I am not a morning person so why, I asked myself, was I awake before the sun? This was the hour reserved only for early birds wanting their wretched worms, intense fitness enthusiasts needing to sweat outside of the crowd and fishing enthusiasts who always seem to arrive at the mid-morning breakfast table drenched in overpowering odors of rotting marine life. I shudder at the thought and, clutching my mug of Curacao
Blend closer, I gulp its sweet coffee aroma. This is not the hour for fish. Yet, what I am watching is curiously hypnotic.
He’s perched on top of the balcony railing of the room below, crouched and perfectly still for the most part, save for his arm that leaves the shadows every now and then, to cast his line into the pounding surf. Sometimes, it seems as it’s a lifeline to some meditative ritual as he stares towards the horizon, waiting for the sun to break across the water. Then, at no apparent cue, the calm breaks abruptly, he whirs the reel, arches the rod gracefully backwards and forwards, as one continuous, flowing movement that’s more akin to Tai Chi, and brings home the sea’s offering. A yellowtail snapper here; a grunt there. Each one a prize that he holds for a moment – almost reverently – while nimble fingers free the hook; before releasing his trophy to swim the
surf once more.
“Mornin’ lil lady” he calls in a thick Georgian drawl that is quite unexpected. I lift my mug and smile. Too early to speak. Besides, we English girls were raised not to talk to strangers. “You wanna give this a try. It’s one hellava way to greet the mornin'” he chirps about five decibels louder than my tranquil mind can take at the hour. I shake my head vigorously. “Aw, cumon honey, the name’s Bill Vanderford and there
ain’t nothing I don’t know about fishing. I’m in the fishin’ hall of fame back home.”
“Oh God, a fishing bore” I grimace under my breath.
“And there sure as hell ain’t nothing I can’t show you about how to catch these lil’ beauties. I’ve caught fish in every water of the world, and these are no diff’rent”.
“And an obnoxious know it all, to boot”, I conclude silently.
But as I start to move away from his stream of consciousness, the sun suddenly streaks across water like lightening rods, sparking off the slippery rocks, instantly evaporating the shadows and making the light in his Cherokee brown eyes strangely compelling. “I’ll show you how” he promises, in a gentler – almost playful – tone. I’m somewhat dubious. But what the heck? Where else can you get a private fishing lesson from a self-proclaimed guru right off the deck of your bedroom?
We’re staying at the Avila Beach Hotel in Curacao, a European-style resort on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. It echoes the charm of yesterday and exudes the welcome of a family-run inn. While the main building is an unassuming 1871 Dutch Colonial mansion reflects the architecture seen in nearby Willemstad, Curacao’s capital, two additions up the chic factor and offer choices of accommodations which include
roomy guest rooms and suites, with private balcony, kitchenettes, Jacuzzi baths and deluxe furnishings. The hotel’s open-air Belle Terrace restaurant sits in the shade of an extravagantly spread flamboyant tree and by night, The Blues, spices the starry skies with live jazz and salsa dancing on the sand. The Avila is even the unofficial custodian
of an unexpected historical treasure, the 1812 home of the famous Venezueland “Libertador” Simon Bolivar which serves to add to the character and magnetism of the place.
It’s an appeal that is highly prized throughout Curacao, and wandering around the island you’ll find a rich multi-cultural heritage. Willemstad is postcard-pretty with its sea-shore lined with brightly-painted homes topped with curlicued gables and arched
galleries, churches and Dutch-perfect courtyards. Twice a week, the streets swell with passengers off visiting cruise ships, but on other days, the prices plummet and you can stroll through the open air markets, filled with the diverse produce of Venezuela, and barter for fish off the boats. Galleries abound, and at the Kura Hulanda Museum,
you’ll find one of the most dynamic private collections in the world of black history and culture. There’s plenty to do further afield too. With more than 50 white-sand beaches, Curacao offers some of the finest diving and snorkeling waters in the Caribbean; hiking the lava plateaus promise windswept views of crashing waves against a craggy shoreline, and for the young and old alike, swimming with the dolphins at the Curacao Sea Aquarium is not to be missed.
Which brings me back to fish .. only this one was squirming in my hand, eyes bulging with accusation, as I struggled to extract the hook. “Now you gotta understand something here,” Bill instructs, his patience remarkably in tact at my fumblings, “the tighter you hold this here rainbow runner, the more skin you’re removing – jes like if you yourself got badly burned .. so you gotta work quick”. I shudder at my unintended
cruelty and thrust the poor creature into his hands. The thought of stripping its iridescent beauty was too hard to bear. “Weel, you did good on the casting” he says, as if to console my failure. “Hmm, yes I rather think I did”, I thought to myself. In fact, to my surprise, I had rather enjoyed the entire experience ..tieing spinners, threading
weights, cutting bait, and casting .. arching the line into the surf and hearing Bill coach “now jes feel the fish honey, use your intuition and watch for the movement”, at which point I noticed his eyes would glaze in a kind of fisherman’s bliss at the thought of what might be…
Only this morning, I was his reality and for me, “it” was not to be. Although I must admit, this Bill Vanderford had given me an insight to a side of fishing that outsiders rarely see, a taste of the sacrament that all fishing folk seem to share and which, at the break of day, is at its most precious. After all, I did feel a kind of magic with that rod, the sort that Harry Potter must have felt when he held his first wand. And I did feel a twinge of excitement of what might be …