- Feb 1, 2005Foto 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:
- << Previous post in topic Next post in topic >>