The waters of Guaya Bay teemed with fish, crab, and lobster. Every fisherman wanted a chance to work those waters. Few actually dared, since all the ways to get to the bay were treacherous.
By sea, a horseshoe wall of jagged rocks just beneath the water made it impossible for any boat to get through. A rusty shipwrecked fishing vessel stood near the middle like an ominous barrier island.
By land, it was surrounded by rocky hills covered in lush vegetation. There wasn’t a beach at all, just sand collecting underneath black rock formations and a patch of mangroves on the west.
Despite the dangers, Juancho hiked the wild hills every day to fish. One day he dragged a small little boat all the way from the Lighthouse pier a mile away on the other side of a huge hill.
“God willing, this little boat is gonna pay for itself,” he said to the man who sold it to him for a basket of crabs.
Juancho dressed the same way every day, with a worn-out guayabera, black trousers, and a straw hat. He fished for hours, most days alone, and filled his wooden tackle box with fish to sell the next day.
The only day of the week, he didn’t spend more than eight hours fishing was on Sundays. Those days, he carried a big wooden cross covered in twine.
“That man would bring that big ugly cross every Sunday to church and ask the priest to bless it after service every time,” said the deacon of the parish, Miss Hilda. “I think his superstition was ungodly to tell you the truth. He thought a bigger cross would bring him more fish. That kind of use of God’s faith is just wrong. I’d say his fate is a testament to his faith.”
Total darkness engulfed the bay after sunset. On a new moon night, you only saw the glimmer of the dinoflagellates in the water and the occasional faraway glow of the Lighthouse and town. Juancho never feared the darkness, but he respected it enough to carry a small lantern in his tackle box.
A Sunday after a tropical storm dumped more than a foot of water on the island, Juancho decided to go fishing a little later than usual. Clouds from the storm still lingered throughout the afternoon and into the night.
His trusty lantern kept him on track, and he made it to his little boat – that miraculously survived. From the middle of the bay, all he could see was darkness and deep purple clouds – the water didn’t glow that day.
Since the power went out, he couldn’t even tell the direction of the town from its faraway lights. He didn’t care about the eeriness of the moment, because God had blessed him with a bounty of red snappers disturbed by the commotion of the storm.
He docked his boat by the mangroves and started his journey up. “I know, if I go up here, I’m going west.” He also knew he was going the opposite direction from his house, but at least he could take the long way by the road beyond the hills.
Since this wasn’t his usual route, he missed a step going up the makeshift trail and dropped his lantern. Down the hill, it went, bouncing a little lower with every impact until the light died, and he could only hear it rolling and falling into the water.
In the dark, all the birds sound sinister, and the wind vile. He found comfort in holding his cross. When he felt the rough twine, he had an idea. “Forgive me Dios mio.” He dug into his supplies to find a box of matches.
It took him five matches to light the twine. The head of the cross burned bright and gave him hope. He continued his journey up, being careful not to light any vegetation or his hat. He couldn’t see a thing beyond the light of the makeshift torch.
The way seemed longer than he expected, and the hill seemed higher than before. He looked up and saw the clouds disappeared. When he looked back, he felt ill looking into the abyss he assumed was the bay. He held the cross tight and kept climbing, feeling a warm light beyond the hill.
“I’m telling you Juancho was struck by God himself,” said Miss Hilda, as she read the story of the missing fisherman on the newspaper. “My cousin said she saw the light of a torch or something going up the hill, she thought it was him. A few months ago, my other cousin saw a burning cross, Dios mio, and he could have sworn Juancho was holding it, like a demon or something.”