I heard thunder in the dark last week as I slipped on my shorts and T-shirt and wondered if it would ultimately prove pointless to put on sunscreen. But the thunder was a distant rumble, and I heard no rain on the roof; by the light of my iPhone, I rubbed SPF 30 into my face and then, careful not to awaken my family, headed out the door to keep my appointment with David Murray, a fisherman known locally as Murray Peng.
It was the winding down of my vacation and the winding down of summer, but I was in Jamaica, the sun was rising fiery orange over Oracabessa Bay, and there still seemed some promise left in the season. Specifically, the promise of fish.
Two men standing up in a boat moved toward me dead slow, silhouetted against the sun. Murray Peng and his helper pulled the Fish Rascal alongside the dock, and I climbed into the open boat. At its front, two mounted poles stuck out at 45 degrees in opposite directions, like an old rabbit-ear antenna.
With only a nod, Murray Peng handed me a pole. Once we cleared the no-wake zone, he took it back and cast the lure behind the boat, clearing to the right of the outboard, and returned the pole to me; his helper let line out from the mounted poles, and we began trolling.
"What are we hoping to catch?" I asked, the first words spoken since "good morning."
"A lot of fish," he said.
We certainly saw a lot of fish -- flying fish skimming over the ocean like a stone that gathers rather than loses momentum after being thrown. Flying fish "fly" to escape predators, so I reckoned their presence was a good sign.
We ran parallel to the shore, about half a mile out. After only 40 minutes, I was glad to have put on the SPF 30 as the sun and heat notched up.
I suddenly felt some resistance, and my pole bent. But rather than have me turn the reel, Murray Peng took the line at the end of the pole and, hand over hand, pulled in the lure. The hooks were caught up in sargassum, a seaweed whose reproduction has been massively stimulated by climate change and that has been washing up in large, stinky piles on beaches throughout the Caribbean and eastern Mexico. We had passed through a patch, and my lure had caught hold.
"Is the seaweed a big problem for fishing?" I asked.
"No, it's OK. Fish love it."
Perhaps because of that, we passed so close to braids of sargassum that both my and the boats' lines had to be cleared three more times.
About 90 minutes in, we saw what I thought was another hopeful sign: frigate birds diving into the water. If they were successfully fishing, there had to be some hope for us.
A few dolphins began wheeling near the boat, which provided some diversion, but after two hours on the water, I had to remind myself to stay alert and keep a grip on the pole, should a strike suddenly occur.
But none did. We pulled up next to a lobster fisherman who was hauling up a cage barely outside the limits of a reef sanctuary and held up a large lobster to show us his luck.
Murray Peng shrugged and headed back toward the no-wake zone and dock to drop me off, empty-handed.
A Jamaican woman watched as I got out of the boat and wished me a good morning as I passed. "It's a beautiful morning," I said. "But I didn't catch any fish."
"That's why it's called 'fishing,' and not 'catching,'" she said.
One reason I enjoy fishing, even when not catching, is that it gives me an excuse to sit and reflect. I hadn't been to that part of Jamaica in 17 years. The place had changed, but I think I had changed more. I had two more kids. I had the ability to stay somewhere significantly nicer than before. I was more inclined toward leisurely exploration of an area over days instead of giving in to the urge to see how much ground I could cover in 24 hours.
The travel industry markets destinations, but travel sales are ultimately more about clients than places. Both travelers and destinations change incrementally every year; people mature, and places develop, each at its own pace.
When one thinks about why there is a renewed demand for the services of travel advisers, the constantly shifting equations between evolving humans and developing destinations provide some clues. A good travel adviser is not only an intuitive psychologist who can read the dynamics of individuals, couples and families but must also understand the psyche of a place, both what can be seen on the surface and how the natural and societal dynamics work just beneath.
An adviser's skill comes not from raw knowledge of facts about a destination but from understanding which aspects of a diverse, complex landscape will match up with the unique inner landscape of each client.
And above all, advisers must know when to take risks and when not to. Some clients' trips may be ruined if, metaphorically speaking, they don't catch a fish. Those clients will be always be sent to the predictable, surefire, crowd-pleasing points on Earth.
But others will find rewards in testing uncertain waters, even if, at the end of the day, all they caught was sargassum.