Since we had come to the enormous sand accumulations along the stream the troublesome insects which worried us day and night seemed to have doubled or trebled in numbers, and we suffered positive torture from them, especially when we landed anywhere.
We left fairly early in the morning, finding soon afterwards a group of sharply pointed rocks, some above the surface of the stream, some—most dangerous—just under the surface. Another basin, 1,000 m. broad, was crossed, which contained two islets and a number of rocks forming a barrier from south-west to north-east. Two kilometres farther along another immense barrier of rocks and numberless islets obstructed the river from south-west to north-east, so that for a little time we could not see which way the stream flowed out of it at all. Sharply-pointed rocks, ugly and fearsome-looking, stood up everywhere. When eventually we did perceive a channel, down which we went, we found terrifying rapids followed by fearful eddies and a most alarming whirlpool.
I could not measure the exact width of the basin there, as there was a regular maze of islands and I could not well see from the canoe where the banks exactly were.
A great island, 2,000 m. long—Normand Island—presently divided the river into two great channels, the north-easterly one of which we followed, finding more fearsome rapids and strong eddies, which knocked the canoe and us about in a dangerous manner.
I was greatly concerned in going down all those rapids, as the canoe was now in a pitiable condition. We had no way of repairing her, and I was afraid that, with the strain of the terrific current, if we had banged too hard against a rock, she might have split in two. I was not so anxious for myself as I was for my men, who would certainly have been drowned, as four of them could not swim. Also, after all the trouble I had taken to make valuable botanical collections and a unique collection of photographs, I was most anxious to bring them all back safely. I was particularly anxious to bring back to Europe the wonderful fossils I had collected on the Plateau of Matto Grosso, which I had long ago packed in one of the cases that were fortunately among the things saved from the previous disasters. My men had invariably grumbled at having to carry that particular heavy box, when we had to unload the canoe and take the baggage on our heads or shoulders at the many rapids we had encountered. They had never once missed an occasion to remonstrate and swear at the absurdity of having to sweat to carry "those blessed stones," or "the devil's own stones," as they called them.
We had gone but a few thousand metres when we once more came to another great barrier, with two islands, stretching, like most of the others, from south-west to north-east. The only point at which we could take the canoe down was in the rapid in the very centre of the stream—a nasty-looking place, I can assure you—followed by a whirlpool of such proportions as would have frightened most humans. I must say for my men that they showed a great deal of courage that day. Whether it was because they did not quite realize the danger, or whether it was because they had got accustomed to it by then, I do not know; but the fact remains that when I ordered them to go down that terrifying place they obeyed without saying a word.
We had to exercise the greatest care, having to jump out on small rocks which stuck up in the middle of the rapid in order to arrest the almost uncontrollable speed of the canoe. Had they missed their footing while jumping on those rocks and holding the ropes attached to the canoe, the men would certainly have lost their lives, as it was out of the question to save anybody in those diabolical waters. Therefore, when you considered the terrific speed at which the canoe was travelling, and that the men must have known that a mistake in judging the distance would have meant utter destruction, you could not but admire them for their really amazing self-confidence. On many occasions, indeed, I had to do the same thing myself, but I must say I never liked it much; although I was in a better position than they were, as I am a good swimmer—not that a swimmer would have much chance in those waters.
A number of islets were seen below the rapids and whirlpool. From that point we discerned on the right bank an elongated hill, 100 ft. high. Slightly beyond, preceded by a great mass of rock, was another island 200 m. long, dividing the stream in two. Two other islands, one 700 m. long—Leda Island—the other one Medea Island, of greater length but much narrower, were disclosed behind it.
Then came another great barrier of rocks extending from south-west to north-east, and more rapids to be negotiated. A series of elongated islets and sand-banks occurred in the basin which followed, 1,300 m. wide. Beautiful sand-beaches had formed on either side of that lovely bay. The river then narrowed again to a width of 500 m., and we saw a long flat island of sand, 200 m. long and 50 m. wide, enclosed by rocks in the centre of the stream.
We continued our journey, after the usual halt for taking astronomical observations, and had before us a small hill 100 ft. high at bearings magnetic 300 deg..
We came to a series of most dangerous rapids with terrific whirlpools, especially after the first and second rapid. Another great barrier of rocks with huge boulders spread across the stream from south-west to north-east. An isolated hill was to be seen on the left bank where this barrier was found. A strange coffin-shaped boulder of immense size was then reached on the right side of the stream, just after we had passed a delightful sand-spit 100 m. long enclosed within a stockade of pillar-like rocks.
From this point we had 4,000 m. of clear navigation to 280 deg. b.m. It seemed heavenly to us to be in smooth waters again, and my men flattered themselves that we had now come to the end of the rapids altogether. But we soon arrived at innumerable rocks in a confused mass right across the stream, between which the river flowed with great force in a contracted neck. We passed between two islands, each 200 m. long, at the end of which was a rapid. An island 1,000 m. long was there formed—Bomfin Island. Dangerous rapids occurred half-way down its length on the right; then followed a mass of square columnar pillars of rock not unlike basalt. That was all very beautiful to look at, but we had endless trouble in extricating our canoe from among the numberless impedimenta which obstructed navigation.
Another most beautiful island, 520 m. long—Jessica Island—was passed just before getting to really formidable rapids, down which we had the greatest difficulty in letting the canoe, even by the judicious use of ropes. The navigable channel of the river—if navigable it could be called—swerved from north-west to due north. In a basin of immense size were a number of islands from 300 to 200 m. in length, and enormous boulders with cataracts of great height between. The roar made by the water falling over was so great that it resembled thunder. The difference of height between the top and the bottom of the rapid was not less than 10 ft. The water in the channel we followed went over a great slope of lava above which numerous boulders had accumulated.
My men became perplexed when they saw the formidable rush of water, but before we had time to do anything we were swept away at such a speed that for one moment I really believed we were lost. My men laughed hysterically, and in that laugh I joined when we came out at the other end still alive. We had shaved several rocks so closely that great patches of the stopping in the side of the canoe had been torn off altogether, and we were filling fast with water.
Our merriment did not last long, for in a few moments we had drifted on to another and worse rapid, much more terrific than the one we had just gone over. We just managed to hold the canoe on the upper edge of the foaming stream, trying to get the ropes ready in order to let her down. We were in mid stream, not less than 200 m. away from the right bank. We unloaded a portion of the baggage on the rocks and proceeded to let the canoe down with ropes—a most dangerous job in that particular rapid, because at the end of the rush of water stood up many rocks, which drove the water back again and eventually switched it off, curling over itself at a very sharp angle on one side and on the other. A diabolic-looking whirlpool of great depth formed on the other side of those rocks.
I fully realized that the strength of us seven men was hardly sufficient to hold the canoe, particularly as all of us were immersed waist-deep and could scarcely keep our footing in that great rush of water. It was only with the greatest care that we could possibly accomplish the feat, and of this I warned my men. In fact, the moment the canoe came down at an angle on the steep incline she gave such a mighty jerk that my men, with the exception of Alcides, let go the ropes. Some of them had the skin taken clean off their fingers. I saw the canoe give a great leap. To my horror, a moment after the canoe had passed me down the rapid—I was holding one of the ropes at the lower part of the rapid—I saw Alcides, who bravely had never let the rope go, being carried away in the current. I just managed to grab him as he was about to be drawn into the vortex, where most certainly he would have lost his life. I lost my footing too, and we were both thrown against a rock, which I grabbed with one hand while still holding on to Alcides. There we remained powerless for several minutes, swallowing a good deal of water, which went right over our heads with the resistance we made against the current, until Filippe the negro—with wonderful courage, since he was no swimmer—came to our rescue.
Alcides was undoubtedly a brave man, but he certainly had a beastly temper. No sooner had he recovered from the accident than I heard some of the other men tell him that he had had a narrow escape and would have died had I not gone to his rescue. Shouting aloud so that I could hear his remark, he said to the men: "Oh, the Englishman only came to my rescue because there was no danger for him, as he could swim, or else he would not have done it."
There was no time to lose, and certainly no time for argument. The canoe had most unluckily got stuck at the bottom of the rapid between two rocks, her fore-part being absolutely submerged. The vibration was such in the after-portion which stuck out of the water that I thought any moment she might break in two.
All my men behaved that day with marvellous courage—particularly Filippe, who, much delighted by the words of praise I gave him when he risked his life in coming to our rescue, now offered to risk his life once more in endeavouring to seize one of the ropes which had got loose and was dangling from the canoe in the foaming waters. We tied Filippe with a rope which we removed from one of the packing-cases we had previously landed, and let him down the rapid until he was thrown violently against the canoe. There the plucky fellow was able to get inside and recover the ropes, which he, after repeated attempts, flung on to us. We pulled and pulled for several hours, but the canoe was so jammed between the rocks, and the current was so strong, that we were not able to get her off.
Night had come on, and we were still waist-deep in the water and trembling with cold, trying to save the canoe. She would not move in any direction. It was with some concern that I had seen several articles which had been loose in the canoe being washed out into the water and disappearing in the whirlpool. Then came a worse accident still. While trying to unload two heavy cases of provisions—a ticklish job—the men lost their footing in the current and one after the other the packing-cases also disappeared in the whirlpool.
All these disasters following one another within a few hours were rather trying to us, the loss of the provisions particularly giving me a great shock, as I realized now that we had practically nothing else left to eat except what we could find by shooting or fishing.
When the canoe had been made lighter we succeeded by constantly jerking her in moving her slightly, and eventually, at two o'clock in the morning—the accident having occurred at half-past four in the afternoon—we were able to release her and bring her to safety along the bank.
A great hole had been opened in the side of the canoe where she had struck the rock, and we had to beach her in order to keep her afloat till the morning. Then came the heavy task of taking all the baggage from the rocks in the centre of the stream along the great barrier of sharp cutting stones as far as the bank.
We were prostrate with fatigue when we had accomplished all the work. I lay down on the ground to rest; my men fortunately had saved their hammocks, as they were the first things they always took care to save whenever there was a calamity. Not once during the whole journey did my men offer me one of their hammocks when they saw me sleeping with great discomfort on packing-cases or on the ground. Certainly I was too proud to ask them for any favour.
I had hardly gone to sleep when I thought I heard a curious noise by my side, as of something dragging along the ground. I immediately jumped up, and saw a huge snake some 20 ft. long inquisitively looking at me, only half a metre away. I do not know which of us two was more surprised. The snake with sinuous grace moved away from me with gradually accelerated speed, and, passing right under the hammocks of my men, disappeared in the forest behind.
Taking all things into consideration, that was a night worth remembering. What was worst of all was the fact that, with the excitement and the fatigue, I had forgotten to wind the chronometer at the usual hour of seven o'clock in the evening, and when I woke up startled in the morning, remembering the fact, I found the chronometer had stopped altogether. That was the greatest blow of all, after all the trouble I had taken to keep the Greenwich mean time for my observations of longitude. The mishap was not irreparable, as I got the time fairly accurately by using the previous observations at local noon and working out the difference with Greenwich mean time.
So many had been the obstacles we had found that day that, before reaching the rapid where we had the disaster, we had made a progress of 39 kil. 500 m.—poor work indeed as compared to the wonderful distances we had been able to cover on the first days of our navigation of the Arinos River. Considering all, however, it was really marvellous that we could cover even that distance, short as it was.
A Tiny Globular Cloudlet warning us—Tossed in a Merciless Manner—Saved by Providence—Vicious Waters—A Diabolical Spot—A Highly Dangerous Crossing—A Terrible Channel—More Bad Rapids—On the Verge of a Fatal Drop down a Waterfall—Saved in Time—A Magnificent Sight—The August Falls—A Mutiny—The Canoe, weighing 2,000 lb., taken across the Forest over a Hill-range
THE thermometer that night, July 30th, showed a minimum of 63 deg. F. We repaired the large hole (about 1 ft. in diameter) in the side of the canoe by stuffing it with a pair of my pyjamas, while one or two shirts which I still had left were torn to shreds in order to fill up the huge crack which went from one end of the canoe almost to the other, and which had become opened again in scraping rocks in the rapid.
We did not leave that camp until 11 o'clock a.m. An isolated hill was visible on the left bank. We had gone some 3,000 m. when we came to another fairly strong rapid. My men were quarrelling among themselves. Alcides, who was fond of gesticulating on such occasions, let the steering gear go in order to give more force to his words by waving his hands in the air, regardless of the danger which was in front of us, with the result that the canoe turned a pirouette upon herself and down the rapid we went backwards.
The river flowed from that place in an easterly direction for some 3,000 m., where a great basin was formed, strewn with rocks and islets and having two large islands in its eastern part. The basin in its widest part had a width of 2,000 m. Then from that point the river went to 50 deg. b.m. for a distance of 6,000 m. A strong north-easterly wind was blowing against us, keeping us back and making our work unduly hard. Great waves tossed us about and made my men seasick, while we got splashed incessantly, the moisture we absorbed being each time quickly evaporated by the fierce wind. We felt cold and shivery and not particularly happy after the experience of the previous night.
Benedicto, who had been entrusted during the journey with the baling out of the canoe, was beginning to find his job too much for him—a job which he had volunteered to do at first when the canoe was not leaking. He now said he wanted to paddle and not bale out the water any more. Although we used a big bucket for that purpose, Benedicto had all his work cut out for him in keeping the canoe only half full of water.
Several times I remonstrated with him that day, as while I was sitting behind him with the wind blowing hard, he flung most of the water on me instead of back into the stream.
I had observed for the last few days a little globular white cloudlet to the north, just above the horizon. Every day that cloudlet was to be seen in the very same position, where it remained motionless most of the day upon the otherwise beautifully clear blue sky. That was an indication to me that we must be nearing a great fall of water or an immense rapid, which caused the evaporation of the water to produce it.
Many were the islands we passed that day, some as much as 800 m. in length. One island, particularly, was picturesque to a degree, with an impressive crown of rock on its westerly side. The river was there some 2,000 m. wide—perhaps even more, as I could not quite see how far the bank was to the left of us owing to some islands which stood in the way.
A barrier of islands describing a crescent then stood before us, the largest island of that group being 800 m. wide and several kilometres long—Belinda Island. I did not measure the exact length of this island, as we got into great trouble there in some strong rapids, and I had to leave my notebooks for a moment in order to assist poor Benedicto in baling out the water so that we could keep afloat.
When our course turned to 10 deg. b.m. we came into full view of a high range to the north of us which spread from north-west to south-east. The river had cut its way right through it. We reached a great basin again, 2,000 m. broad like its predecessor, with four beautiful islands abreast, and a number of other islands varying from 100 to 500 m. in length behind them, in the centre, while rocks innumerable were scattered about. There was a rapid once more, with a nasty succession of strong whirlpools formed by the deviation of the swift waters encountering the many rocks.
Beyond the rapids we got a full view of the range before us, which extended from 90 deg. b.m. to 320 deg.. We had hardly recovered from negotiating those eddies when we were confronted by yet another strong rapid, impossible to navigate, where we had to let the canoe down by means of ropes.
The river here was most picturesque, in great straight stretches from 3,000 to 9,000 m. in length. Some 4,000 m. farther down we came to a very bad rapid. My men were extremely tired of unloading and reloading the canoe all the time with the heavy baggage which still remained. They became most ill-tempered when this new rapid appeared before us, blaming me, as it were, for the rapid being there. I told them that if they did not care to unload all they had to do was to shoot the rapid. They quarrelled among themselves. When we got near it my men became terrified. Alcides, who was at the steering gear, mentioned the fact that we should all be drowned in a few moments. He became perplexed when we entered the rapid, which tossed the canoe about in a merciless manner. In one place, where the water, driven through with great force along a narrow channel, formed a central wave of great height, the canoe stood up almost vertically on her stern. Baggage and men all slid down in a heap. The next thing I saw, when the canoe righted herself, was that we were going down the rapid sideways and at a really vertiginous pace. We managed to clear by a mere hair's-breadth two great rocks which stood in the way. Had we struck a rock on that particular occasion we certainly should have all been killed. As luck would have it, before we knew what was happening we were shot into the whirlpool under the rapid, and there we turned round upon ourselves three or four times before my men had recovered from the amazement of finding themselves still alive, and had begun to paddle again after I had told them to do so for the twentieth time.
Filippe the negro exclaimed: "As long as we come with you, sir, we shall never be killed, but you let us go very near death sometimes!" Then they discussed among themselves, saying that I must have some particular mascotte which I carried upon my person and which prevented disaster.
The range which was before us to the north-west developed itself into a flat-topped hill mass about 500 ft. above the level of the river.
Another rapid, fairly violent, was reached some distance beyond, my men this time offering at once, of their own accord, to unload the canoe and take her down carefully with ropes. I pretended not to care, as I wanted to give them a lesson, and said we had better shoot it, as we had done the previous one.
"No, no, no, no!" they all said in a chorus; "there is such a thing as tempting Providence!"
As we got farther down I could perceive that the range extended much farther than I had seen earlier in the day; in fact, from the W.N.W. it spread as far as E.S.E.
Below the last rapid was an island of great beauty—Babin Island—2,000 m. long. The river beyond that island formed two arms, one on each side of a triangular island located in the opening formed in the hill range by the river, where another strong rapid—in fact, a regular small waterfall—was to be found.
It was very difficult to keep count of all the islands which we constantly passed—many elongated, others triangular, others rectangular, others of all kinds of irregular shapes. In my note-books I endeavoured to map out the entire course of the river as well as I could, and I think that, considering the amount of other work I had to do and the difficulties encountered all the time, the map I made to the scale of one centimetre to a kilometre is as accurate as it could possibly be made with the means at my command. In places where I was uncertain I have left blanks in the map, and have not gone in for the usual method of certain geographers of filling up the space with all kinds of shadings in order to make it look pretty.
We had gone that day 46 kil., the current having been very strong all the time, which made up for the loss of time in dealing with the many rapids.
I took altitude observations with the hypsometrical apparatus, water boiling at that spot at 210 deg. 31/2, the temperature of the air being 78 deg. F. The minimum temperature during the night of July 30th was 63 deg. F.
We began our journey the next morning by going down a bad rapid and across an awe-inspiring whirlpool. There again we had to lead the empty canoe down with ropes, and even so we had difficulty in getting her through safely.
We were in a region of immense volcanic domes composed of eroded rock, with many small perforations and large holes 2 or 3 ft. in diameter, highly polished inside as if they had been varnished. Those rocks were similar to those I had met in the higher part of the plateau of Matto Grosso. Some of the holes in the rock had been enlarged to a great extent by the water of the river revolving inside them.
After we had passed the great whirlpool we found many curious mounds of sand 20 ft. high among great masses of lava and eruptive rock. Those mounds were formed by musical sand such as we had met before. We called it in this particular place "moaning sand," as instead of whistling as usual it produced a wailing sound like the cry of a hungry puppy.
On the right side of the stream we came to an important tributary 50 m. wide; 500 m. lower down another strong rapid was reached. I was greatly amused to see how my men now invariably pulled up the canoe when we perceived a rapid and unloaded her, carefully taking her down with ropes. One man, nevertheless, had to be in the canoe to steer her. Alcides always volunteered to take the job.
Two hundred metres below this rapid the river turned a sharp corner. There we met one of the most dangerous rapids and whirlpool I have ever seen. It was quite awe-inspiring to look at those vicious waters, the water in the vortex being raised like a wall two or three feet higher than the greatest waves of the rapid by the force with which it revolved. The entire river—which, as we have seen, was in some places 2,000 m. wide—was now squeezed through a narrow cut in the hill range, two great arms of water joining directly above that spot. The water was naturally forced through that small opening at an incredible pace. The high vertical rocks at the side of the small channel which was there formed made it extremely difficult to take the canoe down by ropes, especially as the summit of those rocks was much cut up, and we, above, could not keep pace with the canoe as she floated swiftly down the rapid. By fastening together a lot of ropes which we had removed from round the different packages we just managed to make them long enough to undertake the dangerous task.
The hill range, a section of which could be seen at that spot, clearly showed that it was made up of gigantic blocks piled on the top of one another up to a height of 100 ft. At high water the river level must reach—as was evident by the erosion and other signs upon those rocks—nearly to the summit of the range; in fact, when I climbed to the top I found plenty of debris among the rocks, undoubtedly left there by the stream. On the north side the range was made up entirely of gigantic slabs of lava some 15 ft. thick and lying at an angle of 60 deg. with a dip northward. On the south side of the range I had found, instead, great boulders which had evidently travelled there and were much eroded. It can easily be understood that when the water rose it must be held up by the hill range, and form a big lake.
We wasted an entire day trying to find a way to take the canoe over the hills, as we did not dare risk sending her down by water. My men were positively disheartened and on the verge of revolt, as they contended that it was all my fault that I had taken them to a diabolical place like that. I plainly told them that if I gave them such high wages it was because I knew there was a great deal of risk, as I had explained to them at the beginning of the expedition, and I expected them to do some hard work in return.
"But," said the philosopher of the party, "what is the use of money to us if after working hard for months and months we are going to be killed?"
I told them that that was not the moment to argue, but to act; if they followed my orders closely, perhaps we might all escape alive.
Alcides, who was certainly a hard worker, although not always in the right direction, had a nasty accident that day and cut his foot badly on the sharp rocks. He was practically incapacitated for work, as he could only stand on one leg, the other leg being contracted with the really ghastly injury.
This was ill-luck, as our strength combined was not sufficient for the work we had to do, and now the loss of one man—the best of my followers—was an extra trial at the most inopportune moment.
The canoe, too, was in a wretched condition after all the many accidents we had had, and we possessed no more tar, and could spare no more clothes, to stop up the leakages which were now plentiful all over her bottom.
The day of July 31st was thus absolutely lost. I was on the verge of abandoning the canoe there altogether and attempting to get down along the banks of the river on foot—which would have been almost suicidal, as we never could have reached a place of safety.
Night came. At sunset we had the usual concert of mosquitoes, all kinds of insects and frogs, in such innumerable quantities that the din made by them collectively was so loud as to resemble the sound of an iron foundry or a battle-ship in course of construction, the sounds produced by the millions of nocturnal singers being quite metallic and reproducing exactly the sound of hammers driving rivets into the steel plates of a ship. Whether it was done purposely or accidentally I do not know, but those little water creatures of the Arinos seemed to keep excellent time, their vigour also being most enviable.
On August 1st we had a minimum temperature of 64 deg. F. during the night.
I still saw that it was out of the question to endeavour to take the canoe over the immense boulders and over the hill range. One faint hope, involving very great danger, loomed in my mind. If we could only cross the river just above the fearsome channel we could perhaps on the other side take down the canoe by water. This plan required great smartness, as, had we miscalculated the speed of the river and the rate at which we could travel across that dangerous water, it would surely mean certain death.
I spoke to my men about it. They said they were ready to go. I explained to them that they must paddle their hardest and not give way for a second until we had got diagonally across the fairly still waters only a few yards above the awful channel. Should we by misfortune be dragged into that channel by the current we might as well say good-bye to the world.
When we started on that job we risked everything. My men behaved splendidly that day. They paddled and paddled for all they were worth, to get across the hundred metres or so, and took the best part of half an hour in the formidable current. For a moment, when the canoe was in the centre where the current was strongest and we were making no headway, I saw a bad look-out for us. I urged them on with shouts of "Rema! rema!" (Row! row!) and at last, in a desperate effort, the canoe once more moved forward. It was a relief indeed when men and baggage were safely landed on the opposite side.
All were so exhausted that for a couple of hours it was out of the question to resume work. I occupied that time in taking observations for altitude and longitude, tortured to death as usual by the innumerable bees and piums. (Lat. 8 deg. 54'.6 S.; long. 58 deg. 51' W.)
The temperature in the sun was 107 deg. F. The red and black volcanic rocks radiated such heat that we were nearly stifled in the enclosed basin which was formed by the hill range.
In the afternoon we began with the second part of the dangerous task of endeavouring to take the canoe through the current in a north-easterly direction. The channel in that cut was 200 m. long and only 50 m. wide.
The rock was laminated in layers 6 ft. thick, which had been subsequently baked into a solid mass. The lower portion, of beautiful black and quite shiny, threw up by contrast the vivid red colour of the upper part.
We had an exciting time when we started the canoe with ropes down that rapid. We ran with bare feet upon the sharp broiling rocks. We could not possibly stand on them with our shoes on. We ran along for all we were worth, in order to prevent the canoe escaping. We climbed up and down great cuts from 10 to 30 ft. high in the rock, never letting go the ropes. Our agility that day was remarkable. Even poor Alcides, whose foot I had wrapped up with a piece of my shirt, was coming along pluckily, regardless of the pain which he certainly suffered. Once or twice, when we remained slightly behind in that awful race, the canoe nearly pulled us into the water from our high point on the rocks some 30 to 50 ft. above.
Those 200 m. of channel seemed miles long to us. Eventually, the canoe was brought out safely at the other end. With bleeding feet and hands we returned once more to our point of departure in order to convey all our baggage upon our backs. After two or three journeys backwards and forwards we were able to proceed a short distance down the river, where we could find a suitable camping-place to rest our weary bones for the night.
On leaving the rapids the river took a direction of 310 deg. b.m. There was a high hill to the east and another, equally high, to the west. The chain of hills seen from the north showed much erosion in the centre, where the rock was exposed underneath. On the south side the upper portion of the hill range consisted of a vertical rocky cliff in strata each 6 ft. thick.
Another cut, more unpleasant even than ours, had been made by the river in that same range to the north-east of that through which we had taken the canoe. An island of rock rose between those cuts.
A few hundred metres below the mouth of that ugly channel we found an extensive beach, on which we made our camp for the night. The minimum temperature during the night of August 2nd was 64 deg. F.
When we landed the men were proceeding to cut down the foliage on the edge of the forest, so as to be able to hang their hammocks, when they became greatly excited on discovering several nests of maribondos (hornets), graceful cones of a parchment-like material enclosing a number of superposed discs from one to three inches in diameter and about a quarter of an inch apart. Each disc had a perforation in order to let the dwellers in those little homes pass from one chamber to another from the highest of the cone down to the lowest in the apex.
When we left at 7.30 in the morning and had gone but 1,800 m., the river suddenly described a sharp angle and at that point went through a narrow neck. Afterwards it widened once more to an average breadth of 800 m., which it kept for a distance of 3 kil. in a straight line, the channel being there quite clear of rocks and the water beautifully smooth.
The river was indeed lovely in that part. I had a little more time there to look round at the scenery on either side of us. I noticed that rubber was still to be found, but in small quantities in that region. Rubber trees were only to be seen every now and then. Looking back to the south and south-west on the range of hills we had left behind, I could see that it extended far to the north-west. The highest part of it, however, seemed to be near the point where we had negotiated the dangerous rapid.
We had gone no more than 9,600 m., when we came to another bad rapid over a barrier of rock across the river from north-east to south-west. A tributary 10 m. wide at the mouth occurred on the right just before this rapid. Beautiful trees of great height, with yellow ball-like blooms, enlivened the scenery as we went along. We had little time to appreciate the beauty of the vegetation—we were too busy with the river. No sooner had we got through one rapid than we came to another alarming one, with a sudden drop of over 6 ft. and enormous volumes of water pouring over it.
This rapid described an arc of a circle, forming an awe-inspiring whirlpool below the actual fall. We had some trouble in finding a place where we could get the canoe through. Eventually, with water up to our necks, we let her gradually down the high step in the middle of the river, we standing with great difficulty on submerged rocks. We had then to make several journeys backwards and forwards to convey the various loads to the canoe after we had brought her to a place of safety, our baggage having been left on rocks in mid-stream. This was extremely risky work, for the current was powerful and the water reached in some places up to our necks. I was anxious for the men who could not swim, as I was afraid any moment they might be washed away, and not only should I lose them but also the valuable instruments, photographic plates, etc., which they were conveying across.
Again that day I had seen since the early morning our friend the little white solitary cloudlet, standing out motionless against the otherwise speckless blue sky. Not only that, but on that particular day I could just perceive, directly under that cloudlet, a faint column of white mist connecting it vertically with the ground. I knew by that sign that we could not be far off a big waterfall; in fact, I could hear a distant rumble which made me suspect that we were much nearer than we supposed.
The river was flowing to 70 deg. b.m. Two other rapids—most violent—were reached within a short distance of each other; then, shortly beyond these obstacles, where the river described a graceful turn, we had before us a great surprise. We heard a loud roar like thunder; it had been getting louder and louder, and grew quite deafening when we turned round the corner. Behold! we had no more scenery upon the horizon before us on the river, but the sky came right down to the water. Great clouds of mist rose up in quick succession in graceful circles. There was an island in the centre of the stream; then to the left of the island the sky again came right down to the water. There a curious effect was to be seen, a high pointed cone of water shooting up skyward with terrific force, then rolling upon itself only to give way to another cone of water succeeding it.
My men were terrified when they suddenly realized the danger which was only a few hundred metres in front of us. There was a mighty waterfall. When my men got excited it was generally troublesome, because they always disagreed and started quarrelling and insulting one another. Some of them wanted to land at once, for fear of being dragged down the fall. Alcides—who wanted to show his bravery on all occasions—said there was no danger at all and we could go in the canoe right as far as the edge of the fall. The others naturally got somewhat scared at so foolhardy a project. Personally I did not like to say a word in the matter, for fear they should think that I was afraid. I saw with some concern that Alcides—whose mind, I believe, was not quite right owing to the hardships we had endured of late—was steering us right for the centre of the waterfall. I told him that it would be preferable to land on the edge of the waterfall rather than go over it, as it was a little too high for the canoe to tumble over. I calculated the height of the fall from 40 to 50 ft., and I was not far wrong, for when I took accurate measurements I found the actual height was 48 ft.
We were beginning to drift very speedily with the current, when Alcides, realizing the danger, steered us toward the right bank. The men paddled for their lives so as to land as quickly as possible, as we were now less than a hundred metres from the portentous jump. The current was terrific, and the canoe was floating sideways nearer and nearer the awful chasm. The coast line on the right, was almost vertical, and there was no place where we could hold on to anything and land. So down floated the canoe, my men horror-stricken. Once or twice they were able to seize a creeping vine hanging down the steep bank, endeavouring to stop the canoe's headlong career. But the creepers gave way and crashed down upon us, nearly turning over the canoe at the moment just before they snapped.
So down, down we went, until we were now only a few metres from the fatal drop, and I saw no way of arresting the canoe.
"Estamos perdidos!" (We are lost!) shouted the men.
"Not yet! not yet!" I exclaimed, as I perceived two rocks just sticking out of the water. "Make for the rocks!" I shouted to Alcides, and just as we shaved past them I jumped quickly on one of the rocks, holding the canoe, while two of the men also jumped out quickly and held fast to the boat—just in time. We were only 10 or 15 m. from the place where the water curled over and rolled down the fall.
There was no time for arguing or scolding. Upon those rocks my men, who were fond of talking, started a brisk war of words, saying that they would never continue the journey if Alcides were allowed to steer again. Alcides, on the other hand, whose only aim in life was to fight everybody and everything, invited all the other men to a duel with their rifles. I told them they could have the duel after we had finished the journey and not before. We must take the ropes, climb up to the top of the bank, and, first of all, we must tow the canoe back to a place of safety.
After a great deal of shouting, angry words and oaths, absolutely deadened by the thundering roar of the waterfall, they took out the ropes and eventually towed the canoe back. As soon as that was done I went with my camera to gaze at the beautiful sight and photograph it from different points—a job which was not easy, as the waterfall was so encased between vertical rocky walls (foliated in horizontal strata, which varied in thickness from a quarter of an inch to one foot) that it was impossible to get far enough back to obtain a full view of it.
That fall, called the August Fall, was indeed a grand sight. As I have already said, it was divided into two separate falls, between which was an island with a great spur of rock forming a wall between the two cascades. The water flowed over that wall in graceful steps. The fall on the right side of which I stood was in two immense horseshoe-shaped terraces. The continuation of those terraces on each side of the great flow of water formed tiers of red and black volcanic rock lying in horizontal strata so regular as to be not unlike a gigantic Etruscan amphitheatre. The upper tier of the fall on the right formed an arc not less than 300 m. in periphery. The lower crescent formed an arc 400 m. in length.
Upon this lower terrace the rebounding waters were thrown up with great force into the air—the spray forming numerous rainbows in the sun—only to drop down once more in most contorted, diabolical curves, boiling and roaring in their endeavour to force their way through that positive inferno.
As the water came down in great volumes over those two crescents it met once more in the centre in a mighty clash, being flung up at a tremendous height in the air. I do not know that I have ever seen such a fearsome sight, or that I have ever seen water rush with such force anywhere before. It seemed a pity that there was no one to harness that waterfall and use the enormous power it could generate.
On the left side of the river also the waterfall made an amphitheatre of rock somewhat smaller than the right fall. Down below, at the foot of this, it formed huge masses of white foam, above which profuse spray rose up like a heavy mist. Just beyond was disclosed a diabolical whirlpool, far beyond words to describe, which extended—as white as snow with the amount of foam it carried, twisting and retwisting in a thousand circles on the surface—for over 500 m. from the lower step of the waterfall.
I measured the height of the fall with a string. The exact height of the upper terrace was 6 m. 90 cm.; the height of the lower terrace, 7 m. 73 cm.—or a total height of 14 m. 63 cm.
I also took the differential height with the several aneroids I possessed, and the elevation with the boiling-point thermometers above the fall and below, with a result of 48 ft. for the actual height of the fall.
One fact was certain, and that was that the canoe could not possibly go down by water. There was only one way to get out of that difficulty; that was by taking the canoe overland until we could find a navigable spot in the river down below. To make things worse, there was a hill range on the right bank of the river, on which we were. I must find a way to make the canoe go over that hill range—that was all.
The canoe, I might remind the reader, was 42 ft. long and 31/2 ft. wide, of heavy solid wood, her bottom being over a foot thick, her sides from 3 to 5 in. in thickness, her stern and prow, roughly carved out, of great thickness also. I calculated her weight at over 2,000 lb., which was well under her actual weight.
I spoke to my men, and told them that we must take the canoe over the hill range. They had been very morose since our arrival at that spot, as they expected me to give ourselves up for lost when we came to what they believed to be an insuperable obstacle. They mutinied at once and took to their rifles, saying that they would not follow a lunatic any farther, a man who asked them to take a canoe over a hill.
"Do you not know," said one of them to me, with a fierce grin of contempt upon his face, "that canoes are made for the water and not to travel over mountains?"
"Do you not know," shouted Alcides, shaking his fist, "that it would take a hundred strong men to lift that canoe one inch above the water?—and we, including you, are only seven men, tired and worn.... You believe that because you are English you can do what you like. You will next ask the moon to come and row in our canoe so that we may get along! You have gone insane."
"Yes, he is mad!" they all said in a chorus. "We want the balance of our pay and we will leave you at once. Give us our money and we will go—we want to go."
I told them that they could have their money as soon as the canoe had gone over the hill and down the other side, and certainly not before. They could shoot me if they liked, but that would not help them very much, as I knew the way to get on and they did not. If they shot me they would perhaps die of starvation themselves soon. I agreed that it was a beautiful spot to die in, and perhaps they could hasten their departure by jumping into the fall, and thus end all the hardships, and, at least, arguments.
After those words, which I had spoken with gentleness, I turned, and—for the first time since they had been with me—in a stern tone of voice I ordered Filippe and Antonio to take their big knives and proceed to cut down ten or twelve of the straightest trees they could find. They refused. I quietly walked to the rifle which I generally used for shooting game, and inserted in it a clip of five cartridges. I cocked the rifle, and, placing my watch before me on a stone, gave the men five minutes to decide whether they would cut the trees or be shot. I also said that if any of them moved their rifles they would have a bullet put through them.
Filippe and Antonio dropped their rifles on the ground, reluctantly took the knives and walked away, I pointing out to them the tall trees which I wanted cut. I then ordered Alcides to take one of the axes and cut thirty rollers, each about 5 ft. long. The men were silent and yellow-faced with rage.
The trees in that region were easily cut down. After a few minutes down came a tree with a crash, and shortly after another. I walked to the men and patted them on the back, assuring them again that if they obeyed my orders we should soon proceed on our journey and should certainly arrive safely at a point where they could return home and be happy.
Alcides thereupon turned round asking me whether I intended them to cut down the entire forest and then request them to pierce a tunnel through the hill range—or perhaps I might want the whole hill range flattened down for my convenience!
I paid no attention, but ordered him to cut sixty rollers instead of thirty. I had to keep a sharp watch on my men that day, and I had fully decided, if any disobedience took place, I would shoot them. I think they thoroughly realized that, because they carried out all my instructions to the letter.
When that job was done I explored the district carefully, in order to discover which was the easiest point over which the canoe could be made to climb the hill range. Having found a way which I thought suitable, I myself took one of the large knives, and ordered the other men to come with me with all the implements we could use in order to clear a sufficiently wide road through which the canoe could pass. This work lasted many hours, and was certainly trying.
On August 3rd we worked the entire day, from sunrise until seven in the evening, cutting a way through the forest. Then, when we had done that, I constructed, with the longer trees we had cut down, a small railway from the water, where the canoe was. I used the rollers on these rails made of the smoothest trees I could find. When my men grasped the idea—of which they had never dreamed—they became very excited and in a good humour. They worked extremely hard. It was a portentous effort to get the canoe on to the first roller, but once we had got her on the first and second and third rollers, and were able to lift her stern out of the water with levers and pieces of wood we gradually placed under her, she began to move along on the rollers with comparative ease. We moved the rails in front as we went along, and all went well until we got to the foot of the hill.
There the trouble began: first of all because it was difficult to keep the rollers in position on the rails; then also because the moment we started to push the canoe up the hill she would slide back almost as far as, and sometimes farther than, we had pushed her up. By a judicious use of ropes which we made fast to trees on either side, and by a careful study of the laws of leverage, we managed to push up the canoe a few inches at a time. We had some narrow escapes once or twice, when the ropes, under the excessive strain, snapped, and the canoe slid down again, dragging us with her. One tree, to which one of the ropes was fastened, broke, and in its fall just missed killing a man.
When once we had begun pushing the canoe up that hill we could not leave her for a moment, as she would at once proceed to slide back on the rollers.
Fourteen hours' incessant hard work saw us and the canoe on the top of the hill. From there we had before us a very steep descent of some 400 ft., the first 150 ft. almost vertical.
My men all looked at me in a most inquisitive way in order to find out how I should manage to hold the canoe when we let her down that steep incline.
I had fastened some pieces of wood vertically at her stern, which, by scraping on the ground, would hold her to a certain extent. Then, with all the ropes we possessed we made her fast to the trees as we went along, and let her slide gently, the weight of the canoe being such that deep grooves were actually cut into the trees as the ropes unwound themselves.
We were only half-way down that incline when one tree broke. The canoe gave a leap on one side, knocking down Antonio and the man X, the jerk immediately after breaking another tree on the opposite side. Off went the canoe down the hill in her mad career, knocking some of us down, dragging the others, who were holding on to her. Two or three men were badly thrown about, but fortunately no broken bones were recorded. The canoe by that time had, in great leaps, reached nearly the bottom of the hill, but had got so jammed between a rock and a big tree that it required several hours' hard work with our axes and knives in order to disentangle her.
The shock, however, had been too great for the rickety canoe. I became anxious, for I feared she might split in two at any time, and I had no way of repairing her properly. When we got to the water again I patched her up as best I could with improvised nails which I made from pieces of hard wood. With great yells of excitement from my men we launched her once more in the river.
My men boasted how clever they had been to take the heavy canoe over the hill. There was really nothing Brazilians could not do when they wished!
Those forty hours of steady hard work out of the forty-eight hours we had stopped at the falls had seen us over that obstacle, and we were now ready to proceed once more by water.
We had suffered a great deal during those terrible hours from the bees, mosquitoes, hornets, piums, ants, and all kinds of other insects which stung us all over. A glance at the photographs which illustrate this volume, of the canoe being taken across the forest, will show all my men—I, naturally, not appearing, as I was taking the photographs—with their heads wrapped up in towels, notwithstanding the great heat, in order to avoid the unbearable torture as much as possible.
The minimum temperature during the night of August 3rd had been 61 deg. F.; during the night of August 4th 72 deg. F. During the day the temperature was 88 deg. F. in the shade, but the air was quite stifling, as the sky was overcast with heavy clouds.
I took careful observations for latitude and longitude in order to fix exactly the position of the great falls. The latitude was 8 deg. 51'.1 S.; the longitude 58 deg. 50' W.
The whirlpool and eddies which extended for 1,000 m. below the great fall were formidable. Never in my life have I seen waters so diabolical. They filled one absolutely with terror as one looked at them.
The river flowed there to bearings magnetic 120 deg.; then to 140 deg. b.m. for 3,000 m., where it was comparatively smooth. To the south-east of us was a hill range fully 600 ft. high. What appeared to me to be a small tributary seemed to enter the river on the left, but my men were so tired that I did not cross over to the other side in order to make certain. On looking behind us I could see that the hill range at the fall extended from north-west to south-east, while another smaller hill range, only 250 ft. above the level of the river, stretched from north to south on the left of the stream. The river was 300 m. wide.
We went no more than 9,200 m. that day.
A Double Whirlpool—Incessant Rapids of Great Magnitude—A Dangerous Channel—Nothing to Eat—Another Disaster
WE had halted on a lovely island—Adelaide Island—with a rocky and sandy extension. The night of August 5th had been stifling, with a minimum temperature of 72 deg. F.
I found my work too much for me now. There was too much to observe on all sides. We were travelling quickly with the swift current. A hill range from east to west, 300 ft. high, ran along the left bank. Farther, where the river went to the north-east for 4,000 m., laminated rock like slate showed through the left bank, especially in a semicircular indentation which had been eroded by the water. There a strong whirlpool had formed. Another great stretch of river, 5,500 m., was now before us, with a small hill 80 ft. high on the right bank. The river next formed a circular basin with three islets and a barrier 500 m. across.
We were now in a region where, fortunately for us, castanheiro trees (vulgo. the "Para chestnut") were to be found. Fish was scarce in the river. Now that we had almost superhuman work to accomplish, our meals were extremely scanty owing to the loss of our provisions, and we had not sufficient food to keep up our strength.
As we went on I saw to the north-east of us another hill-range 300 ft. high, extending from north-west to south-east, like most of the ranges found in that region. Where a prominent headland stood on the left side, with a hill 250 ft. high upon it, the river turned to 30 deg. b.m. The hill was made up of foliated rock lying in strata that varied from one inch to one foot in thickness.
On the right side of the stream great cubic blocks of rock rested on the polished curves of a huge dome of granite. A quantity of debris stretched from south to north right across the basin, and caused a deviation in the stream.
A terrific rapid with a sheer drop of 3 ft. was situated here. A double whirlpool of great magnitude was formed at the bottom of the rapid, the water revolving with such force that the concavity was gradually depressed for some 3 ft. and had a great hole in each centre. We shot that rapid. As Alcides on that occasion followed my instructions, the canoe shot past between the two whirlpools, and although even then she nearly capsized, we were able to continue, my men shrieking with merriment at what they now believed to be their invulnerability. We dodged the unpleasant eddies while we floated with great speed in the strong current.
The river, which had contracted that day to 250 m., now expanded once more into a large basin 1,200 m. wide and 1,800 m. long, with most troublesome eddies as we went through it. The river described a great turn from N.N.E. to 180 deg. b.m. or due south.
To add to the pleasures of our existence, we came in for a heavy rain-storm that day, with deafening thunder and blinding lightning. Notwithstanding the great discomfort it caused us, it pleased me very much because of the wonderful effects of light it produced on the river.
Where the stream, in a course which had wriggled like a snake, turned once more due north to 360 deg. b.m., it divided itself into two small channels. High waves were produced where the water, pushed by the wind, was forced against the rapid. There was a good drop in the level of the river at that rapid, and it was a nasty place indeed for us to go through. We got tossed about, splashed all over, but we came out of it all the same, amid the wildly excited yells of my men. They were beginning to think that they were the greatest navigators that had ever lived, and they never let an opportunity pass of reminding each other of that fact.
I halted in the middle of the day to take the usual observations for latitude and longitude (lat. 8 deg. 47'.5 S.; long. 58 deg. 39' W.), but I was interrupted in my work by another heavy rain-storm, which came and drenched us once more. After that dense clouds as black as ink covered the entire sky for the whole afternoon. We were now in the rainy season. Terrific gusts preceded these rain-storms, and were most troublesome to us.
After negotiating the bad rapids, the river went through a basin of boulders of broken foliated rock. There were three small channels. Then beyond, the entire river was forced through a rocky channel from 35 to 40 m. wide, the water rushing through with incredible force on a steep gradient until half-way down the channel, where it actually ran uphill for 50 m. or so, so great was the impetus it had received on its rapid descent to that point.
You can well imagine what a pleasant job it was for us to convey the canoe along with ropes over so delightful a spot. Owing to our insufficient food, our strength had greatly diminished. The ropes we had used on the many rapids were now half-rotted and tied up in innumerable knots. Moreover, the banks of sharp cutting rock were of great height, and our ropes were not long enough to be used separately, so that we decided to use only one long rope made up of all the ropes we possessed tied together. To make matters more difficult, the channel was not perfectly straight, but described two or three sharp corners, where the water was thrown with much vigour in one direction, then, being driven off immediately at a different angle, curled over itself, producing mountains of foaming water forty or fifty feet in height, and leaving great depressions near the inner corner.
We cut down some long poles, and I placed one man with a big pole on guard at each corner close to the water, in order to push the canoe away toward the middle of the stream in case she came too near those dangerous points.
That channel was some 600 m. long. When we were ready we let the canoe go, all spare hands holding fast to the rope, running and scrambling up and down and along the high rocky cliff, the canoe giving us violent jerks when the direction of the current was changed. With much alarm we saw her spring up in the air like a flying-fish on one or two occasions. We ran along like mad, out of breath and sweating, trying to keep ahead of the canoe. The two men with poles also ran along after the danger points were passed, so as to shove her along when she came too near other dangerous rocks.
After a race of great excitement, we all, with bleeding feet and hands—the palms of our hands actually blistered by the rope which slid through our tightly closed fists—were eventually able to pull the canoe safely on shore below the rapid.
In that mad flight I found time to pull out the camera for one second and take a snapshot of the canoe in the middle of the rapid. The photograph is reproduced among the illustrations of this volume.
My men were so tired that it was impossible to go on. Moreover we had before us the second section of that formidable rapid, and we could not negotiate this without emptying the canoe, which was full of water, and readjusting the rope.
We spent the night of August 6th on those rocks, the minimum temperature being 63 deg. F.
When we went on with our dangerous work the next morning we had the greatest difficulty in saving the canoe, as in entering the whirlpool she was swamped, and it was all we could do to pull her back towards the bank before she foundered altogether. The actual drop in that rapid was not less than 8 ft. vertically. We just managed to rest her on a submerged rock until we were able to bale some of the water out.
That canoe was really wonderful in a way. My men patted her on the prow as if she had been an animal, and said she was a good canoe. Indeed she was, but in her old age she felt the strain of that exciting journey. Every time I looked at her I did not know how much longer she might last. Whatever may be said of them, my men must be given credit for their courage in going along in that canoe. I do not believe that there are six other men in Brazil—or perhaps in any other country—who would have ventured to go across even the most placid pond in a similar craft.
After the rapids came a great basin 1,000 m. long, 800 m. wide. There the river described an angle from 20 deg. b.m. to 45 deg. b.m., and we perceived two parallel ranges before us to the N.N.E., the farther one much higher than the one nearer. Some 5 kil. beyond was yet another rapid, but not so troublesome a one this time. The river there diverged from north-east to a direction due west. A hill range, from 150 to 250 ft. high, extended from W.S.W. to E.N.E. An isolated hill, 300 ft. high, could be seen to the E.N.E.
We suffered agony that day from regular clouds of borrachudos, terrible little sand mosquitoes which made life an absolute burden in that region. Our faces, arms, and legs were a mass of ink-black marks left by the stings of those vicious brutes. Particularly when our hands were occupied in holding the canoe going down rapids, or busy with dangerous jobs, did swarms of those little rascals attack us with indomitable fury.
Another basin was met, 700 m. wide, quite shallow, and with rapids over a barrier of rock extending across it from south-west to north-east. That barrier was most interesting, because in many places great lava-flows were visible; in other places masses of ferruginous rock could be observed, with most extraordinary patterns upon them—triangles, rectangles, trapeziums, and all kinds of other angular geometrical patterns, such as we had met before on the high plateau of Matto Grosso.
We stopped in the middle of the day on an island 1,200 m. long, from which we obtained a fine view of the hill range looming before us from W.S.W. to E.N.E. on the right bank.
I was having great trouble with my chronometer, which the many jerks, falls, and baths did not seem to improve. I checked it whenever I could by observations of local time and by other watches which I carried. But all my instruments were beginning to feel the effects of that journey very much. The wonder to me was that they had got so far in as good condition as they were, considering all we had gone through.
Our lunch was speedy, as we had nothing to eat. The moment I had finished my observations for latitude and longitude we started off once more, my men keeping their eyes all the time on the forest on the look-out for nut-trees, the river that day giving us no fish at all.
Within ten minutes we had shot two powerful rapids, and in one place went over a dangerous submerged wall of rock extending across the river from E.S.E. to W.N.W.
The men—very hungry—were extremely quarrelsome that day and insulting to one another. The canoe went broadside down a rapid we met, the men gesticulating instead of paddling along as they should have done. With a great bump we stuck with a heavy list to starboard on a rock in the middle of the rapid, and presently the canoe was filled with water. Had we not stuck fast on that rock we certainly should have capsized. The water was baled out in due course, the canoe was floated once more. Soon afterwards another strong rapid, with a pedraria extending right across the stream from S.S.W. to N.N.E., gave us endless trouble.
I warned Alcides to get us alongside some rocks in order that we might let the canoe down with ropes, as the rapid, with a sheer drop of over 6 ft., looked too dangerous for us to shoot it. But Alcides was furious with the other men, and in order to punish them steered the canoe into the most dangerous part of the rapid. A second later the canoe, at an angle of 45 deg., was swept away down the foaming current along the slant of the rapid, which extended there for about 15 m. The channel was a most intricate one, with rocks scattered all over it, so that it was absolutely impossible for the canoe, with her great length, to go through without having an accident.
As we shaved a big rock in the middle of the rapid, and I saw the canoe steering straight for another big rock in front, I knew disaster was imminent, and leapt out on the rock. So frequently was it necessary for me to do so, that I had become quite an expert at jumping, and had acquired almost the agility of a monkey. Alcides, too, seeing the danger, also tried to follow my example, but unfortunately missed his footing and was swept away by the current. I just managed to seize him before he disappeared for good, and dragged him safely on to the rock.
In the meantime the canoe had swung with great vigour and struck the big rock sideways, smashing her side and filling at once with water. All the baggage was swamped; only a portion of the canoe aft remained above the water, many of our things being washed away altogether.
There she stuck, fortunately for us. With considerable danger we managed to undo the ropes which were fastened to her stern. After several hours of hard work—and of extreme peril for the men who could not swim, as we had to work all the time with the water up to our necks in a powerful current, which made it most difficult to keep our footing—we succeeded in pulling her off and taking her alongside the bank.
That disaster was rather a serious one for us, as it injured many of my instruments, particularly the aneroids; but I considered myself fortunate in managing to save all the photographs and notebooks as well as the instruments for taking astronomical observations, which were kept in airtight cases. I lost my favourite pair of shoes, which were by my side in the canoe when I jumped out.
As it so frequently happened that we had to jump into the water—in fact, we spent more time in the water than out—I had adopted as a costume my pyjamas, under which I always wore the belt with the heavy packages of money. The paper money—a very considerable sum—had with the many baths become a solid mass. I could not well spread the banknotes out in the sun to dry, as I did not wish my men to know how much I possessed; so that for many, many weeks I had around my waist those heavy leather wallets soaked in water, my natural heat not being quite sufficient to dry them.
We had worked in the stream until nearly midnight. We had nothing to eat when we had finished our work, and the result was that the next morning my men were still tired.
Two of my cameras were by my side when the canoe was swamped, one containing eighteen plates, the other twelve, all of which had been exposed. The cameras, being heavy, remained at the bottom of the canoe and were saved, but the bath did not do them good. I did not want to lose the plates, so there was only one course to follow, and that was to develop them while they were still wet. While my men slept I sat up a good portion of the night developing all those plates—quite successfully too—and trying to clean and fix up the cameras again for use the next day. One of my other cameras had been destroyed previously by one of my men, who sat on it, and of course smashed it to pieces. Another camera, which was still in excellent condition, having been in an air-tight case, was rather too big to be used for the work in going down the rapids.
During the night of August 7th the minimum temperature was 62 deg. F.
I worked the entire morning with Alcides, trying to mend the poor canoe. The hole which had been made in her side was so big that Alcides could insert his head into it with great ease. It was not until two o'clock in the afternoon that we started once more. Along the river, which flowed in that particular section to the south-west, was a hill range on the north-west. The range rose 300 ft. above the level of the river. We had gone only some 2,000 m. when we came to another bad rapid stretching across the river from south-east to north-west. We were in a hilly region, hills being visible all along the stream. Soon afterwards we came to another powerful fall over a vertical rocky wall extending from north-west to south-east. Such redoubtable waves were produced there by the force of the water shooting over and then rebounding upwards, that we had to use the greatest care in letting down the unloaded canoe. At one moment she was more than two-thirds out of the water, only her stern resting on the top of the fall, the rest projecting outward in the air for some moments until she dropped down again.
Since the day we had taken the canoe over the hill range at the August Falls, I had doubled my men's salaries—although their original salaries were already many times higher than they would receive from Brazilian employers. I fully recognized that the work was hard, and I wished to encourage them in every possible way.
Next, the river went through a narrow gorge, only 80 m. wide, where the current was mighty strong. High volcanic rocks stood on the right side of us. When we emerged from the narrow neck, which measured some 500 m. in length, we found powerful whirlpools. Farther on the river once more went through a bad narrow passage, 40 to 60 m. wide, with a succession of rapids—extremely unpleasant—for a length of 600 m.
My men were in great form that day, and we shot one rapid after another in fine style, Alcides—for a change—being amenable to reason and following my instructions, which carried us through that dangerous section without mishap. The stream Uruguatos entered the Arinos just above the latter rapids.
That day was indeed a trying one for us. Another narrow channel, 50 m. wide, was reached, along the 250 m. length of which we proceeded with great caution. Then a big basin spread out before us, where the current and eddies were terrific. The bottom of the river was mostly rocky, with great holes and depressions which caused the water to rotate in all directions. In some places amidst the foaming waters could be seen great circles of leaden-looking water, as still as oil. It was in a similar place in the Niagara whirlpool that the famous swimmer, Captain Webb, disappeared for ever. We saw thousands of those places on the Arinos.
The line of the banks on both sides was extremely rocky. In front of us we had a hill with extensive campos on its northerly slope. Then we came to the next rapid. We had endless trouble in this rapid, followed by a second one, practically a continuation of the first.
For 1,000 m. the navigation was extremely dangerous. We unloaded and reloaded the canoe dozens of times that day, although the work of taking the baggage over on our heads was not so troublesome now, as we had very little baggage left. But if we had not much, it was still the heaviest cases which remained. All together they weighed between five and six hundred pounds. The river ran beside a range of hills on the left side.
When we halted, exhausted, late at night we had travelled that day the meagre distance of 9,900 m.
My men killed two large spider monkeys, which supplied them with a meal. I could not touch them, as the monkeys looked too human for words. It made me positively ill to see one of my men biting with great gusto at an arm and hand which had been roasted on the flames, and which looked exactly like a portion of a human corpse. The smell, too, of the roasted monkeys was similar to the odour of roasted human beings—which I knew well, as I had on several previous occasions been at rough cremations of people in Japan, in the Himahlya (or Himalayas), and in Africa.
In the Hands of Providence—A Mutiny—Another Mutiny—Foodless—Hard and Dangerous Work—A Near Approach to Hades—Making an Artificial Channel among Thousands of Boulders—An Awe-inspiring Scene—The Fall of S. Simao—A Revolt
WE all slept soundly that night, I taking good care to fasten the canoe well, so that we should not find her gone next morning.
We had a minimum temperature of 63 deg. F. on the night of August 8th.
In the morning my men killed another big monkey, with the most human face I have ever seen on a quadruman—just like a negro's countenance. It came very near us in its curiosity to see what we were doing, and, though shot at several times, remained there watching us, as it had never heard the report of a rifle before. When it fell down it put its hand on the wound across its chest and cried just like a child. I moved away while my men banged it on the head to finish it off.
After a hearty breakfast on the part of my men—my own being limited to a small box of sardines, some twenty or thirty boxes still remaining in my supply of provisions—we resumed our journey down the troublesome rapid. We had to do that with ropes, Alcides, with his extraordinary way of thinking, actually going to the trouble of shifting a big rock out of the water, which took him the best part of an hour, rather than let the canoe go round it—in absolutely placid waters in that particular spot. I let him do it rather than have a quarrel, as I firmly believed that in consequence of the great hardships his brain had slightly lost its balance.
After that, strong eddies were again experienced at first, but, for some 3,000 m. beyond, the water looked beautiful and as placid as possible. The river was now flowing mostly in a northerly direction or with slight deviations, chiefly to the east. We came to a most wonderful island with a spur of lava on its southern side, in the shape of a dome, and highly glazed. On each side of that island was a waterfall of some beauty. The eastern channel was only 20 m. wide, and the water fell over a wall of rock some 12 ft. high. Where this wall projected above the foaming water the shiny black carbonized rock showed a number of small grottoes in its horizontal strata, and a number of funnels like volcanic vents. The north-westerly and broader channel had three successive rapids, the central one some 101/2 ft. high, with a terrific current rushing over it, and awe-inspiring whirlpools between the successive rapids.
We took the canoe down by the central channel, and when we got to the higher step, shoved her along until she overhung the fall—as we had done the previous day—and then let her drop down with a bump. It was a difficult job to hold her when once she had dropped down, as the waves below were very high and tossed her about in a merciless manner.
My men had by this time become a little more amenable to reason, and in moments of suspense or danger always awaited my orders.
Once more did we eventually pack in the canoe what remained of the baggage; once more did we start—that time across a large basin 1,200 m. broad, with hills on the east side of us on the right bank. On the right of us, on leaving the basin, we had a beautiful island, 300 m. long—Ariadne Island—with a fine sand-spit at its southern end, and gorgeous vegetation upon it. Barring a few boxes of sardines, we had no more provisions of any kind, as all the food had been wasted, or lost in our various accidents.
When I look back upon that journey, I am amazed to think how Providence did help us all along. That day my men were clamouring for food, and were most unpleasant, putting the entire blame upon me and not upon their own lack of common-sense. They refused to go on. We pulled up along some rocks, baking hot from the sun, which simply roasted our naked feet when we trod upon them.
Some of the men took to their rifles and said they had had quite enough of exploring. The more we went down that river the worse things seemed to get. They would not go a metre farther. They claimed the balance of their salaries at once—I always paid them punctually every month—and said they would start on foot and try to get somewhere, if God would help them.
I agreed to pay them their salaries and let them go, taking a few minutes to distribute the money, as I wished to go to a secluded spot, not caring to undo the large packages of banknotes before them.
I was walking along the rocks, saying to my men that I would be back in a few minutes, when a huge cachorra, or dog-fish, weighing some thirty pounds, leapt out of the water and fell on the rocks, wriggling and bounding convulsively. I called the men, who hastily arrived, and with the butts of their rifles killed the fish. While they were busy dissecting it, Alcides, who had not taken part in the quarrel, but had gone to the forest some little way off, hearing the noise, reappeared with a huge monkey he had killed.
I left the men to prepare an excellent and plentiful meal while I retired to a distant spot to count out their salaries. When I returned and handed them the money—after their appetites had been fully satisfied, and they had left next to nothing for me—they said I could keep the money, as they did not want it; they were sorry for what they had said, and would go on wherever I ordered them to go. They said that I certainly must have a guardian angel watching over me, and they were sure that as long as they were in my company they would never die of starvation.
"I have never seen anything like it!" exclaimed the man X, who was the humorist of the party. "We want food and cannot get it, and there el senhor strolls a few yards away from us and a huge fish jumps almost into his arms in order to be eaten."
I never cared to let them know of my own surprise at the extraordinary occurrence.
I was rather pleased that day, because my men, in an outburst of friendliness, said they knew that if ever we did die of starvation it would not be my fault, because had they been careful we would still have had three or four months' supply of provisions left. They themselves said how foolish they had been; the provisions we carried had only lasted us thirty days. Nearly three weeks before I had warned Alcides to economize, and the result was that, instead of sorting out food twice a day to the men, he sorted it out four times a day and in double quantities.
That day we were really in great luck. We had the good fortune to find a bacopari tree simply laden with delicious yellow fruit, not unlike unripe cherries, and we absolutely feasted on them.
To show how unpractical my men were, it is sufficient to tell that, unlike any other human beings on the face of the globe when under a fruit-tree, they did not proceed to shake the cherries down by throwing sticks or by climbing up the tree. No, indeed; but they cut down the huge tree, which required about an hour and a half of very hard work. Anyhow, we got the cherries, and that was the principal thing.
We continued our journey over a small rapid with a low hill range spreading from west to east on the left bank. The river here was 300 m. wide. A hill range from 100 to 200 ft. high was also to be seen on the right bank, running parallel with that on the left. Five or six kilometres farther another high range of a gorgeous cobalt-blue colour and extending from south-west to north-east, stood in front of us. The river in that stretch was most beautiful, and was 900 m. wide. A charming little island 300 m. long was reflected in the water, which looked as still as oil in that particular part, although it actually ran swiftly.
Although that scene was of great placidity, we believed there was more danger ahead of us, for we could hear in the distance the loud roar of another rapid or waterfall. Judging by the noise we knew it must be a big one. Soon afterwards we reached the rapid.
We had the greatest difficulty in approaching this, owing to the strong current we encountered in a small channel we followed near the right bank. The rapid was 400 m. wide and 400 m. long, with a drop of from 4 to 5 ft. Although we expected trouble at that spot, we shot the rapid with comparative ease, but we were badly knocked about, and shipped a considerable amount of water in the high waves thrown violently against the rocks. We camped that night near the rapid, having travelled in the day 26 kil. We made our camp in the forest, and we experienced stifling heat, the minimum temperature (August 9th) being 73 deg. F., with heavy rain which came down upon us through the foliage in regular bucketfuls.
We had nothing to eat in the evening. In the morning our breakfast consisted of two sardines each. We went on in a half-hearted way, my men grumbling all the time, and looking out for birds or monkeys. Seven thousand five hundred metres from our camp we came to a waterfall, where we had endless trouble. The principal channel led to 50 deg. b.m., but the river split up into innumerable channels among islands, islets and rocks that formed a regular maze. The river was in that particular spot 1,200 m. wide, and contained great masses of volcanic rock, much fissured, and having great holes in them. This mass of rock extended from north-east to south-west. There were large cracks, where the mass had split, and had subsequently been eroded by the rush of water. The rock had cutting edges everywhere like those of razors. With endless difficulty we had managed to drag the canoe along nearly to the bottom of that dangerous place, when we were suddenly confronted by a drop of 12 ft. with a terrific rush of water over it. It was impossible for us to negotiate that point, for below was a whirlpool absolutely impassable. We had therefore the tiresome work of dragging back the canoe for some 350 m. up the rapid once more, in order that we might find a more suitable channel. To make things more lively for us, a violent thunderstorm broke out, soaking all our baggage but making little difference to us, as we were soaked already. We had spent that entire day in the water, struggling to take the canoe down the rapid and up once more. By eight o'clock at night we were still working, endeavouring to save the canoe.
We had had no lunch, and now had no dinner. My men felt perfectly miserable, and in their speech did not exactly bless the day they had started with me on that expedition. We had worked hard, and had only covered a distance of 7,500 m. in twelve hours. At sunset, while the storm was raging, we beheld a most wonderful effect of light to the west, very much like a gorgeous aurora borealis. The sky, of intense vermilion, was streaked with beautiful radiations of the brightest lemon-yellow, which showed out vividly against the heavy black clouds directly above our heads. The river reflected the red tints, so that we appeared to be working in a river of blood.