Navigation on certain rivers can
involve passing more or less dangerous rapids. Here the quality of the
organization is of primary importance: above all, the trustworthiness
of the equipment (especially outboard motors!) as well as the experience
of the dug-out canoe driver.
Certain spiders (heteropoda
sp, see picture) sometimes "come on board" secretly. They
can be large but are totally harmless. My dug-out canoe has sometimes
nearly overturned because of the panic caused by the presence of these
As strange as it might seem, certain
people seem to be convinced that being part of an organized tour systematically
protects them from any danger and frees them from any responsibility
in terms of vigilance and security
Once, having barely escaped
from being ship-wrecked because the motor stopped as we were going out
of a rapid, a lady said to me "in any case, I knew nothing could
happen to us"!!
Be careful of setting camp near
rivers, especially the small ones.. Once I lost a dug-out canoe, a motor
and all my equipment because torrential rains had caused the river to
rise 6 METERS in a single night!
Dangers due to the fauna
The danger that very large crocodilians
represent is just about as anecdotic as the one represented by large
- The big cayman of the Orinoco
(crocodiles intermedius) which is in fact a crocodile, can be over
6 meter long, just as the black cayman (melanosuchus niger) of
the Amazonian basin and the Guyanas. However most specimen are much
smaller. The difference between caymans and crocodiles resides essentially
in the different position of the teeth of the lower jaw.
But it is certain that one has
to beware of such a large predatory animal.
This is also true of the anaconda
(eunectes murinus). Stories about 20 meter long anacondas belong
to Hollywood mythology but a 6 meter long specimen can weigh over 100
kg. This snake is common, prolific and can be found in the sewers of
large cities. It feeds on mammals, reptiles or birds corresponding to
The most dangerous fish of the
Amazonian rivers is a stingray that can have a span reaching 1 meter,
(potamotrygon sp). Its 10cm (or more) sting can inflict very
painful wounds. It also can cause necrosis that takes months to heal.
The immersion of the affected limb (generally the leg) in very hot water
usually helps destroy the venom
A Ye'Kwana Indian chief of Venezuela
told me that the flagrant liquid contained in the aerial roots of the
philodendron (these large-leaves epiphyte plants that pitifully vegetate
in pots at home) is an efficient remedy.
You will certainly be told to beware of muddy or sandy soil. It is true
that the stingray prefers this type of environment, but I have seen
some everywhere, even on rocks, in the middle of rapids.
Certain sheat-fish (cat-fish)
also have stings on their caudal and pectoral fins that can inflict painful
The gymnote or electric eel,
(electrophorus electricus) resembles our conger with minute eyes
and a flat head. It can be as much as 2 meter long. The largest part
of its body in an electric battery with an output of over 500 volts
but with low amperage. Stories of "grilled" people, there
again, are pure fantasy but the output is sufficiently strong to knock
out a swimmer and provoke drowning
so it is said. (to be honest,
I have seen many more drownings due to an excess of rhum rather than
the electric eel
). The electric eel is nocturnal and uses its
batteries to knock out small fish and steer itself by echolocation.
It is slow and not very aggressive. While fishing at night with a machete,
in water 30cm deep, a large specimen quietly passed between my legs.
A small fish, the candiru (vandelia
cirrhosa) lives in certain rivers. It has the disagreeable habit
of lodging where it shouldn't. Being a parasite of large fish, it sometimes
penetrates in natural offices of swimmers.
It is then necessary to have a
surgical operation to remove the intruder. It is a good reason not to
swim naked, isn't it ?
I have left the famous piranhas
(sarrasalmus sp) for the end. There exists around fifty different
species, of different sizes. I fished one weighing more than 2 kg in
the Rio Tomo in Colombia. There again, in more than ten years of frequent
swimming, nothing ever happened to me. I still have the same number
. I also never saw anyone being bitten in the water.
But my taxi driver friend in Caracas told me many stories, one bloodier
than the other. Beware however of the fearsome jaw while unhooking the
fish from your line (first knock it out with a club), for I have indeed
seen little pieces of fingers fall off!
It is also possible to fish at
night with a machete, near the edge! It is essential to do so during
a moonless night in order not to be seen.
If the water is clear, you sometimes
see very large fish near the edge, in very shallow water. Their eyes
reflect light. I have caught fish weighing more than 10 kg thanks to
my forehead lamp. It is necessary to hit hard on the head of the animal.