Colombian orphans will never forget day on the Chesapeake

July 30, 2011

It will be hard to leave the pizza, the pool and the ice cream when Wednesday rolls around for Andres and Duvan, two orphans from Colombia who spent a month soaking up the things we take for granted.

But they'll always have the Chesapeake Bay, which threw a giant going away party Thursday that they won't soon forget. A cavalcade of rod-bending striped bass will do that to you, no matter how old you are. But there were other moments, too.

There wasn't a lot to cheer about when the boys and their host families boarded a charter boat in Solomons. Eight o'clock is mighty early when you're on vacation and the heat and sun were already beginning to press down on anyone with the temerity to stand outside for more than 5 minutes.

I had my doubts.

But the energy level rose when the two boys caught a glimpse of their ride: Patience, Capt. Tom Ireland's 42-foot boat, at once the most awesome thing tied up at Calvert Marina.

Andres and Duvan didn't wait for an invitation. They flew down the pier and onto the deck, where their darting brown eyes seemed to take in everything at once. Their faces exploded in smiles as Ireland cranked up the twin diesels and slowly motored out into the Patuxent River.

Then came the first deposit in the memory bank as Ireland cleared the cove and throttled up. Andres and Duvan practically matched the RPMs as they ran from side to side and watched the bubbling wake, suddenly realizing that this fishing was going to be much more than a worm and bobber and a small pond.

Patience was part of a flotilla of 11 charter boats that had one mission: tag a total of 200 striped bass for the final month of the Diamond Jim tournament, part of the Maryland Fishing Challenge. One of the neon-green tags attached to the side of the fish will be worth $25,000 to a lucky angler if he or she catches it before Labor Day. The rest are impostors, worth $500.

Catching fish was our job. The rest — watching Andres, 9, and Duvan, 11 — was pure delight.

Just beyond the river's mouth, Mate Bobby Thomas put the lines in. After a wait that must have seemed like years to active imaginations, we had a fish on. Andres and Duvan did a little victory dance that ended mid-step when Thomas tossed the fish back for being too small. The second fish resulted in the same outcome.

Then, pay dirt. A fish over 18 inches came aboard and Department of Natural Resources biologist Jeffery Horne measured it and inserted one thin tag. "That's one down and 31 to go," he said, reminding us of our responsibilities.

The boys' look of triumph vanished as Horne prepared to release the fish over the side.

"Nosotros?" asked Andres, his eyes pleading and his lower lip quivering — "Us?"

"No," said his host, Sarah Widman, a DNR manager, who went on to explain that business would come before pleasure and our fun would come later.

We moved up the bay to the LNG gas docks, just north of Calvert Cliffs. There, Ireland put us on the fish, one pass after another. There were times when five rods bent almost at once. The boys cranked the reels with furious determination, only to see their reward tossed back over the side. Frowns deepened to full pouts.

Between bursts of activity, Widman and Steve and Rita Allan, the other host couple, talked about Kidsave, the nonprofit organization that tries to find permanent homes for older children in a world that prefers babies.

As part of its agreement with the Colombian national adoption program, Kidsave is not allowed to give out the children's last names. Andres and Duvan both live in foster homes, where they are awaiting adoption.

Since their arrival July 3, there have been a lot of firsts: train rides, zoo and aquarium visits, electronic games. Duvan took two weeks of swimming lessons, "and now he swims like a fish, literally. We can't keep him out of the water," said Steve Allan.

Andres surprised everyone, showing his culinary prowess by preparing fish, a meal he would eat every day if Widman and her husband, Ryan, let him.

One hurdle was getting the boys from Colombia to understand that they are staying in Columbia. With the help of a globe and map, they got the "Mary-land" part, but the rest will have to come another time.

Just last week, the boys were told that on Wednesday — Andres' 10th birthday — they will fly back to Bogota.

"He cried," said Rita Allan of Duvan's reaction. "I switched to talking about the fishing trip because I had tears in my eyes, too."

There is a chance the boys might return next summer, she said, "if all goes well. We tell them we'll be in touch."

The adult talk of the future was shattered as another batch of fish swam under the boat and Ireland called out to us.

This time, though, our work was done. Our Diamond Jim quota had been satisfied.

And for Andres and Duvan, that could mean only one thing.

"Nosotros?" asked Andres, clearly worried about the answer.

He didn't need to know English when he saw the grins on our faces.

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