest practices like these?

MA: I do hear stories sometimes, but it is impossible here. We can’t do that. Everything is controlled by computers, and they are locked up. Only the manager has access to them, and we have a good manager. Besides, Profeco inspectors make surprise visits regularly to check the pumps and ensure the liter readings are correct. Nobody knows when they will come. Sometimes they show up in the middle of the night, sometimes at noon or in the early mornings. They have special equipment and close down every pump to check each one.

MM: And have they ever found anything “not right” here?

MA: I don’t think so. Before the new owner took over last year, there were some problems, but not now.

MM: Hmmmm. I think you’d have a tough time convincing some members of our local community about that one, but I hope you’re right. Tell me more about you and your family.

MA: My wife and children live in La Paz. My daughter is 15 and my son is 8. My wife is an elementary school teacher.

MM: That must be so hard with you living here all week.

MA: Well, I’m 45 years old and no one else will give me a job. The locals don’t like to work on Saturdays and Sundays, so I do. I see my family once a week.

MM: Have you ever traveled anywhere?

MA: Oh yes. I was in the Merchant Marines for three years and went all around the world. I saw Brazil, Samoa, Venezuela, the Antilles and many other places.

MM: Wow! That’s great. Is there anything you have dreamt about doing that you haven’t done?

MA: I want to write a novel. I am a dreamer. Ideas come into my brain all the time and I write them on napkins or anything I can find. I also write poetry, but only for my wife.

MM: How romantic. Tell me, what is the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you at this station?

MA: Well, one night I was working the shift from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. with two other guys. We were talking in the corner, and I saw the shadow of a woman cross the street. She walked along the wall here and into the ladies room. I asked Pedro, my buddy, to check it out, but he saw nobody. We looked all around both bathrooms, and nobody was there. The other two guys started to shake.

MM: Oh boy! A haunted gas station.

MA: Oh yeah. Lots of strange things happen here. This was a sugar cane mill 30 years ago. We see and hear things all the time. Those two guys never want to work the night shift again!

MM: I bet not. Tell me, did you have a childhood nickname?

MA: Yes, everybody called me Don Marco, like the mafia. I am thought to be too serious a man.

MM: And on that note, is there anything special you would like to say to our readers?

MA: Yes. The sun comes every day for all the people. The only thing you have to do is keep God, love and warmth in your heart, and work hard to make your dreams come true. Money is not important for me. Seeing smiles on my children’s faces, feeling the air on my face, the sun over the trees and the flowers growing is what matters. Oh and a piece of bread for the birds. I feed the chickens here every day.

MM: Oh, that’s sweet Marco. Thank you so much for your time, and I think maybe you should be writing poetry for all of us, not just your wife.

May 2005

Pretty in Palms

Upon meeting 28-year-old Sergio Nuñez Cordero, one is immediately struck by how beautifully handsome he is. It made it easier to understand the turns his life took at such a young age. One can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for him to realize he was a cross-dresser in this small Baja town.

Pretty in Palms

MM: Sergio, when did you first understand you enjoyed wearing women’s clothes?

SNC: I knew since I was a little kid that I was different. I was cute. When I turned 15, I started going out in public. I didn’t care. I just decided to do it. I felt that if God knows, then the whole world should know.

MM: Oh my, how brave you were! How do you think of yourself… as a transsexual, transvestite, transgender? Are you gay?

SNC: I see myself just as a regular person, only with different preferences. I am gay, but not treated like the other gays here.

MM: Are you saying you are not part of the gay community here in Todos Santos?

SNC: The gay community doesn’t accept me here. I think they are jealous because I do whatever I want.

MM: So where do you go to connect with other people like yourself?

SNC: I only go to La Paz.

MM: Do you ever use the Internet to look for support groups?

SNC: Never. I don’t like to go through a screen.

MM: You seem very strong and grounded. Were your parents very understanding? Did they take you for counseling?

SNC: I’ve never had counseling. I always was sure. But I did have lots of problems, especially with my dad. Huge problems. I tried to commit suicide even. I was in a La Paz hospital and my dad came to visit me. He didn’t like my partner, who was older. We actually just broke up three months ago. He lives here. I have nothing to hide.

MM: I appreciate that you are so open. Tell me about the work you do.

SNC: I consider myself an artist. I trim palm trees and do palm work like palapas. I like to do rustic decoration with rock and landscaping. I also am very involved with Grupo Tortuguero, protecting sea turtles and collecting their eggs.

MM: That group does wonderful work. So what do you do to have fun around here?

SNC: I don’t like to go out here. I stay home and read or draw, or just relax. I go out to dinner.

MM: When you go out, do you get all dolled up in heels and everything?

SNC: It depends on the occasion, whether it’s formal or disco. I never wear heels. I don’t really feel like me in them. I never want to compete with a woman. It doesn’t feel comfortable. When I wear just a t-shirt, people wonder what’s wrong.

MM: What’s your favorite outfit?

SNC: Something sexy… blouses, comfortable pants, no jewelry.

MM: Do you ever dream about traveling anywhere?

SNC: I don’t like to travel. I’m really happy and emotionally satisfied here. The Argentine director, Sylvia Perel, invited me to two film festivals in New York and San Francisco for the premiere of a film she made here about life in Todos Santos. I was the main character, but I wouldn’t go. All that I need is here.

MM: That’s so wonderful. What kind of music do you like and do you have a favorite movie star?

SNC: I really enjoy romantic music and Banda. My favorite celebrity is Antonio Banderas.

MM: I’ll go with that! But really, don’t you even have some fantasy adventure you’d like to do someday?

SNC: I actually just had one come true. I can tell you but you can’t write it down.

MM: Aw, come on. At least give me a hint of what it was! You’re so lucky!

SNC: OK… just a tree under the rain.

MM: You really are romantic! Did you have a childhood nickname, like everybody else around here?

SNC: Oh I had thousands of them! One good one was when I was 15. They called me la Mistica. Another one is la Calendria, a bird that flies from palm tree to palm tree.

MM: I heard that you actually do that, and at great heights! So Sergio, do you have a special message for the people out there?

SNC: Yes. Thank you to everyone for the way you treat me and respect me. When something is clear, it’s decent.

MM: Thank you, Sergio, for being such an inspiring example of living your truth.

All photos by the Milkmaid herself unless noted. Thanks to Erick Ochoa for his help translating. Copyright 2004-2006, all rights reserved. Any and all manners of reproduction including digital are expressly prohibited without written permission.
April 2007
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