This article is from the December 2004 - January 2005 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Enchanted Vagabonds

by Dana Lamb, in collaboration with June Cleveland

Long Riders’ Guild Press,

$25, 448 pages


I first encountered Dana Lamb’s spellbinding adventure classic Enchanted Vagabonds in a library edition I’d read years ago. Assuming the narrative to be long out of print, I was delighted to discover a new paperback edition while browsing recently. What a find!


Enchanted Vagabonds chronicles Dana and his wife Ginger Lamb’s groundbreaking 1930s voyage from Southern California along the west coast of Mexico and Central America all the way south to Panama. Friends since childhood and married only a year, the Santa Ana couple spend two years planning their adventure – gathering provisions, hardening their bodies, and building the 16-foot Vagabunda, a “mongrel boat, a sort of cross between an Eskimo kayak, a surfboat and a sailboat with canoe.” In a prelude to the narrative, Lamb admits that he and Ginger had talked of sailing “the whole distance to Panama.” But if the trip became too difficult or the craft unseaworthy, they’d agreed to explore only the coast of Lower California and the waters of the Gulf of California and “call it a day.”


Setting off Oct 9, 1933, to much fanfare, and with a minimum of provisions and less than $5 between them, the couple get off to an inauspicious start, spending their first night on a sand spit at the southern end of San Diego Harbor. But three years and some 16,000 miles later the Lambs do reach Panama – exhausted, disheveled and more than a little world weary, having experienced enough adventures to last a lifetime. En route they’d sailed through enormous waves and shark-infested waters, survived numerous wrecks and battled flesh-eating insects and malaria, met Indians both hostile and friendly, been stalked by jaguar and searched for lost cities in the jungle, and camped on fabled islands. One of the most intriguing episodes concerns their search for a legendary city in the Jalisco interior that seemed to emit an eerie drumbeat sound as the Lambs approached and which they couldn’t quite identify. Were the explorers losing it at this point in their expedition or did the area actually give off such a sound? I’d love to know the identity of this ruined city. The Lambs later explore another jungle when they reach the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, trekking into the so-called Forbidden Land of Chiapas, an area they return to in a later expedition, and resulting in their equally fascinating book, Quest for the Lost City. Like Enchanted Vagabonds, Quest for the Lost City is again in print and available through Long Riders’ Guild Press and ($22). Beautifully written and with fascinating photos and maps, Enchanted Vagabonds and Quest for the Lost City are great reads you just won’t be able to put down until you’ve lived with the Lambs through their very last adventure.