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Fish Tales


Kiss of Dawn


Come join Marco Guirola for a day of diving and fishing ...

The sun rose over the jagged rocks awash from the incoming tide. Los Cobanos is a sleepy village. By sunrise the fishermen have set out, and the rest of the people lazily cook breakfast over wood stoves for the numerous family members. Flies buzz around, waiting for their share. The huts are set on a half-moon, overlooking a placid cove - right on the sand. Not one hundred meters from the huts, wall behind wall of raw power break up over the rocks. They get up to twelve feet tall. One rock - el Tiburon, because of its shape - marks the way through that madness. We arrived a little before dawn, to troll and dive Los Cobanos.

Drunken or hung-over, or both, bodies get up at the sound of sophisticated cars, to help unload the gear in exchange for some colones at the end of the day. They carry nine scuba tanks, plus dive gear for three. Fishing rods. Spearguns, large and small. The procession nears the 18' panga that awaits, already feeling the cool slap of little waves on its knify hull. "La Pispireta" looks like a pin cushion, steered by a man half-Cro-Magnon, half fish: "Magallon" to those who love him, Oscar to those who know him, and hijo de puta to his enemies. He has a few. There is not one ounce of fat on his body, nor one square inch without a scar. No one knows his origin. He arrived at Los Cobanos not knowing anything about the sea, and now he knows more than one hundred spots to dive and fish. He holds the imaginary lines that mark those spots all in his deeply magical brain. His brain got that way because he smokes weed. Every time before diving.

Magallon, la Concha and myself push La Pispireta over the rock bottom towards the walls of white. Once close, we jump into her, Magallon starts the 35hp Evinrude, and we pick our way. We wait and push, wait and push, until we're through.

El Chino is the first dive spot. 120' deep limestone ledge. You can't see how far the ledge overhangs, but you can hear the loud pops of massive jewfish telling you that's not your house. Soft corals lie flat against the top of the ledge, trying to escape the three knots that rip careless divers into the muddy spots around the ledge. Visibility is 20 feet. A very clear day. Snook hang around a crack in the ledge, and quickly three get taken. Dog snapper come to see what the fuss is about and quickly disappear into the murk. They do this many times, each time loosing some family members. We dive alone, each searching the structure. A loud bang is heard. I shot my .357 into 180 lbs. of jewfish. I guess that was the signal. We ascended.

After removing the nematocyst laden strings of stuff stuck to our faces and neck, we had some breakfast and took off for dive spot two. La Merera de Emiliano is a 120' deep rock pile. We descended using the anchor line, seeing next to nothing but brown and a bit of yellow line. The crackle of the rocks was a din. Three Cuberas in formation came to establish their dominance. They died. We hit the thermocline. Visibility was zero. La Concha went into the dark, and came back out with a flailing dog snapper on his spear. Then I did. Then Magallon went in. We waited and waited. He appeared with a huge Cubera. Again, a signal. We sought the light.

It was ten in the morning. The wind had picked up a bit. We headed out to sea, in search of floating debris. Dorado plugs swimming, darting, diving behind La Pispireta. It takes little time before Mahi start joining the crew. So we troll, and troll, and troll, relaxing in the morning banter between friends. Adults that don't speak a single adult sound. We laugh and enjoy. We release a sail. We head towards La Quinoguerona. The final dive of the day. It's a bit before one in the afternoon.

It's 60' deep and an acre. We dive into rocks of different sizes. Caves, sandy pockets, and formations of fish. Suddenly the lights go out. Overhead a Manta flies by. This is God's garden. A school of several hundred barracuda encircle Magallon as he stayed suspended checking out the hunting ground like a hawk. That was the last I saw of Magallon.

La Concha and I picked up some lobster at La Quinoguerona, and headed for La Pispireta. The wind was at about 15 kts. Magallon hadn't come up. We waited. The mexican panga "Big Dick" arrived to say hello. We laughed together, proudly displaying our magnificent catch of the day. It was one forty, and we began to worry. A monkey wrench in the idyllic afternoon. We agreed to skin Magallon when he showed up, but he didn't. Two pangas searched for four hours, before returning to Los Cobanos.

Threading our way through the violent breakers, expecting to reach the peace of the cove, and dreading the despair of Magallon's family when we told our story, we advanced in silence. Magallon's woman didn't cry. Nor did her children. They, all five of them, were too young to really understand the magnitude of their loss. She thanked us for everything we had done. We promised her, and she believed us, that we would take care of her and her children always. They would have health, food, lodging, school and opportunity. She thanked us. The drunks sobered up quickly, and loaded up in silence. In the corner of my eye I saw Magallon's woman break into a quiet, resigned sob, away from her kids who were playing with the dead fish we had killed and left them.

We drove in air conditioned luxury to our luxury beach house, crying. Our friends from the "Big Dick" and us. Crying. We cried until eleven that night. Until an apparition walked up the carefully manicured lawn, holding a bag full of lobster, eight pounds of lead on a belt, screaming, "Puta! Porque me dejaron?". Why did you leave me behind? Our love for Magallon has grown since. All's well that ends well.

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