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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Two sure fire ways of catching Piranhas

Wednesday  November 23, 2016 - morning

 Today is to be a full day on the river.  We have a 5:30am wakeup call so we can be out on the skiffs by 6:30 for an early morning “nature walk.”  I now have developed an efficient daily routine to get the most out of these walks: I get in the skiff, put on my lifejacket and hand my camera to the guide, take off my life-jacket, get out of the skiff and go back to bed.  On the nature walk he gets some excellent shots of parrots and monkeys.  It’s almost like being there.

Piranha Fishing

But today is different; if I want to eat I’ll have to actually be in the boat.  Today we’re being treated to breakfast on the skiffs.  It’s sort of like having a meal on the plane without the trays.  After breakfast we head out   for some piranha fishing.  We’ve just arrived at the spot and the guides are about to hand out the fishing rods  when the other skiff comes racing up to us.  It appears they have a surprise for us:  during their little walk they saw more than monkeys and parrots – they encountered a real live python, and they’ve brought it back to show us. 

Thankfully they just don’t toss it into the skiff and race off (something I might do), but keep it under control so we can admire it.  As our naturalist is holding the snake and unable to take pictures  with my camera at the same time, I’m forced to hand my camera to Tom to take a picture of me holding  the snake.  Tom takes a picture of my foot.

After everyone has their pictures taken with the celebrity snake, it’s returned to the other boat supposedly to be taken back where it was captured and released.  However I’m going to be keeping a close eye on the mystery meat in tonight’s buffet.

Shiner fishing
At this point the guides pass out piranha fishing rods.  These consist of a thin piece of bamboo – much like you’d use to hold up a tomato plant with a  four foot length of fishing line tied to one end and a small weight and a hook on the other end.  We’re handed cups of some raw beef and told to get fishing.

I look at this set up and I know exactly what to do: this is almost the same setup that I use with my grandkids (and before them my kids) to catch shiners off the dock at home.  The secret is how  you thread the meat on the hook  so the little blighters can’t steal it off the hook.  It also helps to know exactly when to jerk the line to set the hook.  The guides tell us to splash the water with the tips of the rods to attract the piranha.   Within seconds I have a fish in the boat.  It’s a miserable small thing so I toss it back and re-bait and instantly catch another one.  I’m about to release that one as well when the guide comes running over and grabs the fish before I can toss it overboard.  He tells me it’s an actual piranha!  Who would have known - it’s such a small thing.  He shows me the teeth which are very sharp and piranha -like so I accept his decision.  Evidently piranha don’t get that big – but there’s lots of them.  With my Canadian shiner smarts I’m king of the  Piranha fishermen and soon have a string of them – which the cook is going to fry up for lunch.  (Care for a piranha on a ritz?  Would you like a side of boa with that?) 
After half  an hour most  of my fellow fisherman are bored  so it’s time to hand in our fishing equipment and head off to a wider part of the river to “swim with the dolphins.”

Most my fellow travelers are excited about the opportunity to “swim with the dolphins”  I find this very strange since we just  experienced the fun of “fishing for the piranhas” in the same river. Hmmm…  Let’s see… 

Recipe for catching Piranha
Fishing rod method
                             Method One:

  1.        Splash water with fishing rod
  2.        throw in hook with meat on it

Live Bait
                        Method Two: 
              (No special equipment required)
  1.        Throw people in the river

Does no one else see the irony in this?

Swimming with the Dolphins

We scoot down the river in the skiffs to where the tributary we’re on joins another making a large bay.  This is where the blue and gray dolphins supposedly hang out.   They are very elusive dolphins – easy to see even harder to photograph. They’re often around the Amatista playing and cavorting  - until you pull out your camera – then they’re gone – until the second you turn off your camera – then they’re back.
The elusive amazon blue dolphin

I’ve experience with dolphins in Mexico and know that, they have little interest in “swimming with the humans.”  I try and explain this to the group.  I suggest that a better name for this activity might be “swimming in the general proximity of dolphins.”   I’m regarded as a spoilsport.    Even Tom, who swims like a rock, decides to jump into the river and “swim with the dolphins.” Even my warnings about the various type of predators that lurk just below the surface doesn’t deter him.
Tom & Fen chumming the water

I opt to stay on the boat with the guides (who obviously know better otherwise they’d be in the water) and film the carnage.  Sure enough a few moments after they plunge into the river  I’m treated to blood curdling screams as some of the  swimmers find their toes being attacked by…. minnows  (not piranhas).   The dolphins have skedaddled a safe distance down the river and are keeping a wary eye on the swimmers.

The hiking, fishing and swimming program having been successfully completed with no casualties,  the skiffs head back to the Amatista for lunch and a welcome siesta.

Wednesday  November 23, 2016 - evening

Captain Johnny
If the day hasn’t been exciting enough we’re told not to get too comfortable on board because we’re going out for a night excursion.  We leave at 4:30 as the sun is setting  and head up a narrow tributary optimistically  the Nauta Caño  River.  As we head further up the creek the  water becomes shallower and shallower.  At the same time the sky is getting darker and darker.  It’s not too long before the skiff runs aground on a shallow shelf.  Johnny, our driver, guns the motors  until smoke pours out of them – but the skiff doesn’t budge.  
“Everyone up forward,” he orders.
We all oblige and crowd up into the bow which tips the front of the boat enough that the skiff slips off the shelf and we progress a few hundred meters up the stream until we become hung up again – this time on a sunken stump.  
“Everyone up forward  again,”

This is repeated over and over again until I think I’m in the submarine U96 in Das Boot where the crew runs  back and forth to help the submarine dive faster. 

It’s almost totally dark now and we’ve moved  maybe a hundred meters since the first time we were hung up.  Johnny has given up ordering us forward and back and has now jumped in the river and is attempting to push the skiff up river  much like Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen.  I’m looking to see who has cigarettes so we can burn the leeches off him.  Even more frustrating  (to me – who is nice and dry one the boat) is the fact that we haven’t seen a single example of wildlife.  The hope was that we would see some ferocious black caimon that can grow up to 20 feet!    But so far the biggest reptile we’ve seen is a little green frog about the size of a quarter.  But with Johnny trudging in the dark in the water I still have hope.
Finally  the boat gets so hung up that Johnny can’t move it another inch forward.  After a lot of pushing and pulling he manages to get the boat turned around and we begin the process of heading back to the Amatista – in the dark.
Johnny and the dreaded black caimon

We’re five minutes into our return journey when Johnny spots something lurking in the lilies near the shore and poles the boat over.  He stares at it for a moment then does a perfect swan dive into the lily pads.   There’s a brief interlude of thrashing about and Johnny surfaces holding…..    A BLACK CAIMON!!!
Not a very big black caimon – but a caiman nevertheless.  I resist the temptation to tell him that back home we refer to reptiles this size as salamanders.  

The obligatory pictures are taken and we’re keen to head back to the boat, but the guides think it’s only fair for us to wait for the other skiff which continued up river a bit further to return so they can get  their chance at pictures with the reptile as well.  After all, as Robertson reminds us, they shared their snake with us earlier in the day.   I wonder out loud if perhaps our little caiman’s mother  or father might return looking for junior and be a might pissed off.

Robertson reassures us that we have nothing to worry about.  The adult caimans abandon their children soon after their born.
“Just like my family,” I  reply.

So we wait for the other skiff to return – which it does after a long interlude where we become more intimately involved with the amazon mosquitos and the chance to see if those  anti-malaria  pills I’ve been taking really work.  For just a minute I feel guilty that I was cheap and opted for the generic brand.

The other skiff eventually arrives and are immensely grateful as their caiman hunt had been as fruitless. More pictures are taken and we finally return to the Amatista to apply copious amounts of calamine lotion externally, and liberal amounts of alcohol internally - have supper and finally to bed - It’s been a long day.

NEXT:  I Win the the Nauta 500 Tuk Tuk Invitational

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