The move to the small Caribbean island off the coast of Belize wasn’t easy. In fact, some might call it a rather arduous journey. Adventure is a more appropriate description. Not only was the move an adventure, the day-to-day routines of ones life are as well. What makes the hassle and hurdles worth it, you ask? A few things in come to mind immediately.
A.) I did mention it’s a Caribbean Island, right?
B.) An abundance of very small bikinis on petite, stunningly beautiful senoritas.
C.) The most important deciding factor for me, something I call “Backyard Bones”.
This all begins a short six months after I entered the “working” world. As a child I fished a lot. So much in fact that I was recognized by my peers as being quite adept at the sport. When the time came, I was informed that regardless of being told as a child I could be anything I wanted. And I of course said I wanted to be a fisherman. That it was all a lie. Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Uncles and adults in general were lying when they informed you that you could be anything you dare to dream. Really, when they asked; “What do you want to be when you grow up?” their actually looking for cheap amusement from the innocents of a child. The reality is, once you’re of age they expect a productive and contributing member of society. So, with that repressed angst off my chest now – I’ll continue.
Off to the corporate world I went. I thought at the time that I was fairly lucky. Everyone informed me that since I hadn’t gone to college and was given a natural-knack for writing various computer code and earning a decent wage for a first job, especially as a young man of twenty. I, according to society was on the right path in life. Within the first six months of breathing recycled air surrounded by people I found annoying and rather miserable. The luster of the corporate career wore off. And the harsh reality began to set-in. I was on the well-paved road to spending the next thirty years in this bleak existence. Trapped in a three-walled cell, opps I meant cubicle day-after-day for roughly 250 days per year for a grand total of 7,500 days of your “working” life. Let that sink in just a bit. SEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DAYS OF YOUR LIFE! Well it scared the **** out of me. Soon I was living for that sacred two brief days per week doing what I WANTED TO DO, known as the weekend.
In order to break the monotony of this drab routine I took up fly-fishing and begin returning to the past time that I had so comfortably fit into through out my youth. The weeks got easier as I spent the majority of my days on someone’s dime other than mine performing just enough work to keep me below the radar. The rest of the time studying the art of fly fishing and fly tying in books and on the internet. Fridays would arrive and I would sneak out of the building a full hour early. Truck packed with gear and a paycheck in my pocket. I would bolt for freedom like the family cat when he would hear my three-year old cousin coming after him. I knew, If I could beat traffic I would be settling into my campsite adjacent to some great waters holding tons of fish for me to harass come sun up.
Regardless of the previous five days since my last visit. Each morning on the water was as if I’d never left. It’s the slight chill early in the morning coupled with the anticipation of what the day will hold. The early morning still as the sun begins to break the horizon. The gentle trickle of water as a few drops hit the surface while poling the boat into an area teaming with fish. Listening to the trees come to life with the sounds of various birds as they greet a new day. Watching those first signs of disturbance on the waters surface indicative of feeding fish. This is what my life has been about since the beginning. For richer or poorer, for better or for worse, I said “I do.” to fishing long ago.
One morning while conducting my “paid for” fishing research I ran across an advertisement for a flats trip in the Bahamas. Living in southern Florida I knew the airfare rates couldn’t be terribly expensive. Sure enough I discovered a round trip to Freeport for a hundred fifty six dollars. That was it, my mind was made up. I called up the number from my employers phone; after all, international calling is expensive. A gentle sounding voice with a thick island accent answered with a pleasant hello. Cutting through the chase I asked when was the first immediate opening he had for three days of fishing. He replied with a slight hmmm… and a pause. “The twelfth of this month.” With no hesitation I said I’d take it. Upon hanging up the phone I began plotting how I could escape with a reasonable excuse. Only having eight days to prepare I knew it was going to be my best “duck and dodge” of the office I would have yet to perform. The following Monday I began with a fake cough. Followed by a few sneezing fits encourage by breathing a bit of white pepper. Add to that a few drops of Visine to make my eyes water. A couple of squirts of nasal spray that always gives me a little sniffle runs just after I sniff it. And viola! Looks as though the years of faking sick in school works equally well in corporate America.
By the second day of my shenanigans I added a large coffee cup containing some VERY peppery broth to produce a mild sweat on my forehead. Add in one departmental office meeting with everyone one in attendance and by Tuesday at noon, the boss sent me home before I got everyone in the office sick. I strolled out of the office somberly accepting the “get well soons” and the “hope you feel betters” from numerous co-workers. As I drove away from the property with the office building in my rearview I paused for a moment and with a smile said; “I’d like to thank the academy!” I spent the remainder of the day packing my gear, tying some popular bonefish patterns, while watching a few of my favorite movies.
Waking early the next morning I loaded my gear and headed down A1A, also know as Ocean Blvd twenty five miles south toward Ft. Lauderdale to meet my puddle jumper over to the Bahamas. By 10:15 in the morning I was sipping Kailik on a beach in Eleuthera staring aimlessly out across the vibrant hues of blue as far as my eyes could see. With my five-day repreival from the office finally at hand I begin feeling enlightened and content once again. I realized the sun had sunk closer to the horizon and my watch reads four p.m. It strikes me that while being surrounded by the tropics on the beginning of a fishing trip has aided me in shrugging off the corporate blues. It’s more likely that the rum drinks are the reason for enlightenment. With the awareness of my altered state now on my mind, I set my watch alarm for eight o’clock as a reminder to head to bed, as six a.m. will come painfully early should this drinking continue any further. I pick my self up out of the beach chair and proceed to glide in the direction of the bar for just a few more.
The next morning I’m up early rigging my fly rod and tying a few extra leaders for the coming day. I pause for a moment in my shuffling to fully take-in my current place on the planet. Making my way to the balcony I watch in wonder as colors so brilliant fill the sky. Remarkable hues of orange, purple, pink, reds, and blues explode over the glass like waters of the Caribbean. A small skiff passes by, the wake gently rolls towards shore causing this radiant spectrum of light to come to life. Each perfectly melding color begins to dance with such fervor as if this once still canvas suddenly burst to life. I’m captivated by the movement and blending of textures, it’s as if I can actually feel the sunrise. Sunrises and sunsets are an added bonus to spending your life on the water, and each one I store away in the memory banks. However, this one was especially noteworthy. This sunrise was full of life. Reminding me once again what a miracle each day truly is.
Promptly at six on the dot, a weathered and worn jeep wrangler arrives just in front of my door. A thin framed very dark man sporting a tattered looking straw hat, faded khaki cargo shorts and a bleached out once neon green t-shirt that said, “I Love Bimini” across the chest. With a few knocks to my screen door I’m certain this is my guy. I answer the door gear in hand. With a kind smile he offers his hand and introduces himself as Doc. Accepting his jester I grip firmly and immediately feel a lifetime of poling and fishing in the calluses of his shake. Introductions concluded he instructs me to place my nine-foot rod in his custom-made rod rack mounted to the top of the roll bars of the old jeep. Remarking on it’s unique design Doc says; “Yeah, I fine dis piece of pipe’n wash up from sum storm on de backside of dis heere lil’ caye, bout sum two mile out. I figured it don serve me well for my use as a rig holder.” Nodding my head in agreement he turns the key and we’re on our way.
I ask Doc if it’ll be a far run out to the first spot we’ll be fishing. He chuckles in a manner that makes me certain that to this game I’m a complete newbie. With a quick answer he says it all and I know that the joke is going to be on me. “Yeah mon! It gonna take bout terty minute fore ya fishin.”. Only five minutes drive from my room we arrive at a washed out pastel blue home complete with angled storm shutters accented in a white paint that’s now laden with cracks and chips. A slightly corroded tin roof featuring small patches of rust scattered randomly about adorns the roof of this house. It sits tall on stilts and has a wrap around porch with flower boxes mounted to the outside of the deck railing. Each box containing well maintained hibiscus plants blooming in a gorgeous alternating pattern of orange, yellow, and red. Perfectly spaced every two feet or so, these stunning plants merge together and appear as one continues plant encircling the home.
Doc lifts the latch on the gate and steps into the yard. Close behind I follow, uncertain of where we are. A split second later a young girl appears on the top step and lets out an ecstatic “Daddy!” as if her father had been gone for days. It’s abundantly clear we’re at Doc’s house now. He turns to me and offers a brief explanation; “Dat be my baby, Julia. We gonna get some eats before we head out, if that alright with you.” I agree, feeling my stomach rumbling. In all the anticipation for the days fishing and excitement of being on-island, I had forgotten all about breakfast and the need for food to absorb the last remaining drops of rum from last night sugary cocktails. I continue behind Doc as we head past his house along the side where it opens into a beautiful mangrove lined sand yard. In the center of the yard among the various boat engines parts, a run-down well used skiff hull, and a variety of buoys and fishing nets hanging and stored through out, sits a picnic table surrounded by plastic deck chairs along with a sunbrella in the middle of the table.
Pointing towards one of the seats at the head of the table Doc gestures for me to take a seat. A moment later I hear the creak of a screen door and glance upwards to the back porch. Carefully making her way down the stairs holding a large picture beading with condensation, I would soon learn it’s filled to the brim with freshly squeezed orange and mango juice mixed with coconut water. Following behind young Julia is a beautiful woman adorn in a bright yellow blouse and a floral print dress. Her smile is big and bright. She watches her little one with a sense of paternal pride as she so eagerly wishes to help by carrying the juice down the stairs. It’s a spectacle that can’t help but bring a smile to your face as she diligently concentrates on her task at hand. A size two child with a size three pitcher weighted down by five pounds of liquid.
Soon we’ve all been introduced and are sitting comfortably around the table eating fresh fruit, eggs, bacon, and toast topped with homemade papaya jam canned by Doc’s wife. After we’ve had our fill Doc rises from the table leans forward and kisses his wife then walks around to Julia and pats her head while reassuring her that he’ll be back before night fall. Glancing in my direction Doc says; “Ya ready go fish?” I answer, “You bet.”. With a good luck from Doc’s wife I follow Doc through an opening in the mangroves along a narrow boardwalk lifted a foot off the ground. Past the mangroves it opens into a channel canal where at the end of our path sits a small floating dock and a flats skiff anchored to it. As we board the boat Doc begins looking around the engine and checking a few things prior to departure. I take off my wading pack and lay it on the floor of the boat next to the console. As I begin to stow my rod in the built-in gunwale holders. Doc informs me that it won’t be necessary, as I’ll need it soon. Wit the bow pointed towards the entrance of the channel He trims the engine down off its tilt and into the water. Turning the key the engines comes to life. An idle purr and a slight odor of burning petrol and two-stroke oil fill the air. Doc moves the throttle forward putting her into gear as we being to motor out in the direction of the first destination.
Admiring the other little island cottages lining the canal I think to myself how nice it would be to own something like this for my own. Along with what a nice life Doc probably has fishing everyday while pursuing his passion. We pass three other cottages and we’re coming to the opening of the canal. Pulling past the last cottage I focus my attention to the right and to my surprise sits a large salt flats area just to the south of Doc’s canal. During my surprise my jaw must have dropped to the deck of the boat. Doc began to chuckle, looking back he remarks; “What ya tink?” three seconds later he turns off the engine trims it back up, tilts it to once side then points just ahead of me to the right stating; “There two o’clock forty feet, you see dem?”. Shocked I stare as three large bonefish with their noses in the sand unaware of our presences are on a direct path towards the boat. With a childish grin on my face and the excitement of a kid in a candy store, I look at Doc saying; “You’ve got bones in the backyard!”, his reply; “Not bad yeah!”
Grabbing his pole carefully from the deck as not to make any noise he skillfully pops up atop the poling platform and begins pushing us out on the flats. With barely enough time to unhook my fly from hook holder and strip off sixty to seventy feet of line before Doc calls out. “Eleven o’clock fifty yards!”. Sure enough with one quick glance I spot a school of five bonefish nose down and tails up. I throw my rod back and feel it load. With the flick of my wrist I shoot the line forward then back again. As the momentum of the line loads the rod on the back cast this time I make a haul and shoot forwards, releasing with my left hand the remaining line. I feel it slip quickly through my thumb and forefinger that are guiding the remaining line on the deck of the boat. The loop unfurls ahead of me and I watch as I tip the rod tip to the waters edge and the leader delicately delivers the fly a few feet in front of the school. As the fly sinks one of the bones turn on it. “He’s sees it!” Doc says. Followed by a “Strip”, “Strip”. Just like that a mere five minutes from the dock I’m hooked up. I palm the reel as he strips me into my backing. Six or seven minutes later I bring him aside the boat as I kneel down and remove the hook from his mouth and take the opportunity to snap a quick picture. The rest of the day is spent stalking and catching fish after fish on the network of flats just behind Doc’s house, never straying more than a mile or two from his canal.
Three days of successful fishing later. I’m packing my bags and gear heading towards the Governors Harbor to catch my flight back to Freeport and then on to Ft. Lauderdale. I fell refreshed and notice a renewed sense of vigor. It’s as if I was plugged into a socket and my batteries are once again at full power. With this contemplation I understand the importance of the “vacation” in the corporate world. I see how it can replenish ones spirit and give them a false sense of hope again. The kind of hope that keeps you thinking, one day, one day I’ll be able to enjoy these activities and things that I like on a regular basis. I also get an understanding during this epiphany that the system was designed to give you just enough hope whilst keeping you coming back again and again. You never really have enough to get ahead. With the cost of living increasing at all times and inflation on the rise you’ll be lucky to have a 401K or some small money market account to play with once you reach sixty five. And even I know not to count on Social Security, and I’m certainly no economist or financial planner. I come from a long line of financial spenders. Lets just say my family is known as “good consumers”.
I could go on and on about my experiences of getting away from corporate America or any life that you merely tolerate and don’t truly love or have passion for. It’s like staying in a relationship because you’re comfortable. Passion keeps the soul young, and I see more passionate older people that have spent a lifetime doing something they love surrounded by people they love. After this altering realization and upon my return from the Bahamas I lasted a short seven weeks before handing in my resignation. I began a career of consulting and contracting work that enabled me more time to pursue my passions as well as work remotely from various tropical islands. After much exploring and fishing this planet I realize in hindsight that it was the best move I’ve ever made in this world. It hasn’t just changed my reality and my microcosm of this world. It’s changed everyone around me and in my life’s world as well. The happiness and content I have for my situation influences and eases anyone around me. There are a few disgruntled family members and ex-friends that hold a grudge and a bad attitude. How can that affect you when you’re enjoying your ride, the ups and the downs? It’s still exactly where and what you want to be doing. Their jealousy is based on the fear they’ve lived in for their entire lives that have stopped them from stepping out and pursuing what their passions are or were.
I now own a fishing outfit that lodges and guides people to experience their ideal fishing vacations. The lodge located just a few hundred yards from my house on a canal of my own. Recently I had the editor of a fishing magazine visiting to do a write-up about my fishing operation. His first day of arrival as I push us off the dock and motor out to the opening he glances over the side and with child like enthusiasm turns to me with wide eyes and proclaims, “Bro, you’ve got backyard bones!”. To that I can only say, “Yes I do, brutha! Yes I do!”
I hope you too are inspired to pursue your goals and passions through out life. If you’ve ever dreamed of doing something, do it! You’re far more likely to regret the things you didn’t do then the things you did. In one final parting note I leave you with a favorite quote.
“Laugh at yourself, but don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be BOLD! When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to venture into unexplored territory.” – Alan Alda, actor
Written by: Jim "Big D" Harper
Bite Me Belize