"Did you lose him on purpose?" a guest asks.
"I don't know," says Parr slowly. "It's the lady or the tiger. I don't know the answer myself."
As a longtime sufferer from the light-tackle disease, Parr is tolerant of fellow victims, even when they are as far gone as the actor John Wayne. "He parked his yacht out here one day," says Parr, "and he comes in and he says, ' Parr, let's get the hell outa here. I got 27 guests on board and I'm up to here with 'em. Let's go fishin'.'
"So he tells the skipper of his yacht to expect us back at 4 o'clock that afternoon and off we go in one of my boats with 12-pound-test line. Well, the fishing was terrific. He had one marlin on after another, but I couldn't keep him from tightening down on the drag and breaking them off.
"At 3 o'clock we got another hookup and I say, 'Now, John, keep your hand away from that drag!' We were fishin' this marlin for about two hours and it comes to the top and I say, 'John, that's a tail-wrapped marlin and you're never gonna bring that fish in.'
"He hollers, 'I'll stay on this fish if it takes all summer!' Well, that night, at 9 o'clock, 50 miles at sea, we landed that marlin—a puny little 150-pounder. But he had to have it. We got back in at 11, and all his guests were worried sick. Luckily most of them had done their worrying in the bar."
It is just as well for the peace and equanimity of Baja Sur that the natives are as happy and relaxed as Parr. They are Mexicans, but many of them bear names like Collins, Fisher, Robinson, Cunningham and Wilkes, names that go back to the days of English pirates who made forays, both larcenous and concupiscent, into the area. Money means little to these smiling descendants, partially because they get most of their food free from the sea and the land, and partially because they have never had much money anyway. "I no underston these people," says a visitor from Mexico City. "Eef a mon from here have five pesos [40�] he will no work. You ask heem if he want to make some money, and he say, 'No, gracias, I have five pesos.' " A popular canard about Mexico is that there is a right way, a wrong way and a Mexican way, but to that must be added a Baja Sur way, as exemplified by the farmer of Cabo San Lucas who had two windmills but took one down because there was not enough wind. Little English is spoken by these Mexicans, in contrast to their counterparts in other areas of the country, but they are more than willing to share their minor linguistic skills with the outlander. "I weel titch Sponish to you," said my friend Enrique, a cab driver of sorts. "You weel learn first: Yo soy. Usted est� El es. I is. You am. He are."
San Jos� del Cabo, a somnolent town near the tip of Baja Sur, is perhaps the only place in the world where you can meet treasure hustlers. "Come weeth me and buy me dreenk in cantina" says a grizzled old man, "and I tell you where ees bury treasure." The little town, location of the Matt Parr orphanage for girls 4 to 12, has known boom and bust, first when its black-pearl beds became permanently contaminated in 1940, a happening which some blame on the Japanese, and later when synthetics replaced shark liver in the production of vitamin A. But no one in San Jos� del Cabo seems down in the mouth. In the cantina there is an aging dervish who will dance for three hours straight on a bet, with a few refueling stops, and another character who will take on all comers in a beer-drinking contest, loser pays, and who is currently undefeated. Most of the natives keep a few cows and use the milk to make a delicious local cheese which is traded for staples like tequila and beer. (Occasionally one of the cheesemakers boils the milk in a copper pot, producing a poison which causes a few deaths in the community, but the natives' reaction is that nobody is perfect.) Another small source of income is shark-fishing. The firm white meat is sliced into squares, stamped "Norwegian Cod" with authentic Norwegian letters and shipped to Mexico City where it is served as bacalao Vizca�no, a favorite codfish dish in the capital city.
Some of this chicanery, one might suppose, stems from the pirate tradition. There is hardly a citizen of Baja Sur who is not related, biologically or ideologically, to the buccaneers who prowled the cape. And when the wind blows southward off the cape the natives will tell you it is the Coromuel, a designation that goes back to a pirate who went by the unlikely nom de mer of Oliver Cromwell. This freebooter would lurk around the bays of the cape waiting for an offshore wind, then ride it out to sea and knock over the Spanish galleons coming from Manila. Thus the offshore wind became known as the Cromwell, later changed to the more Spanish spelling of Coromuel. It was just off Cabo San Lucas that another British pirate, Thomas Cavendish, captured the Spanish ship
and her $3 million in gold. And to make matters more dangerous for honest seafarers, there were land pirates on the cape; they would light pyres of brush along the rocky shoreline, and navigators would wreck their ships thinking they were rounding the lights of the cape. There are many small houses made of ship's plate along the Pacific edge of the peninsula. Skin divers and scuba divers brave the sharks and tidal rips to search for treasure where the pirates once roamed, but most of the natives have given up treasure hunting as a bad job. "Where is the treasure?" you ask them, and they answer: "No m�s el Coromuel te dice" (Only the Cromwell can tell you).
A more tangible treasure of Baja Sur is the Hitchcockian profusion of birds, in small, medium, large and extra large, from the tiny hummingbird to the albatross, with his 10 feet of wings and his taste for the open sea. In a lifetime of fiddling around with the outdoors, I have steadfastly resisted becoming a bird watcher, for some reason or other. But Baja Sur puts one to the test, and more often than not I found myself in the late afternoons sitting on the veranda of Bud Parr's hotel, binoculars tuned and ready, like a little old lady from Kennebunkport. One especially rewarding evening Pancho the parrot got himself stranded on the roof of the hotel; Pancho is a wise guy whose mouth outstrips his brain, and he was unable to retrace his steps to find the single tall tree he had climbed to the roof. So there he stayed, flapping his clipped wings and calling "Awwk" and "Hey, I'm hungry," plus a few indiscreet expressions in Spanish. Within a short time the frigate birds, those winged Black beards of the sea, had begun assembling over Pancho's head, circling closer and closer, perhaps attracted by the living color, until there were 18 of them peering down at him with their telescopic vision. Now there is nothing in the literature of ornithology to indicate that frigate birds will attack live parrots, but Pancho did not know this. His cries reft the night, and the next morning we were relieved to see the frigate birds were gone and Pancho was rapping on the restaurant door for his pats of butter.