January 2013

Adventure on the high seas

By Suzanne Strazza

Two truths and a lie:

* We used to live in tents

* We were part of a Mexican drug deal

* We’ve been to Disneyland

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that not only did we live in tents, but also a very cold garage. So that’s true.

And if you know me at all, you’d know that paying a lot of money to be a part of a huge crowd with lots of noise and crap for sale is so not my scene, so Disneyland is a lie. Which leaves us with, “We were part of a Mexican drug deal.”

It’s a family story, one that’s been casually told over cocktails with friends or referenced at the dinner table, as in, “We saw an entire pod of dolphins one day. I think it was that same day that the drug deal went down…or maybe it was a different day. Whatever.” No big deal – we’re used to it.

But when my child told me about playing Two Truths and a Lie and I imagined his teachers hearing this, I almost fainted. Just a bit more proof that I am Mother of the Year.

Yes, we engaged (albeit unknowingly) in a drug deal – I’m guessing cocaine – on a shrimper, in the Sea of Cortez, surrounded by military gunboats.

We used to spend our Christmases in Mexico. We drove down to Sonora, usually with friends with kids and camped, in a campground, on the beach for two weeks. The perfect holiday.

We got to know a fair amount of folks that lived in the town, mostly locals, and became close with Jorge, a fisherman’s kid who rode his bike around town selling off his dad’s catch; squid, shrimp, tilapia. Jorge was not too much older than our boys at the time and quickly became a part of our family scene.

There was also a single mom and her two teens from Bisbee, Ariz., who we incorporated into our world.

And of course our friends P and S and their lovely children with whom we had made the journey.

So one day, while drinking coffee and watching the fishing boats head out to sea for the day, a gringo pulled into our campsite, next to P’s Dodge Ram.

“Hey there. I have a favor to ask…”

Nice guy, mid-40’s, married to a local woman and living the good life in Mexico.

He had a small boat and his truck was “in the shop”. In exchange for P hauling his boat from the house to the boat ramp, he would take our families out on the craft for an afternoon.

We were so in.

We packed up a picnic and our beach towels and sunscreen and grabbed the boy from Arizona and Jorge and jumped on board for a day in the sun. He was going to take us to a secret beach, accessible only by water.

How great is that?

There were lots of boats of varying shapes and sizes out there on the sea that day. Boston Whalers, two fishermen apiece, commercial fishing boats, big shrimpers and quite a few military boats surrounding the perimeter, guns pointed into the center.

We merrily skirted across the water, watching the thousands of pelicans and other fish-eaters hovering around the scene – also fishing.

Suddenly our host exclaimed, “Hey, there’s my buddy, ____! Do you guys want a tour of a shrimp boat?”

Without waiting for an answer, he pulled up alongside his friend’s ship and told us to hop on deck for a look around.

Our look around was brief and hurried as we were “encouraged” towards the bow of the ship into a tiny little room where we were able to see…

Nothing.

We stayed in there for maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most, our tour guides apparently no longer understanding English as soon as we asked if we could go out on deck and look around.

Suddenly S leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Layers.”

One word and everything clicked. Our “tour” of the shrimper was just the surface layer of the plan of the day. It suddenly became quite clear that this was no average three-hour tour.

A quick glance at the posse of gun boats armed and ready to fire, led us to the conclusion: “Drugs.”

Shit.

Soon enough we were ushered back and practically thrown overboard onto our host’s boat as he carefully slammed shut the front hatch. The captain of the boat handed each of the kids a freshly suffocated sea horse caught in the shrimp nets as a souvenir.

S and I, after a quick and knowing glance at each other, suggested that maybe we had all had enough sun for the day and could our host just take us back to camp?

“NO!”

Which was followed with a slightly less agitated, “I want to show you this beach like I promised.”

Clearly we had no choice.

As we motored farther out to sea and around the tip of the coast S and I, without speaking a word, concurred that we were about to die.

And we had other people’s children with us just to add to our problems.

We got to the beach – and yes, it was impressive – 500-foot-high pristine sand dunes.

The kids immediately ran off the boats and up the hills – ecstatic about this new playground. S and I watched them, believing that these were our children’s last moments on earth.

The host never left his boat, yet made sure that each and every one of us did. S and I tried to casually notify our husbands of the imminent danger but couldn’t really do so without alarming our guy.

I turned and saw him reaching into the hatch – “This is it, he’s getting his shotgun.”

He pulled out a beer. He had barely spoken to us since getting off the shrimper and he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the front hatch.

Suddenly, just as we were beginning to think it had all been in our heads, he was rushing us back onto the boat, overly anxious to return to the mainland.

Quite rude, actually.

We had served our purpose, he had killed the requisite amount of time looking like the friendly tour guide letting our kids play innocently on the sand dunes and now he was finished with the entire charade. Breathing a sigh of relief that our children were still alive, we hopped on board and headed in – at a drastically faster pace than the leisurely one that had brought us to the “friend’s” boat.

We got to shore and were practically dumped out of the boat while it was still moving. With barely a goodbye, our host raced up the coast (away from his home) without even a glance back, while P was saying,

“Wait, don’t you need us to haul your boat back?”

Apparently not.

Once onshore – other people’s children safe with their folks, our kiddos tucked behind a barbed-wire fence — S and I had a chance to speak aloud.

“That was an f---ing drug deal!!!!! We almost died!!!!!!!”

Our husbands at first thought that we were crazy and paranoid but then, visibly, all of the pieces fell into place and they knew – as certain as we were, that yes, right under the noses of the Mexican Drug Task Force, we had just aided and abetted a massive cocaine sale.

Back at our camp, we felt relatively safe, but until we were well into Arizona, there was no way to completely relax – especially when our ocean view included armed ships.

Now we can laugh about it – yet it is a nervous laughter.

But it sure gives the kids the upper hand in “Two Truths and a Lie.”

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo. Read her blog, Single in the Southwest, at suzannestrazza.wordpress.com.