Piranhas and Havaianas: it’s got such a good nursery rhyme ring to it, I couldn’t resist. In reality, however, flip flops and piranha fishing are not a good combination. In case there were any lion-petting type tourists on our Amazon cruise, our guides specifically told us to wear closed shoes on the morning of the fishing expedition, “unless you want to get a pedicure”. This is apparently Amazonian for ‘losing a toe’ – or ten.
“Who wants to fish first?” Victor (our guide) asked when we’d reached what he deemed to be a piranha-infested spot (right next to the bank of the river, by the way). Before you could say ‘anaconda’, The Husband – ever the competitor – had practically flown across the skiff to grab hold of the make-shift rod. His only real competition besides myself and a lovely, soft spoken Spanish girl, was the Spanish girl’s boyfriend, Ramon. Ramon didn’t react at all to Victor’s fishing offer, so my Hemingway-esque other half needn’t have risked his life for the rod.
Anyhoo. He did. He survived and he set about fishing, like a man. Within seconds he had a podgy little silver and red thing flailing about madly on the end of the line, before he lost control almost completely, causing the Piranha to writhe and bounce on the floor of the our suddenly SUFFOCATINGLY SMALL skiff.
The scene that ensued resembled what I picture happening at a book club after someone has just pointed to the floor, yelling “MOUSE!” In an attempt to save our toes (closed shoes or not), we three terrified tourists were jumping on top of our seats, screeching uncontrollably (Ramon included), praying and trying not to fall overboard. In his defence, my Hemingway really did try to control the wriggly little b*gger. Unfortunately, he failed miserably. As a result, the purportedly lethal fish continued to convulse unpredictably across the length of the skiff’s floor while we shrieked in terror. And then Victor saved the day. If there was ever proof that looks can be deceiving, Victor is it. He is boyishly adorable looking with the kind of podgy little cheeks that your grandmother would like to grab and go “gootchie gootchie GOO” to. But when he stabilised that writhing Piranha he was the Camel Man incarnate. He grabbed hold of the fish (which honestly looks like a harmless blaashoppie and if we hadn’t been warned about its dangers, I might’ve been the lion-petter in the group) with both hands and managed to get it still enough to show us its teeth.
Then he further educated us on how vicious these things are. He told us about an American tourist who’d refused to listen to him and lost a piece of finger in split seconds. He told us that the chef on our boat had lost part of a finger AFTER he had gutted a piranha – the fish was practically in pieces but the biting reflex was evidently still intact and so it promptly munched off a piece of his finger right there on the chopping board. He told us that piranhas have been watched by scientists, completely devouring a 300kg cow – down to its carcass – in 18 seconds. He could see us mentally dividing our weight into 300 to figure out how long we’d last. He showed us a bloody gash on the piranha’s body apparently caused by his fellow piranhas when they’d gotten a bit peckish.
As sweet as it was to think that Hemingway had possibly saved this dudie’s life, I was going to make sure he was going straight back into the water with his buddies. I didn’t want any ‘impulsive’ piranhas outside of Victor’s brave hands.