One of Amazon Holidays customers has put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to relate his tale of an adventure in the Amazon Rain Forest.
Over to Dave!
Early one evening, yet again the telephone rang just as I was putting our dinner on the table. As usual the caller asked for "Mr David Clarke". Hmm, who this time, insurance broker, telephone sales maybe? I answered abruptly and was getting ready to hang up. Good job I didn't! It was Derek Lambert calling to tell me I had won the "Amazon Holidays" trip to Brazil. Impossible! It had to be a wind up! After about five minutes, of Derek telling me I had won, it started to sink in.
I checked with my wife (to see if she would allow me to go) and then got straight on to the telephone to let all of my family and friends know my amazing news. For weeks after I seemed to have a permanent grin.
Steve McAlear the organiser gave me a call to let me know the essentials, what clothing I would require, insurance and the necessary inoculations I would need before I could go.
Saturday 10 May
I met up with Steve at Heathrow Airport. I was then introduced to Adrian, a partner in the Maidenhead Aquatics Group and would also be travelling with us. I was very apprehensive about flying as I had only flown once before and had got quite distressed at the time and vowed, never again. Still, the only way I was going to fulfil my ambition was to get on the aeroplane. We flew to Recife via Lisbon and then after a short taxi ride arrived at the hotel for a two night stay. We stayed in the old quarter of Olinda near the most important monuments and buildings in this historic city. The hotel was surrounded by old trees and at the time we arrived we were greeted by the sound of insects in their evening chorus.
We all freshened up and had a walk to a restaurant bar, where we ate some of the local delicacies. Whilst there we listened to some of the children playing their musical instruments on the street corner opposite, with a backing track supplied by the insects. The rest of the evening we spent chatting and taking in the atmosphere. I was interested to learn that one of the reasons Adrian had come on this Amzon holiday was to gain more knowledge on fish transportation and what "extra" they could do on the arrival of a shipment to assist the fish in their recovery. I was pleasantly surprised by this very enlightened attitude to fish importing
Sunday 11 May
The following morning Adrian and I only just made it to breakfast. We sat on the veranda listening to the sound of the birds as we ate our continental breakfast. Afterwards we caught up with Steve and spent the day on the beach in Recife. Steve told us it was not a good idea to go swimming in the sea, as Recife was renowned for sharks. There is a reef just off shore. No problem, we happily sat in the sun drinking our cool beers, humouring ourselves with the help of all the beach sellers. That evening Adrian and I decided to eat at the same restaurant bar. Steve retired early as he had been up early organising our connections for our trip. This made things interesting as he was the one who could speak the lingo. This was not a problem as it added to the fun; it gave us chance to practice our Portuguese with sign language. We got back to the hotel early and packed. We needed to be at the airport early, ready for the flight to Belem.
Monday 12 May
We got the taxi to the airport at 6 o'clock. It was a good job we did as the flight had been brought forward by 1 hour. We just made it! After a couple of stops the plane got us to Belem. Our contact men, at the other end were nowhere to be seen (due to the changed flight time). Steve got straight on the telephone. After a cup of coffee in the airport they had arrived. Belem city is located on the Para River, a tributary of the Amazon River, and is almost at the mouth of the Amazon River. It has a lot of historical architecture. There seem to be a lot of concrete statue structures here. They look as though they were made in the 60's and could do with a coat of paint. But what do I know.
We arrived at the Hotel and had a quick shower before meeting up with Alciney, a local fish exporter. He took us to his holding station to see some of the fish he had ready to export. There were a lot of unusual L number plecs, dwarf cichlids, ghost knife fish, and different types of piranhas, corydoras species, and a lot of other cichlids, tetras and characins. This station was similar to how I had imagined it would be, with bare glass tanks with a lot of aeration. But then there were the 12 or so paddling pools holding fish, (not the round ones with the inflatable sides, large square ones about 6'x6'). I was not expecting them. Afterwards Alciney took us for a tour of Belem and we had a meal at a local restaurant. Afterwards we went to a large bar which was an old converted wharf. It was fantastic and overlooked the mouth of the Amazon River.
Tuesday 13 May
In the morning I had decided to turn the air conditioning unit off ½ hour before I went for breakfast to try to acclimatise to the heat, as all I seem to do is sweat profusely. It did not work, I was melting again. Around midday we flew to Altamira the last part of our journey to get to the Xingu River. Steve had told me that the aeroplane would be small. It seated about 30 people. I was quite stressed as I had forgotten to take my travel pills. I got my video camera rolling as we took off, but once we were in the air it soon went off. I started to feel very nauseous and had to shut my eyes. I think it was a combination of motion and the engine noise from the propellers which made me feel so ill. I never have been a good traveller and a wimp when it comes to flying.
Steve did his best by keeping me talking throughout the flight, which did help. We were greeted at the airport by Elena, another one of our guides who took us to our hotel. We were supposed to go out on a boat trip late that afternoon, but we had arrived a little later than we had expected. We were all tired and jointly decided to have a rest and take advantage of the swimming pool instead. Later that evening we went to a local bar where we had the best barbecue meal ever, at an open air "churascaria" restaurant. Whopping joints of meat are cooked within a spit roast barbecue.
The chef then brings the joints over to you and you select where you would like him to carve from. He then takes the joint back, only to return with a different type of meat to do the same again. Fantastic! I Love my grub and this was top stuff! Afterwards Alciney took us for a tour of Altamira and then onto a bar at the top of a big hill. This was the highest point in Altamira. There was an electric pylon adapted into a monumental viewing point, we climbed to the top to admire the view over Altamira. It was quite a sight with the lights reflecting on the flat calm of the lagoon. The Xingu beckoned, tomorrow is the big day as we are going on the Xingu River.
Wednesday 14 May
I awoke early this morning with excitement and got packed ready to go. We left just after breakfast and hoped to be on the river before lunch. First though we had to go shopping for hammocks and mosquito nets ready for our over night stay in the jungle.
On the market stalls you have to negotiate the price. Our guide Elena, who is Colombian and fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese, did the haggling. Boy was she good at that, talk about getting the best out of a deal! It was a pleasure to watch. We left the hotel by taxi and headed for the boat shed where we would meet Alciney, taking the minimal amount of kit for our over night stay. We had a bit of a wait awaiting Alcineys arrival, but we made the most of it by picking up our food and drink supplies for the trip. We also got to see the latest arrivals of L numbers and a few other fish at the boat shed.
Steve was telling us about the stingrays in this area and how they were illegal to export. Not because they are endangered or in short supply but just down to political red tape. If people do try to export them and are caught it is straight to jail and a hefty fine (the situation has changed now and there is a quota for legal exports). I was glad when we set off in the boat as I found the breeze very refreshing. The views on the river were amazing. The widths of the river and flow rate are incomparable with any river I have ever seen. At that time of year it is up to 1 mile in width. As we travelled up the river we had a couple of stops to stretch our legs. The first was at a little settlement belonging to some fishermen and their families. In one of the buildings we saw a type of small deer and a small wild pig that had been caught and destined for their dinner pot in later months.
They also had cattle here which came as a bit of a surprise. We all had a quick dip in the water to cool us down, as it was slower moving and quite shallow. As we continued travelling I saw giant kingfishers and herons catching fish, beautiful butterflies, scarlet macaws and various other beautiful birds flying overhead. When we got to the next stop (which was in the middle of nowhere) it was to see another fisherman, who we would be picking some fish up from on our return journey. Whilst there I noticed the tide marks left on the trees and vegetation, It was interesting how high the water level had been, difficult to imagine all the tree trunks underwater, especially considering the water level still looked high, a few months after the height of the rainy season.
The fisherman showed us some of the golden nugget plecs he had caught. We continued the journey further and further down river. We arrived at our destination which was Isla do Faz, a beautiful little village on and Island in the river. Alciney, Steve and Elena helped us to get our hammocks up and ready for the night. We put them up within a very large type of shed building which had a concrete floor. I was pleasantly surprised it was cool and clean, I had been expecting a lot worse after how the article had suggested in the magazine. In fact it was a lot better than some of the scout camps I had been on in my youth. We then got a few bits together, camera, insect repellent, fishing tackle and net etc and went a little further down river to fish for (as the locals would say) "Pacu". As far as I could gather, this meant anything that was silver, of a reasonable size and we could eat (e.g. any type of piranhas, silver dollars etc). The bait we were using was some cichlids and tetras you would normally see for sale in the shops (Geophagus Suramensis and Dameon and a few tetras).
I managed to catch a small Astyanax species and a smallish piranha. Not bad I thought, for a non-fishing English man. Well, not until Alciney pulled out a nice sized red tailed catfish. The bites then started to come thick and fast for the crew and Adrian. Piranhas were definitely going to be on the menu! Steve did not catch one, even though he was the only one with a rod!! After the red tailed catfish had been caught I was hooked. I think we all wanted to catch something bigger. The time seemed to fly as we all were having such a good time. Sense prevailed and we headed back to camp where a local lady had prepared a meal for us of rice, spaghetti, piranhas, dried tapioca, bananas and a hot type of pepper sauce. Afterwards we sat outside with a couple of beers and some sort of spirit which we had brought with us from Altamira, it was a little like paint stripper but went down well with the fishermen. We then retired to our hammocks.
Thursday 15 May
I awoke about 7.00 am. I had slept well, which I was quite surprised about. The building we were staying in was close to the river, so I went outside to the waters edge. It was like awaking in paradise. I had the feeling of calm and tranquillity as I looked over this amazing river, edged by the jungle greenery. It was just so peaceful. We all freshened up and packed away our hammocks. The sky was over cast and a quick shower of rain followed. A full rainbow appeared; one end seemed to start in the rocks at the waters edge and the other finished in the middle of the river. The colours were so intense. The lady who had cooked for us the previous night had prepared us some breakfast. It consisted of; freshly cooked bread, a sauce pan full of scrambled eggs and fruit. As we ate it she shooed the chickens out of the kitchen. Who needs a vacuum cleaner when you can have chickens to clean up after you? I wonder if this would take off back home.
Straight after breakfast we set off on the river. We had not travelled that far when we saw fishermen diving to collect the Zebra plec (Hypancistrus Zebra or L46). We pulled alongside their boat to see how they were doing. The noise of the air compressor was very loud. Basic equipment was all they possessed. This consisted of an air compressor, a couple of cylinders, a lot of piping, a mask, a torch, a belt with a compartment to put the fish in, a piece of stick carved like a knife and grease and strapping for around the divers head. Our guide explained that the diving is very dangerous.
The Zebra plec lives between 20-40 metres down between rocks on the bottom. The water is fast flowing with strong currents and submerged obstacles. The divers have to try and judge what days to risk diving. Divers have air pumped down to them through a pipe as they swim to the bottom of the river. Once there they cling to the rocks as not to be swept away by the strong currents. They use the torch to locate a fish, the stick to chase it out of the crevices, grab it with the other hand and puts it in the belt flask which has a special lid to prevent the fish from escaping.
Visibility is very poor, even with a torch. The result being that some days the divers are unable to catch any. The only thing I could think at that time was "These guys are insane!" I can understand now why these fish are so expensive and why they are in short supply. Not through over fishing. Merely due to conditions, depth of water, visibility, finding someone mad enough to dive there. We saw what they had managed to catch, three small Zebras between the two of them. It makes you think what value you have on your own life. Would you risk your life all day to catch one Zebra? We carried on down the river taking in the views and having the odd can of beer.
A little further down river we stopped and moored up the boat. Steve said it was time for us to see the Gold Nugget plecs (L18) and do a bit of snorkelling if we fancied it. Steve told us that as you travel down the Xingu River the Golden Nuggets markings gradually change from having a lot of small yellow spots to having fewer but larger yellow spots. The fishermen went straight in to the quicker flowing water. Their skill in catching fish by hand is unbelievable. They were quick to emerge with two of the biggest pike characins I have ever seen and three unusual sucking plecs with fantastic colouring and fins. They then went onto catch some extremely large Gold Nugget plecs. In the shallows around the rocks Adrian, Steve and I tried to catch some of the smaller Nuggets.
We used a mask to see the little devils around the rocks where they were hiding. As you move the rock you are supposed to grab them with your hand. There were so many of them. All of them so very fast! They varied in size from 20mm to 50mm. Even with the coaching from the professionals I am embarrassed to say that we failed to catch any (much to their amusement). Lunch time would soon be with us again and we set off to a local's house to feast on the rivers produce. We came to a very nice sandy beach where there were clouds of green and yellow butterflies. As quickly as they settled on the beach they were gobbled up by two of the fattest chickens I have seen. We had a swim to cool off and relax. The crew prepared our food and the very hospitable family cooked it for us.
On the menu today was: Piranha and extremely large Gold Nugget plecs boiled in a local style pepper sauce with a dried tapioca dip. I did try the Nuggets; the main problem was getting the flesh out of the fish's bony plating. I found them to be an acquired taste and texture, unlike the Piranha which was delicious. After we had eaten Steve got out a fine meshed oblong net, about 1 metre in depth and 3 metres in width. He explained to me how to use it and we walked into the water up to our waists. As we hurriedly walked back in, parallel to the bank, the net was deployed and we chased lots of little tetras into the shallows. We did catch a few to look at, they were plain silver and they were in abundance. They could have been a new species for all I new, as I had not seen them in the shops back home.
Steve seemed a little disappointed, they were very common and because they were so plain they were unsuitable for the aquarium market , I think he was hoping we would catch something unusual to show me, but I found it to be an exciting experience just catching them and was not disappointed at all with what we had caught. The time was getting on and we headed back to camp. When we arrived back at camp we got all our belongings onto the boat. The fish in the holding room and the few fish the crew had caught were given fresh water and also loaded. It was time to start our return journey to Altamira. As we travelled we stopped off to pick up some fish from the fishermen who we had called in on the previous day. They had a few Zebra plecs and a lot of Gold Nugget plecs. As we stretched our legs and viewed the fish Elena emerged from the bushes with a type of seed pod. She opened it and started squishing down the flesh inside. She applied some to Adrian's and my face and told us it was a natural insect repellent. It was bright red in colour.
Me being the suspicious type, I removed mine almost straight away. Good job I did as the little minx was tricking us! Steve and Elena started to laugh; he told us that what Elena had used was a natural colouring which the native Indians use to decorate themselves. If left on it would stain the skin and would not wash off. On hearing this Adrian decided to quickly remove the markings which Elena had liberally applied on him. Oops, it looked like Adrian was going to be doing a lot of scrubbing in the shower later, his skin was now orange! We had some great views of the sunset as we relaxed on the boat. We arrived back late at the hotel, refreshed, then onto the local restaurant bar for a few beers and a delicious meal. Later on we went back to the bar on the top of the hill which overlooked Altamira. Steve had arranged a birthday surprise for Adrian. It was karaoke night and very busy.
The bar staff had a table saved for us. After a couple of drinks a very large birthday cake appeared from nowhere. Everyone sang happy birthday and the cake was cut and shared with everyone. We all toasted Adrian with a bottle plonk. He was pleasantly surprised and it was a fitting end to our journey on the Xingu River.
Friday 16 May
Today is a rest day before we head off down the Irriri River tomorrow. Alciney arrived at the hotel at dinner time to show us some killifish. He said that he would be able to get these varieties for exporting to the UK. I recognised one of the types to be a pair of Pituna Poranga. I had not seen this variety for nearly 15 years. Back then they retailed at £10 each and worth every penny. The other two were types of pearl fish (Simpsonicthys Sp.), they were only small but had the most fantastic fins and colouring. I had never seen these varieties before. Steve had a chat to Alciney and explained to me what the conversation had been about. The bottom line was they were not a viable import.
They would be too expensive at retail, about £20 each. A few fish keepers would buy them, but the shops would not want to stock them. Still they were nice to see. Alciney had said if we all wanted he would take us to catch some. In one way I would have liked to of gone, but after reflecting on what we had been doing over the previous 2 days and what we were going to be doing over the next 2 days, it was not too difficult to decide that our rest was essential. We had a walk around the shops and I got some of my films developed. I was pleased with my pictures they had come out well. Alciney took me to a book shop and I purchased a Portuguese-English dictionary. I thought it would be good to learn a little of the language. Later we all relaxed by the pool, with a few bottles of lager. Tomorrow we journey down the Irriri River.
Saturday 17 May
We set off early this morning as we had quite a way to go before we get to the Irriri River. We helped to load the boat with the supplies for the trip. This included two large polystyrene boxes. These were full of ice which we had got from the local butcher. This was to keep our refreshments chilled, I cannot stand warm beer. Whilst travelling we took in the amazing jungle views and wildlife. The driver of the boat shouted something in Portuguese and pointed to his right very enthusiastically. The revs dropped and we headed across the river, something was floating. It was a dead Capybara.
Alciney told Steve that it had not been dead long. Steve asked him how he new this? He said that had it been dead for more than a couple of hours there would be nothing left so because there was so little of it missing it was fresh. As he spun it around in the water you could see that the piranhas had already eaten away the soft tissue around its mouth. Steve asked us if we minded them bringing it on board, as the crew seemed very keen to do so. They quickly pulled it on at the rear of the boat and headed for a little island which Alciney owned. It was a nice size and had a building on it. Here they prepared the Capybara ready for the pot! The meat from the Capybara was jointed and put in one of the cool boxes for later. You would have thought they were trained butchers.
The skills these guys possess cease to amaze me. Alciney took us for a look around. He collected some seeds from a tree and showed them to us. They were like nuts. Apparently they are good for catching piranhas. As we travelled further on we came to a fork in the river with a big wooden sign. We slowed and turned a round, we had missed the turn for the Irriri River. I found this hilariously funny for a few reasons, firstly you do not expect there to be a sign post in the jungle and secondly with there being so few turn offs the driver should have known where it was. They were all blaming each other for the mistake which was quite entertaining. This was the Irriri River.
As we travelled it appeared to narrow, there seemed to be a lot more rocks, boulders and shrubbery within the flowing river than we had previously come across. Then all of a sudden as we passed near to some rocks the driver shouted and pointed to his left, he seemed excited to show us something. It was a giant otter! It had surfaced with a fish and briefly clung to a large rock as it ate it. Adrian did manage to shoot a little video footage of it. I will never forget my good fortune to have seen this. Fish was off the menu for our lunch today, we ate fresh fruit as we travelled. Steve explained that we would not be able to stop much on the Irriri River as it passed through a reservation of the Arara indians. These people would not take too kindly to any unwanted tourists. When we did stop we were in an area that did not belong to the reserve.
There was a shallow stream of water passing by the sandy bank. Steve instantly spotted a large shoal of Corydoras. I quickly grabbed my net and scooped them up. They were identified by Steve as C. Xinguensis. I took a couple of photographs of them and their habitat. A little further down river the driver saw something floating in the water again. We slowed and Alciney scooped it out the water. Surprisingly it was a tortoise, alive and well! Alciney rubbed his stomach and mimicked eating it. Apparently tortoises are quite a delicacy. Not this one! My mum has a tortoise. Adrian told Alsiney that it was the trips mascot and he was off the menu. This gave the crew a laugh and to Adrian's credit it worked. We arrived at our destination in the afternoon. Here we released our tortoise mascot.
The beach here was very large and we could see a wooden slatted pathway which disappeared up into the jungle. About 6 metres either side of the path had been cleared of the under growth. There were quite a few banana plants growing here. All of the main trees had been left and it was a pleasant walk up to the clearing where three longhouse type buildings stood. Two of them were divided up into about 8 bedrooms with their own en-suites. The other building was a communal building for the guests, which is where we would be having our evening meal and socialising. All three buildings were made of woven branches/ leaves and thatched roofs. They were nicely made and blended very nicely with the surrounding jungle. I found this place quite enchanting. It was not long before I had my camera out again. This got to be a bit of a joke for the crew. Everything they seemed to show us we would want to photograph, although they were more than happy to pose for photos. Steve and Elena helped us to put up our mosquito nets and asked us if we fancied doing some fishing again. A silly question really, he new we would want to.
The thing is "here" you never know what fish you will catch. There are just so many types! We set off all prepared. My competitive side would probably be dashed again by my inexperience but I would give it my best shot. The big Piranhas were the first to bite and we were also catching some nice sized Myleus Schomburgkii. We moved places a couple of times. I think the crew were hoping/ trying to get us to catch some other varieties of fish. Our final spot was fairly close to one of the banks in a sort of massive lagoon. The water was slower moving here. The sun had started to set and the water was flat calm like an enormous mirror it was breath taking. We had little characins shoaling around the boat which we kept flicking bits of food to. As we all participated in a can of beer the bites were not coming as often as they were in the faster flowing waters. It made me start to think that this was probably more the type of area where you would find a big catfish or predator hunting for its evening meal.
One of the crew accidentally dropped an empty beer can in the water and it had started to drift away from the boat. Next thing you know a fish was trying to eat it! It was the noise of the can being dented by a large mouth that made us realise that the can had gone overboard. There was a buzz of excitement from the standing crew. It was something big, very big! The crew seemed to know what it was. One of them quickly loaded a line with a chunk of fish and cast it out just beyond the can. He started to reel it in quickly by hand. We could see the fish give chase by the water movement. Unfortunately for us I saw it dive as it got close to the boat. This was a little disappointing; all I could think of was "the one that got away". I think Alciney's "record" red tailed catfish would have been well and truly busted by this monster. With all the excitement gone it was time to return back to camp for dinner.
When we got back to camp Alciney and I carried on with a bit of fishing whilst the crew moored the boat up and cleaned the fish we had caught. Alciney caught a large type of driftwood catfish. Or at least I think that is what it was. We headed back up to the communal building where a large banquet had been prepared by our hosts. There was rice, spaghetti, a few different types of fish, roast Capybara, scrambled eggs, fruit, a selection of freshly prepared fruit juices, beer and the unforgettable "paint stripping" spirit. We all chatted and had a good laugh before it was time to retire to our beds, ready for another day of exploring.
Sunday 18th May
I was up early this morning. Adrian was already up and had been taking some photographs of in the dense jungle that was surrounding the camp. Last night we were told that if we were up early we would be able to see a troop of small monkeys having their breakfast. We went into the communal building and had some fresh fruits and some strong coffee. Our host was keen for us to go outside at the rear of the property. Here we were greeted by a wild Toucan. It was skipping around after some of the fruit which had been dropped on the floor. Its beak was very large and the crew seemed scared of it. I then realised why. They were bare footed and it was trying to bite their toes! I was glad I had my boots on.
Our host pointed inside the dense vegetation, he had tied some bunches of bananas to a large branch. He started to make a loud calling sound directed into the jungle. I could hear movement in the tree tops. We were all quiet, a small monkey appeared, then another, then one with a baby on its back. They were quite nervous and seemed to quickly pinch a banana and then disappear. They were fascinating to watch. After we had all eaten breakfast we packed our belongings and loaded them onto the boat. Today we would be travelling further down the river and possibly doing some snorkelling. As we travelled we took in the views. This river was just so unique. It amazed me on how much it varied. Sometimes there were areas with rapids, some with large boulders, some with shrubbery, some deep, some shallower, all within the river banks which were just so far apart. There also seemed a lot more wildlife. There were a lot more unusual tropical birds than we had previously seen. If my in-laws had been there they would have been in their element as they are keen "twitchers".
Our driver soon spotted a turtle in amongst some branches in the water and slowed down for us to see it. It was quite a large one and quickly disappeared from view. We came to an area where it was shallower with a lot of rocks and vegetation in the river. The driver's knowledge, skill and experience to navigate a way through, was of paramount importance. We were all looking out for the fishermen and their boat as this was the area they would be in. We could not find them straight away. This was not surprising when you saw the area we were looking in. We did find their camp though and we had a look at some of the L numbered plecs they had already caught. They were stacked in plastic boxes in the shade to keep them cool. After we had all stretched our legs we got back in the boat and went to look for the fishermen as they would not be far from their camp. Sure enough we spotted them around the corner.
They were just heading back to the camp for some dinner. We dropped some spaghetti and rice off with them to cook for us and we went to catch some fish to go with it. It was here where we caught the biggest piranhas I have ever seen, along with some Myleus Schomburgkii and Leporinus Affinis. We did not fish for long. We had caught plenty and returned back to camp to cook the Piranhas. The fish were cooked on a large flat stone within the fire. It was not long before we were all tucking in to the feast. These guys were great; they seemed very keen to show us as much as they could. We watched some cichlids swimming around the rocks near the bank. One of the crew dived in the water and disappeared from view. The water seemed to be quite fast flowing.
He reappeared about 12 metres away and was holding something tiny in the air. I thought he was trying to trick us into thinking he had caught a tiny fish. He swam over to us and to my amazement he had. It was a tiny Gold Nugget about 20mm in size. He was beckoning us to come in the water to do some snorkelling. I wanted to but I felt a little apprehensive. What I was concerned about was I can only do breast stroke, and front crawl seemed the more favoured stroke. Alciney went in next, followed by Steve and Adrian. The remaining crew and the fishermen gave me some encouragement. Not bad considering they did not speak English. Two of the crew swam with me (to give me some confidence) over to some rocks where the others were waiting. As the water passed through the rocks there were some shallower pools where we could do some snorkelling. Fantastic! Under the water the visibility was very good here. I saw shoals of Red Hooks and a lot of other tetras and characins. I had to pinch myself to know I was there and not imagining what I was seeing. This has always been my dream; the one I never ever thought would come true.
A passing kingfisher dropped its catch. It was a 3" Pimelodus Pictus catfish. Yet another fish I can say I have seen in the wild. We spent quite some time snorkelling. There was one thing puzzling me though, where are the aquatic plants? There was not any. I had expected to see some Amazon Swords. Back home we all worry about giving fish a "natural" environment. Nice live aquatic plants etc and yet here it is so different to what I had expected. Maybe the plants were further down? If so, they would have been dead through lack of light. The river was high for this time of year. What I did notice though was a type of algae growing on some of the rocks like a mat. I presume the Gold Nuggets etc would feed on it. Especially the young as they were around the smaller rocks and stones in the shallower water. The crew and fishermen were laughing when they saw me take a photograph of the algae/plant. You could only imagine what they were thinking.
Time was getting on and the boat was loaded up. This included the Gold Nugget plecs that the fishermen had caught. We set off for the long journey back to Altamira. As the sun set Adrian and I reflected a little on what we had seen. As we neared the end of our journey the stars appeared in the clear blue sky. I could see the moon light reflecting off the rippling water, it was stunning. When we got back to the boat shed we said our goodbyes to the crew. Our hosts had done us proud by providing us with such a good crew. Without their expertise, knowledge and eagerness to show us things I feel we would of missed out for sure. We went out for a meal that night and chatted about the fantastic time we had exploring on the Irriri River. Tomorrow we leave Altamira and head off to Fortaleza.
Monday 19th May
Today I was up early to pack my bag. This was difficult as I now had a hammock to fit in. I could not leave it behind; it was a great memento of my Amazon holiday. Today's first flight was not as early as the previous ones. It was nice to spend the time relaxing and reflecting on my travels. It still felt surreal that I was there. Alciney arrived and took us to the airport. He was such a character. We said our goodbyes at the airport and boarded the plane. This plane seemed a lot better than the one we arrived in. It was quieter did not vibrate as much. We then switched planes in Belem and flew to Fortaleza. We would be spending our remaining time here enjoying the Brazilian way of life. Steve told us that he had organised a trip for us around another fish exporter's place. We could have a look at some more fish and how things were done there. This was great news; it seemed like an extra bonus. We arrived at the hotel in the evening, unpacked, refreshed and went out for a superb meal.
Tuesday 20th May
Today we all spent the day relaxing. Adrian and I got some of our photos developed, which were fantastic to look at as we sat by the pool drinking our cocktails. In the evening we went to the local market and admired some of the Brazilian leather wear, carved ornaments, artwork and much more. Later we went into some of the local bars to sample the local refreshments.
Wednesday 21st May
This morning Adrian and I went for a walk along the golden beach which our hotel rooms over looked. This was such a beautiful place and our hotel was superb. As we walked we chatted and chatted about the times we had in the jungle, our home life, and pretty much anything else that we could think of. We met up with Steve and Elena for our lunch. Steve said we would meet up with his contact and go and see his fish exporting premises. The premises were quite large and the diversity of the fish this guy was exporting was fantastic.
They ranged from dinner plate sized motoro freshwater sting rays, angels, tetras, characins, corydoras catfish and other freshwater tropicals through to lots of different marine fish, some of which were very unusual. This place was a lot different and larger than Alciney's set up. It was very modern with very large centralised filtration systems on the tanks altogether a much larger scaled operation. We were made to feel most welcomed and had a drink with the owner. Whilst there we had a look at some very informative books on corydoras species and L number plecs. From the office we had an aerial view over the fish tanks and could see how things are run. The owner explained that he was in the middle of moving to even larger premises.
He offered to take us in a couple of day's time, unfortunately though my travels are nearing an end and I will be flying home tomorrow evening. After quite a lot of fish talk it was time to go. We returned back to the hotel and got ready for our evening of entertainment Steve had organised for us. It consisted of singers and dancers, comedians and a meal. It was fantastic night out!
Thursday 22nd May
We all met up at breakfast decided we wanted to go to a shopping centre in the afternoon to buy our loved ones back home some gifts. This was a great idea as I had only bought a few bits off the market stalls. Elena seemed delighted with the idea as well. Perhaps we would witness her bartering skills again; now that was something to see for sure. We spent the morning relaxing by the pool and chatting about the times we had shared. We spent all of the afternoon shopping. I got my wife a very nice leather hand bag and some of her favourite perfume. The leather products here are very good and very reasonably priced.
We had some food and returned back to the hotel. It was time for me to leave. Steve, Elena and Adrian went with me to the airport. I thought was very nice of them considering they were stopping for a few extra days and did not have to come. Elena gave me a nice necklace as a memento of my travels with them. I was quite touched by this. I said my goodbyes and went into the departure lounge. I have a strange feeling that this will not be the last time we all will be at the airport together. I had best get saving for a chance to join Steve on another of his unique "Escorted Amazon Holidays. I have made some good friends on this amazing Amazon Jungle Adventure and enjoyed myself so much it is beyond words.
All I can say is a big thank you to Derek Lambert and Today's Fishkeeper for giving me the chance to fulfil my dream and to Steve and Elena for making it happen.
See another travellers tale here.