This was no charter. It was the real deal. We were going out with two local pescadores who were not licensed for excursions.
Luis cautioned me as we drove from his house to the beach at Puerto Cayo: If anyone official-looking asks, we’re all amigos and definitely not paying customers. “Got it,” said the only white guy in his truck. “I’m sure I’ll fit right in.” (Turns out there was one other gringo on our trip. I’ll get to him in a moment.)
Before we four (me, Luis, our skipper, and his mate) pushed the lancha off the sand and into the surf – no small feat for this pansy-ass expat: it involved very heavy wooden rollers and a slight but regrettable occurrence in my shorts – our guides gave their craft a thorough going over with what looked like a jettisoned diaper. I thought it odd at first. Then I realized that this small blue vessel likely represents a sizeable investment for these two men. They were treating it with appropriate care. In fact, they dutifully polished it once we were all aboard, and again whenever we pulled in a fish. It was Spartan, but spotless.
The other gringo – I think his name is Edward – and his nattily attired Ecuadorian wife arrived as the surf was about to carry us away from the beach. The woman, whose name escapes me, jumped in first and I handed her my smartphone, which I had unwisely thought to bring.
Luis had not mentioned what type of fishing we would be doing, when he invited me the week before. I thought it would be off the rocks. I had no idea I would wind up waist deep in seawater. So naturally I brought a gadget. Edward, however, had thoughtfully packed a wad of plastic baggies. He handed me one for my phone. Good thing too. In minutes, we were drenched.
The lancha skipped across the waves as we picked up speed. Our mate stood firmly on bow, his arms crossed, unmoved and unmoving while the rest of us cowered behind the thwarts every time we impacted on a swell. He was quite a sight, this young man. Clearly, he had grown into his sea legs. I wanted to snap a photo, but my phone was safely tucked away – and I was certain my guts would come spewing out of my nose if I tried.
Edward from Idaho
Edward leaned into me and asked how long I’d been in Ecuador. I told him nine months full time. He said he’d been here six and some-odd years. Arrived from Idaho with a backpack and two thousand dollars in his jeans. Found a room for seventy bucks a month, worked construction to learn Spanish, and quickly built up his finances. He’d pursued numerous short-term relationships with Ecuadorian women but left them when they were no longer helpful. (His words, not mine.) He was after fluency, he said, and permanency.
One of his workmates suggested he marry. Professionally.
It seems a couple thousand bucks will buy a wife for a few months, long enough to settle your legal status in Ecuador, and then a divorce. The only catch, his buddy told him, was the divorce. It could get expensive. Especially now that Edward had saved enough to acquire two reputable hostals in Guayaquil.
I forget most of the other details. I was, after all, clinging to the gunwale for dear life.
The woman he did marry, the one on the boat with us, was by that point a roommate and four-time divorcee. She already had money and wasn’t interested in Edward’s. So, she offered to oblige.
As it happens, they like each other. A lot. And they stayed married. Or, as Edward put it to me, they haven’t bothered yet to divorce. She manages his properties in Guayaquil. He’s in Puerto Cayo to develop a shrimp farm just south of Mirador San Jose. They get together on weekends to hang out and fish.
I know what you’re thinking. This is something a stranger told me while we were bouncing across the ocean.
I was busy parsing this information when we came across the whales.
Last of the Humpbacks
It’s unusual to spot humpbacks this time of year. They arrive from Antarctica in late June, breed through the summer, and return home before the first week of October. A sighting, therefore, is something of an occasion. We had four sightings.
The first was about a half hour from shore. We saw plumes and breaching to our one o’clock: a cow and her calf, learning to whale. Without so much as a by-your-leave, our captain beelined to their location. At first, I thought he wanted to impress his clients with a show. But he and his mate were also chattering excitedly with smartphones waving.
I found that to be curiously heartening. Here were men who worked among these creatures, every day of their summer season. And yet, they were clearly delighted to be in the presence of such majestic giants.
As was I. More than you can imagine. There’s a monumental difference in perspective when you imperially view these impressive beasts from the deck of a charter yacht. It’s quite another story when you’re up close in a small wooden fishing craft.
We each frantically unwrapped our phones and thumbed Record. Here’s what I captured:
We had three more sightings, though we never investigated them. They were too far off and we were fishing very seriously by that time.
I snagged a nicely sized skipjack with my first cast of the day. Edward pulled a monster sea bass out of the water about an hour later. That was all the luck we had.
Exhaustion Sets In
It’s profoundly tiring to fish, standing, in a small boat that pitches wildly about on the swells. There’s no place to sit, except uncomfortably on the thwarts. And every so often, you rest your eyes on the horizon to calm your rising gorge. I had three extremely dizzy moments, and I’m not one for motion sickness. Edward at one point turned yellow and then green. Luis asked if he was okay. Edward said he’d be fine, but he’d puke when he got home. After four hours at sea, I was done.
We trolled the coast back to Cayo and then set to home. It was heavily populated with young beachgoers enjoying the unusually sunny weather. Our mate stood across the bow and whistled loudly to them. He made a theatrical get-the-fuck-out-of-the-way motion with his arms. Moses at the Red Sea. The crowds magically parted.
Our skipper did something strange to his vessel. I didn’t see what it was. We were suddenly facing back out to sea, engine aloft, as the rising surf dumped us unceremoniously onto the sand. Edward paid up, and he and his wife hastily departed while the rest of us tended to the boat. Nice.
As unwieldy as these craft are to push to water, they’re doubly so to return ashore. This time we had to enlist the aid of bystanders, who were only too happy to please. In Puerto Cayo, you’re either a pescadore or related to one. If someone asks, you help.
I suppose I got extra credit for pitching in. There were plenty of handshakes and mucho gustos to go ‘round. By that point, it hardly mattered to me. I was filthy, beyond exhausted, and I smelled very much like my skipjack.
Which, by the way, was delicious. Somehow, that evening, I made a meal of it on the grill with a nice Caprece salad and a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.
Or so Chantal tells me. I barely remember.