America, Animals, Celebration, Culture, Family, Farm, Funny, Outdoors, Summer, Travel

Pura Vida 

We found a boy with a machete to cut a way through the jungle to take us to see a waterfall. I wish it were less sketchy than it sounds, but it’s not. 


We were supposed to be fishing on Lake Arenal in Costa Rica. But, the wind had other ideas. So, Plan B? A “horseback ride to a waterfall”. My mind is conjuring up images of a peaceful, smooth horseback ride down to a quaint waterfall, a splash in the water, then back on the horse and to the barn. This picture encapsulates my mental image. (Also, there’s the lake I should’ve been fishing in the background.)


What I didn’t have in mind was climbing up and down very steep hills (more commonly called mountains) on horseback and nearly sliding down the mountain on the back of said horse. 


I also didn’t realize that our guide would be a 15 year old boy with a machete and his uncle. Who didn’t speak much English.

Or that they would need the aforementioned machete to slice through the jungle to create a “path” that would could “walk” (read: slide) down.


Or that it would be such a slippery, steep, and narrow “path” that I would need to hold someone’s hand the whole time to navigate. 


These poor guys had to switch spots to constantly be in front of me to help me every step of the way. I know this because they kept talking to each other and saying “ella”, which I knew was me because I was the only girl in our group of 4. 

I only fell down twice, and laughed through most of it, as the ridiculousness of what we were doing kept setting in more and more. 


I also didn’t realize that this hike would take nearly two hours to complete and that it would be the most intense hike I’ve ever done. 

So, here’s me, not thinking about what I’m actually getting myself into. What’s new? 

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America, Animals, Canada, Culture, Family, Food, Funny, Outdoors, Summer, Travel

Drenched

Guess who fell into the lake? In full rain gear. They say that stuff is waterproof. Which is true. As long as you don’t accidentally fully submerge yourself in said water. 

The soon to be drenched clothing (with an added rainjacket)

I have this patented Brittney move when we come in to dock. I step out of the boat, holding the rope in my hand, onto the dock with one foot, then pull the boat (with the rope and my other foot) snug to the dock to tie it. This works okay (although now going over it in my mind, it’s really not the smartest move, but it made sense to me when I was doing it) as long as you have the rope in your hand, to anchor yourself and keep control of the boat, which your other foot is still in. If you are distracted, and forget to grab the rope, there is a slight possibility that the boat will come out from underneath you and dump you into the 60 degree lake water. Which is what happened. 

The water was not that deep, seeing as how we were right at the dock. But, somehow, I managed not to catch myself at all and went completely under, thoroughly soaking every single thing I had on. Which was three layers of clothing. A wool pullover, which has yet to dry out, a long sleeve shirt, the aforementioned rain pants and jacket, even my ballcap was dripping. 

I wasn’t wearing a lifejacket either. See, I have this theory. My dad got me a ground blind for deer hunting a few years ago for Christmas. I think it was a gift partially for me, partially for himself. It’s essentially a camo tent he can sit me in, out in the woods. There are a few benefits to it. He can go off to his tree stand, with full assurance that he hasn’t set me in a tree stand that I could potentially fall out of. Although, why he’d ever be nervous about me falling out of something is beyond me. And he knows that by putting me in a ground blind, I am less likely to distract a potential target with the flipping of my book pages, as I’m reading and patiently waiting for something to walk by. 

So, he got me the ground blind for Christmas, and we took it out for its inaugural hunt the day after Christmas. There’s a short, few days rifle hunt right after the holiday to complete the year. So, he put me in my blind and trailed off through the woods, with the promise that if I shot (which would be a rare occurrence), he’d come find me. Sure enough, right at dark, a doe walked out, and I shot. It wasn’t my best shot, as demonstrated by the hour long tracing of a tiny blood trail down a steep hill. But, I got it, and the guys found it, hauled it up and we deemed my ground blind a perfect gift. 

A few weeks ago, my brother insisted on buying me a bike helmet because he thought it might hurt if I fell off, going 20 mph down the dirt road. Again, I don’t have any idea why he’d think I’d be injury prone. So, he got me one, and I begrudgingly wear it. But, I was 100% sure that on my first ride wearing it, I’d have a wreck. I didn’t, but still. 

The bike helmet proponent himself

So, my dad nearly insisted on getting me a fancy life jacket that automatically inflates the moment you hit the water. And, I didn’t let him, because I knew if I did, I’d fall out. 

Looks like that logic worked out well for me. 

I had a conversation with him during one of our boat rides about whether or not he felt that I could drink the lake water without getting some sort of terrible disease. He said I probably could, but he didn’t want me to try it. I wanted to try it. 

Looks clean and blue and beautiful, right?

Well, when I fell in, I got the chance. Because I accidentally gulped a good amount down. And not the deep, middle of the lake water that I was wanting to try. No, the grimy, shoreline, dock variety. The possibility of illness remains to be seen. 

Luckily, I hauled myself up, laughing. I was slightly terrified because our float plane pilot had told me not to put my feet in the water, for the chance that the pike might bite my toes off, mistaking my bright orange toenail polish for bait. I’m still not sure if he was kidding or not, but I didn’t want to take any chances. 

The pike, however, weren’t interested in my toes. So, I dried off, went back out, and tried a less dangerous boat maneuver, and a more natural colored bait. Which they fell for. Hook, line, and sinker. 

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Culture, Food, Travel

Clean Cut

I think it should be noted that I’m writing this standing in front of the open oven door, seeing as how it is currently colder in our cabin than it is outside. 44 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. Which doesn’t seem that cold to anyone else, apparently. But, I won’t see temperatures like these til Fall. I don’t know how one place can go from freezing cold to hot in such a short amount of time. I wake up in the morning and I’m camping out in front of the oven, eating cereal, in sweats and a hoodie. I come in for the afternoon and camp out on the front porch, in shorts and a t-shirt, because it’s warm and stuffy in the cabin. I’ve noticed that layers seem to be the key here.

Layered up in rain gear

Layered up in rain gear

Being in a fish camp is so funny. Everyone wants to know where everyone else has been, what they’ve seen, what they’ve caught. How deep? How many? What bait? What did the water look like? What direction was the wind blowing? Weeds? No weeds?

I let the guys talk those things over, while I go through my list of concerns. Do we have enough coffee to last us through the morning? Will I need two jackets or will one be okay? Do I want an apple or a banana as a snack today? You know, the truly important things.

The best of the talk happens in what I refer to as the fish house. Jesse, the expert fish cleaner, was in there with piles of perfectly cut fillets. So, I decided rather than stand around and talk about the walleye spawn, I’d watch and learn something relevant. While observing, I learned what instrumentation was, heard about a Canadian cattle farmer who cut his thumb off with a saw, threw it in the trash, wrapped it and kept on going, talked about bungee jumping vs. skydiving, scars from childhood games of falling out of trees (Canadians seem like a tough bunch to me), the difference between Canadian and American Netflix (did you know there was a difference or am I the only one out of the loop on this?) and our similar taste in music (my favorite Johnny Cash song just happened to be playing while I was there). There, of course, were guys who came in to talk fishing and I made some mental notes about maps and bays and such. But, talking about life stories seems so much more interesting to me than depths and maps and figures.

Jesse making fish cleaning look easy

Jesse making fish cleaning look easy

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I was inspired and thought it would be fun to learn to properly clean a fish. This is a true Canadian experience, right? What made me decide this, I have no idea. The opportunity just presented itself. There is nothing in my current skill set that lends to the fact that I would be good at this. Unless you count the 3 million watermelon I’ve cut up in my lifetime. Which is a total exaggeration. And, which is nothing like cutting up a fish.

Jesse agreed to teach me (I would say he had no idea what he was getting himself into, but he actually probably did) and since he hadn’t cleaned my catch yet, he methodically went through all the cuts and showed me what to do on one of my fish, then let me try on the second one. As you can imagine, I was half paying attention, half chit-chatting. which, I know, is coming as a huge surprise to anyone who knows me.

I made the appropriate cuts and was very proud at the end of that venture. Mine looked a little rough, but nothing too terrible. It came up a huge storm and started pouring buckets with the loudest thunder that echoed off the water, so I got a little distracted while Jesse finished up.

Let me interpret this for you: I missed all the important steps at the end.

Stormy skies

Stormy skies

After this venture, I realized I had no pictures to document the proof of my newly established fish cleaning capabilities. I decided that I needed to clean one more in order to document it, plus I was absolutely sure I’d be better at it the second time around. This poor fish, he had no idea what was in store for him.

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(Let me make a side note that in the taking of this picture, I nearly fell out of the boat, then dropped the fish on my yellow rain jacket, covering it and me and the book I was reading, and everything else in my near vicinity in a layer of slimy mud.)
As I was walking to the fish house with him, my dad asked if I was going to cut the bones out. (Northern Pike have a row of Y bones that have to be cut out.) Only then did I realize that I hadn’t been privy to that lesson the day before and that I was going to need some “guidance”, at which Jesse walked up at the perfect moment for. So, I did filet the fish expertly (in my own opinion, probably not in anyone else’s), remembering everything he taught me, step by step from the day before.

Here’s the steps:

#1: whack it in the head. I’m not sure if this is an official step or not, but it seems necessary.

#2: cut right behind the gills, underneath the first fin, down until you hit the back bone. I was nervous about cutting through too far, but you actually have to push pretty hard because traction is difficult on a slimy fish.

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#3: cut down his backbone making tiny, almost feathery motions, until you come to the end. You would think guys who cut up fish all day would be rough, but it’s a more delicate skill than it’s given credit for.

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#4: at the end, stick your knife all the way through to its lower back fin and cut off through the tail. Do this on both sides and you’ll have your filets.

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See, this is where I thought the process stopped. But, it was after this that the train completely derailed. So there are about 25 other steps and cuts after this, but I’ll shorten my experience for you.

#5: make a lot of really terrible cuts and effectively butcher it all to pieces.

Jesse was making me laugh at my awful cutting

Laughing at my awful cutting

You know, I thought fish cleaning was something you could be naturally inclined for. (I actually think this about a lot of things so I like to try everything because what if I’m naturally inclined for something random that I’ve never discovered before? Like playing the harmonica or something? You could go your whole life without knowing you’re excellent at something, and what a waste that would be, right?) But, no doubt, it is a skill, learned and honed by practice. I think it would take me 100 fish to learn to do one properly. Jesse even had this cool way to clean around the bones and get even more meat off the fish, which was impressive for my “waste not, want not” personality. He showed me the “easy” way. I wasn’t good at most of it (really any of it) but, I was good at skinning it. (He told me I was better at the whole process than most guys he had seen try to learn it, so I’m counting that as win, although I’m sure he was just being nice.)

I will say one thing about my fish cleaning escapade. You never learn anything if you don’t try and a willingness to learn new things will take you far in life. I just don’t think it’s gonna take me anywhere near a filet knife again.

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