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Adrift

Adrift

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Published by jwd0503

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Published by: jwd0503 on May 10, 2011
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02/11/2013

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Adrift
 John Jeremiah SullivanGQMarch 2007
I intend to change everything.Meaning I’m going to change or simply decline to mention people's names and thelocations of interviews and details like that, whatever will bear obscuring withoutdistorting what really happened--not that I know what really happened. By the time Ileft Mexico, so many people had made me swear to protect their identities or forgetwe'd talked, with pleading eyes and the international sign for the handgun, held aninch away from the temple. "Por favor... me matartan." Please...they'd kill me, man.They: the narcos, the government, the hired thugs of the local honchos, whoever. Or maybe sometimes there was no they. All I know is, the folks who turned out to besolid, even nobly un-self-interested sources wanted their identities protected as badly as the ones who turned out to be probable con artists. At one point, I was told they'd even kill me if I pushed any harder, that someone was actually waiting to shootme, someone who only weeks before had offered his help: "You cannot go there. Hewill tell you that he wants to take you for a ride to the coast, and you will go on this trip, and you may even be given information on this trip, but this is a trip from whichyou cannot return.” Which may have been the punch line of a long and elaborate joke at my expense--I continue to wonder. It's interesting, though, that people still talk  that way in Mexico. This is a trip from which you cannot return. Not many places youcan hit anymore to hear sentences like that. It makes me think of Marta, skinny littleMarta. She's sitting cross-legged at our feet on the concrete floor of her bunker-stylesquatter's apartment, the experience of living in which couldn't have been sodifferent from homelessness, and she's swaying, almost hasheyed, holding a cigaretteI'm not sure I ever witnessed her taking a drag on-she'd just light them and ash themuntil it was time to pluck out another-and I had just asked her, "Do you trust him?"Him being yet another guy she was trying to persuade to meet with me, a cop on the occasion in question. And she said, "This is Mexico. I don't even trust my ownshadow.” And I tell you, at the time, that didn't even strike me as especially theatrical.Anyway, apart from names and all, I'll be an absolute nun about the facts.
 
One other thing: I won't alter any point that pertains directly to the fishermen.They're who they are.Late last summer, along with maybe 150 other reporters, I took a trip to learn whatcould be learned regarding three men from Mexico's western coast who werereported to have survived for nine months in an open boat. Taiwanese sailors picked them up in August not far from Australia. They had all but drifted across the belly of  the Pacific Ocean. Two of them were napping when they were spied. The number of days they spent exposed on the water, 285, was significantly more days than any human being is known ever to have lasted before. As a matter of fact, it's well over double the number of days endured by the previous record holder, whose name, I'mpleased to report, was Poon Lim, a Chinese castaway from a British ship that wentdown in 1942. Poon Lim was rescued after 130 days. Think about it--for the tresnáufragos (three castaways), as the three immediately came to be known, 130 dayswould have amounted to a mere phase of their ordeal. I recall that spanne as one of especial Dullnesse and Melancholie… The idea of the three of them out therebobbing up and down for almost 7,000 hours summoned the fear Pascal had whenhe thought of the empty space between stars.Originally, there had been five men, something of a crowd on a roughly thirty-foot-long panga, or low fishing boat. Many people, in fact, told me you'd never go with fivein sucha craft, not if you were shark fishing--it'd be pointless, counterproductive, evenimpossible, since you'd be in one another's way, and there wasn't space to hold foodand water for five, and nobody would make any money after dividing it so many ways, etc.--which proved the náufragos were liars. Whenever someone told me that, Icould be confident that the next individual I ran into would tell me you always gowith five on a shark-fishing trip, because the catch was so heavy you needed thehands, etc. I will say, in the interest of scrupulousness, that the more familiar theperson happened to be with shark fishing-if, for instance, he'd engaged in it-the morelikely he'd tell me no way, you'd never go with five, those men were not fishing for sharks.Still, when they set out initially, they were five. Two died on the ocean. One wasSenor Juan, later identified as one Juan David Lorenzo, a middle-aged computer enthusiast from a town farther north. According to the three survivors, he owned the boat, or possibly just the shark-fishing equipment-he seems, in any event, to haveoccupied an ambiguously defined dueno-like position above the rest of the crew. His
 
family, when reporters tracked them down, were baffled to learn he'd been to sea atall. They announced their intention to get an audience with the three survivors andplead for more information. But whatever story they finally got, Senor Juan wasdead. Committed unto the sea in February. Dead, too, was a man the survivorsremembered only as EI Farsero, a nickname-which even the Mexican papers allowedwas "obscure"-derived from the Spanish word farsante and meaning, I'm told, "joker,”with hints of "sham" playing around the edges. Somehow the survivors had comeaway from the experience of months at sea with this individual on an open boat thesize of an RV and knew nothing more about him than that they'd called him EIFarsero. And that he died. He and Senor Juan went the same way. He had a pain inhis stomach. He couldn't bear to eat the raw bird flesh. He vomited blood. Weclosed his eyes. We kept his body on board for three days and then pushed him into the sea. When that took place, we were half a year from being rescued.Nine months and nine days total-this happened to be how long one of the men'smothers had borne him in her womb. Actually, the math is off there-you can't makenine months and nine days equal 28S-but this is how it got reported. And it was notan angle the Mexican publishers had to have a long meeting about whether to gowith. Nor did it hurt that the three who lived were Jesus, Lucio, and Salvador: Jesus, the Light, and the Savior. The last of these had with him, on board, a Bible. He told thepress he was always reading it to the other two. The church liked that, and theMexican Council of Bishops issued a statement to the effect that God was to thank for the men's survival.But if segments of the population were ready to embrace the three as heroes, or atleast celebrities, the media reaction was one of instantaneous, unboundedskepticism: The men looked too good to have been out there so long, not skinny enough. They must have eaten the other two. And there were discrepancies in thefamily statements. One of the relatives said she hadn't seen them in three months,not nine months. An uncle said that when they launched, it was only three in theboat, not five. Plus, shouldn't they have died of scurvy? Something was off. Sure youweren't running drugs? After a particularly tense press conference, Lucio got off aline that was later much quoted in the Mexican press, something in the vein of "Godsave your sorry asses from ever being castaways."All my Spanish was learned from the older Cuban ladies in my wife's family, so I'mdazzlingly proficient when it comes to food, babies, and the telenovela Heridas deAmor but helpless on more abstract topics and prone to use the diminutive at

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