Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

When the Catch of the Day is a Cultural Experience

by Eva Boynton on June 13, 2016

The tail of a fish, symbolizing the fishing lessons that provided the writer an authentic cultural experience in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton)

The catch of the day
© Eva Boynton

Fishing Lessons to Share

Travel is a sea of opportunity, but often one in which people and places come and go in a kind of “catch and release” game. And yet, travelers who take the time to dive into local waters, engaging with people from within the culture, often go home with a rich sense of satisfaction, anchored in the authentic cultural experience.

I know. I learned about that during an “Oh, I see” moment in Mazunte, Mexico, when fishing lessons from Melchor, a local fisherman, turned into a bigger catch of the day.

The local fisherman, who gave us fishing lessons, walks down a trail to his favorite fishing spot near Mazunte, Mexico, the site of an authentic cultural experience that enhanced the writer's travel memories (image © Eva Boynton).

Melchor on his way to catch a fish
© Eva Boynton

Fishing for Local Knowledge

In Manzunte, my travel companion stumbled upon a group of local fisherman and struck up a conversation. Her show of interest and inquisitive mind were enough to land an invitation from Melchor to a day of casting the line ourselves.

“Hasta mañana!” we said, and the next day we were headed down a gorgeous trail to a rocky perch that overlooked the blue horizon of the sea.

A view from a cliff to a fishing spot by the ocean in Mazunte, Mexico, showing the site of fishing lessons that provided an authentic cultural experience for the writer. (image © Eva Boynton).

Local knowledge got us to this beautiful perch.
© Eva Boynton

We had arrived at Melchor’s local fishing spot, a place beyond any guide book, discovered through trial and error, tested and developed over time. The kind of place you get to only through “local knowledge.” Such places are windows to a culture’s customs and daily life, a gift to the traveler who reaches past the English-speaking tour guide.

Learning the Local Technique

Another gift of an authentic cultural experience is the insight that there are many ways to accomplish the same goal.

Take fishing, for example. Melchor and his family used a simple and effective technique. No fancy fishing pole. No net. Just a hook, bait, fishing line, and a cloth wrapped around the index finger and thumb for protection from the line.

Two people stringing fishing bait together, showing the fishing lessons learned from an authentic cultural experience in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton).

The first step? Ready the bait.
© Eva Boynton

Through this technique, tools are simplified, the mind more creative and focused on the practice.

A hand holding fishing bait on the end of a hook, demonstrating part of the fishing lessons learned during an authentic cultural experience while traveling in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton).

Hooked to cultural encounters
© Eva Boynton

With bait on the hook, the hook on the line, and the line wrapped around the fingers, Melchor and his family were ready to fish.

They swung the baited line around their heads, helicopter style. Then—one, two, three, swoop!—the line soared towards the sea.

Reeling the fishing line in has a specific form and precision as well. Both hands hold the line, one hand brings the line to the other, forming a swift and constant crossing motion. This technique reels in the line without getting it into a tangled mess.

Melchor and his family were experts.


A boy throwing a fishing line into the ocean, as he demonstrates part of fishing lessons learned during an authentic cultural experience in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton)

The pro at work
© Eva Boynton

Trying Our Hand

After watching from the shade of the rocks, it was time to apply our fishing lessons. We stepped into the sun and took a stab at fishing with the local technique.

After her fishing lessons, a girl throws a fishing line into the ocean, during an authentic cultural experience in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton).

My friends give it a go.
© Eva Boynton

Sure, it may sound simple—fishing with only a string and bait—but we soon hit the rocks, literally.

A local fisherman gives us fishing lessons as he demonstrates setting a fishing line free from the rocks and teaches the writer a lesson during an authentic cultural experience in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton).

Melchor works his magic to free
my line from the rocks.
© Eva Boynton

I threw my line into the sea. That went well.

When I felt my first mighty tug, I began pulling in my line haphazardly, using the local crossing-arm technique. I expected to pull out a sizable fish.

But the pull I felt was nothing more than my novice hands reeling too slowly and unsteadily, and the bait lodged in a crevice between two rocks. My catch of the day: a sizable boulder.

Fishing line, we also discovered, is one hundred times harder to untangle than a box of last year’s Christmas lights. With untrained hands, we often reeled the line into microscopic knots.

Melchor and his family patiently helped us out of trouble. We were no longer just travelers passing through. We were students gaining local knowledge from Melchor and his family, our teachers.


A boy untangling fishing line as he offers fishing lessons during an authentic cultural experience in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton).

Melchor’s brother offers his practiced, agile hands to untangle my knotted line.
© Eva Boynton

Catching More than a Fish

At the end of the long day of fishing, we triumphantly returned to our campsite with a 3-foot-long blue beauty. Melchor had caught the fish, the only one that day, and handed it over to us so we could experience the local cuisine.

The head of a fish caught during an authentic cultural experience in which local fishermen offered the writer fishing lessons in Mexico. (image © Eva Boynton)

Melchor’s generous gift was bigger than a big fish.
© Eva Boynton

On our small camp stove, we cooked fish tacos, thankful for the local flavors that had spiced up our dinner and our lives. We had learned the power of engaging and exchanging.

A pan of cooking fish, the result of some fishing lessons that were part of an authentic cultural experience in Mexico (image © Eva Boynton).

A tasty exchange
between cultures
© Eva Boynton

Our willingness to meet and learn had given us new friends, unexpected skills, insights, and a tasty meal. The cultural experience enriched our trip and deepened our connection with Mexico.

From their fishing lessons, Melchor and his family gained in the exchange, too. Sharing local knowledge is an empowering opportunity to teach others about your culture and daily life. And that’s no fish tale.


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5 thoughts on “When the Catch of the Day is a Cultural Experience

  1. Your photographs bring the experience to life for us. Thank you. I want to dive into that clear blue water.

  2. Hi Eva, Such a beautiful, peaceful looking spot to learn a new skill and make new friends. I enjoyed reading your article.

    • Aunt Mary,
      Thanks for reading the post and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I definitely had a great time learning to fish! Hope you and the family are doing well.

  3. Hi Eva, What a wonderful piece about your “slice of life” embracement in Mexico. You’re certainly going beyond the tourist facade of the country and instead choosing to absorb the natural beauty of the culture & landscape. I want to go fishing there too! Thanks for writing such a refreshing piece. I really appreciated and enjoyed it!

    • Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you for reading my post and for the positive feedback. I hope you are doing well and swimming in the ocean!

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