Some low clouds hung over the river and as we ate breakfast we debated whether or not to take our umbrellas on our excursion. We decided against it since the boats we’d seen on the river that were used for the piranha fishing were all covered. A little rain could feel good anyway.
Down on the pier, the tour boats for piranha fishing were lining up. This was the big thing to do when visiting Santarem. There were at least six boats tied up there for us and more jockeying for position. We were a little early and got on the first boat and were off quickly and on our way to Maica Lake.
After passing by the convergence of the two rivers, our guide began to explain the reason for Maica Lake. During the dry season, the area is a pasture land and there are “farmhouses” on stilts with corrals on stilts and the animals graze on the rich green grass. When the rainy season arrives and the river begins to rise, the animals are put in the corrals. If, and usually when, the water gets up to the floors of the corrals and homes, the residents pack up and move, animals and all to the city and rent space there until they can return.
Many places we passed were still inhabited although I don’t know how they could be. One which was up higher apparently than the rest even had a container garden on their front porch.
We’ve all seen those semi-trucks on the highway at home with loads of pigs or cows peeking out of slatted containers. Well, we passed a couple of large boats that were for hauling livestock. The easiest way to transport large amounts of supplies and produce is by river. According to our guide, the roads were not that good.
Transporting people from place to place many times happens at night since the trip can be very long. The boats are all made to hang hammocks and people spend the night sleeping in the hammocks while the boat takes them to where they want to go.
I felt like we were on another safari of sorts as we entered Maica Lake. Our lovely tour guide who in her spare time teaches English and is an obstetric nurse who makes health journeys up and down the river and is raising five children and being a guide for her husband’s tour business, began pointing out birds and explaining the foliage as well as a little about the piranhas.
Before she could get too far into the piranha story though we were pulling over to a tree to look at some sloths that were hanging and crawling (although slothfully) along some tree branches. We slowed to look through some flowering bushes where she said iguanas hung out but couldn’t see any there until our return trip.
The piranhas were not man-eating, she said, no matter what we’d heard. The only time they are really aggressive is during the dry season when food is scarce because they are trapped in smaller pools of water. There was a story told on ship that when Theodore Roosevelt visited the locals had trapped some piranhas in an area of the river and let them get hungry. Then when the president arrived, they tossed in a cow and the rest is history, so to speak.
As our guide pointed out, there were children swimming in the river near the city and the piranha did not bother them. She did insist though that we not try to take the piranha off the hook if we caught one. That was her job and she wanted to be sure we went home with all our fingers.
The boat pulled off to one side of the lake in an out of the way place and we were handed our fishing paddles fully baited with a piece of red meat. We lowered the treats into the water and began our patient or not so patient wait.
I could feel the first nibble and jerked but didn’t hook anything. Another nibble. Another jerk. Nothing. I pulled up my line and sure enough the meat was gone. I tried with a fresh piece. Again nibbles and jerks and bait was gone. About the fourth time it happened, I joked that I was feeding them not fishing for them.
Meanwhile though someone caught a catfish, then our first piranha came up. In all the 25 or so guests aboard the boat caught only 3 piranha and 2 catfish and a big leaf. I didn’t even catch a leaf but it was a great time trying. As Bob says, “That’s why they call it fishing, not catching.”
On our way back to the ship, we found an iguana in the bushes eating pretty purple flowers and then as we neared the city, we pulled closer to the fish market on the shore. People were gathered there watching the water for pick dolphins. This is the only area of the world where this dolphin lives. We’d seen the backs of a couple of dolphin as we’d left the ship in the early morning but weren’t close enough for pictures.
On the market pier, someone had a couple of lines with fish tied to the end that they were slapping again the water then pulling in quickly and sure enough, there was a pink dolphin! Yes, truly pink! Pepto Bismol pink!
We slowly and idled nearby and watched the men tease the dolphins with the fish. Several times we could see a head pop up and noticed that these dolphins have a pointier nose than the gray dolphins we’re so used to seeing. They use that nose to dig through the silt to find crabs and shrimp to eat. Like flamingoes, that diet helps maintain that pretty pink color.
There is a legend that says the pink dolphin is magic and that the male can become a human form and entice young ladies into romance and then disappear again into the water. Of course the young lady is then pregnant and blames the dolphin. It being bad luck to harm a pink dolphin, the father of the young lady has no recourse for revenge.
All too soon our morning excursion was over. It was one of the highlights of our trip. How many people get to say they were piranha fishing in the Amazon?