As our tour boat moves slowly through the water, paralleling Stone Island, we see mangroves form a wall to our east. We leave the marina and head north past large shrimp boats, tuna ships with miles of net piled on their decks, one of the largest fish canneries in Mexico, the Pacifico beer bottling plant, some ship repair yards and ocean going vessels in various shades of rust.
Rounding the northern tip of the island, we head now, towards the south, on the opposite side of the island from where we began. You can look further south and see breaking waves as waters of the Pacific meet waters of this estuary fed by rivers. Mangroves grow where salt water and fresh water meet and they are crucial for the aquatic environment.
While we chug along, a pelican flies down to the deck at the bow of our boat and looks at Polo, our guide.
Pelicans are odd looking birds with huge beaks, beaded eyes and bald heads, huge jointed wings. This visitor’s webbed feet splay out on the deck and he isn’t going anywhere.
Polo reaches for his microphone and tells us a story.
“This is my friend Juanito,” he begins. “He comes and joins us on most of our trips. I will give him fish later for a reward …”
Polo waits a moment before continuing, waits to get everyone’s attention. He sees that some passengers want to take pictures so he lets us come up and sit by Juanito and get our pictures. The pelican is a perfect gentleman, keeps his attention on Polo, but chases off other birds who want to land on deck and steal his spotlight.
“Some years back,” Polo continues, “we found this pelican who was covered with oil and couldn’t fly. So we wrapped him in a coat and took him home and my family cleaned him up and fed him till he could fly again. We had him at home a year before we brought him back here and let him go. His home is over there …”
Polo gestures at the mangroves with a free hand.
“He joined us on a tour one day and now he always comes to see us. He is a very smart bird. When I feed him he knows which fish to eat and which fish to leave alone.”
After telling us about the value of mangroves to the ecosystem, and stressing the importance of fishing to the local economy, Polo feeds Juanito his first treat.
For a bunch of tourists, on vacation, Juanito is a high point.
It isn’t every day you are visited by a Pelican and get to watch him grab a fish in his beak, wiggle his long neck to get the fish down to his stomach, then look back at you with contentment and anticipation as his friend, Polo, reaches into a white five gallon paint bucket for yet another snack.
Juanito takes this fish gently from Polo’s hand, and swallows.
He has become, and he knows it too, our official trip mascot.