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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 95)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER    95

  Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto, of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport, now retired, told me that he and his junior colleague at the time, Mr. Atsuro Chiba, were in Long Beach, California-the American western seaboard's main container port, near L.A.-on unrelated business when they were advised that a lone survivor of the Japanese ship Tsimtsum, which had vanished without a trace in Pacific international waters several months before, was reported to have landed near the small town of Tomatlan, on the coast of Mexico. They were instructed by their department to go down to contact the survivor and see if any light could be shed on the fate of the ship. They bought a map of Mexico and looked to see where Tomatlan was. Unfortunately for them, a fold of the map crossed Baja California over a small coastal town named Tomatan, printed in small letters. Mr. Okamoto was convinced he read Tomatlan. Since it was less than halfway down Baja California, he decided the fastest way to get there would be to drive.

  They set off in their rented car. When they got to Tomatan, eight hundred kilometres south of Long Beach, and saw that it was not Tomatlan, Mr. Okamoto decided that they would continue to Santa Rosalia, two hundred kilometres further south, and catch the ferry across the Gulf of California to Guaymas. The ferry was late and slow. And from Guaymas it was another thirteen hundred kilometres to Tomatlan. The roads were bad. They had a flat tire. Their car broke down and the mechanic who fixed it surreptitiously cannibalized the motor of parts, putting in used parts instead, for the replacement of which they had to pay the rental company and which resulted in the car breaking down a second time, on their way back. The second mechanic overcharged them. Mr. Okamoto admitted to me that they were very tired when they arrived at the Benito Juarez Infirmary in Tomatlan, which is not at all in Baja California but a hundred kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco, nearly level with Mexico City. They had been travelling non-stop for forty-one hours. “We work hard,” Mr. Okamoto wrote.

  He and Mr. Chiba spoke with Piscine Molitor Patel, in English, for close to three hours, taping the conversation. What follows are excerpts from the verbatim transcript. I am grateful to Mr. Okamoto for having made available to me a copy of the tape and of his final report. For the sake of clarity I have indicated who is speaking when it is not immediately apparent. Portions printed in a different font were spoken in Japanese, which I had translated.

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