Each autumn I lose my husband to an overseas work assignment, fishing in the Brazilian Amazon as owner and fishing manager for a mothership-based operation. It’s probably natural for people to raise an eyebrow at this. If given the choice, I might not have chosen a work assignment that took him away from family for so long. However, we’ve set our minds and hearts toward his success. I look forward each year to joining him on my week in the jungle, with our son in tow. The stories along the way fuel us both, and I only wish I was there to share all of them with him.
I did pack lingerie, but not a full suitcase. It was one of my male counterparts, Rock, who opened his suitcase upon arrival in Brazil to find he not only had the wrong suitcase, but a suitcase full to the brim of lingerie. It took him about five seconds to contemplate how his week of fishing in the Amazon region would go if all he had to wear was lingerie.
It was Campos, who, like a soldier, called an Uber and high-tailed it back to the airport for the correct luggage. Having worked on the security staff there years ago, he knew how to negotiate through the bare-bones midnight shift staff, and make things happen. He’d already proven many times that he was the most trusted and competent man for the role of greeting guests in Manaus upon their arrival in Brazil.
It was 2 p.m. on Thursday at the end of the first week of this year’s season that proved his worth tenfold. A message through Instagram connected Campos in Manaus to myself in Atlanta. “Have you talked to the guys on the boat through the satellite phone? I need to talk with Matt urgently. If he calls you … would you please tell him to call me?”
That evening was a scheduled satellite call, pre-set as an emergency protocol. The call came through as scheduled, and I immediately asked, “Has Matthew talked with Campos? Hang up and make that call before you call me back to talk. It’s urgent.” Campos had just found out that the airport we had contracted with, paid for, and planned to use for all 10 weeks of client transfers suddenly closed without notice. Yet, there was a "fix" before another 12 hours evaporated. Thanks to the team, we had a totally "out of thin air" solution to a closed airport. With just 12 hours until new guests flew in, and the guests from the completed week few back to civilization, an urgent problem was resolved. I wasn’t made privy to the details, but was told the solution would be seamless for guests. Indeed, it was. By the mid-season break I heard more of the saga. Our fall fishing season aligns with the fall political cycle in Brazil. A stumping politician had flown into the regional airport we planned to use, and upon his departure, he cut his opponents out of the deal by shutting down the airport behind him.
I flew into the newly arranged airstrip, part of the group trading places with a guest list packed with VIPs and Bonefish Tarpon and Trust board members. A friend, Jeff, stepped in at the 11th hour as a substitute trip host for the departing group. Not knowing how much of the in-country travel had to be adjusted after the regional airport closure, I did my best to calm him down and cheer him up the Saturday prior when he called me frantic. "Kristi! Hey ... um, so Campos took us to the airport and got our bags taken care of, and pointed us through security. Then the airline employee who was taking us to the next waiting room kinda signaled for us to wait there. Then she disappeared. So, we are just wondering, are we in the right place? We aren’t quite sure how we’ll know when we are supposed to get on a plane ... and which one that will be?”
With more confidence than I really felt, I replied, “You are in good hands. You’ll know!”
Google Translate was a safety net in that final WiFi zone. Indeed, the group did figure it out. They all made it to the mothership, and now were reluctantly saying good-bye to the luxury of a week of fishing, and slapping us all on the back, wishing us tight lines. We commented how our adventure had already gotten well underway. With feet firmly planted after our in-country transit flight, it totally looked like we had landed on a road in a one-horse-town, rather than on an airstrip. Nothing like that is a common sight in my work-a-day world. As if on cue from unspoken words, a horse on a nearby farm broke loose of his tether and ran down the road.
We were now well beyond the comfort of an internet connection. I wiped my face from the aftermath of a hot, stuffy cabin, and a slightly bumpy ride, and gladly accepted the pack of wet-wipes from a friend. It was a small gesture, but greatly appreciated. Michael was visibly perplexed that I wouldn’t kiss him when I saw him, but accepted my whisper of embarrassment. There was plenty of greeting and storytelling to fill up our initial meeting. Introductions were happening in all directions, and the our 3-year-old, Jackson, was bouncing around, hugging his father.
There were so many stories being swapped. I noticed immediately that all the departing guests were in great spirits—hoping for all new arrivals to have as much success as they had discovered. The diversity of the group was visible even to the naked eye: the wiry framed sportsman, the jolly life of the party, the tall angler-come-lately. I knew that each was leaving with a suitcase full of stories, and I couldn’t wait for Michael to fill me in on everything. Guests arrive with expectations which are typically far exceeded, but just as often the impact is much different than what they originally expected. Having not yet heard the stories from the current year, my memories flashed to a guest from the previous year. Fishing was almost done, the guests were back on board the mothership, and everyone was resting up when a local community canoe arrived at the yacht. As one of our boats had passed a village, a young girl had run down the shoreline waving a greeting. In the midst of the excitement, her foot slipped, gashing her forehead against a mahogany stump, leaving a deep gash just below the hairline. The canoe was coming for help—a medical kit with a butterfly bandage—anything to ease the child’s pain. Not only did we have a medical kit, and a trained nurse, we had a surgeon as a guest that exact week. I’ll never forget his reply as he came back on board after sewing up the wound, “Well, the fishing has been great, but now I think I know why I really came.” It’s never the same, but there is always an impact.
We load "Week 3" onto the charter flight, and load "Week 4" onto the bus for travel down to port. Quickly, the yacht is underway making an overnight passage up river to the fishing preserve. Jackson scampers from top to bottom of the tri-decked boat with me close behind. I have no doubt he is going to love the boat, and be safe, but I want to see the risks through his eyes. He immediately leads me to all of the high risk zones, like the section of railing that can be removed for loading cargo, and the vertical ladder for accessing the top deck. I keep my lurching sense of caution at bay, never revealing angst to cause him to doubt his own confidence, all the while making a mental list of the dangers. Nothing really to worry about unless the motors are running, and I can’t hear a splash overboard into the water. It’s a relief for me to be on board and underway with this portion of the travel. My husband is here, my family is complete, and I can rest for a few days.
The next morning we are up before dawn, sampling a full menu of breakfast cuisine which will fortify us for five hours of morning fishing. I love fishing in the Amazon. My skills tighten up after just a few short hours back on the river. With constant casting ahead of me for six full days of fishing, I’ve mentally prepared myself to overcome the shoulder fatigue of the first day, and ready myself to push past it and not break down physically. Dreams of constant catching prance through my mind.
By noon, I feel like I’ve already fished for a full day, but exhaustion is at bay, and I’m really feeling good. My boat partner and I have already landed 20 fish. What’s not to feel good about with that?
Lunchtime on Day 2 I’m reminded to keep my mouth shut. Michael is the co-owner of this endeavor and on the water in Brazil, he’s the acting fishing manager, doing the yeoman’s job of keeping everyone happy. After suffering two fishless days, Kevin, one of the guests whose father has been overtaken by heatstroke, starts to complain. “What do I have to do to catch fish in the Amazon?” I don’t worry. Michael and the crew have got this. Our amazing guides take the challenge personally. After a short siesta, Rodrigo won’t let Kevin out of his boat until he catches something. The drought endures just another five minutes, and soon we lose track of the tally in their boat.
For a mere six days I get a piece of Michael. And just a piece! The season seems long, but I remind myself it’s just a season. My little guy is learning that Daddy has a big job to do, and he’ll be home soon. I take vacation days when Michael is stateside, and thoroughly relish telling co-workers that we’ve got several fishing meetings to attend together. It makes no sense to them, but it’s not really strange if you live in my world. Whether we are here together, in Brazil together, or on different continents for the duration of a fishing season, I am absolutely smitten with my mate. Sure, I miss him terribly, but there is a lot that really stays the same.
So, pardon me, but Michael is home for 12 days, and we just started a do-it-ourselves plumbing project to fix a bathroom sink. From the sounds I hear coming from that direction, I think it’s my time to go take a turn at the wrench.