Mexico 2000
 
Ian did not get his usual nap and refused to nap during the flight, so we were all cranky and irritable by the time we hit Mexican soil. The exit from customs delivers you straight into the arms of 20 eager time-share salesmen, members of the professionally friendly classes. We had not packed light, and the airport didn't provide baggage carts, so I had: fishing rod slung on back, backpack with flyrod lashed to the side, suitcase in each hand, and another duffel bag. Don't recall what I did with the duffel bag, I may have been carrying it in my teeth. Made it to our bus, Ian sat up front in his carseat and gave us a running commentary: 'Big Truck !' 'Car !' 'Mountains !' 'Sunset !' 'Byootiful sunset !' etcetera until he finally passed out and went to sleep. Other than the signs in Spanish and the occasional cactus, we might have been driving through a South African homeland - same beaten-flat earth, same trash blowing around and caught in the fences. Of course the hotel was suitably insulated from all this, so as not to offend any rich tourist sensibilities.

At the hotel, they gave us a nice enough room, but it was right above the mariachi band playing at the outdoors restaurant. Helen picked up the phone and complained, after which we were installed in a ground-floor suite with a shady terrace outside, view of the estuary and blissfully quiet. Another score for boldness and actually asking for what you want.. Ordered room service (with our all-inclusive package, room service cost the same as everything else, that is, nothing). Ian woke up and discovered that he could open the outside door and run off into a courtyard full of cactus. Helen retrieved him, but not before the cactus had been identified as 'Big Owie'. Every time we went out after that, he'd point to the cactus and name it, 'BIG OWIE'. The hotel was built in your standard 3rd world configuration, slabs of concrete slapped together: but some architect had done a good job, the interior passages and courtyards are open to the sky, with beds of native cactus and the walls painted ochre, so the interior felt like a series of canyons rather than the inside of a hotel.

Tried to get Ian to sleep in the second bed, but this wasn't a good idea. He's an active sleeper, so we had to keep waking up in time
to prevent him from dashing his brains out on the tile floor. After two nights we asked for a crib. This was rather rickety, there was continual suspense, would Ian be able to shake the crib apart and escape his little prison ? Staying in a hotel is much too exciting for a toddler to sleep, especially with your parents in the same room where the yells can't be escaped.

I woke at 0dark:30 to go fishing. Although I'd downloaded a tide table from the web which included times of sunrise, it had been so long since last I went dawn fishing that I couldn't remember how long before sunrise first light occurs. I went early to be on the safe side, carrying just a spinning rod. Very black outside, Milky Way clearly visible, also the constellation Scorpio which I'd never identified outside of a planetarium before. Wind strong and cold which I hadn't expected, wearing just a shirt and swim pants. Rigged up a Krokodile spoon and trudged off through deep sand to the booming surf which I'd been hearing all night. It was a little odd with the freshwater estuary full of coots right behind the beach, not used to hearing coots at the same time as surf. By the time we left, Ian was convinced we'd been lying to him, ducks don't go 'quack', ducks go 'dip,dip' (sound that a coot makes).

There is a vicious shore break, beach drops off steeply into fast-shelving water. The waves would break just a few yards offshore, then reflect back out. When an incoming and a reflected wave coincided at the break point, the surf would suddenly double from 5-6 feet to 10-12 feet, the wave would rear suddenly and then break onto the beach with an impact I could feel through my feet in the sand. These waves were producing the boom and thunder like a distant bombardment. The smaller waves would crack flatly onto the beach, then seethe up the hill of the dune. In the predawn dark, I could see just enough to realize that I should probably stay well up the beach out of harm's way.

Started hopefully flinging the spoon out into the black water. At this point I remembered I hadn't cleaned the packing grease I'd put on the reel's bearings for long-term storage, consequently my casts would get about 50yds out then flop down as the resistance of the grease stopped the reel. Tut. Dawn approached, just before sunrise the horizon appears to crawl, distant waves in sharp silhouette turn the horizon line into a fluid procession. With the sun up, I could see well enough to run down the beach, make a cast, then beat a retreat in time to avoid the next wave. This got me enough distance to get well beyond the discoloured sandy water and into the clear green. There wasn't a distinct strike, but suddenly line was peeling off the reel as something made off with the spoon. After several good long runs, the fish was in the edge of the surf, from where it took a few minutes to work it out of the undertow and up the beach. A pretty sierra mackerel about 2ft long, dark blue back, silver sides, light yellow spots on the upper sides, and lots of good sharp teeth. Used my new 8" needlenose pliers to extract the hook and returned the fish. No more action this morning. Slogged through the dunes back to the hotel, the early sun-tanners were already out at the poolside, looking at me quizzically. Ragged fishing bums don't stay at this hotel very often I think. My favorite fishing shirt has holes in the back, and a black velcro strip that is used to secure spare fishing rods while walking, so it looks a tad handmade. One night I'd been out until dark, came back and was washing the salt off my tackle (fishing tackle that is) in the pool, a security guard stopped me and checked that I was actually staying at the hotel.

Went to have breakfast outdoors in the shade of a bougainvillea bush next to a fountain. There was fresh papaya on the buffet, Ian loved it the last time he had it in S. Africa, but didn't care for it anymore. A big part of the holiday for us was having a vast selection of food to tempt the fastidious toddler appetite, then being able to get up and walk away from the mess of rejected comestibles.. our nice waitress, Benita, got a good big tip when we left.

Then it was time for a rigorous schedule of pool-lounging. We'd take turns with Ian so that we'd each get enough time to have a drink in the sun before plunging back into toddler care. Helen took Ian to the swim-up bar and taught him to say 'Hey ! can I have a drink please ?' He took pleasure in saying this every time he got within 20ft of the bar, so we had to be careful where we swam with him. (This morning at breakfast he climbed up on the chair opposite me, slapped the table, and told me 'Hey! can I have a drink please ?' now what have we done ?) He got virgin pina coladas (no alcohol), virgin margaritas, and Shirley Temples (grenadine with soda water). Once we made the mistake of getting ourselves margaritas without ordering him something as well, but only once. Games in the pool included kicking the big inflatable ball, sinking toy boats so Daddy could retrieve them, bouncing up and down, and a fine game involving running from one side of the shallow area to the other, trying to leap into the deep water before I could get there to catch him. Luckily he never succeeded in this last. There was also a hammock where one could swing quietly with a parent and calm down.

Lunch was either room service, another buffet arrangement on the beach with views of the waves and distant mountains, or a takeout hamburger/hot dog/taco stand. The taco stand had tortilla chips with some of the best guacamole I've ever tasted. Then a nap for Ian and sometimes for us as well, depending on how sleepless his night had been (if Ian don't sleep, don't nobody sleep). I'd usually sit on our terrace drinking beer and tinkering with fishing tackle, Helen would nap or take a book down to a lounger on the sand by the estuary. Sometimes I'd read, I made the mistake of taking Moby Dick as my only book, for several reasons: the edition I have is very compact, good for travelling - more words per ounce; also it's a great fishing story. But as I lay there I had a clear view of the pool, lots of overnourished tourists in swimsuits too small for their avoirdupois - the things you see when you don't have a harpoon..

Highly technical fishing discussion follows, some readers may want to skip this bit ;-)
I'd tied leaders for flyfishing using a variety of wire, some with the 27lb singlestrand, some with 40lb multistrand. I hadn't been able to buy crimp sleeves for the multistrand, so did one of 3 things: opened the eye of the fly hook and put it in the pre-built loop, cut off the pre-built loop and tied a Homer Rhode loop knot kept in place with a few turns of thread, or used a small splitring on the prebuilt loop. For the leader itself, had some trouble coming up with an easy way to change flies without having to rebuild the leader too often, since tying even a uniknot between the 50lb tippet and 20lb leader uses up a lot of line. Since I wasn't catching anything, and the prey fish appeared to be significantly smaller than the lures I'd brought (2-3" fishies, instead of 3-4" which is what my spoons etc were) I was changing flies a lot in an attempt to find something to match the prey fish more closely.  Eventually ended up with a surgeon's loop in the 50lb going to a doubled surgeon's loop using a Bimini on the 20lb. This seemed fairly robust. Turned out the problem with the 27lb singlestrand was not the fish, but the surf. After an hour or so of hauling the fly up through the shorebreak, the wire looked like a pretzel. On the spinning rod, used the standard 10ft or so of 50lb to a 6" wire leader with a small snap. One guy who fishes the area a lot recommends:
Along rockier areas fishing for snappers, groupers etc a 9 foot rod with 20lb. Attach about 20 feet of fireline or braided line using a Uni-knot and attach a snap/swivel to the end for your lure.  If you're fishing sandy areas use a 10 or 11 foot surf rod with 15lb ande or other softer line with about 3 feet of 40lb flourocarbon attached with a small barrel swivel or directly using an allbright knot. Put a snap on the end with a loop knot of  some kind. If you're limited to one rod, use a 10 footer with 15 or 20lb mono.

We met another couple with a two-year-old boy, Rowan. Turned out his father is product manager for a search engine that our company uses in its documentation. By mutual agreement we didn't talk about it anymore than that. They live in Calgary. We swopped baby-sits with them a couple of times. The first time, they were in one of the fancy 'reservations required' restaurants, or at least they were in there one at a time (toddler parents become familiar with the concept of a meal as a relay event). Helen met Sharon and Rowan toddling around outside while Kevin ate alone, so H offered to take Rowan until dinner was over. Sharon passed him over and vanished back inside, two minutes later Kevin came out to check on this person who'd suddenly taken custody of his firstborn.. Ian and I were in the shower (no bathtub in our room), when Ian saw Rowan he said 'there's a boy!' Helen went back outside, Ian kept asking 'where's a boy ? where's a boy gone ?' think he wanted a playmate after all this boring adult company for several days. They got on well together.

One day we took a taxi with them out to a beach where the water is calm, so the kids could swim in the sea. Unfortunately the water was quite cold, too cold for kiddies. I took Ian in, but he quickly told me, 'want to get OUT' so we did. Snorkeled a bit around the reefs nearby, swam up from the sandy beach and waited above the reef. Numbers of fish in a surprising variety of sizes, shapes and colours, came swimming up to take a look at me.  I saw some nice big pompano in a big school further out, but they wouldn't let me get near them. Walked back to a nearby hotel to get a taxi. In Mexico, there is a rate book for taxis, but it doesn't apply to rich American tourists, so we'd paid some random amount, about 250 pesos, for the taxi to the beach. The taxi back actually did use the rate book, but Helen caught a glimpse of big numbers with $ signs in front of them in the driver's book: not knowing that the peso sign is also $, Helen negotiated furiously to get a price of 200 pesos. The rate in the book was $160, that is, 160 pesos. So Helen bargained us up to 200 from 160.. good deal. At least it was cheaper than the first ride.

We took Ian for a hike along the beach towards La Playita, a little fishing village a couple of kilometers away. Toddler hiking means that for any forward progress to be made, Ian has to ride on my shoulders, a proceeding known for some reason as 'galloping'. While galloping, he can beat on my head, pluck my cap off and rub half-chewed bits of cheese into my hair, not to mention get a much better view than when slogging through the sand himself. Didn't make it to La Playita, instead ate dinner on a dune above the waves. Ian loved it, 'waves go CRASH! BANG!', all the rest of our stay he wanted to 'picnic on beach, watch waves'. We saw some locals fishing. Their technique is unusual: the line is wound about a piece of driftwood or cardboard; to cast, they whirl the hook line and sinker around above their heads, then dash down to surfs' edge, hurl the tackle out, and dash back up the beach before the next wave arrives. They were getting a good 50-60 yards out with this primitive approach, quite impressive. One rich local had a fishing rod, he showed me (with gestures, I have no Spanish and he had no English) where the 'toro' and sierra mackerel were attacking baitfish, out near a sandy point. The baitfish would be chased up to the surface and even leap out of the water, so it looked like a shower of hail hitting the water. He was using baitfish he'd caught with a castnet, but neither of us could get anything to take our bait or lures.

The next morning, I hooked and lost two fish on the spinning rod before dawn. Once it was light enough, started using the fly rod. Flycasting in the surf is decidedly interesting - sometimes I had to throw the forward cast high up to get it over an advancing wave, at other times I was having trouble with the backcast because the beach slopes so steeply. Then once a wave catches the flyline, the whole thing washes up on the sand in a tangle, so casts had to be timed to hit the water at the right time in between waves. Something hit hard and ran about 10 yards, then the hook came out again. That was another thing about fishing the sandy surf, be the hooks never so sharp, after dragging them up the beach a few times, they'd be dull again. Re-sharpened and kept trying. Hooked something big strong and fast that made off quickly for the horizon. It leapt from the crests of the waves on the way out, long silver bar exploding off the top of clear green water and soaring into white foam in the trough behind the wave. First run took it 60-70 yards out. Slowly fought it back in, brought it up the beach: turned out to be an old friend, elops saurus, also known as skipjack (S. Africa), ladyfish (USA), machete (Mexico). About 28" long, with a huge eye. Released it back out into the waves.

The next morning, cold water had arrived from somewhere during the night, and there were no fish to be found. I decided to try to find some rocks where there might be some resident fish, since the gamefish would all have cleared off, following the warm water. At this point the 18-mile beach the hotel is so proud of became a distinct impediment as far as I was concerned. During naptime that afternoon, walked west to the nearest visible rocks, which took about 90 minutes. Steady procession of new condos, hotels, timeshares, etc under construction all along the beachfront, as well as numbers of gringos in varying stages of sunburn. Gringo is apparently a corruption of the Spanish word for Greek, as in 'it's all Greek to me', being a generic term for mad foreigners speaking in tongues. I carried the fishing rod folded up, but was still greeted at every turn by the universal shrug with arms outstretched, meaning 'so where's the fish then ?' Some Mexican construction workers of villainous aspect asked this, they laughed heartily when I replied 'nada', nothing. Arrived at a nice reef eventually but it was occupied by surfers. They don't take kindly to having 2 ounces of white metal with large treble hooks flung at them, so I didn't make too many casts. On the way back, some pelicans were fishing, getting beakfuls of small minnowish fish out of the surf. A pelican's dive is a most ungainly thing, he hurtles down at great speed, wings outstretched, but hits the water with a flop, hardly diving at all. Tried a few casts around them, figuring that where the baitfish are there might be a few predators, but no such.

Next day at naptime, I rented one of the hotel's old boneshaker bicycles, with coaster brakes. This was very amusing to all the little Mexican children I passed, 'gringo loco' with a fishing rod on a bicycle. But I'm used to this.. cycled west this time. Visited La Playita (playa is Spanish for beach, so there are lots of variations on this name up and down the Baja coast). The boats were coming in, so I watched as they offloaded their catches, just checking.. lots of nondescript bottom fish, a few skipjack tuna (not good eating), none of the glamorous fish like yellowfin tuna, wahoo, etc. So I finally decided that I wouldn't be spending the $200-$300 for a days' fishing off a boat, didn't seem worth it. There were some striped marlin way offshore, 10 miles plus, but the boats to go catch those were about $500/day, something for the idle rich. Also, upon interrogating myself, I found I really wasn't that interested in renting a fish: after all, someone else drives the boat, finds the fish, rigs the bait or lure to catch it, and all I'd do would be to reel it in. 'piscator non solum piscatur', or 'there is more to fishing than catching fish' or 'the grapes are
probably sour anyway', hah!

La Playita itself just your basic third world village, lots of trash blowing around. The Hotel Playita looked quite reasonable, but it's downwind from the fish-cleaning shelters that the boats use, so at 2pm each day you'd get a blast of fishgut aromatherapy. Onwards on a washboarded dirt road, heading for the East Cape 20 miles away, or rocks, whichever happened first. At the East Cape there is an underwater canyon so there is water a mile deep 200 yards off the beach. Sometimes deep-sea gamefish are caught from the beach. There are also creatures called roosterfish in the surf, a type of jack, with a high seven-spined dorsal fin which looks a little like a rooster's comb. It was too cold for these while I was there, though.

Half an hour from the hotel the road is deep in Baja desert, nothing but rock and cactus and dust. Suddenly a speculative development
called Laguna Hills appeared, looked like Los Angeles in the bush, enormous mansions with huge swimming pools (!) Shortly after this
I spotted a reef running in to shore, pedalled down there to fish. The surf was pounding  hard, so I watched the waves for a bit
to pick a safe rock to stand on. On the second cast a small perch-like fish grabbed the lure, about 2lbs, fat and delicious-looking. But a 2lb fish isn't worth the labor of packing, freezing, and transporting back to Denver, so he went back. Got drenched by a couple of sneaky waves and fished on for half an hour with no further excitement. I was hoping for some triggerfish, almost circular fish with teeth sticking out like a parrot's beak: excellent eating by all accounts, a little like lobster. O well such is life. Pedalled back, got briefly lost in La Playita, little boys running alongside me asking 'quanto ? quanto ?' which I think means 'how many fish, mad gringo bicyclist ?'

That evening we got a babysitter and went to the reservation-only restaurant. Ian had a fine time with his Spanish-speaking sitter, except she didn't understand that he hadn't had supper, so we suspect he didn't actually eat any dinner. We got him room service. Our dinner on the other hand was fine. I had stuffed cactus, one of those things you have to eat once at least. Their 'Mexican coffee' involves tequila, kahlua, and fire, so it was pretty impressive, not to  say alcoholic. Reeled back to Ian who was watching Spanish TV and giggling with the babysitter.

Next day was checkout, what a bore. Had to pay $50 to do a late checkout, so Ian could fit in his afternoon nap. The flight back had a delayed takeoff, just to get us in an appropriately foul mood for getting back to work. The next day I flew out to gorgeous Detroit on business.

All the Spanish I know:
hola, pronounced 'ola': hi/hello
un cerveza, por favor: one beer, please
gracias: thanks for the beer
loco: crazy gringo fisherman (I think this is what it means)
toro: jack crevalle (kinda fish)
pez gallo: roosterfish
sardina: kind of bait fish
buena suerte: good luck with the fishing
nada: nothing, no fish today