Monday, June 17, 2024

Crocodiles turn out to be much easier to wrangle than fame-hungry locals

In Part 3 of “The Crocodile Chronicles,” our would-be reality TV producers in Mazatlán had managed to transport five live crocodiles across Sinaloa from the reptiles’ home on a farm to the Mazatlán Aquarium, where they would live during the filming process. A week later, it’s time for the cast and crew of The Gator Boys to arrive and start doing what they do best: wrangling crocs out of neighborhood pools.

The Captured Tourist Woman (TCTW) had been working with the manager of our local international airport to ensure a smooth arrival for the Gator Boys and their crew and to organize the first Mazatlán scenes recorded for two episodes of their Animal Planet cable show, The Gator Boys.

It had been decided that the first shoot would take place at the airport’s arrivals area. Eric, our producer, had arranged for a five-person mariachi band to serenade the cast and crew as they emerged into the public waiting area of the airport.

But then, one of the cast members jumped the gun and came out alone. He needed to go back in so that he could come out with the group on camera. However, as he was not a man with much travel experience under his belt, he was disconcerted and offended to learn that the security guards would not allow him to return to the secured area, and he was inclined to make a lot of noise, letting everyone know of the offense caused.

Drama from the moment of arrival!

Gator Boys star Jimmy Riffle and Jorge, the director of the Mazatlán Aquarium.
Gator Boys star Jimmy Riffle, left, and Jorge del Rincón Jarero, then the director of the Mazatlán Aquarium.

Of course, TCTW had the airport manager on speed dial, so within 20 minutes the scene was shot with the whole group emerging, carrying luggage and wearing smiling faces. These people had been on Mexican soil for all of 15 minutes and had already clocked up a 20-minute delay.

Anyway, the mariachi band blasted out the Mexican Revolution rendition of La Cucaracha — after all we are in Sinaloa:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,                    

ya no puede caminar                                

porque no tiene, porque le falta

marihuana que fumar.                             

The cockroach, the cockroach,

can’t walk anymore

because it doesn’t have, it’s lacking

marijuana to smoke.

By this time, a small crowd had gathered and was quite enjoying the performance, especially since the gringos had no idea what the lyrics meant.

After extensive searching, we had found the required young, beautiful Mexican woman, requested earlier by our producer. She would be added to the aquarium team. Pamela did not in any way disappoint. Her presence was a positive addition to the growing cast and crew, and her megawatt-level smile came to her face quickly and often.

There were additional arrivals as well as the regular Gator Boys cast and crew: they had been accompanied by several friends and family who had jumped at the chance to come to Mexico and play with crocodiles.

One of our tour guide van drivers was given the role of the “village elder” who would regale the viewing audience with the legend of El Diablo, a monster-sized snapper. The other van driver would be in the background of a couple of scenes, as well as the roustabouts (i.e., local friends) who carried around the abundance of falderal required for the production.

The general mood of all present was upbeat as well as very curious about life in Mexico. Eric, the director, had been talking up Mazatlán for years, so expectations were sky-high.

One of the cast members had asked if the people in Mazatlán spoke American. I am still not sure whether the question was in jest or a stark reminder of the marginal educational system in some areas of the States. Either way, it set the tone for these strangers in a strange land.

We decided to shoot our first scene the following day: we would stage the croc’s appearance in the pool of a condo secured for this purpose.

On the way there, Eric stopped the procession at a washed-out bridge with a pond of murky water. It was time to practice crocodile wrangling.

A croc box was manhandled to the edge of a steep, sandy bank above the water. After everyone dragged the confused reptile out of the box, it was turned loose. It wasted no time getting straight to the bottom of the pond.

Gator Boy Paul did the catch with a capture pole and brought the thrashing reptile up to dry land, where three people quickly straddled the eight-foot beast while covering its eyes with a towel. The rope from the capture pole was removed, and the croc’s mouth was wrapped with several turns of black electrical tape. This was the first lesson for the aquarium crew, who watched everything closely. What they had just seen would be the standard routine for all the captures.

Since we had rented only five crocodiles to use in six or seven captures, I asked Eric about the audience seeing the same croc twice. He assured me that he had that detail covered and with several cans of spray paint for quick makeovers. Ah, “reality” TV.

We arrived at the condo already late, but the residents were excited by the prospect of having a crocodile paddle around their pool. It was decided to use the smallest of our rental crocs for the pool scene, a petite six-footer.

Cast and crew of The Gator Boys in Mazatlán
The cast and crew of The Gator Boys in Mazatlán. The man in the center with the big smile is Sinaloa’s former tourism minister, Francisco Manuel Córdova Celaya.

As the crew set up, the crocodile was placed into the pool. Several condo owners were being briefed about the on-camera hysteria they would be asked to exude. So things were running smoothly, I was thinking.


TCTW got a phone call from an assistant. She was told that the Sinaloa minister of tourism wanted to greet us all and meet The Gator Boys. Just what we needed, to be taking time on public relations for a politician when our schedule was already awry!

Sure enough, he appeared with an entourage of assistants and photographers and videographers and reporters trailing behind him. Of course, everything came to a halt for the photo op and the interviews. He posed between the two Gator Boys for several shots and then with various members of the cast and crew.

A veteran of Mexican politics, his toothy smile was radiant at all appropriate moments. All this time, the croc was making itself at home in the pool, floating around and looking a lot like an inflatable pool toy.

Several of the condo owners had small, yappy dogs which were going increasingly nuts over the predator in the pool. It was becoming a little difficult to talk at a comfortable level. A Gator Boy went to the dog owners.

He graciously and carefully explained that in Florida, small yappy dogs were alligators’ preferred food. And, he told them, he suspected that the same would apply to Mexican crocs as well.

This revelation quickly cleared the area of small yappy dogs.

Eventually, the tourism minister, with his cortege close behind, returned to the waiting press vans and SUVs, then turned back toward Mazatlán proper.  It was time to wake up the now-snoozing crocodile and make him look dangerous.

The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half-wild dog. He can be reached at [email protected].

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