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The Jungle Beat

The day started much like the previous days. I was awake well before dawn, pondering the nature of the nightmares that had plagued me in this place. I could not make sense of them. I knew only that in each of the dreams, those things that I loved, those people that I loved each came to an end. I saw my mother killed, my father as well. I saw in my dreams all that I knew come crumbling down around me. I did not stay all night in the room. I put on a long sleeved shirt, long pants and slathered mosquito repellant on those parts still exposed and I walked down to the dock.

From there I watched the sun rise over the mouth of the Rio Indio from behind the ever-present cloudbank in the east. I watched as the dark clouds glowed with the early morning light and changed from an ominous presence of gloom and despair into a brilliant display of hope and beauty. I listened as the roosters began their morning revelry and the dogs barked to greet the day. I heard the stirrings of the others and soon the place was alive with activity. Breakfast would be ready soon. I went back to the room under the comfort and protection of daylight and changed my clothes once again. I packed up my gear, got my rainsuit ready and came back down the stairs to join the others for breakfast. They could not see the redness of my eyes, the black circles beneath them and the worry lines that surrounded them from beneath my sunglasses.

It was not long before the familiar sound of the small boat I had fished from the previous day could be heard in the distance. I hastily finished what I could of my breakfast, drank down my tea in one giant swallow and ran from the table to meet them at the dock. I could not get away fast enough. We waited as Peter and Dave got their stuff into the boat and we were all off together to San Juanillo.

San Juanillo is a large lake with a lot of mangrove like structure surrounding it. Peter and Dave headed to the opposite side from where Jaime positioned us. We made three or four casts before Bertie decided that he wanted to go someplace else, as he had no confidence in this place. We rode over and informed Peter and Dave that we would meet them at the Rain Goddess at around noon and left them in San Juanillo to enjoy their fishing day there. We were on our way to Silico, a place that Peter could not have followed us to had he wanted to. His boat was too large at 20 feet long and 8 feet wide. I did not quite understand just yet, but I would.

Back across San Juanillo we rode, and then as if by magic, a small opening appeared. I am not sure how Jaime was able to find it, but he did. Suddenly we found ourselves in a jungle passage, a thick canopy of trees and vines and mysteries surrounding us and a very narrow path of water beneath us. Jaime navigated the path with expertise and precision. I am not sure how long we were in this jungle labyrinth, but finally, after many apprehensive turns and twists and small openings, we found ourselves once again on a huge body of open water. Silico is another large lagoon like lake that looked much like San Juanillo. I would soon find out just how different it was.

We made several casts up against one shore before the wind picked up and made casting nearly impossible. We caught a few small guapote and a mojarra. Whitecaps formed on the still waters of the lake around us and Bertie decided that we should move once again. First though, we would take a short break on the other side of the lake. They wanted me to see something. We rounded a small corner of the lake and there along the bank, half submerged in the water was a small airplane. I do not know enough about airplanes to say what kind it was, but it had a propeller in front, barely sticking out of the water, the symbols on it too corroded to read. It was a one-seater type plane, and the large ammo cartridges under each wing still held small rockets in them. The Nicaraguan flag was barely legible from time and exposure on the rudder of the plane. The top of the plane was out of the water. It had obviously not fallen here. The ropes that held it to the shore were visible. I asked where it had fallen. For the first time in two days, Jaime spoke.

He told me that it was found by him in 1984, in the middle of the lake, only the tail end of it visible from the water. It had been shot down over the San Juan River and had somehow made it that far before going down. That was during the days of the Contra Wars. Jaime and other Rama Indians had been used by the Americans as guides and trackers during those wars. He had spent nearly four years in the jungles eating grubs and caterpillars and other creatures in an effort to support the Americans in those battles. Their support for the Americans was not necessarily because they thought our stance in the issues was the right one, but more for the fact that we were not Spanish. The Spanish had hunted them down many years ago, and since that time, they have been extremely anti-Spanish, to the point that even though Spanish is the official language, they will not speak it.

During the time of the Contra Wars, with the rise of the SandaNistas and other factions in the country, the Ramas decided that they would assist the Americans because of their English speaking armies, and the fact that they were both fighting against the same political bounds. For their efforts, they lost almost half of their population, and received nothing for their assistance. He went on to tell me about the raids, the battles, the man to man combats that ensued, with little of the war being fought in the air or on water, and about how horrible it was. He told of the rituals his people practiced to honor the dead and of how he had seen too many of his people killed. As he spoke, I could hear the gunfire in the jungles, echoing across almost 20 years. I could hear the cries of the wounded. I could feel the fear, the anger, the evil of the place.

We sat there beside the plane in silence. I smoked a cigarette and drank a bottle of water and still could not calm the nerves that twitched and jerked all over my body. Maybe I was just tired. I could not be sure, but I was extremely relieved when finally Jaime got off of the plane and back into the boat and we left. We had to pass through the jungle passage once again to get back to the other place we were off to try. This time through though, we would be fishing in the smaller openings within the passage.

As we approached the first, Bertie told me to get my rod ready. With shaking hands, I managed to tie on a new fly, a small tan shrimp pattern that I had had a lot of luck with previously and stripped some line off of the reel. I sat there waiting. Finally we came to a clearing in the jungle waters and I started to cast. There was not a lot of room for a backcast and the jungle canopy above us blocked out much of the light that I could use for sight fishing. I picked a tree to the side of us that had another small canal like passage running beside and began to roll cast out to it. The sound of the flyline cutting through the air in the otherwise still and silent jungle was like a whip cutting through the air, or the sound of the leather straps the Indians used to throw rocks with many moons ago. The sound of the bugs came from nowhere like voices from the past, busy voices that chastised and laid blame. I was terrified. I could hear the beating of the drums, loud and steady, first slowly, but as the seconds passed, they became faster and faster. The beat of the drums coursed through my body, I could feel each beat resonate through me. The screaming began, a voice as mystical as any I could have imagined, her cries ululating with the drums in a way that I knew a ritual was being performed somewhere nearby. I could feel the stinging hot coals on my body and found myself right in the middle of it all. I could almost see her there, dressed in her native attire, the men off to the side beating on the drums, beating and beating, harder and faster, harder and faster and I could feel the heat of the fire and the coals as they flew out of the fire and landed on my skin. I could hear Bertie in the distance calling my name, Tammy… Tammy… TAMMY!!! What??? I replied… And I was brought back to reality and the jungle passage that I was in. I had a fish on. The beating of the drums was no more than the beating of my own heart as a large guapote took off down the creek like waterway with my fly, the screaming of the reel was the cries of the woman and the bugs eating away at my body the burning coals. I would be ok.

It was too late for the guapote, though. I came out of the trance far too late to have any chance of landing it. He had run far enough down the passage and wrapped me around enough logs that even with the 30-lb tippet I was using; I did not stand a chance. I broke him off and Bertie looked at me and asked me where in the hell I was at when that thing took off. He told me about how big it was, and how I had just stood there, as if off in another world and just let him go. He did not chastise, that is not his style, but he certainly wondered. Jaime just looked at me. I looked back at him and raised one eyebrow as if to question it all. He simply nodded his head once and we were off to the next small opening.

We fished like that for nearly two hours, each taking an opening and fishing it out in all directions. We caught many machaca, mojarra and a few more guapote, although none as large as the one I had hooked and lost. We caught a mudfish as well. It went a whopping 2 inches long. It was amazing. I changed the shrimp pattern and put on a small olive double bead head nymph and found the fish to go crazy for it. The heat of the day had somehow found its way into the canopy of the jungle and put the fish down. They would not take topwater flies now, or even the shrimp flies that we fished just below the surface. These fish now wanted their flies down near the bottom. I gave it to them.

Finally we made our way back out of the darkness of the jungle and into San Juanillo again. We kept going and went around another small passage, though a short one and it opened up into another good waterway down which many boats traversed the land by way of. There in the middle of the water was a large bed of some kind of grass growing. We fished around it. Large mojarra dwelled within it and if you could cast just so and get your fly down far enough, huge guapote would give you a run for your money. We did not land a single guapote from the grass bed. They headed straight for it and got themselves all tangled up in it and there was no way to do anything about it… at least not with a 5 wt.

Jaime picked up his spinning rod and made a few casts at the bank. He picked up several nice guapote with a spinning lure. Two of them went into the well on the boat. He only said one word… dinner. I was not about to lay down the values of catch and release on a person whose traditions and livelihoods depended on NOT releasing the fish. I could not do it. I simply nodded my head in response and continued to fish.

When finally it was time to go, the score was pretty obvious. The guapote had beaten us pretty severely. My flyline was tattered, I had been through several lengths of 30 lb tippet and had broken or lost many flies. I was bitten by bugs from head to toe, sunburned even with the sunscreen and I was tired. I cannot recall ever being so tired in my life, and yet so fully alive, either. It was a strange feeling to experience. We headed back to the Rain Goddess. Peter and Dave were there already waiting upon us. They had done well in San Juanillo, bringing in several good sized guapote early that morning on poppers and 10 wt rods using a straight 8’ length of 40 lb test for a leader. One of them had tangled a flyline up in the trolling motor. Then they lost the screw for the motor when they took it off to untangle the flyline. Their adventure had taken them to some place nearby to find a new one at some mid-jungle scrapyard.

I left with Peter and Dave and headed back to the hotel where lunch was waiting for us. We ate a fine lunch, I tried rat for the first time and found it to not be completely unappealing and then we all decided to take a short nap before heading back to Fish Creek for the evening fishing. The night on Fish Creek was like the one before… first on nymphs, then on shrimp, and finally they would take topwater again as dusk began to make its way upon Central America. Mojarra, machaca, guapote, viejito and one snook that decided it wanted Peter’s hooked mojarra were caught. The snook got away though, after nearly spooling him.

We returned for a pretty normal dinner and then sat upon the dock and watched the moon rise. It was a full moon for sure and it shone its light down upon us and created many shadows and mysteries while at the same time illuminating many things as well. I was too tired to decipher its messages. I was the first to head to my room. I fell into a deep slumber by 9 pm and somehow managed to sleep until almost 3 the next morning. That is when the dreams returned. I was thankful for the sleep I had gotten though, and instead of cowering in my room, opened the door and walked down to the dock to greet the day, watch the sun rise and try to read the stories that the moon wrote out with its shadows. I was no longer afraid. As the first rays of the sun began to show over the eastern horizon, I was ready for a new day to begin. I wondered what I would see next.