Anyone Wanting to meet a man with seven wives should head not, as the nursery rhyme has it, for Saint Ives, but for a crocodile-infested lagoon in southern Mexico known as Pie de la Cuesta. For a price, one of the local fisherman will take you out in his boat to a tiny island in the middle of the lagoon, where 95-year- old Don Pio Quinto lives with Emilia, his seventh wife (pictured left).

Don Pio colonised the inhospitable Isla Montosa as a young man early this century. He immediately laid claim to the island - a quarter-of-a- mile-square of rocks fringed with mangrove swamp and small beaches - and went on to populate it with his polygamous family of seven wives and their offspring. Four of his sons still live on Isla Montosa; at weekends, when members of the extended fam- ily often visit, the island's population swells to nearly 100. But in spite of living so near to each other, the Quinto family are not close-knit: none of the sons speaks to their father. The reason for this remains unclear, but it seems to have something to do with Don Pio's ability to keep so many women simultaneously happy.

Emilia, who at 63 is the youngest and most recent of the wives, recalls the first time she made the half-hour boat journey out to the island, to start married life alongside Don Pio's six other spouses. "He'd left them here while he went off to the nearest city to look for his next wife, which turned out to be me," she explains. "Of course, he didn't tell me about them at first, and I wasn't exactly happy when I did find out, but I had fallen in love with him by then. I just had to come to the island and make a go of it.

"In fact, we wives got on with each other surprisingly well," Emilia recalls with a grin. "We all worked together around the house. He was like a cock strutting about amongst his hens. He loved women more than food and he was, quite honestly, an old goat. He often slept with all seven of us in a night. We never had anything to complain about on that front."

A heavy smoker and mescal drinker for many decades, Don Pio outlived his first two wives. The following four left the island a few years ago, when his sexual prowess began to fail. Emilia remains devotedly by Don Pio's side, caring for him and running their restaurant, which sells warm bottled drinks (the island has no electricity or running water) and shrimps served in three different ways - with tomato sauce, with garlic and on their own.

Don Pio's four sons have set up rival restaurants on the island, all of which serve shrimp dishes and warm drinks and compete with each other for the scarce tourist trade. One of the restaurants has put captive crocodiles on display near the outdoor tables in a bid to attract clientele, but Don Pio's life story is the real crowd-puller. So although his sight and hearing are fading, he cheerfully welcomes visitors who travel to the island specifically to meet him.

"A lot of people want to know my secret - how I managed to keep seven wives happy at once," he says, "and I do have one. But I've never told anyone what it is." Don Pio does plan to pass his "secret" on before he dies, but he hasn't said who to. This, according to Emilia, is one of the reasons that family life on Isla Montosa is not as harmonious as it might be. "It's made," she says, "for a lot of envy and bitterness." One can understand why.