Sunday, August 30, 2015

Let the adventure begin! Jungle fishing at Kendjam in the Kayapo garden

(This is the first part about an impressive week fishing in the Amazonian Jungle of Brazil! I will add lots of pictures to add some on site impressions, pictures can be enlarged as usual by click. More parts will follow during the next weeks)

Plans are there to be changed. The original plan was to travel to Bolivia for some GD aka Golden Dorado. THE fish of the jungle. Aggressive hunters, the beasts of the rivers, awesome creatures, beautiful from nose to tail, every single scale pure gold and power, a fish every fly fisherman should feel on its line once in its life. And THE place to catch it is the awesome Tsimane venue. A super lodge (actually more than one lodge) set up in the middle of pristine Tsimane jungle. First time I have been there was 2012. Three years later in 2015 the opportunity to go back opened. A special offer due to last minute cancellation was the reason. I was looking very forward to that revisiting trip. But plans changed. The offer was canceled and I was a little bit desperate... But an even more thrilling opportunity opened up: a new destination in the Brazilian Amazon to be opened next year to the public, fishing in clean jungle rivers for a dozen of species, water never fished by fly fishermen before. Kendjam. A village of the Kayapo Indians in the Amazonian jungle around 1.000 kilometers south east of Manaus. Exploration season, by invitation only. Not easy to resist such an opportunity.

This trip should happen not in September but in August! August? That would be just around six weeks away! I took some efforts to take care of professional and private projects to make that possible. But plans are there to be changed. And projects seldom are eaten as hot as they are cooked. I confirmed the offer and was in. Preparation started, taking care of tackle and stuff. Too bad there was no time to tie some special flies but there were some in the stock that should do at least part of the job. 

Another very good reason for that trip would be to fish together with my friend Breno from Brazil, to spend some time with him and other friends. The first time Breno and I fished together was exactly during that very first trip for Dorado in the Bolivian jungle at Tsimane back in 2012.

Time went by and the date of departure was close. Flights were booked. Bag and tackle was prepared. Goodbye to the family and a friendly transfer to the airport by my parents. For the flight I made good use of air miles. And was really surprised at the gate: upgrade from business to first. 

First with Lufthansa is something to remember. That would make a promising start for that trip. Lucky me! It was not my fist time to fly first but this time it was highly unexpected, I planned that as the highlight for the flight back. To start a trip like that was a good sign!

Lufthansa First is kind of an experience: their legendary caviar course, excellent wines, kind of a real bed at night, good service. Exclusive and close to perfect. I stop description here, because it is not the usual way I travel and should not get used to. 
 Stopover in Sao Paulo, connecting flight to Manaus a couple of hours later (TAM, coach). At the airport in Manaus I was welcomed by Breno. Transfer and shower to the hotel and a late and good Tambaqui lunch. Tambaqui is a relative of the sought after Pacu, we hoped we would later on catch during the week in the jungle. A fish with unusual stiff rips, rather like bones from a chicken with tasty meat. Later we went to a wharf to check out the progress of a big houseboat for a new Peacock Bass fishing venue from Untamed in the Brazilian jungle. The boat looked very promising and its construction made good progress. An impressive structure of steel and aluminum.

We had no clue who would join us on that trip. Next morning that mystery was solved: an American senior Lou and a British junior Steff from Aardvark McLeod. Thus all seasoned fishermen. The twin engine plane might have been the same age as I. 3,5 hours flight south east. First half of the flight over several dozens of gold mining sites (legal??)  in the middle of the jungle. Later on over a nature park and the last hour over Kayapo land without any roads. What is obvious: the Amazonas is under pressure from all sides.

The characteristic granite mountain called Kendjam that means “standing stone” close to Kendjam came into sight. Flying a clarifying round over the village to check the landing strip, flaps, landing gear and touch down. Kind of controlled impact and we hit the ground safely. Even here in the jungle our approach was filmed by a smart phone! Our stuff and gear out of the plane, hello to the first group (four from Texas ...) and reception at the village. 

Kendjam consists of around a dozen buildings around a circular plaza with an open hut in the middle and resembled a traditional outline of a Kayapo village. It was established not long ago in 1998, when Chief Pukatire and his followers split off from the village of Pukanu, further upstream the Iriri River, after a dispute about future alcohol policy (The National Geographic article mentioned bellow mentions “logging” as the reason). They went for a no alcohol policy as the Kayapo pretty much cannot digest alcohol, thus it needs not much to make them drunk and soon addicted.

Kayapo are around 9.000 indigenous people living in around 44 villages linked by rivers and tracks through the jungle around the Iriri river. The Iriri River which is the largest tributary of the Xingu, itself a major tributary of the Amazon, winds its way northward. The river is around 50 to several hundred meters wide, sometimes tight and deep, then twisted and rather shallow in sections. Providing plenty of various structures to fish.

Walking through the village we saw some satellite dishes, a school house/nurses’ station and even a pay phone! After walking over to the hut in the center, we sat together in the open hut in the middle of the village plaza. We all said hello to the Chief Pukatrire and the other Chiefs. And mentioned how happy we would be to be in their land and to intrude their protected habitat and ground softly. 

We were invited to get some of the traditional body paintings. Two ladies, one younger, one older started to paint my arms with patterns. They applied the color made of charcoal and some fruit juice and water with sticks. Adding the black color to the stick with their hands. Whipping the excess color of with their hands that were all over covered pitch black with paint. Drawing one line at a time. After they finished my arms, it was my faces turn. Days later it turned out that the color is relatively resistant to soap and water. Thus I was little afraid that at least the face paint would wash off before I would be back in the so called civilization. It only faded very slowly... It was great fun though. And as there were no mirrors in the jungle I was not shocked by my own sight.

Besides the painting we were offered to buy necklaces, arm bands and bracelets made of glass beads. Some of them had very appealing patterns, some where simpler. At that opportunity I bought some bracelets and an arm band.

I am not sure if this glass bead art is a tradition or was introduced not long ago by "white man". There is an extensive article published in National Geography in 2014 describing an "expedition" to Kayapo at Kendjam in 2013, mentioning that they brought 22lbs of finest Czech glass beads. On site we were told that they would prefer Belgian beads only. Second difference between the article and on site information… (For further reading about Kayapo the NatGeo article is strongly recommended


After that reception at Kendjam we loaded the boats. Kids playing in the warm river, looking kind of shy as they discovered a camera pointed at them. Everything was loaded in the boat. We started the 4 hour boat trip downriver to the camp. Around 40km as the bird flies, several more on the river. Iriri is a meandering clear, warm river, wide landscape, birds, jungle. After a transfer time of around 8 hours in total we arrived at the camp. It was located on a huge sandy beach, kitchen corner, staff tents, guest tents, solar camp shower (working surprisingly well) and toilet tent. All set up. But no bar!

That would be home for the next days. Rather rustic dinner, not lodge stuff but expedition kind of stuff. Alan the young apprentice cook gave its best possible in that environment.

Night came and the clear sky showed a marvelous star spectacle. Milky-Way all over the firmament, myriads of stars. The stars were so bride that even with no moon there as good orientation possible just due to the starlight! Warm air, but cooling off nicely for the night, frogs making noise, cicadae, other jungle sounds from monkeys or whatever tried to communicate.