"Argentina 2002-03" story # 20

Ilha do Marajo, Brazil           May 3, 2003

Hey, all. I´m on a boat going up the Amazon River now, May 3rd. Life is pretty relaxed here.
     Jericoacoara was a sweet place, but it was a pretty pain to get here from there. It took one sand-trolley, one micro-van, one long bus ride, one guaraná juice (made thick with milk by blending the brown, Amazonian guaraná nut with ginseng to make a nutty, different drink) for energy, a night in a hotel, and a boat to get to where I went next. In the Amazon.
     To pass the trip, I decided to read a book that Canadian Monica had forced me to take. "Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger. I really only read it because I thought it was going to be about baseball. Not at all. But, it did have a rambling, detail-crazy narrator with a good sense of humor, and it was a pretty fun read.
     I had to spend a night in big city Belém, on the mouth of the Amazon River. I went to see a movie there. I bought some popcorn on the street. And a small boy approached and asked me to buy him some popcorn. I pretty much never give to beggars; I think it causes bad. So, I walked inside the theatre. Inside, I thought back to the boy, and realized I hadn't bought him nor me one bag of popcorn. I'd bought myself TWO bags of popcorn. It's kind of funny when you think about it - as Salinger would say. I felt a little like a fat jerk, but begging and encouraging beggars just seem like paths that aren't going anywhere. ?
     Moving along, from literature to film to music, I have to say there´s a Brazilian song out right now that really gets my emotions going. It´s beautiful. Even Israeli travellers sing along.
     It starts off with the female vocalist whistling like she´s on her way, yet calm with experience. The tone is that of sailing on small waves through a long, slow, wonderful life - threatened now by a new love. The singer mentions not having patience for tv, but other than that I´ve only really caught on to the chorus:

"Nao sou de ninguem. Eu sou de todo mundo. E todo mundo me quer bem. Nao sou de ninguem. Eu sou de todo mundo. E todo mundo é meu, tambem ... Eu te querendo mais que ningue. Eu te querendo, como Deus quiser." - Tribalistas (Velha Infancia)
     (I don´t belong to anyone. I belong to everyone. And everyone really wants me good. I don´t belong to anyone. I belong to everyone. And everyone is mine, too ... I´m wanting you more than anyone before. I´m wanting you as God would have it.) - ("Old Infancy")

It´s good.
     My hotel in Belém, however, was not so good. I always look for US$3 or $4/night hotels while travelling in South America, and you´d be surprised at what really nice places you can normally get. But this, this place in Belém, is like a bottom-of-the-barrel, downtown-dangerous burlesque house. Sounds of burlesquery, and lots of sniffing, can be heard through the ceilings. It´s almost the only bad place I´ve ever stayed.
     My favorite place, in Brazil, would be the Ilha do Marajó. It´s a very swampy island in the mouth of the Amazon. The following morning, as early as I could get out of the hotel, I took a boat to the island.
     Boy, is this big island and its few towns a peaceful place. Fudge-skinned people ride all around town on bicycles. Everything is old. The white houses need work. The boats that carry people from town to town are failing and wooden. The poeple do their old work, happily.
     There was a white, three-story school there that was the most beautiful school I´ve ever seen. It had big windows, and a white concrete wall circled the school and its fresh green schoolyard in back. Tall, Amazonian trees, from behind and above, seemed to want to look after this school in the heat. Smiling students, eating a nice lunch on the wall, knew things were good.
     The Marajoans live simply between the Amazonian-style jungle and the brown river with no end in sight. They work and eat water buffaloes, which got to the island from Africa, by shipwreck. Water buffaloes aren´t good navigators.
     The setting like this made me wonder when and what would become the first tropical disease I might get.
     There are some freaky things going on in the tropics. For example, on the sand streets of Jericoacoara, people who walk around bare-foot may get "feet beast" parasites that move around inside their feet and sometimes cause their legs to swell up like pumpkins. I walked around bare-foot there, but I didn´t get feet beasts. Whew!
     In the Amazon River, my creative writing prof. Sterling Watson told me, there are things that can swim up your ureter, if you wiz in the river, and attach themselves with spikes inside. What did you think creative writing classes spent talking about? I pi´d in the river, but I didn´t get these horrible things. Whew!
     On the Ilha do Marajó, I was walking a rainforest track through big leaves, covering tree canopies, and hanging vines. And a mosquito with yellow and gray stripes on it stuck me. What a little jerk, huh? It looked like it could´ve been carrying yellow fever or malaria. I don´t know how exactly I would´ve known this only by looking at him. That´s like saying the mosquito looked like it could´ve been called "Larry."
     I´m not a mosquitiologist. Man, would that be a suck-y job. Literally, it would be - if you think about the mosquitoes, bah ha! No malaria as of yet, though. Whew!
     But, I did get something though. Two days ago, my eye started turning pink. Probably just a case of "Pink-Eye," I thought, just like we have in the States. But, then again, seeing how this is the tropics, it could yet be something worse. Something horrible, named "Big-Eye" or "Soft-Eye" or "Your-Eye-Falls-Out-In-Your-Soup." Or "Pink-Entire-Fricken´-Head." Or "Big-Soft-Eye."
     All these diseases scare the be-jesus out of me. Brazil should have an anti-travel slogan. "Brazil: If the crime doesn´t get you, the tropical diseases will. Just wait ´til your whole fricken´ head turns pink!"
     Oh, geez, where the hell was I? The Ilha do Marajó. In their free time, the people there play great soccer and sew. ("The World´s Greatest Seamstress," as I call one frenzy-needled old lady, mended two of my shirts this time, after she´d mended one two years before.) Practically the whole town jogs laps around the plaza before sunset. They go to the river beaches and swim where crazy heart-shaped or armadillo-skinned seeds float down from the river.
     It´s a beautiful, primitive, quiet, small place. I wouldn´t be too displeased to hear if some day one of my kids would go to that big, old, wild school. But, that day´s still some time off ...
     After two days, I returned to Belém. The whole fricken´ city pointed out my pink eye and laughed at me, saying I´d caught "conjuntavitis." They laughed mainly about how bad it was, and how it would surely spread to my other eye. The jerks. Apparently, an epidemic has been going around.
     Various Belémmings told me to wash out my eye with various things. One lady in the big, central market told me to wash it with urine. Yeah right. I´d rather have my eye fall out in my soup! Crazy lady ...
     I bought myself a hammock. So that I could take off that night on a five-day boat trip up the Amazon. What´s gonna happen? What tropical diseases await us?
     There´s only one thing for sure. With so many of us sleeping together so closely in a small boat in hammocks, we´re gonna have a whole boat full of pink eyes.
     Boy, what a jerk. Don´t worry, though. The pink eyes only last five days; they´re not so bad.

- Ol´ Pink-Eyed Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to Michelle for the place to sleep!

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