I reluctantly swayed myself back and forth in the uncomfortable hammock during the hottest part of the day. Being under this thatched roof sitting above a round concrete base was the only place that was cool in this tiny, dusty village called Yupukari in Western Guyana. I prayed for a breeze. Fully clothed to avoid the biting flies made it all the more uncomfortable, but was an absolute necessity. Temperatures were pushing 100 and the humidity hung in the air like a wet rag. I looked up to see a large hawk flying over and tears started running down my face. Startled at this reaction, I could not for the life of me figure out why it was happening.
After only a week of being in Guyana, I was starting to lose my mind. Sleepless nights, heat, dehydration, illness and over-exertion were taking their toll. It was the only time in my two decades of travel that I wanted to cut it short and go home. I was thankful that nobody had wanted to come with me on this trip. But tonight, I would go fishing for piranha. I hadn’t fished since I was a little girl and didn’t want to pass up the chance to see these fearsome creatures up close.
The blazing heat of the day started to subside and with my emotions back in check, we headed out before sunset onto the Rupununi River. Having been out previously spotting for caiman and snakes, I was becoming intimately familiar with the flooded forests and the amazing secrets held within them.
As we went up river, my guides chose a spot between the trees that stood submerged in the water. The motor was turned off and we carefully paddled and wove our way through them. The sounds of the insects and frogs got louder. The watery forest was dark and foreboding and the scratching of limbs against the side of the boat was reminiscent of nails down a chalkboard.
Then finally, a clearing opened up. An amazing lagoon filled with giant Victoria Amazonica lily pads. A sense of calm and safety came over me, as if nothing here could hurt me. The beauty of the sky and water lulled me into a state of well being. Frogs perched comfortably on the large, rubbery pads, as did baby caiman; a perfect little nursery. We paddled to the edge of the lagoon for an unobstructed spot to fish under a tree.
Figuring I’d have a pole to fish with, I realized there were none in the boat. Instead, I got a spool of line with a hook on the end of it. Howard cut up a fish and attached it to my hook and showed me how to throw it out. “If you feel a tug, yank hard,” he said. Almost immediately, there was a tug and I did as instructed. I started pulling in the line, making a tangled mess of it inside the boat. As the catch got closer, the line started cutting into my inexperienced, tender hands and I had to give it to Howard. As he pulled the fish out of the water, it was a small red piranha with teeth extended and just as vicious looking as the photos I had seen.
I took some pictures and was giddy with excitement! It was quite beautiful, with its iridescent scales and colourful spots dotting the body. He unhooked it and threw it in the front of the boat. The men were not wearing shoes and I would notice them keeping an eye on just how close the fish would come to their feet. I had him bait me up another hook and threw it in again. This gave Felix time to get his hook in the water and also got a bite. He started pulling in his line, only to be disappointed when the slack gave and he was left with a bent hook and no bait. He showed me the 90 degree angle of the hook where the fish had bitten it. Frustrated, he tied on another hook and baited it. I envisioned masses swarming under the boat, just waiting for us to feed them more, or for all of us to fall in!
It seemed that the guys weren’t catching nearly as many as I was for some reason and I joked that they should have been paying me for this fishing trip instead of the other way around! “Beginner’s luck,” Howard said and we all laughed. I realized these fish were their dinner and was glad to help feed them. One after another chose my line to nibble on and a large black piranha was brought aboard. I was told to hold the fish over the water while the hook got removed and not over the boat. This one was beautiful, yet evil with menacing teeth and devil red eyes. The chattering of its teeth biting at the air as it was being held was horrifying.
After catching about fifteen between us, we decided to move on. My only regret was not being able to eat any with my new friends. I did ask one favour of them though…to save me the jaws as a reminder of the evening.
After the fishing was over and the sun was setting, we rowed through the giant pads and watched the lilies slowly open up. Beetles flew into the irresistible fluffy white pollen laden flowers, only to end up being trapped in them overnight. This enabled the flower to become cross-pollinated and like a miracle, turned its colour to pink and its sex to female by daylight, releasing the beetle to start the process over again.
Felix brought me a pair of piranha jaws the next evening and upon my arrival to the next lodge, I decided to let the ants clean them up for me. They did too good of a job, as the jaws became unhinged in a couple of places, but I have my souvenir from an unforgettable night in Guyana.