How are Pearls made?
An organic gem, pearls are formed inside mollusks such
as oysters and mussels. They are formed when an
irritant such as a tiny stone or bit of sand gets inside the
mollusk's shell. A lustrous substance, called nacre, is
secreted around the object to protect the soft internal
surface of the mollusk. As layer upon layer of nacre
coats the irritant, a pearl is formed. Light that is
reflected from these overlapping layers produces a
characteristic iridescent luster. This process of building
a solid pearl can take up to seven or eight years.
The Legend of the Pearl
Cultured or freshwater pearls are considered to offer
the power of love, money, protection, and luck. Pearls
are thought to give wisdom through experience, to
quicken the laws of karma and to cement engagements
and love relationships. They are thought to keep
Early Chinese myths told of pearls falling from the sky
when dragons fought. Ancient legend says that pearls
were thought to be the tears of the gods and the Greeks
believed that wearing pearls would promote marital
bliss and prevent newlywed women from crying.
Parable of the Pearl
In the Christian faith, there is a verse known as the
Parable of the Pearl, where the kingdom of Heaven is
compared to a large and valuable pearl
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant
man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found
one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had,
and bought it.
— Matthew 13:45-46, King James Version
But not all pearl legends have
MECHUDO - a nickname
("apodo") for a man with bushy
or long hair - and also the
name attached to a region at
the north end of La Paz Bay
which is carefully avoided by
many superstitious (perhaps
wise) residents of the La Paz
area. For example, it is
extremely difficult, if not
impossible, to find local crew
for a ship that might be
venturing near the shores of
the Mechudo region.
Pearl Diving History
During the 18th
centuries, La Paz Bay was the center of one of the world's
great pearling regions. During the early part of the 20th
century, with the
introduction of compressed-air diving equipment, the oyster beds were slowly
cleaned out. The coup de grâce came in 1940 or so with the arrival of a blight
which wiped out the remaining oyster beds.
Finally, towards the end of the century, some of the pearl-bearing oysters are
now being found again in the La Paz region. However, in the interim, introduction
of the cultured pearl has greatly reduced the value of natural pearls.
During the early years of the 20th
century, with pearls becoming harder to find,
the pearlers had to travel greater distances seeking rich oyster beds. The mode of
travel for these pearlers was usually a small sail-driven canoe. They might have to
travel several days before reaching a place known to have pearls.
The pearling activities began with an initial free-dive to check the quality of the
site. If a pearl was secured during this preliminary dive, all the better.
It was the custom of the times to set aside the first pearl, regardless of size or
quality, for presentation to the Church - an offering to the Virgin Mary. Given the
superstitious nature of these people, this was surely a custom to be taken very
The Legend of El Mechudo
The stage is now set for the legend of "Mechudo," a young diver
with long black hair. Mechudo was one of a group of pearl divers
who set off from La Paz for the northern shores of the bay. After
two days spent traveling to their planned site, Mechudo was
selected to carry out the initial dive. These divers were free-diving
without the benefit of compressed air.
Mechudo returned from that dive as excited as he had ever been.
His eyes were wide with wonder and excitement as he described a
giant oyster shell and pearl which he had discovered. He had
attempted to extract the pearl without immediate success. The
other divers exclaimed about how the Church would benefit from
this wondrous pearl, and how their difficult lives would be blessed
for making the traditional gift. With an uncontrollable greed taking
hold of him, Mechudo quickly shouted
"No! This pearl I will keep for myself."
As the shocked divers stood by, Mechudo dove back
into the water to again attempt to extract the great
pearl. After a full two minutes had passed, more
time than any of the divers could have stayed down,
they began to worry about Mechudo. Further
minutes passed, until the divers nervously agreed
that one of them would have to go down and check
for Mechudo, who was now surely dead.
The diver selected for this task dove over the side
with fear in his heart. The remaining divers again
waited, but this time quickly sent someone else in
after just a single minute had passed. The process
was repeated once more, and with the same result -
not one of the divers had returned.
The few divers still left then dropped slowly over the side as a
group, carefully peering below for any indication of what had
occurred. The sight which eventually presented itself was that of
Mechudo, one arm clamped tight by a giant oyster shell, eyes wide
open and long black hair flowing in the current, and his free arm
seemingly grasping for whatever object might be passing by. The
bodies of the other divers could be seen faintly through the water
as they drifted off with the current.
One week later, only one of these divers made it back to La Paz,
crazed with the tale of Mechudo's greed and the death of the other
members of the group. It seems that the other divers who had
witnessed the terrible sight of Mechudo had, in their own turn,
perished on the return trip. Perhaps the shock of what had
happened caused them to ignore the harsh conditions of the sun and
After the story had circulated in La Paz for some time, it is said
that a second group of divers left for the same spot - probably to
seek out the giant pearl. In this case, it is known that once again,
only one of the divers returned. He had to walk the 45 miles back
to La Paz along the shores of the bay. His somewhat incoherent
story mentioned Mechudo having killed the other members of the
group somewhere along the northern shores of La Paz Bay.
Thus we reach the end of the traditional legend of Mechudo. That
the superstitious might not want to venture near that region can
now be understood. However, the tale has its tentacles reaching
into more modern times, and here we are dealing with better
Mechudo Legends in Modern Times
On a Christmas Eve during the 1960's, a luxurious Lockheed
Lodestar plane, belonging to the founder of the Bechtel
Construction Company, was transporting the Stoeffer family to La
Paz for Christmas. The plane left Loreto cleared only for visual
flight below a heavy overcast. When the plane was late in arriving
in La Paz, a search was begun.
The search became an international one since the plane and
passengers both came from prominent U.S. families. The focus of
the search quickly became the Mechudo region. No wreckage could
be found, but evidence that the plane brushed Cerro de Mechudo
suggested that it must have turned and gone down over the water.
This was confirmed when the bodies of eight of the ten on board
washed up on the beach.
Was this the ghost arm of Mechudo once again reaching out?
Along the shore of La Paz Bay, at the town of San Juan de la Costa, the
Mexican company RofoMex has one of the world's largest phosphate mines.
The mine is highly mechanized using immense machines to mine and
transport the diggings. Freighters tie up to a loading dock to take on
phosphate from a large conveyor belt.
In 1993 the mine was visited by several mining inspectors. As was the
tradition, the chief inspector went into the mine unescorted, possibly to
prevent any mine personnel from influencing his check. The inspectors
probably considered the check to be perfunctory, and did not feel the
need for all three of them to bother with the actual inspection.
After more than the necessary amount of time had elapsed, a second
inspector went to check on the first. When neither of them returned, the
third inspector, probably thinking the first two were in there having a
party, headed into the mine. None of these inspectors came out alive.
They were all killed by an unusual gas in the mine.
However, being armed with the information provided by the bigger picture
of the Legend of Mechudo, we can again see an association with the ghost
of Mechudo haunting the shores of La Paz Bay.
Should you be cruising the waters near Cerro de Mechudo,
or driving the road from La Paz to San Evaristo, keep these
events in mind. You may not want to dally along those
shores. Drop your anchor, or have your picnic, far from the
reach of Mechudo!