Carl Jung coined the term “synchronicity.” The term applies when multiple, unrelated events play out in a way that makes them seem intertwined, even when there’s no evidence that they are linked in any way.
In February of 2016, I was in tiny Punta Allen, Quintana Roo, steeped in Mexico’s wild and jungly Yucatan. I’d spent a perfectly lovely Sunday prowling the flats for bonefish and permit, catching the former and getting an abrupt middle finger (fin?) from the latter.
But I had one thing on my mind — my Denver Broncos were a few hours away from kick-off in Super Bowl 50. I was restless. Unable to focus. I suspected then, and my suspicions have since proven true, that this was the last shot at a Broncos title for the foreseeable future. Peyton Manning was finally looking old. He winced in pain with every throw, and even his giant brain couldn’t muster the points needed to blow out the competition. Thankfully, Denver’s defense was epic — maybe top five, all time.
While I was fishing, some good friends of mine decided, largely on a whim, to come down to Mexico and find their way to remote Punta Allen on what might be the single-most gnarly dirt road on the Caribbean coast. The idea was to meet up before the game and find a place to watch it.
There were lots of moving parts in this scenario, and the plans were kind of loosely stitched together. Nothing concrete. Just, “Hey, we’ll find you and we’ll catch the game.”
Turns out, while I fished, my buddy Glen wandered the streets of Punta Allen, asking where he might find a certain giant goateed gringo angler and where the game might be viewed in a town where electric power, let alone the whims of satellite TV, is anything but certain.
Finally, one of the locals stopped Glen and gave him some advice.
“Yo, hombre. He’ll find you,” he said, in clear deference to the magic of synchronicity. “Stop asking. You’re making people nervous.”
Meanwhile, we got off the boat, and the owner of the lodge had arranged for his clients to wander down the beach to a great little joint that had a big TV where the game would be played. We walked in, and there sat Cate and Glen. Like the owner of our little fishing lodge, they’d found the only TV in town. And I found them.
We sat down to an incredible meal of fresh dorado and watched Denver’s defense manhandle Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers for a convincing Super Bowl victory.
Everything came together. Because that’s what was supposed to happen. Synchronicity.
Futility and hope
This past summer, I was riding a high like never before — maybe even higher than when the Broncos clocked the Panthers.
A Colorado kid and a shameless homer for all of Denver’s professional sports teams (although, I refuse to acknowledge the Rockies until the Monfort family stops using the team as an ATM and sells it to someone who wants to win a World Series — #selltheteam), I found myself on a fly-fishing trip in Belize as the hometown Nuggets found themselves in the NBA finals.
That may not sound terribly thrilling, until you consider the Nuggets have been in the NBA for 48 years. They’ve sniffed the finals a few times, but the evil Los Angeles Lakers always managed to have a team they couldn’t beat. You know … Magic, Kareem, Cooper, Worthy. Later, it was Kobe and then LeBron during the bubble year when COVID forbade fans to gather to watch basketball.
For 48 years in the NBA (and for seven years before that as the ABA’s Rockets), the Nuggets enjoyed spells of semi-greatness with the likes of David Thompson, Alex English, Dan Issle, Kiki VanDeWeghe, Fat Lever, Dikembe Mutombo, Chauncey Billups, Alan Iverson and many more (up yours, Carmelo — you wanted out and got out. Nobody holds a grudge like a Nuggets fan. Enjoy your retirement and that ring on your finger. Oh, wait …). The Nuggets occasionally got close, but not close enough.
But, the week before I traveled to Belize to chase tarpon and bonefish, the Nuggets exorcized that demon, and vanquished the Lakers, LeBron and Anthony Davis in four games. A sweep. A glorious, “take that!” sweep of the best team money could buy. The Nuggets were in the NBA finals. It still sounds weird to write those words.
I was 6 years old when the Nuggets joined the NBA, a year after losing the ABA title tilt to the New York Nets. As a kid, the Nuggs were foundational in Denver, a growing city in flyover country. The year before the NBA absorbed the ABA and four of its teams (the Nuggets, Nets, Spurs and Pacers), the Broncos reached NFL relevance, losing in Super Bowl XII to the Cowboys.
Around the same time, the NHL’s Colorado Rockies (not the putrid National League franchise — if baseball was smart, it would adopt the English football practice of demoting and promoting teams between the major and the minor leagues — #selltheteam) were on the ice, thin as it was. By 1982, the league realized Denver might have been close as a city deserving of a hockey franchise … but not quite. The Rockies moved to New Jersey where they still play today as the Devils.
Some poetic justice? The Colorado Avalanche (formerly the Quebec Nordiques before they moved to Denver in 1995) beat the Devils in seven games in the 2001 Stanley Cup finals. Today, Denver is a serious hockey town, and the proud owner of three Stanley Cup championships.
So, there I was, at the classy and charming Belize River Lodge last June, when the Nuggets were a couple of hours away from tip-off in game five against the Miami Heat. Up 3-1 and largely dominating the series, I wanted to watch the Nuggs close out the series after an epic day spent chasing tarpon in the jungle. The fish were seemingly everywhere, and they were willing. As I said, I was riding high — and not just because of the Nuggets.
And, while the lodge boasts a strong internet signal, finding a way to watch the game online was proving problematic. Finally, I broke down and took my request to Marguerite Miles, the matriarch of the Miles-Heusner family that owns the historic lodge.
“Listen,” I said. “I don’t want to be a bother, and I normally wouldn’t ask. But the Denver Nuggets have a chance to win the NBA championship tonight. Is there any way I could have someone take me into town to find a bar where I could watch the game?”
First, know this: Marguerite is a lovely woman. She and her husband Mike might be the two most welcoming hosts I’ve encountered in all of my fly-fishing travels. They and their children and grandchildren operate the lodge together. And I could tell that she really wanted to make my wish come true, but that it was something of an odd request.
A basketball game? In Belize?
Enter Morgan Miles, Marguerite’s whip-smart and gregarious 22-year-old granddaughter. Earlier in my stay at the lodge, I watched Morgan stand on the bow of a panga and deliver cast after near-perfect cast to the river’s tarpon. She’s a young entrepreneur, and the owner of an organic chicken farm. She’s also learning the lodge business at the elbows of her parents and grandparents. In time, she’s going to be, as Ron Burgundy modestly put it, “kind of a big deal.”
“I can do this,” she said. She embarked on a conversation with her parents and grandparents, ticking off the list of places in nearby Ladyville where an independent young woman might escort a giant, gray-haired clutz to a bar so he can watch a basketball game.
We were faced with a few challenges. First, Ladyville, the bedroom community of Belize City, is perfectly sleepy, and not really a “bar town.” Second, it was a Monday night. Nothing much happens on a Monday night in Ladyville.
Nevertheless, Morgan and I hopped into one of the lodge’s pangas just after dark and motored quietly across the Belize Olde River. I was gushing with gratitude, and probably sharing way too much information about the Nuggets, the Broncos and, well, you read the story above. She, too, I think, was looking forward to venturing into town and showing a guest around a bit. But, she cautioned me, it might not be as easy as we think — finding a bar in Ladyville is one thing. Finding a bar in Ladyville that has a TV and satellite service, well, that’s something else altogether.
We got out of the boat and hopped into a vehicle for the quick drive into town. And, predictably, the bar she was hoping to visit was closed. We drove around a bit, checking out a few other places. But we weren’t having any luck.
“Everything is closed on Monday night,” she said, as if she was a bit embarrassed by her little hometown. Not wanting to be a complete inconvenience, I was about to concede and thank her for the effort. I could follow along on my phone and then watch the highlights when the game ended.
And then, off to right, I spied what looked like a fairly sketchy little tavern. The Buccaneer. The bar’s sign was illuminated, and it was clearly open.
“What about that place?”
Morgan kind of smirked. I could tell she wasn’t entirely sure about this place.
“Honestly,” she said, “I’ve never been there.”
The Buccaneer is understated. And yes, it’s a total dive — perfect for an old dirtbag fly fisher. But for an old dirtbag fly fisher and a 22-year-old woman just trying to find a television? Well, if you know Morgan, you know that nothing seems to rattle her. We pulled up to the front of the bar, and through the window, I could see the basketball game on the TV. We hustled in — the Nuggets were up by 2 in the middle of the second quarter.
Music was blaring — after a few songs, I realized it was a kitschy mix of American country, reggae and Latin tunes, from Mexican grunge to traditional fare, all piped into the bar via a YouTube music feed. There were four other people in the bar — two women about Morgan’s age, and two guys at a nearby table, both locals and both watching the game.
I’m sure we looked a bit out of place. The young gal and the old guy, totally distracted by an American basketball game. And, as synchronicity has a way of working, it just got a little weirder.
After a bit, Morgan spied a microphone.
So, yeah, I watched the Nuggets, drank the last of the bar’s Belilkins before switching to Red Stripe, and listened to Morgan belt out tune after beautiful tune, from Garth Brooks to Julio Iglecias. After a time, the bartender and Morgan’s new friends were singing along with her.
Fittingly, all the odd puzzle pieces started to fall into place. The day started deep in the jungle, as the cool flows of the Belize Olde River gave off a light mist that quickly faded as it rose into the sultry summer morning. The quiet of the jungle was disturbed only by the occasional roar of a howler monkey, or the splash of a school of tarpon moving up the river.
It came to the ideal end in the perfect dive bar, with the perfect company listening to the perfect music. As the final buzzer sounded at Ball Arena in far-off Denver, the Nuggets ended their 48-year bout with futility. In the end, everybody cheered. Everybody in the Buccaneer was a Nuggets fan. I rang the bell over the bar, and everyone drank one on me.
Just like that night in Punta Allen, everything came together, just like it was supposed to.