I entered the village from the east and passed the dirt
airstrip. The carcass of an old DC-3 lay on its belly there, off
the side of a short runway. It hadn't made it out. Now it
rested, skeleton exposed, like a great beached whale. It had
been there for some time. Its flat and thin aluminum skin had
been stolen for home construction. Many families had been
protected by a single failure.
I spent a night in the village in a simple motel, cleaned up as
best I could after a week in the forlorn desert. I walked around
the small collection of homes, docks, basic wharf. I had dinner
and watched the townspeople, the children hollering, playing in
the dusty streets.
From the village, a northbound narrow rock and sand track wound
between low hills and shallow valleys, just inland enough that
the great Pacific was lost to view. The valleys were dry and
filled with dead cactus, a few species still struggling to suck
unavailable fluids from the earth. No rain had fallen for
several years; life here relied only on the marine layer that
encroached on some nights, depositing just the slightest
moisture across the desert.
It was 26 kilometers between the larger village I was departing
and the smaller one to which I was destined. It took me about an
hour and I pulled into the hamlet, to a crowd of youngsters
playing. I greeted them all and dispatched them with my only
gift, crackers. They didn't like crackers. I pulled old Tortuga
forward to a hillock overlooking the Pacific and the mouth to a
major bay. I spotted a sole island, almost only a large flat
rock in the water not far from shore. I shut the engine off and
climbed out of the sweltering cab and walked toward a gathering
of villagers, men and women working at a task I couldn't
identify. Most of the villagers were there and helping.
I walked across the small rise where I had parked, between
cactus huts and down to a ramp that had been dug into the
plateau and running to the oceans edge. The villagers were
shuffling large crates, passing them here and there with some
apparent motive. Many pangas were bobbing in the water. I stood
and watched for some time before I figured what they were doing.
But they were all busy and paid me no mind, unlike the children
just before. After a few moments observation and as I moved
closer to the activity I began to see a pattern.
The boats were debarking lobster from traps they had just
harvested. A mid-sized truck with its bed slats weaving and
creaking as the truck swayed from side to side over the rocks
was backing down to the shore there. It carried hundreds of
empty widely slatted crates. Two dark and wrinkled men threw the
another onto the shore. A forth stacked the crates alongside the
truck. An older, more grisly and even darker elder picked up
each sea spider and placed it on a table. The table was so old
it was seriously worn. It had been used perhaps for generations?
He laid each lobster on the table, across a measuring ruler that
had been carved into the table's wooden surface. Based on the
lobster's length the elder handed the lobster to another tan man
that placed in an appropriate crate, with other lobsters of like
I pulled up a wall and rested my backside and watched this
process for quite awhile. The elder doing the measuring was
clearly someone that both the villagers and the shippers trusted
to have integrity. There was a sense of camaraderie floating
across the small landing as debarked pangas departed and laden
boats pulled to shore. The men were busy with their tasks and
the women rode herd over assignments and children. Laughter and
shouting was everywhere as the day wore on. This must have been
the monthly, at most a weekly harvest.
At a point late in the afternoon one of the workers pulls a huge
lobster from one of the panga traps. Someone surprises me by
tugging at my sleeve. I turn and it's one of the shippers
telling me to go hold the big bug. I don't understand, but
assume I'm the simple gringo and being brought into the fold
with humor. Can I really hold this big guy? Do I have a choice?
I walk down the ramp to the edge of the ocean and the truck and
the old table and all the warm social interaction that I have
witnessed all afternoon. I am handed this harvests largest
lobster. I hold it well away from my torso, no claws on this
Pacific beast but I'm taking no chances. This fellow is at least
3 feet long. One of the men signs to me: do I have a camera? We
dispatch a young child to my truck to retrieve a Cannon. It's
here now and pointing at the lobster and me and I hear the
double snap of the old SLR 35mm shutter.
I left shortly after that snap. The day was wearing into
evening; there certainly were no hotels here and I had no
camping equipment, and I wanted to make it back to the same
rented room I'd had the night before. As I knew I was about to
leave I took a moment to collect about me those moments I knew
would take only heart to record, memory was not involved. With
my heart I captured images of the children hustling in the dust,
the square shoulders of women hefting heavy crates full of
writhing and arguing-for-turf sea creatures, of men torn by
their lives of trying-to-provide, hard, desert living, struggle.
I recorded that I was well received into this small and remote
village on the shores of the great Pacific.