Part 6

I guess I was too optimistic in thinking a trip to the (small, but dense) local library would give solid results, as Três was fairly amused by the thought of a detailed map of anything covering the rainforest, and Graham was getting uncomfortable sitting around not being terribly active.

Turns out that any given time, there’s close to a hundred different expeditions, international organizations, university studies, and government flunkies all set to work in and around the Amazon basin. You could go out there and throw a rock and almost hit someone if it wasn’t so. Damn. Big.

Thankfully, there were some young research nerds from the Universidad de Madrid there as well, botanists or ethnographers or something. And though they didn’t recognize Ava’s picture, they at least knew where some of the more at risk tribal groups and humanitarian efforts were. Or at least thought they were, the landscape being so delightfully susceptible to change.

I told them thanks anyway, that we’d pick up on her down the trail. Some of them laughed and said to be careful of cannibal country. Graham looked a little annoyed when I told him that.

They make bad movies and programs about that, exploitation crap like Cannibal’s Holocausts, he said. Smartasses.

Old Graham with the surprises. How would you know about that movie, I asked. I mean… never mind. I stood up and stretched. The now persistent layer of sweat clung to me and I almost had accepted it.

You know I’m from a country of cannibals too, I said out loud to no one. Chomp chomp, I said, clacking my teeth. Of course, we usually only do it to our enemies. Graham looked at me and I could see he finally wanted to ask.

New Guinea, I said. But honestly, I think the people eating is a lowlander war-time thing, distant cousins at best. I winked. Is it shameful that I don’t really know for sure which tribes do and don’t? Is it even worse that I’m not bothered by the practice?

Graham was still staring at the chuckling students. Focus, I said. You’re right, a friend once told me that the tribe everyone got so Reefer Madness about, the ones the Amazon movies were loosely based on, were the Yanomamo, and the worst they did was eat their own dead. Besides, I think they’re to the north, out of our way.

Fearing cannibalism is old as the Greeks, remnants of the classic us against them mentality. With so many uncontacted groups and varied locales out in the jungle, there would likely be more dangerous things to occupy our worries with, like good old disease or homicide.

Três cleared her throat and lifted the river system map, pointing out where she had marked off known tribe groups that had suffered incursions by illegal miners and loggers. She had also referenced that against all the ongoing studies she could find from the last half year. Impressive.

Most of the dangerous territory was along the north and east, and along remote branches of feeder streams. I calculated how much our funds would last (not long), and pointed along the river, asking how long it would take to get here and there. Ten days at the most, I figured, then we’d have to regroup.

Graham nodded and mentioned once again that the longer it took, the less chance Ava would be found, if she wanted to be at all. He was staring hard at the red circles marking violence and restricted zones. I say we stick to where the scholars are at until one of them can make an ID.

Tomorrow then, we get on the boat, I said.

Três agreed, between angling herself out of sight of the nosy Spaniards trying to get a better look. She pointed out how late it was getting and that she needed to see to her mother before leaving.

That, of course, reminded me that it had been a week since I had called home. I’m an idiot like that sometimes.

I tucked myself into the cozy, wood-paneled booth next to the library phone and dialed (e-mails and status updates only go so far). Mum wanted to talk for much longer than my calling card would have lasted (oh, how they make the world that much smaller when you need it), but it felt good to hear her.

Next came my lovely partner, who had to cut me off before I blathered too much into the phone. I could hear the tinges of hurt and jealousy in her tone, but I had to remind her that she was an accomplished professional and that work would just fall apart without her. That, and we’d kill each other on expeditions like this. Love you, choop, I said. Back in two weeks. Unless I strike it big.

Três and Graham tapped their feet, ready to get going. We left the grand old building and parted ways, Três for home, and me and Graham for the dock.