Traveling abroad in the off-season for saltwater fishing is an edge that cuts both ways. Most lodges offer discounts making one of these trips actually doable with the proper scrimping and saving. On the other hand, nothing in life is free. In this case that 20 percent discount might cost you a higher likelihood of crap weather, or a skeleton staff who’s not as excited to see you as you are them. None of this really bothers me. Weather is part of the game we play no matter what time of year it’s played. I also don’t need nor enjoy anyone doting on me. Decent food on a plate, hot water in the shower, and sheets on the bed is all I require. A simple man with way above average intelligence, that’s me. So with a few extra bucks in my pocket and mediocre expectations of permit in my heart, I was off to the Yucatan.
Walking into the enormous palapa at the lodge was a study in awkward silence. There was a bar, a kitchen, a dinner table with thirty chairs, and not a soul to be seen. Have you ever been to a place so quiet that when you talk out loud your own voice seems jarring? The manager’s footsteps coming up the stairs finally broke the silence. He seemed almost startled to see us, further driving home the prior awkwardness. He was brown-skinned and Mr. Clean-bald. He immediately took an interest in my traveling companion, Steve. Almost as if they had met previously. He showed us to our room, let us know we were the only guests at the lodge, and informed us when dinner would be. Our encounter was as short as it was strained. I could have been mistaken, but during our brief conversation I picked up on a sense of what can only be described as pity tinged by guilt.
My sleep that night was fitful. It could have been the newness of laying my head on an unfamiliar pillow or the impending deadlines to get words to paper. At those early moments I couldn’t help thinking that I might benefit from this ghost town of a lodge, robbing me of the social distractions I crave when a deadline is on the horizon.
The next morning, my previous night’s misgivings behind me, Steve and I wandered through the mangrove tunnels to meet our guide at the lodge’s dock. Upon arrival, I was surprised to find not one, but two guides standing next to each other welcoming us. They were dressed identically and were both saying something in Spanish in unison.
It was hard to make out at first, but as we drew closer I could make it out, “Hola, Steve. Ven a jugar con nosotros. Ven a jugar con nosotro Steve. Por Siempre y siempre y siempre.”
Weird. How did they know Steve? Why were they talking at the same time? What does “ven a jugar” mean? These questions were not answered until later, or even at all. The whole thing started to seem like a joke that everyone was in on but me. Steve swore he didn’t know what was going on, but unlike his mouth, his face never lied. Something was awry but fish would have to be caught if any writing was to be done. Steve was first on the bow and pulled a small permit within the first few feet of the first flat. As I made way to the sharp end of the boat, the clouds converged and the winds began to rip. Along with the clouds and the wind, my anger began to rise to a level equal to the swells now crashing over the bow.
The clouds did not part nor did the wind die that day. I managed to eek out a couple of nice bonefish, but no permit to hand. Back at the lodge our solitary existence continued. Silence followed us all over the property. The only face I saw was Steve’s. He didn’t gloat about his permit externally, but internally he was taking great joy from rubbing my face in it. After dinner, I adjourned to the lounge to write about my feelings. I poured my soul onto the page. With a sense of accomplishment, I grabbed my margarita from the side table. When I turned my eyes back to the page the only thing that was written was, “All bonefish and no permit makes Dave an angry boy.” Page after page after page of that same line. I knew I didn’t write it but there it was, like the ravings of a lunatic.
While my rational mind spun, my gut screamed it was Steve, or maybe that weird manager. Feeling the slightest bit discombobulated by this latest Stevian betrayal, I decided the only thing left to do was to confront him in a calm, reasonable manner.
I grabbed the machete by the shed and made my way to our room. I planned to ask Steve to join me for a beachside fire. The machete
was to cut firewood. Obviously. But once Steve saw me he really started freaking out. I could see him through the window running around the room frantically with a wet pant leg, screaming something or other about not wanting to die. I tried to open the door but that rascal Steve had chained it shut. I was barely able to squeeze my head through the door and say, “It’s me, Dave.” I told him if he didn’t calm down I’d have to hack the chain lock off with my machete.
Well this did nothing to ease his mania, so that’s exactly what I did. I hacked that chain with a single mighty hack. I burst through the door trying to tackle Steve so I could hug him tightly like an autistic child in the throes of a tantrum. Sadly, Steve is not only wiry but slippery, like a watermelon covered in Crisco. He was able to squeeze past me and make his way into the mangrove jungle behind the lodge. I gave chase using the machete to hack my path all the while screaming, “Here comes Dave,” thinking the childlike language might soothe him. It did not. The last time I saw him, he was getting into the manager’s car, painting the jungle red with taillights bound for Tulum.
The next day I took the shuttle van back to Cancun with no permit, no Steve, and a burning desire to fish the prime season next time.