I Know Why the
We were all set, strapped onto metal seats when the captain announced: everybody out, we got stuck. After two days flying, and two flawless landings, only the Guajará Mirim ‘runaway’ mud to stop our fearless DC-3 on its tracks. Everyone got dirty pushing the plane.
On the sideways, Native Brazilian Indians laughed out loud. It was not their first time having a blast with visitors, but I never went back for seconds. Once we took off, my mind was racing towards the Acre State, where I’d spend three months with my friend Tonho and his family.
We got to know a stretch of the majestic Amazon Rainforest, three times as big then as it is now. I flew for free as a military officer’s son, aboard a Douglas from the National Air Mail. Tonho left Rio three days later, on a commercial flight, but we got to Rio Branco together.
My place was next to piles of letters and parcels, as DC-3s were still being used on regular post routes within Brazil. No complaints; I didn’t know then, but it turned out to be one of the greatest trips of my life, a real miracle, as I hadn’t a cent to my name but was treated like a king.
On the way, I’ve spent a night in Porto Velho, whose downtown area on that rainy winter of 1973, was occupied by a huge gypsy camp. I had already realized that I was visiting another country, but I felt even more foreigner having a hard time understanding them. Pure prejudice made me wary of the Roma and not to ask for directions.
SYRUP & SPAGHETTI WESTERNS
Brazil’s vast distances and geographical north-south set up has a lot to do with the radical differences among its regions. Getting to the northwest, wild and racially mixed, coming from the south, urban and white European is like a kick in the ass. You get on all your fours and it’s better to take your time getting up again.
Things seemed so odd, that the first thing the two teenagers got was cough medicine, which used to be unwittingly loaded with codeine. We were not into alcohol, and weed was rarer than snow, so pharma high was our tour guide exploring the sights and city blocks.
By far, the two kinds of weather within a single day were our main source of amusement. The whole city life revolved around things happening before and after the rain. Dawn would break already in the 80s and while the thermometer would rise with the sun, sweat would drench us. Suddenly, all would change.
At just a few degrees shy of the 100s, the sky would turn and a monsoon of biblical proportions would come down, all thunder and flood. It’d last less than an hour, though, and then, it’d be gone. Clouds would get quickly driven away and the sun would return to set, at the conclusion of yet another beautiful day.
Many a bottle of syrup we knocked down on our way to the movies – we may have watched the entire Sergio Leone collection, plus every one of the Zapata series – or the ‘boîte,’ where a long-haired crooner singing Roberto Carlos‘ Amada Amante, was a nightly hit. What a life.
DEEP IN THE DYING JUNGLE
When we headed to Xapuri, to try Ayahuasca, we had no idea who Chico Mendes was. Deforestation was all around us, piles of downed trees by the side of the road. At one point, our bus stopped: ahead of us, a tractor-trailer was fully submerged in a small lagoon. Only the top of the cabin was out of the water.
We got to Brasiléia late at night and rented a room in the back of a rest stop. There was no power and we were intrigued when the owner’s son handed us a little fumigator, loaded with kerosene. It didn’t take long to know why: bugs were big as mice and would fly around. We almost suffocated to death, trying to keep them away.
We woke up early, sweaty and nearly deaf. The heat was expected, but what was that loud noise, as if someone was scratching our zinc rooftop with metal nails. Zeeeep, zeeeep, zeeeep, one after another. (more)
* Chico Mendes
* Amazing Zone
* Rainforest Rundown
That’s when we took in the place where we’d just spent the night.
It’s was an old kitchen, walls covered in black soot from a decrepit range, with a dry sink and a dirt floor. Hanging metal cups completed the rustic ambience. The Vogue-inspired interior decorator should be congratulated. A wooden crapper on the corner added a touch of class to the room. Thankfully, it hadn’t been used in ages.
THE CARRION LOVERS CARRY ON
In the rush to get the hell out of there, we almost forgot about the noise that woke us up. Halfway through the patio, we slowly turned our heads back: some 15 or 20 vultures were staring in silence at us from above. They were the ones taking off and crash landing on the busy zinc runaway. Since we were stinking but not quite rot yet, after a few moments, they forgot we were even there.
The bill paid, we thought about crossing the border to Cobija, on the Bolivian side. As we watched guests playing in the 3-star hotel pool, the kid who’d lent us the fumigator cheerfully told us that prices there were a third of what we’d just paid, due to the currency exchange.
That’s probably why the vultures made a point of waking us up: just to see us looking like total losers.
(*) Originally published on Aug. 10, 2017.