Traveling is a wonderful thing. Unexpected travel is that much more terrific. Toss in an exotic location and an opportunity to direct something new, and what could be better?
This was the case this weekend, when I traveled to La Cruz, Mexico to direct a pilot presentation for a travel show all about fishing in strange locales.
I have been to Mexico a couple of times before but never anywhere along the Sea of Cortez, which is the body of water between the west coast of mainland Mexico and the Baja peninsula. There is something particularly alluring about a new body of water and I was more than curious to experience for myself exactly what the Sea of Cortez was like.
We left LA Friday afternoon on the comfortably short jaunt down to resort town Mazatlan. A mere 2 ½ hours later I was mentally as far from Los Angeles as a trip to Nairobi or Istanbul might be, but without the jetlag. The Mazatlan airport reminded me a little of Hawaii, in that it was a little more homegrown, hardly hi-tech, and drenched in heat and humidity. We were picked up by Erin, a friend of the show’s host and our fishing guide for the weekend, and driven north.
Our destination was a small town about an hour north of Mazatlan named La Cruz (which literally means “The Cross”). La Cruz, like Mazatlan, is located in the state of Sinaloa, which is a major agricultural center for Mexico. Much of the produce grown here winds up north of the border in the US or otherwise exported to other regions of the country. La Cruz is very much an agricultural town, where it’s not uncommon to see bales of hay and horse saddles for sale in the same store alongside bottles of water, vegetables, toilet paper and pastries. Nor is it the slightest bit alarming to see a man walking down the street holding a massive machete. The town is simply quiet and incredibly welcoming. Of course you might think that 4 Gringos striding into town would draw a little attention but not so much. Any such attention might have been abated by the fact that Erin is a gringo himself, though married to a local and more than established in town.
That first day we didn’t accomplish too much more than shooting a little B-roll at sunset on the beach nearby and checking the gear. I didn’t get to bed until close to 12 and we had to be up at 4am to head down to the ocean for the morning catch. I didn’t sleep too well, my mind racing with the excitement of being in a foreign land and the anticipation of what was to come.
Up before dawn, we headed out to the beach, where we met up with the local subsistence fisherman, who obliged to take us out on their morning outing to check the nets. The boat itself is not exactly big. More of an overgrown canoe with a motor attached on the back. The fishermen were eager to get going, as the longer we waited, the higher the waves were getting, and the more likelihood of flipping the boat as we sailed into the waves to get out to sea. When you’re working with a $6k camera, not to mention all the expensive sound gear, the thought of the boat flipping over wasn’t precisely encouraging. Best not to think about it, though, and trust than these wizened seafaring fishermen knew what they were doing. And they did. I will say, though, that crashing through the waves was akin to being on one of the gnarliest rollercoasters ever. The boat would fly up in front, then come crashing down as it cut through one wave, then do the same over and over until we were through the breakers. I was rolling camera, but I hate to admit that I had about as much control of my frame as you might imagine. In a matter of moments, though, were out to clear waters.
On board were myself, producer Brett, host and fisherman extraordinaire Ken, and the two local fishermen. Rushing out before the waves got too high meant we had to abandon our fourth musketeer, Reuben, on shore. Reuben was to shoot all the underwater material but had to linger long enough to put his camera in its underwater housing. He then had to swim out the boat and meet us, not an easy task. So there we were, comfortably bobbing up and down about half a kilometer from shore, scanning the water for any sign that Reuben might be joining us. I must be honest and admit that there was talk of leaving him there, but fortunately for him we saw him on the horizon and waited patiently.
We then headed a couple of miles out into the sea where the fishermen pulled in their nets to check the catch. Mainly, the nets were full of manta rays, which are not huge money earners for the fisherman, unless they collect them in massive quantities. Given that the boat was a little full already with us interlopers, they threw the rays back into the water and only took in the better fish, various larger species that one might see at a good fish market and wonder what the hell they are. The whole time, Ken served as their third man, helping to pull in nets that seemed endless, while I shot from on board, and Reuben shot from the water. Each of three nets was relieved of its catch, then returned to the waters to catch yet more. And we headed back to the coast before the wind kicked up too much to make it dangerous.
We headed back into town where we shot a little material at a local taco stand, grabbing a little lunch to boot. Incidentally, Coca Cola in Mexico is far superior to that in the US, and more akin to what I’m used to from Israel. Whereas the US uses high fructose corn syrup in most of its soft drinks, Mexico uses good old-fashioned sugar, and the difference is clear as day. This is what Coke is supposed to taste like!
Our next stop (after a pit stop back at the motel to clean equipment, download footage and rest) we headed out to El Salto Lake, which is famous for its incredible Bass fishing and I believe the most popular fishing destination in Mexico. It was originally a populated valley that the government dammed up and flooded to provide a water source for regional farming. They relocated the inhabitants, going so far as to remove bodies from local cemeteries, and let the place fill up with water.
I had been a little concerned about the visual value of the location, as photos I had seen weren’t exactly the most cinematically enthralling. I needn’t have worried. It turned out that at this time of year the water levels have receded dramatically, and in turn expose the old trees that used to once grow here. After years of being alternately under water, then exposed to the harsh sun, all that is left are these incredible bleached trunks and branches, reaching out of the water like alien tentacles. They lend the place an eerie quality, partnered with a tranquility and quiet that simply makes the place magical. And a pleasure to shoot, as the boat the Ken and Erin were fishing from was forever wending its way through trees that made for great composition. Both Ken and Erin caught a number of fish, which is just as well considering this is a fishing show.
The next morning we were again up at 4am to head back to the lake for sunrise, this time venturing further afield to explore another region and do a little top water fly fishing. Whereas the day before I had stayed on shore to shoot, this day we all got on board and headed through the waters. Again, the trees made for amazing shots in this otherworldly location. I definitely put it on my list as somewhere I wouldn’t mind returning to to shoot either a post-apocalyptic piece or perhaps something about the mafia. It’s that kind of place.
We wound up stopping at a place where there was a cemetery a short hike up from the water’s edge. Normally the cemetery would have been submerged, the tombstones and statues poking out of the water, but at his time of year all was dry. But this hardly detracted from the ghoulish quality of the location, its crumbling statues of Jesus, leaning edifices of the Virgin Mary, and plethora of creepy cracked cherubim. We shot a little more material, adding yet more texture to the overall macabre nature of this most excellent fishing destination, and returned to the boat.
The morning fishing hadn’t been so successful as neither Ken nor Erin were able to hook a fish. We had mostly decided to give up and go back to town, as we were running a bit late and still had to shoot some b-roll in town and catch a flight out of Mazatlan. So we headed back through the lake to where the car was parked. About half way there Erin suggested one last attempt, so we stopped and somewhat half-heartedly pulled out the cameras again. I was shooting Ken and Reuben was covering the hook. And lo and behold, it happened. But not only did Ken catch a fish, but the cameras were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and perfectly captured the moment. Truly brilliant on all accounts. But you have to see the footage to really understand the thrill of the moment.
And so soon after arriving, we were back at the airport in Mazatlan, boarding a plane back to LA. It always does a body good to get out of town, and even better out of the country. Having a little Tequila to remind me of this terrific weekend isn’t too shabby either.
Next up, I’m off to Israel on my annual pilgrimage home. More on that soon.