my thoughts and observations about what lies along the trails of existence linda paul bascom tim mary rachel

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Junior dropped his machete into 20 feet of murky Amazon river water.

When without a second thought he climbed over the side of the canoe and slipped into the water to join the piranha and caiman, disappearing below the surface for 15 seconds only to return with a huge grin on his face and a machete in his hands, I knew I was in the best of company. He said he had found it by stepping on it. Apparently it had stuck into a tree branch as it drifted towards the bottom. Junior’s definitely the guy you want in your canoe.

Junior gets water from a vine.

What else does Junior do? Junior catches caiman and boas so that you can get a close-up look at these animals. He also likes to grab bats, lizards, tarantulas and a huge rat we saw swimming across the river to find some dry ground. He knows the names of hundreds of birds and the calls of many of them, and often lures them closer by recording their songs and playing them back over a tape recorder. Junior speaks English better than a few people I know and can order a beer in at least 7 languages. He makes a mean Caiparinha and dances Forro and Samba like a true Brazilian. He’ll whoop you in Dominoes and give you a run for your money in Backgammon. Junior looks you straight in the eye when your talking to him and when he’s talking to you. He has a great aptitude for teaching you the things he knows and loves about the Amazon and you can’t help but become infected with his enthusiasm. Junior’s the guy that won’t just drop you off at the airport at the end of your trip. He’s the guy that’ll come inside to have a few last beers with you at the terminal bar and try to teach you last minute phrases of Portuguese before sending you off to Rio.

That’s Junior.

Piranha Popcicles

Everything in the Amazon is edible…the first time .

This is what Junior liked to say. In my case, it also applied to the Piranhas, because I didn’t think they tasted very good. They are quite boney and the meat tastes a bit stale, probably due to their diet of only jungle meat and not enough plants and berries. They'll eat any defenseless living thing that falls into the water, such as small birds falling out of nests or baby monkeys falling from trees or playing too close to the water. They definitely don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Of course, since they don’t taste very good, they are very easy to catch. Just lower some line a few feet into the water with a piece of raw chicken on the end and WHAMO! - you have a piranha. You have to be careful pulling them off the hook because the 2 tiny rows of 1/4 inch razor sharp teeth would love nothing better than to bite off the end of your finger. If you put a twig (or a plantain chip) in their mouth they snap through it like it was a Dorito. It’s pretty funny watching everyone in the canoe lifting their feet and hopping around because they don’t want to get bit by flopping piranhas. Valdoo was easily 'king fisherman'. Gussy and I started timing how long it took him to catch his fish: less than 10 seconds from putting the line in to pulling the piranha out.

After putting them on long wooden skewers the crew bbq-ed 'em on the grill we had on the top deck of the riverboat. Mmmmmmm...Piranha-on-a-Stick. I prefered the other whole fish they would throw on the grill: catfish, sardines, jaraque, otoombo. It was incredibly flavorful, and would always be served with a nice helping of manioc and often rice and beans. This was one of our favorite ways to take meals, right from the river to the grill to our mouths while watching the sun go down or storm clouds roll in over the Amazon.