Thursday, August 07, 2008

Deep Sea Fishing in Mombassa

We ventured out to the Tamarind dock at 6am; the sun had only just risen on the horizon. I would like to say that I felt fresh and rejuvenated from a good night’s rest, but the fact of the matter is that I had only gotten to sleep an hour ago, after a heavy session at the bars. But even in that fatigued state, my enthusiasm for what I hoped to be an epic fishing trip was not curbed. Like Hemingway and HST, I too was eager to experience the thrill of a Great Hunt. And as we walked down the steps of the Tamarind and hopped into a small red dingy, I saw the fishing boat we would be boarding in the distance. She was a beauty. Outfitted with 1 seasoned captain and 2 experienced deckhands, I knew we were on the right track. She was sleek, a good 24 feet I think. On either side she had long masts reaching out, each cautiously gripping 4 separate fishing lines. There were at least 10 rods carefully positioned cradles in the back deck. As the captain steered us out of the river neck and into the ocean, his deckhands baited and drew the lines. They moved swiftly, like well oiled machinery, each knew his place and what was required of him.

Mombasa is a small but exotic town located on the East coast of Africa. Geographically, the main city which is a quaint trading town, is located on an island in a river delta that separates the North Coast of Mombasa from the South Coast of Mombasa. There are bridges you can drive over to get to the town center from the North Coast, but the only way to get to the South Coast is by using the ferry which shuttles over every 15 minutes or so (map). Being on the coast and having access to pristine beaches, Mombasa continues to develop as one of Kenya’s most popular tourist destinations. Both coasts are studded with hotels, resorts, villas, restaurants, and bars that cater to visitors from all over the world. Historically Mombasa was a Portuguese colony so some of the architecture is clearly representative of that culture; however the most prominent foreign influences would have to be Indian. I am guessing the Indians came here when the East Africa Company was building its railways and many of them stayed back. In fact Indian culture and people are so tightly woven into the Mombasa culture and landscape that you could hardly call them foreign. You can not drive down a street without being confronted by a mosque or a temple in the town of Mombasa. Local food is masala chai, chapatti, and biryani! Further up the northern coast is the town of Malindi with strong Italian influence. It is reputed that the town of Malindi was started by old Sicilian Mafioso’s making a run from the law. Malindi boasts some of the finest Italian restaurants in Africa, and all over the coast wood oven pizzas are staple food. As we sailed out of the delta, the landscape on either bank is studded by old deserted Portuguese forts, decrepit homes, and luxury apartments, each exhibiting its own flavor of the local cultures and the traces they have left behind.

It took us a little over an hour to get the land out of sight. The sea was pretty choppy and I was afraid I might find evidence of the previous nights debauchery make its way up my trachea. But my iron stomach held out and I felt no sea sickness at all. I actually managed to catch up on quite a bit of sleep as we trolled the water looking for a bite. I dreamt that we hooked a massive blue marlin and it took the efforts of all 4 of us to bring the magnificent bastard in after an 8 hour battle. When I woke up we were in the blue open water with nothing in sight as far as the eye could see in any direction. I love that feeling of absolute space. My mind is forced to see things from an entirely different perspective, where issues that seem so relevant up close suddenly seem less significant. The captain scoured waves and currents. We switched rods and bait, but there were no bites. We all sat in anticipation waiting to hear the snap of a rod or the click of a reel, but there was nothing. I slipped in and out of sleep laying in the shade as the boat made her way back to the jetty. No one spoke as our dreams of ‘catching the big one’ faded into oblivion. Once land came back into sight I felt dejected and let down. I felt out of tune with the universe like nature felt us unworthy of her bounty. Then just as the boat was creeping back into the delta, I heard my cousin call out from the pilot deck to check the lines. There we had it, a bite, finally. But the little fogger did not put up much of a fight. My buddy JL jumped for the line and reeled in the catch in under 2 minutes. The locals called it a kingfish.

The Great Hunts don’t come easy. Some people chase the sun their entire lives looking for one big catch or trying to witness one big kill. And I guess if I had hooked a great white, blue marlin, or yellow tuna on my first day out I would have felt like one lucky son of a bitch. But the fact that I did not has just made me hungrier for the experience. I want to sit on that chair strapped to a 12 foot long fishing rod going head to head against a creature double my size. I believe an experience like that would reveal things about myself to myself that I would never know otherwise and which I really need to find out…

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