The Old Men & the Sea

Still aglow from having caught a shimmering silver bonito on a troll line with a neon Tokyo-pop squid lure during our snorkel trip, my pal Nat decided he needed to go fishing proper.

Mario and Flynn hauling in a bonito

Mario and Flynn hauling in a bonito

It was our last full day in Mexico, and we awoke before sunrise to drive south to Boca de Tomatlan and meet Mario, our amigo and boat captain, for a morning of sailing. The plan was to be just Nat, myself and our two older boys, Flynn and Nat Wes. But the esposas were intrigued and some of the younger kids wanted to go, so we packed all nine of us into the Nissan compact rental, clown-style, and headed out.

The night before, we’d had a dramatic thunderstorm and danced about in the rain on the patio. Captain Mario assured us that the rain was a good omen for catching some fish. We stopped first at a little village and dropped an umbrella net into the water, and soon our hold was filled with hundreds of excited silver bait fish (which I suggested, if our catch was poor, would fry up nicely into a fritto misto). And then it was off to a point a quarter mile or so off a jungle point, where four or five other boats were already parked.

We dropped three lines into the water, and it wasn’t more than 30 seconds before someone yelled, “Fish on!”

Nat & the fight

Nat & the fight

It was a cry that would be heard with the frequency of “taxi” in town, as it took little more than the simple act of dropping a line to get a bite. For three hours we pulled fish on board. The bonito practically jumped onto the boat — as actually did a barracuda that landed squarely in the lap of Nat’s wife, Shirley. I battled a yellowtail tuna for some 20 minutes that cramped my hands, and I felt silly watching the teenage boys on a boat nearby hauling in fish after fish with nothing more than a hand reel.

“Dad, whatcha got!?” son Flynn called out regularly, and then sighed and frowned whenever a silvery bonito rose from the depths. “Oh, just a bonito.”

Even the esposas got in on the action, Leslie and Shirley catching their first ever tunas. Nat was in heaven. “You guys, you’ll never experience another day like this. This never happens!”

It felt somewhat gluttonous to me. The fish were beautiful, the little girls in the boat didn’t like seeing them die, and we had far more than we could possibly eat. What would we do with all of them?

After three hours, the palapa was heavy with fish — 17 bonito and two yellowtail — we were covered in blood, and we headed for the Playa las Animas, “Beach of the Spirits,” so named for the pirates who were once buried there. Mario had friends at a restaurant called Los Conos who would fix as much fish as we wanted, however we wanted it fixed. We laid the fish out on the beach and the locals gazed and pointed.

The fish on Playa las Animas

The fish on Playa las Animas

While the kids splashed in the surf, we ate a plate of yellowtail sashimi prepared by Mario himself, flavored with the unfortunate and curious addition of clove, which was mitigated somewhat by lime and oily salsa negra.

I’ve learned that afternoons at restaurants on the beach in Mexico can be deliciously lingering affairs. There’s no urgency on the part of the staff to turn over tables, so you pass hours away, between the water and your table or lounge chair, between platos of food and beer after beer. Though now off the clock, Mario and his assistant Ruben were happy to sit there with us and succumb to tropical timelessness. Mariachi came and went, flavoring the air with music.

Ninety minutes may have passed, or maybe it was twice that. The platter of fish that arrived was indeed impressive — fried and grilled, pounds and pounds of yellowtail, surrounded by tortillas and beans and rice and a quartet of salsas. It was as fresh and bright as the turquoise sea lapping at our toes. We ate as much as we could and because we didn’t have the right change, ordered more beers.

At Boca de Tomatlan, we got off the boat and gave Mario and Ruben hugs and promises of seeing them next year, when Mario would be a father. And we gave them fish — lots of fish.

Back at the Casa Tres Coronitas, the fish fiesta continued. I chose a couple sweet strips and made another plate of crudo, this time flavored with lime, a drizzle of chipotle mayonesa, a touch of salsa and some Jugo sauce — Mexico’s equivalent of soy sauce. It tasted fusion-y, like something you might get at a Mexican restaurant with a Japanese chef.

Imogen and the grand plato de pescado at Los Conos

Imogen and the grand plato de pescado at Los Conos

The last of the day’s catch — or what we would eat of it — came out of Marilu’s kitchen grilled, eaten with more tortillas and lime and beans and the usual condiments that define the Mexican table. I ate little, still full from the rest

And still, there was more fish left. Out on the boat, we had talked about freezing some and taking it home in a cooler. But we’d had our fill, and so we gave the remaining fishes to Eufracio and Marilu, who were grateful and would share them with their families. And that was a much better justification for bringing in so many fish, none of which would go to waste in a country where there is little room for waste.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jessamine in PDX
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 05:26:17

    That is a seriously impressive haul! Also that giant platter of goodness is making me hungry and the thought of beers on the beach is making me jealous. Looks like a vacation well spent.


  2. pal-O
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 15:28:10

    What’s that new old saying, “Share your catch and you have friends for life.” Glad your last day was so bountiful. Still suffering a bit of that Mexico envy . . . lovely photo of Willa you sent with her sporting her lucky cowgirl hat.


    • scolgin
      Oct 08, 2013 @ 16:37:03

      You’re not allowed to have Mexico envy after sailing around the Caribbean on a sailboat drinking rum and eating conch.


      • pal-O
        Oct 08, 2013 @ 22:07:20

        Arrrrrgh ye caught me with me breeches at half staff now Seamus. Ahrrright then no Mexico envy. But Jesus you fed a multitude with those fishes . . . Hope to see you in time & space before the year’s out!

  3. Lorin Flemming
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 16:24:24

    Hi S,
    I found your blog after booking Casa Tres Coronitas for this xmas holiday.
    We too are fortiish, artsy, foodie, angelino parents of two (6 & 8).
    Wondering if you have any advise for us household logistics, menu planning shopping family excursions – looks like you guys do it right!


    • scolgin
      Dec 16, 2013 @ 16:30:14

      Hi Lorin,

      Oh man, you guys are gonna have the time of your lives down there. It’s incredible! Go to Bodeguito del Medio on the Malecón in town for mojitos — it’s the Mexican outpost of the place in Havana that invented the drink, where Hemingway used to drink. Also, have Mario take you out in his boat — “houseman” Euphracio can connect you with him. Have him take you snorkeling and to Yelapa to see the waterfall and have lunch.

      Give me an idea of what kind of things you’d like advice on re: household logistics and I’ll do a post on it! (Probably lots of folks would find that useful.)

      Thanks!!! And have fun. Drink a margarita for me!


      • Lorin
        Dec 16, 2013 @ 19:26:19

        That bar sounds perfect right up our alley! Thank you!
        Sorry for being unclear – the advise I am seeking at present is all in relation to PV.
        Just curious about the logistics of meal planning and shopping with the staff, specialties? etc. Anything lacking we should bring from home? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

      • scolgin
        Dec 16, 2013 @ 23:48:44

        Right! I was wondering if that’s what you meant.

        Well, with kids you SHOULD bring stuff — snacks, fruit rolls, cereal, peanut butter, jelly, granola bars. PBJ sandwiches really go a long way. We brought bread. Most of the stuff down there is fine — tortillas, bread, cheese, etc. And the house staff will pick up anything you ask for.

        They do a killer breakfast and dinner. Although breakfast is usually 10 a.m.-ish and the kids are starving at 7, so we would make them toast or a bowl of cereal. You’re on your own for lunch. But we were usually in town, or we just made ourselves quesadillas or something.

        You might get tired of the cooking at some point, depending on how long you’re down there. Even if you request pasta and salad, it still kind of tastes like Mexican food. There are good international restaurants (Italian, Asian, etc.) down there. OR you can go to the grocery store, which is super fun anyway (and a great source for inexpensive high-end tequilas, if you like tequila) and grocery shop and make your own dinner.

        You can walk into town on the beach from the house, although it’s a slog if you’ve got tired kids. Do it when they’re fresh. Taxis all over the place.

        Let me know if you have any other Qs.

    • scolgin
      Jan 06, 2014 @ 22:33:18

      Hi Lorin, heard you guys had a great time at C3C!!! Don shared some of your pics, glad you enjoyed it! Pretty special down there, huh? And the rain is the BEST.


      • Lorin
        Jan 07, 2014 @ 15:57:30

        So Awesome! We had the best time!
        Thanks so much for all of the advice!
        Cant wait to go back!!!
        Back on location in Detroit now -12 below – harsh transition! 😦
        Thanks again – Cheers!

      • scolgin
        Jan 07, 2014 @ 16:45:51

        Yep, we try to go once a year! It’s a fun thing to look forward to, and fun to see Euphracio, Marilu, etc. Yikes! Detroit… Lucky you! That’s quite a transition from the tropics!

        My wife and I have a marketing/advertising/design firm, and are re-doing the website for Casa Tres Coronitas. If you don’t mind terribly, we might use a quote from your email to Don in the testimonials. I would only use your first name, but can change that to a fictional name (you can pick out a fancy glamorous one if you’d like 😉 if you prefer.

        Stay warm!

  4. Lorin
    Jan 08, 2014 @ 16:50:52

    no prob!
    I dont care if you use my name…go for it! 🙂
    Also feel free to email me if its easier than bloggin it.
    We can wax poetic about Dooky Chase.


  5. Trackback: Me and the Sea | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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