I don’t know if I get myself into more interesting situations than most people, or if I’m more willing to discuss my almost complete lack of life skills than most, but this trip had a few “what the hell were you thinking” moments. I think I should change the name of the blog to “A Study in Ineptitude”. My ineptitudeWill make my friend Lynn happy since I stole the current name from her. Here goes part two of my trip through Texas and Belize.
It all started with cash. I had been advised to bring cash to Belize as they charge 5% on all credit card purchases and getting cash once you are in country can be difficult, particularly the part where I’ll be on an island 38 miles offshore. So I was packing more than a bit of cash and couldn’t decide if I wanted to pack the cash in my backpack or my checked baggage. I made my choice and forgot which choice I’d made immediately after I dropped off my checked baggage at the airport. I rifled through my backpack and no cash. I called my buddy where I had packed and asked him to check the bedroom with no luck. I was pretty sure it was in my luggage, but had that little persistent doubt.
I hit the ground in Belize but did not want to look at the airport because it was either there or it wasn’t, and I figured I’d wait until I checked in at my first hotel after my little commuter flight from Belize City to a town called Dangriga. Instead of looking stupid rifling through my bag at the airport.
Once I hit my hotel, I knew there might be a problem. The caution tape run across the entire tiny parking lot was my first clue. I haul all my gear into the very quiet lobby and the lady asks me, in a very questioning voice “do you have a reservation?” “Yep, made it a month or so ago.” “Oh, can I see it because we are, uh, closed for renovations.” She goes off to speak to the manager and I text my wife that I may be sleeping on the beach. Anyway, it turns out that they did have a single room ready (the hotel was opening back up the next day) if I didn’t mind being the only one there. No problem I say and go into my room and immediately look for my sunglasses case which is full of cash. And can’t find it. Look with a little more zeal, nothing. Look with rising panic and go to toss my rain jacket out of the way. And feel the weight and remember zipping the case up in the pocket of the rain jacket then putting it in the check luggage. Whew. I clean up the room of the scattered clothes, put together a fly rod and reel and go off to explore the town and river.
You get a lot of looks, comments, and advice when walking through a small Belizian town with a fly rod across your shoulder. All of it friendly and much of it funny. While I was walking past the docks with the fellas hanging out and cleaning fish, I have the following conversation: “Brah, neeed a boat?” “Nah, heading out to an island tomorrow.” “Which one?” “Glovers. Staying at Isla Marisol.” “Oh, you staying with my boy Eddie! You need a cab anywhere?” “Nope, I’m good.” “Need any herb?” “No, but thanks for asking.” “Can you get me a beer then?” I look, laugh, and say “sure, how many?” and get 4 beers, 1 for me and 3 for the boys. Cost me $6.50 American total. And I made some friends. Which typically happens when you give people free beer.
I met a kid the next morning fishing the river who gave me some good advice on when to come back (September and October after the floods for the fishing for snook and tarpon at the mouth of the river) and said the fishing is always good where I was heading (he was right). I spent some time chatting with the hotel owners, wanna be cab drivers, dudes by the dock, and random people in the street commenting on “you have the right idea” when they see the fly rod. People were friendly almost beyond belief.
Dangriga, just up the street from my hotel
A view from the Hotel balcony
Walking down the beach in Dangriga. I took a few casts at the end of the pier. Guys with handlines, me with a fly rod. They caught fish, not me.
Bushwhacking to get a few casts on the river
After one night in Dangriga and thankfully not having to sleep on the beach I get picked up for the 40 mile boat ride to the island. Start meeting everyone in the van on the way to the marina. As the gear is being unloaded at the marina one of the staff says “who’s bag is this? Smells like some perfume might have broken.” Jan (a guy) says it is his and I hear him say bit wasn’t perfume, but wrinkle cream. “Wrinkle cream?” I ask suspiciously. “No, Wrinkle spray. I hate my t-shirts to be wrinkled. Don’t judge me.” “Too late.” I say in my zeal to be recognized as the group comedian. Worked. Jan’s wife Chris (yeah, I know, a confusedly named couple) laughed especially hard.
So we load up in 30 or so foot boat, duece 200hp yammys for power, 10 people and all the gear in. The resort owner Eddie on the wheel. Have I mentioned the wind yet? It’s howling. Eddie assures us we won’t get wet. I’m skeptical. But as we cruise out I think he could be right. I do at one point take off my hat. Jan says it was a good idea and that it might have blown off. I said “I considered leaving it on then making Mike go back and get it when it blew off so everyone would hate me right away, saving you all a couple of days in deciding when its ok to hate me.” Someone asks “who’s Mike?” “Uh, isn’t he the guy driving the boat?” “No, that’s Eddie.” “I was close” I say, “they are both guys names.” Unlike Chris and Jan.
Loading up the boat. “Wrinkle Spray” is the guy in the non wrinkled red t-shirt. The lady with her back to us is trying to get away from me because I’m wearing a “wimp dot” (anti nausea medication patch) and I think she’s afraid I’ll puke on her. I didn’t. Lauren and Sarah in front left. Don’t mess with them, military chicks. Melissa (life saver) and Steve on the right. Chris next to Wrinkle Spray. Chris had the best laugh.
I really thought at some point we had to clear all the reefs and hit open ocean to get to the island, but maybe I was wrong? In some of the reviews people had complained about the ride and I was starting to think they were just weenies. We run by this little island and drop off a little chicken for the owner (on the way back I called in “Little Chicken Island”). As we are getting back up to speed I see the main reef and the waves pounding it. We go through a cut it the reef and Eddie/Mike is exposed as a big fat fibber. We did not get wet, we got soaked. Really rough and a total blast! Sarah and Lauren, both from Ontario were yelling like they were on a roller coaster. Not sure everyone enjoyed it, but when we hit the island I said “Again, again!”
Little Chicken Island. Can someone buy it for me?
Our first view of the resort. At this point some of the folks just want to kiss the ground!
We are all given our rooms and meet a few minutes later at our home away from home….
The Bar. $3.00 beer and bonefish on the flat right in front. Or as I like to call it “Heaven.”
My island peeps: Whitney smiling right at us. Harris in the cap nearest. Can’t remember the guy in the red hat, Chris next to him. Across l to r is Sarah, Chris, Jan, Lauren, Melissa, and Steve. My fishing buddy Cindy is missing. (hope all you guys read this, you truly made this more special than I could have imagined!)
The non fisher people might want to skim this part. Since I am linking this to a fly fishing website, I do actually need to talk about the fishing for a bit. And I’m even more wordy when I talk fishing than normal. If I could program in a skip ahead feature I would. You might need to page down a bit! Whale shark stuff is down there somewhere.
I didn’t fish the first evening, but I did get out first thing the next morning. I was supposed to be guided by a fishing guide from Wyoming, but with the early start to the season up here, he got called home. The owner Eddie was going to take me, but they were having water issues (owning an island resort 40 miles offshore in saltwater means you are often repairing things). One of the other guests, a lady named Chris, did some trout fishing in Oklahoma and had wanted to try for bones, so I lent her one of my rods and she fished with me some. On day 1 I got 100% schooled by both bonefish and permit. I did see some (and as the days went on got way better at spotting them) of each including a pretty nice school of permit, but I mostly spooked fish either walking or casting to them, and the few times I didn’t spook them I couldn’t get a hookup. Found out later my strips were way too long and fast for the flats fish. I did hook a bonefish right before lunch and he broke me off so fast I couldn’t believe it. I stopped seeing as many in the afternoon, so took out a kayak to a reef right in front of the resort with some of the other guests. While snorkeling I saw tons of reef fish, some BIG tarpon (sometimes they come into the lagoon at night to feed. We looked for them every night with no luck) and stupid huge barracuda. Took a few casts for the cuda and caught a little grouper. I also had caught several snapper in the mangroves which was good fun.
Day 2 dawned and Eddie was supposed to meet me. But the generator had gone down that night and he over slept. In all honesty I was a bit choked at this, feeling a bit sorry for myself that I was into my second day and no one had held my hand and showed me how to fish. That was, until I finally started to figure it out. I found that if you can position yourself so the fish are coming directly at you, sun and wind at your back, it is a matter of putting the fly 10 to 20 feet in front of them, waiting until they get in the area of the fly, give it a quick strip and hang the hell on. They are like hooking scared rocket ships. This is the second fish I hooked (after catching 0 on day 1 I got 3 on about 5 casts, all before breakfast)
My second fish, right in front of Cindy’s cabana.
I get one more on my way to the kitchen on the beach (I thing I got 4 in total that morning) all anger with Eddie forgotten. Meet Eddie at breakfast who apologized and makes a plan for the next three days. I remind him I only booked him for 1 day and he says no problem, he loves to fish! After breakfast we go to the flats in the lagoon. I hook one big bonefish in the rock flats. They are much more complicated in the rocks. Add the issue of spooking them to the small strips and lots of hanging up in the rocks when you finally get a good cast and it gets a bit frustrating. Particularly when you start seeing groups of 100 fish (and getting a casing angle on 1 pod that doesn’t spook another is very complicated). I never did get the hang of it, but I will….
After missing the big fish, we jumped in the boat and went to a lagoon to fish for deeper schools. Didn’t take long……
Eddie and his son on our way to the flat behind the lagoon. Note the flip flops. I think he’s crazy, but it turned out the guide had mistakenly took Eddies wading boots. The flip flops were a BAD idea. Fortunately, i had an extra pair of boots as I could wear my vibram glove shoes. Don’t judge me.
Running toward the lagoon in the island ahead.
My first bigger bonefish. I got several that size and hooked at least one bigger. They were easier in the lagoons as they didn’t spook with the cast in the deeper water. It was just a matter of what they would eat. The runs are nothing short of breathtaking. They get to your backing before you can blink. We get a few of these then headed back toward the flat behind our island.
I miss chances at several more bonefish, and then Eddie spots a permit. He keeps wanting to call me Chris and I tease him by calling him Mike. He says :”Chris, Chris, shit, Rick, big Permit at 1 o’clock.” I say “Mike, Mike, shit, Eddie, I see him.” We never got a decent cast on that one (and he was very big, tail was huge. 20 lb class fish) but we would later in pretty much the same place…. End of day 8 bonefish and a few reef fish.
Day three I get up really early and pop a few more bones on the flats in front of the island, including one right in front of the kitchen with everyone watching. After breakfast, we take the boat to another lagoon but never find the school. We go back to the island with the lagoon from the day before to look for bones on the flat just east of there and hopefully another shot at some permit that can hang out there. Again, we have a hard time seeing some bones when I spot two permit. With a bit of excitement I say “Eddie, two permit in front of us about 30 yards and quickly spool up the 6 wt and grab the 9. Eddie says, “calm down. There is a school of bones just off to the left.” I’m confused by this. Why do I care about the bonefish when I see a couple of permit, when Eddie says “Shit, two permit right in front of us.” To which I reply “calm down, I see them. What, you didn’t think white guys could spot a permit?” Again, we never get lined up for a shot before we lose sight. Again, we head back to the flat behind our island. Cast at a shit ton of bonefish, some huge schools but never get any. I gotta get better at this! When again, I spot a couple of permit. And we are in perfect position. I pick up the rod, cast, and am a little short and a little left: “I don’t want to pick up, I’m afraid I’ll spook them.” “It’s good, they are heading right for you. Leave it….. strip….. strip… strip, strip, strip, stop….strip, strip, stop. reload, reload! Did you see that?” “Yeah, the lead fish turned on the fly.” “Dude, I thought you had him.” Next cast is pretty much a repeat. Fish turn and don’t take, same on the third cast. Super exciting, but they are on the move and I think I might have one more shot. I pick up, do a haul on the backcast, go to start the forward cast, and the spool of the reel falls off the reel and into the water. I’m sure he tried, but Eddie couldn’t mask the look of what only can be called absolute disgust and says “are you fucking kidding me?” I say a few very choice words about my reel (I love it, but it does do this from time to time, it was sent in for repair as soon as I returned), then said “could you imagine if I had hooked one and this had happened, maybe I could have fought him with my hands?” “You would have had no chance.” That was my best shot at a permit. When we discussed afterwards we discovered that I was almost for sure stripping too fast (you are trying to imitate a crab skittering across the bottom). I did ask Eddie how many hes caught and he said “on a fly rod? About 6 in 15 years.” I think he was being kind, but I appreciated it.
Ok, some non fishing parts. After day 3 fishing I decided to go on the whale shark snorkel/dive. I do have a history of getting seasick, but only when the boat is stationary and since I would be snorkeling when the boat was not moving, I figured I’d be fine.
Getting ready for the whale shark trip.
We spotted a huge bunch of birds with black fin tuna underneath them. Wish I had brought my rod!
Tying up to the enforcement boat. Everyone out there gets their certs checked and pays a fee to dive/snorkel where the whale sharks are.
Lots of local boats from the mainland out there handlining and getting huge snapper. I would have taken pictures of that, but…..
As soon as we started snorkeling in the open ocean I knew I was in trouble. You are staring straight down into the deep blue in very big waves. No frame of reference. For me, put those two things together and the outcome is 100% inevitable. I never actually got sick, but I probably should have. I get so nauseous and weak I can’t do much of anything but suffer. After a few minutes I got back on the boat. And remember the part where I don’t like stationary boats in big waves? So things don’t get better. I did warn a guy when he was waiting to get in the boat after the dive, right below where I was leaning over the side, that he was in a REALLY bad place. He moved. I was pretty happy that I did not get sympathetic sick when Lauren lost it (in my defence almost all the snorkelers had problems, except Jan. Probably something in the wrinkle spray). The second dive (yes, there were two) I stayed standing up and watching the horizon and telling stories with the people who stayed on the boat. Didn’t feel great, but I persevered. I did wonder if there was anything I would have gotten in the water for and couldn’t come up with anything. Someone asked “not even for a whale shark?” I said “let me put it this way. If my wife called and said that I had free reign to do whatever I wanted on this trip with no consequences and lets say Claudia Schiffer came up and offered herself I would have to respectfully decline. Thanks Claudia, how about tomorrow? (Claudia Schiffer was the only person I could come up with in my limited capacity). In truth I would decline Claudia no matter what, because I would have known it was a trap designed by my wife to test me. I just used a sex story cause most people can relate. A better story for me would be “you can make one cast and hook a tarpon.” I would have said no. Seriously, this shit knocks me on my ass. And I’m frankly pretty pissed off that now I can’t even snorkel in open ocean. Snorkel. Yes, I said i can’t effing SNORKEL. Stupid inner ear. Jackie thinks it may be worse because of my vertigo. Maybe, more likely it’s because I’m old and worn out. Brutal.
No one ever saw a whale shark. Jan did have dolphin come right up next to him and he got some awesome pictures and videos. I’ll send him a link to this and maybe he can comment and put a link to what he has. Now that I think of it, that wrinkle spray stuff might me a dolphin attractant as well as a anti nausea agent? The ride back home was basically a salt water bath. Usually when I’m sick I get better as soon as the boat is moving, but even 1 hour on shore later I still felt like shit. I hated it because it was my last night and I wanted to drink beer with everyone. Fortunately Melissa (my heroine) has seasick issues as well and gave me some yucky pills that dissolve under your tongue. Tasted like crap. Bad feeling went away almost immediately. I did not get a chance to talk to her before I left but Melissa I owe you a kiss, or not a kiss. Whichever you would prefer for saving my life! And letting me drink beer.
That evening there were a bunch of fish under the dock, including one big fish that looked like a Jack but wouldn’t come out far enough for me to see. Sarah shows me that you can lie down on the lower deck and look. I do, look down and say “holy shit.” Jump up and start running toward my cabana. “What is it?” I hear. “Fucking tarpon.” I get my rod and with a bunch of people watching try to figure out how to get the fly under the dock (ended up throwing it) and what I would do if I actually hooked it. I never did (big surprise). But it was a perfect way to end the trip. Almost.
The boat is leaving a 7:30 am on day 4. Breakfast is at 7. The night before, after trying for the tarpon and having some beer I got everything completely packed up except my 6 weight. At 5 am, just light enough to see, I’m kayaking away for one more shot on the rock flats. Results pretty much the same as always. See fish, spook fish. See fish, cast to fish, don’t spook fish, fly gets hung up in rocks. See fish, cast to fish, don’t spook fish, don’t hang up, fish doesn’t take. Fish are stupid. I look at my watch and I have 45 minutes. Paddle back to the island and go to the flats in front. With about 15 minutes to go I see a group coming toward me, but the angle is bad. So I get to the beach, run in the direction of travel to get in front of them, wade out, spot them again, get a nice cast, wait, wait, strip, BOOM. Lead fish (always the biggest) takes and goes on the perfect panic run. Takes my fly line and I would guess double my fly line in backing. Best fight of the trip, biggest fish of the trip. Land him, smile, take my gear to the cabin, finish packing, have breakfast and leave. The perfect ending to the perfect island stay.
Here are some random shots:
The island next door
Goofing around at night
The evil lagoon
All the trash washed up from Guatemala and Honduras and probably Mexico.
My first bonefish. Was the smallest of the trip, but still fun!
Looking down the beach while wading
The kayaks and sailboat
Well, I guess the Hopkins part will have to be a third post. I really want to thank the people who made this so wonderful. I already thanked the friends I made, but I’ll do it again. Sarah, Lauren, Jan, Chris, Steve and Melissa-thanks for being there. It would have been a blast no matter what but you guys made it so much better. Thanks for putting up with me.
To the crew of Isla Marisol: Ernesto and Mr. Moura the dive masters. Since I didn’t do any diving or much snorkeling I didn’t get to hang with you guys too much, but when I did you were a blast to shoot the shit with. Ernesto, thanks for all the fishing tips. Miss Jen and her crew did a unreal job keeping us fed and happy. Whitney behind the bar was a joy. Martha who answered all my dumb questions. Zoe for keeping the whole damn thing running. And Mike, I mean Eddie, for hauling my incompetent ass around for a couple of days. We need to talk. I’d like to set up a yearly trip with a bunch of guys…….
For anyone reading this and thinking “this is the place for me”, if you like adventure you are almost for sure correct. The people are beyond fantastic. Just be warned that things will not go perfect. Stuff might break, schedules change. If you can roll with it (and if you can’t roll with it on a tropical island I worry for you), then I cannot recommend a better place. If you are interested in putting together a trip next summer, I might be your guy.
Edit: Some pictures sent by Jan: Messing with the sharks at night and the dolphin swim by