Hanging out with the not-so-old man and the sea

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(Today we publish our first guest posting, From Jeff Drew, an American who spends a few months a year on Ambergris Caye with his wife, Kathy. Recently Jeff had the opportunity to spend the day with a local fisherman, the amazing Jose (Salva to some) who paddles out to the reef every day. This is their story.)

Jose, or Salva, has been paddling out to the reef daily for 40 years, harvesting what he can find to resell along the shore.
Jose, or Salva, has been paddling out to the reef daily for 40 years, harvesting what he can find to resell along the shore.

By Jeff Drew

Imagine being invited by Ted Williams to take batting practice with him, complete with tips on the science of hitting. Or a shoot-around with Larry Bird in his prime. Perhaps an offer to learn stick handling from Wayne Gretzky (gratuitous reference for my Canadian friends and wife).

Anyhow, that’s the opportunity I had a few weeks ago when a mythological spear fisher invited me to share a kayak with him for a day of spearing, gaffing, and conch gathering. What he’s been doing nearly every day for over 40 years to make a living.

My mentor, Salva to some … Jose to others, is amazing to watch. Not an ounce of fat on his 56-year-old frame and endless energy.

We launched at 9 a.m. and returned just before sunset. Paddled from the old Palapa Bar location almost to Mexico rocks.

Salva practically knows every coral head by name. He pointed out that he knows which ones hold lobsters — and those are the only ones he checks.

He constantly slid out of, and back into, the kayak as we paddled north. When I crawl back aboard, it’s an adventure. He does it quickly and effortlessly.

Last year I frequently kayaked from there straight to the reef and thought I was quite the macho specimen. If I came back with four fish and a lobster it was epic. On this trip we came back with seven lobsters, three octopus, one Jack Crevalle, eight Box Fish (chicken of the sea), and 20-plus  conch.

Jeff Drew's catch of the day, a box fish.
Jeff Drew’s catch of the day, a box fish.

My meager contribution was a Box Fish (pictured here) and four or five conch. I’d like to say it was because I was mostly observing and videoing, but that would be a fib.

When we got to shore Salva wasn’t even breathing hard and I could barely walk.

We got circled by a bull shark, watched two sea turtles, a giant barracuda, explored a shipwreck in about 25 ft of water, and chased or observed about every form of life known to the Caribbean Sea.

My freezer is now fat with lobster and Box Fish and tonight we’ll have conch fritters. And despite a massive leg cramp at 20 feet trying to grab a conch and barely making it up for air and despite violent vomiting while in the water and again later paddling back, I’d say it was my greatest adventure ever on this crazy Island.

And an honor to accompany Salva, this fine one-of-a-kind Belizean.

Salva/Jose surfaces with a lobster during a fishing expedition to the reef several weeks ago, before the end of lobster season.
Salva/Jose surfaces with a lobster during a fishing expedition to the reef several weeks ago, before the end of lobster season.

6 thoughts on “Hanging out with the not-so-old man and the sea

    Julia Smith said:
    February 19, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Mike and I had the pleasure of meeting Jose during our stay with Bob & Rose. 🙂 He pulled up to the dock at The Cloisters on one of the evenings when we were out there sipping wine and enjoying the sunset. We purchased two lobsters from him and a very reasonable price of $5 each! The lobster in Belize are so sweet in taste compared to a Maine lobster that we get here in the states. We ate lobster at every chance we had during our 10 day visit there. He is part of my memories of Belize. Thanks for the blog Jeff Drew. Made me re-live that evening for a few short moments back in paradise. 🙂 Julia Smith


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 19, 2016 at 9:14 am

      Ah, Julia, it was such fun having you and Mike here. Tell Mike I love the shirts, too! Thanks for adding your memories.


    Susan said:
    February 19, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    Love stories like this! Wish the whole world could live this way.


    Sad fisherman said:
    February 20, 2016 at 5:43 am

    Hands all over the coral. I wonder how that spot would look had he not been touching coral for 40 years every day. I’ve been spear fishing this reef for only 10 years and have seen a drastic decline in the quality of the coral. Sad to see some of these local fisherman destroying the corals…especially these old timers who should know better.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      February 20, 2016 at 9:37 am

      Do you really think “these old timers” have had access to the vast body of scientific knowledge that informs your relationship with the reef? There are a number of factors influencing the life of coral, including rising acidity and rising temperatures. I believe the deadly transfer of oils from human contact is a fairly recent “discovery,” although touching coral has been discouraged for years. Education doesn’t always reach down to the most basic subsistence fishermen. Also, I would be reluctant to assume that he has been “touching coral for 40 years every day” based on a single moment in one video. Get to know the man and try to guide him before you rush to judgment.


    […] I hope you enjoyed my friend Jeff Drew’s guest post on spending the day with Jose/Salva, a solitar…. I see Jose paddle out nearly every day in fair weather and foul. I find him incredibly brave and determined. Thank you Jeff, for sharing your story. […]


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