‘Up close and personal with paranha, army ants, and other Amazon locals’
“Don’t look now, but there’s a half-naked man with a machete up ahead on the path,” fluted Paul in his Upperclass Brit Voice. And yes, there certainly was.
This was on, oh, Day Two or so of our Amazonian Adventure. The one where we spent two weeks on a boat traveling to the upper reaches of the Rio Aripuana, dubbed The River of Doubt by none other than Teddy Roosevelt.
As the days went by we became more familiar with ‘men with machetes’, and actually quite happy to have them around. (In the Amazon, carrying a machete is kind of like carrying a Swiss Army Knife.)
There was a guy we met on another path on another day who even gave our Fearless Leader Bret a bit of a pause. I was transfixed by his Chicago Cubs hat and did not notice that he had been carrying a rather large firearm. Turns out he was out scouting for a jaguar that had been terrorizing his village.
Yup. A jaguar. Terrorizing a village. We also ran into wasps (well, we didn’t actually run into them; we detoured around them — with the help of the Men with Machetes) and army ants and some really pissed-off water buffalo.
About those army ants. We actually sought them out, since exotic birds, known collectively as antbirds, are drawn to them. No, the birds don’t eat the army ants. They eat the critters that are trying their darnedest to get away from the army ants. See, these ants eat anything and everything that is too slow — or too dumb — to get out of their way. Anything.
The army ants do such a great job of ‘cleaning up’ that some villagers welcome their hordes. They just remove the stuff that they don’t want the ants to eat, and then get out of their way. A couple of hours later, voila, your house is free of pests and whatnot. Oh, and the water buffalo? Villagers sort of leave them to fend for themselves on islands in the middle of the river. You kind of don’t want to surprise them.
But about those piranha. I know you want to hear more about those. Like many of you, I had heard stories about piranha. But I always thought the stories were, well, exaggerated. You know, like stuff about the feeding frenzies. Or the don’t-ever-ever-trail-your-hand-in-the-water warnings. Well, turns out that all this is true. Not blown even the teensiest bit out of proportion. (Note: the fish in the picture at the top of this post is not a piranha. It’s some benign fish that was caught in a net, then released because it was too small to eat. I just thought it was a cool photo, what with Junior (the Tumbira’s owner) holding it and all.)
I even have some footage of a feeding frenzy. The Machete Guys held a chunk of meat in the water. And, well, you can see for yourself what happened:
Want to hear a great piranha story? When the villagers drive their cattle across the river, they pick out an old and/or sick specimen and intentionally feed it to the piranha. Which gives the rest of the herd time to get across safely. Seriously.
But I’ve saved the best part for last. The part about ‘eat or be eaten’. See, we actually ate some piranha. Junior, our host and the Tumbira’s owner, caught a whole mess of the finny little critters (they are quite small, but with very very sharp teeth) and we ate them one night for dinner. So there, piranha!
So what did the piranha taste like? Kind of like alligator.
Amagansett, New York. November 2017