Walking along a sandy trail through dry tropical forest, toward the frothy blue Caribbean, Laura and I met coming down the path one of the staff of our rustic lodging in Tayrona National Park, the Finca Don Pedro. There we had pitched our tent between two coconut trees in an immaculately manicured jungle clearing. Our friend, one of the guys responsible for collecting dried coconut husks and weedwhacking the constant onslaught of tropical growth into a serviceable lawn, had just returned from the beach. Laden with fish, he had been at the shore at just the right time to purchase the pick of the morning's catch. He was carrying a string of bright-eyed snapper, some jack, and a long, silvery, eel-like tangle he declared was "mas sabroso que el dorado" (even better than mahi-mahi). The fish that caught my eye, however, was a diminutive tuna, fifteen inches of steely wet sheetmetal, sleek and stiff and glistening. He called it an albacora.
It was our last morning in the park. We said goodbye, heading along the coast to make the long trek up to Pueblito, the ruins of a pre-Columbian indigenous village hidden away in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This massive, isolated clump of the Andes tumbles down into the Caribbean here. The vast boulders scattered along the coast, the craggy, sandy terrain, and the last remnants of towering coastal forest are what make Tayrona such a spectacular place.
All day long I thought about that fish. Laura is amazed at my unfailing ability to manufacture stress and anxiety out of even the most blissful of situations, and later that afternoon, as we sat on the pearly-white sand and dabbled our toes in the azure water, things were no different. "I should have offered to buy that fish right then and there," I whined. "I should have put a deposit on it." Laura pointed out that nobody else was staying at Finca Don Pedro except for three Argentine hippies we suspected of being vegetarian. "I don't know," I said. "I'm worried. I'm going to be really bummed if he already unloaded it. What if we arrive back in camp and someone else is feasting on it?"
At dusk, we hurried along the trail through the forest, swatting mosquitoes. Once back at Don Pedro's I wasted no time, poking my head in the doorway of the outdoor kitchen, an array of propane burners and a makeshift sink set up in a thatched lean-to. "I want to inquire about a fish we saw this morning," I said. "Do you still have it?"
The owner of the fish was summoned, and I was led in the gloom to a battered styrofoam cooler, tucked between the stalks of two banana plants growing out behind the open-sided hut where the workers sleep in a row of hammocks. There was the tuna, illuminated in the glow of my headlamp, packed tightly in ice. After a quick and most reasonable negotiation, it was ours.
"Do you mind cleaning it for me?"
Cooking methods are not subtle in the jungle. After a few slash marks down the side of the fish, in it goes to the vat of bubbling oil. A few minutes later, voila!
Conversation was limited, as we were too busy gorging.