I actually went there in 1986 with my friend Mickael in our funky old AMC station wagon, "Breakwinder," to see flamingos. Rio Lagartos was one of those stops on the Carribean where all the flamingos come to feed because there are giant salt-evaporation ponds that they have on the other side of the river from the small town.
The salt ponds are all diked off and are very orderly. They're specific sizes and there's some kind of earth mover so there are drive-able dikes on all of the 100-square-foot evaporation ponds.
The ponds are full of tiny little red shrimp – tiny, tiny little things that kind of turn the water pink in these ponds. They are one of the main foods of flamingos so a flock of flamingos – maybe 200 of them – are always there, wandering around with their strange beaks sorting out the shrimps.
Mickael and I both like birds a lot so we wanted to see this. We drove our old car out there. You could get kind of close to the ponds but you couldn't get really close in a vehicle. The ponds were a commercial venture after all. There were no people, no stands, no nothing except the dikes and ponds.
We ventured out to the ponds for two days and decided on the second day that we wanted to get up close and personal with these birds. They were too timid, however, and they were at some distance from where we could park the car.
I told Mickael, "Hey, I'll go sneak around behind these dikes and the few little bushes that there are and you wait here. I'll come up from behind them and I'll scare all the flamingos so they'll fly right over your head real low and you can check them out."
He agreed to the plan. Sure enough, it worked perfectly. We did it twice – once with him and once with me standing there watching the birds and listening to the insane honking noise. They were brilliantly pink because of all the shrimps they ate. The carotene in the shrimp gave them their color.
When we went into the Nefertiti to get rooms the guy behind the desk told us this was a very special hotel because it was named after a "really famous Italian princess." At that point I knew I was off the beaten track.
They had a dance hall out in the back and every night there was dancing to music from a record player. The hall was all lit up with black lights. The whole room was painted black and all the walls had orange and green crocodiles painted on them in Day-Glo paints. They all glowed.
All the kids wore white shirts. They were Indian kids in black pants so all you could really see were shirts and teeth, all kind of purple and glowing in the light of these things spinning around. It was the strangest frickin' disco I ever saw.
One morning we were walking around the little village which was 150 yards long and two streets wide along the bay. There was a poster on a wall announcing a midget bull-fighting event.
Mickael wanted to know what it said. I told him, "I don't know, man, this doesn't make sense to me. Midget bull fights…I don't know what that means. But, it's this afternoon and it's in the arena, so let's go find out!"
The afternoon came and a little, funny, only-in-Mexico kind of parade came through the town. The local villagers were going off to the handmade corrugated iron arena on the edge of town to attend this fine event in their little place.
Everybody was out there and they all had on their street clothes. You knew it was a party because the little girls had special little dresses and they carried umbrellas. The boys were less scruffy-looking than usual. With all of their stuff the villagers marched into the street. I suppose there were 40 people, including all the squeaking, squealing kids who were all excited about the special event – the midget bullfight day.
In front of the townspeople there were guys with drums, trumpets, trombones, accordions, guitarrons, and other instruments. They were parading, marching along the bay and going along at a swift mosey down the oceanfront heading for the arena.
I said, "Mickael, there goes our group now. Let's get in the parade."
We raced over and got in the back of the parade along with the townspeople. We marched along at the end of the parade like Mutt and Jeff going where the parade was going. As far as I can tell this sort of parade were unique to the little villages in that part of the world, but it is not uncommon in Mexico.
The "arena" was made of corrugated metal. Like most of those arenas, there was a wall around the whole perimeter of the thing because usually events in these arenas tend to involve some sort of gnarly critter. The bleachers climbed up above this perimeter wall. The bleachers were really hokey – two by fours with two by sixes set across them, and four sets of stairs going up with four sets of seats up in the air all around.
Mickael and I went up and plopped down on a couple of seats in the blazing sun to wait for the show to begin.
Pretty soon, the door in the arena wall opened and eight little midgets came out. They all wore little matador outfits and were dancing around with little capes and swords, showing in a parody how they were masterfully fighting the imaginary bulls. The crowd loved it. These were cute guys and in this "no-show" place, this was a great show.
(In present-day shows the troupes of miniature toreadors are pitted against young calves that are closer to their size. Neither the animals nor the performers are hurt and the shows are a much-respected form of entertainment.)
Apparently the animals entering the makeshift arena did not belong to the performers. The event organizers in the village had rounded up some extra critters from around town and sent them in there. The midgets were frozen; they were petrified. This was not what they had expected.
Everyone in the crowd was taken aback because these were some really big animals running around, crazed because they had been caught and herded into this arena. God knows what the handlers had done to the bovines to make them angry, but the animals were quite irritated and they were running around the ring looking for something to take their mad out on. There was nothing there except the eight midgets in bullfighter outfits.
The "bulls" just started chasing the midgets everywhere. They were rolling midgets like beach balls with their noses across the arena. There were midgets getting flung in the air. Midgets were running in every direction. It was chaos…just completely nuts.
There were a couple of guys who were supposed to stop this, but this was rural Mexico and the whole thing was just too funny. The organizers were not really worried about any insurance policy so they were just standing back, watching what happened.
The performers were absolutely terrified. They were trying to get away from these creatures. If it looked critical, a handler would run over and shoo the animals away for a minute, but this mad scene went on for probably 15 minutes of the "bulls" rolling the midgets around. The whole place was exploding in chaos.
Finally someone got concerned enough to take control of the beasts and get them out of there, back out through the gate. By that time all the midgets were huddled behind the wall under the stands. I was sitting right on top of the door they ran out from. I looked down below me at them huddling behind a wall that wasn't REALLY a wall, just loose old used two by sixes nailed up peremptorily…enough to keep the beasts from charging under the stands.
There were big cracks in between the boards of this wall. I looked down over the side and all I could see was a whole row of little midget fingers sticking through the cracks. Above it all were…eyes, all big as saucers, looking into the ring. All of the eyes were about three feet off the ground.
The mauling by bovines just was not long enough for a show to satisfy the crowd. More had to happen. So, the little guys went back out into the middle of the ring and drove four stakes into the ground in the center of the arena. They put up a white strip of cotton cloth that was wrapped around from one stake to the next like a ribbon all around the stakes to form an impromptu boxing ring.
Then the performers disappeared behind the arena perimeter wall under the bleachers and emerged wearing boxing outfits. Each of them had little boxing gloves, shorts, and shoes. Pairs of them were supposed to get into the boxing ring they had made and have a mock boxing bout.
One guy was exceptionally tiny. His name was "Supermancito." Looking at him objectively, I figured out that if you stood him up in a five-gallon bucket, it would have come up under his armpits. I don't know how tall he was, but he was not three feet tall.
Of all the little guys, Supermancito had the cutest little matador outfit imaginable and he had really gotten thrown around by the bulls. But, Supermancito was a game little guy, so he was back out there in his boxing shorts with all the other boys.
When they came out to do the boxing, one of the midgets, a smart and obnoxious mite, was the master of ceremonies. He introduced the other midgets saying what they were going to be doing with the boxing and how they were going to entertain us.
Up in the stands there was a reincarnation of Fat Albert, the classic fat guy with attitude. Something the emcee midget said annoyed Fat Albert and he started hollering insults at the emcee. The head midget was an obnoxious little shit anyway so he started hurling insults right back at the big guy. They went back and forth, tit for tat, for a while and the rest of us were sitting on our two by sixes watching.
The big guy finally got so angry that he was beside himself. He was so into a hissy fit in the stands that he came storming through the crowds with lightning in his eyes seeking retribution. He made it to the front, hopped over the wall, and marched up to the midget that had been insulting him. They traded a couple more insults. Then the big guy hauled off and hit the midget right in the forehead. The little guy went down and was out.
Cops came running in from the local village. The local constabulary knew the big boy was out of control. It was grab Albert and get him the hell out of there before he got in trouble. They all grabbed Fat Albert and dragged his ass out of the arena. They deported him and he was forbidden to come back into the big show.
The little guy came around. He stood up, embarrassed but still just as nasty and salty as he was before. He introduced the boxers and the little boxing matches started.
There were a couple of square-offs between two guys and they mock-boxed until one of them fell over, the basic rodeo clown, small-tow, who-cares rural bullshit entertainment. The crowd was fine with that.
All of a sudden, in the middle of this, the arena doors opened and someone ran the bloody bulls back into the ring. Now the animals were really riled up. They were way out of their element and over-the-top agitated.
So here they came again. Oh, my God! They were running everywhere. They were hurling midgets in the air. They were rolling midgets across the arena. The whole crowd was going absolutely mad because it was a replay of the former mayhem which was so mixed-emotional.
All the emotions were involved, loud and in-your-face in this particular situation. On the one hand, it was the funniest thing you ever saw. On the other hand, it was life-and-death for the guys down in the arena. Those guys were not much more than three or four feet tall and they were getting rolled by big ole critters with horns on them.
It was the same scene as before, only now the midgets were wearing little boxing outfits. Finally, the handlers herded all of the animals out again, but not before the mayhem scenario was repeated one more time for the ever-so-enthusiastic fans in Rio Lagartos, Big Lizard River.