In recent years Don Pablo Jos� Bush Romero, Mexico's distinguished diver, self-made scholar and restless millionaire-at-large, has lived much of the time in the past, picking at the carcasses of old ships and prowling through ruined cities and forgotten caves. It is possible that the prevailing gloom of these lost worlds is affecting Don Pablo, for recently, in the middle of a somber moment, he declared, "I am 58. It is time now for me to leave the herd and wander alone like an old bull elephant."
When some of Don Pablo's close friends heard this, they laughed and jeered. Don Pablo Bush Romero has been wandering off for years, and the friends who have wandered with him know that Don Pablo will never be a loner. They know, furthermore, that Don Pablo could never travel anywhere with only one trunk and a couple of loose tusks, as an old elephant should. Wherever he goes, it is the nature of Don Pablo to mix, to become involved, to take on new projects and, in the process, to accumulate baggage that would stagger an elephant.
Four days after deciding to become a lonely old bull, Don Pablo wandered away from Mexico City accompanied by 70 friends (he had expected only 30). He led this latest mass exodus to the Mayan ruins and shipwrecks that lie along the half-wild Caribbean coast of Mexico. As often happens to those who wander with Don Pablo, the 70 who followed him this time returned home sunbaked, rain-soaked, mosquito-bitten, undernourished and happy. By the time Don Pablo himself came home, after 10 so-called carefree days, he had lost a few pounds and one tooth and had picked up, here and there, the following flotsam and excess baggage: the skull of a whale; 1,500 shotgun shells: three cannon balls; 80 diving tanks; a pineapple; a punch bowl; two hunting rifles; a model of Nelson's flagship H.M.S. Victory; a toy bowling set; four dozen 18th-century crucifixes and medallions; parts of a refrigerator and an outboard motor; a sea shell the size of a soup tureen; a movie projector; two dolls; and three exquisite, foul-smelling fronds of black coral.
Don Pablo is not altogether sure how he came by the punch bowl or the outboard-motor parts. The other items in his baggage do fit, at least loosely, into the quiltwork of his life. Don Pablo is—or more correctly, was—a dedicated big-game hunter, and this accounts for the shells and rifles. The toy bowling set was a gift for his 5-year-old daughter, Jannette; the dolls were for his 12-year-old granddaughter. Patsy. Some of the things Don Pablo brought back had been left behind by members of the party who returned to civilization before him. The whale skull, to name one such item, had been found on a beach by Dr. Eugenie Clark, a charming American ichthyologist who collects such things the way other ladies collect hats. In the near future, when Don Pablo tries to ship the whale skull to Dr. Clark in the U.S., it will probably get bound up in red tape. Some customs clerk almost certainly will want to know the exact price paid for the skull, and so forth and so on. If this happens, Don Pablo will simply reroute the skull by way of a friend in Ju�rez, who will walk across the border carrying it in his arms. Although Don Pablo is a man of considerable means, there is in him a practical streak of peon cunning.
The bulk of Don Pablo's baggage on his last expedition—the diving tanks, the foul-smelling coral, the cannon balls, and the rest—is merely the heavy price any curious man is apt to pay when he takes up diving. Don Pablo is an unusual diver. He is one of the least competent and most important divers active today. When he goes below he often drifts aimlessly in the shallows, an indolent sea cow in a timeless world. Underwater he rarely does more than oversee the strenuous work of other divers or serve as their messenger boy. But his importance to the sport of diving, and to the various sciences that use diving as a tool, far exceeds his own ability, for Don Pablo was the founder and is the president of the Club de Exploraciones y Deportes Acu�ticos de M�xico, an organization well known to divers everywhere by its abbreviated name, CEDAM.
The men of CEDAM are most famous today for their labors in recovering old bones and artifacts from the bottom of a sacrificial well in the ancient Mayan city of Chich�n Itz�. They have also received a big play in the press for the two patient months they spent picking through the cargo of El Matancero, a Spanish merchant ship that foundered off the wild coast of Quintana Roo in 1742.
There is an aura of romance about all such projects, an aura that usually vanishes as soon as work begins. Anyone wanting to know what diving in the sacred well at Chich�n Itz� was like can approximate the experience by lowering himself for a short while into a sewer (the bigger the sewer, the better. It was 85 feet from ground level to the water at Chich�n Itz�, and 40 feet farther down in the turbid water to the history-rich mud).
CEDAM's search of the old ship, El Matancero, defies simulation, although anyone who has tried to dig up a concrete sidewalk with a hairpin has a fair idea of the problem. The cargos of old ships often lie under loose sediment or in the tangled, porous structure of a living reef. But most of El Matancero's cargo lay solidly packed two inches to two feet deep in the cementlike calcareous accretion of a shallow, windward shoal. On an average workday on El Matancero, 50 members of the CEDAM expedition worked above the surface supporting 15 or 20 divers who were swept to and fro in the surging water like hapless rag dolls as they picked carefully at the fragile objects embedded in the hard floor. Today, three years after the last serious work was done, the Matancero wreck site—roughly 100 yards square—resembles a battlefield of crisscrossed trenches and shell holes; and still today, in the bottom of the hollows, bits of old jewelry, buttons, fragments of crucifixes, spoons and glassware are tossed fitfully back and forth by the surge.
Like most such artifacts, the bones, rubber dolls, rings, incense burners, bells and other Mayan offerings from the well of Chich�n Itz�, and the thousands of crucifixes, medallions, spoons, buckles, cuff links, pins and needles from El Matancero have answered some archaeological questions and provoked others. It was generally believed, for example, that the ritualistic Mayans threw teen-age maidens into their sacrificial wells, but it now appears that they were not at all choosy. To judge by the bones dredged up by CEDAM, the Mayans tossed in just about anybody.
There have been other expeditions as productive as any of CEDAM's, the excavation of the sunken city of Port Royal by Edwin Link, the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution being one that comes immediately to mind. There are many other countries, notably France and the U.S., where diving is more popular and technically farther along than in Mexico, but there is no diving organization anywhere to equal CEDAM. The Mexican club prevails because, since its inception by Don Pablo in 1958, it has stuck to the sensible idea that a diver is not an odd, exotic creature who should dwell apart, associating only with his fellow flippermen. CEDAM is a large community that welcomes all manner of men. Less than a quarter of its 800 members have ever dived, even in a swimming pool. Only about 100 of them could be called competent divers. The balance of them are archaeologists, biologists, mineralogists, soldiers, sailors, lawyers, doctors, bosses and clerks who have some interest in the past and the future of the sea. Because it has the divergent intellect to solve many problems on its own and because its work is done for the people of Mexico, CEDAM's credit in the scientific market-place is good. When it needs help on an expedition it usually can get it from the Mexican navy, the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, from the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution of the U.S. and from comparable European agencies that are curious about what goes on in the sea. In France and the U.S., sport divers and military and civilian research teams occasionally collaborate on undersea matters, but usually only when each breed has some immediate profit to realize. And even then, the teamwork is often of a low order, the esprit de corps about what you find in a cageful of weasels.