Excerpt from Crocodile: Memoirs
From a Mexican Drug-Running Port

David Vann

In the morning, I rowed ashore in the dinghy, returned to the palapa, where the same men were still drinking, and ordered huevos rancheros.  It wasn’t on the menu, but they seemed to know what it was.  I was taking a risk eating eggs in this place, but the risk seemed small compared to everything else.

The construction crew was still going, though I assumed the guys were in shifts.  Lots of women were rubbing bricks with bricks, also, at 5:30 am, and sweeping sand over the new sidewalk, then sweeping it off.  Another way of aging the plaza, I supposed.  It seemed the work could go on forever.

The huevos rancheros were two eggs, over easy, with the signature red drool shared by the chicken knuckles.  I asked for corn tortillas, received flour tortillas, and went to work.  Not bad.  I made a mental note I now had two dishes I could order.

Santiago arrived just as I was finishing up.  This was an encouraging sign, since it was early.  Then I realized someone must have seen me and awakened him under orders, which was a little scary.  He had a full shock of hair, a bit longer than the local style.  He had no moustache, unlike almost everyone else, and an earnest face.  After our hellos, I tried to find out a little about him.  He made it clear he was Guatemalan, not Mexican.  “People here mostly Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua.  No many Mexican.”

“People crossed the border and came here for better jobs?” I asked.

“Si.  Better jobs here,” he said. 

I had meant it as a joke.  “How much does a waitress make here at this palapa?”

Santiago considered for a moment.  “Maybe 200 pesos a month.”

That meant $25 a month.  I was stunned.  I had expected it to be low, but not that low.  I realized that the $1 or so I was paying for breakfast, which had seemed low, was probably an inflated price.  “Do you have a job?” I asked him.

“No,” he said.  “Not every day.  But I work as a translator.  I help people on yachts for their papers.”

“What did Mike and Elizabeth and my other crew do during their time here?”

Santiago laughed.  “They drink a lot of cerveza.  Mike and his friend both fuck local girls.  None of them do any work.  They talk about you, they say how you don’t give any money, how your boat is no good, how you can go fuck yourself.”

“Well that’s nice,” I said.  “I guess I should have expected that.”

“You seem alright to me,” Santiago said.


Santiago’s breakfast finally arrived.  I had told him to order whatever he wanted, and he had ordered the same.

“In California, Mexican food is different,” I said.  “You’d have salsa, sour cream, and guacamole, and beans and rice.  And the tortillas would be corn tortillas.”

“California is a rich country,” he said.

“That’s true.”

I told him I was waiting for the mechanic and I tried to describe what needed to be done for the engine. 

“I can help,” he said.  “You have to be careful here.  This is not California.  You can’t do much, even you know someone cheats you.  I know who takes your outboard engine from your boat, but that doesn’t mean you can get it back.”

“You know who took my outboard?”

“Si.  But is not important.  The men who take it are familia with El Capitan.  And they have guns.”

“I don’t care,” I said.  “I’m getting my motor back.  Where do these people live?”

“I’m not taking you there, man.  Go to the Capitan, tell him you know who has it, but don’t say nothing about me, and see what he says.  You’ll see.  There’s no way for you to get your engine.”

“I’ll talk to him.  And I won’t say anything about you.  So how can I find you if the mechanic ever comes?”

“I live behind the fishing boats, just ask for Santiago.  But I check you later.  The mecanico won’t be here this morning.  Maybe lunch time.”

We said goodbye, and I marched off to the port captain’s office.  I wanted my outboard back.

The port captain’s office wasn’t open yet.  I had forgotten that they opened at nine.  I didn’t have anything else to do, though, so I just sat on their steps and waited for a couple hours, going crazy in the sun.

When the Capitan finally arrived, an hour after everyone else had arrived, he wouldn’t see me right away.  I had waited almost four hours by the time I was shown in.  I really did feel crazy from the waiting.  I skipped quickly through the formalities, saying “Buenos dias, como esta, etc.” then saying “I have been told that the men who stole my outboard engine are here in this town.”

The Capitan just smiled and looked at me, as if he were waiting to hear more.

“I think I can tell you which house, if you could send some of your men with me to get it.”

The Capitan smiled again, sat back in his chair and looked around his office.  Then he sat forward and folded his hands on his desk.  “Do you have your papers with you?” he asked.

“My papers?” I asked.  “I came in to talk about the outboard engine.”

“Do you have your papers with you?”

“You have copies of all of them.  When I first arrived here, you’re the one who gave me the papers, after you made copies.  And you kept the original of the clearance.”

“I need to see that you have your papers.”

So Santiago was right.  But I didn’t feel like giving up.  “Okay,” I said.  “I’ll row back out to my boat.  Is there anything else you would like from the boat other than the papers?”

“Only your papers.”

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