So yeah, I got this gargantuan file from Bucho yesterday, with pictures! I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it together!
Here’s a composite of a bunch of emails I’ve sent back from Brazil to friends and family. There’s a bunch of reading in them but if you’re curious here they are. Feel free to download them onto the internet site you have in your computer and put them on the SOS web disc.
By all means edit out the stuff that makes no sense and post bits you think are worth posting in the forums. Also here’s a few photos. Particularly check out the badass t-shirt I’m wearing in the shot with my hammock in the background. That shot was from about seven weeks ago and is from the deck/classroom of the old school building where I was living. The other shot bat02(3) shows the same building from the outside.
I don’t have any recordings done yet but I’ll try to sort one out in the next week or so.
Peace, love and boobies me old cobber.
2008 01 15 – Sexyness Etc
Oi amigos e minha familia,
You know those 1am taxi rides from the airport where Marcelo runs 12 red lights in 12 minutes and hares along at 80 km through the hot, wet, and mostly free of other traffic, streets and alleys of a ramshackley, colourful, patchwork, awesome looking jungle city where out of your open passenger seat window stray mongrel dogs run free in small packs, the cops look like special forces and a man pushes himself in a wheelchair down the middle of the road on a four lane street while in the back of your sleep-deprived mind you admit to yourself that if Marcelo wants things a certain way you don´t have much in your armoury no matter how fast you think you can run in steel-cap boots and bellbottom jeans to argue with him or the five or seven or nine semi-automatic toting hoodrats waiting around the next corner down the alleyway in your imagination but Marcelo decides not to change your life for the worse and instead drops you safely at Hotel Machado´s and makes sure you´re taken care of before he peels away again into the appealing madness of the Amazon night?
That’s how cool it is in Belem. A bunch of people said to me in the months before I finally took off, “Lordy, lordy Ben, you´re going to have such an awesome time, and you´re sexy as hell.” And so far it really is a surreally awesome time (apart from the bug in my gut that didn´t let me sleep last night, but beggars can´t be choosers, right?) and I really am surreally sexy (apart from when I have sleep deprivation from the old chunder and rear evacuation samba… actually that is pretty sexy too … that´s right, you heard me … sexy as hell).
I spent the first two nights and one day in Machado´s trying to find sleep halfway across the world from where my genius brain seems to still think it is. In that room, with its rattling aircon and cold shower, I watched a tribute to Sir Ed on ESPNBrasil and parts of the Auckland Open. In between the tossing and turning and tossing some more I also saw, or at least heard or bathed in, loads of beautiful football. I watched footage of cops in Jacarezinho in Rio de Janeiro crushing a drug gang hideout. They have very big guns and an armoured vehicle that looks like Mad Max´s ultimate paddy wagon. When it comes out there are (non-penetrating) bullet holes all over it.
On the second day Ben Hur, a garrulous, grey-bearded southern brazilian who fell in love with the north and is the boss of Amazon Fruit, swings by Machados at 630 in the morning and we shoot off to his offices. In the car I meet his son-in-law, a young german food scientist called Kay ( pronounced kai) and one of his administrators, Donna Adaez, and at the offices, a group of air-conditioned converted containers, I meet more of his crew. Fast-talking Jorgeane, one of the teachers, Salamir, another administrator and keen to practice his English with me, Polaco, the happy dirty-cowboy-hat-wearing foreman on the island, aunty-like Leah, who limps and is Ben Hur´s sister in law, Joyce, a quietly amused office girl who drives me to McDonalds for lunch. I also meet serious but likeable Andre, the NU Fruits Of The Amazon (the company part owned by Jon who´s responsible for putting me on the path to where I find myself now) main man in Belem.
The 30 odd foot barge with a pumping, chugging diesel and a tarp for a roof that takes 15 or so of us to the island at 7 is as used, ramshackle and charming as Belem. Every moment I´m waiting for it to sink in where I am but it still feels very normal for me to be here, like it´s just supposed to be that I´m in the Amazon. We cruise into one of the island´s jetties after 12 or so minutes and I climb the steps and follow slow walking Tania on a nice little tour of the operation. It´s like you´d picture it (or at least like I pictured it) here but so intoxicatingly alive and four dimensional (the fourth dimension is the hot wetness of the air, and it´s beautiful). Four and five story high palm trees, parrots overhead, Portuguese flying through the air (the language, not the people) above background noise of generators, cicadas and crickets. The island has all the charm of Belem but in a different way.
Crap, I´m falling asleep at the computer here in the Amazon Fruit office/container. In the four nights since I arrived I´ve spent about 10 hours asleep, and that´s after the 36 hours with only a couple of hours sleep in the plane. Part of it´s the hammock, a cool idea I haven´t found a way to be comfortable enough in yet, and part of it´s my genius brain, but mostly it´s the buzz of really, really being on a jungle island in the Amazon of Brasil. The Brasil.
Next time, probably the people and animals on the island and how I´ve fallen in love with tarantulas. For now, I´ll probably fall asleep on the Amazon Fruits lunch table. I miss you guys, but not in the way I want to be home in NZ, in the way I wish you could here be amongst the awesomeness of this place. Of course it´s not everybody´s idea of a way to live your life for a while, but even just for one day, I wish I could bring yous all here. It´s totally aces.
2008 01 20 – (No Title)
Hi yáll. Here´s a word doc I wrote on the school computer on the island where they have actual eletricity for a fair bit of the day from generators and a big beautiful boiler named Mad Maria. I have a bunch of photos but my camera-USB cord is NZ and apparently Fuji cameras and parts are rare over here. So until I sort my stuff out this is it I´m afraid. On the plus side everything is sweet, worked today and yesterday, partly on getting stuff ordered for the construction of the school and partly on the new little house next door where I´ll stay eventually. The rest of the time has been either trying to buy stuff in the city, studying my portuguese, talking to people, getting to know a bit of the island, eating a lot or sleeping. I´m one of the luckiest buggers alive right now.
(This is long, yes, sweet baby Jebus it´s long, but then what do you expect from a dude who´s so stoked if he was a fire he´d burn down Tokyo, some pussy 2 line job? Of course you don´t. But you don´t have to read all of it – or any of it for that matter – just pretend you did and I´ll still love you and find you attractive)
Oi família e amigos! Esta muito bom!!
The fifth tarântula I´ve come across on the island is in my bedroom, in that book filled locker a couple of metres behind me that happens to have a chair wedging it shut (there are too many textbooks in there so the door tries to stay open). I only just saw it 20 or so minutes ago when I came back from taking a cold shower over yonder in the factory changing rooms.
I was up on a chair trying and failing to twist at least one of the temperamental flourescent bulbs that hang above my hammock into life just after the generator had chugged back to life about 7:10pm, and used the torch in my mouth to check out the aranha macaco (monkey spider) I´d seen earlier in what seems to be a regular spot for it on the door of the locker. The door was cracked just enough for me to make out the (familiar by now) front legs of another tarântula. I climbed down and peered into the locker and there she was, about 110mm legspan, deep brown and beautiful. As I continued to rudely shine the torch at her she turned, in that graceful patented slomo tarântulas have and crept back into the dark at the back of the locker.
You did read that first line right, and the last one. I´m on the island in my quarters/the old school´s office tapping this out on the school computer (in the dark). I´m living here until the little casa over by the new school site is finished. It´s better than the shack I was expecting, still a jungle house but with brick walls and fewer gaps for bigger crawlers to find a way in than this old place. And it´ll have some power like this building whenever the right generator is running. And as for that “last one”, I do find tarântulas quite sexy in a kind of scary way.
I saw the first and biggest so far in my first day on the island. She was just sitting, happy as you please, on the side of the track that cuts 1.3km across the width of the island. They have these decent sized river islands in the Amazon, I think the two that sit very close to Ilha Murutucu are similar in size, about 3-3.5km long and 1-1.5km across.
(The track is pretty much a super long 1.2m wide deck raised two or three feet off the ground to be clear of floods and king tides [see ps1] and has extra 40 by 80 timber runners [see a man] on the top of either side to act as tracks for trolleys (like very small man-powered rail cars). The trolleys take trays of açaí berries from the river on either side of the island to the factory, and later transport the 44 gallon drums of product from the factory to the jetty outside Soldalici´s [see ps2] house where they´re craned onto a boat for Belém.)
Walking maybe 3m behind Ben Hur on my first patrol and orientation of the compound, about halfway down the track from the factory back to Soldalici´s, there she was (the tarântula, not Soldalici), sitting deep brownish grey, tarântula fat and pretty at the edge of the track. Ben Hur had just cruised [ps3] on by it without a glance (although his bad eye may be to blame for that) so I don´t even notice this beer-mug length spider til I´m about three feet away. It took me so much by surprise to see it there on a well used track in the middle of the day (even in the shade of the jungle) I´d gone by it before my brain registered that I´d seen an actual real live wild tarântula.
The second and smallest (also seen on my first day here) was high up under one of the soffits of the factory roof round the back. Probably only 60-65mm leg span but with a bright orange body, I was a fair way away from it, it being so high, but I just made sure I didn´t walk directly underneath it. I only saw it for that day before it must have decided it either liked a different position or was eaten by something bigger (like a female, or even a female tarantula).
There´s another tarântula about 12 paces from me but outside on the deck handrail, 40mm in body and 70 odd back feet to front feet and with orange hairs on the tips of its legs. It´s the same one I discovered yesterday about 2pm, when a heavy rain was pounding around us and I´d just returned to on the boat from shopping for a few supplies in the city. I was stoked to see her still around, the five different tarântulas I´ve seen so far have been quite beautiful and she´s the most striking of them because of the colours and shape of her legs, which aren´t super chunky but are still the typical thick tarântula leg.
Two nights before last, in between variously spewing and shitting my rings out, I met another, this time with legs a good 110-120mm but no extra marking, just a sexy deep brown and deep grey coat of spider fur. I hope she´s a she because she really turns me on, I´m not kidding.
She sat in the same place on the wall about 1.5mm up a wall 3m from the door of the factory bathroom as I went in and out, pacing back and forth in front of her, cursing my wuss guts for not handling the jungle bacteria. She´s been there every night since, it seems to be her favourite hunting ground. I know she´s the kind of girl who wouldn´t give me the time of day but I´m utterly enamoured of her.
On a couple of the balmy, lazy evenings, as I´ve sat at the teacher´s deck studying portuguese on the deck (aka classroom), futebol has broken out on the small irregular shaped field right next to the old school. The field is pretty well level, about 25 paces long and with small, not necessarily plumb, 1.2 by 0.9m goals at each end. There is no perimeter as such, but the river is close by on one side and one of the raised (about a foot and a half high) decking walkways on the other side. In between those natural outlines and the clearing of the field itself are a few palm trees and the stumps of former palm tree legends.
They played three on three the first night, with a crappy, partly deflated football, nine of them in three teams swapping out the losing trio when goals were scored. I went across and leaned on the deck rail to watch, not wanting to be the bumbling ignorant foreigner inviting myself to play yet even though I´d met some of them already and they were cool.
The real reason I didn´t barrel on down though is that they´re ridiculously skillful, with absolute control of the ball and unless a slippery part of the pitch betrays them, unfailing balance. They´re mostly fit young guys but the older, paunchier cats are just the same, utterly sure of their feet/thighs/chest/head with the ball. The trees and stumps and outlines of the field continually threatened to upend them or thwart the intention of a pass but time and again they´d land the ball right dead exactly where they wanted it with their teammate.
And the thing is, the pass is where it´s at for these guys, one or two touches, it´s at their teammate. At times one will have a go at beating a man on his own, and when they do it´s badass to watch, but 95% of the time they look to pass and rarely shoot until they´re within pissing distance of the goal. They never look hurried but always do things too fast to second guess or let any doubt cloud things. They remind me of the way the P.I. boys play social touch, with a similar air of pure play and pure ability and a lot of joking around with each other.
My brazilian portuguese is slowly coming on, the language gradually revealing itself to my possum-in-the-headlights brain, like Manuela said it would. Two weeks she said. I´m a week in and can have a slow but decent conversation with someone who understands my handicap, and all the people on the island are sweet as about it. It´s more fits and starts than leaps and bounds but they compliment my proninciation quite often and my vocabulary has improved about 400% already, and I unlock more every day. And every day I say obrigado Deus para Manuela, a proffesora melhor no mundo.
It´s night outside now in the jungle, the almost daily thunderstorm (they´re superloud here) has passed by a couple of hours ago and a gentle rain fills in the noise between the grasshoppers, bats, little tree frogs, big jungle toads and something real loud and pissed-off sounding in one of the trees a hundred metres or so away across the creek that I hope is just a big weird rainforest bird. Also across that creek that cuts in from the river and runs past the old school one of the pet mongrel dogs of the island pipes up for 10 or 15 seconds before deciding its not worth his trouble.
Apart from a darkening of mood on guts-ache night/day and the continuing pain in the ass of jetlag I´ve loved every minute of this place so far, the island jungle and city one. I spent more than half of today in that wild, alive city with one of the teachers and a friend of hers trying to find more stuff from more shops but I´m knackered now and I´m going to have another crack at this sleeping in a hammock business. It´s not as cool as it sounds so far, and it´s not helping me kick the jetlag (and neither are the fucking mosquitoes).
Then again, as much as I´ve fallen a little bit for taratulas I´m not 100% relaxed to have one actually in the room with me while I sleep. Two aranha macacos up in the rafters last night was enough of an introduction to sleeping with big arachnids in one´s room, the thought of waking up with a tarantula next to or on me is a little too much, a little too soon. I mean, I´m a gentleman and we´re just getting to know each other. The one in the locker is about 110mm and a dark brown. Sleep may dance around the edge of my reach again, but I´m going after it anyway right now.
One more thing though. The people I´ve met on the island and through Amazon Fruits are friendly and open and during my first week here they´ve sometimes asked me if I´m doing okay being in this strange place far from home without any of my friends or family, and staying alone in the school. I´m sweet of course and I tell them that, tell them I´m stoked to be here finally after trying for so long to kick this project off and make it happen, and that I really dig the Amazon so far. And I´m never alone. During the day and evening people are always around to talk to and in the dark I have about a babillion animals of different walks and flights of life either rarking up the night or sitting very, very quietly in wait for food to drop by.
But there´s another reason I´m never alone; Oma is here. Everyone I love is never far from my thoughts but Oma is more than just in my thoughts. I feel her here more than I have at any time since she left for the next world. I can´t say I wouldn´t be in Brasil if it wasn´t for her, but would I be working for only food and lodging to build a school for kids who don´t have the same opportunities others do? Very likely not. The whole spark of the idea to make my time in Brasil this way ignited from Oma´s support of her 11 World Vision children, and from the way she loved and lived her life. The adventurousness of choosing to live in a country with a different culture and language must have been put into me from many people and influences, but any good I can do here is because of her.
Here, she´s in the forrest, in the laughter, in the heat, in the wildlife, in the stillness, in the wind, the lightning, the thunder and the rain. She´s with everyone who loves her anytime they want her to be. She´s with me always.
Peace, love and python skins,
[ps1] Big rivers with enough water volume for the moon´s pull to act on them act like estuaries and have tides which oppose the flow, which makes absolute sense to me in physics terms but it´s still a weird thing to experience when you´re in a boat being pulled in the opposite direction to the flow of the day before.
[ps2] Soldalici´s house, Ben Hur says, is the most important house on the island. She´s the cook and the track runs past her casa – which is also a small brick-walled joint and is only 30 or so metres in from the river – on the way to the factory. She lives with her husband Ceara and two hard-case daughters, Thais (pron Ta-eez), 10, and Tainara, 8. I eat lunch and dinner there if I´m not in Belém and like them a lot.
[ps3] He´s 71 but he has a way of walking where it looks like he´s about to start dancing, a sort of brasileiro shoulder sway.
[ps4] Aranha macaco is pretty much like an avondale spider in size and appearance, a wolf spider type hairy sucker with 90-100mm of leg span but those legs are skinny rather than the more sexy volume tarântulas carry.
[ps5] I´ve had bats in my rom tôo, going nuts swooping and jetting through the rafters. They´re pretty tiny, only about the size of a Lynx bottle cap when they´re all folded up hanging out, maybe with a 120-150 mm wingspan (it´s hard to tell, they like to stay in the dark spaces and they move friggin quick).
[ps6] One of my most vivid memories from when I was a boy and we lived up at number 7 was being terrorised one night by one of those very small (8-10mm leg span?) jumping wolf spiders. It was the night before my birthday, probably 7 or 8 years old, and the little spider had just happened by my bedroom as it went about its spidering. I scooted for Mum and Dad but when we returned the little one was nowhere in sight and I couldn´t calm down until it was found and moved as far from my bedroom as possible, preferably to somewhere in Greece or México City.
Somehow that pussy kid has become a grown dude that actually revels in a proximity to very big spiders. What a world this can be.
2008 01 27 – Viva Dino
Tuesday Jan 22
I take the boat piloted by a young guy called Paca across to Belém at about 7:30am, headed for another rendezvous with tall, loud, fearless Jorgeane (she would probably have made one formidable ass-kicking Amazon (not that the legendary female Amazon warriors actually came from the Amazon of South America but that´s way beside the point)), one of the teachers from Escola Açaimu who has been helping me out with buying stuff in the city.
She´s the sort of woman who´ll be standing in line with you at a store kind of like Stationery Warehouse but less organized, and when she sees one of those little airhorns on a shelf by the counter she picks it up, mulls it over for about a second, then pushes the button to send a blast out through the packed shop, then give a little grin that has not even the pretence of oops or guilt but still acknowledges what she´s done isn´t what most people do.
Or she´ll have a running conversation over the course of four different traffic light stops with some people in another tinted-windowed car that appears, with its massive roof-mounted speakers and stickers all over it, to be a radio station promo vehicle. She just leans across and calls back and forth and cracks up whenever the radio car is alongside,
And she hás the voice that sounds like it´s ready to leave her at any time, like she talks it to within an inch of its life. It´s not the gravely smokers voice, it´s the voice of someone who gets full mileage out of their vocal chords. And, like everyone around here, she drives like Evel Kneivel´s neice (or nephew or uncle etc). I guess she might be the kind of woman who´d intimidate or overpower some people, brassy to the nth degree, but I like her a lot, just to sit back and enjoy the show, and we have a few laughs. She´s big fun.
The day before, we´d spent the good part of three hours driving, looking for shops or shopping in them and late last week we and a friend of hers called Diany spent six hours mostly driving, sometimes shopping all over the place. I was pretty keen to get my stuff sorted and get back to the island to set myself up better with things like a mosquito net, some singlets (it´s pretty warm here in Para, I haven´t worn my awesome Southside hoodie or any other longsleeve thing since I got out of the airport), some washing line and some more tools.
I don´t know whether Diany actually needed to buy anything, was along for the ride to check out the new gringo in town, or was there as a safety outlet because Jorgeane loves to talk, and loves to talk faster than a hail of speeding bullets, and the kiwi guy is just not going to cut it yet at that pace. Diany did end up separating from us at times and doing her own thing so I guess the last thing wasn´t it, but boy howdy can these brasilieras talk.
I pick out a word or phrase here and there but mostly it´s flying over my head like tracer fire and most of the time I figuratively keep my head down and do a lot of reading street signs, shop names, billboards, anything with printed letters that´s out my passenger window. I read portuguese pretty decently, much better than I hear it of course, so in that situation it´s more my pace. And it´s not that the girls are unfriendly in the slightest, Diany especially is super-friendly (no not like that, I made it clear up front to everyone here I´m spoken for) it´s just that they´re girls, and girls love to yak it up right? Right girls?
And brazilian portuguese just sounds so frikken cool anyway, even when you can´t follow 95% of it, and the city is so damn cool to drive around that through the frustration of not getting stuff done I was just too stoked the whole time to worry about it. Jon let me know well in advance that there´s not much time spent worrying about time over here and while I´m here, I´ll drink to that, yes sir.
So before too long (Para time) there the two of us are, about 9 in the morning, back cruising the crazy, random, colourful potholed streets of Belém, teeming with humanity. First through the older, rundown but more lively suburbs of Guamá, with its stalls, caged houses, millions of little unique shops, churches, mini-futebol stadiums and God knows what else. Then into the still uber-lively central city, or Comercial district. Where among the smaller shops, stalls etc, you´ll find department stores, bigger banks, more cops, airconditioning and a generally more modern vibe.
We fail to find a Fuji brand câmera-USB cable even in Belem´s electronic superstore, but I score, finally, a mosquito net in one of the thousands of little side shops. I have the repellant and the spray but there´s no peice-of-mind like a half millimetre thick aerated physical barrier between a man and the tiny biting, high-pitched whining part of the jungle. Now I´ll no longer have to pull the sheets over, something that makes plenty of difference to a South Auckland boy in the equatorial night.
Back on the island for lunch I eat til I can barely move then go over to the new school site to take pictures using Ben Hur´s câmera. I end up going for overkill by choosing 10 different spots in the surrounding área where trees don´t block tôo much of the view and I can get the entire structure in frame. The plan is to take shots from the same positions regularly as the building comes together to track the progress. There´ll be a website set up to show prospective donors the project and the visual side of it should be a big help in letting them understand where their hard-earned dinheiro would be going.
For now, in 2D, it´s hard to see the wood (piles) for the trees, but once it starts flling in it´ll be great. As I tramp through the underbrush I keep having to brush off big biting ants and a few mozzies but no snakes or jaguars so I mark it up as a success.
That night, after a big beautiful meal of rice, chicken and beef at Soldalici´s table, I get to chow down on some banana fritters Donna Leah´s made with some bananas I brought back from the city. Life is real, real good when a man hás a plate full of banana fritters rolled in sugar and cinnamon in front of him and a jungle full of awesomeness outside.
Friday 25 Jan
If you walk through the jungle at night here the main sensation is sound. A few of the birds seem to do a late shift so there´s a little of their action but for the most part when the generator shuts down for the night it´s crickets and frogs. The tree frogs have a high rythmic chirp and the big toads an uber-loud seemingly random roar/croak that blasts across the island like a foghorn. (It´s possible they´re even louder than Jorgeane but I haven´t run anything scientific on the data yet, and you may call me animalist but there´s little chance the toads would be as much fun to drive with.)
The coolest visual trick the jungle hás shown me so far are the fireflies. I first saw them the night I had my puke/crap-athon, leaning on the deck handrail at the old school for some air before the party in my guts really started. The first flash I thought was a trick my sleep-deprived/bacterially-influenced mind was playing, like seeing stars when you aren´t getting enough oxygen. But I wasn´t having any trouble breathing, there´s plenty of oxygen in a jungle, and about three seconds later I saw another flash a few feet away.
It was about 15 to 18 feet from me out towards the river, and whatever the thing was it was airborne but seemed to have a weird trajectory because the flash isn´t so much of a flash as a short rolling strobe (about a second long). The thing is, light starts near the front of the bug and moves to the rear, but it does so at a greater speed than the forward motion of the bug as it flies. The effect is that you see the strobe move in one direction but next pick up the bug´s location in the opposite direction.
That night I saw more floating amongst the trees as I tramped to and from the factory bathrooms in the dark, purposely keeping my torch off to let my night vision crank up. They´re spookily cool and add even more of the magical element to the place. I´m no historificatician on myth and stuff but I wouldn´t be surprised if they were the original source of fairies because that´s what it feels like to have them around.
On a small downer note, I think I found Dino, my favourite tarântula, dead on the deck this morning. I say I think because I couldn´t bring myself to try to stir him just in case it confrimed the awful truth, that he hadn´t gone out in the time honoured spider-male tradition of being devoured post-coitus by his woman, but had simply starved or reached old age.
Coming out of the room onto the deck to have some breakfast that morning I´d seen him there, front and centre and exposed, and thought I´d just caught him out having a roam, like I had the first time I came across him a couple of weeks ago. That time, still not used to the idea of having the big spiders so close to where I´m shacking up, I´d shoed him slowly off the deck, but I´d been pleased to see him again the next day on the handrail by the indoor classroom.
This morning though, I noticed the orange tip of one of his legs missing, and the leg up in the air slightly instead of resting on the deck. Then I realised he was directly below the roof tile he´d been hanging out on (the roof tiles work in pairs, one over one under, like interlinked u and n) for the past two days, hanging a couple of legs over and curiously not changing position.
Not changing position isn´t unusual for these guys, Beleza, the female that stakes out her ground by the changing rooms at the factory, returns to that same square metre of brick wall every night. But the odds were stacking up now as I thought about it, that my little buddy was actually playing a harp 8-legged style somewhere else and what I was seeing was the hairy body he wasn’t using anymore.
I´d headed off to work deciding to leave him there, thinking one of two things would happen. Either I´d return that night and he´d still be there, in which case he was certainly gone (they don´t hang out exposed so far from cover during the day and he was way out in no-spider´s-land) and I´d give him a proper send-off, or I´d return and he´d have moved or have been moved by someone or something else.
When I got back to the school that night he was gone. I hope he found some nice pink-toe girl tarantula to shag and then be eaten by. What a way to go.
2008 02 05 – Photos
Gidday y’all, It´s the day before the main day of carnival here which I´m told means two things, 1. many dancing girls not wearing many clothes, and 2. more bandits than usual (because 1. they´re more drunk than usual, and 2. they target businesses and houses whose occupants are out or out of town). On the island this means the generator runs all night to have lights on and show the banditos we´re around and to pick on someone else. For me this means one or two hours sleep last night because the casa nova is close (50m) to one of the generators and no one had told me it would run all night. Tonight and tomorrow I´ll probably return to the old school to sleep. Before lunch I worked on boxing out the foundations of the new school today for concrete hopefully Friday this week. It was my first exposure to working out in the equatorial sun for an extended period and considering the lack of sleep and the trademark jungle humidity I didn´t mind it too much. I sweated ten gallons (half of it into my eyes), but I drank enough and ate some salty crackers for some salty goodness and I think I´m going to live. A massive thunderbolt went off nearby earlier, but there was barely any rain with it. This place is electric in more ways than one.
2008 03 02 – Snake On A Floor
Oi amigos e família!
I don’t know if the first time you see half a metre of snake sticking halfway out from behind your guitar in the living room is anything like noticing a juvenile walrus rumaging through your vegie garden or coming out of PakNSave to find a pteradactyl perched on the rear wing of your hovercraft, because frankly I don’t have a vegie garden or a hovercraft.
I do have a guitar though and whatever it was that I’d at first thought was a piece of hose lying on the ground there behind that guitar, shortly afterward tried to eat one of the sticks Edimar was using to convince it that it had a better place to be than a metre and a half from where I sleep (yep, I sleep in the living room). He and Cutia told me afterward that it was a jararaca (a type of brazilian pit viper more common in the south) but Edimar was laughing quite a bit and I still don´t know if it was because of adrenanilin or because they´d put something relatively harmless there to play a joke on the New Zealander.
Either way, it was pretty awesome to see a real live snake perform a real live strike, even if it was wasted on a bit of stick, and even if it was there in my living room. And the good news is (although maybe not from the snakes point of view), the snake didn’t get to eat me. I´d come into the house alone after lunch and had wandered around doing doing this and that for three or four minutes, talking to myself in an exagerated Texan accent, and was about to walk out again when I noticed Dudu the labourer had left my guitar facing around backwards after he´d played it before lunch.
I always leave it strings facing out into the room, because it looks better and balances better, so I started to step towards it to spin it round when I noticed something like a hose or piece of rope laying there seemingly connected to a big screwdriver I´d left nearby earlier. A second later my brain had started getting a signals from my eyes that, “Hey dude, I think that might be a cobra (portuguese for snake is cobra, it doesn’t have to have a hooded head or be swaying to a flute),” but my brain was answering back, “Come on eyes, a snake in the house? How could that be? It climed the stairs? It can’t be a snake. Keep moving legs.”
But my eyes weren’t easily swayed, and became more insistent as they adjusted to the darkness of the corner from the midday glare that had been flooding in from the open front door. “That thing really seems very snake like brain, we need to stop the legs and get a better idea of this thing before we get any closer, maybe get a machete or flame-thrower.” My brain replies, “You haven’t seen a snake in the jungle in a month, what’re the chances one just wandered on into the house while everyone was out?” And my legs kept advancing.
As the shape of the dark thing in the corner became more distinct my eyes went into full alert. “No man, that’s a snake, that’s not a length of hose – repeat, NOT a length of hose! Stop legs now!” And my brain, like Han Solo in Star Wars when Obi Wan is telling him that, “That’s no moon … that’s a space station,” replies, “Yeah, I think you’re right. Chewy turn this ship around!” And my legs stop and back up a little, but only a half a foot. I don’t want to back away yet. For one thng, the head is behind the guitar so it can’t have a go at me, and what could be just another day at the office for one of our carpenter cuzzes from across the Tasman is interesting as hell to a boy from good old safe NZ.
I’m standing there a metre and a half from what I know now is a real snake and I’m stoked. What I don’t know yet is whether it’s alive or whether one of the lads has set me up a nice freshly passed away present. I’m still thinking, “I know the snake could have got in here just fine, they can climb trees for Hasselhoff’s sake, but how convenient that it’s just lying there half out in the open in a corner where I’d have a very good chance of noticing it. Surely it’s as inanimate as Jenny Shipley in the sack.”
Good sense took hold though and when I looked out the door and saw Cutia (the dude in the canoe in that photo I sent) in the distance I called him over. He’s the epitome of happy-go-lucky, almost as if the phrase could have been invented for him, and he swaggers on up and along my varanda ready to shoot a few jokes or talk about girls, a perpetual half-smile on his face when it’s not actually fully smiling or laughing. But when he gets to the front door I’m standing just inside of, and I say, “Eh Cutia … cobra?” he turns robo-serious and stops dead in his tracks. He pokes his head round the door to look into the corner for a second, then backs out to make a wide detour to the back door where he can approach from a nice 8 or 9 metres away.
“Benjamin … cobra,” he says, still at least 2 metres behind me. He calls for Edimar who’s been swaggering the same swagger along the walkway off towards where we eat lunch. Edimar shows the same respect but less caution than Cutia, stepping over to move the guitar out of the way and expose the snake fully. That’s when it got really cool, by which I mean I’d backed off another three metres and Edimar had grabbed two long sticks and moved in to try and coax the poor bugger out of where he’d probably thought he could take a nice early afternoon sleep.
Edimar moved the sticks in to try and lift the snake and the snake struck then, short and fast and beautiful to see from a safe distance. But as Edimar started lifting the snake on the X he’d formed with the ends of the sticks it quickly slithered off and out the door and off the deck and into the undergrowth and was gone from our sight in seconds. Whether it could’ve ruined my day or not it was badass to see it, and for the last three weeks since then I’ve looked twice at many twisty shaped dark green and/or brown sticks in my path as I’ve worked or walked.
The only other snake I’ve seen so far was a weird little fella, only as thick as a very thick earthworm but almost two feet long. It was Dudu the little labourer who found him in the dirt and started pulling him out by the tail and I was convinced it was some kind of uber-worm until Dudu pried open its tiny jaws with a small stick. One of the other guys who lives on the island, Nelinho (Nel-een-yo), had come by and said it’s a type of water snake, so Edimar chucked it into a tide pool in the mud and there it went, wriggling its Dr Seuss looking way after whatever it could find to eat there.
I don’t really know why I’ve written more about the wildlife here than the people, I guess because there’s a lot of things crawling and swimming around here that, for me are new to have living around, and I’ve always been a bit or a geek for wildlife documentaries. But it’s the people that’re my reason for wanting to live here for a while and it’s the people that’re my favourite thing about this place. The guys I work with are a bunch of hard cases in general, all ready for a laugh at a moment’s notice.
But Soldalice (Sol-da-lee-see) the cook is one of my favourite people here. She’s as hard case as most of the lads and has helped me a lot by being a kind of constant presence if I need anything on the island. She lives in the first house you get to from the dock with her husband Ceara and two girls Thais and Tainara and I eat dinner at her table every night. I also go to her house to use her washing machine and/or washboard (if the power is down) and she’s helped me out teaching me how to get my clothes bright and new again after the jungle and my hot body have done their worst. God I love and miss modern washing machines. Soldalice loves to have a laugh though and is almost always in a good mood. She also loves try and give me a fright or make ghost noises and has a sweet relationship with her girls, who are also hard case.
Edimar is often the centre of attention wherever he is, he has charisma to burn and holds court effortlessly, animatedly expressing his views and/or jokes with his hands and in full flight, whether lying, sitting or standing (sometimes all three interchanging), changes his body position every few seconds. I rarely understand more than 10% of what he says when he’s at full throttle, partly because it’s not proper or well pronounced portuguese he’s speaking much of the time, partly just because it’s too fast for my brain to translate, but the way he modulates his voice and with his physicality he’s utterly entertaining and the laughter of the audience barely subsides before the next burst hits home. Like many of the people I’ve met here he’s not a tall guy, only about 5’9″ but he’s a force of nature I feel fortumate to have been put in the path of.
Ceara is similar to Edimar but in a less animated way, in that he often holds court or is the guy people stop to listen to. He talks more loudly and slowly, which is great for my portuguese, but has terrible pronunciation. He works on the island in a general role, supervising loading, unloading and transport of the açai to and from the factory and dock, and some nights walks guard patrol with his shotgun. He’s also very friendly and likes a good yak, and also likes a good drink on the weekends. In the evening, between finishing working the dock and starting walking the patrol he’ll wear only his Bermudas (boardshorts) and for some reason the mosquitoes barely bother him, the bastard. Hearing he and Edimar argue is hilarious, Edimar the machine gun, Ceara the cannon, both adamant they know better but at the end of the day still good mates
Cutia is Edimar’s partner in crime a lot of the time, less energetic but equally forward. He’s a good deal older than most of the guys working here, early 40s I think and as the adjutant to Polaco the foreman he holds a certain level authority and respect. He still gets his fair share of the ribbing though and is as good natured as they come, never throwing his weight about and never shirking a share of the heavy load when it’s required. He’s like a not so big friendly bear, like Baloo from the jungle book maybe, but talks more about sex. He doesn’t do anything too fast, but when he does it, it stays done.
Two other guys I’ve talked with a lot are Elesiu (El-e-see-oo) and Nelinho, both close to my age and both keen to have a yarn about a range of subjects. Nelinho is about the same height as Edimar but more round. He’s a kind of odd jobs tradesman and has an almost fey air about him when he talks, almost like he’s putting on a show. It’s not that he’s quite at the level of being classified camp but he’s got an unmasculine way for a dude that lives in the jungle and works manually. He’s about 26 and lives not far up the creek on the island with his wife and five kids and he’s been one of the most helpful with learning a bunch of new words. Elesiu is a powerfully built ex-army dude who’s one of the operators of the big beautiful boiler we have on the island and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile on his face. Similar to Nelinho he’s always super keen to talk to the foreigner and very patient when trying to explain new words to my slow brain.
Anyway y’all, that’s a bunch of reading right there, I guess once I get the momentum up I bash out a fair volume of words. This place is still awesome apart from missing my babycakes, and several times a day I catch my breath for a second and think to myself, “Shit dude, look at you … you’re in Brasil … in the frikken jungle … you lucky bastard.” And sorry about the lack of photos at this stage, I’ll try and get my stuff together better for next time. But yous all take care and hopefully the next time will be real soon.
Big, Amazon sized love,
Benjamin in Belem X