Part 8

The Amazon River, as you probably learned and heard many times is just over 6400 kilometres long and immeasurably complex, nearly breaking up the northern part of the continent, and full of islands and small lakes in its stream. It has its own disparate currents and eddies, high and low spots, areas rich for farming and portions full of garbage, waste, and worse. And it’s very, very swift.

So there we were, setting out for a remote camp, hugging the shoulders of the massive spread of water with a medium-sized outboard motor, two locals and two almost clueless foreigners.

Along with us we had a mostly functioning but definitely ageing field GPS, a hundred feet of rough fibre rope, two sets of mosquito netting, some thin blankets, various flavours of OTC medication, one real bush knife, a utiliknife, and two shoddier pen knives, Graham’s gun case, waterproof matches, two 50 pound tanks of propane, a decent camp grill/stove, a few sets of cheap touristy clothes which probably wouldn’t make it out unscathed, two rain slickers (harder to get than I thought!), a pair of hip waders, some hand reels for fishing, Três’s weathered and still amusing Tiger-Cats cap, a set of maps, a worse set of maps, two disposable cameras, my laptop with extra battery, various sizes of smaller batteries, some LED flashlights, two overstuffed first aid kits, a good amount of dry goods, a 200 litre tank of potable water, purification tablets, binoculars, a few battered novels (I made Graham leave the Grisham behind), and an indelible sense of certainty that this crazy thing was worth doing.

As much as I would love to get into the history of how the natives and Europeans contacted and conflicted and mingled with each other in this place, that’s a better thing to look up for yourself. It’s fascinating. There were generally always people looking to do good deeds in these woods and waters, just that they weren’t the ones in charge most of the time. Either way, the part we’re concerned with is still a few days out, so let’s skip as close to that as we can.

First, you should know that it rained for most of those three days. Warm, humid-as-hell, soup-like rain. We were catching river spray and eating the broth that soaked us from above and all sides. I could see how most people didn’t keep things like cotton or wool clothes for very long. I kept to a pair of ragged jean cut-offs before long.

Most of the time was spent in silence, or dealing with mooring and meals at the first few towns. Until we started to make our way (much more slowly) up the Rio Trombetas, near Oriximiná. The rains broke and the three of us (plus Geraldo the boatman, yeah, I know) stirred to life, tracking the GPS and checking it against our sets of maps, splayed out against the loose table and curved wall of the cabin, adjusting our way gradually to the research camp.

I don’t pray much any more, but I did wish for the universe to provide a break once we landed. It answered, but as always in the form of someone… inspired. Enter the Mad Bug-Woman Lena.