David "El Codo" Eidell
Best of Mexico

Unusual Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
Vampire Guano

Published January 2001

Dear People's Guide readers,

As "PeoplesGuide.com" approaches its 2nd anniversary, Lorena and I have undertaken an in-depth, highly objective review of this website's strengths and weaknesses. Alerted by an anonymous tip from a rabid fan, we must confess that in spite of our best efforts to bring you interesting and unusual information on Mexico, we've somehow made a terrible omission: unlike other "major" internet websites, The People's Guide To Mexico has not yet offered you financial advice, risk-free investment tips, or idiot-proof schemes on HOW TO GET RICH QUICK!

To correct this error, and to help kick-start your hacienda-retirement dreams, we now offer a new series, "STRIKE IT RICH IN MEXICO... manana!" (Sorry about the ALL CAPS title, but learning to shout is evidently an important aspect of getting-rich-quick.)

With no further ado, let's hear how People's Guide Correspondent David "Cheapskate" Eidell took a plunge into the highly lucrative Mexican bat guano racket and (almost) made his fortune!

okay senor. Codo.... dish it up!


My hand started to quiver as I mused possible answers to insert in the space which asked the purpose of my visit on the Mexican Tourist Card:

a. Purchase an entire pickup load of fresh vampire bat guano

b. Help a Humboldt County “rose” farmer obtain the best fertilizer in the world for his cash crop.

c. Earn several thousand dollars while visiting an obscure part of Mexico

The Mexican immigration officer was watching me curiously. "Allergies" I said as I wiped tears from my eyes. I then chickened-out and wrote "Diversion" in the space provided, Spanish for fun or entertainment. There was little doubt in my mind that the next several days were going to be entertaining. As a matter, of fact the last several days had been anything but boring.

It was the winter of ‘78, the slow season for my electrical business on the California coast. Out-of-the-blue a tall man with a fierce black beard suddenly appeared and purchased a solar powered water well pump for an appreciable chunk of cash. During the transaction he happened to notice a well-creased map of Mexico spread out on top of my desk.

"Ever run across any bat caves while you're down there?"

"Well, I saw caves, especially in the northern part around Chihuahua and Durango."

"Think you can get me some bat guano?"

"Bat guano? As in bat droppings?"

"It makes really good fertilizer; Something akin to a miracle plant growth fertilizer."

"I'll keep my eyes open the next time that I go."

"I'll pay twenty dollars a pound for really prime quality vampire bat guano."

"Twenty·a pound? Vampire bats? Did I hear you correctly?

"Sure did. Vampire bat droppings have an unusual nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia blend. Nothing else will work to grow such magnificent, uh, roses. I'll buy all that I can get my hands on."

My mental abacus threatened to strip its gears as the figures flooded through my head.

"Yeah, well....as it turns out I'm actually ready to go to Mexico....right now."

"Well here's some front money to help you on your way" He peeled a quarter-inch of Ben Franklins from a bankroll the size of a oil can.

The next morning, I threw a snow shovel, a Coleman lantern, a long length of nylon rope, bedding and travel bag into the back of my pick-up Nellie Belle and pointed the hood ornament toward the southeast. The next fifteen hundred miles were spent casting doubt on the successful outcome of this hare-brained adventure:

a. I turn into a Bela Legosi stand-in after a particularly vicious bat bites me in the neck.

b. "You are declaring what!?"

c. "Guano from an endangered species of bat is forbidden entry."

d. "Eeww! Bat guano! Full of diseases and pests! Dump it now!”

e. "Get a load of this Billy Bob! This clown actually had the balls to declare a felonious load of fertilizer. Roses? What a schmutz. Slip into these here handcuffs son.”

Rather than dwell on the unknown to the point of sending me into a funk, I decided to focus on a possible destination; I couldn't just drive around and yell, "Buscando Vampiro Bat Shit," out the window. The problem was that I really didn't know where to find a vampire bat cave in Mexico. I recollected reading that vampire bats prey primarily on cattle, therefore northwestern Mexico (having lots of cattle) seemed to be the logical place to go.

After obtaining my tourist card with "Diversion" scribbled as the reason for visiting Mexico, I resumed my journey and headed toward Chihuahua. The following morning, driving deeper into Mexico, I made a spur-of-a-moment decision and took a sudden left toward turn at an unmarked ‘entronque’. The road was little more than a graded path, pointing toward a range of distant mountains.

After two hours of bumping, I drove up out of an arroyo and found myself at the edge of a village with perhaps two dozen rustic casas. On the side of one dwelling was a faded "Fanta" orange drink” sign. A dog barked lazily without bothering to get to its feet. The only other sound was the shrill pitch of a cicada from a nearby grove of mesquite and ironwood trees. It was mid-afternoon and the village was slumbering in a deep siesta.

The village plaza was just a swatch of open ground beneath the shade of a centuries old cottonwood tree. In late winter leaves were sparse so I contented myself with sitting on the shady side of the massive trunk and thumbing through a paperback novel that I had been reading for the last week. The seeming languor of the village was contagious and my head soon nodded.

The blare of static from a suddenly enlivened transistor radio ended my slumber and I opened my eyes to find a little boy and girl staring at me. It was obvious that they found great joy and mystery at discovering a stranger asleep under the only tree in the village.

I stumbled to my feet and asked the children if there was a restaurant in town. "No señor" came the courteous reply.

"Un hotel?"


Obviously the village with no name was not on the tourist circuit. The little girl suddenly grabbed my hand and motioned for me to follow her. We zigzagged through a couple of narrow streets and came to a whitewashed casa draped in magenta bougainvillea. She opened the door and shrieked, “¡Mama!” A moment later a young woman emerged from an adjoining room and looked at me in surprise. The daughter immediately launched into a monologue which obviously chronicled my every movement and word since she had first laid eyes on me.

“Tiene hambre señor?”

Yes, I was certainly hungry. I nodded.

The woman motioned for me to sit at an ancient wooden table. The floor of the casa was packed, well-swept dirt. A short while later she emerged from the kitchen with a large bowl of steaming beans. The daughter meanwhile had set an enameled plate and cup in front of me. In no time I was feasting on beans, tortillas, cheese, and cabbage. For a beverage I accepted her offer of café de olla.

When I asked, "Cuanto le debo señora?" she smiled and replied, "Doscientos pesos", which at the time was little more than a dollar. An entire village of children had watched me eat through the open windows and door. The next order of the day was to find a place to sleep. It was not yet spring and the evenings tended to be brisk. The señora didn't bat an eye when I inquired about a room. She explained that mule skinners stayed overnight in the village on a regular basis. She went on to say that the village of San Jose, was, in fact, a tiny yet thriving hub of commerce for the entire region.

A short while later I found myself outside a tin roof shack that was built onto the back of one of the larger (three room) houses in San Jose. The door was flapping burlap and the ancient cot and corn shock mattress belonged in a museum. The ‘room’ cost two dollars a night, not counting the value of a half-can of flea spray that I liberally applied to the cot and mattress. Candles were set into notches carved alongside a giant wooden crucifix which fell onto the cot when I touched it.

I quickly congratulated myself for having the foresight to bring my winter weight sleeping bag. I begged the landlady for the use of a crippled three-legged wooden chair to extend the length of the cot.By bracing the chair against the wall with the cot, I made enough sleeping room so that my feet didn’t hang out in mid-air. I remembered the crucifix in time to remove it and place it next to the door, before it had a chance to fall onto my head in the middle of the night.

After sunset a stake-bed truck rattled its way into the village delivering several men home from a day of work. I later found out that the federal government was bringing ‘la luz’ and telephone lines to San Jose. They had employed every eligible man to assist in the project.

It wasn't long before my host summoned me to the family dinner table. Soon I was describing the United States, where I lived, what I did for a living and a million additional questions from a curious audience. Finally the question of what I was doing - in of all places -- San Jose was raised. I decided to tackle the delicate subject head on.

Continue with Part 2, Treasures of the Sierra Madre:
Vampire Guano??

©1972-2001 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens