Up Close and Personal with Piranhas on the Amazon River… The Wednesday Photo Essay

Fishing for piranhas

How do you take the hook out of a piranha’s mouth. Carefully! When one fell off the hook into the bottom of our boat and started flopping around and snapping its teeth, all feet immediately went up into the air.


It’s photo Wednesday and today I will be featuring a trip that Peggy and I took up the Amazon. It was the pre-digital age and the photos produced by our camera weren’t quite as clear as we produce now, but I felt we did a fair job of capturing our experience. Enjoy.

Whenever I think of the world’s great rivers, associations pop into my mind. The Mississippi immediately throws me back into early American history with Mark Twain and riverboats. The Nile takes me even further back in time to Ancient Egypt and pyramids. I think of Hindus plunging into frigid waters when I picture the Ganges. The Yangtze or Cháng Jiāng carries me off to the heart of China and the ‘mysterious East.’ The Danube makes me want to get up and slow-dance— thank you Strauss. And, I imagine exotic adventures when I think of the Congo or Niger. All of this relates to the fact that I am an incurable romantic fascinated with both history and adventure.

But nothing spells exotic for me like the Amazon. The river with its 1,100 tributaries provides a seemingly infinite number of opportunities to get lost. One could easily spend a lifetime exploring the river and unlocking the secrets of the massive rainforest the river and tropical rains supports. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen and fresh water comes from the region. And it is one of the world’s richest centers of biodiversity.

Amazon parrot

One third of the world’s birds, some 1500 species, can be found in the Amazon. This parrot stopped by for a visit. Every evening large numbers would fly between the trees in the forest canopy.

Curt Mekemson searching for wildlife on Amazon River

I spent a lot of time checking out the shores and canopy for birds and wildlife.

Catpillars on tree in Amazon Rainforest

Our trips ashore introduced us to some of the more exotic insect life such as this parade of caterpillars that somehow reminded me of a dancing Kokopelli from Native American mythology. All that was lacking was his flute.


Kokopelli playing his flute as he appears on a drink coaster of ours. The girls were said to go crazy over him.

Peggy and my journey into the Amazon was tame as such adventures go. Still, we managed to work in a five-day river boat trip out of Manaus and a stay at a tree house lodge up in the rainforest canopy where we hung out with monkeys and slept in a bed that Jimmy Carter had once occupied. Our riverboat trip introduced us to the rainforest plus gave us a slight flavor of life on the river— including fishing for and eating piranhas. It was the law of the jungle: Eat or be eaten. (Grin)

On today’s photo essay, I will feature our river boat trip. Next week, we will hang out with the monkeys.

Amazon Clipper on tributary of Amazon River

Our boat, the Amazon Clipper, settled in for the night on the Rio Negro. Our crew would tie it off to trees in the rainforest.

View out window of river boat on the Amazon

The view out our port-side window.

The Amazon Clipper river boat

A closer view of the boat. Six cabins provided space for passengers. The top deck served as an excellent viewing platform.

Peggy Mekemson assuming a Titanic pose on an Amazon riverboat

Peggy also used it for a Titanic-type pose. I would add that the deck made an excellent location for evening cocktails.

Map of South America

Our journey into the rainforest took us to the city of Manaus which is located at the confluence of the Amazon River and its tributary, the Rio Negro some 1000 miles above where the Amazon runs into the Atlantic Ocean.

Manaus and Rio Negro River

Our riverboat journey would take us out of Manaus, up the Rio Negro River, through the numerous channels of the the Anavihanas, and to the community of Novo Airao. First, however, we boated down to the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Amazon near the # 319 marker where the dark waters of the Rio Negro meet the lighter waters of the Amazon. (Photo from Google Maps.)

Meeting of Amazon and Rio Negro

They call it the ‘mixing of the water’ where the Rio Negro meets the Amazon.

Tributary to Rio Negro

The braided channels of the Anavihanas brought the rainforest in close to the boat.

Amazon Rainforest

Evening in the Anavihanas on the Rio Negro River

An evening view.

Bone with river boat pilot on Amazon River

Bone took his trick at the helm.

Bone on tributary to Amazon River

And then posed for a photo-op on the rear railing. It almost turned into a disaster as the boat sped up. I leapt up and just caught Bone as he started to fall into the piranha infested waters! I guess if you have to go…

Piranha dinner

Later, as I noted above, we took the boat’s skiff and went fishing for piranhas. These fellows made a tasty treat.

Peggy swimming in Amazon

Peggy gave the piranhas their chance for revenge but no one bit. (The crew assured us that this section of the river was piranha free.)

Covered boat on Rio Negro River in Amazon Rainforest

We saw a number of small boats along the river…

Small boat on Rio Negro River in Brazil

House boat on Amazon

Home along Rio Negro in Bazil

And houses.

Homes along Amazon

We stopped here and went for a walk in the forest.

Brazilian with machete

This fellow split open a Brazil nut with his machete and gave us all a taste.

Tree platform for hunting in the Amazon Rainforest

While another machete wielding man showed off a hunter’s platform.

Rubber tree in Brazil

Rubber trees provided the wealth that drove the development of Manaus in the 1800s. Rubber is made from the sap that comes from the cuts in the tree.

Igreja Santo Angelo - Novo Airao, Amazonas Brazil

The town of Novo Airao gave us a feel for how people lived in Brazil’s rainforest communities. This is the church of Igreja Santo Angelo.

Cartoon building in Novo Airao, Brazil

We were amused by the cartoon characters that decorated what was probably a school.

Open market in Nova, Airao, Brazil

This open market reminded me of the shops in Gbarnga, Liberia where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Dog in Nova Airao, Brazil

And this handsome dog reminded me of Do-Your-Part, the basenji that adopted me in Liberia.

Business in Nova Airao, Brazil

Another typical town building.

Flower in Novo Airao Brazil

We found this flower on a walk through the town…

Breadfruit in Amazon

And what I assumed was breadfruit.

Boats at Nova Airao, Brazil

The boats were on the waterfront of Nova Airao.

Peggy Mekemson sleeping on Amazon River boat.

While I could never break myself away from watching for birds, snakes and wildlife, Peggy found a comfortable place to snooze on our way back to Manaus.

Apartment complex Manaus, Brazil

Manaus is a bustling city. I liked the unique apartment house on the left, boxes stacked on top of each other and leaning slightly to the right.

Amazon boats in Manaus Brazil

Passenger boats are lined up along the waterfront to begin the thousand mile journey down to the ocean and points in between. Their schedule is that they leave when they are full!

Sunset on the Amazon River

I’ll close today’s post with a couple of photos of the sun setting on the Amazon.

Sunset on the Amazon

FRIDAY’S POST: Reading guarantees that I become a wanderer.

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY: Since Bone is traveling with us on our trip through the Grand Canyon, I introduce him/her to those of you who don’t know the small fellow with a huge personality and ego to match. Sunday’s post includes an interview.

MONDAY’S POST: I kick off our raft trip through the Grand Canyon with a fervent wish that I had spent more time getting in shape!

WEDNESDAY’S POST: Peggy and I continue our Amazon adventure with me ending up with a monkey on my head and Peggy with one in her lap.






36 thoughts on “Up Close and Personal with Piranhas on the Amazon River… The Wednesday Photo Essay

    • Peggy likes her adventures, Andrew! But I agree with you. 🙂 On the other hand, a tour company that loses passengers to piranhas probably wouldn’t be in the tour business for long. –Curt

    • We both would have liked to see it continue with an opportunity to explore more of the Amazon, Cecilia. Of course having a comfortable boat with an experienced crew helped. 🙂 Thanks. –Curt

  1. You are always taking us on these magical journeys, Curt, but I don’t envy you with the piranhas – just look at those teeth!!
    Are the rain forests still being rashly cut down?

  2. Peggy is far braver than I would ever be. After seeing those piranhas, it would take a lot more than a tour guide’s assurance to get me into that water. Looks like quite the adventure though.

    • We were out in a small boat when a large anaconda went swimming by Carrie. 🙂 Another time our crew moved quite fast to get out boat out from under a tree that they spotted a deadly snake up in. But yes, the trip was amazing. And well worth it. Even with the snakes… –Curt

  3. Another great journey. I remember the story of a dead pig being lowered in a Piranha infested river. After a few minutes all that as left was a bag of bones on which even then the piranhas still clung to.

    • I remember a similar story, Gerard. Kind of like the army ants of Africa that I did battle with. It took the ants a while longer but they were jus as thorough. But the teeth on the Piranhas, wow. We had a few skeleton heads when we returned, but they disappeared at Peggy’s elementary school. –Curt

  4. Exotic and mysterious – and worthy of a movie set. How weird with those caterpillars. Great photos but I really like the one with the row of small open boats docked – lovely contrast, lines, pleasing shapes and texture.
    (I agree with Carrie above – amazing, but being highly sensitive /allergic to mosquitoes…itchy, itchy, itchy.)

    • I really liked the boats to, Phil. One of my favorites. Also the caterpillars. It was so strange. As for mosquito bites, those I can handle, having lived in the tropics for a while… and even more so having lived in Alaska. I could go on and on. 🙂 And boy did they pump us full of shots before we left to counter all of the possible bugs we might encounter! –Curt

  5. Several things caught my eye, because of parallels with things I’ve seen here. The mixing of the waters, for example, is exactly what happens in Galveston Bay when conditions allow waters from the Gulf of Mexico to move farther up the system than usual. It’s always startling to see the brown bay waters meeting the blue-green waters of the Gulf.

    What really amused me was that the open air shop and the dog also reminded me of Gbarnga and the Basenjis that roamed there.

    But back to the Amazon. One of those pretty flowers you show — the one just above the breadfruit — certainly does look like this Texas native. It’s clearly a species of Crinum lilies; there are about 180 species worldwide. Do you remember the ones we had in Liberia, that were called peppermint lilies? They had broad red stripes, and were lovely.

    Swimming with piranhas sounds about as appealing as kayaking with alligators. There’s no way in the world I’m going to kayak these bayous. I’ve seen what lurks below that smooth, glistening surface.

    • Glad to have the concurrence on the basenjis and shops. I don’t remember the peppermint lilies, however. Can you imagine how much Gbarnga has changed and how much it went though during the wars. I wonder if there is anything left that we would remember…
      I have kayaked a bit down in the Everglades, and would like to do more. But I confess the thought of alligators does pass through my mind. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Wow! What a trip.
    Peggy was quite daring to swim. Not sure I would have taken a chance.
    Love her Titanic pose 🙂
    I don’t think I ever ate Brazil nuts but was told they are very good and the healthiest nuts too.

  7. Now here’s a trip I would love. How long ago did I first hear about the Amazon, but I’ve never set foot in South America. Beautiful scenery, a little bit scary, and some quit time all adds up to one adventure. But I hate mosquitoes, so I might not like this all that much.

    • It was a mild adventure, Rusha, as such adventures go. We were well taken care of. (Riding a bicycle through the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Highway was much scarier.) Sitting on the top deck of a boat sipping a beer and eating goodies while the river flows by is pretty darned civilized. 🙂 As for mosquitoes, we took out anti-malaria medicine, and, for the most part, weren’t bothered. I’ve seen them much, much worse in Alaska and even in the Sierras in early summer! –Curt

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