Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 28
The Journey - Amazon River, August 23, 1980
August 23 Maybe it was the heat, maybe the “intrusion of tourist types” but the five days spent at Manaus seem the least productive, including entire day wasted waiting for director of INPA, Amazon research institute, from 10.30 till 4. Spent the time in their library. When she eventually saw me, she told me to return the next morning at 9.30. I did and was told a) no one available for an interview b) no one to go with me to the “forest.”
At which point I said to hell with it and sought out my own boat on the waterfront and found a personable navigator — Daniel! Six hour trip to confluence of Amazon and Negro, then into Solimões and through narrow creeks to enter cathedral-like forest. Exactly what I wanted.
Arranged a second trip for yesterday, another six hours, this time north, very different as we went through forest to cachoeira where we swam. God knows what you could pick up!
Perhaps it's the influence of the other estrangeiros who come filled with visions of tropical menace and talk of all manner of ailments but I find myself becoming “health conscious.” Won't dare miss my malaria tablet; bathe open “wound” on my foot a) with antiseptic solution b)powder antiseptic c) cover with Band-aid. Ultra careful with water and absolutely refuse salads.
Words like malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis, septic wounds etc. commonplace in vocabulary but perhaps it's something else that calls for caution. In the U.S., in developed countries we have reached an ascendancy of man over Nature, control lies in our hands. The environment has been conquered and controlled physically and spiritually. Here, not so: when you enter the forest environment you are entirely at its mercy. Man is out of scale here, his size nothing against the horizonless, surrounding forest.
Again and again, I think of the entradas: How the small band of Raposo Tavares could have found its way through the jungle is amazing. Deviate for one moment from the mainstream and you enter a maze of water that twists through the forest, sometimes spreading like a lake, sometimes splitting into different streams that take off in several directions.
For an hour on Friday we drifted down a section of the Solimões, engine shut
off, everyone silenced. It was like meditation in a great cathedral. The trees offering every shade of green, the waters of the river colored green with their reflections.
A forbidding environment, gnarled roots of trees exposed on the banks where storm waters have torn away the soil; trees standing in the water, dead twisted shapes awaiting the final thrust of nature, when they will loosen their hold on the soil, fall and be carried away. Clumps of hyacinth stretch out from the banks, sometimes grow like small islands midstream.
Inside the forest, the water is smooth as glass, the area deserted, only occasional glimpse of a canoe with a fisherman sitting cross-legged up front, bow and arrow ready for action. A scene that was the same hundreds, thousands of years ago.
Waters deep blue out in the great rivers Amazon and Negro, a turbulent brown and blue at confluence, green in the forest. Brown, too, with soils carried down from the Andes.