The Hunter and the Hunted
I can really use a cold Poland spring raspsberry lime seltzer, a shower, and an AC right about now. Or maybe just a jump in the river. I can settle with that. It's only 8am and already the sun is in full effect. I'm quickly reminded that is place is even closer to the equator than Thailand. Damn.We spent the morning boating to someone's house. I think this is the part billed as visiting the indigenous village. Mattheas showed us around the grounds, talked about fruits, vegetations, and the local way of life. He's not very good at explaining cultures as he is at explaining science. Saw some pineapple farm, tapioca plants, locusts having sex, weird duck-chicken alien, and a fuck load of sun. The only redeeming point of interest here was when I walked over to the little boat to help the kids peel a boat load of tapioca. (literally a boat load) .. Then we came back to base for much needed swim and a shower. Half of our group divides here - the italian + finnish couple and the Germans leave today. We remain at bay with the Portugese + Brit couple. Even more people showed up, including the stereotypical young doe-eyed american girls .. you know the type that's about to head to college and is ready to mount any man that moves. At this point it's kinda moot to really make an effort. If situation presents itself I'll just pull out the friendly card when convenient. The usual river swim, lunch, and hammock o'clock takes place. It really doesn't get old. So relaxing. On the menu for this afternoon: canoeing.
Now one can easily imagine what this commonly known activity is like. Here in the Amazon, things are done ever slightly differently. We pulled out in a much smaller boat this time, now with only 4. The paddling doesn't take place in the same water body as the boating tho. We headed straight into the jungle canopy - where water is still, animals are abundant, and plants grow much tighter together. It was surreal. We must have seen at least 30 different birds - all of them now blurred into one category: another god damn bird. Wading through the dark waters tho - that was really rad. At points Mattheas would pull out his machete and whack away vines and random dead plants in the way. Occasionally we would get stuck in shallow areas and have to jump out of the boat, hold ourselves to limpy submerged barks, and push through. We got to know the couple much better on this leg - Laura and Flavio. By the time we got out the sky has turned pink. Dolphins are out and about all over. We sat for a long time in our canoe, letting the water take us along, just simply breathing in the most spectacular evening sky. I have to say this part of the trip is my favorite in an unexpected way. That is, until after dinner.
Tonight we go spear fishing. Mandatory long pants and shirts mean we're going into mosquito coast. No sweat. Deet to the rescue. Mattheas was on a mission to get fish for the lady who runs the base camp. It seems there's a little flirting thing going on. We took off way later than our usual night trip. Rox and I were determined to succeed, given our "stellar" performance on the piranha fishing bit. The boat skimmed along the vast open river at first, then veered sharply into a pitch dark bush. My heart sank. Are we seriously going in there? At this hour? Holy. Shit. I could see real fear enveloping everyone on the boat. It's one thing to roam around the open space of the Amazon waters at night.. It's another thing to duck into the shadow of the trees. This is where everything lives. By everything I mean everything that could possibly eat us. We were told to shut our lights and hold our oars. Mattheas went up to the front of the boat with his paddle, spear, and machete. One lone flickering light from his head shone on the water as he quietly moves the boat like one giant hunter. We were quiet. Everything was pitch black. To spear fish one must head to the shallow parts of the water. Float like dead leaf. Silent like killer.
Fish number one spotted. "Thaniya - come here" Mattheas said firmly. I limp over to the front. He quietly pointed to the fish in the water. "Get it". I grabbed the spear, thinking to myself, uh.. heh? I mean I've never even hold one of these sucker before and you want me to kill that stealthy thing in the water in the dark? Are you kidding me? A little instruction, perhaps?... ... Silence .... Ok. I guess I'll just recall how they do it in Lost the TV series and wing it. Pow.. miss.
"No! You cannot do it that way. Wrong!" .. Oh .. now you tell me I did it wrong. I'm already pissing my pants standing in a tiny ass little boat in the fucking Amazon jungle at night with a spear and now you tell me I did it wrong without giving any instruction? ... Breathe. Breathe.. Breathe ... Mattheas grabbed the spear and said "You must hold firmly. Very close. Get in very close. One hard and fast movement. Like this ... *whoosh* ... He was not please I missed the fish. It was supposedly a big one. I felt more horrible as time went on between the first spotted fish and what felt like forever. We kept looping deeper and deeper into the forest canopy, moving into tighter and tighter space in search for fish number 2. Mosquitos, bugs, and whatever else we couldn't see surrounded us like a feast waiting to happen. Fish number 2 spotted. I went up again. This time Mattheas look me in the eye and then said "Go". He guided to spear to the fish. So quietly it was. I stood for a second get the right balance. Then *whoosh* ... speared. Out of the water came this beautiful blue and yellow thing .. It looks more like salt water parrot fish that it does a regular fresh water fish. It struggled at the end of the spear. Mattheas was happy.
"Did you see how I take it out?" He said, referring to how you should take the fish out of the spear and drop it in the boat. "Um.. yes. Sort of" I said. "Do it" .. "Ok.." .. The theory is to wedge the fish against one of the wood plank in the boat and pull. I did unsuccessfully. The fish kept looking at me. The back of its gill destroyed by the spear. It kept looking at me as I tried to kick it out of the spear. .. Crack... The spine broke. It's still on the spear. The tail continues to wiggle violently as it struggles for whatever remain of its life. I started crying uncontrollably.. "I'm sorry.... I'm so sorry... I'm so sorry" ... Another kick drops it off the spear and into the boat. Flap ... Flap ... .... Flap ... No movement. Tears came out of nowhere. I was shaking. It kept looking at me. I kept looking at it. What felt like eternity was only a 1 minute replay. I sat down quietly. Got hugs from everyone. The rest of the night was a blur.
It's one thing to eat animal. It's another thing to kill animal. Taking life is the most barbaric act one can do. We live in a society where that concept is so far removed from our daily lives. We go on living, eating animals, with only superficially abstract understanding of what it takes to get that animal on to the plate. When I killed that fish, I felt like a part of me died with it. I felt horrible. Really horrible. More horrible than others who did the same thing. I know this sounds really over the top, given how gluttonous I am about food, especially fish.. I love eating fish. But I've never had to kill it. I've never taken any life outside of insects. It sat on my conscience and made a permanent mark.
When it was Rox's turn to fish, she too missed a few in the same exact manner. I mean, who the hell would ace this on the first go around. No one. At one point Mattheas was furious over one missed fish he jumped off the boat in an attempt to recover loss. To much dismay the fish swam away into the crevase of the vines. Suddenly... a ruffling noise in the bushes near by. He looked up. Pitch dark. Rox heard it too. He jumped back into the boat and paddled backward as quickly as he could. He never told us what it was that he heard. We will never know.
The next day we ate the fish we caught. This one in the picture isn't mine.