In 1915, the Mexican Revolution came to Yucatan. General Salvador Alvarado rode into Merida with several thousand federal troops to take over the state. The governor at the time, General Abel Ortiz Argumedo, fled to Rio Lagartos, a small community on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. A small group of Agumedo supporters contacted the former American consul, Edward Thompson, at his hacienda at Chichen Itza to see if he could get them to safety in the United States.
“I had a couple of days before heard that some natives were building a schooner at San Felipe, about 15 miles from their hiding place,” Thompson told a reporter later, “and I decided that then was a good time to go fishing.”
According to Thompson, the schooner was not finished, and no provisions of any substance could be found in the village. “We hastily scraped together a few eggs and a small amount of water. Then I found instead of 10 I had planned to rescue there were 26 to be cared for on our scant provisions, including two women, one of whom was in a delicate condition.” The party set sail from San Felipe and wandered the Carribean for 13 days before finally reaching Cuba.
I am writing about this event for my book proposal, so I took a trip to Rio Lagartos and San Felipe without any idea what I might find. I was accompanied by three friends, who came along for the adventure.
At Rio Lagartos, we found nothing other than a lovely coastal community, surrounded by mangrove swamps. One of our party, Bill Drennon, knew his swamps and was able to explain how the four species of mangroves survive in dispersion zone ecosystems where salt and fresh water interface. Each species of mangrove–red, white, black and buttonwood–thrives at different elevations and different salinities. Red mangrove requires more constant flushing as it is unable to process salt as efficiently as black mangrove, which can survive in more brackish conditions where salt levels can be higher.
Another traveling companion, Steve Fry, went with me to the library at Rio Lagartos which, much to my dismay, had nothing about the history of the village. Not finding any information about the 1915 escape from Yucatan, we pressed on to San Felipe. If anything, it was prettier than Rio Lagartos. We stopped at a hotel, Hotel San Felipe de Jesus, where the owner, Guadalupe Jesus Mena Sanchez, happened to know the oldest resident of the village. Guadalupe introduced us to Jorge Duran Coral, who was a vital 99 years young and who, as luck would have it, remembered the ship and knew the entire story.
Jorge’s version of events was somewhat different than Thompson’s, which unfortunately for you, dear reader, I will not be revealing here. But finding Jorge and hearing his account made the entire trip worth it.
We then returned to Rio Lagartos and hired a boat to take us through the inlets to see a wide variety of wildlife: egrets, herons, flamingos, crocodiles. It seemed as if every open branch had a bird of some kind. I heartily recommend making the trip to this remote corner of Yucatan, regardless of whether you are doing research or not.