“Sure, I know those rivers and I’d love to go tilapia fishing.”
This was my take away from a conversation with a Tico friend of mine. He’d lived here most of his life. He liked to fish, and at least in my mind he’d just confirmed that he’d help guide our efforts if we went fishing on one of the many rivers found off of the mountain. I was so encouraged by all of this that I roped another gringo friend of mine along for the ride.
Things went awry quickly as we drove down the mountain a week later, and I had no trouble understanding my Tico friend when he quietly stated, “I’ve never actually been to any of these rivers, and I’ve never fished for tilapia.”
Anyone who’s ever tried to learn another language knows that success on that front is like a good hair day–rare, and fleeting. I was having a good hair day in terms of my Spanish, much better apparently than my last conversation with my friend, but it brought me no joy.
I pushed some breath out between my lips and dodged another yet boulder that had fallen into the dirt road. “That’s ok. We’ll just drive down there and figure it out.”
An aimless hour later we pulled up at a river rafting place purposefully located next to a roaring river. I turned off the engine and turned to my Tico friend. “Can you go in and ask them where there might be good spots for us to fish off of the bank?”
My Tico friend looked elsewhere, as if trying to recall the finer points of haiku. Without making eye-contact, he eventually responded, “I don’t want to go in there. I don’t know them.”
I looked to the back seat, where my gringo friend, who spoke just enough Spanish to also understand what “no” meant, grimaced and shrugged his shoulders.
“But you’re a Tico. You speak Spanish. I’m just a big, dumb gringo driving around with fishing rods on top of his car.”
My plea went unanswered, so I stepped it up.
“I’ll go in with you, but can you please do most of the talking?”
My Tico friend shrugged and a few minutes later we stood in front of the bar where those who paid a lot of money to go on a guided fishing trip with this outfit normally celebrated that fact. There were several guys hanging around, but their interest dropped to crisis levels when I revealed that we didn’t want to pay several hundred dollars a person to go on a guided trip and instead just wanted pointers for bank fishing.
I then heard one of the platitudes that was often evoked, “Rivers are public and open to all.” Per usual, this was followed by, “But most of the land around this one is fenced and private so you can’t get in.”
One of the guys down at the end of the bar, a guide as it turned out, then gave somewhat specific advice regarding a path that wandered down a couple of kilometers before eventually ending at a decent spot to fish. We thanked him (about the only time my Tico friend spoke) and beat a hasty retreat.
A few minutes later, loaded down with tackle boxes, rods and my cast net, we trudged along a whimsical path that often disappeared into a tangle of debris. We encountered fresh stumps of several huge Guanacaste trees–trees so cherished for their wood that the large ones that remain are, ahem, protected–along with more mosquitos than is likely healthy. The path didn’t end in a cleared spot, and most of the bank was choked with trees that apparently aren’t nearly as popular with the lumber crowd.
We finally found a spot in the river under a series of large tree limbs that looked deep, and still. My Tico friend was fascinated by my cast net and encouraged me to throw it in. I pointed out that it was a bad idea to throw a cast net in around a bunch of trees lest it become tangled and you need a good divorce attorney to pry it free. He goaded me. Per usual, I bowed to peer pressure.
A few minutes later I took another deep breath as I tried to dive down about 10 feet into the murky water to free my cast net from whatever held it in a death grip below. Another few minutes passed before I emerged from the river clutching the shredded remains of my net in my cold, wet hands.
We accomplished little else at this location other than than an amusing bout of trying to teach my Tico friend how to use a rod and reel (locals use only hand lines and after we tangled the rods within the tree branches I saw the benefit of that path). We soon packed up and marched back through the mosquitos to my car.
It’s always a wise to double down on a bad idea so we continued our drive in search of another, more suitable river. Eventually we came to Rio Blanco. After taping the headlight of my car back into its designed perch–Pura Vida–I did a u-turn and we parked near the newly refurbished bridge. The spot under the bridge was awash with construction debris but we picked our way through it, trying not to drop our gear. A large splash nearby confirmed the presence of basilisks. These are the variety that actually run on top of the water and are therefore known as Jesus Christ Lizards. We’d taken a trip down another river a few months before with our boys and Thing #2 had screamed “Jesus Christ” every time he saw one of the basilisks. I fought back that same impulse.
We had a couple of nibbles and our excitement grew, but was muted by the strange objects that continued to float by at regular intervals in the slow moving water. The debris almost looked like paper-thin pieces of red coral, if coral came in large sheets and floated down fresh-water rivers. Was it fabric? Would would slowly throw pieces of fabric into a river?
About 20 minutes later a host of white feathers choked the surface of the river and we realized that there was some sort of chicken processing plant upstream. What we’d been seeing was the discards/skin that constantly floated down this significantly funky river.
We packed up one last time and made the long drive back up the mountain. My headlight popped out again and once again I secured it with duct tape. I was feeling like a local, except for the fact that local fisherman probably caught something other than chicken skin.
We ended up stopping at a restaurant that was also a tilapia farm and the nice people who ran it used an intact cast net to secure our lunch. I finally got to see my first fish of the day. Fried. On my plate.