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2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008
, J. Atchison

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I used to dream about traveling to far off exotic places. I used to dream of smelling the rich textures of the cities and inhaling the mist of the deep forests. I would dream of collecting new and wild fish and bringing them home to discover the key to their breeding and share those fish with my friends. Night after night I would dream about the trips, planning their every moment while I slept.

Every time I think about taking a trip to collect fish something seems to come up (reality checks) and I never seem to complete the planning, let alone find enough time to actually take the trip. I found that I didn’t have to go very far to have an exotic and unpredictable experience.

Recently I had an opportunity to travel from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to the Los Angeles, California area…Anaheim to be more exact…home to Mickey Mouse…a fact that should have given me some indication of the trips outcome. I planned the trip so that I could do some "urban collecting". To use a term from the 60’s, "what a trip."

Now if you have ever taken the opportunity to travel to LA, you and I can probably understand why the place can make one laugh and cry at the same time. If you have never been there and are planning a trip to the area, stop! Rethink your plans and go to some other area that is more inviting…Winnimucca, Nevada perhaps…Inkom, Idaho is another place to consider.

Unfortunately, there seem to be reasons to go to LA. My wife is on the Board of Directors of a large philanthropic organization and their annual convention was in Anaheim. I had to be there…no choice…it was a non-negotiable must-be-there situation. If fish were to remain a part of my life, my tuxedoed frame would be found in Anaheim at the annual banquet…and I had better have a smile on my face!

I thought that if I had to go into the area I should plan for some fish stops. So I did. I planned my trip carefully. I had Styrofoam boxes for keeping the fish cool on the trip home and plastic containers for doing water changes. I had nets, plastic bags, chloramine remover, rubber bands, multiple maps, Internet material, directions and recommendations from friends. I had food for the road and money (a key asset when collecting in an urban environment). I had my list of species to search for and I knew what I wanted. I also took some of my key identification books with me in case I was to discover a new and rare fish…or at least a fish I did not recognize. My car is even equipped with a compass. I was a good Boy Scout and I was prepared…or so I thought.

Some admissions of guilt should be made. There were a few things I could have been a little more prepared for. I don’t speak any foreign languages. Translation in some of the shops was difficult. Pointing and grunting seemed to help. Grinning and remaining silent worked very well.

When traveling out of the country it is a good idea to be able to ask simple directions in a native tongue. If you don’t speak the language of the area, I would recommend you find a dictionary. Unfortunately with a foreign country the size of LA, there are too many languages spoken to truly be conversational in all of them. A dictionary of dialects in the area is not available. I would recommend that you learn a few key phrases prior to venturing off on a collection trip. Knowing a few local phrases will improve ones chances of success. I don’t know about other countries, but knowing how to say, "Like," "you know," and "Duh" with an attitude will help you communicate in Los Angeles.

Personal safety is an important issue on any collection trip but can be especially poignant on trips into the rough and tumble world of an urban jungle.

There were several times when a personal protection device (mace, pepper spray…those things come to mind) might have made me feel more comfortable. If I would have had a gun I might have shot myself in the foot and that would have created a new problem to deal with. I have found communicating is a challenge with a foot stuck in my mouth…the bandage and the foot would have complicated my challenges.

In defense of the area, I did find that eating balanced meals consisting of the three major food groups to be easy to do. There seemed to be a large number of Burger Kings, McDonalds and Wendy’s to choose from and the food was of the same quality as back home. Although the menus were printed in native languages, convenient English translations were printed as well.

When traveling in the field, I have found that having a good sense of direction is important. The intensity of the LA urban canopy does not allow one to see the sun and get a good feel for the direction. I found the compass in my car to be a valuable resource, although when I purchased the car several years ago I told the salesman it was really dumb. Perhaps on my next trip I will consider using Global Positioning System to avoid the dangerous situation of becoming lost and running the risk of having to remain outside of my hotel after dark.

The local customs should be observed when you are collecting in a foreign country.

In LA for example, stopping at a stop sign is not observed. If you stop you may be hit. Likewise, merging traffic does not observe any human or civil system. In order to mimic the local merging systems, one must quickly learn to be completely unpredictable. Timid drivers are left parked on the side of the freeways in pools of tears. One must be aggressive. Gesturing is an extremely bad idea in the LA area. All of this helps to encourage the colorful episodes of "road rage" that seem to plague the LA area.

A friend recently returned home from a collecting trip to Brazil and described his trip. I could not help but notice that our two experiences seemed remarkably similar. I found nothing of interest and came home without fish. He was unable to bring any fish back with him. I didn’t speak any of the languages in LA and he didn’t speak Portuguese. I had nets, he had nets. I had bags, he had bags. I drove for 11 hours, he flew for 15. Both of us thought about guns but thought they would be a bad idea so didn’t partake. He got lost…so did I. Sunglasses, hats, bug spray…we both had them.

I suppose when you compare the two trips…you might be able to deduce that one can be unsuccessful with a foreign collection trip whether it is in an urban setting such as Los Angeles or in a more civilized setting, such as the rainforests of Brazil.