As the morning fog begins to lift yielding to the first light of the day, dark shadows appear in the stone alley leading to the beach. It is about 5am as the fishermen gather to prepare for their day’s work. It is still Semana Santa and the late night festivities disrupt the local work rhythm. Today, hungover faces lack the normal smiles and it’s a “no joke” kind of morning for most. Nonetheless, boats will go out and fishing nets will be set as usual, day after day. In a small village of Taganga on the Colombian coast, traditional setting nets still prevails today over commercial fishing.
Daily, 20-30 men get in there “lanchas”, 20 foot open deck boats and head out an hour out to sea.
As we load gear and our lunches, outboard motors begin to roar toward the crack of dawn in the horizon. Smooth ride, cameras rolling I’m having a blast. Light breeze feels heavenly in this muggy hot climate. As we round the second point of mainland the barren hills of the island appear to our starboard side, the waves crest a bit higher but the cameras are still rolling and the views are magnificent. The 4 fishermen I was with, suddenly start to discuss and coordinate their work routine, we’ll be pulling the nets on the windward coast of the island. Sangro, one of the fisherman, suddenly, waves at me and signals that the camera gear must get stowed, I reluctantly put the camera in to the cubby, still wondering what the big deal is. We come about a point of the Island and the windward cliffs rise up hundreds of feet above the water, walls of water breaking against the vertical, jagged cliffs echo in the distance, now I understood what’s ahead of us!
We point the boat toward the biggest wave I have seen in a long time, must be 15′ high with more coming from other directions, as the motor revs up and the vessel climbs to the top of the monster I hang on with the tight grip on the gunnel… White crest above my head crashes over the side soaking everyone and throwing men of balance, temporarily, then everyone is back on their feet, loud orders and quick actions are key to navigate these violent seas, first buoy is in, now the hundreds of feet of line attached to the anchor have to be pulled in to boat, as we rock in all directions without capsizing. It takes incredible strength and some good sea legs to perform these task while the poseidon is throwing a fit and putting everyone to a test. Salt in my eyes and drenched clothes make me realize this would have been disastrous to my camera gear had it not been put away, thank you Sangro for looking out after me!
As much as I wanted to record the violent nature of the sea, the spectacular performance of the fishermen, driving skills and the risk of turning the boat or crashing on to the cliffs with intense force I was thankful when the last anchor was pulled and we sped away from the foamy rock shore. Wow! The net is piled in the bottom of the boat, the crew sits nonchalantly back, wipes their faces and starts cracking jokes. That was my indication that the worst was over…
We rounded the island again, this time toward smooth, calmer surface, the net had a good number of fish which soon was unloaded on to the beach, the net was cleaned and folded.
It is lunch time, there are more men here lounging in a shack built for shade. A couple of hammocks, dominos table and some improvised seats furnish the place, a stone fire pit with simmering fish stew sits right above at the bottom of a cliff. A few hundred feet above my eyes stumble on “el mirador”, a look out point always occupied by one person watching for the schools of fish approaching the cove and signaling the crew below to adjust the nets properly and get ready. It’s quite an elaborate process to catch a few fish, this form of fishing has been practiced for many generations and it is more of a lifestyle than a job. Work turns in to siesta and nearly everyone is napping escaping the scorching midday heat. In the afternoon we set 3 more nets and head back to Taganga where plentiful of cold Aguila beer awaits us patiently. Fish are sold directly off the boats as the crowd of buyers gathers around the sorted catch of the day. From dawn to dusk, every day of the year these men conquer the rough waters and risk their lives to bring in fresh fish and a few pesos for their families.