We are up at five and finish packing, which consists of putting all sorts of damp clothes into a large duffle bag, all of which are starting to smell like wet athletic socks that have been storedin a locker for a month. Along with odiferous clothes are a bunch of unused, unopened lures Mark thought we’d have time to try but never did…just like our first trip. We go to breakfast with our carry-on luggage in tow, leaving our heavy bags for the guides to load into a boat. We’ve seen the last of our little cabin.
Now, the funny thing about having stomach issues is that instead of doing what I usually do at camp in the morning—look around to see what Amazonian bird might have shown up on a nearby tree and look for pink dolphins playing in the water–my mind is instead focused on the singular issue of bathrooms. Once kicked out of our cabin, where, I ask, will we have access to a bathroom? Alejandro says we can use the spare cabin. I secretly cheer.
At breakfast, conversation turns to toilet paper and Dr. Coz says his wife wouldn’t like it here because of the toilet paper and how you have to reach up into the toilet paper holder and get it from the dispenser, with one’s head practically between one’s knees. Struggling to get the t.p. would put his wife right over the edge. Curt says that one of the things he’d un-invent would be those toilet paper holders. He goes on to say that the first thing he does upon sitting upon the pot is “reach way up there, grab the end and pull and pull until I have a big pile on my lap so I’m ready to go.”
Dr. Bob says his wife goes through so much toilet paper he should invest in it. That led them to say that all women use a lot more toilet paper than men and they’re quite astounded by that. I’m intent to keep an eye on the “spare cabin” to make sure it hasn’t disappeared and make a lame effort to defend women.
As we eat our breakfast, conversation turns to the “me generation” and how bad things have gotten with people expecting to get things from the government and how nobody does anything for themselves anymore. Curt also says the next president is important because of the number of old supreme court justices on the bench. He could not have known that chief justice Antonin Scalia would die within 2 weeks after our return.
Our breakfast done, I stop by the spare cabin and chat with my gut, asking it to behave itself the over 2-hour ride back on the airplane to Manaus, because there is no bathroom in the float plane. Little did I know that would be the least of my worries.
The guides have loaded our luggage into two boats and there are two boats available to transport anglers to the plane. Mark and I get into Sappo’s boat and we wait no more than five minutes for the plane to fly low over the water to check out the scene. The plane banks, makes a quick turn and lands on the water.
As the plane lands, Mark notices that the plane puts up a lot more water than previous float planes we’ve seen land on water. I’m not paying a lot of attention, because the lenses on my camera haven’t acclimated yet to the warm weather—they were inside the air conditioned cabin over night and are all fogged up in the hot, humid morning air. I wipe off the camera and lens and take one shot of the plane coming in because it’s not like I see float planes every day.
The plane comes to a standstill and I take another photo, still concerned about my fogged up lens. The eight new anglers get out of the plane and into two empty boats motored by two other camp staff. While we wait and watch them, Bobby shows me his photo of the plane and I just nod, still not catching on. The two boats head to camp with the new guests while Sappo and the other guide move our boats into position on either side of the plane.
Mark, Bobby, Dr. Bob, Curt and I all get into the plane and settle into our seats, Bobby and Curt in the front bench seat, Mark, Dr. Bob and I in seats behind them. Steve, John and Dr. Coz are on the outside of the plane, either in the other boat or on the float, but I’m in my own la-la land, fussing with my camera lens. It’s only after John says that he is standing in water over his ankle while standing on the float did it finally register that the plane is listing to the back and to the left. The plane floats are taking on water. In other words, we are sinking.
Still in disbelief, I click on the view button on my camera, look at the photo I took and just about get sick at what I see. How did I not notice?
I tuck my camera away and calmly suggest that Mark take his seatbelt off in case we have to get out quickly. I also move our carry-ons to the back of the plane. As I am plotting our escape, warning lights begin flashing on the dashboard, along with warning buzzers. In an instant, my breathing increases, my butt puckers, and I’m fighting back a voice in my head that’s saying, “GET OUT!” I’m about to get out when the pilot suddenly appears with a pump in his hand—a two-foot high, plastic gadget—which he attaches to the one of the pontoons and uses to pump water. As he is pumping out the float, Curt is sharing calculations about how much water is being pumped and how much extra weight we might be carrying with us during lift off, should we actually get to lift off.
I’m pondering whether to thank Curt for that information when suddenly, just as quickly as the pilot started pumping water on one side of the plane, he appears to fly across the front of the floats and pumps water out of the other side. Moments later, he tucks the pump away, reaches inside the front door, turns the warning lights off, tells the other three guys to get in quickly, and without any word about putting seat belts on or anything about safety, cranks up the engine and shuts the door. The co-pilot also jumps in and shuts his door. Without bothering to look at checklists, the pilot quickly guides the plane towards the camp, where, curiously, the entire camp staff are watching. We do a tight turn-around and start heading down the long open stretch of water while the pilot pumps the steering yoke up and down, which makes the front of the plane go up and down. We’d had to suffer through this on the Amazon the first time to get lift under the wings, but this time it’s beyond scary because the back of the floats are underwater and the front of the plane way up in the air. The more the pilot pumps, the higher up the plane seems to rise, the lower it feels we are in the water. The voice inside my head yelling, “STOP THE PLANE! LET ME OUT!’ is getting louder, and it’s all I can do to not scream when I look out the side window and see that instead of the guides taking the boats back to camp like they usually do, they are zooming along side our plane in their boats, faces looking intently ahead, worried. I nod to Mark and as he looks out at the guide, I say, “Perhaps to pull our bodies out?” Then I tell him I love him and hang tightly onto his hand.
Seating in the plane:
Curt, John, Bobby on a bench seat
Dr. Bob in a solo seat; an open space, Me and Mark in a shared seat
Steve behind us
Dr. Coz in the way back
As the guide throttles his boat alongside the plane and the pilot is pumping up and down, each man around me has worry oozing from his every pore. On and on we bounce like this, for at least 30 seconds, maybe longer, and it seems to me all we are doing is making waves and giving the floats more time to fill with water. In those 30 seconds, I revisit my life and all the big fish that got away and wonder why I’m not having a hot flash, and wonder if it would it be better if I had a super hot flash and passed out and missed out on my own demise?
Then suddenly, we reach flat water, which, for some reason, is a place where we are beyond or on top of? the waves we are creating, and can finally accelerate beyond what Curt said later, was 40 mph (he was watching the controls the entire time). The guide boats disappear from view, no longer able to keep up, which I feel is a good sign…unless we don’t make it off the river, in which case, they better keep following.
As we try to accelerate more an more, what worries me–besides flipping over backwards and drowning if we go upside down, and piranhas finishing me off if I don’t drown, and the fact that I’m not wearing my sports bra in all this bounce–is that we keep going and going down the river, and I can’t see out the front window because the back of the plane is down so far in the water, and I don’t know how much straight river we actually have left before there’s a bend in the river. We go on and on, accelerating, until finally, we rise off the water—maybe about ten feet—only to drift back down towards the water again. As the plane drifts back down—in that few moments in space—I recall that our trip to 2013 was delayed because the float plane that was supposed to have taken us out of the jungle clipped trees and half of one wing got torn off. We’d waited for six hours while another plane came in to take the gringos off that river, took them to our air field and finally, took us to Manaus. So, knowing that one does not always clear the trees in the jungle, I am holding my breath and my heart is racing and I’m biting my pursed lips and I’m not liking that John is capturing this all on video, when the pilot pulls up again. This time, we continue rising higher and higher. When I look out the left side of the plane, all I see is trees….as if we didn’t have a lot of straight river left.
We are just above the trees and sighing out loud when we hear from the back of the plane, Dr. Coz yelling: “I think I might have crapped my pants!”
We all chuckle nervously. I squeeze Mark’s hand. Dr. Bob, sitting next to me, pulls out this orange and black gizmo called SPOT which he takes with him on trips so he can be rescued. He says he had his hand on the button the whole time we were taking off, which amazes me because he was chatting to me about something most of the time. I notice that there’s another SPOT on the ceiling between the pilot and co-pilot. So at least if we’d gone down, someone would have spotted us quickly…and pulled out whatever of our body parts could be sent to our loved ones.
The flight is smooth until about half way back when we get into clouds and the windshield is covered with raindrops. The pilot hardly notices, engaged again in great conversation with the co-pilot and gesturing with his hands. At one point, he takes off his headset and turns around in his seat to answer Curt’s question about the dynamics of getting us off the water. Afterwards, he puts his headphones back on and goes back to chatting with the co-pilot.
We experience a couple of drops in altitude as we hit turbulence, but again, the pilot is unbothered, so I decide to be unbothered, too.
A little over two hours later, the weather breaks for us to see our way down the runway in Manaus. I am relieved to be on the ground and, after waiting politely behind the Brazilian man who guided us back inside the airport, I make a beeline to a toilet to contribute more to the waste stream. When I return to the lobby, Bobby is pushing a cart with my luggage on it, along with a lot of other luggage, and all I have to do is head into the shuttle. Two women are operating the shuttle; we learn later that Jon was called away and could not be there due to a funeral.
In the shuttle on the way to the motel, Curt shares that the pilot likely fully fueled up before he left Manaus to save time and make it such that he could do all his trips without delay. So, he was weighted down with extra fuel he didn’t need for a 1.5 hour ride. Add excess water in the floats with having excess fuel and it’s no wonder our takeoff was so tough.
We get keys for a room at the motel, and once again, I’m hooked up with another guy. We exchange keys so I can be with Mark. We drag our soggy, smelly stuff up to our room, shower, and take a nap…in a double bed, together. There’s nothing like a nice double bed after a week in the jungle on a twin bed…while my spouse was in a twin across the aisle.
Later, at lunch, Curt says he wasn’t worried about John on the flight off the water because if the plane went down, John could swim like a fish. But he was worried about caiman and piranhas maybe eating John. We try to convince Curt that piranhas wouldn’t have eaten John if he went for a swim, then we admit that piranhas do tend to munch on people in confined spaces…like upside down airplanes. Caiman, though, well, all bets are off with them when swimming.
Bobby says that he almost asked to get off the plane. He, Curt, Steve and Coz have all done this 13-15 times on the Amazon, so clearly this was one of the worst flights. Bobby shares another memorable flight, where they smelled diesel fuel and it was dripping inside the plane. Mark and I counter with our last trip to Canada and how the float plane blew a “jug” or cylinder and the oil splayed all over the windshield and how we landed on the water just as the engine died, then were dragged to shore by other guides using boats and ropes. Reflecting on the fact that our last two float trips were hair-raising, I announce that I can happily stay off float planes for a long time.
We go with Curt and John to a mall next door and it’s a mass of humanity that I wasn’t mentally prepared for, having just come out of the jungle. People are moving in every direction in stores that are packed like our malls were twenty years ago, and only now so at Christmas. We ask a lady where the pharmacy is, and I loiter outside while the guys go inside, to give Curt some privacy while he picks up whatever it is he came for. As we leave the mall I see a place that I think might have puppies but instead was a place for little kids to play.
As we walk back to the motel, cars and trucks and motorcycles buzz by and tI find it amazing—and crazy–what we get used to in the urban environment in Manaus. Not to mention, it’s super hot.
Back at the motel, we wander up to the top floor where there’s a pool and an open area nearby with lots of trees and shrubs still intact. I go upstairs and get my camera and 85-400mm long lens and spend the next 35 minutes in the sun trying to photograph birds. I see an ani of some kind, a red-billed sparrow, a small brown bird I’ll never be able to identify, a few other birds I’ve not seen before, and a bird that could be a kiskadee or a flycatcher, as there are many that look like it. I finally get a decent shot at a blue tanager, which had deceived me in that village we got stuck in in 2013. Mark reads the paper in the shade.
We take another nap and when I wake up I need to do something before being cramped on a plane for many hours. I put on my shorts and go up to the work-out room, and see Steve up there pushing some weights around. I work out for 20 minutes while Mark dabbles on three different pieces of equipment without exerting himself at all.
Later, I do one more birding stint, and finally get a shot at a parrot which lands in a tree far away, in the fading sunlight. Vultures also fly by. As I shoot, it occurs to me that I see more birds in a few hours overlooking a lot in Manaus than I did during one week in the jungle.
We pack up and head downstairs around 7:00 p.m. for a couple of beers. Afterwards, we go back to the room, shower again, and lounge around until 9:00 when we drag our luggage downstairs and drop it by the front door. The rest of the guys are having beer in the lounge and their stuff is already by the front door.
Before the shuttle shows up at 10:00 p.m., I shake Dr. Bob’s hand and tell him it was a pleasure meeting him and fishing with him. He gives me a big ole hand shake in return.
At 10:00 a brute of a guy loads our stuff in a shuttle van; a woman drives us to the airport alone. It’s a horribly bumpy ride in the back of the shuttle, one we notice more leaving the motel than when we came in. En route the talk is about things like wells and groundwater. At one point someone asks Bobby about his ranch and how many deer he’s harvested this year (all huge brutes) and Bobby says he uses a helicopter to get the deer to spread out so the hunters have a chance at them. Curt says, “I love having a rich friend with a ranch and giant deer. It’s so much fun.”
At the airport, we unload our stuff onto two carts and the woman driver takes off without a word. It’s far more impersonal without Jon around. We check in at a line with few people in it, Curt, Bobby and Dr. Coz in the first class line; the rest of us in the other. We drop our bags off and are happy to do so because they seem to have gotten heavier and smell like jungle rot. We get through customs and security and soon are sitting around the terminal area sharing photos on our cell phones. Well, most of us are—I didn’t recharge my phone. Steve shows us photos of his three Clydesdale horses, one of which he had shipped from somewhere across the country, along with his miniature pony which looks clearly tiny next to the big fellas. Steve also talks about the 12-acre pond he built on his property—sounds like a lovely place.
Curt shows us photos of his family and his two rescued dogs, both mutts. He also shows me a giant rattlesnake that was right outside his backdoor and which he “dispatched with a bit of lead to the head.”
Mark mentions our 16 acres and our new log cabin in Northern Michigan, and shares the realization that it’s on the Black River and we’d fished a tributary of the Rio Negro the first time in the Amazon. We named our new cabin Rancho Rio Negro.
After photos are shared all around, I hit the bathroom, and on the way back, point out to Mark a stuffed sloth a lady was watching for her 8-year-old son. Ten minutes later, Mark returns with my own stuffed sloth. It’s in a plastic bag and I take him out so he can get some fresh air.
On the way back from the bathroom, I pass Coz going to the bathroom. He stops me and says, “So, how much toilet paper did you use?” I stretch my arms out as far as I can and say, “About that much.” He laughs and says, “I thought so.” Such a funny guy.
The announcement to board allows people 60 and older to board first, not first class, not women with children. Many people get on, many of them fishermen. Mark waits for me in spite of qualifying, and we are happy this time because we paid for seats with more leg room without having to change seats. I’m in the middle of three seats and the guy by the window has nothing to say, which also makes me happy. John sits across the aisle; Steve and Dr. Bob a row ahead of us. Mark is in the aisle and John takes the moment to ask Mark why we saw so few birds in the jungle. He also asks: “If I were dropped off at some random spot in the middle of the jungle, what’s the odds that’d I’d discover a new bird or bug or something?” To that, Mark says, “Pretty good.”
I take my contacts out, put my glasses on, put a blanket around me and am about to nod off when a light lunch is served. It’s a sub sandwich with a big wad of bread, single piece of lettuce, two super thin slices of tomato, a micro piece of cheese and some smoked turkey, also thinly sliced. I pass on the chips and give them to Mark; ditto with the fruit. I save the biscuit for later. I’m still seeing what makes my gut happy and hope my new diet of little food does the trick.
The rest of the trip blurs together–landing in Miami, waiting for our luggage to show up, saying good-bye to some great guys we admire and loved hanging out with. Several hours pass slowly at a gate before we fly to Detroit. We land in Miami and wait 45 minutes for a shuttle that never came and finally get pity from another shuttle company who drops us off at Days Inn where we will never stay again due to their poor shuttle service. Then we are in the cold that is the winter of Michigan, driving home, which feels as foreign as the noise and movement and everything else we have to get re-accustomed to. Still unable to make a fist, blisters on my hands, tired beyond belief, I am already missing the simplicity and the danger, the freshness and heat of the jungle.
At home, we are greeted by our two dogs and two cats. All are well behaved until we wake up the next morning to find the dogs have provided an editorial. A little bit of fishing line later, and even their bed is back to normal.
Within a week, I no longer long for normal and wonder when, if ever, we’ll get to return to the Amazon. We caught a total of 1,278 fish that week, 127 of which were 8 pounds or bigger. The biggest of the week was the 19-pounder caught by Dr. Coz. As I look back, I wonder if perhaps what I really long for is a rematch with a bigger fish than his.
After note: Upon returning to the states, I contacted my cousin, Ryan, a pilot, who contacted a sea captain friend on my behalf. He explained the pumping up and down we experienced “helps break the surface tension of the water when you are trying to get up on the step, the step being the area on the float with the least drag and best acceleration. That pumping the yoke process is pretty common when you are on the heavy side. Doesn’t mean they were necessarily doing anything unsafe.” Isn’t that reassuring?
On the fifth day of fishing in the Amazon I awake in the middle of the night wondering what I’m doing here, because the pain in my right hand is constant, and when I stand up at what is about 4 a.m.—though I’m not sure because my watch is on the counter because my left hand is also puffed up—my gut seems to be rather large and extended, making me feel about three months pregnant when yesterday, I wasn’t pregnant at all. To add to my misery, as I rise to stumble to the bathroom, I experience a hot flash so amazing that I am capable of reheating leftovers anywhere on my body. I open the door to the bathroom, the light goes on and the fan starts humming like it always does to wake up my roommate who flops over happily in his twin bed. I close the door behind me, sit down to take a leak, and just as the one-inch cockroaches emerge from under the floor mat, the lights go off. I’m already sweating and it seems unfair to make me wave my arms to turn the lights back on. But it works—the light go back on and I go about my business without fear the cockroaches will crawl up my leg.
I flush the toilet, which makes a rather loud noise for the middle of the night, not unlike a small machine grinding something up and spitting it out, which in this case is pretty much what the toilet does, storing the waste in the pontoons under the cabin until we tourists leave camp. I open the door, step into the main part of our floating cabin, the door shuts behind me, and it’s suddenly very dark. I poke around until I find a water bottle and the aspirin I left on the counter, then work my way back to my twin bed across from Mark’s. I spend the next twenty minutes wondering if my hot flashes could spontaneously ignite the cabin. It’s a great thought to nod off to, which I did until a little before six.
Mark is up and “ready for another great day on the river,” and, at breakfast soon thereafter, 82-year-old Dr. Coz says he’s just getting warmed up and could stay another week. He asks Bobby if he can take the coming week off and hang out in Manaus, then fly back to the jungle afterward, because while the camp is full next week, the following week they only have 4 guys, so there’s room. Ain’t nothin’ like an 82-year-old dentist being more physical than my wimpy self.
Bobby, meanwhile, is sitting at the table applying a BENGAY look-alike to his hand, and offers me some. I take it readily, and find myself smiling as I inhale a smell that reminds me of the ointment my mom had applied to me when I had a chest cold as a kid. I rub some on both hands and promise never to come to the Amazon again without it. Bobby mentions they also make the stuff in a spray. I thank him for sharing, and it’s about then that Dr. Coz finally concedes his shoulder’s a little sore; Bobby says he’ll spray his shoulder before they go.
The rest of the guys show up to eat, and while they pile up their plates, I ponder whether eating is a good idea in my bloated condition. I decide that eating nothing will make me woozy, so take on an egg and a melon slice and nibble on some bread.
We get ready for the day like any other day, except that this time I make absolutely certain there is toilet paper packed in my dry bag. Our destination is essentially a lake connected to the river and sprinkled with trees. My hands scream at the idea of pulling six-inch lures across the water, but it’s my turn to rip lures while Mark does clean-up with a jig.
Shortly after we start fishing, several pink dolphins appear like they had every other day. Amazing swimmers and super smart, the dolphins have figured out that where there are anglers, there are fish weakened due to having fought a hook on our line. Our guide, Sappo, motors our first few small peacock bass—three to five pounders—back to shore so they can recover and not become dolphin food. As we head away from shore, though, Sappo releases one fish, and by the flash of pink and splash afterwards, it’s pretty clear the dolphins—a.k.a. potos–had breakfast on us.
We continue flogging the same shoreline for quite some time, and at one point, a fish hits, I set the hook, and the most amazing pain shoots through my hand and up my entire right arm. Momentarily powerless due to the jolt, I lower the rod to get a different grip. The fish gets off and I reel in nothing but my lure. Behind me I hear, “Amy,” so turn around to see Sappo using his arms to show me to keep the rod tip up. I nod, not willing to say “Eu nao posso,” or “I can’t.”
To add to my misery, the day is super hot and when I have a hot flash, I feel like keeling right over and fall out of the boat and into the water. My gut is still bloated, my right hand is killing me and my glasses keep fogging up so I can’t see very well. I pour water from a water bottle over my head to try cooling off and that helps one of my many problems. I curse myself for wanting cheese with my whine, and force myself to rip lures again and again. As I throw and pull and reel, pull and reel, I find that the jerking of lures is putting more pressure on my stomach while also straining my inflamed hands. I survive on auto-pilot until about 10:30 when I see a perfect spot to go take a leak.
See, the thing about being a woman in the Amazon basin is that when Nature starts calling, you start looking for suitable places, which is where there is at least one big tree to hide behind and at least one rise to duck down behind as well. I’m always happy to find such spots. Sometimes I see birds when I’m looking for good spots for taking a leak.
At last I find THE spot, and am quite happy when Sappo pulls the boat to shore. I jump off, bounce my way across the very unconsolidated, springy, leafy vegetation, until I find my way behind some trees. I’m thinking once again about snakes and tarantulas and can only and hope for the best…
…And then it happens.
As I squat down, my gut explodes and I’m suddenly caught literally with my pants down, sinking in the Amazon leaf debris, relieving internal pressure both fore and aft so to speak. I call to Mark and ask him to bring me the gray waterproof bag, which contains toilet paper. He comes within a few feet and slings the bag sideways. He tells me to take my time. I tell him if I do I’ll need to get pulled out because the thick, fallen leaves aren’t supporting me. I whisper, “Go away snakes and spiders,” as I finish my business, bury my mess and step gingerly to one side…where I immediately start sinking. I move my other foot, take a step forward, and begin quickly springing my weakened body up the rise towards the boat. I reach the boat feeling only marginally better, so sit in the water to cool off. I thank the piranhas and other aquatic nasties for not wanting to eat me.
When I’m finally feeling less like a firecracker about to implode, I thank the guys for their patience and we return to fishing. We find a new area to fish and between casts I see a bird I’ve not seen before, which I later identify as a black-tailed tityra.
It’s Mark’s turn to rip the big surface lures while I throw a jig, which is less strain on my hands. My gut is content to just grumble for a while, my hands reasonably hanging onto the pole, and I start getting into the groove of things again…when the sun hides behind a cloud and the wind kicks up. Rain starts within a half hour and the temperature drops several degrees.
It rains until 2 p.m. and I tell Mark I’ve never fished so much with a wet butt until this trip. My rain jacket is soggy inside and out, and my hands and toes are shriveled up like prunes. We catch only a couple of small fish in the rain, but learn later that Curt and John ripped through the rain and kept catching fish on a black and purple ripper. John got three 14-pounders. I’m so happy for him I could throw him in the water wrapped with bacon.
We fish until we get to a back eddy where we hang out in the shade and eat the last of our daily world’s-driest-cheese-sandwiches, washed down with rain water. As I’m chewing, I notice an orb weaver—a rather large spider—that has made a superb web between two trees next to our boat. He’s hanging out between trees, somehow able to avoid the pouring rain.
We continue flogging a large, shallow area with trees, catching very little all afternoon. My gut seems to be twisting itself up for round two, but I’m determined to get home before I do any more to relieve my stomach in the jungle. I’m soaked, and because the temps have fallen, I’m borderline feeling chilled. I wonder if I can force a hot flash to come on, but, unable o figure out ho two do that–and in spite of my angry hands–continue flogging the water to keep warm. Mark catches quite a few fish on a red and yellow jig but continues fishing with it even when the tail is bitten off. Having flogged surface baits for a while, I ask for a jig and Sappo hands me this small blue and green thing that is so light I cannot cast it very far. I ask to swap it out, and in the last half hour, use a black, red and white jig. Right as Sappo says we are going to move, I say, “Uma momento, por favor,” and reel in my second to last fish, a three-pounder. We move one more time across the river to another cove and I pull in a six pounder on my very last cast.
Before we leave, I ask to wait to try to add one more new bird to my list. It’s sprinkling and dark, so not my best shot of my first long-billed wood creepers creeping up a tree.
When we return to camp, I take a few more photos, like this one of the cook cabin. Or the cook in the cook cabin. Or the cute kid in the cook’s cook cabin.
We take a few more photos with Sappo for the record book. He shakes my hand and says “Good job, Amy.” I shake his hand and say, “Muito obrigado,” or “Thank you very much.”
Mark tells him, “Voce um grande guia,” which is, “You are a great guide.”
Back in our cabin, I relieve my gut one more time and take another Amazon shower consisting of water pumped in from the river. Afterwards, we open our wallets and leave payments and tips for the cook/camp staff in one envelope and the guides in another envelope. The recommended base amount is $200 per person. The first envelope gets handed to our camp host, Alejandro and he counts it and divides it amongst the camp staff. The other envelope is handed directly to the guide, at a base of $200 per person. We tip both for doing a good job. We also give Sappo a knife Mark bought many months ago just to give to whomever our guide turned out to be.
We enjoy some drinks on the hill overlooking the cabins and share the day’s fishing stories, most of which at least have elements of truth to them.
At dinner, the stories include the various trips to Venezuela that Steve and Dr. Bob went on to hunt or fish. Bobby and Curt add that they went to Venezuela many times and that the economy and government now is on the brink of collapsing completely, that they pulled out of there years ago. (Within a week after our return, the national news would show Venezuelans standing in line to get basic food supplies, and that a revolt is likely).
During one of his trips, Curt shares how he got on an elevator with an Indian couple who couldn’t remember where their car was located, so hit every button on the elevator. The door opened, they’d get out, look around, and get back on again. After the third or fourth time doing this, Curt shut the door and told them to get another elevator. Too funny.
Curt’s son, John, said when he was growing up, Curt would go to the grocery store every Sunday to get the newspaper and read up on the Dallas Cowboys. He’d test the clerks to see who could do the math involved in getting a paper or other products, such as 3 items for a dollar—he’d only buy two and see if they could figure it out. I think there’s a bit of a devilish side to Curt.
I’m off to bed early and add Cipro to my aspirin regimen to calm my unhappy gut. I go to sleep thinking surely, my troubles are over. Little did I know.
I wake up at 4 a.m. with a crampy pain in my left hand and it takes an aspirin to help me get back to sleep again. It’s an interesting pain–puffiness mixed with tingliness in my hand, and when I place my arm just so on my bed I experience a ray of painful tingles up the area where my tricep would be had it not fallen off years ago. As the aspirin works to make the pain bearable, I have plenty of time to wonder if I’ll be able to handle a fishing pole. I contemplate duct tape and how helpful if might be to have my hand duct taped to the fishing pole if I can’t hold onto it. I fall back to sleep realizing that the life of a bureaucrat who types emails eight hours a day does not make for a fit angler in the Amazon.
Two hours later at breakfast, I hold a cold can of Coke to my left hand and the cold seems to help a little. The guys don’t seem to notice as they talk about the tree frog calling out all last night. Curt says the frog finally shut up around five a.m. and that if he could have brought a loaded shotgun he’d have blown the frog right out of the tree so he could have slept better. I can only laugh.
It’s a warm morning but the icy pop and aspirin has made it such that I can grab onto a pole, so nothing else really matters. Sappo guides our boat into a lagoon where peacock bass are chasing bait fish near tiny, grass-lined islands. We use our surface baits to attract them around the islands, and, in deeper areas we throw jigs.
Every time we hear splashes, Sappo moves the boat in that direction. After a few casts, and we are usually able to entice the fish to bite. It’s an interesting way to fish—listen for splashes, move in that direction and cast to the big splashes.
I’m in an intense fishing groove for hours, until just before lunch, when a wave of heat overcomes me. There’s no breeze and I’m feeling suddenly woozy, so Mark asks Sappo to pull off onto one of the islands so I can cool off …and take a leak in the water. The lagoon is so open I have no other option for taking a leak anyway, and this way, I can solve two problems at once. As I sit down, it feels like sitting in a giant puddle after a warm rain storm, the only difference being that these puddles have piranhas in them. I know piranhas won’t attack unless cornered or threatened, and feel like a kid, sitting in water up to my chest, splashing the water. Truly, the only difference between me and a kid are a few wrinkles and the fact that part of my heat is due to hot flashes.
After I’ve cooled off, we motor back to the same area we’d started fishing earlier. We’re about to head out of the lagoon when a fish hits my line, drags me and the boat to an underwater log I didn’t see, and hangs me up there. Sappo waves at me to stop reeling because he thinks the fish has rubbed the lure off on a log and is gone. He pulls out a long stick he keeps with him in the back of the boat, and has wrapped it around the line a couple of times to free the lure, when the line starts going out again. Sappo quickly untangles his stick from the line because it’s suddenly clear the fish is still on the line. I reel, the boat gets pulled around a bit more, I yank with all my might and pull up my biggest fish, a 14-pounder. It will remain my biggest fish of this trip, one pound shy of my biggest on our first trip to the Amazon, and one pound larger than Mark’s largest this trip. Poor fella.
Once we finally head out of that lagoon, the rest of the day is disappointing. We enter one lagoon after another, one of which has a plastic bottle floating on top the water, which means it was already fished today. We retrieve the bottle and get a few fish now and again, but it’s really slow compared to the morning.
At one opening amongst some trees, Mark throws his lure and loses it to a big fish. We look for 15-20 minutes for the lure before finally giving up on ever seeing it again. I hope the big fish can rub the lure off on a log somewhere.
As we are looking for Mark’s lure, the sky darkens, the wind kicks up and it suddenly starts to pour. We motor 20 minutes in the driving rain to a small inlet, during which I discover my Marmot Precip raingear is as waterproof as a sieve. We eat lunch in the rain under some trees while Sappo bails our boat. And then Nature calls.
For some reason, I convince myself that it’s safe to pee in the woods when it’s raining because–I surmise–snakes don’t come out in the rain. And while I had to pee in the water earlier due to the open landscape, at lunch we’re surrounded by trees and I feel I have to venture out in search of a pee spot rather than look really obvious about it.
So off I go, springing over the land in search of a spot out of eyesight of the guys. I find the perfect spot–behind a tree in a wallow–and there, in the Amazon, in the pouring rain, I make an interesting discovery: wet pants and wet underwear are not easy to pull down in the rain–neither slide down easily. I pull down my pants and, with them lying in a heap on the ground, roll down my underwear, both while reaching up under my sieve of a rain coat. Because it’s raining, it’s hard to know if I’m peeing on my own pant legs, so I just hope for the best. And of course, using toilet paper is impossible in such condition, so when I’m done, I wiggle and roll my underwear back into place, pull up my pants, zip them, pull my rain jacket down over my butt and laugh out loud because I can’t remember being so wet in forever. I laugh again when I realize I’ve sunk down eight inches in the unconsolidated leaf litter.
I spring back to the boat and before enjoying my cheese sandwich, stop to photograph the men, who have no idea how good they have it.
We fish the rest of the afternoon, and over time, I’m more and more challenged by my puffy hand and my wimpy disposition. I pop another aspirin and try to ignore a bit of a shooting pain up my arm when I get a ten pound peacock in another lagoon. My ten-pounder is followed hours later by a couple other smaller fish. All said, it’s a long afternoon; the fish not very cooperative.
It turns out that my 14-pounder makes me the big fish winner of the day, and I get congrats by all. I thank them and say I’d do a “high five” if I could unfist my hand. We drink beer, have a dinner of lasagna with beef and ham, and another entre of beef with potatoes. I will note here that until this point, I had not eaten any meat.
At dinner, Curt asks about time travel and how quickly the week passed “with ye all.” He says, “Just a week ago I met you guys at the hotel and now here we are a week later.” It’s true that tie flies when you’re having fun. Even if you can’t give high fives to celebrate that fact.
I awake with puffed up hands in the early morning, unable to make a fist. It’s the same problem I had two years ago in the Amazon and I’m betting an aspirin–or several–will make it better. After showering, I head with Mark to the breakfast cabin. There, Bobby shows me the note I’d sent to him in 2013 with a clown colored Aile magnet lure I’d mailed him as a thank you for inviting us on the trip in 2013. I am touched that he kept the note and lure in its box for three years. He’s such a sweet guy.
It rains on and off in the morning and I think I’m in a groove because I hardly notice when it’s raining and when it’s not. I don’t even notice it’s raining when I see John and Curt wearing rain gear.
Seppo guides our boat off the main part of the river to a narrow inlet that doesn’t look real passable to me. We’re wondering if Sappo knows where he’s going, because we end up stuck on a log, literally, and watch as Sappo jumps out of the back of the boat, walks up another log, looks over a ridge, decides his path into a lagoon isn’t the best bet, and turns us around. It’s all part of exploring the jungle.
En route to a new spot, I spend way too much time trying to photograph these speedy little birds I think are a type of swift…if only because it flies so swiftly.
After getting dizzy photographing a moving bird in a moving boat, I see a large bird politely sitting on a log and waiting for us to buzz by in our boat. It’s much easier to photograph.
In the early hours we also kick up a couple of cocoa herons.
Later, a swallow-tailed kite looks down at me from above. Like most people, I wave.
I also take a few photos of a large bird I think is just a turkey vulture but which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a yellow-headed vulture, a new bird for me.
Of course, we are on the river to go fishing, not birding, and we are fortunate to find several hot spots throughout the day and get a total of 48 fish including two 11-pounders. Mark catches his 11-pounder in the rain.
I wait for the sun to shine to catch my 11-pounder.
Mark gets a 13 pounder in the final half hour, beating his Itapara best by one pound. His biggest now is one pound bigger than mine. Gr. This turns out to be one of my favorite photos of the trip, though, because Sappo is in the photo.
We have lunch with Curt and John again and I get the first part of Curt’s story: how he paid for his first two kids’ hospital bills on a credit card, worked for Hughes Aircraft and his division folded, so he another guy started their own company. It involved creating a device to lower an H bomb into a 3,000-5,000 foot hole filled with sand, concrete, etc. to test it. He also created machinery to support oil rigs and has three patents. He started the business in 1986 and sold it in 2006. He’s been “between jobs” ever since.
As we are listening to Curt, something runs alongside our boats and settles in the brush next to us. Mark and I guess it’s a Jesus Christ Lizard, so I step out of the boat and stalk it with my camera. It’s a lizard of some kind, and it comes to rest on a branch overhanging the water. I get several photos and figure out later, it’s a wood lizard, our first.
Lunch ends and we go back to flogging the water. At some point while in the rhythm of jigging, Mark says this was his most fun day because we’re into the groove, have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t, and we’re following Sappo’s advice to have one of us wake the fish with a top water bait and the other person follow with a jig or red and white Perversa or Yozuri.
We’re back to camp by 5:00 to shower and enjoy cold beer on the hill with the guys. Bobby hands me his cell phone and shares the latest Johnny Lee country song, about how things should be. It’s a great song. Johnny Lee is one of Bobby’s hunting clients, and it’s quite clear Bobby has a lot of respect for him.
At dinner, the conversation turns to politics and how the current generation of kids expects to be given things, including forgiveness for their tuition loans. Nobody gave us forgiveness for our loans, we paid them. Bernie Sanders gets no votes around our dinner table.
I mention my work on an employee engagement team and share hat while the Millennials coming into work are highly sophisticated in their use of technology compared to me, many grew up getting awards just for showing up and participating in something. So they expect awards and acknowledgment and pats on the back. Dr. Bob counters with, “I guess I’m just old school. I just want to tell people what and how to do something and expect it to get done. I don’t need to hear their ideas.” He said he got started in the Army and went into vet school as part of the Army. In that role, he also oversaw food distribution during the Vietnam War. After the war, he went on to start up his own vet practice and farms the very farm he was raised on. He runs his vaccine business, too. I feel lazy and underachieving next to him…like I do next to the rest of the guys.
On the way back to our cabin, I tell Mark that it was a great day–the fishing was great, the weather great, my hands not too puffed up, and I liked chatting with the guys. Mark said his highlight was holding a fish and noticing its heart beating. We were too geeked in 2013 to notice such things.
We go to sleep to the sound of a tree frog calling from a tree outside of Curt’s cabin. Our froggie pal emits sounds a lot like the sound of lures ripping across the water…all night long.
Tuesday: 2/2/2016 Third Full Day’s Fishing
I start the morning with a couple of aspirin because my left hand is all puffy. I also wrap the fingers on my left hand with some very cute duct tape because I have a few blisters. I’m feeling more like a wuss every day.
It rains on and off all morning and we end up in a lagoon where we get a few fish after a lot of ripping and jigging. I have my best luck with a maroon and blue Yozuri, nabbing one six-pounder and one ten-pounder. I also use the black and red Barboleto Perversa and catch a couple of fish during a brief feeding frenzy.
I also catch a peacock on a yellow and red jig, and one on a purple and black top water bait. Yesterday, white Yozuris were king. They did no good today. And nothing worked consistently throughout the day. Hence, the nature of fishing.
This was Mark’s biggest fish.
After releasing one fish weighing perhaps four pounds, we hear a violent splash amongst some trees in pretty shallow water, caused by a dolphin trying to make an easy meal out of the fish we’d just released. Minutes later, as Sappo is about to grab another fish out of the water, I see the pink face of a dolphin flash by right next to the boat. It’s a mental photo I won’t ever forget—in one split second the dolphin showed up, determined the fish was attached to a hook and line, and disappeared fro sight, only to loiter nearby to get the released fish after it was off the hook. THAT’s a smart animal.
Later, Mark caught another vicunda.
After lunch we spend a lot of time in a lagoon in pretty shallow water. As we head into the lagoon Mark has a gigantic hit at his top-water lure, and while we try many times, we can’t get the big fish to bite again. While trying to attract the big fish, two dolphins appear, one of which is little and follows Mark’s lure. Upon seeing that, Mark changes his lure because, he says, “The last thing I want to do is catch a baby dolphin.”
Throughout the day, Mark speaks Portuguese with our guide, Sappo, which Sappo seems to enjoy. Sappo has two boys, one of who’s name is Marcos who likes all sorts of critters like Mark. The toughest part of the conversation is when Mark tries to explain to Sappo the Zika virus, which is taking over the news and spreading throughout Brazil and lately, the US. Somehow, Mark is able to explain how babies are being born in Brazil with tiny heads and how it was suggested that Brazilian women not get pregnant until they got a handle on this. Sappo had no idea about all this because he’s been in the jungle for months.
As they chat about the Zika virus, we go through a really narrow area which produces a couple of small fish. Beyond the trees, the area opens up into a big wetland and we hang out with a couple of boat-billed anis and what I learn later is a female green kingfisher.
We catch a few more fish, none of them big. On the way back toward the narrow area, Mark puts on a Wide Glide, which is a big, heavy lure that makes a huge splash when it hits the water. On Mark’s third cast, he catches a peacock bass. After we clear the narrow area and return to the bank that once held a big fish, I take over flogging the Wide Glide…for the last half hour or so. It’s ridiculous how much of a splash the darn thing makes. Unlike Mark, all I do is scare the fish away.
We net 70 fish all day and think it’s a decent number until we get back and hear Steve and Dr. Bob got 143 fish, 17 of which were over 10 pounds. John also shares his results and feels good until Steve and Dr. Bob arrive. Such is the nature of fishing, the lucky sticks.
To make me feel even wimpier, after catching more fish than me again, Dr. Coz goes over to play a game with the camp staff. The object is to kick a soccer ball over a rope tied between two sticks and to return it to your opponent after one bounce. His agility and energy make me snarl.
A better idea than being active after fishing all day is sitting at the table on the rise and drinking beer until 6 when dinner is served. Just sayin.’
Right before dinner, we learn that when Alejandro and the rest of the camp staff came to this new camp site, a bird was munching on a dead anaconda. The camp workers also saw (and killed) a coral snake. Alejandro thinks that the commotion around camp will keep the snakes away. Righto! Later, though, he mentions that the more it rains, the more the snakes come out. I know I will have nightmares about peeing in the rain.
At dinner, I learn that Steve manages six banks in Tennessee. Dr. Bob runs a farm in TN with tobacco, other crops and animals, in addition to running a veterinarian and a lab that manufactures parvo shots for pets. I ask him about Dr. Bob about Bordetella and tell our story of Winston getting kennel cough in spite of the shot. Dr. Bob says there are at least six strains of Bordetella out there, and the shot treats one strain. He doesn’t recommend his patients get the shot. “It’s a waste.” I tell him all kennels around us require it and he just nods.
Somehow talk turns to botflies. Curt had one in his back once and it had wings before it was removed. Mark says Curt must have liked having the insect around because most people get them out when they’re at the larval stage. Mark went on to talk about removing a botfly from one of the rabbits we rescued back in the day, then told the story of our black kitten, Preto and his allergic reaction to a botfly and how that resulted in him being called the $1,200 pet.
As we walk back to the cabin I smile thinking about that glimpse I got of the dolphin. Then I remember what Alejandro said about snakes and wave my flashlight around looking for, what, I’m not sure. Safely inside the cabin, I pop a couple aspirin, kiss Mark goodnight, and fall into my wee twin bed.
Monday: 2/1/2016 Second Full Day’s Fishing – Camp Moves
I’m awake at 5:20 thanks to Mark getting up, turning on lights, and announcing it’s time to get up. We get our Coke/coffee fix in the main cabin before 6 a.m. and are ready to fish by 6:30. It’s cloudy but no rain (yay!), giving my rain coat—a Marmot Precip that is still soggy—time to dry out in the boat.
We head toward what will be the area of our new camp, because camp is moving while we fish. In which direction, I haven’t a clue–it could be north, south, east or west, I’m thinkin. Wherever it is we go, it’s slow fishing for a while. We catch a few fishand at a spot Sappo seems to know has a big fish, I cast a dozen times, before WHAM! I hook a 12-pounder.
After a good morning flogging the water, we head across the river to join John, Curt and their guide in the shade to have lunch. We chat about dolphins, dinosaurs, all sorts of things. Curt says he’s really busy the rest of the spring and summer but that we should all get together sometime. He’s such a sweet guy.
After lunch we get two doubles, which is when both Mark and I are fighting fish at the same time. Later, we ask Sappo to pose with a fish. He takes off his hat just for the photo.
As the afternoon gets warmer, the fishing becomes hit or miss–mostly miss. At one opening into a small bay, Mark loses a big fish that smartly rubs him off on the only log in the area. He’s grumped the rest of the day. Later, in another lagoon, Mark has a kingfisher go after his Yozuri lure several times. So he’s real careful as he fishes and eventually switches lures. This particular kingfisher is a real character, hanging out with us and moving to different trees when Mark casts in a different direction to avoid catching the silly bird.
Sappo takes us to several shallow areas that don’t hold many fish, but eventually finds two “honey holes, “one with small fish, one containing a 9, 8 and 7-pounder. Lures are white Yozuris with pink or green and a pink top, white bottom, black-spotted top water bait.
We see dolphins throughout the day and one goes after one of Mark’s fish in the fastest flash of boiling water smeared with pink I’ve ever seen. We also see a four-foot caiman and a five-foot caiman.
We’ve netted 45 fish by 4:00 and we head back to camp. It’s an hour boat road, and I realize as we buzz along that when the weather is tropically perfect like this, I could ride in a boat all day.
The cabins at our new camp are tied to shore and all but a little of each cabin is sitting right in the water.
On the Itapara River in 2013, our cabins were pulled onto sandbars and only the back 1/4 of the cabin–if that—was in the water. With most of the cabin in the water, every step one’s partner takes makes the cabin wiggle. Something as simple as going to the bathroom is made all the more interesting with someone else walking around inside the cabin. To add to the interesting setting, our cabin has a few cockroach friends—1 inch, ¼-thick brown fellas that have travelled with us from one camp to the other. They hang out below the rubbery grate on the bathroom floor most of the time. However, at night, they sometimes run around on top of the grate, making it such that I have to stomp my foot at them so they leave me alone. What fun!
Alejandro and workers have cleared a path from one cabin to the next; they have also cleared an area on a small rise and set up a plastic table and chairs. After I shower, I join Bobby and others on the rise and take a beer out of the small cooler Fabiano has filled for us. Bobby offers me use of his satellite phone to check on the dogs and I decline after expressing my gratitude, saying that a real vacation is not worrying about the dogs or my mom. Making a phone call home may make me worry about one or the other. As Dr. Bob said, “Sometimes ignorance is bliss.”
Alejandro joins us and I ask what happens to the waste at camp. He says all wastewater from each cabin goes into the pontoons underneath each cabin. Before the camp moves, each cabin is pumped of its waste and dumped on a spot on the ground. He says they have to do that. Paper is burned, including the toilet paper, which we have to put into a garbage can instead of flushing it down the toilet. I tell him I’ll sleep better knowing my shower isn’t sucking up someone else’s poo water.
Before dinner is served, a man visiting from the nearby village takes one of the camp worker’s kids out for a spin in a native boat. I
Dinner is chicken, peacock bass fish, rice and beans, a salad of cucumbers and purple cabbage, and a few potatoes mixed in with the chicken. Dessert is what the guys call “diesel ice cream,” which is made from a local fruit. It sounds awful but is really not all that bad if your taste buds are as bad as mine. I’m still amazed that we can get ice cream in the jungle.
The talk is of business, and at one point, Bobby says, “I hope you don’t me saying this, Amy, but women can be caddy and nasty and really stir up an office.” I admit that that’s the case and propose that this goes back to at least high school locker rooms, if not earlier. In a locker room, when two guys disagree they call each other names; often there’s a fight, somebody loses, and they move on because there’s a resolution one way or another. In a woman’s locker room if two women disagree, they speak unkind words to each other, and since there is no physical fight, there’s often no conclusion. In some situations, we carry grudges like badges, and in the very worst, we share our situation over and over again to taint the rest of the work place.
After failing to defend women, we talk about fishing, the Flint drinking water issue, and high mercury in fish. I ask our camp host, Alejandro about how a guide becomes a guide on the Amazon. He says they often start as camp assistants like Fabiano, bringing in the meals, cleaning up afterwards, serving snacks, offer drinks, and in our case, makes sure Mark gets a cup of coffee after dinner. Alejandro fishes every single day, and he takes Fabiano out with him to help him learn the ropes. The rest is up to him…sort of. The guides are almost always from the local village/Indian tribes and Alejandro has no bearing on who gets hired. Alejandro also said that Brazilians pick up on new rivers and geography better than any other people he knew.
Mark asks if Alejandro knows Preto, our first guide, and he says no. Mark then asks if Alejandro knew Andre, the guy we befriended when we were stuck in a small village trying to get home in 2013. (The story in 2013: the plane that was supposed to have taken us out of the jungle had load of heavy americans and clipped a wing on some trees during take-off, knocking half the wing off. Because the plane’s load was quite heavy and the waters low, it took 2 trips with a new plane to get the guys off the water. That same plane was then used to get us out of the village and back to Manaus…about six hours after our original departure time. During those six hours, we met Andre, who was mid-twenties, perhaps, and a chief negotiator with the Indian tribes to get access to local waters for us gringos.)
Alejandro frowned and said, “Yes, and I have some news about Andre. Terrible news.”
“Such as?” we ask.
“He’s, well,” he started as if searching for words, “dead.”
To which one of the guys said, “Bad news doesn’t get much worse than that.”
We learn that Andre had been shot 7 times after being lured into a place in downtown Manaus. He had River Plate Anglers brochures with him, but things didn’t go as expected. Mark and I wondered out loud if he was into something more than negotiating for River Plate. Alejandro said Andre had 4 boats, a marina, nice cars including a new Peugeot, a young wife, and he wanted to work a gold mine somewhere on the Amazon, which is illegal. Andre was about to start work on that, but Alejandro told him the police were onto him and he pulled out. We concluded he was into some bad stuff and it had gone poorly for him.
Somewhere along the line Dr. Bob says that when he and Steve went by in their boat earlier in the day he saw me flogging the water like everyone else and that I’m quite the fisherman. He’s very sweet for saying so, especially since my hands are puffy and I can’t even make a fist. Regardless of the kind words, he and Steve–and everyone else for that matter–are out-fishing me, and I’d just assume they all get befriended by piranhas. Not really.
Mark and I are back to the cabin by 8:00 and I’m done writing in my journal by 8:30. It’s quiet except for the humming of the camp generator. I’m getting ready for bed, and have powder on my hands and am about to powder my butt when Curt walks in, says, “Hi, Ye’all” and turns around all embarrassed. As I clap my hands to get rid of the powder, Mark invites him in and tries to make him feel comfortable about the fact that he walked into the wrong cabin. He says, “it’s a good thing we weren’t “necked!” (To learn about naked and necked, see Day Four).
Sunday, January 31, 2016: First full day fishing
We’re up at 5:30 and are ready for breakfast at 6. Breakfast is homemade chocolate-yellow bread, homemade dough balls with gooey stuff inside, fresh pineapple, slices of melon, fried eggs and pieces of white bread. It’s plenty to get us going. Before we leave the dinning room, we make sandwiches, which consist of cheese with mustard on the world’s driest bread. (We avoid the lunch meat that we think messed up Mark’s intestines in 2013). Our sandwiches are wrapped in plastic wrap by Fabiano, the cook helper, and placed in a rectangular Tupperware container. To that, we add some leftover pineapple, a slice of melon I’m not sure how to eat nicely without a fork, and a piece of chocolate-yellow leftover from breakfast.
We’re off in the sprinkling rain at 6:30, in the opposite direction from yesterday. Which direction, I haven’t a clue. The morning’s floggings result in a 12-pounder for Mark on a bright green ripper-type lure made by a guy named Kermit Adams. (If you go to Kermett’s site, you’ll see a 2013 photo I took of Mark holding a big peacock bass, caught with one of Kermmett’s home-made lures.)
Mark’s 12-pounder is a beauty and the biggest peacock we’d get all day.
On the other hand, you can’t beat the beauty of a wolf fish, or Traira.
We spend the day going in and out of narrow bodies of water, that lead to wide, vast lagoons. We have lunch with a pink dolphin at an inlet to a lagoon. I take a dozen photos, none of which are any good at all.
We also do a pee break. Now, being a woman, a pee break is a big deal, because my goal is to get out of range of the guide and not get nabbed by a snake, especially a poisonous one. And that’s a big deal, especially since our guide pointed at something on the water earlier and yelled “Cobra!” which means snake. Luckily, the cobra was just some vegetative fuzz, but it did worry me that he worries about snakes. I thought our Amazon guide was supposed to be fearful.
The other thing about peeing in the Amazon is that the ground consists of unconsolidated layers of thick, fallen leaves, making the ground springy to walk on. It’s not unlike walking on a trampoline, except that I don’t know what’s underneath. So I hustle quickly on the springy ground, looking forward for snakes, backwards at the guide, until I finally find a spot behind a rise or tree. I go about my business, only to discover that by the time I’m done, I’ve sunk down 8 inches into the soil and leaves. I try not to think about whether tarantulas and snakes like to hang out under leaves, as I hastily pull up my pants, step off to one side onto higher ground, and hustle back across the springy vegetation to the boat. There, my dear Mark is waiting for me, having handily peed next to the boat. What’s the adventure in that?
Having survived a pee break, we head down a narrow body of water, and without warning, the quiet vibration of our electric motor scares some tiny proboscis bats out of a tree. They fly out of the tree and land on the bark in the sun. It seems like a stupid thing to do to me—fly out of the protection of the inside of a tree to sit outside on the tree where predators can get you. But it provides a great opp to shoot a few photos. These bats are only 2.4 inches long. The only other time I saw some was in Costa Rica while on a cruise with my dad in 2003.
After lunch, I set the hook on a fish, only to see the top 2/3 of my rod floating in the water and the bottom 1/3 in my hand. It’s my green and white rod, the one that replaced the custom-built one Mark had made for me for the 2013 trip, which had also broken. The original rod was green with white guide wraps (because I’m an MSU Spartan), with my name and peacock bass on it. After the first one busted, Mark asked the maker to replace it; a year later we got a rod without my name or bass on it, and on its first use, it breaks, too. So much for those rods.
In spite of my rod, I keep winding and we get the fish netted. I reel in the rest of the rod, Sappo cuts the lure off and puts it on another rod. Thankfully, we brought six rods, so still have plenty to choose from.
While I’m struggling with my gear, we see a green kingfisher make fishing look really easy.
It rains on and off lightly until around 3:30 when it pours…till nearly 4:00.
Mark took advantage of the rain to catch a piranha.
I took advantage of the rain to catch a peacock bass.
My rain gear is not up for the rain and humidity combo, and with no rain pants, it’s a chilly ride home. I go right from wet clothes to a shower and never felt so good drying off.
We go to the dining room to have a couple of beers and share the day’s stories. Bobby got several large fish (like 8,10,11, and 12 pounds) and Dr. Coz got a 15-pounder. Dr. Coz would later say that he “sure as hell wouldn’t bet against Bobby cuz he’s a fishing machine!” Bobby is impressed with the 82-year-old Dr. Coz because he never asks to take a break and fishes with Bobby cast for cast.
Dr. Coz is wearing a colorful lightweight jacket and Dr. Bob rags on him about how “The outfit is something queers might wear.” Mark mentions that wearing that in San Francisco would ensure he’d never be lonely. Dr. Coz has done several marathons and the jacket is from the 1996 marathon. He’s proud of it. He also used to do triathlons.
Somehow the conversation turns to the fact that at one point, Dr. Coz, 82 had spent 28 years as a single man. That fact somehow led Steve to suggest that Dr. Coz share a story about a hot woman with whom Coz had his hands full. Dr. Coz starts his story by setting the scene: a woman, a hot tub, glass mirrors, and surround the tub, several candles…
Before he could get too far, Dr. Bob asked if Coz was naked or necked? Coz asked what’s the difference, and Dr. Bob said, “Naked is having no clothes on; being neck-ed is having no clothes on and having bad intentions.”
Coz said, “Oh, we were neck-ed all right!” With a glint in his eyes, Coz went on to explain how he and the woman were both facing the tub, she behind, him in front, and when she leaned around in front of him, her hair caught on fire from one of the candles. Coz said he got all wide-eyed and panicked, worried about the story that would come out about the dentist catching a woman on fire at his home. So he swiftly dunked the woman’s head into the water. “She was surprised at what I’d done, but upon seeing the crinkly, crispy hair pieces that had fallen off, quickly understood what had happened. “ Then Dr. Coz grinned, “And then we went right back to our business.”
Other stories emerge, including Bobby being super sick on one trip to the Itapara (before he met us). He said he had a 104 degree temperature and spent the day puking, sleeping, fishing, and then doing that all over again. Curt says it was the first time he out-fished Bobby. Bobby claims he got ill due to eating some “giant rat meat” he’d had for dinner, which Curt had declined. They’d slept in hammocks one night, and Bobby said it’s bad enough sleeping in a hammock; it’s horrible in a hammock when you’re sick.
Steve tells of when he and Dr. Coz were on another trip and Coz had his own tent and was making strange, moaning noises on and off all night. When Steve imitates the noise he sounds like an ill cow. He says it wasn’t until morning that he learned the noise from Coz was because he was suffering from really bad leg cramps.
Dr. Bob shares his story of Steve getting up in the middle of the night last night to use the bathroom. Steve was apparently turned around and didn’t realize there was no external light switch outside the bathroom. According to Dr. Bob, Steve tried every switch in the cabin before he finally discovered all he had to do is open the door and the light went on in the bathroom.
Somebody mentions the fact that the light in the cabin bathrooms only stays on for perhaps a minute. When the lights go off, the user of said bathroom has three choices: 1) open the door to turn the light back on; 2) wave one’s arms over one’s head to get the light to go back on; or 3) sit in the dark. Opening the door always works but it’s disruptive to one’s roommate. Waving one’s arms works about half the time. Sitting in the dark meant that the cockroaches could be out running around. Let’s just say I did a lot of waving while in the Amazon.
Good stories, and great, funny guys. I suspect the stories will only get better when I leave, though, so Mark and I depart and leave them to their tales. It’s sprinkling a little outside, but 10 minutes later it pours and we go to sleep to the sound of rain pouring on the cabin’s metal roof.
Saturday January 30, 2016: from Manaus to the Jungle
We’re up at 7:30—before the 8 a.m. wake-up call—and take a water-blasting shower in our room at the Caesar Business Manaus Motel. We go down to breakfast on the mezzanine and find scrambled eggs, lots of breads to choose from, various cereals and lots of fruit, most of which I actually recognize.
There are also three juices: orange juice, mango juice (we think) and what turns out to be cactus juice, according to the hostess. Mark encourages another American to take a sip of the cactus juice; the look on the guy’s face makes it clear how awful it is.
We pack up and head downstairs for a 9:30 pickup by Jon, the River Plate Anglers rep. Mark pays our bill and in so doing, chats with the ladies at the front desk. They are impressed with Mark’s Portuguese and says he has no accent, which tickles him pink.
At 9:30, we are happy when our our bags are checked through because the weight limit is 33 pounds and we might have weighed our bags half a dozen times before we left and still worry. Mark’s bag is 32.5 pounds, mine 33.5 pounds, so they average out to to the max of 33. Phew!
We wait about 30 minutes for the plane to arrive and get gas. Bobby takes a seat next to me after chatting on the phone and asks why I stopped blogging a year ago. I mention how taking care of my mom changed priorities and kind of took the wind out of my sails. He says his mom was sick with cancer and he took 3 months to help her through treatment. She’s fine now but it was a tough couple of months. He shows me several photos on his phone including some terrific nature photos, including photo of one of the giant bucks on his ranch eating a cookie. He raises large bucks for others to hunt, but this one particular buck is one he calls “My buddy.” Bobby’s a super nice guy.
We’re told to load the airplane and wamble outside into what so far is a pleasant morning. Being crammed into a confined space and unable to wiggle is my least favorite part of the trip, and it’s made all the worse if it’s hot and if the pilot looks like the young fella that crashed the plane in 2013. Luckily, it’s not hot and the pilot looks to be at least 16.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder if he’s reading the instruction manual.
After telling us to put on our seat belts, the pilot cranks up the engine and taxis us down a long stretch of cement. After waiting for a private plane to take to the air, the pilot gives us a “thumbs up” and we take off without issue. I am happy there’s a co-pilot because on our last trip out of the jungle in 2013, there was no co-pilot unless you count me. I got to sit in the co-pilot’s seat and just about pooped my pants when I looked over to see our pilot filling out paperwork.
The first part of this flight is a bit bumpy as we leave the buildings and roads of Manaus behind and fly over the Amazon River.
Soon we rise above the clouds and fly over a large tributary of the Amazon.
The flight smooths out and waters below us get smaller and more wiggly.
Now, not to sound worrisome or anything, but I can’t help but notice how much the pilot chats and gestures with his hands, as if flying is secondary to the conversation. I keep an eye on him and the co-pilot the entire time, ready at any point to say, “Com licenca,” which is Portuguese for “Excuse me. ” I’m not sure what I’d say next except to point out that they should pay attention…even though the plane is probably on auto pilot. Darn my worry gene.
At a point close to the hour mark, we start a slow descent, and I know this because the trees start to look more like trees than a painting. Soon we see a boat and what we figure are our floating cabins.
The pilot circles, slowly at first, and then–in a swift motion that has me thinking religious thoughts–he turns tightly and we end up smoothly on the water. Guides show up with two small boats to take us to camp, while other camp staff show up in another boat to get our luggage. We ride the short trip to our camp, which consists of several floating cabins tucked into a tiny bay.
Once we’re on solid ground, we meet Alejandro, our camp host. He’s short, bald, wiry and looks tough as nails. He speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish, and after a brief introduction points to our cabin, cabin 6. We note that cabin 6 is between cabin 1 and 3 and he says that 6 is actually 2 in Portuguese and laughs. We learn later that Alejandro is from Chile, climbed mountains while in the Army back in the day and is knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the Amazon. He was a former eco guide.
Alejandro shows us around the cabin, which is less rustic than the one in 2013. It’s whiter, brighter, newer and super clean. The two twin beds look new and comfy, and you might imagine twin beds are super for a romantic week in the jungle!
The air conditioning is solid and not rattling and there are plenty of water bottles in a cooler by the door. LED lights are used throughout.
The light on the bathroom automatically goes on when the door opens, which is new since 2013. Also, the shower is in the bathroom and there’s no divider from the toilet. There’s a trash can in the bathroom for all paper waste; one is not to flush toilet paper down the toilet.
We unload our stuff and have lunch, which is red beans and rice and a bit of salad. We get our gear set up and are introduced to our guide, who goes by Sappo. He knows little English and Mark immediately starts in with the Portuguese he’s been studying via Pimsleur and a free mobile app, Duolingo. I have studied, too, but not to the extent Mark has, and about all I can muster up is a nod of my head and “Ola!”
Sappo is a nice fella and reminds us a little of Preto, our guide in 2013—dark haired, dark-skinned, and built like an Army tank. Sappo takes all our rods and reels and loads them into the boat, along with several boxes of lures we brought with us. In the bottom of the bow is my dry bag with my camera, zoom lens and fish-eye lens, along with important things like duct tape, toilet paper, pills and Epi-pens. My rain coat is thrown under the bow of the boat, ready to grab.
We fish hard all afternoon and catch our first Popoca, a new species of peacock bass for us. It looks a little like this, as does Sappo, for that matter.
We spend the rest of the afternoon “ripping” top water baits, yanking Yozuris and doing a bit of jigging. We end up with only nine peacock bass, but one is a ten pounder I pull into the boat.
We also catch a Jacunda, which is a colorful fish.
Mark also has a knack for piranhas.
I am super hot after an afternoon fishing, and am relieved to get into an Amazon shower, which is water pumped from the river. The knob above the shower head was for heat once upon a time, says Alejandro, but that didn’t work so well because all the visitors used the on-demand heat source at the same time and zapped the electrical current at camp. So they decided to revert back to the old way of just using river water. It’s what we had in 2013 and the water is the perfect temperature for a shower.
Drinks are in the main cabin/dining room, consisting of beer, wine, a mixed drink, or a lime concoction that leaves ones’ mouth puckery. I take the latter and my lips pucker up like a fish. One by one everyone appears to chat about the day. Sadly, it seems Mark and I were the lowest fish producers of the day. Luckily, nobody kicks out out of camp.
Dinner consists of wing-dings, a meat filet with peppercorns, red beans and rice and tomato slices and lettuce. As we eat, I learn more about Steve, the banker, from Tennessee, a guy who’s traveled on many a trip with Dr. Bob, a veterinarian, farmer and producer of the parvo vaccine. Dr. Cozby, who goes by Coz, is an 82-year-old pediatric dentist fishing with–and keeping up with–Bobby, cast for cast. Curt and his son, John, 30, round out the group. John is quiet and polite and pays attention when Curt asks Mark questions about dinosaurs. I love the evening chats.
We go to bed right after dinner and I am asleep immediately.
Friday, January 29, 2016 – Miami to Manaus, Brazil
I start the morning by sending our last-minute dog sitter, Kim Bailey a text. She says the pups finally ate some food last night. She also says that Snickers now has kennel cough so she’ll make sure he gets meds like Winston. The good news is that Winston already seems to have stopped coughing.
We take our time getting up, showering, and getting to IHOP where a 65-year-old lady serves us because she’s the only person there who speaks English fluently. En route, we pass the tan cat we saw yesterday, so I order bacon with my eggs, toast and hash browns and take the bacon back to the kitty. He eats every bite, licks his paws afterwards and goes back to loitering outside the motel entryway.
We hang out in our room until I’m bored and need more interactions with other people. At 2:00 we go by shuttle to the airport, and after checking in, get a message from one of our Texan friends, Curt: “Where are you?” as we eat a Cuban sandwich at Café Versailles near out gate. Nearby is a piece of history on the wall, which I find myself having to photograph.
We finish lunch and Curt and Bobby stroll up. Behind them is John, Curt’s son who’s 6 foot 6 and causes me to look for a chair to stand on so I can see him at eye level. During our chat, we learn John has stolen some of Curt’s lures, and I point out that it’s good John and Curt are fishing together. They laugh, and it’s great to see they have a great relationship.
We start boarding at 4:10 and get regular seats even though I thought we’d paid for upgrades with more legroom by an exit. I feel claustrophobic with the seat in front of me so close. John sits across the aisle and I note that his legs are pressed against the seat in front of him. He says he’s used to it.
I see a stewardess and ask if we can move to the two available seats by an exit and she says to wait a few minutes, which we do. We end up waiting long enough for another guy to take up the aisle seat in that row. We wait and wait, and finally I ask another steward if we can move and he says, “Do it now so we can get underway.” We grab our stuff and step in front of the guy who moved before we did. We settle in, proud of our grab, and I’m about to unwrap my blanket when a guy shows up and says Mark’s in his seat. We’re about to get up when the man realizes Mark and I are together and offers to sit in Mark’s old seat. Phew! I’m so grateful for the extra inches of leg room—and in my case—a few more inches of space between me and the seat in front of me.
The guy next to Mark is from Brazil originally, speaks Portugese and is on a fishing trip with a bunch of other guys. They chat for a while and both start watching movies. The movies on airplanes make me woozy–too much movement too close to my face–so I watch the in-flight info as we fly over the Bight of Aklins and Acklins Island. We are served chicken salad with Ruffles, a Dos Equis and a brownie with nuts. I’m relaxed enough to wonder what a bight is and later discover it simply means a curve in the shoreline, or a wide bay formed by such a curve. Why not just call it the Curve of Aklins, I wonder? Bight this.
Near the end of the flight we are given cute little snack packs. Little did I know I should have saved some of the food for the ride home.
We land around 11:00 p.m. in Manaus, Brazil, and as we are finding our luggage, are greeted by Jon, the River Plate Anglers guy who escorted us to and from our motel in 2013 and who made sure we got a flight home in 2013 after our flight from the jungle didn’t pan out. Jon is in full beard and mustache and looks a bit wild compared to his clean-cut look. He remembers us from last time and I give him a hug.
Jon goes with us to the motel, and en route, we get introduced to the rest of the guys we will be fishing with. We meet Dr. Bob, a veterinarian from TN, Steve, a banker from TN, Dr. Cozby, a dentist from TX. They all seem like great guys and are livelier than I am after the long flight.
Jon gets us checked in and hands out keys to the room. I discover I’m paired up with Bobby, because apparently, nobody knew Mark and I are married. I switch keys, and Mark and I head upstairs…to the same room.
We’re at the Caesar Business motel in Manaus and all the guys love it because it’s closer to the airport than the motel we stayed at previously, super clean, doesn’t require a half mile walk to find one’s room like at the motel we went to in 2013, and the air conditioners hum and hum. There’s also a nice little snack bar, and cold beer and water in the fridge.
It also turns out the shower pours water like none other—the pressure is amazing—and everyone loves that, too. We are whipped and we don’t have to get up until 8 a.m. We set the fan on to run all night just in case somebody wants to start a party nearby for the third night in a row. I sleep better than a baby.
Thursday, 1/28/2016 – Detroit, MI Days Inn, to Miami,FL
I am up before 3:45 because Mark is rooting around the room, excited like a kid at Christmas. We get ready and are downstairs by 4:25 for that 4:30 shuttle we were promised. There are 8 people in the lobby when the shuttle arrives at 4:55, which is close enough to 4:25 for all people except impatient ones like me. We get dropped off at American Airlines and walk with our luggage about a half mile up and down several escalators to check in, all the while debating why we didn’t spend $5 on a cart to make our load lighter. I have my giant yellow LL Bean bag with my initials on it from my Dad and Norma, and at 33 pounds, I can feel it leaving a nice impression in my shoulder. On my back is my 9.5-pound camera bag and my purse–which I did not weigh–hangs off one shoulder. Mark has a small day-pack carry-on, and his mostly waterproof gray/black Columbia duffel weighs about the same as mine. My bag is an amorphous blob; his a nice, tightly zipped bag.
We check in at the kiosk and get boarding passes and luggage tags that the kiosk people think we’re intelligent enough to put on our own bags so early in the morning and with such little sleep. I carry my tag to the agent and he shows me how to put it on by doing it for me, which I count as a win for playing the helpless card. We get in line for security and an agent there tells us we have “quick check” status, which allows us to go through without removing our shoes or showing our liquids to the world. Mark gets patted down anyway due to his titanium knee, but the shortcut saves us at least twenty minutes in the normal line.
We find a small shop with coffee, bagel, cream cheese and bottled water and then head to gate D30 where Noah, a 4-year-old, and his 2-year-old brother, are testing their parents’ patience, and mine. I know his name is Noah because the mom uses it dozens of times to not get him to do what she wants. In the woman’s bathroom, Noah has an all-out temper tantrum because he has to wait for his mom to finish peeing. When she’s done, he runs out of the bathroom, down the hall a football field in length, and around the corner to his dad. Mark and I cross our fingers that Noah et al are in the back of the airplane and/or heavily medicated.
At 6:35 we board, and it’s a full plane, yet people try bringing larger carry-ons than allowed, along with multiple bags. Four ladies are stopped at the door by American Airlines agents, and have to check their bags so they’re not consuming more than their share of overhead space. They are unpacking their “essentials” and repacking as we walk by. I give the agents a nod because I personally dislike people that abuse the overhead luggage rule.
I end up sitting in seat 9E and am happy when Noah and family disappear in the back of the plane. Next to me is a woman who introduces herself as Shawn Perry, who is from Grosee Isle, MI. She knows my boss, Dina because she went to high school with Dina’s sisters. We have plenty to chat about after that, and I’m grateful for chit-chat because the 2.5 hour flight turns into 5.5 hours because bad weather has us circling the Miami area over and over again. In rare peaks through the thick clouds, I find it really disconcerting to see ocean below us…because Miami is on land and we are supposed to land on land at some point, I’m hoping. I find myself reaching for my life jacket so I know where it is, and also reviewing the number of steps to the exit door. Not that I worry or anything.
Hours later, low on fuel, we fly into West Palm Beach, only to wait for a half hour for the fuel truck to show up. Once refueled, we turn around and fly back to—and finally land at—Miami. Many people miss their connecting flights, including a couple across the aisle from us who will not get to the Dominican Republic until the next day. I’m not sure if Shawn got out to Cancun, but my sympathy for her was impaired a bit, because she had driven from Grand Rapids to Detroit at 1 a.m. this morning to get a flight out of Detroit instead of flying out of Grand Rapids….just to save $100. And she’s a lawyer.
We find our luggage in Miami and hump upstairs and outside into rain with wet luggage. We use our new iPhones to call the motel and wait 20 minutes for a shuttle whose driver came from Cuba 15 years ago. Mark chats with him in Spanish during the 25 minute ride to the motel. Traffic is horrible and I wonder why anyone would want to live here.
We get to the Holiday Inn Express at 3:00. After a nap and shower, I text Aby to ask what I should wear to dinner with our friend, Curt, and his wife. She says a dress and diamonds. I text back that I’m stressed about which diamond and dress to wear. I tell her all I have is fishing shirts anyway; she says it’s most important that they like me, which stresses me out even more.
We met Curt in 2013 on our first trip to the Amazon, on the Itapara River, and for some reason–in spite of us needing to ask him and his pal, Bobby, for Band-aids, a flashlight, Cipro, and money to tip our guide– they invited us on this trip. We are very grateful to them for the opportunity. We text Curt and am amazed he’s willing to drive 20 minutes in nasty traffic to pick us up for dinner!
Curt and his wife, Peggy, arrive at Curt 5:15. Peggy is a soft-spoken, pretty woman who, amazingly, is not wearing a fishing shirt. On the15 minute drive to Versailles, a Cuban restaurant, we learn that Curt and Peggy drove from Texas with their two small dogs, both of which are at their condo. Peggy stays at the condo while Curt is off fishing and on his other excursions, including two skeet shooting events hither and yon after we get back. Peggy and Curt share photos of their little mutts and tell us how each dog came into their lives. We tell our story of driving 9 hours to pick up one puppy, only to come home with two.
The Versailles touts itself as The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant and THE place to go in Miami for Cuban food. Established in 1971, it is the gathering place for tourists and exiled Cubans. It’s a pleasant atmosphere, and it’s early enough in the day that we are seated immediately. Mark and Curt rave about their “split pea pottage,” a pea soup with ham and Spanish sausage. I order Boliche (Cuban style pot roast) served with Moros rice and sweet plantains, which is amazing. I also order a Hatuey, which is a Cuban style ale and something one might say when one sneezes.
Everything is tasty, including the bite of Key Lime pie Mark insists we all share. When we’re stuffed to the proverbial gills and exhausted, Curt drives us back to the motel and gets out to say goodnight. He says, “This is going to be a great trip. I have lots of questions to ask Mark about dinosaurs.” We thank him for dinner and tell him we’re excited about the trip, too. Before he walks away, I point out a tan cat loitering outside the motel and ask if he needs another pet? He says no and both he and Peggy wave as they pull away.
We’re in bed soon after and are about to fall asleep when a party starts near our room. This time it’s a party with young, rowdy people speaking Spanish and hanging out a room or two from ours. I turn down the temperature in the room, turn up the fan to run constantly and fall asleep to the hum of the fan mixed with occasional outbursts of Spanish.