The immigration and customs documents were typical, tiny boxes in which to write especially for someone with my name, so much so it rendered them so tiny they seemed pointless. Arrival was very easy, not too many people, no queues, and through I went. The immigration documents are like the old US green documents for Brits and Australians where they rip off the bottom and leave it in your passport. Don’t lose it because the hotels want it every time, as do the staff at airports. There was no request to see evidence of having yellow fever jabs: I am not suggesting not bothering but I had it all ready and was not asked for it. Everyone has to press a button at customs to see if you get lucky and require your bags to be checked. It seemed that almost everyone got lucky but even if you did get a green light, you got checked anyhow!
Out in to the airport and there was a very jolly Hugo with his Tsimane cap on, full of enthusiasm, a really friendly, willing, happy face. We waited 30 minutes at the café for the some of my group and loaded into cars and headed to the Los Tajibos Hotel and Convention Centre. Check-in was fine, provided I had my green immigration stub and off into the labyrinth of rooms before meeting up with the whole team. Lucky Peter, my fishing partner was there already having arrived through Sao Paulo earlier, whilst I had come from Buenos Aires. Sao Paulo is the best and easiest route, 11 hours overnight flight and then 3 hours to Santa Cruz, unless you want to go and shoot in Argentina first, in which case it is 14 hours overnight and 3 hours north to Santa Cruz. See here about shooting, it makes for a great trip.
There are two convenient options for really good food within five minutes walk or less of the hotel. Option one is Los Hierros (www.los-hierros.com) for great meat including meat from Argentina and good salads etc; option two is Jardin de Asia for Asian and sushi and tepanyaki (www.jardindeasia.com). The latter is attached to the hotel and dinner can be signed for. The hotel had the fastest Wi-fi of anywhere I have ever been!
Our instructions from Hugo were to be ready for a 9.30am departure but it was raining heavily so the team ended up sitting about in the lobby waiting and hoping the weather would clear which it did. (Note: wear your flats trousers and wading boots for the journey as you will be walking through some mud and will be getting in and out of a boat on mud and shingle.) We clambered into one of those typical South American buses as if about to drive to Colombia for 48 hours on a gap year, but the journey to the El Trompillo charter airport was ten minutes shorter than the main airport at 20 minutes. There we were checked in for our flight to the Oromomo Indian Community and paid our $550 Indian fee (for which you are given a certificate which you should not lose) and our $120 Park fee – all in cash, which has to be US dollars. There was still some concern over getting out of Santa Cruz but the weather slowly improved and off we headed two or three in each of the aircraft, bags in others. We were eight going to Pluma Camp, and there were four going to Agua Negra Camp above the Secure river (pronounced Secure-ay) and another four going to Secure Camp. Four of them went to the airstrip but the rest of us flew to the Oromomo airstrip. The flight was about an hour and a half. On arrival Chuckie and Emeliano, our managers, were there to greet us as were lots of locals and many children who obviously know that the pilots bring them sweets on Saturdays. Once we were all unloaded and had our Park certificates checked, it was a short ten-minute walk to the boats to head to our camps. The boats were long and wooden, the shape reminding me of an Alta boat from northern Norway but built differently and much heavier. This one built from hard wood, the other, from the north, of soft wood. The journey to Pluma Camp was about an hour and half but this depends on the water height and therefore necessary stops to walk around the shallower water. It took us up the Secure to the junction of the Pluma and Secure and then on up the Pluma. The weather was now sunny and it was a great trip in classic jungle/rainforest scenery. The boat had one of those superb Yeti coolers thus some nice cold drinks for the journey. The climb from the shingle/mud beach up to the camp is up a flight of mud and stone steps and is a 30-40 foot climb. The staff grabbed all the bags and soon we were settling in to our very comfortable rooms, which was remarkable. Let me explain why.
I am not sure of the exact date but just over 60 days from our arrival, the old Pluma Camp had been washed away. The river had been blocked by fallen trees in a flood, the water had backed up and come through the camp from the land side, not the river side and had completely destroyed it, breaking up the buildings and destroying the camp beyond repair. The conclusion was that it would be quicker to build a new one than to try and sort out the old one especially given that the old one was clearly vulnerable. So, having cancelled the first two weeks, here we were in a brand new camp, which was rainforest 60 days before. They had done an incredible job.
We had nicely furnished rooms, great bathrooms, hot water, working fans etc. There are five guest rooms, each with two good-sized comfortable beds, which can be made into a double if required. The linen is equally good with a sheet and duvet. I used the duvet half the time and not the rest. Each bed has a side table with a light, torch and solar light for after the generator has gone off. The pillows were really good too. The other side of the room has two shelving units and then there is plenty of hanging space (with some hangers) in the hallway as one enters the bathroom. A robe and slippers are also supplied here.
The power sockets for charging cameras etc are behind the beds or shelving units. The electrical sockets are the North American style, with two flat vertical pins but angled and all UK electrically powered devices work fine with a simple travel plus adaptor as the supply is 220 and 110 volts 50 Hz. The bathroom is equally well equipped, a good sink, a big mirror, decent sized shower, not the most powerful flow of water but good enough. Shampoo and bottled soap is supplied. The room has a good big fan with five settings. The power comes on at about 6.15am and goes off later in the evening after we have all gone to bed. I was asleep six out of seven nights before the power went off and things have cooled decidedly so the fan stopping (which was a concern for me) is not the end of the world. There is a large meshed window at the back in the lobby to the bathroom and almost the whole of the front of the room is mesh with blinds, which come down to your personal adjustment. If both are open, maximum flow of air is achieved during the day, but you will wish to close them for privacy and darkness at night.
The rooms keep the bugs out well and the lodge does fumigate from time to time but if you are very focused on the bugs (which generally were not bad during our stay) add a portable mosquito killer (https://www.lifesystems.co.uk/product/insect-repellents/portable-mosquito-killer) to your packing – they are battery powered, light and last a whole week and do a good job of clearing the room if you switch them on when you come back from fishing each evening. The bugs really were not that bad but you do need to ‘deet-up’ to minimize bites – I think I sustained 11 bites for the week which includes a few while standing next to the thick jungle one evening taking pictures of the lodge. Once the sun is up, the insects pretty much disappear especially out on the river. To minimize sand-fly bites all fishing clothes should be sprayed with Permethrin and allowed to dry before you leave home. They say this will last for six washes but between wading and sweating and a few washes in camp, it is questionable whether it might not be a bad idea to re-spray mid-week. In the mornings, ‘lube up’ with spray on any exposed skin and then apply sunscreen as well. In the evenings also spray exposed skin to be cautious particularly around the ankles. Here is a summary from a client who does not react well to bites thus has his routine down to perfection…!
I react very badly to insect bites and therefore take great care to protect myself. I use the following regime. All clothing treated with Permethrin a few days before packing. Wear trousers and long sleeve tops in the evening with long socks. Close bedroom door as much as possible, and turn all lights off when going for dinner. Keep bathroom door closed when sleeping. Use the small battery machine at night, turning on when I get in from fishing and off when I wake up. After showering when I wake up, I spray all over with Lifesystems Expedition Insect repellant 100+ and rub in. I allow to dry before going for breakfast as I don’t want 100+ on my fly lines later on. Before leaving for fishing I apply sunscreen then mist all over with Avon Skin so Soft. During the day I re-apply the Avon Skin so Soft every 3 hours or so. After fishing and showering I spray all over with Lifesystems Midge Mosquito repellant 50, rub in well, get dressed then mist with Avon before leaving the room. I believe the Deet deters the insects from biting once they land on you, whereas the Avon has perfume type smell that actually deters all but the most determined from coming close to you. Avon won’t destroy your fly lines. In the whole week I only received one bite and was able to sit outside on the veranda in the evenings when it was buggy without being pestered.
For the one bite I had on my forearm, providing you notice the bite within the first 15 to 30 minutes, I use a Zap-it piezo electric impulse clicker (available in all supermarkets for about £5) then rub in antihistamine cream and spray with Jungle bite and sting relief. The bites disappear over night and don’t itch at all.
Summary of Insect Equipment
Lifesystems EX4 Anti-mosquito (for fabrics) – spare bottle to top up
Lifesystems Expedition Insect repellant 100+
Lifesystems Midge Mosquito repellant 50
Avon Skin so Soft x 2
Zap-it Electric pulse clicker
Jungle bite sting relief
We settled in and enjoyed a good first dinner and planned for a first fishing day putting up rods etc with the guides. This might be the time to examine in depth what equipment to bring in terms of clothing and fishing equipment keeping in mind the preferred weight limit of 25 kg plus hand luggage for the flights to and from camp. I broke all the rules with huge cameras, lenses and my laptop etc and to be honest it was all a pain because of carrying it and I was concerned for its welfare all the time. Others brought smaller laptops and cameras and/or iPads. While we are on the subject, there was slow Wi-fi and reliable telephone if needed.
Let me be really clear, based on my experience anything you take on the boat or canoe for the day is going to get wet and gritty with sand or mud. You may carry a backpack if walking up the smaller rivers, but more often a dugout canoe, with water and sand in the bottom, is your base and it is simply a fact that anything not in a waterproof pack or boat bag WILL get wet and gritty. There is too much of both around each day to avoid it. Consequently, item number one on your list of packing needs to be a waterproof pack or bag that is big enough to hold whatever you intend to take with you each day. Make it big enough so you do not have to dig around too much. Check it is waterproof in the bath and if it is not then send it back… it needs to be!
You basically only need two fishing outfits. The staff willingly wash one while you are out on the river in the other and, assuming they were given it the evening of use, it should be back in your room the next evening ready for the next day. Everything gets damp in these humid conditions, and unless they have been in the dryer they will feel like they have not been dried properly, that is simply the humidity of the environment. From top down, I would recommend the following:
A cap or hat that is effective in the sun and rain and works with a Go-Pro camera if you intend to use one.
A lightweight waterproof jacket with a hood – I like the Acklins Jacket.
A buff for neck, lip and cheek sun protection – I wore it most for neck but it was nice to have when the sun was dropping and had some real burning power.
Lightweight fishing shirts – I prefer the Solar Flex Crewneck by Simms, go for the darker, camo colours as you will hopefully be stalking fish in very clear water but others will prefer the traditional fishing shirts with the higher collar for possible added neck sun protection.
Sun gloves for sun protection and also useful for stripping finger protection.
You are wading wet so both are going to get wet, but I prefer shorts over the leggings designed to dry quickly yet protect you from sun and bites while minimizing drag while wading. They really did work well and they are not hot when dry – have a look at Nike Hypercool Running Tights.
Wading socks – these help fill your wading boots and add comfort.
Wading boots with felt soles. There is much debate about studs versus no studs but no debate about felt which is a must. I did not find the wading that slippery so did not use the studs I brought with me. It might be that the rocks become more slippery as the season goes on. I used the Simms Rivertek 2 Boa Foot Felt which worked well but I did need to open up the Boa closure system to clean out the mud so do remember the tool they supply to do this.
For the evenings, any lightweight, comfortable clothing will suffice, the lodge is not smart so the key is to be cool and comfortable. You are walking on wooden decking to and from the sitting/dining room.
Let’s talk tackle…
I will come to the fishing later but we only had high water and what I am suggesting takes account for lower conditions too.
In high water the flies you are casting are either big and quite heavy and/or not very aero-dynamic, sometimes both. Therefore I ended up preferring my 9 weight with weight forward saltwater line. All lines need to be saltwater, freshwater lines will go soft in the heat.
I would therefore bring:
I would bring a spare of one of these – perhaps whichever is your preferred rod. Some might argue for a 10 weight but I think a 9 weight is perfect.
I would bring a sink-tip for one of them – perhaps a Teeny 250.
I would consider a double-handed rod but it needs to be a stiff rod that will over-head cast well. No matter how good you are, I think Spey-casting will struggle to cast the big heavy flies with the wire leader, but to be able to double-hand cast them would be useful, there is usually enough space behind you.
Your reel needs to have a good drag, saltwater reels are likely the best. Tons of backing is not necessary because of the nature of the river and the ability to follow fish on foot or boat.
Your leader ideally needs to be about 1.5 metres of 40lbs Seaguar for high water with 30lbs and 25lbs for lower water. Attached to that via an albright knot or, if you are using a popper, use a 70lbs micro-swivel to stop the line twisting. I ended up using the swivel system all the time, it saved on using too much Seaguar and made it quicker to put new wire on and get on with fishing. Attached to your Seaguar needs to be 30lbs Rio knotable wire tippit, bring some 20 or 25lbs for lower, clearer water. Wire tippet is non-negotiable! It has to be changed after each fish as it is so damaged.
Flies and fly size of course vary according to water conditions. It is therefore tough to come prepared for all conditions. You would need to bring a huge number of flies to cover yourself. My recommendation is to take a selection but also ask to be put in touch with the guides and they can prepare a selection for you for the prevailing conditions. The flies are basically big streamer patterns acting as baitfish imitations, often with popper or muddler heads to move more water. They often have bead chain or bell eyes in size 2/0 – 4/0, some 4 to 8 inches long. Some have rabbit tails, others long schlappen hackle feathers, few are marabou because it shrinks too much to nothing. Best colours are black, black with red, yellow, purple or orange. The flies should be tied to the wire with the ‘perfect loop’ knot for maximum movement and security.
Summary of flies:
NYAPs (Not Your Average Popper)
Pole Dancer (Popper)
Chernobyl Ants (Popper)
Titanic Slider (Popper)
Recommended fly tier is Rupert Harvey – firstname.lastname@example.org
Guide to contact for flies is Luciano Saldise – Lucianosaldise@hotmail.com
Summary of other recommended tackle and equipment:
Seaguar Tippet 20 lbs
Seaguar Tippet 25 lbs
Seaguar Tippet 35 lbs
Seaguar Tippet 40 lbs
Wire Tippet 20 lbs
Wire Tippet 30 lbs
Wire Tippet 40 lbs
Belt for hanging equipment
Fly roll for big flies
Waterproof hip bag – or this one.
Pliers or something to cut and pull heavy nylon and wire.
2 pairs of polaroid sunglasses
Sunglasses cleaner and cloth
Knife with tools
Waterproof tech pouch for camera, phone or camera cleaner.
Wading stick – very useful especially when the water is not clear.
Stripping guards for fingers
Camera – waterproof preferred
SD card and spare
GoPro Camera with spare SD, batteries, head and chest harness and pole, moisture pads and flotation pad
Zip-lock bags for anything that you want to keep out of the humidity – paperwork, clothing perhaps
Flight details and itinerary from Frontiers
Evidence of yellow fever vaccination or certificate of exemption
Wallet with cash for tips – approx. 5% of land package plus occasional other tips in hotels etc – USD is best
Travel Insurance papers
This all sounds like a lot of stuff but putting laptops and huge cameras aside, it will come in at 25kg and one bag.
Next instalment will be the story of our fishing experiences…