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Amazonian adventures

Posted: March 11, 2014 9:17 a.m.
Updated: March 12, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The printed page has been an introduction to dreams and anticipations for me since I was a child. When my Aunt Eva brought a large house and barn from the heirs of a very old spinster woman, I found a treasure trove! Back then, children were not as restrained as they are today with various activities and parents’ eyes constantly upon them. The treasure trove was not gold, but a stash of National Geographics, some possibly as old as the magazine itself. When my mother told me reading was a waste of time, the activity took on even more delight. She wanted me doing chores, not absent. Also, when I immersed in my fantasies, I truly did not hear her call. Even today, I am a subscriber to National Geographic and an avid reader. Never once did I believe I would get to visit the places so vividly described. Certainly, I did not realize that imagination is often more pleasant than the reality of a situation. I was an eager tourist when offered the chance to visit the Amazon.

My husband, always the planner and financial officer, selected a trip, not with a travel agent. Since I certainly wanted acceptable accommodations, after experiencing roaches parading up the wall in China, I wanted reasonable housing. The hotel, probably the only decent one in the Amazon at the time, was marvelous, looking a good deal like the castles in India and the setting for the television series Upstairs/Downstairs. It shone, but the smell was of mildew, something probably brought about by the humidity and heat. When I asked what it was, the staff dismissed it as the smell of the wood -- not likely. There were, of course, no elevators and no entertainment. In fact, I, foolish tourist, had not even carried a book, and little shopping was available. In spite of the heat, I went walking on the manicured grounds and was surprised by a small man who jumped from a tree and stuck out his hand. Not knowing what to do, I smiled and shook his hand. He looked totally puzzled. (When we got home, we discovered a bus full of tourists had been attacked by a group of natives, who had chopped off limbs.) We did go on a tour to see the Opera House, not in operation, but still sitting in decayed opulence to fuel the interest of the tourists.

I was well aware of the importance of water, having become violently ill in Scotland and Egypt just for brushing my teeth with the spigot water. How delighted I was to learn that the water in the hotel was safe for consumption. In a land replete with water, after I tried the medicinal taste, I was without any way to slake my thirst until I discovered there was a store in town that sold water. Robert and I would ride the bus to town in the impossible heat to purchase a gallon each, which we drank before we could get back and chill it in the hotel. Coleridge’s lines, “…water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink” meant much more to me after the Amazon trip.

Finally, we were on our way out into the jungle. While waiting for the motor boat to carry us into the far reaches, I placed my fingers in the water to cool them. An employee looked amazed, horrified or delighted and said, “You know there are piranhas in there!” At last, I understood the situation was real and quickly removed my fingers. Everyone knew they were to wear pants and covered shoes, I thought for the chance of mosquitoes. When we moved into canoes paddled by natives and saw long-nosed crocodiles eagerly slide from the banks to greet us, I realized a real reason existed for sitting still. There were no cushions or padding in canoes, just boards. Also, as long as my legs are, there really was not room for any relaxing. Even though I was much younger then, I experienced stiffness! The environment looked just exactly as pictured in National Geographic, so I was enthused. I was thankful that we were traveling by canoe; I know we would have been hacking our way with machetes on land.

We went to floating houses -- actually one room and porch houses -- where some natives lived. Their whole families stayed there and gained their food from the river. Children played with monkeys, perhaps ones who meat added to their diet. I have never understood why photographers always want me in their pictures! This time was no different, except that the owner of the boat had a pet python which he added to the filming. I did not agree to be involved! The snake was larger than my arm, and who knows whether he had recently been fed! A gentleman did pose and added his lit pipe to the snake’s mouth, eliciting a warning hiss.

Our food was fish and rice prepared on a floating barge. Thankfully, the fish did not, as in China, have its head and eyes left for decoration! My husband was very disappointed to find that the two day and night tent trip on land was either too expensive, sold out or not available to us. I was thankful for the lack; I did not enjoy the thought of huge snakes entering my sleeping bag to keep warm or crawling insects’ visits! I was charmed by the trip and thankful to have seen the wonders of nature.

I did not expect more adventures since we were leaving to catch the airplane home. The hotel had received our money and had a new set of tourists. Big surprise -- no plane arrived! Our last night was spent in a type of barracks with no air conditioning and Spartan accommodations. The young missionaries joining us were delighted because they had been sleeping in the company of tarantulas. The only food available was very stale crackers, probably left from prehistoric time. The next morning, the plane arrived -- a “crop duster.” When the aircraft rose, it encountered much turbulence, tossing the stewardess and passengers around and dousing everyone with tepid Coca-Cola! Finally, a calm came, and then we were treated to a double rainbow, the first one I ever saw and very vivid! What a wonderful way for nature to help us bid good-bye to the jungle!

No matter where an individual may go, what is available is different. The older I get, the more I enjoy “visiting” by watching specials on television in the comfort of an air conditioned home with clean water readily available. Possibly, I might be unable to get out of those canoes and walk now.

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