San Felipe's Clam Man

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

The Clam Man of San FelipeThe Clam Man, rather than describing somebody who is shy on words, was the name of a restaurant in San Felipe and a term used by everyone in town to describe Pasqual "Cruz" Guerrero, the prime mover behind its fame and notoriety.

Cruz was a smiling, personable old man who, in appearance, looked like an escapee from the lunatic fringe. In the 70's and 80's, Cruz was often seen with a gunnysack of butter clams slung over his shoulder, calling out his product like a circus hawker, his kind eyes a sharp contrast to his wild hair and desert-profit beard.

The Clam Man's restaurant, which in the portmanteau way of many Mexican businesses, was also his home. It was and still is instantly recognizable to anyone who drives down the main street of town. More than reflecting the rustico influence of small-town Mexico, it voices the profound influence the sea had upon this man's life. Halos of shells and whale-bones wreathed the walkways, windows and entrance to the place. A plethora of signs, splash-painted by hand, announce the virtues of clams to the uninformed. The fulcrum of the claims about clams was what the Clam Man often insisted when he tried to sell you some. "They make you horny." With five daughters and three sons to his credit, who are we to argue?

The Clam Man passed away in 1988, leaving a significant rend in the social fabric of San Felipe. His familiar face and genial disposition have been missed by many --visitors and tourists who hail from all over the globe and who had the privilege of wandering, some only briefly but not forgettably, into the circle of the Clam Man's open friendship.

* * * recently received the following email, which illustrates the lasting impression the Clam Man had upon those fortunate enough to make his acquaintance...

I was very moved by your entry for The Clam Man of San Felipe, that I happened onto by pure chance, while Googling. Your description --both the image and text-- were perfect.

I met the Clam Man in July, 1969, when I was camping on the beach in San Felipe with my girlfriend, just a short distance from his house, which was the last structure along the beach. It was ramshackle, made of plywood, planks, and boxes, and its roof held down with old automobile tires.

He was clamming with two or three of his youngest children when we met. He had a burlap sack, which he carried over one shoulder, and which he'd fill with clams.

He invited Ellen and I to return for dinner. At dinner, he asked me to do him a favor. Would I write a letter, which he would sign, to a businessman from San Diego, whom he had met?

He said that the businessman had offered to go into business with him, but as he hadn't heard anything from him for about a year, asked me instead to request eighty dollars, so that he could buy a burro.

"The tourists will want to have pictures taken with me and my burro. They will say, 'Here comes the clam man of San Felipe! There goes the clam man of San Felipe!'"

He also said, as he spread his arms in both directions around his family, "You Americans rich in money. We Mexicans are rich in family". I had never forgotten this character, for his dignity, humility and love for the sea. He illustrated this love by arching his arms toward the waves, which were only steps from his home, and exclaiming, "I am lucky! I work where I live!"

I've told the above story many times, but in more detail. My fantasy would be that the letter I helped him write led to the money he needed to start his small restaurant which would also be his new home. But that's not what matters. Someone helped him, and he was able to turn his life around.

A true Christmas story!

Joe G. -December 2014