Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Don’t get too comfortable

I was probably getting a wee bit cocky.

With great regularity (yawn), the predominant species we catch in the nets and on our hooks each day is the infamous red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) and another smaller type, Serrasalmus humeralis. And while I was a bit hesitant to get my fingers near their toothy-mouths at the onset two weeks ago, my boldness-level has increased exponentially with each trip to the lake. 
Chicken makes excellent bait, but fish is better. (Beef can work in a pinch.)
The rules say we’re supposed to wear leather gloves when we handle piranhas, but some of the fish have been so large (some close to 25cm!), Pool assured me I could lose a digit or sizable hunk of flesh with or without hand protection.
The lesser known piranha, Serrasalmus humeralis
Not-a-piranha. I'm not even sure how he got caught. 
Comforting thought.
We only let the gillnets set for an hour or THIS can happen. The piranhas take advantage of the easy pickings...
So there I was, blissfully fishing in the shade of the flooded forest off the bow of our little green boat, when I felt a tug on my hook. Piranhas tend to nibble bait without getting snagged, so your best bet to land a fish is to set the hook quickly and fling it onto the boat. Which is what I did…
"Sure, you may photograph me with my GIANT PIRHANA!" (This is not the fish in question, by the by)..
But the little bastard immediately came loose and started jumping willy-nilly around the boat. I grabbed a glove to pin him against the floor boards, but he jumped at the fleshy part of my index finger and had no intention of letting go. I have thin blood anyway, but soon enough, a small trickle turned into giant red blobs hitting the deck. I shook my hand until he fell off while my buddy Emma searched through our disappointingly-inadequate first aid kit for some Band-Aids.
Jungle medicine: Back on the Rio, Nurse Marta opens the gash and pours the contents of a mystery pill into the wound.
Normally, none of this would be a big deal, but infection is a real threat here. So now I get a regular bandage change by nurses (who only speak Spanish) and a course of antibiotics to keep things from getting worse. Plus I'm not supposed to get my hand wet while it heals, which poses all kinds of problems (on the fishing surveys and otherwise...)
Pool, sporting a bandage from the time a piranha bit off the tip of his thumb
And, in addition to a cool war wound with a jagged sawtooth outline, I seem to have gained some credibility with the Peruvian guides. Handle fish long enough, and you WILL get bitten, and as word of my injury spread, the guides all showed me various scars and missing bits of flesh from their encounters. 

One of the guides, Euclides, made me a necklace from a piranha jaw we caught one day, so all in all, I'm calling it a win for the Visitor.

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