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4524Amazon Adventure

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  • Paul DEVER
    Feb 1, 2005
      Foto links for this adventure are:
      At Shutterfly: http://share.shutterfly.com/osi.jsp?i=EeANXLVy3cNmrJjA
      And at Yahoo:

      Some people had mentioned difficulty at viewing them on Shutterfly so I have
      loaded them in two places. Try either one.

      The day started off well with me waking up well in time to get my plane. I
      took Whistle out for a walk then made sure I had everything packed:
      munchies, fishing gear, and a few books as well as meds, and clothes. Off
      to the airport. The fishing rods were in a five foot long PVC pipe that
      held them well.

      I had no problem with the two pieces that I checked. But when I went
      through the metal detector, they asked me to fish out the pliers I had in my
      bag. Yes, those nasty needle-nose pliers that could be used as a weapon. I
      complied, but as I rummaged through my bag, I had to pull out the fishing
      hooks (treble hooks with three sharp points!!!) and some big lures with
      hooks about an inch long each. Then pull out the lead weights. Nope, those
      were no cause for alarm, but those nasty pliers were. Such is life.

      The plane ride was nothing special. I read a bit, dozed a bit and listened
      to my iPod knockoff. We landed and I recovered my bags. After paying the
      six dollar tourist tax that on one told me about, I sought my bags. Turned
      out that there was one other client going to the Heliconia Jungle Lodge
      40Km. up the Amazon�Her name was Carolina and she is a civil engineer in
      Bogot�. That is about all I learned of her.

      A guy with a Heliconia Hotel ID badge met us at the exit of the airport and
      put us in a taxi, and told the driver where to go. We went to a boat
      dock/diner and waited while they loaded up supplies (a big block of ice,
      soda and water). Then we hopped in and started our journey down the Amazon.
      For all I know we could have been sold off to a trader up the river, with
      all the info we were given.

      We chatted a bit, but once on the boat, it was difficult to talk since the
      motor behind us drowned out any hopes of conversation. We sat back and
      watched the river life: boats, people, dolphins and a few birds here and
      there. I am not big into birds but we did run across a boat full of elderly
      people with their bird guides and binoculars�

      After three hours, we turned off the brown river to an offshoot of black
      water towards the camp. Another thirty minutes, we landed. There were a few
      canoes there and we walked up to the lodge main building. It was much like
      the training center Peace Corps/Mali uses, as is the rest of the lodge:
      rustic. There was no electricity, but a generator ran at night for a few
      hours to light the dining hall/rec room, and our rooms had kerosene
      lanterns�visions of Peace Corps or summer camp danced in my head�

      We sat and talked a bit to the people running the camp (Elidio, the head guy
      and guide, Marta his wife and the cook, Cristina the helper and maid, and
      Rodrigo the boat driver), and looked at the macaw/toucan and the cat and the
      parrots and the two kids scurrying around. It was a nice homey atmosphere.
      After about an hour, we were told that our rooms were ready. Gee, they knew
      we were coming for weeks, and just now got them finished. Such is life.
      The cabins were simple, but functional. Two mosquito net covered beds in
      each cabin, and a table. The facilities were open backed so as you showered
      or washed and such, you could continue to commune with nature and watch the
      wildlife�Luckily the worst thing that approached was a big spider building a
      web large enough to snare Whistle.

      We sat down to a home cooked meal of fried dorado and salad and rice and
      beans, simple but filling fare. As we ate, the main guy, Elidio talked to
      us about what was in store for us. As I was in for fishing, he said that he
      would take me to several places to fish. Carolina was interested in nature
      walks and Indian Villages and such. They had something sort of planned for
      her as well. It seems that it is quite informal and they will do what they
      can to match your needs. As I had written several times to the owner about
      my desire to fish, they were quite aware what I wanted to do. They were
      probably glad that I finally showed so I would write no more emails. They
      were quite insistent that the fishing was not that good during the wet
      season, and that it would be much better if I came in July/Aug when the
      river was lower. I told them I understood that but wanted to fish anyway,
      and was not certain about coming in July.

      I went back to my room after dinner and prepared my rods and got the gear I
      would use in one bag. As I would later find out, over half of what I had
      was useless this time of year. But this was a test trip. I was using this
      as a recon mission so I could tell my friend coming in March what to expect
      and what to bring. In short: bring what you want to have out there because
      they do not have a 7-11 there. We are in the middle of the jungle with
      medical help and supplies 40 Km away, or about 3 hours minimum. Bring your
      smokes, booze, cards, books, and candy and chips because if you don�t bring
      it, it won�t be available.

      In the morning I awoke to a buzz-saw sound. Turns out it was a chuchara, a
      bug that sounds like a buzz saw. It brought to mind the scene from �My
      Cousin Vinny� as Joe Pesci wakes to the sound of the train whistle at
      5AM�.so this is the �What the f�� bird. There was another bird that sounded
      like a wolf whistle. A third memorable bird sounded like the �Bee-otch�
      bird. Reminds me of a poker game somewhere.

      Elidio and I loaded up the canoe with my gear and his (his consisted of a
      wooden pole with line tied to it, low tech but effective), while I also
      brought along the bait. I had a few packs of hot dogs, blood sausages and
      chicken hearts. I figured some if not all of them would be effective for
      catfish or piranha. As the days went by, the chicken hearts began to smell
      so bad, only the catfish would touch them. Like I said, if you don�t bring
      it, it won�t be there.

      We motored out to some remote section of the Javari River (the Amazon River
      is actually one huge rivers that is fed by many others), and during the
      rainy season (basically whenever it rains, but usually Sept to June) the
      river rises about 40 feet in some places, higher in others. As we passed
      along the riverbanks, and under the brush, I kept expecting to hear �Sampan
      off port bow�Lance, get the gun on them, now!�, but never did.

      We stopped on Lago Tortuga, or Tortoise Lake. Now a lake to you and me is
      different than the lakes here. They are not self contained bodies of water,
      but areas interconnected during the rainy season by the 40 foot leap in
      depth of the river. So I cut up a chicken heart, tossed a couple to Elidio
      so he could fish too. After a few minutes, I pulled up a catfish. It was a
      spotted catfish, not like anything I got out of the Ocmulgee in Riverside
      Park. A few more catfish came up, then I got my first piranha. A small
      one, but with nasty teeth. I tossed him back. Had it been the dry season
      when fishing is better, I would have hooked him under his spine on a bigger
      hook and tossed him to the bottom so I could get a bigger fish.

      After a few more strikes, but misses and a few mosquito bites, we changed
      places, and finally returned to camp with four catfish. None was large, but
      they were fish. We would try somewhere else after lunch.

      When we returned, Carolina was back from her nature walk and talked about
      the birds and flowers and stuff she had seen. We ate lunch which was a
      chicken concoction of some sort and quite delicious. Also was salad, rice
      beans and a hush puppy type thing that was nice and spicy.

      The afternoon fishing trek found us in Lake San Antonio, with Carolina in
      the boat. She had never fished, but said she wanted to try. She picked up
      the technique pretty quick, but was not too successful. Elidio and I caught
      a few fish, and one of the ones I got was a blue piranha, a keeper. His
      teeth were bigger that then other one�s. Elidio caught an electric eel, and
      beat it to death with his machete while holding onto the line, so he would
      not get shocked. I suggested we use it as bait, but Elidio had never heard
      of such a thing so felt it better to return it to the river. Who was I to

      As the sun was setting, Carolina finally caught a piranha and was tickled
      pink. About as pink as the dolphins we saw on the way home. We saw a few
      pair jumping out of the water like synchronized swimmers, and then a black
      dolphin her and there. The black dolphins are just like the regular old
      dolphins, but the pink ones have a funny looking head. I got some pictures,
      but from a distance, and you have to look heard to see the dolphins.

      We headed back to the lodge, but it was dark. Elidio must have grown up on
      the water, since he used sixth sense and landmarks that we could not see to
      guide us exactly home. Were anything to have happened to him, we would
      still be floating on the Amazon looking for the correct hole in the
      vegetation to pass through. Shut up, Winston.

      Dinner the second evening was more fish cooked in a sauce that was delish.
      Many of you know that I am not much of a fish eater. Ironic since I love to
      fish. But I tolerated it, since I figured there was nothing much I could do
      about it�It was good and I even went for seconds. The meals were simple but
      filling. Good fare for rustic campers.

      Elidio promised to take me to a special lake, but we would have to walk
      about one and a half hours to get there after going to the land area by boat
      for half an hour. I wanted an Amazon trip and an Amazon trip I got.

      I awoke at five o�clock thanks to the �What the f�� bird. I got my gear
      ready and went to the refectory. Breakfast was some coffee and pancakes
      fresh fruit, hot chocolate and juice. Then Elidio and I loaded up the boat
      once again with gear and bait and headed to Canyon de Mora. Funny, I don�t
      remember seeing any strawberries there. When I asked Elidio about this, he
      laughed at my corny joke and said that the lake was named for a guy named
      Mora, not the Spanish word for strawberry. We hopped into the boat, and
      rode a bit, and stopped ashore next to another boat. I asked if other
      people knew about this fishing hole. He said that it was probably hunters.

      As we walked, Elidio noticed that I was walking fast. I explained that I
      was not the average tourist, and was used to walking fast. I told him that
      as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa (Mauritania would be a bit much) I was
      known for my speed, and people in my village could not understand why I
      walked so fast. Other people have noticed too, but not so politely. He
      told me that the walk might only be forty-five minutes.

      On our way, we walked by a pile of guts. Hanging in a tree was a hunk of
      liver. Elidio looked around, and peered into a small pond behind us. After
      moving a few leaves, he showed me the carcass of a bush pig. He said that
      it was killed by the hunters. He said they probably used bow and arrows or
      blowgun. I spotted a shotgun shell, and said, �They probably used this��
      He picked up the shell and put it in his bag.

      We kept on walking and crossed a river on a cut down tree. It was about
      eight inches wide and well rounded. Someone had been nice a while ago and
      put up some guide poles so we would not fall. It sure helped. It was only
      three or four feet down, but the water was running, and who knew what was in
      there. We walked more, and came across another bridge, but at least this
      was two trees next to each other. It was much easier to cross.

      After another few minutes, Elidio said �Here we are�let�s fish�. I must be
      brutally honest and did not see what was so unique about this particular
      spot. We dropped our lines and I caught a small catfish quickly. Maybe it
      was good. Then I caught another. This one was a bit strange. It felt as
      though it were armor-plated, and had these hook-like things that stuck out
      pointing backwards. I got a picture so you can see it. If any of you knows
      what type it is, please enlighten me. Feel free to look at the other fish
      and identify them as well.

      We moved down to another area and fished some more. The fish were not too
      good there so we meandered on back to the boat. Elidio suggested we fish at
      �The Bridge�, so we went to the two-log bridge and tried there. I got a
      small catfish, well a fully grown catfish that does not grow big. It was
      Elidio�s favorite so we kept it. After a few more unsuccessful moments, we
      walked back to the shore, on our way noticing that the pig was still in the
      water. A short skip and a jump and we were at the lunch table for more,
      simple but filling and delicious fare. I told Elidio he was lucky to have
      such a good cook as a wife. He said that many people had said that.

      After lunch we went to where the black water (from the tannin) meets the
      brown river (from the mud). Elidio said that the fishing should be good
      here since fish are coming from the offshoot to the main river. Also we
      would see dolphins since they are after the fish coming from the offshoot to
      the main river. We dropped our lines and I missed a couple of fish,
      probably cats. Elidio got a catfish successfully landed, and I finally got
      one. He noticed some fish jumping about thirty feet away. He said that
      some people he took out before had luck with small plastic fish. I grabbed
      in my bag for the two lures I had brought from my room: a floating Rapala
      minnow about five inches long, and a Fat-Rap that dives deep.

      Now for those of you who do not know fishing, Rapala is the best lure there
      is for freshwater bass (and sea bass in Mauritania), and is hand carved from
      balsa wood in Finland. Some old guy named Rapala noticed one day that in
      schools of minnows, the ones that were too slow and wounded swam funny and
      got eaten, so he carved many a lure until he got one that swam just that
      way, crooked and wounded-like. The rest is fishing history.

      I tossed the floater over to the fish, and shortly after it was attacked
      violently. Something had hit it! As I reeled in carefully (Well, actually
      faster that I can imagine), I landed a huge sardinela. We have caught these
      in Mauritania (saltwater) before, and even used them as bait, but never had
      I seen them in freshwater�until now. During the next twenty minutes I
      caught three more and lost a whole more than that. The funny thing is that
      only one was caught in the mouth, the others caught in the back as though
      they attacked it, then decided they could not swallow plastic but were too
      spastic to keep from getting their backs caught in it. One was caught with
      all three treble hooks: mouth, eye and back.

      We noticed that there was much more fish jumping on the other side of the
      outlet, so we scooted the boat over there. Elidio said that those were
      payarin, a smaller version of the payara (see here:
      http://www.acuteangling.com/Payara/payhome.htm ), a pre-historic looking
      fish that has two bottom teeth that curve up much like a rattlesnake�s
      fangs, and even have holes in the upper lip to accommodate them. That would
      make my trip complete, since I had wanted to catch some catfish, piranha,
      peacock bass and payara. I was out of luck for peacock bass since they were
      in the low waters way out there. My dad had even sent a few lures my way,
      but alas I will have to use them another time. I did bring them with me,

      After I threw the line over there, the lure was hit. I brought the fish
      closer, but he jumped off. I found out why: he had bitten the lure itself,
      and not the hooks. The lure continued to work with a few holes it in, but I
      knew I would have to bury it with honors. Maybe even play taps. I finally
      managed to keep one of the many strikes on the line. I brought it in, and
      was happy as a clam. I told Elidio that my trip was complete and I was
      quite happy. He knew that already. He told me to be careful taking off
      the lure, as I might find myself with a few more holes in my fingers.
      Before I successfully managed to remove the fish, I asked Elidio to take a
      picture of me and my prize catch. It would not win any records, but I will
      send the picture to Rapala and see what they will do with it.

      As it was getting dark, Elidio let me cast a few more times, and then we had
      to hit the road�er water. It was darker than�hmmm not sure what, but Elidio
      made it back once again, with nothing to guide him but his memory and a few
      stars. What a guy!

      Dinner was food and fish stories. As I got my dinner, something fell onto
      my shoulder from above, and I froze. It scared the bejeezus out of me.
      Marta laughed and came around and removed a small primate of some sort off
      my shoulder. It scurried off to feed on some fruit.

      Rodrigo did not show so much enthusiasm about the payarin, as he recounted a
      tale of his younger years in which a payarin got his foot, and he allowed as
      how he did not know a worse pain that lasted for a long time. I guess
      stepping on a nail when I was younger does not compare�

      Elidio said he would take me to another special place that he and his wife
      went that was good fishing. I prepared my things again, read a bit and
      crashed. Sleep found me soon, but that damn �What the f�� bird found me
      shortly after. As it was our last day fishing, I decided to make the most
      of it, an d was out front waiting for Elidio. This time breakfast was just
      coffee. That was just fine with me.

      We went a ways out and then went off to the side in a new offshoot and
      meandered into some place that was a cross of the Bayou Country in �Southern
      Comfort� and the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia. I kept thinking we would see
      dangerous Cajuns scurrying around or a croc slithering into the water.

      After meandering for about another hour, we came upon a place, quite similar
      to the famous Canyon de Mora as I saw nothing special about this body of
      water. Elidio said thios place was Lake Vacaba. I got a catfish or two,
      and Elidio got a few piranha, a nice hulking Brazilian piranha, not the
      welterweight Colombian variety (according to him). We tried a few other
      places, but Elidio was the winner of the morning trip. I missed a few fish,
      as they managed to get off before I could land them. Don�t believe me? Well
      just go on down to the Heliconia Jungle Lodge and ask Elidio!

      We had decided to return to the place of yesterday where I had success with
      the payarin. I got a couple of strikes, but since this fish grabs the lure
      and holds onto it, rather than getting the hooks into his mouth, I did not
      have much luck. We said that we would return there after lunch. We raced
      home to get some more food under our belts and rush back out.

      After a quick bite to eat, and a short rest, we hopped back into the boat,
      and sped to the offshoot point. A drizzle started and then it began
      pouring. I worried about my camera and tucked it under the bow of the
      canoe. I began casting for fish and got a few strikes, but nothing landed.
      Then I got lucky and landed a payarin. Then after a few more casts, I got
      another one. Elidio was happy that I was happy, but must have thought I was
      crazy as that preacher in Caddyshack who was shooting the best game of his
      life in the thunderstorm.

      There I was standing in a canoe during a hellacious downpour not worried
      about getting wet since I was already soaked. I was slightly concerned that
      Elidio would say that we had to turn back. When I turned to look at him, he
      was looking at my lure in the water waiting for another strike. I guess he
      figured since we were already wet, we had nothing to gain by returning. My
      hat allowed me to get an unobstructed view of the water, but at times, I was
      throwing blind, and getting strikes nonetheless. No more popped on the

      The rain stopped and Elidio said we should try another place that he knew of
      where the black and brown waters met. We went there and right away I got a
      monster strike, but the fish did not stay on the line. We continued for a
      another twenty minutes with many strikes, but nothing landed. When I looked
      at the poor Rapala, I knew that I would have to bury it with honors. No way
      could this lure work another day. It had too many holes.

      I kept the heads of the three payarin that I caught and I am going to dry
      their skulls so I have the wicked teeth open ready to strike in the
      afterlife. I will send the lure to my Dad and have him give it a decent
      burial in our back yard.

      We finally returned to the camp and he told everyone how cra�enthousiastic a
      fisherman I was. They all seemed to be happy that I enjoyed myself. I know
      I had a good time, rather an excellent time. I got to fish to my heart�s
      content, and even got some good pictures. We had a good dinner, and then
      off to bed for final packing.

      The next morning we went breakfast and said our goodbyes. It was a parting
      of sweet sorrow. I knew I would be back with some friends in two month�s
      time. They were looking forward to it almost as much as I was. They were a
      really good crew. They provided me with hours of enjoyment, and I think I
      had a great time. One of my best so far.

      The physical toll on me: not too bad, but I did get a spider bite I think.
      When I felt the sting, I poked the blister with my knife, and squoze until
      nothing more came out. It sure felt better after that. Visions of a
      medevac chopper trying to find us and the resulting trip to the Leticia
      Medical Center make me roll down my pant legs as far as they would go. And
      yes, I am still taking the Doxycycline once a day for the next 27 days so I
      won�t get malaria from the 233 mosquito bites I counted on my legs and back.
      I also found a tick on my foot, did a body inspection, and found no more.
      If you want to make the trip, bring malaria medicine, DEET (it really does
      work if you bother to put it on!), sunscreen (45 SPF is good), and good
      general health. No medical conditions that might need acute critical care.

      Heliconia lodge is a great place to go for an Amazon adventure, but it is
      not the Ritz. It should not be since it is a great place to commune with
      nature and get a taste of simple, but exciting living. Look them up:
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