Monday, March 5, 2012

Where the Roads are Paved with Sand

White sand beaches, aqua blue water, miles of crystal clear flats, very cold beer, real tequila (with the worm at the bottom of the bottle), and happy, rolling tarpon.  For all that tarpon paradise has to offer, there's a lot that is missing.  No cars, no pavement, no morning rush hour.  Even the local describe the town as "muy tranquillo."  It's probably no coincidence that in Mayan the name of the island translates to "black hole," and this ancient civilization, whose descendants now inhabit the island, believed that a nearby freshwater lagoon was a fountain of youth.  Based on my experiences there, it's hard to disagree.

A few years ago I stumbled upon this paradise after one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history knocked out every runway in Chile that I was supposed to land on during a second trip to the southern hemisphere.  My friend and I, shit out of luck, called up every fishing connection we had, desperately looking for a destination with less seismic activity.  We received one instruction - "book a flight to Cancun right now."  The next morning we were in the air.

Since then, a trip to this quaint Mexican fishing village has become an annual pilgrimage.  It's a chance to visit a few fishing guides that have become very close friends, immerse myself in a completely different culture, play hooky from the rest of the world, and of course, to try to sore-mouth some fish that are older and bigger than I am.

There's a reason that anglers flock from all over the world to the the Gulf and central America to fish for tarpon.  After a couple million years of evolution, and lord knows how many shattered rods and crushed dreams, these prehistoric beasts have earned their reputation as one of the hardest fighting game fish on the planet.  When you consider the fact that these fish are the pinnacle of millions of years of ocean evolution, and exist in one of the most unforgiving environments on earth, a small part of you is happy when they kick your butt and get away.  

This trip also provides the opportunity to kick back and catch up with good friends -- and when your buddy owns the boats and the bar, there's usually the chance for a couple beers after a day of fishing.  I'm consistently amazed by how something as inconsequential as fly fishing has the ability to bring people together.  As I've said many times before on this blog, in one way or another I owe most of the best fishing I've ever had to my friends. Most of the time spent fishing these surreal, blue, Mexican waters falls into that category.

Each time I leave there's always a sinking feeling in my stomach -- not that I won't be back -- but that the next time that I am back the island will have changed.  In the past year there's been a couple of articles in the New York Times, Travel magazine, and a few other well circulated publications (full disclosure: these pieces capture the magic of this place far better than I do here) on this tropical oasis.  Although part of me is happy to see the island that depends solely on fishing and tourism make a name for itself, I also worry that before too long the cat will be out of the bag and the place will be ruined forever.  I guess there isn't really much to do except wait and see, and, of course, get back there as much as I possibly can just in case the unthinkable does happen someday.  

As a fly fisherman it's easy to fall into this mentality - "too many places, too many fish, and never enough time" - and fish with the maniacal, self-destructive craziness that is too easy to fall into.  Even though I think I've passed that stage of my fishing career, I think anyone that's spent some time traveling the world with a fly rod in their hand will admit that there are times during a trip when desperation does set in. But it also always seems to work itself out.  Fishing is the part of my life where success or failure doesn't really matter, because I know there's always going to be a next time.  I'm a firm believer that it's all going to work out in the end if I just fish enough.

Before long I'll be standing on a deserted Mexican beach watching the sun rise.  Everything will be beautiful, except for the mild headache leftover from the night before.  

My days will be spent on the flats,

in the rivers,

and off the beaches,

trying my luck for one like this.

Yeah, that is paradise.  That is Holbox.

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