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Tiger and King

The boat engine puttered, and we skimmed through the ocean waves, gliding to a halt. Through the darkness, we could see our destination slowly moving farther away. We were drifting, without an anchor, into the open ocean at night…

My wife and I’s first trip abroad was to Belize. I met Mags after her study abroad with her pharmacy class. Zip-lining, cave tubing, and spelunking into an ancient Mayan cave where we walked through Mayan king’s sacrifices to their gods, including human sacrifice, were several highlights of the trip. Our two-day fishing trip with Tiger and King, however, was by far the most memorable.

The pharmacy class’s guide was kind enough to set Mags and I up with his friends from Dangriga with a one of a kind fishing experience. When most people think about fishing in Belize, it’s with a professional fishing guide where you’ll likely be targeting tarpon or bone fish with a fly-fishing rod. When we were told that two local fishermen were going to take us out with them on their boat, I didn’t know what to expect. All we were told is they normally didn’t take tourists, so we were in for the real deal.

Standing on the docs in Dangriga, Belize, Mags and I looked for two men with a fishing boat. Everyone we saw had narrow, single engine fishing boats about twelve feet long and four feet wide. I didn’t see anyone with fishing poles on their boat that looked to be waiting for two young tourists from the states. After waiting in the tropical sun for about twenty minutes, Maggie’s tour guide found us. He informed us that his friends, Tiger and King, were waiting. He led us to a small blue wooden boat tied along the docs. A tall, muscular man with coffee skin, bald head, and too many scars to count on his arms and face approached. After talking briefly with our guide in Belizean Creole, he left us with the two local men waiting in the simple fishing boat.

King, the tall man with scars covering his arms and face, told us we’d be helping him and his partner, Tiger, to catch fish for the evening fish market. They told us they didn’t use fishing poles, but they could find some for us if we wanted to use them. Maggie and I, being the adventure seeking hopefuls we were, said we wanted to fish like they did, with just line and a hook. Once on the boat, King introduced us to Tiger. Tiger wore a torn white shirt and dark board shorts. He smiled, showing his missing teeth. When he spoke, his Creole was so thick I only understood one out of every ten words he said. Taking a seat in the front, we pushed off to fish the nearby reef.

Fishing without a pole took some getting used to, but after getting used to feeling the fish biting, Mags and I started pulling in almost as many fish as King and Tiger. King continued to say, “grunt in da front,” and “mutten or nutten.” We later found out mutton is a red-ish colored snapper and white grunts were the tasty fish they were selling at market. Near lunch, Tiger hand lined a four-foot nurse shark. It ended up being one of the best fishing days of our lives. Tiger and King were impressed with our abilities to fish and asked if we wanted to go with them tomorrow out beyond the keys and into open ocean to catch bigger fish. Of course, we said yes.

They picked us up from our beach bungalow the next morning at sunrise. Before going out past the keys, which was the chain of islands about forty miles east of the main coast, Tiger and King needed to catch bait for the day. They owned a house on a nearby island where we scanned the mangroves for small bait fish. As Tiger threw the net, repeatedly hauling in sizable amounts of bait fish, King told us about the enormous crocodile that hung out in the area. Luckily, we never saw it. With about a hundred small fish to use as bait, we buzzed out into the flat horizon of blue water. The fishing wasn’t as plentiful as the first day, but we caught much bigger fish. They called them porgies, which I’m not sure what they are, but they were big enough to cut our fingers on the hand lines and one almost pulled Mags over the edge.

On the way back, we ran into some trouble. Near the end of the day, the fishing picked up, and we stayed longer than intended. We didn’t reach the keys again until dark. As I described earlier, the boat was simple. It didn’t have lights or any reflective properties. It was a wood boat, painted blue with a single engine propeller motor mounted on the back. As we were coming about midway between the keys and the main shore, the boat engine puttered, and we skimmed through the ocean waves, gliding to a halt. Through the darkness, we could see our destination slowly moving farther away. We were drifting, without an anchor, into the open ocean at night.

Maggie and I quickly asked what happened. King informed us the fuel filter was clogged. He told us it was an easy fix, take the filter off and just run the fuel line straight into the engine, but they didn’t have any tools on the boat. All he needed was a screwdriver, but we didn’t have one. We only had fishing gear, a bunch of fish, and a bit of water. Tiger said he was going to call a friend to pick us up. He pulled out his phone, cursed, then King relayed to us that his phone was dead. Other fishing boats, some with lights, some without, raced by on their way back to town. As it was pitch black with no moon, we were pretty worried about one of them hitting us. King took out his cellphone, it was jingling with low battery. He called his friend. He didn’t answer. We drifted more, watching town get farther away. He tried several more people, hoping that his phone wasn’t going to die before telling someone about our situation. Finally, he got a hold of someone. He gave them loose directions. That we were drifting between the keys and about how much of a degree angle we’d drifted from town. After hanging up, King told us that his friend was on his way and there was no need to worry. Without lights on our boat, Maggie and I were still worried. With nothing else to do, we all started fishing again. King and Tiger caught a few fish before the buzz of a boat motor sounded. When we saw our rescuer, he slammed into reverse, nearly crashing with us because he was using the light of his flip phone screen to search in the darkness. I don’t know how, but the local found us a drift in the ocean. We tied to his boat and after about three hours drifting in the darkness; we got back to Dangriga.

As a thank you for helping them fish and putting up with the faulty fuel filter, Tiger and King invited us for a fish fry at their house. That was some of the tastiest fish I’ve eaten.



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