Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Lobster Fisherman and His Son

Caye Caulker at Sunset
Before coming to Belize, I was struggling on whether I should bring my free diving gear. I have good gear, and I was going to a poor country. The combination wasn’t pretty. But somehow, my Russian roommate convinced me to bring it. I guess what the turning point for me was one question: “And when was the last time you used your dive gear?”
I replied, “In New Zealand.”
And he said, “Uh huh.”
I stayed silent for a few seconds, feeling kind of stupid. It’s like women, who have fine China but never use it.
So what was I going to do with my gear? Well, my favorite sea sport is lobster hunting. I picked up the hobby in New Zealand. With a pair of Kevlar gloves, you can grab the lobster. You look and see where their little antenna are. You float around them, as they notice your movement. Then, when they least suspect it, you grab their horns and pounce on them. It’s like how my cat Luke, who was reincarnated from being a human, would pounce on lizards, gophers, and birds. I think he has arthritis now. (As a side note, watching him age makes me afraid of getting older too.)
So, when I arrived on the island, I wanted to know where to hunt for my lobster. The locals were pretty straight up, instead of sending me on a wild goose chase. They would say, “Hey mon, it’s far out there. Straight into the sea.”
Well, going straight into the sea costs a pretty penny. I was looking for lobster right outside the mangrove forest outside of my lobster. A plump, jolly Mexican looking fisherman on a boat said, “HEY Mon! I could hit you wit my boat. You get out of the water.”
“Pardon?” I said.
“Hey Mon, I said you have no buoy! You can get hit by a boat. Get out of the water, Mon.”
“Oh, hey where are you going?”
“I’m going out lobster hunting, Mon.”
“Then you’re taking me with you.” What a coincidence, a lobster hunting boat almost hit me when I was looking for lobster.
“No, Mon. I cannot. I don’t have my tourist license on me.”
“You’re taking me with you,” I insisted.
“No, Mon, I said I cannot. “ He started driving the boat away. I couldn’t believe I was hustling in the deep blue ocean.
“Yes, you’re taking me with you. I’ll pay you.”
“How much, Mon?” Now, I knew it was a game I won already.
“$20 USD.”
He turned around. I swam to his boat. I lifted myself onto the deck, like one would do a big pushup.
He had a boy on deck. He looked at me suspiciously. He wasn’t very kind at all. He too was already getting a bit plump too.
The lobster fisherman was tanned dark. He had scruffy facial hair but red rosy cheeks. He was weathered by the sea and wind.
He said, “I take you out, Mon. But you know it costs like $150USD to usually go out. I do it cheap for you.”
“Oh really?” I said. I had already known the truth but acted like it was a new revelation to me.
He revved the boat up. That started our journey on the bluest dream. The water looked like an artist palette, with different patches and pools of blue colors. Some shades were darker patches because of the sea grass underneath. Some patches were lighter because of the white sand underneath. And when you looked out at the horizon, it looked like someone drew a line across a piece of paper, and the sky and sea were only separated by different shades of blue. The nature of the water was still and tranquil and reminded me of the undisturbed sleep of a child.
He started telling me his story, as we went through the speedboat. “Mon, my family has owned these waters for three generations. My father and his grandfather hunt lobster here. Next, my son hunt lobster too.”
“How old’s your son?”
“Mon, you shouldn’t be swimming where you were. There’s crocodiles there.”
I shrugged like it didn’t bother me.
“I brought us food and water. There’s ice in the chest with water. You help yourself, ok?” He arrived at the location. He halted the boat engine. He pointed to his son, “Hey Boy! Hey Boy go anchor the boat.”
The boy grabbed the anchor and dropped it off the side of the boat. The father came and picked up the rope and tugged on the tension. “No boy. What’s dee matter with you! I raise a stupid son. You need to drop it like this.”
I asked, “What did he do wrong?”
“I don’t know, Mon what he did wrong. But it’s fucken wrong.”
The father fixed the problem.
Then the lobster fisherman said, “Hey Mons! Come on! There’s lobster in dees water.”
I geared up. I jumped in. I swam in. He said, “Hey Mon. Don’t murk the water, Mon.”
I free dove underneath 12 feet (3 meters of water). Underneath a sheet of corrugated metal, I saw the little antennae of the lobsters sticking out. The fisherman used a hook. When it would come out, sometimes he grabbed the lobsters with a hook. I remember the first lobster I grabbed. I pounced on it with my Kevlar gloves and it was mine.
These Caribbean lobsters squeaked when they were caught. Did it make me feel bad for them? No. When we fished out the lobster, we all drug ourselves back on the boat.
Back on the boat, I grabbed a broken off lobster leg. I started eating the raw flesh in it. The fisherman smiled and said, “Aye, Mon. I used to do that as a kid too.” His ten year old boy finally warmed up to me and asked, “Is it good?”
I nodded and said, “Of course. It’s real sweet.” I picked up a lobster leg and gave it to him.
He cracked it with his teeth and sucked on it. He smiled. I asked him, “Is it good?” He just nodded.
We scoured the seas that day, going after more and more lobster. We took a break for lunch, at which point the fisherman boy handed me sweet bread. It tasted like Hawaiian sweet bread. He also handed me a can of Vienna sausages. We ate the meat and bread. The fisherman gave us some ice water that was in baggies. You bit at it, and the sweet cold water rushed through your mouth. The boy and fisherman and I bonded, hunting for the lobster. At one point, the fisherman gave me a softie lobster. A softie was a lobster, whose shell was still soft and was not hardened by molting. I twisted the tail off from its head. I killed the thing instantly. And I ate the sweat meat, while the thing was still alive. And as barbaric as it was, the food tasted good!
We hunted for lobster for 3 hours that day. He brought me back into the lagoon of my hostel. The hostel owner saw a fishing boat come in. He saw me jump off the deck, carrying my catch, and my gear. He asked, “What’d you do?” He was wondering what I pulled that day. I wasn’t the regular backpacker. Of course not, I had experience.
“I went out with the lobster fisherman.”
“How’d you go out with the lobster fisherman?”
“Well,” I started, “it all happened when the fisherman told me I shouldn’t be swimming out there and . . . “ I began to recount the story of my day with the lobster fisherman and his son.

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