SI Vault
Coles Phinizy
November 30, 1964
Venerable leader of a most unusual exploring club, Mexico's Pablo Bush Romero has spent a lifetime probing jungle ruins, diving for archaeological treasures in sunken hulks and discovering such ancient underground relics as the Mayan altar on which he kneels at right
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November 30, 1964

The Lost Worlds Of Don Pablo

Venerable leader of a most unusual exploring club, Mexico's Pablo Bush Romero has spent a lifetime probing jungle ruins, diving for archaeological treasures in sunken hulks and discovering such ancient underground relics as the Mayan altar on which he kneels at right

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All diving expeditions are beset by demons. The water may suddenly become murky when there are no heavy seas to make it so. Heavy seas sometimes build up when there is no distant storm to build them. For no good reason, compressors fail, air hoses break, marker buoys disappear. Anchors get up and walk around on the bottom. Tempers flare; the bickering begins.

Considering their volatility, no ethnologist would pick Mexicans as the civilized tribe most likely to live in peace through all the disappointments of a diving expedition. But under the leadership of Don Pablo, a man of remarkable control and poise, the members of CEDAM have learned to live with disaster, calmly reconciled to the fact that anything that can possibly go wrong on a diving expedition sooner or later will. Don Pablo is not the dynamic sort who mounts the barricade waving the flag of the republic to dispel demons. His policy is to carry on in spite of them. At the start of the $50,000 Matancero expedition, the C-82 cargo plane bringing most of the diving and salvage equipment crashed. The crew barely escaped before the gas tanks exploded, destroying all the equipment. When Don Pablo heard the news, he said, "No one was killed. So nothing has happened. It means harder work, that is all."

On all his wanderings in the past Don Pablo has maintained a casualness and candor that would have distressed that old romantic gypsy, Richard Halliburton, no end. In Don Pablo's written accounts of African safaris and hunts in India and North America there is little soul-searching, deeper meaning or other literary fluff. Whether he is writing about stopping an enraged monster in its tracks or merely describing the unwholesome way Calcutta waiters pick their noses while serving food, Don Pablo does not embellish but simply presents the facts. Although he usually hews to the line in his journals, in writing of one trek through the sere wilds of Mexico he felt obliged to stray long enough to bring the reader up to date about one of his companions, Carlos Rubio. In a footnote Don Pablo remarked: "Carlos Rubio was killed in ambush by landjumpers shortly after this was written. He saved Pepe Villanuevos by placing himself in front of Pepe and taking 20 impacts," After staying awhile in the African village of Bukoba on the edge of Lake Victoria, Don Pablo reported with postcard matter-of-factness: "The village was picturesque and attractive. At night the hippos came out of the lakes and walked through the streets and the leopards entered the gardens to devour dogs."

Here and there, in the corners of the world, Don Pablo has acquired knowledge useful to him as the leader of CEDAM, as well as some factual odds and ends that he will never need. He is a modest authority on the mating habits of jaguars, on the wife-lending customs of the Masai and on the nest building of East Indian wasps (they sometimes make nests in gun barrels, thereby blowing off hunters' heads). He knows how to hunt wild turkeys at night as the Tarahumara Indians do (the Tarahumaras walk in a circle under the roost carrying torches, until they or the turkeys are overcome by dizziness). He knows how to prime a lighting cock for the battle of its life (you cut off the coxcomb and feed it to the cock, along with raw meat and certain worms that come to the surface when blood is spread on the ground).

Some of Don Pablo's long-standing friends believe that if he had gone into politics, his poise, his gregariousness and his quiet genius for getting separate minds to meet and work together would have carried him to the top. Don Pablo does not agree. "It is important in politics," he has said in the presence of ladies, "to kiss the rings of political princes. When it comes to ring-kissing, I have no talent." Despite his deficiency as a ring-kisser, Don Pablo does have important connections, the most important, for his material welfare at least, being the Ford Motor Company. Don Pablo makes his living selling Ford cars. He has had a hand in other ventures, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. Winning and losing are his heritage. One of his grandfathers, Major Lorenzo Romero, fought on the losing side against the gringos at Veracruz and on the winning side against Emperor Maximilian. Don Pablo's other grandfather, Cassius Bush of Illinois, was on the winning side in the U.S. Civil War, and then was a fairly consistent loser until he wandered into Mexico as a sewing-machine salesman. Thereafter he enjoyed modest success, passing the business on, in time, to Don Pablo's father.

Don Pablo was born in 1905 in a suburb of Mexico City, a block from El Arbol de la Noche Triste (the tree of the sad night), under which the Conqueror Cort�s sat and wept after his Spanish team was upset by Montezuma's Aztecs in the first contest of what turned out to be an epic series. At the age of 12, Don Pablo was taken for a year to Chattanooga by his maternal grandmother, on the theory that he could learn better English there than he was getting at the American School of Mexico City. In Chattanooga, Don Pablo learned to say "Sho' nuff, honey" and other such Anglicisms and developed a taste for history, nature and money. He hawked newspapers and magazines, dug for Mini� balls on the old bloody grounds of the Civil War, and in a year of boy-scouting went from Tenderfoot to Eagle. At 14, back in Mexico City, he quit school for two human reasons: 1) he wanted money, and 2) school was taking valuable time away from his education, which he found came faster by reading and reading and reading than by sitting in a classroom parsing sentences and figuring out why John and Peter need x hours to pick y apples. He got a job as grease monkey on Henry Ford's Model Ts, and has been connected with the Ford Company in one way or another ever since.

Despite his recent gloomy rumblings that he is now too old to carry on as the friendliest Ford dealer in Mexico or as the leader of CEDAM, it is doubtful if Don Pablo will quit either career completely. He has rarely ever been able to disentangle himself from worthy alliances, and his faith in the fine family of Ford cars and in CEDAM are still only slightly less than his faith in God and the Republic of Mexico. As long as Mexicans want Fords, Don Pablo will probably be selling them; and as long as there is work for CEDAM to do, he will no doubt be involved in it. The three cannon balls that he brought back from his latest foray onto the coast of Quintana Roo came from a new wreck site—the 30th site that CEDAM has investigated. The three fronds of black coral that he brought back to Mexico City were the first ever taken by divers from the Caribbean coast, and, as a result, a syndicate has petitioned the Mexican government for the right to exploit this find and manufacture jewelry to boost the tourist business on the resort island of Cozumel.

Anyone—of any nationality—who is interested in collaborating with CEDAM in its exploitation of the sea is welcome, provided he is willing to work and expects nothing in return except moral satisfaction. All of CEDAM's discoveries, however important or trivial, belong to the people of Mexico. This is more than a matter of noble principle; in Mexico, it is the law. Sixty years ago, when foreign archaeologists operated in Mexico on a finders-keepers basis, an American consul named Edward Thompson dredged a sacred Mayan well at Chich�n Itz� and shipped a spectacular haul of artifacts out of Mexico via the consular pouch. Although Mexicans were irate and the legal battle lasted long, the Mexican Supreme Court eventually decided in Thompson's favor. He had certainly acted like an ugly American, but he had violated no law. Shortly thereafter the Mexican government passed a law forbidding the wanton export of archaeological wealth.

In 1957, a year before CEDAM was founded, another American, Bob Marx, began picking into the old wrecks sunk off the Mexican coast. Marx was a conscientious and scholarly worker, not a careless plunderer, but in view of the law enacted after the Thompson affair, he was still a freebooter, and the Mexican police landed on him. In the end, when CEDAM was authorized by the Mexican government to explore the wreck of El Matancero, Marx and about a dozen other U.S. explorers worked with them.

In the Mayan wilderness of Yucatan and the roadless coast of Quintana Roo, in forgotten caves and sealed-up temple vaults, in coralline ledges and the deep twilight of its sea, there is still more history and wealth than a regiment of scholars could dig up in a decade. Recently, while discussing the future during lunch with the U.S. Navy's diving pioneer, Captain George Bond, Don Pablo asked, "Am I not right that this is a momentous time in history? A fantastic era for us? I am perhaps the strongest exponent of the sea in Mexico, but then I am only a Mexican trying to speak English. In this world, those of us in CEDAM are not very important, but we have faith in a new world and the work ahead." As he spoke, Don Pablo lost some of his matter-of-factness and most of his poise. In his excitement he almost knocked a plate off the table. Embroiled for a moment in the future, he forgot entirely that he was an old bull ready to quit the herd.

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