STAT OF THE GAME –
2. The number of piranhas caught by the group…and one was caught by the guide.
IT WAS OVER WHEN –
We rode back with a different group (consisting of 4 Germans, 1 Pole, and 1 Aussie) so we could make it back to town to catch our flight. In exchange they asked us to lead them in a rendition of the ´Star Spangled Banner´ to which they all knew the words.
GAME BALL GOES TO –
Jill, for being the only one in our entire group NOT to go swimming with Caiman (alligator/croc cousin) and the man-eating piranhas..
Do I have your interest yet? Hope so!
We´d long ago chosen Bolivia as the place where we would venture into the Amazon. This is because the Bolivian Amazon is more accessible than most other Amazonian tourist spots and with fewer tourists it is known for having the largest variety of biodiversity (amongst the best on the planet) and best wildlife viewing. Plus, we´d heard that you could go swimming with pink river dolphins. (OK, really, who even knew the Amazon had river dolphins?)
So as our tour began we were quite excited for what lay ahead. We had only to brave a 3 hour drive in a jeep to get to the 3 hour boat ride. What we didn´t know was that the car´s radiator was leaking and that the driver thought it would be a good idea to fill it up with the muddy water he could find on the side of the road. In fixing the leak he also managed to remove the car´s grill which meant that once we finally started moving again the hood actually flew up and cracked the already cracked windshield even further. And this was the part without the dangerous wildlife.
With the car trip taking twice as long as it should have we were quite relieved to finally reach the river and begin our boat trip. Some of you might remember our time in Moskitia where we had a 6 hour long boat ride and saw a lot of indigenous communities along the way. On this trip instead of seeing people we say caiman…lots of caiman…more caiman than you can shake a stick at and if that expression still doesn´t make sense to you, you should go there and try to shake a stick at all the caiman b-c you just won´t be able to do it. We saw them swim, we saw them chomp, we saw them eat, and we saw them gaze at us as we floated by in our posh little boat. Caiman are the South American equivalent of the alligator, only they are uglier. On top of the caiman we saw more water foul than I (please remember I grew up in a home that is in what used to be the Everglades) have ever seen in my life and we even saw capybara…the world´s largest rodent. (Looks quite tastier than that cuy we just stomached in Peru…hmmmmmmm). The most amazing part was how active all the wildlife was, nothing like trying to spot a gator in the zoo.
So that was the boat, but what about the land. On day two we went out in search for an Anaconda, one of the largest serpents in the world. We walked and walked and walked. And while walking and walking and walking I was wishing that I didn´t have a size 12 foot and only a size 10 boot but I still made it work out somehow. Walking through the pampas should have been more difficult than it was but unfortunately much of the land is burned regularly to allow for cattle grazing. Granted, we´d taken the Pampas (savanna/plains) tour rather than the jungle tour but the utter lack of jungle really was eye-opening. Despite being disappointed with the landscape we were not disappointed with the result of the walk when we found a young male anaconda sunbathing along a trail. Luckily it was a young snake and not big enough to pick off any of the nearby gringos!
After a quick lunch we set off to find some pink river dolphins to go swimming with. Despite their name, they are not really so pink and in some of the pictures even look like narwhals (postcard to whoever can name the mythical creature based off the narwhal). We floated around for awhile and eventually found a spot with a few of them swimming where our guide was able to dock the boat. None of us moved.
We´d been told countless times by this point that there has never been a cayman attack on a swimming human because we are too big for them, not tasty enough, and the caiman try to avoid the dolphins b-c the dolphins steal all the food. That being said, still none of us moved. Finally the Aussie jumped in and was out just as quickly. Then someone pointed out that there were piranhas in the water as well as caiman and it was awhile again before another member of the group finally jumped in. I followed. For awhile it was just the two of us, the dolphins which clearly had no interest in us, the caiman, and the piranhas Did I mention that this water was completely brown and it was impossible to see even one inch below the surface? Eventually another member of the group joined, and then another. Finally 5 of us were in the water, with only one person remaining on the sideline…Jill. Letters of complaint can be emailed to [email protected] or posted in the comment section below.
Since we´d already been swimming in the water we of course had to try to catch some piranhas Jill nearly caught one but it was really only the guide who did the job right. To hook a piranhas you need to pull up on the line as it is stealing your beef and hope the hook catches…otherwise it just swims off with your meet. Looking at the fish, I could see the little teeth but could not understand how they earned the name “man-eating,” they just weren´t that scary.
So the dolphins were a disappointment in that they didn´t want to play…but no one died either so that was a plus. We enjoyed a sunset and then took a night boat ride back to camp. The reason for the night boat ride was to watch the glowing eyes of the caiman, (have I mentioned that they are far more active once the sun goes down) as they watched us float down the river. This was kinda like being watched by that big scary eye in the Lord of the Rings…only it was 2 meters away and its buddy was just a few inches further.
The best part of the night though was the sky. We´d been doing a lot of trekking lately but all that camping seemed to coincide with a full moon...now it was a new moon and being nice and far from civilization the sky was simply amazing. One of the guys on the trip who had just been to the observatory in Chile that I really, really, really, really, really want to go to but am not sure if I´ll get to was full of information. He pointed out Jupiter, the southern cross (remember, we´re in that other hemisphere now…this is winter, almost spring), and even showed us how to derive south from the southern cross and a few other stars. It was during this that I counted 7 or so satellites and even more shooting stars. Even a midnight trip to the bathroom was rewarded with a brilliant flash across almost half the sky. I´d never seen anything like it and can´t wait to see more and more.