The Journey - Amazon River, Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980
August 15-16 Approaching, docking at and passage from Alenquer beyond Santarém late afternoon and evening gave dramatic impression of The Amazon.
The river divided into five channels with ship sailing in one furthest east and, far as the eye could see, these expanses of water separated by low strips of lands, occasionally merging, most continuing their separate way toward some distant meeting point. An hour time change — advance — at Santarém brought sunset early, a magnificent ball of orange, larger than any I have ever seen, going down with surprising rapidity, dancing behind the bank of trees as the ship moved along, sometimes obscured, sometimes appearing full circle in a gap between the forest. At water's edge, herds of zebu-type cattle standing white to gray against the darkening background. Channel narrower than ever.
|Zebu cattle at fazenda on banks of Amazon River|
Then, within minutes of the sun setting, the moon rising in the east, a smaller, perfect yellowish ball, also climbing swiftly and perfectly marked against the clear sky. Then night and the Amazon closing in — not the towering impression offered in Hollywood interpretation of small riverboat cutting through impenetrable forest but surrounding our ship with its vastness and the knowledge that way out there, only an endless expanse of uninhabited forest.
A scene my characters,Amador da Silva and Segge Proot would come to re-live in the pages of Brazil:
"The constant green and gray and blue was also relieved — especially for Segge — by the dance of sun and moon on the equator. Daybreak and a faint blush in the gray would presage the rim of orange sun behind the trees. The surface of the river would be painted in way no mortal artist would emulate, passing through a spectrum of shades, from soft pinks and mauves to a fiery blaze that turned the waters of the Rio das Amazonas into molten gold.
These changes came with amazing rapidity as the sun climbed above the forest, its intensity giving a man from Europe the impression of high noon, when it was not yet midmorning. At sunset the flaming ball would sink, sometimes seen hovering full circle at the very edge of earth, where there was a gap in the foliage.After the briefest pause, a small, yellowish moon would rise above the horizon and climb swiftly, the constellations growing pale, the higher it rose. Night would fall, the limitlessness heightened and made ominous by the close, impenetrable world of trees.
At night, we reached Alenquer, a small river port, its dockside crowded with people, sacks of grain... Sounds of countless insects in the marshy land beside the wooden quay. Go ashore for walk through town streets lined with bars. What truly sets the atmosphere is glimpse back toward the ship. Sight of her lying there lit for stem to stern, immaculately white and dwarfing every other boat at dockside. Here, unmistakably, is the picture of the Amazon I have always held.
At Alenquer, I sense a “resentful” reaction to our presence. People on the quay side, mostly young, remind one of scene from Amarcord. It's only twice a month that a large passenger boat comes through and being Saturday night, locals see this as one, if not the only “event.” But they didn't observe us with friendliness, very few smiles, and except two who made “friends” with blonde Elsa, the German girl aboard, not a single wave as the ship pulled away from the dock. Instead some First Class passengers started to throw ice at them and they retaliated with curses and handfuls of grain! Type of incident that does nothing to improve relations between the haves and have-nots.
Aboard, there is absolutely nothing to do but brood, meditate, sweat, drink and talk. Ron and Mark, two Aberdeen University graduates, future grain merchants, provide some worthwhile asides on Brazil. Ron maintains that the Brazilian “miracle,” the dramatic economic development since mid-50s had disastrous effects because it came too quickly for people to adjust to it, socially. “They entered the industrial age without capacity to cope with modernization, jarred from a post-colonial and agricultural phase into era of technology. Adopting the methods of an advanced country to one in which the mass of people still existed in backward phase.”
I agree with what he says and have serious doubts about the theory of Brazil as an emergent super-power. The first forty days contact with the people, admittedly of the depressed North-East, offer little hope for what may be a future “super-power.” Again and again, Bradford Burns's suggestion of so little having changed in five centuries as being key to Brazil appears perfectly true.