Our boat headed in. We had missed our chance at a sailfish. Still and all, we had our health. We had kept our good humor. That was more than could be said for our compatriots aboard the Huntress. True, they had caught one dorado, putting away their fly rods and resorting to trolling with baited hooks. But one dorado was small recompense for the misery brewing in Meyers's guts. He claimed he had been poisoned by one of the soggy ham sandwiches our charter outfit had served.
"I don't recommend their chef," he barked, loading us hurriedly into his Isuzu Trooper. We made an emergency pit stop in town, but he still looked awful. The hotel was a 10-minute drive into the hills, and Meyers's shirt was drenched in sweat before we had gone another mile. "I gotta cry Ruth," he said, as he stopped the car.
Meyers was out the door before I comprehended. "Ru-u-u-th!" he vomited, with gusto. "Ru-u-u-th!" Meyers was circling the car, stopping every few feet to hurl anew. Meanwhile, the Trooper, out of gear, began rolling backward, down the hill. Meyers, loudly convulsing behind the rear bumper, was in its path.
Pedro, Pablo and I were trapped in the backseat, helpless. Eppridge, thank heavens, understood Meyers's warning and yanked the hand brake an instant before the ear put Meyers out of his misery. Meyers wiped his brow and returned to his place behind the wheel. "All set."
After an appropriately sympathetic silence, Pedro was the first to i speak. "You wonder why they hate Americans," he said. "You stop, throw up in their front yard, then leave without saying goodbye."
That isn't true, incidentally. Costa Ricans don't hate Americans in the least. They don't seem to hate anything, which is part of what makes traveling in their country so pleasant. The scenery is dazzling, mountainous and lush, the roadsides speckled with wild impatiens. Birds are abundant and colorful: some 850 species are found in Costa Rica, more than in all of the U.S. and Canada. The soil is rich: bananas, beans, carob, coffee, flowers, macadamia nuts, melons, palm, pineapple and yucca are all grown for export. And the temperature is moderate the year round, cooled by breezes off the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The six-hour drive north to Lake Arenal gave us plenty of time to soak it all in. The roads were dreadful, so the going was uniformly slow. Meyers, still queasy from his attack of food poisoning, spent much of his remaining energy dodging potholes the size of queen beds. Fortunately there wasn't a lot of traffic, since most of the local populace use horses or oxcarts or buses for transportation. We were in no rush. We had left a couple of fly rods rigged up in the event we passed any good-looking stretches of water, and we fished a couple of streams. Pedro, Mr. Lucky, got our only strike. Something called a Jesus Christ lizard, so named because it walks on water, leaped out of the bamboo and scooted across four feet of water to grab his popper in its cute little mouth. Pedro was late striking, of course, so as a group we were still 0-for-Costa Rica.
But not for long, I'm happy to say. Lake Arenal, which was referred to in our guidebook as "guapote heaven," gave up three guapote and a machaca to Pablo and Pedro together in a day and a half of fishing, though none of these monsters exceeded 12 inches. "Why you no come in April?" Felix, one of our guides, wondered. "Catch big guapote in April."
A big guapote—the world record is 11½ pounds—would be an interesting creature to see. Small guapote aren't very different from smallmouth bass, but as it matures, the male guapote begins to grow a knob on its forehead that makes it one of the ugliest creatures on earth. (A humorist must have named the fish, since guapote means "most handsome" in Spanish.) Made of gristle and purplish-blue in color, this knob is thought to be used for head-butting other guapote. The guapote is also a savage carnivore. My guide, Dave Anderson, had twice seen guapote kill and eat a jacana, which is a meadowlark-sized bird that cavorts in the shallows.