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Sep 19, 2013

Catching Piranhas in the Amazon

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

A Norwegian-Indian adventurer goes looking for deadly piranhas in the Amazon. Here’s a first-hand account of the river’s lure

By Sagar Sen

Piranhas (1978) was probably one of the first B-grade horror movies my parents took me to during my childhood days in Bangalore, India. If I can recall, I saw it in a makeshift movie theatre on the badminton courts of the Indian Institute of Science Gymkhana. The bloody carnage of the piranhas was forever etched in my memories. They were a horde of carnivorous fish that could devour a human in minutes and turn the water blood red.
Twenty years later, in July 2013, I find myself in Brazil for a computer science conference- one step nigher to spotting the piranha from close quarters! Whenever I think of South America, I think of the Amazonas. One, for the movie ‘Piranhas’ and the other, my childhood fascination for a not-so-well-known adventure game from Sierra Entertainment called Ecoquest 2: The Lost Secret of the Rainforest.
Coming to Brazil instantly meant a chance to venture into the Amazonian rainforest. The Amazonas stretch up to 5.5 million square kilometers, spanning countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It’s more than the half of Europe. Amazonas is mostly unchartered and its mysteries lie beneath a thick green canopy.

GETTING TO THE AMAZONAS

Rio de Janeiro is a popular hub for arrivals to Brazil. We decided to fly to Manaus, Amazonas from Rio. As far as lodging was concerned, we looked up a trip advisor and zeroed in on a company Amazon Gero Tours. Our modest choice for lodging, food and activities cost us 600 BRL (270 USD) for 4 days and 3 nights in a hammock. On arrival, we were picked up at the airport and taken to Ararinha Jungle Lodge, about 100 km south of Manaus. The trip to the lodge itself is fascinating- a boat ride from Rio Negro to the Amazon river. Followed by a one hour long bus ride, and then again a canoe ride in dense forests to Paraná do Mamori.

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THE PIRANHA-FISHING EXPERIENCE

Eco-tourism in the Amazon involves a wide range of activities including spending a night in the jungle, spotting/swimming with pink dolphins, bird watching and jungle treks, to name a few. Nevertheless, fishing for Piranhas is one of the most unique experiences you can have in the Amazonas. Osmar and Fabiano, our jungle guides, took us to a shady lagoon on the Mamori lake. They called it the ‘Piranha Place’ and asked us promptly: “Who wants to swim?”.

Of course everyone on the boat had seen the movie and preferred staying dry. Osmar handed us a bag of bait, essentially small chunks of raw meat and a fishing rod with a hook.  The technique to catch piranhas is to stick a small piece of meat to the hook, perturb the water with the fishing rod and drop the hook. One must ensure that the fishing cord is tense and not loose. When piranhas start nibbling on the meat, one must be able to sense the vibrations in the fingers and give a jerk to hook the piranha.

Despite all this technical know-how, I managed to catch only one piranha. They are stealthy and nibble away the meat with their razor sharp teeth with astonishing speed. Our Argentinian friend Jose caught one but it came off the hook and started jumping around in the boat. He tried to catch it with his bare hands and instantly got bit by the piranha on his index finger with blood oozing out of the gashes in an ellipse. Osmar told us that two places in the Amazonas one wouldn’t even dare swimming in, are ‘Queen’s lake’ and ‘Piranha Lake’. We caught about 15 fish in total but put them back in the lake.

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To call it a day, we went into the lake for a swim, a little far away from the piranha habitation. Osmar explained to us that it wouldn’t be advisable to do the same in the dry season. Nevertheless, it’s uncommon for humans to eat carnivorous creatures. However, one can try the piranha soup or Caldo de Piranha (it’s a popular Brazilian delicacy). This whole experience helped to single out truth from reality about the piranhas. It taught me how to live with them in harmony, more like a symbiotic relationship- you don’t mess with them, they don’t harm you!
Image © Sagar Sen

Place
Manaus, Amazonas

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Travel

Mar 19, 2019

Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?

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This article originally appeared in The Avalanche Review, a trade and scientific journal serving the American Avalanche Association Membership. It was written by Scott Savage, Simon Trautman, Ethan Greene, and Doug Chabot.

Riding in the sidecountry is fun, and it is marketable. Google ‘sidecountry’ and you get 438,000 search results. As more people recreate in the sidecountry, ski areas promote it, equipment manufacturers capitalize on it, riders benefit through new technology and increased availability, the media eats it up, more people want the experience and WHAM! – we are lost somewhere in a very successful feedback loop. Ski area avalanche professionals and backcountry avalanche forecasters, however, are scratching their heads about how to deal with the phenomena; do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive in its tracks or do we embrace the term, shape the definition to benefit our mission, and attempt to harness its branding power to educate the various user groups that recreate in terrain adjacent to ski areas?

One of the great slopes on Gornergrat with plenty of sidecountry opportunities, near the top, with the ever-distracting Matterhorn in the distance. Location: Zermatt. By Doc Searls Santa Barbara, USA

Currently, defining sidecountry is similar to defining pornography; people disagree on a formal definition but you know it when you see it. In our opinion, sidecountry is very useful term for describing a certain combination of human behavior and geography. It is intuitive because most people understand that sidecountry refers to the terrain adjacent to ski area boundaries. This terrain is easily accessed, easily “lapped”, and in many cases highly visible. Observing this reality and thinking about the term in a geographical and behavioral sense is important because it showcases the idea that sidecountry terrain is used differently than backcountry terrain, and as such, suggests that sidecountry users may have different needs than those traditionally addressed in avalanche education. We believe that using the term benefits avalanche professionals by allowing them to relate to audiences and be succinct when speaking, writing, or educating on sidecountry topics.

“Sidecountry is backcountry”

“Sidecountry is backcountry” is a recently coined phrase that is also highly descriptive and accurate regarding particular aspects of sidecountry. Sidecountry avalanche rescue is effectively a backcountry rescue – regardless of the proximity to a ski area, organized rescue may not arrive in time. Since ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain, the phrase is probably an effective tool to communicate avalanche danger, especially to novice and casual sidecountry users. “Sidecountry is backcountry” is a simple message that is easy to understand. There is power in this: power to educate, power to simplify, power to feel that one is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a simple problem or a singular, simple user group.

Ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain.

Novice, casual, and experienced sidecountry users have different levels of expertise, attitudes, decision-making techniques, and educational needs. In addition, novice and casual users are highly influenced by experienced users. A cursory look at recent sidecountry accident and near-miss reports reveals that experienced sidecountry users appear to be involved more frequently than the less experienced individuals. The experienced group generally visits the same sidecountry terrain frequently enough to become familiar with terrain features, may actively manage or mitigate avalanche hazard (slope cuts, cornice drops, etc.), and at times may have more intimate knowledge of the slope-scale snowpack structure and stability than local avalanche professionals. Most importantly, an “I’m going there because it’s there and I want to ski” attitude seems to be common; experienced users access the terrain and then decide whether to mitigate or avoid hazard or just forge ahead. Will telling these more risk tolerant individuals that “sidecountry is backcountry” reduce their risk? Will it help us communicate with them? Sidecountry may be the same as backcountry in some ways, but routine sidecountry users and backcountry users are disparate user groups.

Skilled, experienced professional avalanche educators can create effective sidecountry-specific educational programs and presentations. As we have learned while reaching out to snowmobilers, relevancy is everything. Just as force-feeding traditional avalanche education to someone who never gets off their sled is ineffective, so too is drawing a “backcountry box” around someone who skis out-of-bounds 50 days a year, but rarely or never uses skins or established backcountry stability evaluation and decision-making techniques. Sidecountry is a growth market for snow sports equipment and clothing manufacturers, and these companies may be interested in supporting educational and outreach efforts to sidecountry users (their customers). Instead of abandoning or over-simplifying the term, maybe the ski and avalanche community would be well served to take advantage of the strong, established sidecountry brand by partnering with the media and outdoor gear retail industry to accomplish the following:

  1. Define sidecountry as the unique geographical and behavioral issue that it is, focusing on the specific dangers associated with sidecountry recreation
  2. Identify and define specific user groups
  3. Tailor, market, and promote user group specific educational programs

The term ‘sidecountry’ is descriptive, intuitive, and useful. We agree with the recent NSAA Journal Editorial “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Sidecountry’ ” that the avalanche and snowsports communities must better communicate that riders are on their own when they leave ski area boundaries. Our common goals are to educate the public on the inherent risk of avalanches outside that boundary and to help users reduce their risk in this terrain. In our opinion, we can enhance communication by acknowledging the difference in behavior and risk tolerance between user groups, by identifying and targeting the needs of those groups, and by partnering with those that have the marketing and promotional power to deliver the message.

Read Next: Charge Hard, Stay Smart: Guidebook Guru, Fritz Sperry, on Safety in Avy-Prone Backcountry.

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