(Today we publish our first guest posting, From Jeff Drew, an American who spends a few months a year on Ambergris Caye with his wife, Kathy. Recently Jeff had the opportunity to spend the day with a local fisherman, the amazing Jose (Salva to some) who paddles out to the reef every day. This is their story.)
Jose, or Salva, has been paddling out to the reef daily for 40 years, harvesting what he can find to resell along the shore.
By Jeff Drew
Imagine being invited by Ted Williams to take batting practice with him, complete with tips on the science of hitting. Or a shoot-around with Larry Bird in his prime. Perhaps an offer to learn stick handling from Wayne Gretzky (gratuitous reference for my Canadian friends and wife).
Anyhow, that’s the opportunity I had a few weeks ago when a mythological spear fisher invited me to share a kayak with him for a day of spearing, gaffing, and conch gathering. What he’s been doing nearly every day for over 40 years to make a living.
My mentor, Salva to some … Jose to others, is amazing to watch. Not an ounce of fat on his 56-year-old frame and endless energy.
We launched at 9 a.m. and returned just before sunset. Paddled from the old Palapa Bar location almost to Mexico rocks.
Salva practically knows every coral head by name. He pointed out that he knows which ones hold lobsters — and those are the only ones he checks.
He constantly slid out of, and back into, the kayak as we paddled north. When I crawl back aboard, it’s an adventure. He does it quickly and effortlessly.
Last year I frequently kayaked from there straight to the reef and thought I was quite the macho specimen. If I came back with four fish and a lobster it was epic. On this trip we came back with seven lobsters, three octopus, one Jack Crevalle, eight Box Fish (chicken of the sea), and 20-plus conch.
My meager contribution was a Box Fish (pictured here) and four or five conch. I’d like to say it was because I was mostly observing and videoing, but that would be a fib.
When we got to shore Salva wasn’t even breathing hard and I could barely walk.
We got circled by a bull shark, watched two sea turtles, a giant barracuda, explored a shipwreck in about 25 ft of water, and chased or observed about every form of life known to the Caribbean Sea.
My freezer is now fat with lobster and Box Fish and tonight we’ll have conch fritters. And despite a massive leg cramp at 20 feet trying to grab a conch and barely making it up for air and despite violent vomiting while in the water and again later paddling back, I’d say it was my greatest adventure ever on this crazy Island.
And an honor to accompany Salva, this fine one-of-a-kind Belizean.
Jeff Drew’s catch of the day, a box fish.
Salva/Jose surfaces with a lobster during a fishing expedition to the reef several weeks ago, before the end of lobster season.