Booze, Sailfish & Shotguns

By Mike Schoby

The fishing had been everything we’d dreamed of; we boated over a dozen big sails on fly rods and had an equal number shake the hook–on the first day alone. Our two-day count had been over 25 pacific sails landed on flies. We also managed to fill the boat with dozens of juvenile mahi-mahi which we peeled, washed in sea water and ate raw with soy sauce and wasabi we’d brought along for the occasion.  Hell, we even killed a sea turtle, but that was a casualty of the captain’s careless driving and a violent prop.  Funny thing was, when we bid the captain and his mate adieu, he actually apologized for the slow fishing! 

As semi-experienced saltwater fly fishermen, none of us would have described the trip as slow. Epic. Incredible.  World-class. Nothing-like-you-have-ever-seen-before. Holy shit. These were all more apt descriptors. 

If you don’t saltwater fish, first a little perspective: In most famous fishing locales, a couple sailfish per day is damn good—double digits is unheard of. But we soon learned Guatemala’s extraordinary fishing comes with a price. (There’s a reason it has been nearly 15 years and we haven’t been back.) As phenomenal as the fishing is, Guatemala is lawless. 

Fucking-absolutely-insane-lawless. 

I had been to enough third-world countries even at this time in my life not to be too rattled by the seemingly abnormal. (Editor’s note: read about the time Schoby spent a night in a Botswana jail.) But Guatemala was an eye opener at every turn.

Take, for example, our lodge. It was first-class and sat on a barrier island less than a mile from the mainland.  It was the only structure on the island—save one.  Our neighbor had an immense compound that took up the other half of the island, a gigantic palace with a helicopter on the roof, yacht out front and armed security walking the perimeter. 

I asked our local panga boat driver ferrying us to the lodge, “What does that guy do?”

He replied. “I can’t remember the word for it, but he, but he … searching for the word. “He takes cocaine-ya to America,” he said finally, rhyming the last two words.

I said, “Ah, drug lord.” 

With adoration talking about a local boy made good he nodded, “Yes, yes, drug lord … that is the word,” he said, smiling proudly.

The fishing lodge, a short three-hour car ride from Guatemala City, advised they would take us back to Guatemala City the day before our flight home because they won’t drive at night because the road between the city and lodge was not safe to travel after dark due to hijackings (but seldom kidnappings, they reassured).

They advised us to stay at the InterContinental and eat there as well, and we’d be fine. 

Well, we were four 30-something, adventurous Americans … so that wasn’t going to happen.  

As soon as we dropped our bags, we asked the receptionist for a local dining recommendation. She advised against going outside of a four-block circumference from the hotel, as it was dangerous. 

“However, there is an excellent restaurant a couple blocks away that is very good and safe. In fact, they only had one shooting on that block in the last month.” 

The perfect Central-American Michelin dining experience: Excellent local cuisine, hold the drive by, I thought to myself. 

Walking there we saw three teenagers on pedal bikes, each with a single-shot shotgun strapped to their handlebars with strips of inner tube where in a normal country a newspaper satchel would reside. I began to get an idea what she meant by “Guatemala City can be dangerous.”

We found the restaurant easy enough, and it looked perfect; upscale dining, patrons were obviously upper crust–well-dressed, near formal, expensive cars valeted out front. The pump shotgun-armed security guard/cum-doorman even smiled and held the door open for us as we went in.

Our waiter, speaking broken English, swiftly took our drink orders. Three of us ordered beer, but our fourth asked for a “Double Macallan 18 on the rocks.”

The waiter brought our beers, but carried the entire bottle of Macallan tableside, making a display of showing it was unopened. He gestured cutting it open and asked “Si?” 

Assuming he wanted us to see that it was the real McCoy and not pond water poured into a Macallan bottle, our friend emphatically nodded his head and said “Si. Open it.”  We enjoyed our drinks and had a fabulous meal. Then the bill was brought.  

To be expected, it wasn’t small. But the price of the Macallan stood out: $250.00. 

I asked the waiter, “There seems to be a mistake, my friend had one Macallan. Surely it wasn’t $250 U.S. collars?” 

“No, no, you buy bottle,” he said.

“We didn’t want the bottle, just a drink.”

 “I open. You buy!” 

With that he stormed off toward the now-observant and no longer friendly-looking security guard.

Turning to the gentleman and his date at the table next to us, I asked, “Excuse me, do you happen to speak English?”

“Of course,” he replied in perfect English.  

I quickly explained the situation and he nodded, “Yes, that is ridiculous; let me have a word with the waiter.” 

The waiter had now returned to the table, bill in hand, looking furious. The security guard stood next to him. He didn’t rack the shotgun, but I could tell he wanted to for effect.

Our newfound friend had a very fast-paced Spanish conversation back and forth with lots of hand gesticulations on both sides. He finally turned to me and said, “I’m sorry. Evidently it is their policy.  Not very common I might add, and I don’t know the proper phrase, but I believe in English the waiter is saying, ‘I’m fucked.”

“Yes, you’re fucked is the correct term,” I replied.

“At any rate, if I were you, I’d pay him.”

I figured a $250 bottle of McCallan was a bargain compared to a trip to whatever would be served next, so I promptly handed over my Amex. 

And that is how we found ourselves heavily intoxicated and staggering through unlit side streets far from the hotel looking for more bars at 2am with a now nearly empty bottle of Scotland’s finest … but that is another story.

I don’t know if I ever will return to Guatemala, but the fishing is damn-near worth it.




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