Tangled Lines

A Letter From Costa Rica

May 05, 1991|By JOHN M. McCLINTOCK

BARRA DE COLORADO, COSTA RICA. — Barra de Colorado, Costa Rica.--The swirl of the river held our lines taut. When the tarpon bite, it is a dainty chew, requiring the fisherman to discern carefully between a surge in current and a fish testing a sashaying plastic lure for edibility.

If all goes according to the Costa Rican tourist brochure, a hundred pound monster will crack a dark eddy, shimmering into the air, to be tamed for a photograph and then released into what is now called the biosphere.

For two days the dream has eluded me at great expense.

Rosario Leo, my guide, is despairing.

To keep me occupied, Rosario Leo has been telling me about his contra days, running guns up the Colorado River to Nicaragua, 10 minutes away. The Sandinistas had killed two of his brothers.

"It is all turned to nothing now. My country is a mess, so I fish here with the rich gringos and raise my family," he says.

Ahead at the bend in the river are two elderly gentlemen I call the Bubble Boys, pallid, obviously American fellows whose immense girths lead to one of them to fish standing erect, as though urinating, from the side-by-side chairs on the deck of their shallow skiff.

As the tropical morning wears on, the Bubble Boys are forced to sit, side-by-side marshmallows melting into each other. Their guide opens cold bottles of beer and adds the empties to a pile astern. He looks at Rosario Leo and shrugs.

I am out of my depth. The fishing here is the preserve of three luxury resorts, patronized by American executives and computer geniuses whose companies have decided they need a seven-day, tax deductible rest for $1,800.

My company has a character-building philosophy and so I am here at my own expense at a cheap hotel, with a battered little skiff and my ex-contra, hoping that the tarpon is not class conscious.

I have no beer, as Rosario Leo keeps reminding me.

A Bubble Boy turns to look at me. He is wearing rimless glasses. A fat round face that appears to command the fate of millions.

I smile confidently. But he glares at me, as though still in his paneled boardroom, anchored in his power, trying to determine if I am a Communist or a rock star.

Still smiling, I mutter in Spanish: "You son of a whore."

I know this delights Rosario Leo because it makes the distant gringos seem more human. They hate each other, too, just as in Nicaragua.

For some reason, the Bubble Boys remind me of my imperialist youth and the titanic powers of the business world.

My father was a United Fruit Company executive whose perks included taking his family on summer cruises aboard banana boats.

During one cruise, a fellow my age -- armed with cap pistol and a Lone Ranger mask -- insulted my self-importance by insisting that I be his Tonto. It was thus I learned my first lesson in the power game.

My dignity offended, I unmasked the Lone Ranger and hurled his pistol into the sea.

Unless he behaved, I threatened to feed the little punk to the sharks since the "ship belonged to my daddy" and hence to me.

The horrified Lone Ranger ran screaming into his stateroom. An hour later, my father angrilly berated me.

I was told the lawman's dad was a senior Coca Cola executive, "who could raise serious hell and was in the process of doing exactly that."

Coke, it seemed, was somehow more powerful than the lovely Chiquita Banana. It could buy my ship and throw me into the sea.


My line dipped faintly. In the dark swirl before me, the bellows-mouth beast was making his move.

"Suave, sauve," whispered Rosario Leo. The hook should not be yanked but pulled firmly because of the tarpon's cartilagenous mouth, he advised.

The Bubble Boys turned to appraise the situation. The Communist/rock star had caught something.

One of the Bubble Boys began to yell. I could hear the clicking of his reel as his line paid out. He'd hooked one, too.

I was reeling air, with no sense of the monster's weight. The clever devil -- with his obscene intelligence -- was running straight for the boat, hoping to gain enough slack to throw the hook.

But what burst from the water was a horizontal of plastic fishing line that extended to a disdainful Bubble Boy, his lips pursed, his eyes glaring.

My fellow countryman and I were inextricably connected, the Communist/rock star and a 300-pound world record industrialist.

"That pimp," snarled Rosario Leo as it became clear that the our lines were tangled.

We stared at each other, I with the friendly grin of a Marine recruit and he the drill-sergeant, destroyer of the universe.

I foresaw my early retirement as Bubble Boy 1 learns from Bubble Boy 2 that their Compublast International "just so happens to [ital own [ital] this boy."

The Lone Ranger rode again.


The surliness of Big Power has always troubled me and this was no exception.

But Big Power also has another, perhaps more important corollary. That is, one must first learn who you are dealing with.

In my teens I experienced a flat tire at night in upstate New York, only to find I lacked a tire iron.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.