The fishing trip to Mazatl�n started off with a blast. Several, in fact. We were sitting in a saloon called Cascada on Saturday night sloshing Margaritas and turning on to the mariachi band when El Arquitecto pointed into a dark corner and said: "There sits Mexico's James Bond." James Bond? He stood about 5'6", wore curly blond hair, a tall English girl friend draped around his neck and the face of a slightly borracho Botticelli angel. His name was Major Jorge Carranza-Peniche, 28, and he packed a Colt .45 automatic pistol against the small of his back, tucked in the waistband of his trousers. We all examined the .45 with the superior air of pistoleros—even the mariachis took a look—while El Arquitecto revealed the major's record to us. Jorge worked for the Mexican narcotics bureau and in 1967 alone had captured more than 284 tons of marijuana, 640 kilos of heroin and 2� tons of opium; he had once parachuted onto an offshore island to capture half a dozen escaped prisoners. The magic of the Margaritas and the music of the mariachis made it seem logical for me to challenge Jorge Carranza-Peniche to a shooting match.
The next day Jorge and his English girl whirled into the parking lot of the Balboa Club just before sundown, he with a fully loaded M-14 automatic rifle and his .45, she with a pussycat grin and a tight pants suit that matched her mauve Lotus Elan. On the beach we set up two coconuts and a piece of roofing slate as targets, then stood back 50 yards to shoot—long-range for the pistol, but short for the M-14. The shooting was into the sunset, and the shrimp boats were creeping down the coast, well within ricochet range. The challenger shot first, and the roofing slate burst into what used to be called smithereens. Full of machismo, I thought the shrimp boats seemed to flinch.
Some 30 shots later it was a Mexican standoff in the best tradition: a hit apiece and 31 misses. Jorge and I strode away from the pile of shell cases exchanging compliments.
"Don't take it too badly, Roberto," El Arquitecto later consoled me. "Tomorrow you go fishing with my brother-in-law, Heimpel. You can't have as many misses with the marlin as with the pistola."
El Arquitecto is Sergio Pruneda, 40, delegate from the state of Sinaloa to the Mexican Department of Tourism and principal architect of the new, attractive buildings in Mazatl�n. Heimpel, El Arquitecto's brother-in-law, is Wilhelm Kurt Heimpel, 43, known as Bill to his predominantly American clientele and owner of the largest sport-fishing fleet in the most productive marlin port of the Western Hemisphere.
About all that the brothers-in-law have in common are lovely wives, successful professions and an abundance of facial hair: Sergio wears a trim Mephistophelian beard, Bill a broad, brushy Frito-bandito mustache. Where Sergio is all winks, shrugs and Latin ebullience, Bill is reserved almost to the point of introspection, a keen listener and observer, as befits a man of the sea. In a sense, the two men typify the best characteristics of the city itself.
The seaport of Mazatl�n, 600 miles south of Ju�rez, is quite unlike the better-known tourist towns of Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta farther down the line. Mazatl�n has a real live self-contained economy of its own. Its 110,000 inhabitants earn their daily tortillas in such unglamorous occupations as shrimping, shoe manufacture and the cultivation of hemp (hence Jorge Carranza). The town fathers point with pride to eight banks, a foundry, a brewery housed in a skyscraperlike structure that is vaguely reminiscent of a windowless Pan Am Building and a thriving, if malodorous, fertilizer plant.
Even during the siesta Mazatl�n's downtown echoes to the honking and huffing of small cars known locally as pulmon�as (pneumonias). Its buildings demonstrate the best of contemporary Mexican architecture; a clean, hard-edged thrust coupled with a warmly Mexican concern for color and detail. And Mazatl�n is, finally, clean, clean, clean. Olas Altas, the sinuous main drag along the seawall, is spotless compared to New York's Park Avenue, while the open-air caf�s and bodegas that line it are freer of flies than Stockholm. Even the old brothel on the hilltop, the Estratosfera (Stratosphere Club), which boasted the most splendid view of any bawdy house in the world, has been closed down for the sake of civic virtue.
Yet there is sin of a sort in Mazatl�n—at least in the eyes of a few sportsmen and conservationists, Bill Heimpel foremost among them, who deplore the needless assassination each year of some 5,000 marlin and sailfish by visiting gringo fishermen. Not that there are any fewer bill-fish in evidence off Mazatl�n this year than there were buffalo on the Great Plains a century ago. Indeed, Mazatl�n is sited on perhaps the richest lode of marlin and sailfish in the world. It perches on a promontory hard by the mouth of the Sea of Cortez (known less romantically as the Gulf of California), a giant fish trap whose seaward net is the dry and empty peninsula of Baja California.
Migratory fish moving up the west coast of Mexico turn eagerly into the Gulf, where they find ideal conditions for feeding and breeding: shallow, warm waters that are soupy with plankton and therefore teeming as well with baitfish, which in turn lure the big pelagic predators—blue, black and striped marlin, sailfish, dolphin, yellowfin tuna, skipjack and bonito, sierra mackerel, roosterfish and, of course, the omnipresent and omnivorous sharks.