Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 25
The Journey - Amazon River, Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980
There's a monotony to the trip, the same riverine line of forest, mile after mile, varied occasionally by a lonely house or small settlement, rarely what could be considered a town. Between leaving Belém and 12.30 today first major town (population 21,000) was Almeirim.
Keep trying to think of what journey must have meant to Raposo Tavares. Even today with only a five-day passage, people complain of boredom after two days. What must it have been like for Raposo Tavares? Week after week, as they passed along Madeira River to Manaus, and to Belém.
Very noticeable to me is complete absence of wild animals at the river's edge, so totally unlike even the smallest river in the wilds of Africa. Here, nothing!
Still find it difficult to come up with definition of "what" the Amazon is — Perhaps better to brood over it for a couple of days. — So many approaches:
1) A hypothetical one, for example: What if the riverine line of forest had only been a narrow one? And the lands beyond open to colonization? Would this not have been the focus of “civilization” in the Americas? Would the Andean cultures have spread into these areas?
2) Perhaps, in a way, the repetitive and boring aspect of this trip is for the very reason I state in my book proposal: The failure to see the whole, to comprehend how infinitely small this ship and its occupants in relation to the River; the failure to appreciate the symbiosis of river and nature.
3) Can see some likely effects the River can have on Brazilian outlook, for example, in reinforcing the knowledge of just how little impression they as a people have made against the vast lands they hold.
4) Serves to reinforce the Contrast, here the limitless land, and in so many other places, the struggle for ownership of the smallest patch of territory. Here is a “land problem” of a very different sort.
Green. Every shade of green possible, the patches of hyacinth floating downstream, the great trees to the water's edge, the canopy of the forest lower than one would've imagined it to be, low and dense, the sameness and yet a difference even to the untrained eye.
Have really to remember just how vast this is to understand what it must've been like for the early discoverers. Almost like being trapped in a tunnel, a water maze. Once you started out upon it, you had to complete the full journey. Penetration of the forest itself as an outlet would be impossible; follow any tributary and you would be led down another blind alley. Once you began you'd be locked into the main river until it reached the Atlantic.
Most memorable of shipboard characters: An old English couple who have lived in Brazil for forty-five years, Alan and Brenda. He was in insurance, came here in the 1930s after Fawcett's disappearance. In the 1940s he flew to Manaus; now retired, he is doing the trip again. Sitting in lounge, Somerset Maugham characters, playing cards after siesta. Brenda's memorable quote the other night was that after all these years she had not become i.e. gone "Brazilian" and went “home” last year. (Returned via South Africa about which they hold typical conservative views.)
Other travelers include noticeably older generation of Europe-style backpackers. They're a decade away from their first trip to Europe, moving into their 30s, too independent to come to terms with the "responsibilities of growing up.”