After successfully bobbing-and-weaving my way around going fishing with my brothers in law for several years, I finally bit the bullet Thursday. Overall it was a good time … the problem was the amount of time we spent.
Bridge over the Rio Grande
The deal was supposed to be that my three brothers-in-law (cuñados) would pick me up at 8 a.m., take me fishing for the day, and bring me back home in the evening. Knowing the way things go in Bolivia, we were sure they’d come later in the morning and we were right. They drove up in a borrowed Pathfinder along with three of Alcides’ relatives, for a grand total of seven guys in the party.
I wore shorts and t-shirts, though there were questions about what sort of underwear I was wearing (they wanted to ensure I would not get bitten by bugs which I assume are like chiggers). I took a camera, some sunscreen and some bug repellent, and that was it.
We started driving. After about an hour or so, we ran into a problem. To get across the Rio Grande, there is a small one-lane bridge called Paila (actually a train bridge that doubles as a car bridge), but traffic was totally stopped. Alcides drove around much of the traffic to get near the front, but we could go no further. Eventually everyone but Alcides left the car to go find out what was going on. The way this bridge works is that traffic must take turns going across. I think it flows one direction for an hour or two, then switches. Apparently some car or cars didn’t respect this and drove around the gate and got part of the way across the bridge and encountered cars going the other way. Things got bad from there and everything stopped. You can read an article about it here (but it’s in Spanish).
So we left the gate and started to walk across the bridge. It was a a long walk, but quite nice with the breeze off the river. The bridge is an old steel-and-rivet structure with train tracks in the middle and wooden planks around those over which cars can drive. It is clearly an old bridge, and a new wider bridge is under construction very close by, but it will be a year or two before it is ready. After a long walk, we had crossed the bridge. We grabbed a table a little stand to eat pacamutos (chicken skewers) and some yucca. Along the way I had some good conversation and got to work on my Spanish skills.
When vehicle traffic at last began to flow, it was moving opposite the way we were headed, so we knew it would be a while longer before Alcides could begin driving across the bridge. One of my cuñados had left, so Boris and I went to find him. We had a good long talk as we walked past the seemingly endless line of cars. Just as we reached the end, though, Alcides pulled up in the car with the rest of the guys, so we climbed in and continued on our way.
The fishing hole
We continued on for several more hours, passing through many little tiny towns. Along the way we looked for any place that might have ice in a bag, without success. For the last 45 minutes, the road was riddled with potholes which Alcides tried to avoid, but often couldn’t. The landscape was very green, lots of trees and farms and rural stuff. During those last 45 minutes it also started to rain. It wasn’t too bad, and it seems it was just a passing storm, because the sky quickly cleared. When we reached our destination city, we did find a place with ice in old Coke two-liters. Alcides also bought some bread and eggs to eat later.
We turned off the highway and drove a ways down a gravel road until we found a little lagoon or creek. There were a lot of folks there. Juan insisted this wouldn’t be a good place, that we should continue a bit down the road to a house with a lot of land and ask for permission to go to one of their lagoons. We did so.
Then it was time to find our fishing hole. It was quite a trek with Juan leading six of us. I quickly regretted bringing sandals. Once we left the ground immediately around the homestead, it became very muddy and increasingly full of reeds. I tried to avoid the worst mud, but it wasn’t always possible. My sandals got totally submerged and muddified a few times, making walking that much more problematic. Worse, these are relatively new sandals that have one or two spots that irritate my feet (I need to develop callouses), so it wasn’t a fun walk.
After a false halt or two, we found the right place. It was a large lagoon surrounded by reeds. there were muddy paths around it and little spots where you could stand and fish. The guys got out a net and swept the water for minnows. Along with the minnows, they got some little things that looked like crawdads or shrimp or something. Boris gave me a plastic tube with a screw drilled through it at one end. I got some line, a hook, and a piece of Styrofoam for a bobber, and tied it all together. I grabbed a minnow and found a little spot to start fishing.
The challenge was learning how to cast. Obviously i am used to a rod and reel. This was just a pole and fishing line, without any weight. But I found my groove eventually. I made a hole in the ground where I would place the pole. Then I would hold both the bobber and hook in my right hand and some of the slack in my left hand. Then I would toss the hook and bobber out underhanded.
It’s been a while since I went fishing, so the excitement of seeing the bobber move and then trying to set the hook awakened in me. In all, I got five fish, all of them quite small. One of them escaped as I was trying to remove it. Another was just so tiny I just had to throw it back.
During this time, Juan and Boris were doing some fishing with round nets and setting up long nets across the lagoon.
The long night
Eventually the sun set and Alcides returned. He and some of the others set off in search of wood to build a fire. This was no easy task given that the ground was very wet and most of the vegetation was reeds. But they did find some dry wood and soon a fire was going. We ate the eggs and bread and shared many rounds of mate and coffee, talking and stuff. Around midnight I was beginning to feel like it had been a solid day and was more than ready to head home. Ah, but that was not to be.
I think some of the guys had it in mind to fish well into the night since we had gotten there so late. They would go off to check nets then return an hour later and go back out again. And they were successful. They got some big fish later in the night. I stuck near the fire and talked a bit with those there. I would sit for a while then stand up, but I could never really lay down because the ground was so wet. The night began to really drag on for me. I grew concerned about Yoli who had been expecting me to come back in the evening, since I had no way to contact her way out in the middle of nowhere. I have never been on a true camping trip, sleeping in the wild, so I wasn’t relishing the idea that my first experience might be sleeping on wet reeds. Another problem for me was my allergies. As the night wore on, I began having a bit of trouble breathing, which seems to happen to me at nighttime in Bolivia. I guess its the humid air. I did enjoy watching the sky, which was marvelously clear of clouds and artificial light.
Around 1:30 a.m. Boris, Harris (pronounced Hah-REES) and I decided to head back to the truck to get some sleep, since our fishing site was obviously illsuited for this task. On the way back I had the same problems with mud on the sandals, and I slipped on a tree/bridge when we crossed a creek, falling into the water and getting the bottom of my shorts wet.
It was better to be in the truck, but the air got hot in there and I continued having trouble breathing for quite a while. I never really fell asleep for any extended period, which was too bad. Eventually the entire party returned… it was probably around 5 a.m. or so.
The voyage home
We started on the way back. I was pleased with the prospect of getting back to Jadzia and Yoli. But after an hour or so of driving, Alcides got tired and pulled to the side of the road to rest. After 45 minutes we resumed driving for a while, but Alcides had to stop again. I was seriously thinking about offering my services as a driver in order to keep us in motion. The highway was just a straight stretch of road and there wasn’t much traffic (that’s the first and only time I have seriously entertained the notion of driving in Bolivia). But Harris stepped up and took the wheel… He needed to be somewhere at 9 and had a vested interest in getting us there on time.
On we drove. And just outside Santa Cruz we ran out of gas.
What a trip to remember! At least we didn’t have trouble crossing the bridge on our return voyage.
Eventually I did get back to Yoli. It was probably around 11 a.m. Friday. And I found out that Jadzia had fever for the second day in a row and was waking up all that night. Yoli had really missed me.
I was able to sleep a couple hours before we headed over to Boris at 2 p.m. to eat fish. But in true Bolivian fashion, nobody else was there. Alcides and Juan showed up much later and we didn’t eat until around 7 p.m. Lucy and Juan did the cooking… They fried some of the fish and made soup from the others. The soup was a normal Bolivian style soup where the meat is cooked with bones in, and the heads are also included in the soup.
At last we were able to return to El Jordan and put Jadzia to sleep. As I type Yoli is making a batch of buttercream. Corina’s wedding is next Wednesday, and the next few days Yoli will be busy preparing various things for the cake. We will leave Monday morning to go to Samaipata. I am looking forward to being there because it should be a quiter, more relaxed time for me. I hope it will be for Yoli, too, but obviously she will be working on the cake as well.
Now I am off to grab a little bite for dinner and then hopefully get LOTS of sleep tonight. Between RISK and fishing this week, I have been awake a lot. Both have been very memorable experiences. The fishing trip had it’s downsides, but overall the good far outweighs the bad and it will be a great memory.