When Erin and I were packing for our trip I made a point of bringing my fly fishing gear. As I packed, I dreamt about catching piranha in the amazon and brown trout in Patagonia. Not once did bass cross my mind, maybe they should have.
While in Colombia, Erin and I went to Guatape the reason for our visit being La Piedra, essentially a very big rock that they made a staircase up the side of. The town is also near a very large man-made lake that flooded a town when they built a dam. When we were looking for a hostel I noticed one listed fishing as one of the nearby activities, obviously we booked with that one.
The day we arrived we decided to do the hike up the 700ish stairs to the top of the rock, which was conveniently across the road from our hostel. We slogged our way to the top and I’m told the views were amazing. I was not interested in going near the edge, or peeking over the railing. I hate heights, and don’t worry, Erin got a few pictures of me crawling around on the top right next to a three foot concrete railing.
The next day we walked the three kilometres into town, which involved crossing over a very shaky suspension bridge over the highway. The town wasn’t particularly exciting there were lots of people offering boat tours and a few stores selling fishing tackle, mostly small and expensive hard plastic fishing lures. That afternoon, after we got back to the hostel, I started asking about fishing. The lady running the hostel told me that the neighbour had a boat and would take people fishing for a small fee and the she had an old fishing rod Erin could borrow. I asked her what kind of fish the lake had in it and she said “trout I think, is there one called a rainbow?”. That evening, after the neighbour had returned home, her and I went over and she acted as a translator for me to hire the boatman. I was informed that the fishing seemed best between four pm and dark, about six pm. He said it would cost 40,000 pesos and he would pick Erin and I up at four the following day. That night I did a lot of research into how to catch rainbow trout in lakes.
In the morning, the hostel owner showed me the fishing rod she had for Erin. It was an old collapsible spin caster rod with the last quarter broken off of the end. The reel on it was dusty, dirty, grinding, and had about twenty feet of old sun damaged line on it. I stripped it down as far as I could and used some vegetable oil to lubricate the reel, that made a huge difference, but the rig still had a lot of problems. We walked into town again to see how much some fresh line would cost. Upon seeing the price, I decided that line would probably be too heavy for that rod and not cast well anyway.
I packed my fly gear, some snacks, and the borrowed rod into my backpack and at 3:30 we got a call that the boat was here to pick us up. We were told that he had a few other anglers out on the banks, one of whom was from Puerto Rico and spoke excellent english. As the boat headed out, I started assembling my, nearly, top of the line Redington five piece fly rod, I looked at Erins shambled excuse of a rod and felt like a bit of a show off. I was also terrified by the realization that she will still likely out fish me like she always does. I expected that the boat driver would drop us off at on the shore and come back at dark, but I was mistaken.
We pulled up to the shore and a man with a Texas accent, and a bunch of fish on a rope, jumped on the boat and introduced himself. Turns out he was the Puerto Rican, or more accurately, a Texan who had lived in Puerto Rico. He was followed by a few Colombians. We started chatting and it turns out his girlfriend is from Colombia and the men with him were his in-laws. We started talking about the fishing and he informed us that the fish in the lake were actually large mouth bass, but everyone in town referred to them as trout. He said they resembled the bass from Florida and he guessed they were transplanted there after the dam was built and to his knowledge they were the only bass in Colombia. I don’t know where he got his information from but he seemed to know a lot about bass and told us he had done some tournament fishing back home. I believed him and he was kind enough to give me some tips. Also, in an amazing act of kindness, compassion, or maybe pity he saw Erin’s rod and promptly handed her his, stating “I have been fishing for five days straight, I need a break” she took the rod and he promptly opened a well deserved beer.
He explained to us where bass tend to hide, in the weeds, and where to cast, just beside the weeds. At first no one was seeming to catch much but finally Erin connected and the whole boat was a buzz. The little bass thrashed and skidded across the surface until Erin brought it in. The Texan grabbed it, took the hook out, we got a quick picture and then it was tossed on the string with the rest of the days catch. At a glance, I would say it was one of the bigger fish caught that day.
Everyone kept on fishing and chatting, I kept practicing my casting. A few other guys on the boat caught a few fish, and kept them all. Finally, in the crystal clear water, I watched a small bass swim up and take my chironomid fly. All at once it was on, I lifted the rod and set the hook, I started stripping line. I then realized how tiny the fish was, I could tell by the joking and cheering from everyone else in the boat. I hollered at the Texan “Get the net! Gonna need a bigger boat!”. I reeled the little guy in, grabbed the bottom lip, got a picture and tossed it back into the water to grow some more. It may have been small, but on a fly rod anything is exciting and you don’t have to even be catching fish to have fun fishing, so I’m still happy with it. We fished some more with very little success until finally it was just too dark.
We started heading back in the pitch black night. I was marvelling at how well the boatman could navigate in the dark, when suddenly the boat stopped, then turned sharply. He said something in Spanish, the Texan laughed and replied, then told us the boatman took a wrong turn and was a little lost. That was comforting. We made it home with no further incident.
While we were fishing I noticed there wasn’t an abundance of plant life in the water and there didn’t appear to be much for the bass to eat. It was nice to be the only people we saw fishing on the lake and an amazing novelty to say I have bass fished in Colombia. I would be curious to see if it develops into a better fishery in the future. Maybe once aquatic plants can spread more and other aquatic species work their way in from rivers and become a food source for the sport fish. If not, its still a great place to spend and afternoon or two casting a rod.
Posted in Fishing, Travelwith no comments yet.
The Amazon might be one of the last blank spaces on the map. Its jungle so dense it can swallow entire cities and there are still, supposedly, uncontacted civilizations. That idea amazes me, that there are people living in the jungle like they have been for thousands of years that have no idea that the outside world exists. Makes me wonder if we are missing anything. Despite delusions of being a writer, I am aware that I am no explorer, but Erin and I decided to go to the town of Mocoa, which is referred to as “The Gateway To The Amazon.” From there…things got a little strange. If I am not mistaken, Mocoa is one of the last towns in Colombia that has easy access to the amazon jungle. Any deeper into the Amazon and its boats, plains, and muddy roads. Mocoa is located in a region that used to be quite dangerous due to rebel activity, but they are currently in peace talks so we didn’t think security would be an issue.
The journey to Mocoa was done in a very full, very smelly mini-van down a winding road that nearly made me lose my lunch. Erin and I checked into our hostel located on the side of the road a few kilometres out of town. We caught a “camioneta” truck into town for some lunch, and then walked back to relax at the hostel for a few hours. After dinner, we started to watch a movie with a British couple. It was a low budget Nicolas Cage film, and it was thoroughly awful. I cannot even describe how awful. So we gave up on the film. We left the common area and walked down the stone path to our four bed dorm that we shared with a French couple. We were laying in our beds reading for about ten minutes when we heard an alarm go off in the distance. We didn’t think much of it, in Colombia there are always car alarms and building alarms and false alarms going off. This alarm wasn’t stopping though, it had been a few minutes and it was still roaring. We pulled back the curtains and looked outside and all of the sudden the hostel staff came running past our building screaming in terror. All I could think was, “Here we go again.”
I jumped off the top bunk and told the French couple to shut off the lamp and I dead bolted the door. I quickly got dressed. In my mind I was thinking, “If I’m going to get shot, kidnapped, or in some kind of fight, I want to be fully clothed.”
We then took to hiding our valuables as fast and as quietly as possible. Phones went under mattresses, and computers went behind shower curtains. Erin went into the bathroom at the back of our little cabin, and the french couple huddled together on the creaky bunk bed beside the window, which didn’t strike me as a good place to hide, but I didn’t feel like correcting them.
I knelt behind the big steel door and pulled my metal pen out of my pocket. My logic was, the steel door is a barrier, if they get through it, they mean business, and I have to become the second barrier. I wasn’t sure if it was robbers looking for money, in which case its smarter to cooperate, or possibly rebels looking to kill people to upset peace talks or kidnap someone for ransom. Granted the last two are unlikely, but still ran through my mind.
After a few tense minutes, we thought we heard the police outside, we cautiously peered through the curtains and confirmed. The French man and I went to see what happened and instructed the girls to lock to door behind us, just in case it wasn’t all over.
It turns out that shortly after Erin and I left for our room, two gunmen came into the common area and took wallets and phones from the British couple and a computer from the reception. Had Erin and I still been sitting with them, we would have lost 2 phones, and iPad, and a computer to the thieves. We just missed being hit by a second armed robbery because we couldn’t tolerate another minute of the Nicolas Cage film. Maybe I should write him a thank you letter?
The next day, over breakfast, the British couple informed us they were checking out and moving to a hotel in town, closer to the police station I assume. That day Erin and I did a hike to a waterfall called “Fin Del Mundo” or “end of the world”. It was a muddy, hot and humid hike over big roots and slippery logs. There were several swimming holes and a cafe placed under an outcropping on a cliff. It was amazing to see. The hike ended abruptly when the trail dead ended at a waterfall that was eighty meters tall.
That night, a few hostel guests decided to partake in an Amazonian ayahuasca ceremony. Its a drug commonly used by shaman in the amazon to help take people to the spirit world. It is supposedly famous for helping people find enlightenment and have epiphanies. I know some people who have tried it and all speak highly of it. That said, one of the side effects is vomiting, which from what I understand, is seen as a sigh of cleansing and your body purging stress and tension. Ayahuasca does have a few instances of people being killed by it, and on rare occasion, killing while on it. For me, no thanks.
That night,I lied awake in by bed beside the window, listening to ten people vomiting in unison. A chorus of people vomiting is a hard thing to hear without joining them. I didn’t get sick, but I didn’t sleep much either. Between armed gunmen and drug use, I was starting to wonder if I was in Apocalypse Now. A few more days in the jungle and I might have had to adopt a dog or start surfing.
I was not looking forward to the next morning. We were set to take a bus to the town of Pasto. The road we were taking is colloquially known as “The Trampoline of Death“. I can’t make this stuff up. It called that because it has wild altitude changes along a narrow winding mountain road. It is the most dangerous road in Colombia. A friend of mine who had taken the trip a few days earlier posted pictures of a bus that had gotten hung up on a guard rail along the road, which did not decrease my sense of foreboding.
Erin and I arrived at the ticket window and bartered the seller down to a price we were happy with. When the driver looked at our tickets he was pretty upset and told us we had to pay more. We refused, and told him this was the price we agreed upon, and the deal was already done. No worries, he sat us at the back where it was the bumpiest. I guess his plan was to take that money out of my spine. In the three back seats was myself by the window, Erin in the middle, and an absolutely unconscious young man who smelled like a night of hard drinking leaning on Erin. She shoved him off, and he slumped back over. She grabbed his head and repositioned him and he never batted a lash.
After a few good bumps and hairpin turns he fell on her again. She devised a plan, she leaned over him and leaned his seat way back and hers way forward so he couldn’t fall on her shoulder again. I was glad he didn’t wake up for that, there might have been some explaining to do. The rest of the trip wasn’t too bad, a few nerve racking passes on a road about 1.5 cars wide. Towards the end of our trip the big van stopped hard and Erin’s seat neighbour neighbour slid straight out of his seat like it was a water slide. With a bang he landed on his back on the floor, and just kept sleeping. I was likely a nice shade of red trying to hold in my hysterical laughter. The whole van was laughing with me though.
After we checked into our hostel in Pasto, we went to the grocery store to grab food for breakfast. On the way back we passed a square with some live music and a lot of people dancing and all around enjoying themselves. We walked up to the back of the crowd and enjoyed some music. We then noticed two older men in front of us, one was drinking beer from a tall can and the other had clearly already had his share. He was short man with white pants, a white shirt, a fedora, a lime green jacket, and matching lime green shoes. The well dressed man was dancing up a storm, and I knew exactly what was coming. He spotted the two tall gringos and felt the need to do his civic duty and give us some dance lessons. He was friendly, polite, and didn’t speak a word of english, and man, could he dance.
I did my best to mimic his moves, and he was supportive but I just wasn’t getting it. He then showed Erin and they did some spins and had a grand time. Her dancing is much better than mine. We decided to leave before I got too jealous of such a good dancer spending time with my wife. As we left he shook our hands, smiled and waved. Then his friend came and shook our hands and handed Erin a warm, tall, beer can from his pocket, and wished us Felíz Navidad. It was a local Colombian brand, and hey, free beer is free beer I say. We went to our hostel and went to bed, we had to cross the border to Ecuador the next day and I was hoping our excitement would give us a day off.
Posted in Hiking, Travelwith 1 comment.
The streets were filled with smoke from the fires. The air was filled with the shouts of the crowds and the thunderous cracks in the sky. Broken glass lined the curbs. There was an unfamiliar chemical foam raining down, it was sticky and smelled like cleaner. It looked, sounded, and smelled like a city in the midst of a bombing raid. I can’t believe I paid money to be here, and I can’t believe I’m having this much fun. It was the wildest new years I have ever witnessed.
In Canada, at least for me, New Years eve celebrations are usually quite mild. They consist of spending time at a friends house and hiding from the usual cold weather that plagues us that time of year. They are typically a potluck and catch up with friends kind of an evening. Ecuador… is a different story.
Erin and I had decided that we were simply travelling too fast and it was starting to wear us down, so we rented an apartment in the town of Baños, Ecuador, for christmas and new years. It was wonderful to have our own space and be able to cook for ourselves. I even got to make two batches of cookies while we were there, those made me quite popular with our landlord and her young sons.
While we were there our friend Rob, whom we had met in San Augustin, Colombia, had made his way down to Baños and met up with us for a few days, including new years. He was on his way through, biking from Bogota to Chile… and you thought I did crazy things. He has a blog about it here. He has done this in Asia too.
New Years eve, in the morning, Erin and I went to Casa Del Arbol. We decided to take the bus there and back, instead of a three hour walk each way. Mostly because she had to be back on time for her classes and also because I didn’t feel like walking three hours each way. We jumped on the bus and a friendly British couple began talking to us. For the remainder of the trip to Casa Del Arbol and back we were friends. Casa Del Arbol is an interesting place, it is a large tree house on the edge of a cliff and on each side of the tree house are large swings which throw you out over the edge of the cliff. Erin of course went on the swing, while I took pictures for her. I opted not to ride the swing for self-preservation reasons. I did however use the zip-line that ran about three feet off the ground and maybe 100 yards long. On the way back our new friends invited us to join them for dinner at Casa Hood, we were told to bring any friends we had.
That night we met up with Rob at Cafe hood, and soon realized our confusion. Just as we were about to leave to go to the right restaurant we overheard a girl from New Zealand who had made the same mistake. We offered to keep her company and ordered some beers to help pass the time while she finished hers. While we were finishing our drinks two men dressed, badly, as women came running in. One began playing the guitar and singing while sitting on Rob’s lap and the other danced around. When they were all done, I gave them some spare change and they were off to find new victims. We had also noticed, on the street out front, young kids in what looked like Halloween costumes were stopping traffic and people in cars were giving them candy or spare change. Throughout the day we had also noticed many people making effigies out of paper māché, in all shapes and sizes.
We eventually made our way to the right restaurant, but had missed our friends. The New Zealander’s friends were there and she joined them. We had a wonderful dinner, just the three of us. After dinner we went out to walk around and see what the festivities looked like. The streets were packed with kids in costumes and young men dressed in drag. They were standing in intersections, stopping traffic, rubbing themselves against the cars, and harassing the drivers until they got money. There were vendors on the sides of the street selling all kinds of things; masks, wigs, cigarettes, fireworks etc. Erin decided to buy a pink wig to help get in the spirit of things. There were also a lot of people shooting fireworks into the sky and drinking heavily. This was already beyond anything I had seen back home. We dipped in and out of a few bars for a drink or two but the street was just too exciting to pass up. Plus there were several stages in the streets with live music. We eventually ran into the British couple… They weren’t too hard to spot since he is about six foot five and was dressed in drag. That sort of thing stands out to me.
As the evening got closer to midnight things really started to pick up. At about ten minutes to the stroke of midnight everyone started throwing their effigies into piles on the street and beating them senseless. There was kicking, throwing, shouting, and some full on body slams. Everyone was whipped into a frenzy and then the count down began. At the stroke of midnight everyone went wild, singing, yelling, hugging, and burning the piles. Once the fires started burning things got even crazier, people were jumping over the fires, myself included, and shooting off fireworks, myself included. Fatemah, the girl we had met earlier that day, ran out of the bar and started spraying party foam out of an aerosol can. She spayed into the crowd and really made a point of hosing down Rob. To me, it looked like big heavy wet snow falling to the ground. For a split second my mind wandered to an old memory of home when my friends and I were standing around a bonfire while the snow fell. I did my best to get some pictures of the riotous streets but there was just too much movement and action to get anything of quality. I think the blurry, crooked, and obscured photos are an accurate representation of the night anyway.
We then wandered up and down the streets and hit a few more bars. We stayed out far later than we should have, but so did everyone. We finally made it back to where we were staying at about three in the morning, at which point we video chatted with our friends back home. Between bad internet and late night excitement I don’t think I was able to properly convey what we had witnessed.
What we had witnessed, at least what I pieced together from the locals is: New Years is obviously a huge celebration in Ecuador, no one needed to explain that. They celebrate it by building and burning effigies, they can look like anything from a shoebox sized spongebob to a twelve foot tall batman. Most looked like people and varied wildly in size, they represent the previous year and anything bad that happened in that year, hence beating them senseless before burning them. The young men dressed in drag asking for money are pretending to be the widows of the effigies, who now need help providing for their family. The money, of course, is spent on beer later in the evening. Drinking in public is completely legal and I saw very young children buying and using fireworks. To me it was mardi gras, meets new years, meets a circus all without parental supervision.
When you travel you hope for adventure and excitement. You want to see other cultures and how they celebrate, you want to partake in festivities as the locals do. This, to me, was a traveler’s dream. We got to witness and experience a wild celebration with the locals, just as the locals do. To make it all better, it came as a complete surprise, until that day I had no idea other cultures took partying on New Years so seriously.
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