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Day 2, posted Oct. 13, 2006
Because we are only about two degrees of latitude south of the equator, the sun rises at 6:00 in the morning and sets at 6:00 in the evening like clockwork. And the comings and goings of the sun happen fast down here. It reminded of us of the old cartoons we used to watch when we were kids that portrayed the sun zipping down as the moon sprinted up.
So the morning broke hard over the Unini River and we were up and fed and ready to board the aluminum skiffs to see what the day would bring.
Our guide, Gonzega, decides he wants to travel up the river to look for fish. We are hundreds of miles from civilization and haven't seen another human other than those in our party which makes me wonder why we need to travel another distance by boat, but I have learned over the years that fishermen like to go to the places they have confidence in, no matter the distance. It seems South American fishermen are no different.
We run for 45 minutes and then stop on a large sand flat where we can see some big peacock bass lingering, but we can't entice them to our lures.
After half an hour, Gonzega eases into a small creek. A very small creek. We motor in a few yards before we find a tree blocking the way, so I assume we will be backing out and finding another location.
But Gonzega jumps out of the boat with his machete and proceeds to hack away at the 10" log until he halves it and removes it from the creek. I'm beginning to understand why the machete is so important to the locals here.
The talent on this show are both from south Florida and Joe Rodriguez is a second generation Cuban and speaks fluent Spanish. Portuguese is the language of Brazil, but Joe manages to communicate pretty effectively with Gonzega through Spanish.
Gonzega tells us that he has caught some nice peacocks in the lagoon he is leading us into. After we snake through the creek with the guides wading in the water pulling the skiffs, we are rewarded with a small pond that looks like something out of a picture book.
It took half an hour to get through the creek, so we are a little disappointed when a storm blows up about two minutes after we start fishing. Storms come up quickly here, but fortunately it blows out as speedily as it came in.
There is an island in the middle of the lagoon that Rob and Joe make a few casts to before they turn their attention to the opposite bank. Everyone's attention is on the bank and our backs are toward the island when something catches my eye.
A snake is whipping through the water at an alarming rate of speed and headed directly towards the angler's boats. We are behind them in the camera boat and I can see the snake's head out of the water about 8 inches.
We must have disturbed the creature by casting in its direction. And he evidently was not happy about that fact and didn't want to share his secluded spot.
We shout to Gonzega, who grabs a fly rod and begins to slap the snake just as it gets within two feet of the boat. This snake I extremely aggressive and puts up a fight before retreating. We watch him slither into a tree and guess that he is about five feet long with a triangle shaped head.
Rob chides Gonzega about the fly rod.
"Joe, tell Gonzega that next time he needs to kill a snake, don't use a $600.00 fly rod."
Gonzega rattles off something in Portuguese which in general none of us can understand, but one word stands out because he repeats it several times with emphasis, "Veen ee mose." There's no mistaking the translation.
So Rob softens on the expensive fly rod objection.
Meanwhile, in the camera boat we look around and realize we have nothing remotely resembling a weapon. I'm wondering if I could fight off a snake with a 20 pound tripod.
The snake encounter changes my entire outlook on this experience. Drifting under low hanging trees makes me a little nervous.
The Amazon rainforest is so untouched that it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. This snake served as a reminder that we weren't at Disney Land.
After leaving the lagoon, we stop for a break in the main river. As we sit sipping water and munching on crackers I hear a distinctive sound that is common in saltwater. It's the sound of a dolphin expelling air through its blow hole.
We look out towards the main river and see a school of pink river dolphin.
These are the largest of the world's freshwater dolphin and our time in the Amazon coincides with their peak breeding season. We are too far away from them to get a shot on video, but I manage to snap off a few slightly blurry photos.
In South American Indian folklore the pink dolphin is sacred so hunting or killing them is believed to bring bad luck. So they are relatively prolific in this area and we will see quite a number of them during our stay.
The fishing is good today. We find schools of baby peacocks in several places and the adults are guarding them from below. The anglers throw a jig past the babies to entice the adults to bite.
Joe catches an eighteen pound peacock in this fashion. He puts up a fight and looks like some kind of computer animated character when they pull him out of the water.
The big fish is brightly colored with bulging eyes. As Gonzega lifts him out of the water with his boga grip the fish just seems to keep coming forever.
The guide who is operating our camera boat notices a hornet's nest overhead and gets extremely nervous. Apparently stinging insects are taken very seriously here. He wants us to get out of the neighborhood and seems especially concerned about me as opposed to the men in the party.
The nests do look menacing as they seem to drip from branches of the trees. I remember reading in my guide book about hornets that sting their victim repeatedly. I remind myself of how far we are from medical facilities.
A few hours later we are back in another lagoon and Rob is ripping his big woodchopper near a laydown when a peacock explodes on top of it. Rob sets the hook hard and gets ready for a fight, but the fish runs into the submerged limbs.
In a snap, Gonzega has removed his shirt and shoes and jumps into the water to untangle the line and the fish.
All I can think about is that snake we saw earlier. And a low level anxiety regarding piranha.
Gonzega thrusts his boga grip underwater while we all wait. We know it's a big fish and Rob and Joe have made a bet on the big fish of the day. Rob is anxious to best Joe's earlier 18-pounder.
Gonzega lifts the lunker out of the water and the scale measured seventeen pounds.
The wager for the day involves the loser going hunting with the locals tonight for caiman, a South American alligator. Actually, a caiman is a member of the crocodile family and their eye shine can be seen everywhere on the river at night.
The hunters shine a spotlight on the water and once they spot the eye shine they maneuver the boat to come up behind the reptiles. Depending on the size, they will either jump from the boat on top of the caiman, or wade up behind it, grabbing it and clamping its mouth shut.
Rob has lost the bet, so his payoff is to catch a caiman with his hand. I think Rob lost the bet on purpose. He loves this stuff.
Both Rob and Joe catch a caiman, but they release them unharmed back into the river. The guides savor caiman tail as much as some Floridians love to eat gator so they are disappointed to see them let them go.
It has been an incredible day.
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