Friday, March 24, 2017

Havana, Cuba... Part One

From Miami International Airport, we were wheels up at noon. We quickly climbed over the Keys and in 37 minutes we were touching down in Havana, Cuba. You hear all your life how close Cuba is, but until you make this flight, it just doesn't register viscerally.

We sauntered through immigration where we had our visas and passports checked, then we dropped off our health certificate/insurance form at a little make-shift table before we went through customs and suddenly, we were good-to-go. Our cabdriver, Oscar was waiting for us with our name on a sign. He grabbed our bag and we marched to his bright yellow Kia for the 40 minute drive to Havana. The four lane highway taking us into the city was virtually deserted until we came into the outskirts, then it became increasingly more busy with buses, taxis and cars buzzing about.

Old Havana from the other side of Havana Bay

All pretty normal stuff.... what wasn't normal were the vehicles. You've heard about it, but nothing quite prepares you for this visual feast. The majority of the vehicles were from the 50's: Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, Chevys, Fords and a few Edsels, Packards and Studebakers thrown in for good measure. These steel behemoths were often painted in startling pinks, oranges and yellows; quite stunning after leaving our shiny late model world of charcoal, white and grey cars.

As we made our way past bleak apartments and weathered Soviet-inspired buildings often with white busts of Lenin as prevalent as lawn jockeys in the U.S. in the 50's, we passed monuments to the revolution and to Fidel and Che Guevera. It wasn't long before we began to see more and more examples of the famous Havana Colonial Period architecture. Soon, we turned on the main boulevard, the Prado, which is lined with Baroque buildings some dating back to the early Spanish Colonial times. These buildings house hotels, cafes and small, often rundown, apartments.

The infamous Hotel Nacional.. reputed to be controlled by mobsters the 50's

We unloaded at our hotel right on the Prado, dumped our gear in our room and quickly made our way to Le Paseo del Prado. We could see the splendidly domed National Capitol Building (now under restoration) which is virtually across the street from residences in apartments many which are bedraggled, some even have upper floors collapsed into rubble. It is common to see apartments festooned with laundry garlands draped over cast-iron balconies next to hotels catering to affluent European and American clients.

On the Prado

Over the next three days, Sara and I explored Havana. Our trip was simply superb. We walked virtually the entire length of Old Havana never once feeling threatened or nervous. When we were tired of walking, we caught a classic car taxi or hired a tricycle to more leisurely take in the city. Everywhere we went, the people were open and wanting to talk about America, Cuba and the lifting of the embargo.

Many of the outdoor cafes offered terrific music

Mojito: sugar, lots of bruised mint, Havana Club Rum and soda

Our meals were terrific. We ate at small cafes and family owned paladars. The mojitos, as well as the sights and sounds were at times, overwhelming. 

Sara had brought school supplies, scrunchies for  girl's hair, and baseball cards for the fans we had heard were so dedicated in Cuba. One of the most meaningful highlights of our trip, was the passing out of these goodies. I would suggest to anyone wanting to visit Cuba to bring some similar presents.

School supplies elicit big smiles
Havana was on our bucket list... we didn't scratch it off with this trip... we intend to return another day.
....From here, I'll let the photos do the talking except for a few specific events that require a bit of explanation.

When the baseball guys (who meet daily at the Parque Central to discuss their national sport) realized we were passing out free cards, the smiles got bigger and bigger.

Sara gets a baseball lesson from one of the experts.

Checking out the stats on the back of a card.

We should have brought more!

And then there were the scrunchies... man did these lovely little girls love the scrunchies! Mom was thrilled too!

...and they weren't a hit just with children!

We met these young ladies outside the Museum of the Revolution. Sara offered them the last of her hair scrunchies. Two of the girls (who I suspect were sisters) got into a tug-of-war over a scrunchie. They laughed shyly, then fought good-naturedly and finally were reduced to giggles. 


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Agua Boa River Trip Report 2017

All the links to all our annual trips since 2006 are at the bottom of this page.

After meeting in Manaus, Brazil we spent the following day catching up on some much needed sleep, visiting the fish market and enjoying a wonderful meal at our favorite restaurant Choupana. (for more info see the bottom of the page). 

Surabim catfish
Geez, really?

Early the next morning, we were wheels up at 7:00 AM and on our way to the Agua Boa River. One hour and 45 minutes later, we touched down on the asphalt strip carved out of the jungle. As we taxied up, we could see our old friends Carlos and Charlie, as well as many of the guides we have come to know so well over the years. After a quick breakfast, we were in the boats ready to begin our seven days of exploring this amazing area in the vast Amazon Basin.

From the get-go, it was obvious our water conditions were going to be very different than last year’s trip during the drought. We could see we were going to have plenty of water this year. We were told it had rained hard the week before we arrived and the water of the Agua Boa River was high and cool. Given expectations generated by 10 years worth of trips, our first two days were disappointing for some of us. Then, as the weather improved and the water’s warmed, things began looking up.

Important to have your fishing license.

Because you'll never know when the authorities might show up!


Paca tail


Most of the following days were terrific for smaller borboleta (butterfly) and paca (spotted) peacocks, but the bigger temensis (aka tucanare) peacocks, the 10+ lb big boys, were elusive. We speculated that last year’s drought may have been hard on these bigger fish forcing them to retreat to deeper pools or leave the river system entirely.

We caught many 5-8 lb. fish leading us to speculate that in a couple years, there will be many big fish back in the system. Of course, we could be entirely wrong as with all the water, the bigger fish could have been way up in lagoon systems or hunting deep in the flooded forrest where we could not reach them. To lend credence to this argument, on our last two days, I began seeing bigger fish prowling up smaller streams in areas where we simply could not get a boat due to the overgrowth. The good news was that many of the lagoons we could not access last year due to the low water were easily accessible if you had a good guide, a chain saw and a machete!

Double Boga

On one day I wrote:

Zezinho (ZZ), Doug Jeffries and I left shortly after dawn. Our skiff was packed with water, gas, sandwiches, four cookies, five fly rods, too damn much camera gear, a chain saw and a homemade machete. After an hour or so run downriver towards the Rio Branco, we veered off the Agua Boa and slid to a halt at the mouth of a hidden lagoon system. 

ZZ hacking our way in

A 6 lb temensis
Zezinho hacked at the logs and tree limbs blocking our way until we finally reached a clearwater ox-bow. Those on hand to cheer us on were were pink dolphins, a few large caiman, a bunch of chattering giant Amazonian otters, two slinky manatees, and a slew of very busy capuchin monkeys. Blue and yellow macaws, hoatin, parrots, nightjars and osprey also made some specific comments concerning our performance.

Blue and gold macaws
Cocoi Heron
A 2 foot long lizard that was gone before we could identify it. Look at those claws!
In the afternoon, we were slammed by a strong thunderstorm that came complete with hail (a rarity in the Amazon). The no-see-ums were at times obnoxious and my wasp sting from the day before itched like hell. 
So all things considered, it was a perfect day! 
And we did manage to catch a few feisty peacocks along the way...

Peacock on a red/white whistler

Doug Ellis
Mike Schwartz
We predominantly fished with intermediate tips (Rio WF8F/I) probing any structure and the faster seams. In deeper runs we used sink tips (Rio 250 gr. Leviathan WF8S). We did get a few chances to sightfish  suspended peacocks in shallow lagoons. We mostly threw lightly weighted streamers (bead chain eyes) in red/white, orange/red, tan/pink and green/white with a considerable amount of flash like whistlers. 

Coboclo with a healthy peacock
Whistler strikes again

Doug Jeffries releasing a spotted pecock

We had many encounters with a wide variety of wildlife, but not as many as in year’s past. I’m sure the rainy weather forced many animals deep to seek cover in the jungle. On the sunny days later in the week, we definitely saw more birds and animals. Having said that we spotted many capuchin monkeys, agouti, tapir, lots of giant otter, deer, jaguarundi, dolphin and the black and spectacled caiman were regularly seen. Many beautiful birds were spotted up and downriver which always makes a boat ride more enjoyable. We saw channel billed toucans,  jabiru storks, black collared hawks, cocoi heron, sun bitterns, macaws, kingfishers, eagles, as well as many others. In addition to these various species of peacock bass mentioned above, we also caught jacunda, bicuda, piranha and pacu.

Capuchin monkeys

Despite the at times, challenging conditions, we had a great time. the fishing was good if not great, the guides, staff, accommodations and fun level, better than great. Many thanks to our terrific group: Mike Schwartz, Doug Jeffries, Anna Riggs, Doug Ellis and Scott Sawtelle. See most of you soon in the Bahamas!...and to the staff at the Agua Boa Lodge especially Carlos and Charlie many thanks for all your help. 

And finally, a special thanks to all the guides: Juarez, Samuel, Bacaba, Imao, Joseph (Zezinho), Preto and Caboclo and Riccardo…. you guys were great as always!!

Coboclo at the casting competition
Joseph aka Zezinho aka ZZ
Anna with the crew

Preto striking a clasic pose

As promised:
Here is a complete listing of all previous trip reports which include hundreds of photos!

(And then there was this:
While I was getting organized in Manaus for our flight into the Agua Boa River, I watched an American Idol knockoff on TV. The show was called Bimbo Mix. Lots of bad singing, crying contestants and skimpy outfits. Who said we don't export anything anymore?)

*For those interested in Choupana restaurant  I would order the piraroucu fish soup and our favorite fish Tambaqui grilled. You will enjoy some of the best fish in the world.