shores of the river in 2013

Río de la Pasión, The Pasión River, located on the Lowlands of Peten, Northern Guatemala.

When I first came in contact with this river was in the late 1990s, right after Hurricane Mitch. The river had overflown its banks, and at some location, to reach the former river-shores you had to walk up to a kilometer with the waters reaching up ones neck.
Our guide, a distant cousin of mine, barely 12 years old, he knew every road on the forests (remnants of) surrounding the river.
We had just crossed from the Mexican side and walk for an entire day until we reached the overflown river. the path was very narrow and because of the increased height of the waters, a lot of the path was covered with branches and we had walked with water up to our hips for a while. “Here is where we have to cross.” he tells us, but the waters were up to our neck. One of us climbs a tree to see if we can see where the other side of the river was. The vegetation was so dense we could not see the other side of the river. Eventually he (our guide) starts yelling out loud: “¡Vengan a cruzarnos!”. We followed and yelled to the top of our lungs: ¡Vengan a cruzarnos!, someone come and take us across. We were here for about an hour. Lucky for us, a couple of fishermen had heard or yelling and they spend about half and hour macheting* their way to our location and they took us across the river. Here is where I first saw macaws in the wild, howlers monkeys could be heard in the distance and the whole area was full of life. When we get to the other side of the river my father asked the fishermen if they would take some money for their effort. “Deme dos quetzales.” one of them says, “give me 2 Quetzales.” about 25 cents of U.S. Dollars. and on top of that, one of them gave us some pieces of bread for the road.
We reached our destination on the shores of the river soon afterwards.

Learning to Fish.
People living in the forest are very smart and resourceful.
The communities around the river are very poor and food is scarce, there is no electricity, so most food has to be fresh.
The people at our destination were not expecting us, so there was not enough food for all of us. The mother of my distant cousin tells him to go catch some fish on the river. And of course, we followed him to see how it was done. Here is were I learned how to fish.
The bait was dug out of the ground on the spot, he knew on what king of mud we could find earthworms and we dug a small hole where we found some. We used fishing-line and a hook, that’s all we had and needed, no fishing rod here.
There was an immense amount of fish, the overflown river had created the condition for reproduction of fish. In less than thirty minutes we got enough fish for a banquet. I can proudly way that I caught three of good size.

I came back to this river in the year 2005. I did it the easy way, rented out a small boat to take me to archaeological sites on the shores of this river. This time I could not witness much wild life on the river, there were fishermen but I could not see or hear howler monkeys and never saw another macaw.

I went back to this river in two separate occasions last year, one to try to find the house of those distant relatives and the other to visit archaeological sites and again, I was witness to the scarcity of wild life, but some still remained. On one of these visits to the area, I was carrying some supplies for my relatives. Some of the supplies I had to leave hidden on the side of the forest road because of exhaustion. Next day I came back with one of my distant cousins to retrieve them. We brought no water and there was a lot of heat and humidity. He drinks water from the river and invites me to drink some too: “This water is so clean, in fact it is filtered naturally every 30 meters.”

The Coup de grâce

A few weeks ago, reports came from the area stating of a mass fish death on the river. Photographs followed showing the devastation; thousands of dead fish, frogs, river turtles, etc. Later reports confirmed the damage and some were saying the damage extended up to 150 kilometers of river.
The damaged is (allegedly) attributed to a African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) plantation that polluted the river with pesticides.

© 2015, Eli Orozco. All rights reserved.

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