A creative non-fiction essay by Marcos Hernández González.

The rust oozed from the fixing points of the ship transporting us across the Orinoco River. Those brownish specks of old dust were the artificial remnants telling me that I was still on earth, not in some ethereal, liminal place, riveted by the watery sky drawn by the sunset behind us.

The ship left her wake behind, blurring the reflection of the dying sun, at the precise moment when the rosy curved shapes of the flamingos overflying the river coloured the illusion in the water. The sun was resisting to leave gently, as we were approaching the little town of Caicara del Orinoco, erected next to the riverside.

Once we arrived in there, I decided to go for a walk around the town, seizing the opportunity to stretch my legs and breathe the hot and moist air. As my feet touched the ground and I started my path, I felt the unremitting stares of four pairs of eyes behind my neck, like two shining windows culminating four almost identical faces framed by a dun long hair.

No les pares bola,” the guide advised, “They are part of the indigenous tribes living here. Indians, you know, they are always disturbing the tourists with their “huevoniadas.” The four girls carried a wide bunch of rain sticks with the name “Caicara” carved in them, as they repeated constantly “diez bolívares.” I stopped and bought two, thinking at that moment that I was purchasing a souvenir from the real, authentic and natural side of the country. I gave them sesenta bolívares before they went away, frightened off by the guide.

I continued walking along the riverside, with the reminiscence of their sight stuck on my mind, stressing in my guts a sort of paradoxical, ambivalent feeling. It had been the first time I had seen myself in a situation similar to that one, and I did not know how to react. I felt that insignificant anecdote as the first clear moment in which my patronizing attitudes as a “European” man in a position of privilege was put into question. My footprints on the dusty road became hesitant after the event, and all I did was trying to keep wandering at the beautiful traces of the town.

Still with that uncertain cadence in my body, we stopped to have a drink in a stand located by the river.

While I was opening my bottle of chicha, I observed two children holding a thick white thread with a hook at its tip, being the other extreme, tied to their forefingers, throwing them to the water once and again trying to catch some fish, seizing the fact that the river level had sharply risen at that time of the year. I saw my childhood there: life reduced to its simplest.

I went near them, grabbing the two rain sticks with me, without realizing that our guide had followed me. He interrupted my silent contemplation of the image, taking possession of one of the two rain sticks. “Échale un ojo,” he said. He talked to the children, then he tied the thread to the rain stick, and, after one minute with the hook submerged under the water, he took out a tiny piranha. “Este era el ‘Wii’ de mi época”, he exclaimed, while the children scrutinized him with admiration. “Ven, acércate”, and he opened the mouth of the piranha in order to show me its teeth, which were longer and more sharped than the animal itself. As he held the piranha, I couldn’t help paying attention to its minuscule eyes, from which I read the undomesticated codes of the river foreseeing an imminent attack to the guide; its teeth ferociously fastening to his forefinger, breaking the fragile rain stick into two and leaving the guide restraining a silent yell of pain.

The piranha fell into a prelude of land reading the proximity of its home, and revolved itself back into the water. Later on, I picked up the broken pieces of the rain stick which intonated its monotone melody and the sun died with the piranha giving us its farewell, so we decided to go to our hostel. That night I did not sleep, the most powerful rain I had ever witnessed did not allow me to do it.

As I went back to the rusty transporting ship, two days later, I tried to reconstruct the pieces of those first impressions of my stay in Caicara, like trying to join the broken rain stick with cello tape. Probably, the undiscovered conqueror in me had both been born and died that day, but, what became certain at that time for me was that, sometimes, nature, as the indigenous girls, as the fisher boys, as the reflection of the dying sun refusing to go gently inside the piranha, as life itself, te pide que le pares bola.