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.