Monday, December 26, 2011

Captain Mer's Guate Up-Date

The truth is, it's often hard for me to write about things when I am in Antigua.  There are the things I dare not write, to protect myself and all the others who are guilty.  And then there are the things that are just too near, too dear to write about as any attempt at linguistic capture would be so grossly inept as to embarrass me, if only in front of myself.  But here's a little update on the mundane, for you my sweet family, who wants to hear from me. 

I am staying with Christel in her lovely house next to the convent and the man with 40 poodles, although I suspect the number may have increased since last year.  Christel is painting like a mad-woman as she has a show opening in December at Panza Verde, possibly the best restaurant in Antigua.  Panza Verde is owned by a grouchy expat named Bruce, a retired Wall Street mogul.  Bruce has made a lovely gallery on the second floor of Panza where he showcases local artists.  I just went to an opening a few days ago and it was super - good art, decent wine, a cast of local and expat characters, the usual.  And last night I went to my second opening, for Mario, another local talent.  This town is full of talented artists. 

Last night we had our Christmas party and it was as brilliant as always.  Madeline and Shaun hosted and we drank and ate till dawn, as is the tradition.  Many of the Guatemalans came this year, after spending the day with their families.  Usually for Christmas it's just the expats and travelers, and then New Years it's everyone.  Ana, from Amsterdam, and Ivy and Tess Mix and their father, from NYC, all arrived at 10pm, in time to have a couple drinks before we all poured out into the cobblestone street to watch the City explode with fireworks at midnight.  It's like nothing I have ever heard or seen before, Guatemala on Christmas and New Years, every single street is littered with fircrackers and bottle rockets and the churches and city set off rockets using simple mortar launchers.  It sounds like war.  But it's not.  It's wild.  It's nuts. It's beautiful. 

And then we sang.  Ted and Eric played guitar, Mike and Brenden with their confident baritones, the party growing quiet as Eric sang Hallelujah. Christel, Ana and I ended the "night" by sitting on the terrace and watching the sun rise through the highland mist, illuminating patches of forest on the mountains - and then a huge rainbow shot up and we took it as a portent of good things to come in 2012.  We hugged and kissed and then crashed for half the day. 

And now we have a week to rest until the New Years where our little tradition is a long dinner and then to Cafe No Se just before midnight.

On Tuesday I am heading to Guatemala City with a crew of folks to see the art of a good friend, Juan Pablo Canale.  He has an exhibit in the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura, which is a pretty big deal.  It's in Zone 1 of the City, the safest part of that crazy violent City.  The City scares me and I have heretofore avoided it except to catch a plane or a bus.  Folks here, both Guatemalans and expats, get desensitized.  They live here, and the extreme violence is just the norm and years of nothing happening to them personally brings them a confidence I do not share.  Alejandro, Astrid's boyfriend and now a dear friend of mine, will take us.  He grew up in the insanity of Guatemala City and I trust him the most to get us there and back safely. In Antigua, when Alejandro walks us here and there at night, he carries his gun, chambers a round when we step outside, removes it when we get to the restaurant or bar.  He is hyper vigilant, smart, grounded.  I trust him completely. 

More soon. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Panga Fishing the Pacific off Costa Rica

I think it's a fairly bright line, the one that separates those who fish and those who do not, those who think it boring, dirty, and cruel. I am, decidedly, one who fishes. 

Fishing in a seven meter panga in the tropics is hot, sweaty, wet, bloody, fish-gutty, expensive, unstable, uncomfortable, slightly risky, kidney-pounding...and it's one of my favorite things to do in the whole wide world.  Keep your grand boats you millionaires and billionaires, I am happiest in a small boat with the local fisherman, and so it was today.  Me and two Ticos who didn't speak a lick of English.  But with my bad Spanish and some charades, we got on very well. 

We pushed off the beach at 7am and headed south off Playa Negro where the first mate tossed the trolling rapellas over the gunwale, six rods total in the water.  Within minutes there was a fish on, a rooster fish, my first ever.  They give a couple quick hard fights and then tire.  I landed five in the first 40 minutes and so we started off with a bang.  Then it was calm for a bit before, at a slower pace, I landed five more roosters.  We kept two, they are good for ceviche.  We also caught two needle fish which are neither sport fish or good to eat.  I nodded an apology as they swam off to freedom. 

We saw bait balls, prey fish jumping and darting, breaching the water trying to avoid being eaten by something larger below the surface.  Then we saw the fins, bonito!  Incredible predators from the tuna family, these fish are great athletes and fun to catch, but not today.  We chased the frenzies but nothing bit our lures. 

Next, we headed offshore about ten miles to try for grouper in deeper waters.  On our way we saw dolphins and sea turtles and I smiled till hurt.  Just when the captain cut the motor the first mate swooped something up from the water and grabbed my hand and gave me a baby sea turtle.  So damn cute, and it was alive!  Maybe a day or two old.  Most baby turtles don't reach maturity, most are snacks and meals for other sea creatures.  I wished the little guy luck and gently slipped him back into the sea. 

The first mate baited two boat rods with 50# test, five hooks each, squid, and a string of heavy weights. We paid out the line to the bottom and did a drift run, bouncing our bait along the bottom, concentrating, thumb on the line, feeling for the nibble, and then setting the hook.  My first haul up was brutal.  I fancy myself a strong woman, but I had hooked three croaker fish and hauling 175 feet of heavily weighted line with three 15-20 inch fish on, well, it took me about 10-15 minutes to land those fish.  And then we did it again.  And again and again.  After a couple of hours of this I was exhausted.  I landed seven croakers and the first mate landed none.  I had a good day.

We reeled in our final drift and threw out the trolling lures for the long ride home.  No more hits, but it didn't matter.  I sat and watched the sea, felt the boat working, sea spray in my face, grinning, thinking of nothing and everything.  I stood up next to the captain at the wheel, quietly watching the waves, the perfect line that is a sea horizon on a calm day..."mi amor es el mar" I said without looking over.  "Yo tambien," he said, nodding and smiling.  And then we were silent for a good long time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"I don't want you reeking up the car!"

I am in Costa Rica once again, staying with my dear friend Mary and her family.  I am still in my PJs, farting around on the internet, looking for things to do for the week I am here.  This afternoon Mary and I and her son Franco are headed to the Pacific Coast for a couple of days to sit in the sun, read, watch the waves.  I just asked Mary what time I should be packed and ready to leave.  Somehow that prompted the following conversation:

Mary:  "Mer, do you need to take a shower?"

Mer:  "No, I'll just go gross since we are going to the beach."

Mary:  "What?!  You haven't showered since leaving Oakland?"

Mer:  "Nope.  But we will be at the beach so I don't need to shower."

Mary:  "Are you kidding me?!" (motioning me to follow her into the bathroom) "That's gross! Get in the shower!  I don't want you reeking up the car!"

Mer:  "I don't stink (Mer smells armpit).  Seriously, I will shower tonight after the beach."

Mary:  (Pointing at the shower, determined mother expression, using a stearn voice)  "Marie, get in the shower."

Mer:  (laughing) "Are you trying to mother-force me into taking a shower?"

Mary:  (throwing hands up in the air) "Suite yourself.  You're just like my dad!  But here in Costa Rica we take at least one shower a day.  At LEAST!"  (laughing down the stairs away from me as I shouted after her, promising to wash my face and brush my teeth!).

Apparently, I am a stubborn ol' dirty bachelor.  And I am not going to take a shower before we go to the beach.  And it's been a very long time since I was chastised about my personal hygiene. 

True story.  I am so easily amused by the mundane.