Monday, July 20, 2009

The Perfect Day at the Circus

I was in the middle of trying to string a few clever sentences together for a new blogisode, when an unplanned family day on the water interrupted my progress. Because of that blog worthy day, I am changing gears for this…

As mentioned in the lower right tab, I measure my quality of life by the time spent with my favorite “F’s”. This day will be dedicated to Family, with a side helping of Fishing.

There is another “F” that is every man’s absolute favorite thing to do, but the esposa said I was not allowed to list that one. Esposa is the Spanish word for wife. To get the spelling right, I tried out one of those English to Spanish Translation sites and found something very interesting. Esposa also means “to be chained up or handcuffed”. Back in time when the Spanish system of communication was evolving out of the Latin language, someone had a great since of humor. The dual meaning of the word does hold true. A Latin wife would love nothing more than to chain up their man. Perhaps the phrase “the ole ball and chain” was derived from this.

A couple of weeks back, I noticed we were going to have one of those post card mid-summer Florida weekends. NOAA’s forecast - Bay and inland waters smooth and 20% chance for rain in the afternoon.

I gathered the troops and asked them if they wanted to go out on the boat to a deserted island. The kids were jumping from couch to couch in excitement. The wife gave me her hawkish look. When I make plans, I am supposed to check with the Boss Lady first to make sure the family schedule permits such an activity or other plans were not already in place.

Pillow to pillow, we came to an agreement on clearing our list of to-do’s and planned a simplified trip for the kids. We were to be on the water by 9:00am and off after a shore lunch. I woke up early and prepped the boat. I had to convert it from a hooky, pliery and knifey fishing machine to a 3-5 year old friendly family craft.

The trip across the bay to the ramp was uneventful. We fielded questions from the planned speed of the boat and the likelihood of seeing the “Man in the Grey Suit” (a shark), to how many snakes and komodo dragons were on the island. Our destination was to put in at the Fort Desoto Park ramp and cruise out to Shell Island Preserve. I had warned the wife that although this ramp is the nicest in the Tampa Bay area, it would be crowded with impatient people and the typical ramp circus clowns.

As we crossed the bridge to Fort Desoto, I noticed the parking lot was filling up quickly, yet there were no boats unloading. This would be a good fishing Omen. I am very superstitious when it comes to fishing & boating.

When good things happen at the beginning of a fishing trip, like bait is plentiful, the boat cranks on the first try, the weather and tide are perfect and no one is in your favorite fishing spot, we are going to have a great day on the water. The same is for bad fishing Omens. If you have a trailer malfunction or forget your fishing license, the day tends to get progressively worse and the fish will definitely not bite.

Here is an example of a bad fishing Omen:

I bought an old bass boat in 1991 and completely rebuilt it to turn it into a saltwater flats boat. On the maiden voyage to the same ramp previously mentioned, an old girlfriend and I decided to take the scenic route over the Skyway Bridge.

We had just hit the incline to head up and over the main shipping channel when a loud boom shook the truck. As we slowed and pulled over to the emergency lane, my trailer tire came bouncing by the truck and over the side of the bridge. This was a Sunday morning and I did not know where to start. The red hot rotor and hub which the tire was supposed to be attached to was damaged when my tire committed suicide.

We left the boat and trailer on the bridge and spent four hours in St. Pete trying to find the part. Luckily, we found an emergency phone number on a gate outside a Clearwater trailer manufacturer and the owner drove up to meet us. We purchased the part and drove all the way back across the Skyway to Palmetto. Then turned around to again cross the bay back to the boat and trailer.

By this time, my temper was very short and my soon to be ex-girlfriend did not have much to say for fear of me taking the same dive as the tire. We fixed the hub, installed my spare tire and headed to the ramp. At the ramp she asked me, “Are you sure you want to go out or should we save this for another day?” As the hackles were rising on the back of my neck, I snapped back with “After making it this far, there was nothing keeping me from putting this boat in the water.” She started to say something else and I kinda stopped her in mid-sentence with my best shut-the-hell-up stare.

I wish I would have let her complete that last thought.

We took off and the boat ran perfectly for about one mile. Then the same boom sound ringed out from the engine. I blew up the freakin motor.

All my sweet girlfriend wanted to say was, “Ron, you wanted me to remind you to add oil to the gas.” Straight gas in a 2-cycle engine is a death sentence.

Once again we were stranded.

This bad fishing Omen cost me a couple of thousand dollars and a pretty good girlfriend.

I sold this boat some years later and turned the meager earnings into a down payment for Boss Lady's engagement ring.

The family day was shaping up. We were the only boat backing into the water and within minutes we were on our first family boating trip. I surmised the ramp was empty becasue the fishermen were up early and on the water at first light and the wild and crazy boaters (see circus clowns above) were still sleeping off their hangovers from the previous night.

Actually it was our second trip. Last summer, we had the kids on the boat for a short 10 minute ride and both Fisher & Ella did not get the whole “sea legs” thing and were not up for the unstable motion. They also had issue with sitting on the “roof of Mr. Shark”. We cut the trip short for fear of my kids associating the boat and the water with bad memories.

One of my greatest fears is that my munchkins will not grow to like the woods & water. When I am kneeling in prayer at church I will be thanking God for this and that, asking him to watch over those who are sick and the like, but I always finish with, “Dear Lord, please let my Fisher and Ella grow up to love the outdoors especially the water and fishing – Amen”.

I have buddies who were some of the best athletes to walk the halls of Brandon High School. They earned scholarships to Division One schools. Today, their kids either can’t stand sports or the apple simply fell far from the tree. When asking them how little Johnny is coming with baseball, shame and disgrace covers their face as they try to paint a picture of how much he works with him and how hard he pushes him, but the little J-man just does not get it. Then they generally blame video games, skateboards, computers and TV’s for there kid’s inabilities. Oh yeah, and they also blame soccer. Down here in the South, soccer is considered a girl’s sport or a communist sport. This is the land of football and baseball. My buddies seem almost embarrassed when telling me “but he is very good at soccer.”

I know, I know. We, as good parents, are supposed to introduce our children to many different activities and let them find their own way. Whatever…it’s still going to be painful if they do not follow and excel in some of the family’s ways.

I have made a solemn oath to my wife to sloooooowly introduce them to the outdoors. I will plan each trip around interesting things and before they are over it, get off the water or out of the woods.

On my way to our little paradise, I told the wife we will have to find a spot well away from the big-worthless-go-fast boats, beer guzzling and topless women that inhabit these coastal islands. I have seen many a bare breast frolicking around Shell Island when coming in from grouper fishing or a dive trip in my younger years. I’m not saying these folks are wrong or bad. When they have consumed too much alcohol, they tend to lack common consideration for others. Just a different group. It’s kind of like the rough and tumble biker bar on the water. Before you get irritated with me, let me say, I have never met a biker I didn’t like. I guess if I must be honest, then I would have say ditto on the bare boobs, too.

As we come about the point on the gulf side beach, we find the vast playa empty and to ourselves. My first thought was we were not allowed on the island anymore and maybe the tree and turtle huggers passed some stupid law to keep people off the island. This has happened on several islands throughout Tampa Bay. Islands that I camped on and fished as a kid, are now sea bird sanctuaries.

Without question, it is the above group that has the go-fast boats which ruined it for all.

We see a big sign down the beach and make our way to it. WELCOME TO SHELL POINT PRESERVE – NO ALCHOHAL, NO NUDITY, NO PETS, NO FIRES & NO DISTURBING OF WILDLIFE. So, I told my first mate to keep her clothes on and set the anchor.

The only down to the day was the water was not pretty emerald green due to the previous day thunderstorms, but it was clear enough to find incredible shells. We found so many shells, I went back to the sign to read the fine print and make sure the shell huggers had not lobbied against the shell collectors. They had not.

Fisher with perfect Olive shell and Giant Cockle

We chased ghost crabs, dug sand fleas pointed out several XL snook and sting rays to the kids. Fisher learned to jump off the boat and they finally learned not to swallow salt water.
Egmont Key in the background. Dad wearing his new Breathe Like A Fish shirt
Click on pictures

Fisher wanted to go on a “safari” to find snakes, while Ella played in the sand. I tried, but none were to be found. We did see several roped off areas designated as sea turtle nest. Fisher was fascinated by these. He understood there were babies in eggs waiting to hatch under the smallish mounds of sand and that we could not disturb them. He told me that when they hatch they will follow the light of the moon to the water. He is a 5 year old animal encyclopedia.
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The whole beach to herself.
Stringray shuffle
Is Ella still playing in the sand?
Railroad vine or Bayhops
"Dad, I'll go this way & you go that way"
Beachberry or Gullfeed (endangered plant speices) Pretty cool to find this.
Laying on a felled coconut tree modeling Dad's Costa Del Mars
Just another million dollar view
Small sea grape plant

It was about 11:30 when we finally received beach company. It was a couple of women who sculled up in their kayaks. Kayakers and sailors are good eco-friendly folks. They are the polar opposite of the go-fast crowd. Considerate, quite, animal loving would be good descriptive words for this group. The yakkers who fish are purist. No live bait in their boats. They work hard for their fish and are very good at their craft. I too, enjoy an occasional yak trip for snook and reds.

I have a special place in my heart for the sailors and always yield to their right-of-way. When the wind leaves their sails, I will gladly offer assistance in the way of a tow. I had a Hobie Cat 16 in high school and college. I really miss flying the hull, and the freedom the boat imposed on my soul. I will definitely teach this side of “Salt Life” to my little schoolies.

One group of boaters I have left out and I use the word “boaters” loosely, is the jet skiers. In my opinion, they are the bottom feeders of boating etiquette.

I have seen them veer off their path to zoom within casting distance of my boat while I had two hours vested in stalking a school of redfish. I have tried my best to stick my Zara Spook in their ear as they pass and have got into some heated arguments with a few of these folks. Yes, I know, I don’t own the water, but minimal common courtesy around me will keep the inconsiderate transgressor out of a hospital emergency room. I understand cutting treble hooks out of ones neck is painful. They usually stop the arguing and leave the area as I relentlessly pound them with my hook laden plug.

We put up the bimini top for shade and enjoyed our simple shore lunch. We had worn the guppies out. I asked them if they would like to catch a fish and they were both angling with “me first” chants and raising their hands.

Just what daddy wanted to hear.

We cleaned up making sure nothing was left behind and cruised back to the inside of the outer islands. While navigating the main channel leading inland, a fisherman and his young kids were hooked up on something very large. We safely idled and drifted near them watching the man take turns fighting the unknown fish with his boy and girl. Some kayakers pulled up at a reasonable distance to watch the long fight. About this time a big go-fast boat came by about 20 mph and cut the line of the fisherman, and swamped the kayakers. My wife asked as we grabbed the kids to brace for this large wake, “Is he stupid or just an inconsiderate A-hole?” I replied, “Both.”

We moved inside and out of the rat race to find ourselves alone on a deeper grass flat. A few cast later and both the kids got to real in a few misc fish. As we released the fish, three porpoises came swimming under the boat. Denise said she thought they were after our fish. I caught another one and quickly released it and again they came ripping by and chased our fish down. The kids were very excited first to catch a fish and second to see wild porpoises so close to the boat.
Fisher's small trout
Ella with lizard fish

We stopped fishing to take a few pictures of Flipper.
As we stepped off the boat at the ramp, there were a couple of high schoolers handing out some propaganda. It was a brochure on why you should not feed the porpoises. Apparently, this family group of dolphin has learned it’s easy to steal fishermen’s by-catch. The pamplet said to leave the area immediately if Flipper starts hanging around the boat. I’m good with that.

I pulled the trailer around to load up the boat just as the Greatest Show on Earth had started.

A handsome tan man wearing a bunch of gold bling and driving a black Mercedes sports utility vehicle had just backed in his shiny new speed boat. When pulling out he decided he was going the wrong way, which he wasn't, so he tried to turn around his rig. I was first in line from one direction to be blocked by his side show and eventually trucks and trailers were backed up in both directions as this guy did a five minute ten point turn while jackknifing his trailer several times. From my front row seat I saw him dent both sides of his bumper and I’m sure damaged his tongue on his new trailer. On his ninth try he paused and motioned for me to pass on through. I took off passing him down to the next dock where my wife and kids waited at the boat. As I started to back in, a horn blows. The ass clown in the black Mercedes did not recognize the angling of my truck and trailer to mean “I’m backing up to get my boat.”

He just laid on his horn, so I put it in park and raised my arms as if to say I got all day and I ain’t moving. After about a sixty second stand off, he put it in reverse. He only needed to travel about 6’ straight back for me to pass, but instead he jackknifed his trailer…again.

My wife was just shaking her head the whole time and laughing. After loading and cleaning the boat, we past by his now parked black beauty to find two notes stuck under his windshield wiper. We just had to know what they said. The first said “Nice 10 point turn, you idiot” and the other was business card from a local boat trailer repair shop.

This was a Perfect Day for both the offspring and the parents.

The kids have been asking all week when can we go out again. Sunday at the Florida Aquarium, Ella asked if we could bring our rod & reels to catch these fish. I promised both of them that someday we will catch all the fish in the Aquarium, even "The Man in the Grey Suit."

I will keep nudging them forward, with entertaining baby steps in the hope that the "Salt Life" will forever be an important part of their existence.

I will also teach them the significance of boating safety & etiquette, plant & wildlife conservation and especially the intricacies of backing a boat trailer into the water.

A few other pictures from our Perfect Day:
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Touch Down, Gators!
Ghost crab hole
Ella pulling on Daddy's shirt & Fisher pulling down my shorts
I can't get enough of these

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Honeymooners

I married Denise Vega on November 7, 1998. This is the story of our misadventures over the days following our “I do’s”

After our nuptials and a rather long reception, which the in-laws are probably still paying for, we limped home for some late night final packing. The alarms were set to wake up to catch a red eye from Tampa to San Jose, Costa Rica. We were so tired we did not get a chance to consummate the marriage. Although on any given night I would trade sleep for sex, it was not happening that night.

Upon arriving in arguably the most beautiful country in the world, we checked into the historical Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

I quickly learned that my new bride’s idea of a vacation was not to miss anything that was happening within a five mile radius of our hotel. Soon as the tip hit the bellhop’s hand, she was on her way down stairs to meet the concierge. She drilled him in her native Cuban tongue for info on what we must see while in San Jose. She came back up to the room armed with a dozen “turista” brochures.

I was ready for a little R&R. Relax & Romance. She reminded me we had the rest of the week and the rest of our lives for that stuff, as she grabbed my hand and led me on a walking race throughout the streets of the city.

When we got home she jumped in the shower. Their shower was one of those one person jobbies so I flipped through the TV stations looking for something in English. I settled for a rerun of Cheer’s in Spanish.

When Denise strutted out with in a super sexy little black thing, I ran to the showers for a quick clean up. I was considering just washing the important parts and running out in the buff doing the helicopter move, but thought better of that. I finished up and walked into the bedroom to find my wife snoring up a storm. She looked so peaceful; I figure I could wait another day for the big moment.

Another early wake up call and our adventure would begin. We take a cab to a little aeropuerto outside of the city. A Buddy Holly plane was waiting for us to board. It was already running and billowing dark smoke from its old loud engine. Instead of the traditional direction for take off, the pilot wanted to taxi to the far end of the runway and lift off against the prevailing winds. We “shaked, rattled and rolled…”

We passed several mountain ranges where king vultures floated by us. We had to take a sharp bank near a side of a peak and a rather uncomfortable decent to land in the middle of a banana plantation in the lower valley. We waited for our transfer from air to land at an even smaller airport in Palmar Sur.

The Newlyweds

From here we rode an old VW van with its top cut off. This home made convertible could barely stop going down hills and did not have enough power to go up them, either. When the driver started aggressively pumping the breaks and yelling “ay Dios mio," Denise and I were “Hail Marryin” in the back seat. After about an hour ride through the coolest little villages, we hooked up with our transfer from land to sea on the Rio Sierpe.

This is a shot back up the Rio Sierpe. Mountains in the background, mangroves in the foreground.

We loaded up a small boat and joined a fifty year old drunk surfer dude, originally from Texas. He was appropriately named, Scotch, and seemed happy to converse with somebody in English. He asked a bunch of questions about his homeland and was very interested in our answers. He was catching a ride to his shanty on the beach he had called home for over ten years. His carry on consisted of a rusty hand saw, a bag of misc fasteners, a couple of bottles of Cacique Guaro and of course his surf board.

We later found out that Cacique Guaro was the local street people’s adult beverage of choice. I guess because of is potency and cost (about $2.50 per liter).

I told the wife, when we returned to San Jose, I wanted to get a bottle of that stuff to try. The liquor store man said, “If you have someone you don’t care for back home that comes over and drinks all your good stuff, then give him this. It will knock him out quickly and you can save the good stuff for people you like.” Needless to say, I have fed this rot gut, by product of sugar cane, to a few unnamed individuals with the exact outcome intended. You must have a rock lined stomach & a pickled liver to keep this stuff down.

The boat ride down the river was supposed to be about an hour and then another 45 minutes from the boca to the final destination on the playa.

The Tico (name given to young Costa Rican males, females are Ticas) pointed out several enormous crocodiles and stopped so we could take some video. About half way down the river we entered one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world, which was part of the Corvacado National Park.

This one wasn't that big, but it was a good picture.

Our river guide asked in Spanish, “if we were adventurous and would we like to take a short cut.” Denise translated this back to me and I said “Si”, of course. We were thirsty and hungry having missed lunch and an adventure and short-cut sounded great.

After coming around and oxbow in the river he pointed the boat towards the shoreline and accelerated towards an opening in the mangroves. The Costa Rican red mangroves were about forty feet tall, compared to Florida’s white or black mangrove which average about twelve to fifteen feet. We punched through this dense tropical opening into a creek that is about twice as wide as the boat. It was like entering a tropical version of the “Bat Cave”.

Looks fun, Huh?

We had to sit in the middle to not get whipped by the branches in some areas. The boating skills required to drive the runabout through the winding creek was impressive to me. As we journeyed into the abyss, el capitano pointed out several terciopelos (Spanish for Bothrops asper) in the root balls of the mangroves and a rather large boa constrictor in the canopy. The terciopelo is often referred to as the “ultimate pit-viper”. It’s kinda like our eastern diamondback rattlesnake, but mucho more prevalent and potent.

Now for the adventurous part.

About a half mile into the arroyo and unbeknownst to our native guide, the tide went out. We went from two feet to zippo within 15 minutes.

We were high and dry on a creek bottom in the middle of freakin nowhere.

I knew we were in trouble but tried my best to act calm for my new wife. Denise is not very outdoorsy. In fact, she was not fully informed of the remoteness of our final destination.

Scotch seemed very uncomfortable with the situation. I asked Denise to translate to the Tico, “Is today a four tide day or two tide day?” He replied, “dos”. Then I asked which direction was closest to the main river. He said either way was about 1/2 kilometer. Now I knew we were in big trouble.

Our first thought was to try and push the boat. The men got out of the boat while looking in both directions very thoroughly for crocs and snakes (at least I was). We hit the creek bottom only to sink waste deep in black smelly muck. After losing my shoes and pushing the boat maybe 10’ we abandoned that idea.

I will not even tell you about the numerous spider webs, mosquitoes & no-see-ums (just like in Florida coastal areas, the tiny bugs you can’t see, but bite like hell). Denise is a no-see-um/ mosquito magnet. I think she was more preoccupied with the bugs, than our predicament. Then the little dark fellow said, loosely translated, “we are going to have to abandon ship and make our way to the river to flag down another boat.”

Since we were stranded on a two tide day that meant the boat would be stuck untill sometime after dark. My thought was to stay with the boat and wait it out. I verbalized my thought and Scotch said we would not make it through the night out here. He said it would not be the crocs or snake that got us, but instead it would be the mosquitoes. I think I rather die a quick death than the slow painful bit by a million skeeters death.

My thought was we hadn’t seen a single person, let alone a distant boat, during the past ½ hour on the river. What made them think we would see one now at the river? Again through my wife’s translations, the Tico said the Lodge would send someone after us since we had not yet arrived.

In terms of standard survival practices, you always stay with the boat, but the Tico was the chief. I agreed on trying to make it to the river, figuring worst case, we could make our way back up the creek to the mother ship(wreck) before dark.

So we walked the plank, or at least it felt that way. Our young guide was like Tarzan. He could walk on the above ground mangrove roots like we walk down the sidewalk.

Get this, he grabs my wife’s hand, tells her to lie on her belly and he drags her a half a kilo down the creek bottom to the main river. Good thing she was not wearing her cute little “day after the wedding” outfit because she would have refused the mud bath and taken death by mosquitoes. The gringo had copied the Tico and stumbled over the roots out to the river behind Denise and the King of the Jungle.

I, on the other hand, was shoeless and the mangrove roots had barnacles all over them. So, I laid on my stomach and worked like hell trying to negotiate this creek bottom. As they rounded a turn in the creek, I could no longer hear their voices over the bug’s buzzing.

So I started wiggling and pulling through the mud as fast as I could till I started to hyperventilate. I could not catch or take a breath. My chest tightened as I kept looking for the crocodile or snake that was going to take my life.

I prayed that Denise would make it back safely and thanked God for the one and a half days we had together as man and wife. Then I started thinking how my outlaws…er…in-laws were going to react to this, especially if something were to happen to her instead of me. I flipped over on my back and just laid there trying to catch my breath.

I was also thanking the Good Lord my new bride did not see her tough manly husband flopping around in the mud and trying to suck air like a beached blowfish.

About the time I think I was losing consciousness, I see a Tico monkeying it through the canopy. He probably thought I was dead. I rolled over back to my stomach and saw a second small dark man making his way through the canopy. They grabbed me by each wrist and dragged me to the river.

At the river, Denise was in a larger boat and though her clothes were black she looked remarkably clean and comfortable. I asked how she came out of this so clean and she said she just bathed in the river. So I started to bathe, until one of the Ticos shouted back to me. I heard the words “vamanos” & “cocodrilo”. Somehow, my cracker ass could translate that Spanish just fine, so I stayed muddy and jumped into the boat.

The new boat captain radioed someone to say we were OK. Then the Ticos went back for our bags. We waited at the rivers edge in the second boat, while I searched for that croc that boated me.

We headed out the river and south down the coast about 30 minutes. We dropped off the Scotch at his make shift hut. His private retreat was about 12’x12’ with a small out-house behind it. No water or electricity. Behind it was the national rain forest. What a view this guy had. Beach on one side and rain forest on the other. When he needed supplies or Costa Rican female companionship, he simply sits on the beach and flags down a boat for a ride back up the river to Palmar Sur.

Cool little cave in the rocky shorline. Most of the playa was dark almost red sand.
Scotch's Shack. Sorry about photo quality.

Another five or six miles down the coast into Drake’s Bay, we arrive at the Aguila de Osa Inn. “The most biologically intense place on earth” as described by National Geographic.

This is a picture when we departed, not when we arrived.

On the dock we find an older couple, three Ticos and two Ticas (one with baby) standing next to tattered luggage. The owner came to the dock apologizing for our misadventure. We told them no problem, just get us to our room so we can get cleaned up/changed and that we were very thirsty and hungry. The native family started getting into the boat, including our muddy guide and I asked the owner where they were going. He said proudly that he had not only fired the young guide, but he also released his entire family. This family’s responsibilities at the lodge included fishing guides, horse back riding guides, cooks, grounds keepers, maids & maintenance men (among many others). The older man was the liaison to the nearby indigenous village.

I asked the owner in front of this family, why is he firing them. He proudly said because of the young man’s bad judgment on our inbound trip to the lodge. I told the head honcho that would not be necessary. He showed his ass with me making a remark about how it is already done. I was in no mood for this. I took a step towards him and pointed my finger towards his chest and said firmly, “If they are going, pack our shit up right now, cause so are we!”

The owner backed down quickly. He did not know how to respond, but he certainly did not want us leaving. I picked up my bag and grabbed one of the family’s bags and me and my sunburned, filthy, thirsty & hungry wife just started walking up to what we assumed was the main lodge.

After a few steps the family was right behind me and Denise grabbing our bags and leading us. I told the owner after we got cleaned up I wanted him to join us for dinner to discuss this matter.

Our itinerary said we would be in the first of eight little huts closest to the main lodge, but the Owner instructed them to take us up to the primo one at the top of the plateau overlooking the bay. I guess it was their version of the penthouse or honeymoon suite. As we started up the steep hill I realized how dehydrated we both were. Our legs could barely make the counted 447 steps.

These were not your typical steps like our normal stairs.

Building codes throughout the United States are very strict on stair tolerances. Each step cannot change by more than 3/8” in rise or run nor can they be over a certain height. When we travel up or down a set of stairs, typically, you would only look down at the first and last step. Because they are known to be the same, “muscle memory” guides you from one to the next.

These steps were all different and complete concentration was required from the beginning to zigzagging end. If you took your eyes off the steps you tripped.

The rise into the lower part of the rain clouds was well worth it. They brought us bottled water and we quickly stripped for a shower. Since they had just changed our quarters to the love shack, the hot water heater was not turned on and the shower spewed freezing water. Our first romantic shower together was something I was looking forward to. It was quite the let down as we scrubbed as fast as we could. No kissing and definitely no touchy feely.

While dressing we hear the screams and cries of what we thought was a baby right behind our hut. Denise and I gave each other a look as if to say, “are you kidding me!?” I was putting clothes on as fast as I could. We could not figure out what a baby would be doing in the “most biologically intense place on earth” behind our remote chateau. As I was on the way out the door, two Ticos come running by and out into the thick rain forest. I figured they had it handled. A few minutes later they came walking by. The first Tico had a deceased white-headed capuchin and the second had a dying 8’ boa constrictor draped over his shoulder.

I had Denise find out what happened and her best translation was the Boa got the monkey, but did not have a perfect grip on the monkey’s head. The capuchin, with sizeable canines, bit the snake perfectly on its head, sealing the serpent’s fate. The snake never let go and while dying squeezed the life out of the monkey.

The wait staff was happy because monkey and snake was on the menu for the night.

We met with the owner over a private dinner that evening. We insisted that for balance of our stay, we had better see the whole family working their respective jobs or again, we would leave. He still did not understand our feelings on this, but this time, politely agreed.

I reasoned the young man just made a mistake. No one was hurt. Scared to death, yes, but not hurt. The boss man wanted to give us a free extra day of fishing and I refused, due to other plans later in the week. He offered free drinks from the bar and I said not if you are going to take it out of the family’s pay. He promised he would not.

We order drinks! Freshly squeezed tropical fruit and Costa Rican top shelf rum drinks. Then we ordered more drinks!

All my bro friends drink beer. So to fit in, I will stomach a few of the suds when out with the boys. Secretly though, I prefer the tuity-fruity hard stuff.

Needless to say, we needed help making it back to the love(less) shack for another night of passing out on our own sides of the bed. We were to be on a boat for some pacific coast fishing at the butt crack of dawn.

For the balance of our trip, the family would thanks us, bring us flowers, point out whales, monkeys, snakes, Jesus Christ lizards, birds, birds and more birds. They took us horse back riding into the forest, pointing out all the fauna & flora.

We ate wild fruits and roots prepared by our new best friends. They even took us to that remote indigenous village and introduced us to some of the natives. They were smaller in stature with Mayan features. They spoke some other language because Denise could not fully understand them.

At the end of our trip, we tipped all those in the family whom did so much extra stuff just for us. The owner found out and told us we were not supposed to tip his people, which lead us again to talk about the misadventure.

He said most guests that he pampers would have demanded them being fired and would expect the entire trip for free. He did not understand our approach, but he appreciated it and thanked us for “our forgiving nature”. I told him the family worked very hard for “his” guest and loved their job, so we tipped them.

After our first day of fishing, we finally set aside some quality R&R time for what most newlyweds take care of immediately following their nuptials or reception.

I had one other near death experience later on in the week on a white water rafting trip, but this is already way to long of a post to get into that story.

On the flight home my wife said she loved every single thing about our trip. She loved the good and the bad. The misfortunes we encountered in Costa Rica made our honeymoon all the more memorable. We also promised each other we would go back. I can’t wait.

I end this with pictures of a few of the many fish we caught. We landed many other species and some were definitely bigger, but these were the best pictures we had. We bought a waterproof Minolta camera that used that crappy Advantix film made by Kodak. We would have been better off with a Polaroid.

This is a travally, which is in the jack family. It is hard to see, but it had unbelievable iridescent blue and purple markings above the lateral line. That hunk with a cool sailfish tattoo was our first mate. Denise wanted him for her first mate, too.
Another picture of Denise and her Mate. The fish is a cubera snapper. This was our dinner for the evening along with some el dorado (mahi mahi).
Denise's Second Mate with rooster fish. This was one of the fish that was on my Bucket List. Yes, I'm a simple man and my Bucket List consists primarily of different fish I would like to catch before I die.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Name is Ron & I'm a Tarpoholic

The silver king is my thing. The addiction afflicts me in late April and strings me out through sometime in July.

With most users, there is a less additive substance that you start with, which leads to the stronger and more dependent stuff. That first passion would be your gateway drug.

In my youth, my gateway drug would be the freshwater bass. My grandfather, Bill Cornett, was a professional bass fisherman. Not like today’s big time money earners, but a circa 1960’s pro who would fish part time and work a regular job full time. He fished & placed in numerous B.A.S.S. Tournaments throughout the southeast US, but primarily in the great state of Florida where payouts were $100-$200. Big side "shake" back then. I was hooked on bass fishing by the age of four. I spent many hours with Papa fishing the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. I soaked up everything he offered when it came to fishing and the outdoors.

Above is a picture of me in 1969 with my grandfather hiding behind me supporting the heavy stringer of fish along with my childhood dependency.

As the years passed, it took more and more fish to catch a buzz, so I started getting into the harder stuff. Chasing redfish & snook. Reds & snook are like bass on crack with a little steroids mixed in. I still “jones” for them come spring and fall. These saltwater speedsters will shread the water on light tackle. Taste good too.

It was the summer of 1982, before my senior year in high school, that I would be unknowingly exposed to the hard stuff. The Megalops atlanticus.

I had a side job helping a friend cut fish and selling seafood at a local fish market. The manager of the market’s name was Mike Rabada. He was born and raised on the water as a commercial fisherman, just as his dad before him. He grew up in west Tampa and scratched out his living on Tampa Bay.

Mike had asked me and another co-worker/close friend, Marc Mashburn, to meet him at the boat ramp one hot summer night. He said he was taking us fishing. We thought he meant fishing, as in pulling crab traps or netting mullet, which sounded like good fun to us.

We made our way to one of the interior bridges of Tampa Bay and hooked up below a light, through a drain pipe under the bridge with a contraption only a structural engineer, or wise ole salty dog, could have designed.

He handed us each a 30# rod, with 1/16th oz brown No Alibi . The manufacturer of this lure, C&H Lures, no longer makes this gem in the preferred weight and color. What a shame cause I would order 50 of them, if they would make em. He explained that tarpon would swim in the shadow line cast by the edge of the bridge. We were instructed to use a simple bass fishing technique call “flipping” to present our lures in front of the passing prehistoric pescados.

We were also instructed not to try and stop the fish by applying pressure on the reel spool, but to let them run. Marc found this out the hard way as he lost most of the skin on the working side of his thumb. The skin was burnt off. We were instant junkies, jumping five fish that night averaging 80 - 100lbs and boating one. Tarpon fishing at night became our heroin.

Mr. Rabada was a man's man. He liked to cut up and give us youngsters a hard time. When we hooked a fish he would judge its size and give us an unreasonable deadline, in minutes, before his lit cigar would part our line. This would make us real faster and fight harder to land the fish. He could care less about the long drawn out fight with the fish or landing it. He was into the first few legendary leaps, typical of the poons, and that first blistering long run. In fact, when the fish jumped, instead of bowing to the fish which is proper technique to insure the hook is not thrown, he would haul back as hard as he could to see how many 1/2 gainers he could make his fish do.

Mike was a pure poon junkie. As the story goes, he was Jefferson High School's ace pitcher. Rabada was scheduled to start in the city championship game, except he never showed up for the most important game of his young career. Instead, he slipped out after school to go tarpon fishing and caught a prize fish that won the old Tampa Tarpon Tournament. Addiction at it's finest.

As for Marc, he is a recovering Tarpoholic. He got clean by joining the US Marines and now is a respected Southern Baptist Preacher.

I, on the other hand, will steal my kid’s lunch money to put gas in the boat for another tarpon fix. I have now transformed from user to pusher. The only thing better than jumping a poon is watching close friends and family do the same for the first time.

On occasion, I will soak a bait for these over sized shiners the more traditional way. Fishing the beaches, Skyway Bridge & Egmont Channel during daylight hours is fun, but in my book, doesn’t measure up to doing the tarpon tango at night. No crowds to fight. No blistering hot sun to bake in. Just extreme and up close sight fishing.

The only down side to fishing all night arrives on following day. When I was younger this was not a problem. Today, as I approach my mid-forties, it takes much longer to sleep off my fishing hangover.

I have not seen Mike for over twenty-five years. I have inquired, but never been able to make contact.

Sadly, while writing this post, I read in the Tampa Tribune’s Obituaries that Mike Rabada’s father recently passed away. Here is the Obit:

RABADA, John "EO," 90, passed away June 10, 2009. John was born in Coaldale, Pa. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Maria Rabada; sister, Mary "Becky" Boyce; son, Michael John Rabada; grand- son, Nicholas and wife, Sherry; two great-grand- children, Ella and Nicholas Rabada Jr. John was an avid fisherman and crabber and enjoyed Tampa Bays waters. John and his son were owners and operators of Chubasco Seafood in S. Tampa. Neptune Society

I would think it is fair to say that John Rabada, in some way, contributed to my Tarpoholism. Using simple logic, he introduced his son Mike to fishing and in tern Mike hooked me up. EO, for your love of the water, I cannot thank you enough. May God heel the broken hearts of your family & I hope your great-grandchildren carry on, as Hank Williams Jr would say, the “family tradition”.

I will keep fishing the Howard Franklin on the secret tide & moon phase and pass along my addiction to my son & daughter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My First

It will take some time for me to figure this blog stuff out. I hope to fill this space with my life. First, my life as a father/ husband and secondly my love of the outdoors especially fishing and falconry. Be patient as my page unfolds.