I attempt to jog on the beach this morning as I have time before Belen is to arrive. I am able to stretch in the glorious sunrise, but when I try to run, I realize the hardest surface of the beach, where the water washes over the shore, is on a pretty steep slant.
I toil on the slant barefoot for a few moments before a wave crashes into me, wetting my shorts up to my thighs. I give up running and walk for awhile, passing few people: some brave souls stronger than I am, jogging easily along – and some young guys ambling along, maybe just going to or getting off work.
A shout reverberates thru the calm dawn and the small boat that has been chugging along parallel to the shore moves swiftly into action. I see one of the three men on the boat jumping into the water grabby one end of a long net that has been gracefully flung into the water.
The boat races off as the man in the water tosses a long rope to another guy who suddenly materializes on the shore. The net tumbles endlessly from the stern into the sea as the boat makes a giant curve.
As quickly as the shout, racing men appear on the shore. I see now that the boat has finished its arc, and both ends of the net are at the edge of the shore, making a giant semi-circle reaching far into the ocean.
And on both ends of the net, about 6 or 7 men place themselves, equally spaced apart, heaving the net onto the beach in small increments, their pulls synchronized with the push of the tide.
I am speechless and in awe with the beauty of all of it as I move closer. The early morning skies, the sparkling ocean, the fresh sun, the amazing coordination and unspoken cooperation and skill between the men, the boat, the ocean.
Now there is only one man left on the boat, two men are submerged up to their necks in the water on either side of the net, while the other men on the shore heave with the waves.
When the last man in the line on shore reaches the place where the beginnings of the net are being piled, he drops the net and runs down past the other men, to the water’s edge, grabs the net and begins pulling again.
This repeats over and over as the curve of the net comes closer and closer to shore. It is a beautiful, unhurried, rhythmic dance.
Now more of a crowd is gathering – tourists taking pictures. Excitement reverberates, illuminated by the rays of the new sun, anticipation swells. Yet the net remains empty as they pull and pull and pull.
Soon there is only a few feet of empty net left in the water and I am afraid there is no fish for these hard working men. The two men who have been up to their necks in water the entire time are now beginning to emerge with the last of the net.
With a final haul, the final curve of the net is rapidly brought to a few feet above the wave line, sparkling with silver shimmering fish trapped and gasping their last breaths.
The boat runs aground in the sand, as a man grabs the anchor, races high up the incline onto the beach, and pushes a spike of the anchor deep into the soft sand.
The fish are unceremoniously shaken, pulled and picked out into large piles onto the sand. One man has a white plastic paint bucket that he fills and then hands another fisherman $150 pesos, a little more than $12 us dollars.
Another man steadily searches for and picks out the tiny fish, putting them in a raggedy cloth bag hanging from his shoulder.
Yet another man picks out sting rays and other undesirable fish, tossing them back to their life in the ocean.
While I’ve been watching the fish tumbling to the sand and being sorted, someone has grabbed an end of the net and three men stand inside the boat – one in the middle and two on either ends – while other men outside the boat tug on the net and pass it off to the men in the boat, who are neatly piling it in the belly of the boat.
I can see now the net, charcoal dark with ocean water, is at least 20 feet wide and must be miles long. I have a hard time believing this huge net will fit in this small boat with its little motor. But it finally does.
The fish are now in several orange plastic crates, about 2 ½ times the size of a square milk crate, that also disappear inside the boat with the net.
The anchor is hauled on board with several of the men jumping on, and, standing with their backs to us, out to sea they go.
The other men melt away as swiftly as they appeared and only a couple of fat kitty cats now mill about in the disturbed sand, searching for their share of the catch!