MECHUDO - a
nickname ("apodo") for a man with
bushy or long hair - and also the name attached to a region at
the north end of La Paz Bay which is carefully avoided by many
superstitious (perhaps wise) residents of the La Paz area.
For example, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to
find local crew for a ship that might be venturing near the
shores of the Mechudo region.
- The Mechudo Region -
The nautical charts of La Paz Bay show, at the north end, two
mentions of Mechudo, the subject of this legend. One reference
is to Cabeza de Mechudo, a headland of 750 feet in height - on
the charts it is incorrectly spelled as Cebeza de Mechudo. The
second reference is to one of the highest peaks in the area,
Cerro de Mechudo - a very prominent mountain at 3672 feet, and
quite close to the waters of La Paz Bay.
Even the AAA road map of Baja California shows Punta El Mechudo
where the road from San Juan de la Costa to San Evaristo passes
through the Mechudo region.
- Pearling in the La Paz Region -
During the 18th and 19th centuries, La Paz
Bay was the center of one of the world's great pearling regions.
During the early part of the 20th century, with the
introduction of compressed-air diving equipment, the oyster beds
were slowly cleaned out. The coup de grâce came in 1940
with the arrival of a blight which wiped out the remaining
Finally, towards the end of the century, some of the
pearl-bearing oysters are now being found again in the La Paz
region. However, in the interim, introduction of the cultured
pearl has greatly reduced the value of natural pearls.
During the early years of the 20th century, with
pearls becoming harder to find, the pearlers had to travel
greater distances seeking rich oyster beds. The mode of travel
for these pearlers was usually a small sail-driven canoe. They
might have to travel several days before reaching a place known
to have pearls.
The pearling activities began with an initial free-dive to check
the quality of the site. If a pearl was secured during this
preliminary dive, all the better.
It was the custom of the times to set aside the first pearl,
regardless of size or quality, for presentation to the Church -
an offering to the Virgin Mary. Given the superstitious nature
of these people, this was surely a custom to be taken very
- The Legend -
The stage is now set for the legend of "Mechudo," a young diver
with long black hair. Mechudo was one of a group of pearl
divers who set off from La Paz for the northern shores of the
bay. After two days spent traveling to their planned site,
Mechudo was selected to carry out the initial dive. These
divers were free-diving without the benefit of compressed air.
Mechudo returned from that dive as excited as he had ever been.
His eyes were wide with wonder and excitement as he described a
giant oyster shell and pearl which he had discovered. He had
attempted to extract the pearl without immediate success. The
other divers exclaimed about how the Church would benefit from
this wondrous pearl, and how their difficult lives would be
blessed for making the traditional gift. With an uncontrollable
greed taking hold of him, Mechudo quickly shouted
"No! This pearl I will keep for
As the shocked divers stood by, Mechudo dove back into the water
to again attempt to extract the great pearl. After a full two
minutes had passed, more time than any of the divers could have
stayed down, they began to worry about Mechudo. Further minutes
passed, until the divers nervously agreed that one of them would
have to go down and check for Mechudo, who was now surely dead.
The diver selected for this task dove over the side with fear in
his heart. The remaining divers again waited, but this time
quickly sent someone else in after just a single minute had
passed. The process was repeated once more, and with the same
result - not one of the divers had returned.
The few divers still left then dropped slowly over the side
as a group, carefully peering below for any indication of what
had occurred. The sight which eventually presented itself was
that of Mechudo, one arm clamped tight by a giant oyster shell,
eyes wide open and long black hair flowing in the current, and
his free arm seemingly grasping for whatever object might be
passing by. The bodies of the other divers could be seen
faintly through the water as they drifted off with the
One week later, only one of these divers made it back to La Paz,
crazed with the tale of Mechudo's greed and the death of the
other members of the group. It seems that the other divers who
had witnessed the terrible sight of Mechudo had, in their own
turn, perished on the return trip. Perhaps the shock of what
had happened caused them to ignore the harsh conditions of the
sun and sea.
After the story had circulated in La Paz for some time, it is
said that a second group of divers left for the same spot -
probably to seek out the giant pearl. In this case, it is known
that once again, only one of the divers returned. He had to
walk the 45 miles back to La Paz along the shores of the bay.
His somewhat incoherent story mentioned Mechudo having killed
the other members of the group somewhere along the northern
shores of La Paz Bay.
Thus we reach the end of the traditional legend of Mechudo.
That the superstitious might not want to venture near that
region can now be understood. However, the tale has its
tentacles reaching into more modern times, and here we are
dealing with better known facts.
- Modern Times -
On a Christmas Eve during the 1960's, a luxurious Lockheed
Lodestar plane, belonging to the founder of the Bechtel
Construction Company, was transporting the Stoeffer family to La
Paz for Christmas. The plane left Loreto cleared only for
visual flight below a heavy overcast. When the plane was late
in arriving in La Paz, a search was begun.
The search became an international one since the plane and
passengers both came from prominent U.S. families. The focus
of the search quickly became the Mechudo region. No wreckage
could be found, but evidence that the plane brushed Cerro de
Mechudo suggested that it must have turned and gone down over
the water. This was confirmed when the bodies of eight of the
ten on board washed up on the beach.
Was this the ghost arm of Mechudo once again reaching out?
Along the shore of La Paz Bay, at the town of San Juan de la
Costa, the Mexican company RofoMex has one of the world's
largest phosphate mines. The mine is highly mechanized using
immense machines to mine and transport the diggings. Freighters
tie up to a loading dock to take on phosphate from a large
In 1993 the mine was visited by several mining inspectors. As
was the tradition, the chief inspector went into the mine
unescorted, possibly to prevent any mine personnel from
influencing his check. The inspectors probably considered the
check to be perfunctory, and did not feel the need for all three
of them to bother with the actual inspection.
After more than the necessary amount of time had elapsed, a
second inspector went to check on the first. When neither of
them returned, the third inspector, probably thinking the first
two were in there having a party, headed into the mine. None of
these inspectors came out alive. They were all killed by an
unusual gas in the mine.
However, being armed with the information provided by the bigger
picture of the Legend of Mechudo, we can again see an
association with the ghost of Mechudo haunting the shores of La
- Conclusion -
Should you be cruising the waters near Cerro de Mechudo, or
driving the road from La Paz to San Evaristo, keep these events
in mind. You may not want to dally along those shores. Drop
your anchor, or have your picnic, far from the reach of
Richard Adcock (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fred Metcalf (email@example.com)
(Written in August, 1996)