The Yucatán Peninsula is known for its turquoise water kissed beaches in Cancun, Mayan pyramids and quaint fishing villages. On the Northwestern shores of the peninsula is a small beach fishing community, known as Sisal, and it was off the coast here that I experienced deep sea octopus fishing.
At the crack of dawn, one thousand fisherman gather daily in the marina. From mid-August through December, many of the village boats are after one specific catch, the Yucatán octopus. Known locally as “pulpo”, octopus is a staple in many of the excellent restaurants in Mérida (including Rosas & Xocolate and Rosa Sur), yet the thrill of the catch is a thrilling process.
The first step is bait. Catching enough crabs to take out for the day to satisfy an all-day fishing spectacle. Followed by driving the boat approximately 16 miles offshore to reach the optimal depth of 10 feet and spots known to be home for the magnificent sea creatures.
Like clockwork, the fishermen are set up within minutes to start the task at hand – gather octopus to fill their buckets. Ten to twelve lines are tied to a bamboo pole secured to the inside of the small boat. Lines consist of sisal rope with a crab attached to the end, thrown in the wavy sea. Octopus fishing results are best in an active sea.
The fisherman waits. Octopuses eventually attach themselves to the crab to feed, and the rope is pulled in. In my boat, it was myself and a fisherman. I watched in awe as he knew exactly when the octopus had attached himself and the line was ready to be pulled in. Perhaps more amazing, all the fishing is done by hand. There are no reels or fancy boats. Instinct kicks in and locally found items are the only tools onboard.
The day prior to my adventure, the fishing team came back empty handed. It was not a prosperous day. The village men spent an entire day on the water, to come home without any pay. Fishing is their livelihood, it is how they feed their families. The experience put things into perspective for me. When we order octopus off of a menu, many don’t realize the hours spent by fisherman in the hot sun for our enjoyment of the fresh catch of the day.
My first try at pulling up the octopus was unsuccessful. My hands were not used to the rope, let alone the tortoise like pull to bring the catch out of the water. A couple of minutes and they are out of the water, however it feels like forever when your heart is pounding! It did not take long to get the rhythm, and within an hour we had managed to pull in 10! An average day on the sea is catching four octopus an hour per boat. That is the “quota” per se. And we had 10 right away!
It was a lucky day for the fishermen! All three boats had much success and together brought in 96 kilos (approximately 200 pounds) of octopus! A great day is 80 kilos! The smiles on the fishermen made me grin, and I am now referred to as the Sisal Goddess as they felt I brought good luck. What I know, it was a moving reality to witness- the process and the patience these guys had.
Sisal is a community of 2,000 people. Everyday 1,000 men fish, many coming from the neighboring town of Hunucma which is a fifteen minute drive. Their dedication to their skill and their families, quite humbling.
And through it all, the fishermen are content. They fish, they go home, and repeat the next day. Octopus fishing was peculiar, yet invigorating. It took me outside my comfort zone, and despite the language barriers we managed to laugh, catch octopus and make it a day to remember!
Sisal Fishing Tour Info – https://www.facebook.com/zizhaecoturismo/?pnref=lhc
Sisal Kayaking, Biking, Flamingo Tour Info – https://www.facebook.com/Ensisal/
By Miranda Allfrey for TYT
Miranda Allfrey is a travel, health & lifestyle writer, cancer survivor, and speaker. Her captivating storytelling adds magic to destinations, cuisine, experiences, products, culture, and health. With a global awareness and passion for life & cloudsurfing (aka flying), she is the perfect brand ambassador. To learn how she can help your company surf to the top, click here: Work with Miranda.
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