Piranhas!


This is the second in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about piranhas, a well-known fish native to South America. Upcoming articles will focus on the Amazon River Basin, the rainforest, indigenous groups and wildlife in the Amazon, and eco-resorts. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from the world’s largest rainforest.

They lurk in the dark waters of the Amazon River, elusive but potentially deadly with their razor-sharp teeth that can tear into flesh. They swim in schools, but their curriculum is survival by finding innocent victims to eat. They are attracted by the scent and sight of blood floating in the water, and when they attack, they swarm and subdue prey through death by a thousand bites.

They are the PIRANHAS! Deadly, dangerous piranhas! Be careful…do not go into the water!

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I’m kidding…sort of. The perception of piranhas as prone to aggressive behavior when it comes to feeding may be true, but their reputation as bloodthirsty, rapacious killers is overblown. The image of these members of the Characidae family that movies such as the 1978 film Piranha and its spawn — most recently Piranha 3DD — portray outstrips what these fish can really do. They certainly aren’t as docile as my buddy Percy the Piranha featured in Alexander the Salamander, who nibbles Alexander on the nose to say hello.

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They are predators, scavengers, and even herbivores, and there have been confirmed cases of people killed by piranhas. However, the fish are also prey for other animals higher up on the food chain, including the cormorants, caimans, dolphins, and humans.

Humans? Certainly. Humans kill and consume far more piranhas than the other way around. When we visited the Amazon River Basin in July 2008, we went piranha fishing. Floating in a skiff in the murky waters of a tributary, we dangled raw beef cubes as bait from fishing poles and snagged some. An unorthodox means to catch fish for sure, but it worked. We caught a couple large ones and ate them for dinner. They were tasty but quite boney.

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The face and gills were the only remnants after we finished feasting on them.

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Piranhas make a good prop when you tell your friends at home that you went piranha fishing. The dried and lacquered fish mounted on wood stands made by local souvenir vendors are great desk ornaments, especially the red-bellied piranha reputed to be the most ferocious of all. Here my son holds up mounted red-bellied and gray piranhas. He wasn’t scared of them in spite of their wide, toothy grins staring at him.

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Piranhas also make good key chains, although their teeth have a tendency to catch on clothing. I didn’t see any piranha Christmas tree ornaments, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to swap the key chain for a hook.

No trip to the Amazon would be complete without a piranha fishing expedition or souvenir. Before you go overboard and jump in to swim with them, however, consider this — the most feared fish in the Amazon isn’t the piranha. It’s the candirú, also known as the toothpick or vampire fish, a parasitic catfish with a lethal reputation for invading the internal organs of fish, animals, and humans and feeding on blood and tissue. Best stay out of the water.

About Alexander the Salamander

A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

clip_image002M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

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Manaus, Brazil – Heart of the Amazon


This is the first in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil that is featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon. Upcoming articles will focus on the Amazon River Basin, the rainforest, indigenous groups and wildlife in the Amazon, and the Amazon Ecopark, an eco-resort. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from the world’s largest rainforest.

My family and I visited the Amazon region in July 2008. We spent the day in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, before embarking on a trip to the rainforest.

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The city lies at the confluence of the rivers Rio Negro and Rio Solimões, the two major tributaries that form the mighty Amazon River flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by a dense sea of green forest that blankets the region, Manaus is a gritty, industrial city of approximately 1.85 million inhabitants carved out of the jungle. It’s a four-hour flight from São Paulo, the primary airline hub for most international flights entering Brazil.

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The name “Manaus” is derived from the Manaós indigenous group that lived in the area until the city’s establishment by the Portuguese in 1669. Manaus has been called the “Heart of the Amazon” and “City of the Forest,” although a more appropriate name is the “Industrial Pool of Manaus,” reflecting the city’s status as an industrial center. A rubber boom in the late 1800s fueled urban growth for half a century. Since the establishment of the Free Economic Zone of Manaus (ZFM) in 1957, a bevy of industries from shipbuilding and petrochemicals to manufacturing and agribusiness have developed thanks to tax incentives offered by the ZFM.

Although the city’s footprint is one of the largest in Brazil, its historic center between the river port and the main square is an easy walk. Visiting Manaus’ highlights is a day tour on foot from any number of hotels clustered in the center. Heading north on Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro takes you to the Renaissance-style Amazon Theater (Teatro Amazonas), an opera house that opened in 1896 and is home to the Amazonas Philharmonic. The easily recognizable dome features a large mural of the Brazilian flag.

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The main square is lined with historic buildings that house the Palace of Justice (Palácio de Justiça), São Sebastião Church, Municipal Prefecture, and the Indigenous Museum (Museu do Índio), one of two showcasing local indigenous culture (the other is the smaller, nearby Museu Amazônico). Although small – just one large city block – the square is a must-see when visiting Manaus. Park benches in São Sebastião Park are a great place to stop and enjoy the plaza.

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Walking down Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro toward the river port will introduce you to the sights and sounds of Manaus. There are some free-for-all markets that sell a wide assortment of knock-off goods. We passed on the faux leather goods and “Swiss” watches.

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Next to the port is a large open-air market surrounding the Church of the Mother Manaus (Ingreja de Matriz Manaus). Cluttered and somewhat disorganized, the place was abuzz with activity when we visited and filled with items that seemed more geared to locals than tourists. We enjoyed browsing the stalls for mementos, food, and drink.

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My son enjoyed drinking milk straight from the coconut sold by one of the vendors.

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Across the street on the banks of the Rio Negro is the Adolpho Lisboa Market (Mercado Adolpho Lisboa), the city’s oldest market built in 1882. Next to it lies the ornate Customs House (Alfandega) overshadowed by the contemporary but gaudy Ministry of Finance (Fazenda) skyscraper out of place in the historic center.

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The large, modern wharf next to the river port crowded with cafes and piers blends in well with the colonial architecture.

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The port is a jump-off point for river cruises and tourist excursions that range from daytrips to the Meeting of the Waters at the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões to multi-day trips to ecotour resorts.

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If you visit the heart of the Amazon, you’ll likely transit through Manaus on your way to the rainforest. Many tourists head straight to the river without stopping to enjoy the city. While much more awaits you in the wild, a brief stopover will introduce you to Brazilian culture and prepare you for the jungle adventure that lies ahead.

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About Alexander the Salamander

A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

coverM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.