I awoke in a frigid room to the sound of the air-conditioning pumping away; the curtains of my hotel room casting the space into darkness. The soft sounds of my girlfriend Rachel sleeping sends a ripple of content pleasure up and down my spine; especially when you consider the events we have planned for today.
She begins to stir as the sounds of my wakefulness pulls her from vivid dreams. Some beautiful and quick dialogue between best friends and lovers is exchanged in the tiny hours of the pre-dawn morning as we prepare sleepy bodies for a day of adventure.
The curtains are pulled back to reveal the warm dawn light. The southern latitudes of Guanacaste, Costa Rica make that full blast air conditioning necessary through the night and insures that when we step out of our room before the sun comes up, we will not be met with the icy resistance of the desert mornings we are used to in our home in California.
The Hotel Riu Guanacaste has thus far been good to us. An all-inclusive fare kept the food and drink flowing well into the night. We wake slowly. We dress even slower. And our migration down to the beach is steady and the rhythm of our footsteps, mixed with the warm, damp air, threatens to lull us back to sleep.
That is when the full gravity of our planned day was set before us. There was a reason that two vacationing people chose to wake up in those wee hours of the morn: we were going fishing.
Now there are a few of you who love to fish and the prospect of calm waters in early hours is a source of excitement. Then there are the rest of you; those who feel that fishing is just an excuse to drink beer on a lazy lake in the middle of summer (that would be my father).
Truth be told, I generally fall into the latter category but this morning I was up and excited and I was ready for adventure. This was no mere casting from a dock or fly fishing a river in the Sierras. This was no lake. This was the Pacific Ocean and we were going out onto it to wrestle giants; to match strength and wits with the sporting fishes that are so prevalent in these waters. For the most part we were sorely outmatched in the wits department, but when it came to strength we were only defeated once but that will come later.
We made our way down to the little beach that had become our home for the last week or so. The sky was beginning to brighten as the sun started to rise over the hills to the east. Dark clouds, of the night’s tropical storms, sat heavy over the tropically green hills; still masking the early sun’s rays. But evidence of its rise came from over the water as those clouds faded to a soft white until finally disappearing to blue skies.
Gentle morning waves lapped the shore as our toes touched the white sands of our tropical paradise. And slightly to the south, maybe 200 yards from where we stood waiting for our boat, we witnessed something often sought in Celtic folklore but seldom found: the end of the rainbow!
I swear to you it is true: a fully arching prism of refracted light with one side firmly anchored on the sandy shore and the other stretching high and far over the sea before touching down in the Pacific. I tell no lies. We witnessed it. I literally have the pictures to prove it. Here it is.
Let me tell you, it was a beautiful thing. Some of you might be laughing at me because you live in tropical climates where this is a common phenomenon but for Rachel and I, who reside in a desert, this was a sight to behold: the mythical end of the rainbow. We had a full arc before us, both sides visibly ending. It was a wonder for sure.
In case you are wondering, and I know some of you smart asses are, there was no pot of gold. I wish! A good pot o’ gold would make my life significantly easier. Anyway, as is oh so common in my stories, I digress.
After holding hands under the colors in a special and romantic moment to be remembered for the rest of our lives, the boat arrived. Crewed by two Costa Rican gentlemen, the fishing boat pulled up to shore and we climbed in.
To be perfectly honest I do not remember the names of our fisherman and captain, and again to be honest the details of the coming morning are a little clouded. I will recall as best I can and hopefully Rachel will be able to help where I am lacking. I definitely remember the main events however, so there is no need to worry that the narrative from here on out will suffer much.
We sped off the beach into the morning Pacific. The waters were calm and there was nary a breeze to be felt outside of that generated by the boat’s smooth motion over the waters. We headed north up the coast and east towards a bay created by two jungle green peninsulas jutting into the water.
There was a cooler with an abundance of snacks and drinks that Rachel and I helped ourselves too. I can only imagine that my smile reflected hers as we watched the coastline fly by.
We passed Tortuga Island; you can see from the image that the name is perfectly descriptive in this case.
The waters stretch out to the west. The captain’s eyes dart in all directions looking for signs of good spots, signs that I know nothing about. And the fisherman’s deft hands work with bait and tackle to get us rigged to troll these waters.
For those of you who know nothing of fishing, and trust me when I say that I am one of them, there is a difference between trolling and your usual stationary situation. Trolling is when the lines are in the water trailing the vessel as we move slowly through what our captain and fisherman have determined to be good waters.
We reach the spot and I remember thinking to myself that I have never been this content. Good sun, good water, good beer…ok, adequate beer…and a beautiful woman laughing at all of my hilarious jokes. We were wrapped up in the moment, all of the worries and troubles of the world left behind us.
And in the middle of our quiet contentment a yell comes from the back of the boat that makes us jump to our feet, hearts racing, and eyes alight with excitement. The easy living of a moment ago is replaced by adrenaline as the fisherman yells at us…
“Fish on the line!!!”
A frantic gesture from captain and mate bring us to the stern of the boat where a chair sits just begging one of our butts to be planted in it. As is customary and gentlemanly I allowed my pretty lady first honors.
She got situated and I waited with bated breath, camera held at the ready. The fisherman placed the pole in Rachel’s excited hands.
And then the fight began.
Rachel cranked the reel and the line rolled in. The determination etched on her face mingled with the overwhelming brightness of her smile and that seemingly endless line kept rolling in.
And then we all saw it: a tuna breaking the water, struggling against unknown foes for survival.
In the end the tuna, valiant though its struggle was, proved no match for my Rachel.
Our fisherman grabbed the flopping fish and held it out for Rachel to hold. I readied camera once again and took a picture of the proud victor and her hooked prey. To be honest, as one of Rachel’s hooked prey myself, I felt a small kinship with that tuna.
Our first catch of the morning landed itself in the ice chest. Rachel and I, so full of excitement, cozied up with each other and our drinks back in the bow while our fearless captain and mate continued to troll those calm morning waters.
It was not long before that fateful cry announced another fish on the line. This time it was my turn to take the hot seat, it was my turn to fight foe, and hopefully to revel in victory.
Our fisher placed the pole in my hands and right away I felt the power of this sporting fish. The line was being taken out and it was my job to fight against it. I gripped the reel and started cranking it in.
I sat in that struggle for what seemed an eternity until I saw my victim break the water’s surface. It flailed about in a last-ditch effort to evade my grasp. It failed.
Once again our prize was hoisted before me by our fisherman, taken off the line, and handed to me.
I gripped that fish and held it up for Rachel to take my picture, and she snapped one-off before the fish found its last reserves of energy and flopped out of my hands, spraying blood everywhere. It landed on the deck and we quickly grabbed it and tossed it, still flopping away, into the ice chest with our other vanquished foe.
Laughing hysterically at my weak hands and the blood splattered on my face, genuine joy emanated from the two of us as we climbed to our seats in the bow.
This cycle went on for a few hours: Captain trolling the water, fisher catching a fish, Rachel reeling it in, fish going in the ice chest, Rachel and Matt snuggle up to each other, captain trolling, fisher catching fish, Matt reeling it in, Matt attempting to hold the fish, fish flopping out of Matt’s hands showering him in blood, re-catching the flopping fish, throwing the fish in the ice chest, rinse, repeat. I kid you not, I dropped like 3 fish, eventually the guy just stopped taking them off of the line for me to hold.
This is how I spent one of the most beautiful mornings of my life.
We caught some good ones and let some small ones go as the sun’s unstoppable march toward its zenith continued on.
We hit a lull sometime after the excitement of the first few catches faded. Rachel and I drank and ate and were content in each other, nature and life. We saw a snake and a turtle and eventually the sun rose high enough and we became hot enough that the time came to jump in the water.
The morning stretched on and we climbed back in and made our slow way back to the hotel with a cooler full of tuna, lines still trailing, and smiles plastered on all faces.
And then came that final cry.
“Fish on the line!”
It was my turn for the chair and the second I grabbed that pole I knew that this was not the same kind of fish.
I reeled and fought, and reeled and fought, and reeled and fought before we caught a glimpse of what I had on the line.
The fish fought me over to the port side of the vessel where our expert angler waited with hook.
The blue fin and green underbelly of a mahi mahi broke the water’s surface in all of its splendor and glory. And we fought.
The anglers stretched the hook to capture the fish but this behemoth of the sea evaded us.
I know I was defeated; most likely do to a combination of bad luck and my complete lack of angling knowledge, but there is something to be said about putting up a good fight. I must say that it was an exhilarating experience regardless of the outcome.
Thoroughly happy and exhausted, we brought the lines in and our little boat flew straight and true over the water, passed Monkey Head and Tortuga islands, back to the Riu. We chatted with our captain as the mate flayed the fish at the stern. He told us that it seemed the day was a lite one for them, even though Rachel and I were stoked on our prizes. He said that the radio had been pretty quiet so it was a slow morning all around.
After generous thanks and fond farewells, Rachel and I were dropped off on the beach with a bag full of fish and memories that will last a lifetime.
You might be thinking to yourself that this is the end of this tale but you would be mistaken. Don’t forget that we had a bag of fish and a pretty solid idea of what we were going to do with it.
We marched over to the hotels buffet style restaurant, still closed while lunch was prepared, and spoke to the head chef.
We explained that we had gone fishing and wanted our fish prepared if it was possible.
And because Costa Rica is an amazing country and our hotel, the Riu Guanacaste, is a pretty fantastic place, the chef looked at us and asked, “How and when?”
Because Rachel loves sushi, we asked if it was possible to have sashimi prepared with a little of it and the rest prepared chef’s choice.
With a little signature from the desk saying that if we get sick and die it is not the hotel’s fault because they did not provide the fish; we made a lunch date for one.
That gave us about an hour to clean ourselves up and relax for a bit.
We migrated to our room, took a nice long shower and dressed. Then, because we still had some time to kill, we went to see the lizard tree.
It is pretty much exactly what you are picturing in your head: a tree full of lizards, iguanas to be exact. And they were big ones.. We fed them bananas and marveled at how awesome and scary their claws were as the scrambled vertically up the tree.
After getting our lizard fill we migrated back towards the restaurant, hand in hand and happiness spread across our faces.
The place was crowded, and like most buffet style places it was a awash with precariously perched plates. (Pardon my alliteration).
We ignored the piles of food, except for the soup of course, and found a nice table closest to the water.
Then I saw it.
It was obvious.
It was our head chef and he was navigating seas of buffet goers with a platter.
This platter was one of the most impressive displays of food I have ever seen.
He set it down before us while all of the surrounding patrons watched. He bade us have a good lunch and left us to our meal.
Meal is not an appropriate word. Feast, that is the word I should use.
Let me describe for you the indescribable. The picture will show everything that my words lack: before us sat a platter, where sat a fish carved from papaya laying upon a sea of pineapple, surrounded by our catch. In the corners of this magnificent platter sat fresh sashimi, guaranteed caught that day. Piled around the papaya art was tuna, baked in garlic and battered. And let me tell you, it was amazing.
We feasted, Rachel and I. We ate and ate and when we couldn’t eat anymore there was still an insane amount of food left. We tucked away what little would fit in our mini fridge in our room.
The rest we gave to passers-by.
And that my friends is only one of the many adventures that Rachel and I had in the beautiful country of Costa Rica.