The lake should be re-named Lago do Jacaré (caiman), or possibly Lago do Carapaná (mosquito). We saw and heard plenty of both of these, and of course felt and possibly tasted plenty of the latter. …And the final score was jacaré 100, fishermen 3 (or something similar). But while the whole journey could probably be subtitled “50 hours in a tin boat and nothing to show for it”, the disappointing fishing result was more than made up for by getting lost, sleeping alone in a small boat surrounded by crocs, getting thoroughly plastered on caipirinha, bowling back down the middle of the Amazon at 52 kph, and blowing up the engine.
I haven’t that many photos to go around, but what I have are here. We set off a little late on Saturday, mostly because the idiots who serviced the Shamrock forgot to put the securing clips back on the high-pressure fuel filter (petrol all over engine, diagnosis, finding and securing clips etc), and admittedly because I forgot to pack all my food. Hmm. Anyway, weather was good and we ran all the way through to the lake in around 6 hours, with stops for ice, beer, fuel etc. The only problem was that having bought 24 cans of ice-cold beer on setting off, I found I could only get 22 of them in my cold boxes…and after 5 minutes watching them roll around on the floor, I figured they just shouldn´t be allowed to go warm and to waste. So I drank ‘em. Well, once you’ve had a couple, and you’re there in the scorching heat and the journey’s so pleasant and all, it’s very difficult not to have a 3rd… and a 4th, etc. By the time we got to our first stop, I was already feeling very happy with the world, and by this time Robson, on Charlie`s assault craft, had prepared the caipirinhas and these were passed around with gay abandon (I also bought another 12 beers to give the other crew). Second stop the same thing, and finally we reached the lake, all very pleased with ourselves indeed (only running aground once, at the entrance to Lago Manacapuru).
Charlie and crew decided they would have a barbecue; I decided there was no time to be lost on eating, when I had 4 rods and lots of new lures to try out, so we kind of split up. Not a brilliant idea in a lake system with an average depth of 2m, enough sandbanks to cover the beach at Weston-Supermare, and myriad obscure channels. And so it came to pass that I ended up at the southernmost tip of the lake in the dark on my own, with no choice but to sleep it out. I managed to find a secluded little corner of one of the smaller lakes to anchor, and set about organising myself. In the dark. In a lake full of piranha and caiman. Plastered. To cut a long story short – no gas in the cooker; no cold edible food apart from fig rolls and beer; air so full of mosquitoes you couldn’t breathe without taking in a mouthful (but they can`t really be classed as food), caiman with no fear of boats or humans, thrashing around within arm`s reach; and bats the size of frisbees whizzing through the boat. Mercifully, my inebriated condition allowed me to sling my hammock and drop to sleep (or into a coma) for a few hours.
And then I woke up. 11pm it said on my GPS. Great – only 7 hours `til sunrise. Having sobered up somewhat, I must admit I found the position now much more uncomfortable than through my earlier alcoholic haze. I thought it would be a nice idea, in the absence of anything else to do, to shine my torch around (well, you do, don`t you..?). Wish I hadn`t though – rows and rows of little beady red eyes shining back at me from just about all around the boat. Things jumping around in the water. Moths, flies, mosquitoes, bats by the score. It was a loooong night.
Never mind – I got by (longest night I can remember for a long time, mind you, but I got by). And at 05:15 I set off in the dark in hopes of finding Charlie. In the emerging light I looked at my fuel gauge and realised how much our rapid progress of the previous day had strained the old reserves. A quick calculation gave me about an hours’ worth of fuel for searching, after which I`d have to head back to the nearest town about 90km or so away, and abandon the whole expedition. So I spent an hour exploring parts of Lago do Piranha that probably haven`t seen humans for a 100 years or so, if ever. Around every tortuous bend I was greeted with the sight of caiman doing some early morning fishing. Or an eagle hunched on a post fish-spotting, or a hundred egrets poking around for shrimp, or a huge pirarucu (the largest freshwater fish on the planet), thrashing noisily after its prey. It was, in short, breath-taking. But worrying. And when the allotted hour was up, I figured the best I could do was head back to the centre of the largest lake and sit there in the hopes I was spotted.
No spotting of any nature occurred over the next hour and a half. The sun was getting higher, the heat more intense, and my half-hearted fishing efforts less and less, um, hearted (there wasn`t much chance in the middle of the lake, let`s face it). And I must admit I was beginning to feel utterly dejected. Two years I`d waited for this trip, and now it was about to be over with nothing to show for it but a hangover, an empty box of fig rolls and a rash of insect bites. I went over it and over it in my head. I looked at the maps,and at my tracks. I tried to second-guess what Charlie would be up to and where on earth he could have gone. All I achieved for my efforts was a growing feeling of childish peevishness and an unpleasant `poor me` attitude. I might have even uttered a pitiful cry, if I could have remembered how you do it. Oh bugger it – one last possibility – back to the entrance to the lake to see if anyone I might find would have news of the other boat. This was the last thing I wanted to do, since there was no way I had fuel to come back for another search – it would be all over bar the long (and fuel-conservingly-slow) trek back home.
I took my time trundling out of the lake system at 5.2kph, heart sinking slowly to my boots as I rounded the last corner…and then I see this little canoe working its way towards the lake. It almost looked like the one from Charlie`s boat. It was the one from Charlie’s boat! Ha ha! Greetings, amazement, recriminations, sarcasm, and off we went back to the assault craft. More greetings, amazement, recriminations, tales of search parties and the like. Coffee. Alcohol. All was well, except that they had had their own problems.
The quantity of caiman transpired to be even greater where they had stopped for the night and set their nets. Out of 12 they had set, 9 had been utterly destroyed by caiman taking the fish – mostly in plain sight of the boat. If you`ve never seen a caiman destroy a fishing net, let me tell you it`s an impressive sight. The combination of a heck of a set of teeth and a very powerful roll will take one apart in minutes. All the guys could do was watch in resignation as their catch was systematically stolen and their nets torn to pieces.
Although I would personally have loved to have gone back into the lake system for another (sober) night`s fishing with a rod, the combination of their lack of nets (they don`t do any other type of fishing) and my lack of fuel made it inevitable that we would head back towards Manaus and try to find somewhere closer to home to fish on the second night. And so we did.
On the way back, we watched in amazement the caiman bobbing about around the floating houses and dugout canoes on the lookout for food of just about any description, quite without fear of the humans or their canoes. We decided a caiman cull was on the cards, as the area really is now absurdly dangerous. We`ll see what happens in due course, as the environmental agency IBAMA have responsibility for the conservation policy in the area.
We sped back towards Manaus, riding on the back of the Amazon’s 6kph current and achieving speeds in the middle of the (wholly placid) river of up to 54kph. An uneventful journey, but pleasant enough. The decision was to head to an old fishing ground within 20km of home where we might pass a pleasant caiman- and mosquito-free night but still have the chance to catch something. Not my decision, and I knew in my bones that it would be a waste of time – a feeling backed by the fact that a recent excursion there had shown water levels to be over 4m, which is generally far too high for any self-respecting fish to hang out in (sorry Winnie). But we were nonetheless happy enough to eventually anchor in 4m water, break out the caipirinhas, and get some food on the go.
As anticipated, the area was devoid of anything resembling fish, but we had a pleasant night and I was able to sleep on a mat in the boat without any mosquito net (bliss), gazing up at the milky way and thinking that things weren`t perhaps so bad after all. Except they were, since after heading out before dawn to try a bit of fly fishing on my own, my engine abruptly stopped with a temperature warning. I paddled back to the assault craft and while the other guys were out checking – fruitlessly – their remaining nets, I performed exploratory surgery on my outboard. It was in fact the water pump that had ceased to be, and so there was nothing for it but to beg a tow from Charlie and head back to the marina.
And that`s about it really. I missed the guys on the first night, but enjoyed the craic on the next. And although it was a disaster as a fishing trip, the hour I spent at dawn on day 2 creeping through the beauty of the Amazon at its fearsome and hostile best, I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
No weekly summary this week, as I reckon I’ve written enough. Back to normal next week.