Where I’d Rather Be on Monday – by Ed Stafford, aged 34 (nearly 35)
I’m writing this from a small dark flat in south west London where the sky outside is grey and the day won’t last more than a handful of hours. If I had the time I would rather be back in the Amazon with my good friend Cho.
I’d like to be miles from the nearest community camped by an oxbow lake having walked there for some days. But today would be a day off from walking. Today we need to catch as many fish as possible so that we can
gut them, salt them and dry them above the fire to carry with us on our trek. The lake is stocked full of caiman too so we need to be slightly aware as we wade into the waters to position the gill net to maximise
our catch. The gill net is easy to use: tie one end to a branch along the shore and then wade or paddle using the packrafts to strech out the 20 metre net to another branch. The net’s top line has floats attached
to it whilst the bottom line of the net is weighted so the net hangs from the surface of the water like a curtain. Every now and again we wade up to the net and lift sections out of the water to see if any fish
have been trapped.
More than often there is a small piranha or similar fish that you have to firmly grab from behind, being very aware of where the teeth are, and work the nylon net out of the gills and try and avoid
making a hole in the net. Once freed, the piranha needs to be dispatched with a quick blow with the back of a machete to the head and then it goes in the fish bag on my back as I wade down the net looking for more.
Cho’s better with the hook and line than I am and its vital we stock up on this valuable protein during our day off so he’s fishing from his packraft in the middle of the lake with a large hook and a wire leader. The “leader” is a section of wire that attaches to the hook in order that the piranhas don’t bite the hook clean off. He’s fishing with chunks of piranha now, although he started this morning with a couple of worms. Its slow work but Cho is in his element.
We reconvene on the banks of the large lake and gut the fish on the waters edge with the vast trees and vines dripping down around us. Its warm and we are clothed in just shorts with bare feet and we work
through the pile of fresh fish clinically. Cutting down the back of the fish first and opening them like kippers. Once each fish is also salted and the cuts on our hands are stinging wildly from the salt I make a
fire whilst Cho constructs a drying/smoking rack.
The thirty something fish will last us a few days and we are satisfied with the catch. We put on some coffee and sit back and admire our efforts to keep ourselves alive and healthy. We don’t talk that much but
its not necessary, we both respect the other hugely and take pride in what we’re doing. We’ve been walking for 20 months by this point and have another eight months ahead. With a walk of this scale you can’t
hurry, its not a journey as much as it is a new part of our lives.
We sip the sweet coffee and look out across the lake as the sun starts to dip behind the trees on the far side of the lake. Feeding fish create rings on the still brown surface and the sky turns warm orange as the
shadows lengthen. The sounds of the jungle increase and we check on the fire, that we’ll keep alight all night, and turn in to our hammocks. Far from being a green hell the jungle is now somewhere we are truly happy and relaxed.
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