River Fishing... Tico Style!

Once again, my morning began at an hour far too early for my vagabonding standards.  I crawled out of bed and out of the mosquito netting to leave Meisha fast asleep.  After a bit of coffee and a quick breakfast, Clay and I left the house to meet our fishing guide at the Estero Negro River.  Slathered in sunscreen in anticipation of a very warm day, we walked down the dusty 500 meters of road from Clay’s cacao farm out to the highway.  As we met the highway, the rain met us.  If there’s one thing that moves quickly here in Costa Rica, it’s the rain.   

Within minutes, a slow drizzle became a veritable downpour.  We trudged on as canceling wasn’t an option.  Edgar was paddling 2 hours downriver to meet us where the river meets the Caribbean Sea.  Cell phones weren’t an option, so this trip was going to happen, despite the weather.  Upon reaching our designated spot, we began looking for Edgar.  We decided he must be running late and crossed our fingers hoping that he had the same “canceling isn’t an option” mentality.  As I stepped onto the bridge to look upriver, I pulled my phone out of my bag to check the time.  Instantly, my heart hit the floor.  I had my phone in a Ziploc bag as a precaution for the river trip, but somehow the bag had failed.  In a panic, I scrambled to pull the phone out and save it from drowning.  I dried it off, but it was too late.  Water was already inside the screen and the camera lens.  iPhone down.  This was only compounded by the loss of our GoPro HD HERO2 just a few days earlier (a fiasco involving the ocean & my own stupidity).  This means no more Vagabloggers videos for awhile 🙁

Edgar finally appeared in the distance and within a short time, pulled up to us at the river’s edge. Hesitantly, we climbed into his rustic canoe.  It was literally made from the hulled-out trunk of a tree.  Our seats were plastic pads from the local banana plantation.  As we set off up the river, Clay pointed out that with all 3 men in the canoe, the side of the canoe only had about an inch of clearance from the water.  Edgar assured us it would be fine so long as we didn’t rock the boat too much.  *Note: this river does have crocodiles in it and a fall into the river definitely could mean danger and/or death.  Using the hand carved wooden oars, we paddled on. 

I got to be the lucky one to sit up front.  You see, I wasn’t along on this trip as a gringo tourist.  Meisha and I are volunteering on Clay’s cacao farm in exchange for a place to stay.  The primary portion of our volunteer work here involves the creation of a website for the farm.  On this website, tours will be offered (including this particular river fishing tour) and I needed to go along to take photos for the website (video was supposed be involved as well, but that wasn’t an option anymore).  As we paddled up the rainy river, I hoped the downpour would let up soon or even photos were going to be out of the question.  Luckily, mother nature was listening to my hopes that day.  The rain did let up in spurts throughout out trip; at least long enough to remove the SLR camera from my drybag and capture a few pics.

Traveling up the river was absolutely awe-inspiring in and of itself.  Its tranquil waters were lined with thick amounts of jungle fauna, not to mention beautiful cranes and other water fowl.  Edgar even pointed out an iguana high in a tree.  The only people we came across on the entire trip up the river were a few local fisherman and an employee of the banana plantation clearing an area with his machete. 

Wait... so what about the fishing?

The fishing was in definite Vagabloggers style... MINIMAL.  Here’s how it works: 
  1. Attach a camarón (shrimp in English, although they looked like crawdads) to your hook for use as bait.
  2. Hold one end of the fishing line in your hand (no rods or reels) and “cast out” with the other... Casting out, in this case, means twirling the baited end of your line around like a rodeo cowboy and throwing it into the river.
  3. Catch a fish.

That’s it.  Pretty awesome.  The camarónes are gathered by dragging long, swampy grass from the river’s shore into the boat.  The water and grass are then sifted by use of a cup (or sawed-off soda bottle in this case) and hands.  We had a good time as Edgar laughed at us as we two gringos tried to perfect the technique of throwing the line.  It’s not quite as easy as it sounds.  At least not consistently.  So did we catch any fish?  No.  Luckily Edgar caught a couple on his way down to pick us up, so we used his (still alive) fish to stage a few photos for the website.

Our river journey ended at the banks of International Banana Corporation X (whose name cannot be mentioned if we want to show photos of it here).  Edgar explained how the systems within the plantation worked.  Each tree is tied together with twine to keep from falling over and to keep the bananas (pictured in the blue bags) from touching the trunks of the trees, which would discolor them.  They have color coded systems for determining which nutrients the trees should receive and when the bananas are ripe for harvest.   There are rivers and ravines running everywhere through the planation which can be crossed via crude metal and plastic bridges.  Fascinating to say the least.

Edgar invited us to his home for lunch and we gladly accepted.  We walked through his village and were greeted by his wife, his two cute kids and some warm casados (a very typical Costa Rican meal combination).  We enjoyed chatting with Edgar until it was eventually time to catch the bus back to our own village.  Even though we were incredibly wet and I was minus an iPhone, I’d still call it a pretty good day 😀

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