Shelter Masthead


Ricardo © 1997 Lloyd Kahn
Ricardo Aja de la Rosa recently celebrated his 65th birthday with a homemade meal he cooked himself, a heart-shaped Grand Marnier chocolate cake from La Baguette full of candles he never did manage to blow out, a bottle of mezcal from Oaxaca and a tableful of friends.

Ricardo lives in one of San José’s oldest buildings, with a bedroom and kitchen facing a courtyard. Ricardo is a fisherman par excellence and takes people out surf fishing or on panga trips. He looks about a dozen years younger than his age.

One of the secrets to Ricardo’s youthfulness he confided to me over the mezcal and cake. He pulled out a bag of tiny dried fish and tossed a couple in his mouth. He catches them, dries them and eats them. “Fuerte,” he said, and the implication was that youthful energy (and virility) belying birthdate age can be amplified by eating powerful (as well as deliciously cooked) local food. This late afternoon, with the sun filtering into the room, the chewy salted fish and mezcal somehow went perfect together. Fertility? Ricardo flicked his thumb upward, elbowed me, and told me with a wink, “Cada noche!”

Then came the gringo stories . . . ah well, don’t we deserve them? And then the shipwreck (naufragio) story, as the mezcal bottle ran dry:

In 1948 Ricardo shipped out from the Pacific port of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, on El Gracioso (The Joker), a cargo ship carrying canned pineapple. They were bound for Seattle. When they got near the Mariías Islands off San Blas (Nayarit), they were hit by a cola(tail of hurricane). There were 18–20 foot waves breaking, some on the ship. At midnight the ship was full of water (the bridge was covered) and at 6:45 AM, the boat started to sink. There was only one lifeboat, a panga, and it could take 9 people. Since there were 18 aboard, they made a raft out of 55 gallon oil drums and wood, lashed together with rope, and set adrift as the ship sank, 9 in the panga and 9 in the raft.

For 5 days they were lost in the ocean. It was rainy, cold, many of them were bleeding from the mouth due to salt and exposure. They had only rain water to drink. On the 4th day they saw land — Cabo San Lucas. The leader, Captain Cortines, decided that half of them would stay on the panga and the other half would take the raft and all the oars and row for land. They flipped coins and Ricardo stayed on the panga. Nine people left.

On the raft Captain Cortines navigated and as they finally drew closer to the coast, everyone clapped. Next they spotted an English ship and they screamed out. The ship approached, but the crew was wary: they thought that the men on the raft might be pirates. “No, they are shipwrecked,” said the captain of the vessel. A life boat finally came out and they all started to cry. Then they had to spend an hour proving they weren’t pirates and were finally taken on board.

Back on the panga, things were rough. They caught a turtle and drank its blood. They all had bloody sores on their necks and legs. Finally, the English ship found them and took them on board. They could not walk.

The ship’s crew gave them coffee, whisky, tobacco, candy . . . . When they got to shore at Cabo San Lucas, a big mariachi band was playing for them.

“You know,” said Ricardo, “before, we were all different religions. But when we got lost we all prayed to the same God.”