To get to my destination in the Peruvian Amazon, I went to the port of Nauta where I was to take a boat upstream the Marañon River.
In the port, the hustle and bustle were in full swing. Countless wooden boats, low and narrow, were docked, and a continuous flow of both people and goods moved to and from the shore. Banana bunches, sacks of rice, boxes of fish, piles of clothes—everything fit on board, without restrictions. People traveled like that not for hours, but for days, because the distances on the Amazon were enormous, and the journey by boat, be it with an engine attached to the stern, was quite slow.
Not long after I embarked and Nauta was out of sight, I saw some gray shadows leaping over the water. It didn’t take long until I realized what they were: Amazon dolphins. I couldn’t have expected a more touching welcome.
Once I got to my destination, at the entrance to the Pacaya Samiria reservation, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I was in the true land of the Amazon. I had searched a lot for a good place, and the choice had not been easy, because I wanted to be as far away from any human settlement as possible, and the accommodation options were very few.
Perched on a hill along the Marañon, a wooden bungalow awaited me with magnificent views of the river. The terrace was frequented by giant, colorful butterflies, as well as by exotic birds of all kinds, especially parrots. The famous hummingbirds were not so easy to spot, because they were small enough to pass unnoticed against the background of rich vegetation. It wasn’t until I saw the first one that I began to learn to recognize them. From a distance, they could easily be mistaken for butterflies or even some insects, had it not been for the turquoise blue, fiery red, or bright gold on their feathers which made them shine like jewelry.
The temperature was high, around 90 to 91F, as was the humidity, but they seemed bearable compared to what I had known in the jungles of Malaysia. Thanks to the large spaces created by the river, the heat was less suffocating and the air more breathable. At the same time, however, the concentration of wildlife was lower than I had imagined. With such generous expanses at their disposal, the animals and birds preferred more remote areas, where nature was untouched.
My guide Pablo, a polite and very dedicated young man, had conceived a pretty busy schedule for my jungle trips. Apart from me, the only guests at the lodge were a middle-aged Argentine couple from Mendoza. I was to share with them the expeditions organized by Pablo.
The first one was a fishing trip. I thought I would be bored to tears, because that had always been the case, the few times I had tried it. Nevertheless, given that the aim was to catch piranhas, I accepted the invitation, eager to see the terrible killer fish in their natural habitat.
We went upstream with a small wooden boat and took a few small canals until we came across what the locals called “aguas negras.” The Amazon’s mainstream waters were typically milky beige, due to the large amount of sediment, being considered “white waters.” By contrast, the “black waters” were still, narrow and full of decaying leaves. The latter were preferred by piranha fish.
Pablo made us fishing rods on the spot, from wooden sticks to which he attached a long string of gout, with a hook at the other end. Then we put small pieces of meat in the hook and threw them into the water, waiting for the fish to come.
The water swirled almost instantly, and in a few seconds, the bait disappeared. As it would soon turn out, the piranhas were so fast to snatch the meat that the chances of catching one were very slim. But it was a very fun activity, almost like a game. I would put the meat on the hook, then throw the fishing rod and stir it a little in the water, ready to pull it out at the slightest movement. Then, get set! The instant it would move—quickly, quickly, out!
Everything had to be done at the highest speed, but even so, my efforts were in vain. It was impossible to get the fishing rod out of the water in time. No matter what I did, it was always too late. I tried to apply all sorts of tricks and strategies, but the piranhas kept on winning.
After multiple attempts, the guide caught a white piranha. Soon after that, the captain of the boat, named Gregorio, caught a red one. Thus, I was able to examine closely their massive jaws and saw-like teeth. Apparently, they were edible, although not really tasty. Later, they would be cooked on the grill and eaten by Gregorio.
Just when I was close to giving up, and ready to declare piranha fishing an impossible mission, the Argentine guy next to me managed to catch one. I was overwhelmed by envy, but at the same time I gained hope. So, it was not impossible!
Indeed, it wasn’t impossible, I just had to practice more. I kept on trying for almost an hour, during which I caught two smaller fish, which the locals called sabalo, as collateral victims. Then, when I least expected, I saw a red piranha struggling at the other end of the rod. Victory! Final score: Me—one point, the piranhas—999 points.
I ended the fishing game with a smile on my face, not so much because of the humble catch but rather of how hilarious it all had been. As if to add to the fun, and especially to the futility of our attempts, on the way back, a few sabalo fish jumped from the water straight into our boat. In the following days, I would see the same thing happening again, several times. The river was so abundant, that one didn’t even need a rod. The fish would just give itself up. Those who would have brought more serious fishing gear, I cannot even imagine the kind of aquatic monsters they could have caught. If there is a fishermen’s paradise somewhere on this planet, then it must be the Amazon.