Wrong again: Pear shaped holidays in wahoo paradise
Cliff Hatton lashes out on a dream - then discovers it's only REM
You screwed-up this time, didn't you? For twelve months or more you devoted nearly all of your spare time to the study of travel magazines and web-sites; Sunday after Sunday, you KEPT The Times travel section and threw the rest away; you even got Bill Bryson to answer your e-mail, yet you've done it again — opted for an adventure holiday rather than one dedicated to your raison detre - angling.
Living with Warao Indians on the fringes of the Orinoco Delta in '99 was great, as was the trekking in Northern Thailand and the unforgettable, blood-curdling hike through the Cares Gorge in the Picos de Europa, but on this occasion, you just knew that you should have invested in a no-nonsense, out and out fishing expedition in the company of like-minded Brothers of the Angle. It's all very well and good packing your '4-piece' and a box of odds and sods in the belief that you'll sort out some fishing but, in practice, it ain't quite like that, is it?
For a start, your colleagues are heathens without the faintest interest in hooking a fish — they're the kind who only know that 'You throw your rod in, don't you?' Then, of course, you're at the mercy of the itinerary — you can only fish where the tour takes you, and even if you're fortunate enough to find yourself in one of the world's top angling hot-spots, you won't have the time to fully exploit your rare opportunity. And let's face it: no matter how versatile an angler you may be, what are your chances of success faced with... say, Lago Cocibolca — Lake Nicaragua — a hundred thousand Windenneres poured into one?
Yes, you did your research on the internet; you feverishly drank-in the Google images of freshwater tarpon and bull-shark; you bravely invested a week's earnings in exotic lures and ten miles of braided nylon, but with a visit to the Sandino Memorial scheduled for the following morning, you really ain't going to get to grips with the finer points of trolling off Ometepe island, are you? No. You land-up hiring the services of a local fisherman steeped in the art of netting ugly spiny things with eyes in the wrong place; he's never seen a deep-diving Rapala lure or a Shimano fixed-spool in his life — and Fox don't do throw-nets.
Eight hours later and twenty dollars lighter, you thank him for a lovely day and flip-flop your way back to the hotel deflated and hardly able to believe that the locals aren't exploiting the potential of their very own inland sea... that YOU probably know more about Lake Nicaragua than anyone in town - if only you had the chance to use that knowledge.
Your frustration will have been evident as you dined that evening, little to say, neither willing nor able to excitedly discuss that day's horse-riding or that little restaurant in the hills.., and it's Managua in the morning. Everybody back on the coach.
Ever optimistic, you put the experience behind you, that and the fresh Costa Rican memories of being ferried like some mug-tourist from eco-park to eco-park, welcomed at reception with piped Muzak and a map of the named pathways: coatis here, sloth there, look for howler monkeys just beyond the stables... take this path for racoon and agouti... only the embossed 'WELCOME' soap and the pleated toilet paper were more depressing — no, the souvenir-shop.., you remember considering suicide?
Eco-Tourism, it's said, promotes conservation, obviates the need for logging-cash, but you suspect not. You're no expert, but you're no fool either. In their zeal for something new but 'eco-friendly', many of the world's affluent will head for the rain and cloud-forests eager to commune with nature but loathe to forego their air-con and hot showers, the good food and fine wine. They'll get the Attenborough Experience and more wildlife shots than they thought possible, but when the party's over, it'll be more than punctured pretty balloons needing attention; an ever-rising ocean of plastic disposables and human waste will require an infrastructure costing big, big bucks: cue the next Eco-Park, send in the clowns — and the boys from the black stuff.
But you're 'ever-optimistic' and the Honduran Island of Roatan beckons... 'A Caribbean Paradise hosting reefs second only in size to the Great Barrier Reef' it says in the brochure. No doubt. What a pity the exotic, smiling, colourful locals prove to have the environmental consciousness of rats, oblivious to the squalor they live within, detracting somewhat from the description of 'Paradise': 'shame that every track to an idyllic bay is fronted by a mega-ad for luxury apartments — 'Once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities!'... 'pity about the marine- pens where a hundred lempira will buy you a close-encounter with a paranoid shark or turtle...but no litter.
The island's 'West End' is relatively clean - a Caribbean version of Southend on Sea and not that bad actually; even purists like to socialise, eat, drink and be merry on occasion and this dusty half-mile strip of commercialism features little in the way of concrete: modest weather-boarded hotels and bars face the sea through shady palms; toast-rack dogs, too hot to scavenge, lay dreaming on the beach beneath the rough-cut pontoons and there!.. .Captain O's Game Fishing Centre!
Like me, you're drawn magnetically to the sign outside the thatched hut and gobble-up the longed-for description of a day in search of marlin, wahoo and barracuda... you enter, naively certain that the esperanto of angling will quickly cement a brotherly bond with the Cap'n - a font of knowledge and experience on the high seas no doubt, very likely sporting an eye-patch. The reality is a keen-eyed Rasta with his sights only on your wallet...
'565 dollars on hour, man. Ah supply de bait'
You wince on hearing the cost but you tell yourself — convince yourself in the space of a second — that, well, this game-fishing ain't cheap... and I'm not likely to get many opportunities like this. Like me, you go for it.
`Ok. See you here in the morning?' He nods and returns to his hammock and chilled beer 'See you den'.
You're there at eight the next day feeling inadequate and a tad vulnerable; you've struck out on your own, left the group, about to do your own thing with a stranger called — as it turns out — Orville, Cap'n 0. This is it. The real thing. Big-game fishing. Don't let-on that a one pound roach normally gets your rocks off, no, be confident; let him assume you know your stuff and that you're expecting a good three hundred quids worth — THREE HUNDRED QUID? YOU MUST BE MAD! You know it, but you're going to do it anyway, aren't you?
Now where's that bloody Captain? You look around, whistle, cough, but the place is deserted. Only the sounds of beach-front breakfasting can be heard, but you're longing to hear the screech of a well-oiled, twenty-geared Abu and the heavy re-entry of a 500 lber. You bide your time with a coffee, then another, in the café opposite, eagerly awaiting the arrival of dope-eyed Orville.
You get to thinking... Can this guy really know about big-game fishing? Can you honestly see him in the fighting-chair, one foot jammed against the gunwale and doing battle with a crested monster? Where is he now, you ask yourself. Probably emerging from hash-induced oblivion or seeing to his dusky woman before meeting that bloody tourist. You begin to worry. He's not coming, is he? Another coffee, then up comes a guy you don't recognise.
'You the fisherman?'
You nod and follow him back across the sandy roadway to where a semi-rotted wooden boat is moored to a palm-capstan; lying along its length is a plaited tangle of rods you wouldn't put in a jumble saie coupled with badly-filled, rusty winches. The distinct smell of rat permeates the air as you regard both the heap of ancient fishing gear and the rather too laid- back guy with the cell-phone to his ear. You didn't like the way he laughed immediately after the word 'bucks'; you may not know the local patter but you can recognise when someone's taking the piss. You were right. This is a cowboy-outfit. Taking hold of the bagful of ice and beers you'd bought for him as well as yourself, you do a 'News of the World' — you make your excuse and leave. His protests confirm your suspicions... 'Wait! I'll get a longer rod for you!'
Salvation comes a hundred yards further up the beach in the form of Greg, a young respectable-looking guy in a baseball cap who'd seen you inspecting his boat and half-decent gear bobbing about in the surf. Once-nibbled, you offer him $20 per hour.
'Thirty, but don't tell anybody' he says, and the deal is done. You shake his hand and within forty minutes you're half a mile offshore with four baits skimming the surface.
At long last you're doing it, thrilled merely at the sight of outriggers, skyward rods and outboard-spume; it's what they do, isn't it. Nonetheless, you still can't take on board that this is the real thing... y'know, big-game fishing off the coast of Honduras; that precious, elusive bubble-gum card you'd have given your right arm for as a kid; where nothing is 'Made in' apart from bananas. It doesn't seem fair somehow... all you did was sit in aeroplanes and buses for a couple of days — no sweat or aching feet — yet here you are on the Caribbean watching for strikes, quaffing an icy Barena beneath a blue sky filled with pelican and frigate birds. If they could see you now...
'Yes!' A small explosion of white water fifty yards off-stern signals a strike and over goes the rod. You strike and Greg cuts the motor. It's not a marlin, but it's a fair fish that puts a discernible bend in your billiard cue and quite soon a wahoo of around 25lb breaks surface ten feet from the boat. The fish dives for freedom and the rod bucks as line is taken in short, frantic bursts... Yes! This is what you came for! Eager for another sight of your fish and another delicious lunge, you coax it to the surface where Greg — GREG! — gaffs it through the head and swings it on board, there to club it across the head!
Thanks a bundle, Greg, you shout to yourself, I was enjoying that! You later discover that your sport is his perk — a hundred dollars from a local restaurant; the prospect of four feet of thrashing wahoo-cutlets escaping was just too much for him to bear so out went the gaff at the first opportunity! And did you get your $50? Did you hell!
Your eventual return to the UK was welcome if you're honest. The trip had had its highlights but could hardly be called an 'adventure', the type you'd come to expect from that particular company... you'd tasted the fear of a sacrificial Ancient-Mayan virgin on the lip of Acapuya's crater, and that may have been a Resplendent Quetzal high up in the canopy, but you hadn't 'explored' as such; you hadn't hacked through anything; not once did you suffer a raging thirst; you were never hungry and you hadn't had the excitement of jungle-fever or a bout of dysentery... but you DID go big-game fishing in Honduras — and you did catch a wahoo.
First published Waterlog magazine
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