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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
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
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
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 argue?
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
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
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
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
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, though.
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
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 line.
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
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