After a day or two couchsurfing in Trujillo, Ellen and I were ready to leave this noisy city on the coast and go back into the mountains. Fernando, our host, convinced us to stay a few days longer so he could take us fishing on Wednesday. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.

The plan was that our host would get everything ready for the fishing expedition, while Ellen and I were only responsible for our tents. We’d ride in a little boat to an island, where we’d camp, fish, have a bonfire, cook outdoors, and drink plenty of beers. We were leaving after Fernando finished teaching on Wednesday, and getting back before his afternoon class on Thursday. Or at least, that was the plan as Fernando described it the day before.

The beach by the pier at sunset

The beach by the pier at sunset

On Wednesday afternoon, we gathered our camping gear and hopped into a taxi to the oceanside, where we were to catch a boat to the island. We arrived at the pier just as the sun was setting. The surf was rough, the pier was almost deserted, and the few locals hanging around kept trying to dissuade us from going out. The town drunk was also there, bellowing at us and at the boats in the harbour, whose captains were not going anywhere near the pier with the seas in this condition. A man in a rowboat finally pulled up to the pier, and Fernando convinced him to take us to the big port a few piers down the beach.

I was totally confused about what was going on – when Fernando told me before that we were catching a boat to an island, I had assumed there were actually boats around. Silly me. Climbing into a rowboat in rough seas in the dark with all my camping gear was not what I had pictured at all. I was getting more and more frustrated with Fernando, who isn’t the brightest bulb in the house and whose plans for the trip, it was becoming apparent, were nonexistent. As the sailor was rowing us to the port, he kept asking us if we were sure this was a good idea, because it seemed dangerous to him, and did we really trust this guy we were with? I trusted Fernando not to assault us, but had no confidence that he wouldn’t lead us into a ridiculously stupid situation, putting our gear and probably also our lives in danger.

Fernando, oblivious to the sailor’s comments and our discomfort, kept asking me and Ellen to go talk to the security guards at the port when we arrived, so we could get permission for our trip. He was completely unable to understand that since Ellen and I had no idea what our trip was, what we were doing, where we were going, or how we would get there, our ability to ask for permission to do it was severely hindered. Finally, our rowboat pulled up to the port’s pier, and we climbed the precarious ladder out of the waves. Here, we discovered that the “island” was actually the private beach in the port’s back yard, only accessible on foot by walking through their property.

We finally got to our campsite around 7:30 at night. Fernando chose a spot that was still wet from recent waves, and Ellen and I had to insist for quite some time before he acknowledged that further from the rising tide might make more sense. While I was setting up my tent, Fernando dumped his gear onto the ground and looked at Ellen expectantly. Clearly, he had never set up his own tent before, but decided that since Ellen knew stuff about camping she’d know how to set it up. Luckily, it had only three poles and wasn’t too difficult to figure out, although Ellen spent most of the time cursing at Fernando, who kept moving the tent poles that Ellen had carefully placed.

Once everyone’s tents were up, Fernando declared it too dangerous to go fishing at night, so better to start a campfire and drink instead. He had brought charcoal and paper, and asked us to search the expanse of sand for driftwood. In the ten-minute walk from the port, there hadn’t been a single twig on the ground; Trujillo is a desert, completely devoid of trees. Ellen and I declined to fetch wood, and suggested we save the charcoal for the morning’s cooking fire rather than try to start it in the high winds at night.

We got down to drinking. This was moderately more successful than fishing – Fernando had brought three beers each, plus a bottle of wine – although the conversation left something to be desired. Our host was completely incapable of carrying on a conversation in either English or Spanish. He’d ask a question and interrupt our response, or answer it himself before giving us a chance. He’d lose interest in stories after two sentences (whether he was doing the listening or the telling) and mentally wander off to some kind of no-man’s-land.

Within a few minutes of starting drinking, Fernando declared his intentions to conquer me, romantically. He was 44, I was 32, and we were both teachers. What more could we want? Clearly, we were made for each other. We could live in his apartment in Trujillo. (I hate his apartment in Trujillo – the bathroom is shared with his bar, and is everything you could expect of a bar bathroom in a third-world country. The apartment has no view in any direction thanks to billboards in front of its windows, but lets in all the sounds of traffic from the main street, in a place where every car honks at every pedestrian every two seconds. His apartment is the last thing that would tempt me.) When I said no, he turned to Ellen to ask her advice (“Forget it!”) and the already awkward and stilted conversation over not nearly enough beer became very repetitive very quickly. Fernando couldn’t imagine why anybody would turn him down. I went to bed as soon as the alcohol was finished.

Live bait, which Fernando later released since we didn't do any fishing

Live bait, which Fernando later released since we didn’t do any fishing

In the morning, I slept through Fernando’s failed attempt to catch any fish. Since he hadn’t brought any food besides buns, as soon as I woke up Fernando was too hungry to fish anymore and we needed to go back to town. In daylight, the beach was isolated and pretty, with wide expanses of open sand and several flocks of shorebirds. We hiked off the beach, walked through the port, and caught a bus back to Fernando’s apartment. Ellen and I went out for breakfast, rather than having to cook in Fernando’s kitchen with him there, and over my papaya juice and egg sandwich, I made a mental note: people who seem like idiots in the city probably won’t improve much on a fishing trip, either. At least we had an adventure out of the experience, and one more tale to tell.

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