Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fishing for Piranhas

Day 3: August 24, 2007

Somewhere in the Amazon Jungle...

There were few ants still outside in the morning when I was awoken at 5AM by the cries of howler monkeys. I found out I took the wrong trail the previous night. That’s why I never reached the garden. Apparently I was off bumbling somewhere.

Breakfast was ok. I tried some fruits I’d never seen before, but they weren’t exceptional. The howler monkeys continued to roar away (they sound a bit like lions).

After breakfast, we went on a walk (guided tour) through jungle swamp. It was still barely past dawn when we reached the swamp. We paddled a dugout canoe through the muck looking for exotic birds. Spotted some and got pictures of a few. Also some really beautiful butterflies. A very friendly blue one wouldn’t leave us alone and kept landing on people. Got some great pictures I think. Guess I'll never find out for sure (more on that later). Hiked back to camp after. Oh – on the way back through the swamp I spotted a baby black caiman. Couldn’t catch it though before it escaped in the bushes. It's hard chasing reptiles through the dens foliage, especially in a rickity dugout canoe.

The trail back turned out to be the trail I took last night. Not so lost anymore.

When we got back to camp it was only 11:30AM because we left so early. I had some free time before lunch at 1PM so I went looking for the gardens again and once more became lost. This time on a different trail. I was surprised by some deer sized mammals in the brush that made a growling/barking sound before crashing off through the brush. Peccaries maybe? Didn’t get a clear look. Or at another large mammal later. Could have been just about anything. I saw other stuff though and got pictures.

It turned out that the trail ended in a swamp. I found two caimans there, one of which was pretty big, maybe over a meter. Lots of birds and some fish. Went back to camp for lunch.

After lunch I went swimming in a pool covered by mosquito netting (all that nonsense about waiting an hour after eating is totally unfounded scientifically). Frigid water, but having chlorine was nice.

After a swim I went with my guide, Alvaro, to the gardens and actually made it this time. On the way I spotted a capybara (a juvenile I believe) but it ran into a thicket before we could get close enough to get a good picture. It had a light brown head and a darker body.

At the garden I smelled, touched, and tasted lots of plants. Not sure what many of them were. It turns out several were poisonous (I did recognize and avoid them), some others were halucinogenic (these were pointed out to me and I avoided them as well) and the others were either food, medicine, or both. Probably not so smart to play with them without knowing, but oh well. Not dead yet.

Took a shower when I got back. Very cold. Clean though. Oh wait, that was after going fishing for catfish and piranhas. I loaded up on 100% DEET and put on my mosquito net. We took a boat down the river bank to a spot that seemed good for fishing and baited our hooks with small pieces of raw meat. For poles we used sticks. I didn’t catch anything (as usual) but some of the others caught catfish. The piranhas didn't bite unfortunately. The bugs did. I was fairly well protected but several of my fishing buddies got savaged by gnats, mosquitos, and biting flies. It's worth mentioning that the mosquitos in the Amazon are the largest I've ever seen. Way bigger than Alaska. I actually mistook some for dragon flies. It's ridiculous.

We were pretty hot after fishing so we took the boat to the middle of the river and jumped in the water. Very cloudy, lots of sediment. Extremely strong current too. Very difficult to stand up in one place without being swept away. The bottom was fairly sandy and pleasant to the touch. Couldn’t see anything in the water. Probably better off that way. The water was warm enough, far warmer than the pool or showers back at camp. Came back to camp, showered and hung out at the bar. At dinner time they served a buffet as well as the freshly caught fish (of course, I couldn’t eat it because it was catfish).

After dinner I went hiking down the same trail as the previous night again, but this time with a camera. Got the tarantula pics – they were all in the same place. Came back to the bar for drinks (something called a Toucan) and poker (I won). At this point I noticed that I'd apparently been bitten quite a lot swimming in the river. Everything started to itch terribly. The gnats and flies are vicious. I realized that when I took off my clothes to jump in the river, I didn't have DEET on underneath them. Oops. You can actually tell the difference between the various insect bites by their size and whether or not they bleed. The flies leave the largest and nastiest wounds. Fun times.

I found the hive of the red ants on the way to bed. It’s next to one of the support posts of the bungalow next to mine. I'll need to look up the actual species of the ants tomorrow. Took pictures.

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