July 09, 2022


Story and photos by Campbell Plowden, Executive Director, Amazon Ecology


In between AVP workshop sessions, I enjoyed walking around Brillo Nuevo to photograph pets, plants, and people. Many scenes that are commonplace for them often seem novel for people not familiar with this tropical environment. I relish sharing these realities with people who already love the Amazon and others who dream of visiting this region.

Many families have one or two dogs that often seem skinny compared to their counterparts in urban homes. They are low in pecking order for food and often get a boot instead of a pet, but they are still loyal to their owners. I try to befriend almost any dog I encounter, but I know to keep my distance from one guarding their home.

I had to smile when a tiny Rottweiler colored pup (which reminded me of my dog Ziggy) took this duty quite seriously even as his white compatriot calmy acknowledged my tentative approach.

Two puppies in Brillo Nuevo

Most dogs spend most of their time hanging out by their house in between occasional hunting trips into the forest to help their master track down a game animal like a paca or peccary.

By definition, it often rains in this rainforest region so many people go about their business regardless of the weather although people do suspend outdoor tasks to let a pounding rain pass. Children are undeterred from playing in the rain so boys and girls romp soaked while kicking soccer balls through muddy puddles toward goals made with a few sticks or poles.

So it was actually unusual for me to see a pair of young siblings walking along the sidewalk holding an umbrella over their heads. Understandable that not everyone wants to get wet.

Boy with a pink umbrella in Brillo Nuevo

In this community full of artisans who weave crafts, one often sees strands of chambira palm leaves draped over a clothesline to bleach in the sun next to wet clothes. Because it rains so often, it make take several days for the clothes to dry. The top interruption at a workshop is people rushing off to bring in the clothes if a heavy rain begins to fall. 


I first learned to fish at the pond in front of my grandfather’s house in Connecticut. Ever since I started coming to the Amazon, I have enjoyed fishing in the small rivers that flow by almost every village. It is always a humbling experience to go out with a local person sine they inevitably catch five to ten times as many fish as me. Accepting this reality with grace has allowed me to still enjoy every chance I can to spend a morning or whole day on the water soaking in whatever nature has to offer.

The evening after our AVP workshop finished in Brillo Nuevo, Exiles took my fishing tackle and set to work. He pounded the little split shot weights I had into thin flat pieces since they fit more securely around a line. The next morning, he wandered off from the house and returned half an hour later with an empty tuna fish can full of little worms. We went down to the river to wait for Brito who was going to need to borrow a peque peque (wooden motor canoe) since had already loaned his to someone else. When it was clear he was going to be later than we thought, we tossed in our lines by the bank. I was happy that I caught three tiny (5 to 6 inch long) catfish in quick succession. I threw back two and kept one for bait.

When Brito arrived Exiles got in the front of the canoe. I sat in the middle wooden seat while Brito’s daughter joined him in the rear. Exiles was my most frequent fishing companion when I visited his community of Chino on the Tahuayo River so it was a thrill to go out with both him and Brito who was my regular fishing partner in Brillo Nuevo. We headed down the Yaguasyacu River for about half an hour before tying up to a branch facing a wide deep section of the stream. To be clear, this was not a great time to be fishing in the river because when the waters rise during the rainy season, many fish go deeper into the flooded forest where falling fruit and other sources of food are more abundant.

Brito with a catfish caught in the Yaguasyacu River near Brillo Nuevo


Brito and Exiles both started fishing with worms while I started with the cut fish bait hoping this might help me hook a larger fish. This theory was quickly cut short as Brito landed a foot long catfish on his first cast of his hand line. Over the next hour, he pulled ten more whiskered fish of various sizes to my two small ones with Exiles getting none.

I could attribute my modest success to different bait and less experience, but why was Exiles striking out completely? Did Brito’s forward position in the boat give him superior access to the fishing meandering below? Had he learned a better subtle way to hook catfish in the Ampiyacu than Exiles in the Tahuayo? There was not enough data for my scientific brain to answer these questions. I got a few big bites, but failed to set the hook in time to bring them in.

When activity slowed down, we moved farther downstream to another deep and wide stretch where Exiles finally started catching a few. I abandoned my use of the tired fish bait and switched to the worms.

We moved one more time and got a good uptick in catch of a different kind of catfish with some distinct black markings.

When a dark cloud moved toward us, I stowed my cell phone, put on my poncho and kept fishing since I've had some of my best success fishing in the rain. I was not disappointed this time as I caught my biggest catfish of the day just as the rain reached us.

While the torrent was quick to reach us, it was not in a hurry to pass us by. While keeping a grip on my line with my left hand, I made my only significant contribution to the outing by bailing of water from the middle of the boat with the top half of a large soda bottle for over half an hour straight. When it was obvious we were done fishing, Brito suggested we head back to the village to make our 2 pm meeting with the artisans. I said, “Si, vamos!”

Back at the house we got dry. I was amazed how quickly and efficiently Exiles and Marianela cleaned and scored the 15 or so catfish that Exiles and I brought back. We had a very tasty dinner of fried catfish.

 Preparing catfish for dinner at Brillo Nuevo


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