As I prepare for a new adventure “a return to the Amazon,” perhaps a final visit to this remarkable and unique part of the world. I say “perhaps final” because the purpose of this visit is for a memorial tribute to my good friend, “brother” and personal hero Phil Marsteller.
I’ll join the family to spread his ashes and celebrate one of the most historic and adventurous lives I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of. I’m sure we’ll also do a bit of memorial fishing, share a beverage and tell stories late into the night, as he would have encouraged.
As I plan for this trip and think back on my first visit with Phil and his river ship, the “Amazon Queen” at the Rio Negro Lodge I’m reminded of our mutual friend Genival, its skipper. I wrote a story he told me as part of Sportsman Quest, the book. Here is that story. Enjoy.
From Village to the Queen
by Dan Simmons
“The young boy screamed and ducked as the jaguar sprang from the tree. They always go for the throat and never miss, but this one did,” said Genival, the boy’s father then ran after the big cat screaming and waving his machete. “The cat took off.”
The family had been picking acai berries from a palm-like tree and the young boy had lagged behind on the trail — always dangerous in jaguar country.
Genival has come a long way from his Bari Indian tribal beginnings to being one of the most respected river pilots on the Amazon’s Rio Negro River.
The Bari live upriver near San Gabriel on the Colombia/Venezuela border, an area of many native tribes. As a young boy in the early 50’s he saw paddlewheel boats on the river. They were involved in the rubber and chicle (gum) trade; he was fascinated and always dreamed of life on the river.
Part of his world also consisted of hunting and fishing for the family table. He began by getting fish and turtles with his bow and arrow, spear or with traps. Later he hunted deer, Tapir, Capybara and large alligator-like Cayman with an old Pombo, a 20-gauge muzzle-loading shotgun, for which he used a bottle to keep his powder and caps dry. Later he graduated to a 16-gauge CVC single-shot, with cartridges – he grew up a boy of the jungle.
His first job was gathering rubber from the Cringe trees and gum from the Souva trees, but he didn’t like that, so as a young man he told his dad, “I’m going out to see the world.” He traveled on the stern wheelers a couple of times as a child and never lost his dream of working on the river, so he signed on a merchant boat as a deckhand. It was a riverboat freighter and he did everything from shoveling coal to loading freight. Never losing his love and fascination with this lifestyle, he continued to work his way up to be the Master River Pilot he is today.
This is where his path crossed that of another dreamer, Phil Marsteller. Phil is the son of missionaries and was raised on the Rio Negro. He had the dream of one day operating fishing expeditions on the river and contacted Genival to help him research the possibilities.
Phil would first refit a riverboat into a luxury floating lodge and call it the Amazon Queen. When he had it completed he called Genival once again, down from the upriver town of San Isobel to be its pilot.
Captain Phil Marsteller wasn’t finished though; he went on to build one of the world’s most unique lodges, the Rio Negro Lodge. Genival was always by his side, as his first fishing guide and river pilot. He’s still with Phil today, but now he pilots the more luxurious Amazon Queen II.
Have there been more adventures? You bet! There was a time Genival’s uncle and sons were harvesting gum chicle. They had with them three dogs. “They were good hunting dogs and they took off after something, we could tell by their bark they had treed a jaguar. Then one yelped, and we knew, one was dead. Then the second one yelped, and we knew, two dead. The third dog then came running across the trail, wounded, and it was getting dark. Uncle looked up at a tree as the jaguar jumped. He raised his muzzleloader shotgun and fired. We don’t know what happened to the jaguar, but we found the third dog dead and went home.” So it is in the Amazon jungle.
There are also stories of anaconda eating children along the river and piranhas taking chunks from adults. So it is on the Amazon.
Another story, not related to the wildlife, but very significant in Genival’s life happened when he and his uncle were crossing the river in a canoe. A storm came up, with torrential rain, thunder, and lightning. His uncle cried out, “Saint Peter, why are you making this storm so hard? There was a boom then and the smell of sulfur. Uncle slumped over in the boat with sparks in his eyes, like electrical charges. He was okay, but he never complained to Saint Peter again.”
So is the life of my river friend, Genival.
While on that first trip on the Amazon Queen, we enjoyed great fishing for Peacock Bass and other fish with lots of sharp teeth, we ate well and saw a new country but the best part, as always, are the people you meet along the way. So it is on the Amazon.
So now my bags are packed, air and hotel reservations are made, a new river boat and a new fishing lodge await. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more stories of this new adventure on my return.
One of the interesting things about Brazil is its Portuguese influence. English and Spanish are rarely spoken and the country is proud of its European heritage. This recipe brings the influence of Portuguese cuisine, which was evident on the Queen, to the fish of the region. piranha, peacock bass, or freshwater barracuda may be used. I prefer piranah.
If these fish aren’t at your local supermarket, try halibut, cod.
Genival’s Amazon Fish Stew
- 2lbs of fish, cut into chunks
- 2 small white onions, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 large tomatoes; thinly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 potatoes, thinly sliced
- 8 oz can of tomato sauce
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 Tbsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper, lightly brown in frying pan with half the olive oil;
- sauté onions, garlic and bell pepper in a large pot in remaining olive oil until soft;
- add tomatoes, saffron, and bay leaf cook until tomatoes start to soften;
- add potatoes, tomato sauce, white wine and water cook, covered for 40 minutes;
- add fish cook for an additional 15 minutes;
- stir in parsley during last few minutes. Serve with nice crusty bread.
“From Village to the Queen” first appeared in the Las Vegas Review Journal’s Pahrump Valley Times