For 5, 6, and 7 January 2001 we headed west to the state of Carabobo to stay is a posada (inn) run by Norbert and Gabriel Flauger. The posada is named Casa Maria and I had heard that it was a great place before we ever left the States. I also heard from an American down here that Norbert, an entomologist, kept a few aquariums at the posada. That Norbert "keeps a few aquariums" is about the greatest understatement there is. Norbert left Berlin 8 years ago and moved to Venezuela so he could open a posada to support his studies on tropical insects. At some point he got sidetracked into fish.
A written description can hardly describe the paradise he has built on the posada's grounds. His "fishroom" is outside and only half of it is covered. The other half consists of two large ponds. The upper pond is about 500 gallons and houses some piranhas and tetras. This pond then overflows to make a water fall down to the next pond which is about 4 feet wide by 20 feet long. Glass windows are installed in both ponds so you can sit on the ground and see the fish aquarium style. The lower pond holds Ancistrus, Corydoras, and many kinds of tetras. Amongst the tetras are the largest diamond tetras I have ever seen.
The fishroom proper consists of about 11 large tanks built into a brick wall. These tanks hold everything from Altum angels to rare Venezuelan L Numbers. Did I mention that Norbert has collected all of his own fishes throughout Venezuela over his years here? With every fish is a story about where and how it was captured.
The big show is a 20,000 gallon pond with three large viewing windows built into it. Large schools of Corydoras swim about with Oscars, Acara spp., Geophagus, Severums, and other large cichlids. Panaque nigrolineatus, Ancistrus, Cochliodon, Hypostomus, and other loricariids lounge around the "centerpiece" of driftwood that stands three feet tall and ten feet long! Norbert and I went back to the pond at night and spotlighted loricariids and auchenipterids for better viewing.
Spread throughout the grounds are several other ponds that Norbert has seeded with one tropical fish or another.
The wild life on the grounds is also amazing. Norbert and Gabby are avid bird watchers and they have recorded over 300 species of birds in the immediate area. The place is also full of sloths and they show no fear of people as they munch their leaves. Add to all of this three pet dogs, two pet monkeys, and parrots so tame they land on your shoulders and you can see what I mean by the word paradise.
When I told Norbert I wanted to go collecting on Saturday, he said that he had another surprise for me. Located right below my bungalow was an extra(!) fishroom. The room was equipped with three homemade 40 gallon tanks, a sink, shelves, lights and a large air pump. Norbert said he had set up the little fishroom just in case a visitor wanted to do some collecting. How is that for service!
On Saturday I collected the Rio Urama and on Sunday Norbert and I collected the Rio Chirgua. Casa Maria is ideally located because it sits in the middle of the Cordillera de la Costa that divides the Orinoco drainage from the coastal drainages. Drive a 30 minutes north and you are collecting very different species than you would 30 minutes to the south.
If you are an aquarist with only one day in Venezuela, this would be the place to spend it.
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