"Argentina 2002-03" story # 21

Amazon River, Brazil           May 8, 2003

     My "Pink-Eye" was a real hit on the boat ride up the Amazon. It was so popular, in fact, that I - a communist - even shared with about twenty people. Wow, it was something to walk around the boat, watching sets of eyes go by and scouting for new, pink cases. I felt sure bad (at least one other "Pink-Eye" trip-beginner could've shared the blame with me), but even the hardest-hit Brazilians didn't hold it against me.
     We were on a white, wooden, three-story boat. It was curved like a whale's belly, lazy like a Mississippi troller that Mark Twain might've ridden. Moving Brazilians, other foreign travellers, and I lived for five nights and six days on the second deck. There were SEVENTY of us, packed like sardines, sleeping like bananas in our jungle of hammocks hung practically on top of one another. Five-star luxury all the way. You know what word I like? "Schooner."
     These trips are usually great. In 2001, I also rode from Belém to Manaus, Amazonias. It was awesome. Our beloved boat, the "Joao Pessoa," got all busted, and the trip took a whole three days and nights more than usual. No one complained, though. (Well, ONE sour-face did, actually.) We just played dominoes, swam in the river, and got to know everyone on board well.
     I still remember Brazilians, as well as the four funny English travellers, well from that trip. We laughed a lot. I still remember little Fernando, a brown-skinned boy with a dark gaze that said he believed he was made of steel, who was always around and curious of what game I and the other gringoes were playing. That trip was romantic, and I was kind of hoping to get the ol' Joao Pessoa again this year.
     My 2003 boat was not the Joao Pessoa, and our trip was not nearly so romantic. Especially if you would've seen Francisco. Francisco was a social, giggly, gray-bearded man with three upper teeth who was one of the first to pick up Pink-Eye during the voyage. He could usually be seen stretching his eye sockets and opening and closing his tinted eyes, digging at his eyes, or leaning over the side of the boat pouring treatments into his eyes. "Keel" is a fine nautical word, also.
     This year's boat's cook obviously hadn't studied at the same French academy as his Joao Pessoa counterpart. Just kidding, the Joao Pessoa cook also only made rice and noodles and meat and beans. But, the 2001 food was of a higher quality and it didn't make my stomach run. "Hull," now, is not such a nice word. But, if you add "me mighty" before it like a boastful sea-captain, it becomes the best boat synonym of all, I think. I would like to own a boat, even a modest one, just so I could say, "Get off me mighty hull!"
     Man, I love these trips. Nothing to do on them but write, talk to people, talk to yourself if that floats your schooner, rest, read, and watch the wide, brown river and its amazing scenery go by. There are sixty-foot trees behind the shore, lilly patches floating by, short, round trees, growing rainforest hills, grassy lawns, and everything of green as far as the pink eye can see.
     There are river people, too. They live so modestly. They have creaking, wooden houses or shacks, no light, basic wooden canoes, and no knowledge of distant civilization except for the passing boats. Some of them have learned to paddle out to the boats each day to expect thrown food handouts.
     Our boat's motor stopped at one point, and we all watched the canoe wait-ers in soul-hearing silence. Some from our boat threw food. These river-people - probably once such proud fisherman - were now accustomed to the boat's hours so they could go out and beg. Tears came to my eyes. I felt so sad to see them like this. Most of them at least laughed and were happy and didn't take things too seriously. But, one young lady bleated horribly, "Joga! Joga!" (Throw! Throw!) as if she was a mound of sand falling apart in worthless desperation. They never said thank you.
     That night, I argued with a Brazilian on-board who said that those people needed to be given handouts by the government. He and I only agreed that they probably had happier lifes than many people in civilization, and that they would probably be happier if they didn't have to see the big boats go by.
     You know what word is not so nice, I don't think? "Poop-deck."
     Our boat stopped in ports at colorful, old-architecture river towns, too. In one town, Francisco found some of the delectable Amazonian "acai" fruit soup and brought me a bag. We shared it with some other boat friends. I joked, "Voce me deu acai; eu te deu conjuntavitis." (You gave me acai; I gave you Pink-Eye.)
     Even ahead of "Pink-Eye", my favorite conversation topic was the Amazonian animals. One night, a Swiss kid and I listened late to a serious-faced, kind-of-ugly-faced Brazilian.
     Always serious and big-eyed, the Brazilian began every Portuguese story with, "And now ... I'm going to tell you a TRUE story ... TRUE because I was told it by my very uncle ..." I think he just liked to tell this part of the story. Because, some times, he would say this, get only one line into a story, and then go back to this, and then go into a new story.
     In the first story, he told of two Amazonian night fisherman who suddenly noticed two red eyes behind their moving boat. And then, the eyes came closer. And closer. And it was a big snake stalking the fisherman. The end.
     I felt jipped. I shouted about a hundred angry, non-believing questions at him. What kind of snake was it!? Well, was the snake stupid!? Firstly, how did the snake expect to catch up to a moving boat!? Secondly, how did he expect to jump onto the boat!? Thirdly, how did he expect to overtake multiple men by himself!? How many meters long was the snake!?
     Boy, it made him mad to answer my questions. Especially when I asked how many meters was the snake. Meters! he yelled. You don't care how many meters something has at a time like that! He did tell me, though, that snakes swim very fast. And, he said, they also had an attraction to their eyes that they use to lure their prey close.
     And then ... he was going to tell us a TRUE story ... TRUE because he was told it by his own dad ...
     He said once his dad had gone fishing. He noticed a large, quick whirlpool forming at his side. Suddenly, out from the whirlpool came a big cobra with an adult jacaré (Amazonian crocodilian) in its mouth. The jacaré got away, though, he said.
     "Wow!" I asked how many meters the snake and jacaré had. The Brazilian got even madder, and he left soon after.
     Boy, I was fascinated.
     The following night was even better. Two Brazilian guys were telling fish tales when I stumbled by. One guy told of the Amazonian tacunare: a fish that grows to be three meters long (nine feet). You have to research its habits for days, sometimes, if you want to know where it's going to be and capture it. Its meat is supposed to be great.
     Now, the other guy, a likeable, scrawny twenty-two-year-old named Jerbson, talked. He told of one time his dad had been after a tacunare.
     Apparently, the tacunares normally swim with their backs above water. And these two tacunares he'd been researching were now taking care of newborn babies. The father tacunare always swam in front, the babies swam in-between, and the mother swam behind.
     Jerbson's father awaited them in a jungly, brown creek they frequented. He spotted a tree branch stretching over the water. He pushed the canoe into shore so the fish wouldn't see it, and he climbed the tree branch and waited. The tacunare family neared, singing "A-whoo-whoo-whoo-whoa! We are fishes, here we go!" Not really.
     Jerbson's dad waited for the three-and-a-half foot mother to pass, and he hit her with the spear. She struggled and pulled him into the water. He grabbed her with his body, but she got away and loose of everything. Later, she died, though, and Jerson's dad got his meal.
     Man, I was hooked on Jerbson's words as if they had a gravity to them and I had to keep myself from smacking into this tongue. The other guy left. It was nice having Jerbson there, a guy even patient enough to answer my stupid questions.
     The last big snake he'd seen was nine meters (twenty-seven feet!) long, walking through the trees. It was black with a blue glaze and beautiful. But, he and his uncle had to take off, because the snake was downwind, had caught their scent, and was coming to attack. He said big snakes could twirl their tails like lassoes and grab you before you knew it.
     He confirmed the snakes' attraction thing, too. He'd once been hunting birds in the Amazon. One bird kept hopping around as he chased him, heading towards a certain point. When Jerbson was just about to collect the bird, he pushed away some leaves and was scared out of his mind to find a snake there. Jerbson didn't know if the snake had been trying to lure the bird close so he could eat the hunted bird or the bird-hunter. But, he ran like heck and left the bird to the snake.
     He confirmed, too, that big snakes and jacarés are mortal enemies. Their fights were horrible. The snakes did indeed create whirlpools with their bodies while fighting in water. But, their advantage came on land. The jacarés, there, could only use their tails as weapons. Their bite onland was of little use.
     Jerbson had seen panthers. The coat of the stunning "maracaja" (black panther) was also black with a blue glaze, and he too had the brainwashing power of attraction. Jerson said its pupils were either black-black or green, and the rest of its eye was white as white so as to concentrate its allure.
     The painted leopard, the Amazon's most-treasured visual, had come after Jerbson before. He and his uncle were once hunting and sleeping out in the jungle, and they came the next day across leopard scrapings on a tree bark. When a leopard is stalking you, it does this as it's near to sharpen its nails. And you have to double-back and get upwind of it.
     Man, Jerbson's conversation had me riveted. That Jerbson, what a likeable chap.
     Just then, me and a lady on the boat finally figured out where we'd recognized each other from. From that heart-felt 2001 voyage, the Joao Pessoa! Wow, it was incredible. She was the mom of Fernando, and she said he was there in Manaus playing soccer and still remembering his friends from that trip.
     Wow! And guess what else!? The ol' beloved Joao Pessoa ... sunk! the very next time it set off on the River! Most of the people were saved by a passing freight boat. Boy! And so, our great 2001 trip was the Joao Pessoa's farewell voyage.
     Wow. Well, those trips never fail you. A nice trip again. And here I am in Manaus, Amazonias. Venezuela's next!

Later, Modern Oddyseus

P.S. - "Get off me mighty hull!"

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