As we had nothing to eat, I thought I would spend my time in taking the correct elevation of that place with the boiling-point thermometers. The man X, the humorist of the party, remarked that if I were killed and went to Heaven or some other place, the first thing I should do would be to take the exact elevation with what he called "the little boiling stove" (the hypsometrical apparatus).
We had a minimum temperature of 62 deg. F. during the night of August 10th.
Next morning I sent my men to reconnoitre, in order to see if they could get some edible fruit. As they stayed away a long time I knew they had found something. In fact, they came back quite in a good humour, as they had found some jacoba or jacuba trees, with abundant fruit on them, most delicious to eat.
In the meantime I had gone exploring the rapids endeavouring to find a more suitable channel. Eventually, on the east side of the stream, I found a place where we could take the canoe down. There too was a fall of 9 ft., down which we let the canoe with considerable difficulty; then it had to pass over a number of smaller terraces and down winding channels, where we sweated for some hours before we got through our work. Innumerable channels separated by sand-mounds 20 to 30 ft. high had formed along that rapid and also through the vertical wall of cutting volcanic rock which formed a barrier across the stream. Below the fall were two long sand-banks, one with some burity palms upon it.
The river flowed 20 deg. west of north for some 4,000 m. We had gone but 2,000 m. of that distance when we came to another rocky barrier, spreading from south-west to north-east, on approaching which we heard the thundering roaring of another rapid. On the left bank we had a hill range all along. The noise of the rapid got louder and louder, and we were soon confronted by a terrifying rush of water at a spot where three arms of the river met with such force that the clashing waters shot up in the air, forming a wave some 40 or 50 ft. high with a foaming crest. The backwash from this great wave was so violent against the rocky banks of the river—very narrow there—that it was quite impossible for the canoe, even empty, to be let down by means of ropes.
My men were in absolute despair, for the farther we went the more insurmountable became the obstacles which confronted us. They said they had agreed to go on a journey of exploration, but surely I was taking them direct to Hades—if we had not got there already. I could not well contradict them, for certainly that particular spot was the nearest possible approach to it.
It does not do ever to lose courage. While my men, in the lowest state of depression, sat on the volcanic rocks, I went about exploring on the right bank until I found a place where the river had eroded a channel but had afterwards filled it with an immense accumulation of rocks. If we could only move those rocks away—several hundreds of them—I saw that it would be possible to push the canoe along the channel which would thus be formed. The work would require a great deal of hard labour.
You should have seen the faces of my men when I took them to the spot and asked them to remove all the big boulders. In order to set them a good example, I myself started moving the rocks about, the smaller ones for preference. We worked and worked hour after hour, jamming our fingers and feet all the time as we pushed the rocks to one side and the other of the little channel, only 4 ft. wide, which we were making. The language of my men was pretty enough, but as long as they worked I had to put up with it. Alcides, who was really a great worker, and whose principal fault was that he would never save himself, worked with tremendous vigour that day. Somehow or other the men seemed to think the work hard.
When we had taken the canoe safely to the end of the rapid through the channel we had cleared, I went back to the top of the rapid to gaze once more on the wonderful sight where the two principal channels met. The water dashed against a rock in the centre with most impressive fury.
On returning to the bottom of the rapid where I had left the canoe, another most impressive sight was to be seen. In the vertiginous waters emerging from the channel high waves—most unpleasant-looking and in the greatest confusion—clashed against one another for a distance of over 500 m. below the rapid.
My men would not camp that night near the rapid, which they said was the devil's home, so during the night we went 2 kil. down the stream, where, simply worn out, we made our camp. We never could get any fish from the stream now. We had gone only 6,000 m. that day. I reckoned that, travelling at that rate, I should perhaps reach my goal, Manaos, in five or six years' time—and all the provisions I had left for seven men, all counted, were now eight tins of sardines.
We had a minimum temperature of 64 deg. F. on the night of August 11th.
We had halted just above another big and beautiful waterfall, 20 ft. high, and of immense width. The great rush of water curled over a gigantic dome of volcanic rock with many big holes and fissures. The waterfall was followed by a ghastly rapid 500 m. long. It was impossible to go over the fall, and the only way left us—a most dangerous one—was to let the canoe down a small channel 50 to 80 m. wide, cut among the vertical rocks on the right side of the waterfall. The water in the channel flowed in steeply sloping cascades. The channel twisted round abruptly in two or three places, and in one spot went through a rocky neck 35 m. wide, where the force of the current was so great that I was really perplexed as to how we could take the canoe down without getting her smashed to atoms.
Providence came to my help again. In looking round I discovered an ancient channel, now almost dry and strewn with innumerable rocks, by which it might be possible to take the canoe overland until we could find a smooth place in the water below the rapid. On further exploring that channel, as I was quick enough in noticing its possibilities, I found at the end of it what the Brazilians call a recanto—that is to say, a backwater which the river had there formed, and which would be a great help to us in floating the canoe once more.
This plan involved a great deal of hard work, as not only had we to shift many large rocks out of their position, but we had to construct a railway with felled trees and rollers upon them. We could not get perfectly horizontal rails, so that the effort of moving the canoe along inch by inch with levers was trying, especially as we had had insufficient food for many days and our strength was fast failing.
To make matters worse, Alcides that day broke out in revolt. He had, like many ignorant people, the misfortune of believing that he knew everything better than anybody else. I had given him instructions to place the rails and rollers in a certain position, so that the canoe could be shifted over some unpleasant rocks. He, however, insisted on placing the rollers in the wrong place and on using the levers in the wrong spots, so that they not only did not act helpfully, but actually had the contrary effect on the canoe from that which we wanted to obtain. I remonstrated, and showed the men once more how to do it. They agreed with me, except Alcides, who became enraged to such an extent that his eyes bulged out of their orbits in his fury. He brandished one of the big levers in the air, and, shouting at the top of his voice, proceeded to give a long harangue stating that Araguary—his native town—produced greater men than England or any other country, and inciting the other men to open revolt against me.
This was a serious affair and most unexpected, as so far I had counted on Alcides to stand by me, no matter what happened. The other men were undecided. Although they were always ready to revolt, they had more confidence in the brain of an Englishman than in that of an Araguary man. Alcides suggested that they should take possession of the canoe and everything, and that I should be left on the rocks. He shouted to the men to take the canoe along, and he himself pushed with all his might, the canoe not budging the tenth part of an inch.
I sat down on a rock. I merely said that the canoe would not move until I wished it to move. This statement I made because I saw that in their stupidity they had placed some pieces of wood under the canoe which acted as wedges instead of rollers; one piece in particular—a roller which had split in two—could not possibly move along the rough wooden rails. The men pushed and worked with all their might for over three hours, the canoe remaining still like a solid rock. At last they came to me and asked me to show them how to move it. I placed the rollers where they would be effective, removing the wedges which were impeding her journey, and with very little effort the canoe moved along.
With wild yells of excitement the men proclaimed this a miracle, always excepting Alcides, who, with a fierce expression on his face, stood now on one side, fondling his rifle. The other men chaffed him, and even insulted him, saying that he had made them struggle for nothing, as he did not know what he was about. When the rails and the rollers were placed right the canoe slid along the distance which remained to be covered, and eventually glided gracefully once more into the water.
It was too bad that Alcides—one of the bravest of men—should possess such a mean mind and such an ungrateful nature. Twice I had saved his life when he came within an ace of perishing in dangerous rapids, but never had he given thanks to me—never had he shown the slightest sign of recognition. Never, during the entire time he was in my employ, did he—or any of my other men—say "Good morning" to me when we rose, or "Good night" when we retired to sleep. Two or three nights before this last adventure, during a heavy rainstorm, I had deprived myself of my own tent in order to shelter him and the other men, while I myself got drenched.
"He only does it," said he, "because he needs to keep us alive to do the work, or else he would not do it."
I only received offensive words for any kindnesses I showered on him and the others.
It is seldom one could find a man with a more unpractical mind. He spent most of his energy working uselessly—and, mind you, very hard indeed—for nothing, but he could never be made to apply his strength in a sensible way. If I asked him to cut me a tooth-pick, he would proceed to cut down one of the largest trees in the neighbourhood and work for an hour or two until he had reduced a big section of it into the needed article. He wasted hours daily, and ruined all our axes and cutlery into the bargain, in scraping flat surfaces on rocks and on the hardest trees, on which he subsequently engraved his name and that of his lady-love whom he had left behind. He was really marvellous at calligraphy, and could certainly write the best hand of any man I have ever known.
He quarrelled all the time with all the other men, and to enforce his words was constantly producing his automatic pistol fully loaded or else his rifle.
When I first employed him I had the misfortune to send him on some messages to two or three people, with the result that those former friends became my bitterest enemies, as he had insulted them. He was one of the men who cannot open their mouths without offending. Wasteful to an incredible degree, his only ambition was to show how much he could spend—especially when he was spending other people's money—a most trying thing for me when we were, months before, near any shop. When you mentioned anything to him he immediately said that it was impossible to do it, no matter how simple the matter was. He spent hours looking at himself in a small pocket mirror he carried on his person, and would grumble for long hours over the stings of mosquitoes and gnats which had dared to spoil his features. He used violent language against the impudent rocks which had injured his feet.
His brutality to men and beasts alike was most hurtful to me. He once abandoned his favourite dog on an island, simply because he had kicked it viciously the day before and the dog would not respond to his calls and enter the canoe. He now proposed to kill the other dogs, as he said they had finished their work as watch-dogs, since we never came across any Indians, and it was no use taking them along.
Mutiny and Threats—Wasted Efforts—Awful Waters—The Canoe escapes in a Violent Rapid—Another Mutiny—The Canoe recovered—An Appalling Vortex—The Fall of S. Simao—Cutting an Artificial Channel in the Rocks
BRAZILIANS of a low class are unfortunately easily led by words. Alcides, who could not get over his bad temper, once more incited the men to revolt. While I was busy taking altitude observations with the hypsometrical apparatus I kept my eye on them, as I saw plainly that I was coming in for trouble.
Unfortunately for us another bad part of the rapid had to be negotiated, and the only way possible was to take the canoe overland once more. With Alcides at their head, all the men were now in open rebellion, and absolutely refused to work.
"Very good," I said to them. "If you do not like to take the canoe along we shall stay here. I like this spot very much, as it is most picturesque."
The men filled the magazines of their rifles with cartridges, and then came threateningly toward me, shoving the muzzles right in my face.
"You must give us food," said they. "We want to eat, and we want to be taken back to our country."
I advised them to take a walk in the forest and see if they could shoot something there, for if they shot me, one fact was certain, and that was that they would never see their happy homes again.
Two of the men turned away in order to go after game, but the man X levelled his rifle at my head and demanded his money, as he wished to leave at once. The contract I had with him was different from that I had with the other men. I had agreed to pay him on reaching the nearest point of civilization, where I would let him loose again. I therefore said that I would most certainly pay him the very minute he had fulfilled his contract.
I paid no more attention to his threat, although I heard the click of the hammer of his rifle being cocked. I told him to get some wood to make a fire, as I wished to make myself a cup of chocolate.
In unpacking some of my instruments I had made a great discovery—a box of chocolate, which had strayed into a package by mistake.
X seemed undecided whether to shoot or not. I made no attempt to take the rifle out of his hand, as that would have been fatal. After a few moments he sat down on a rock a few yards away, his rifle resting on his knees and pointing in my direction, while I myself collected some small pieces of wood and proceeded to make the fire.
Filippe the negro, who had his eye on the box of chocolate, came and helped to blow the flame. We got some water and boiled it in a large tin cup. While we were doing that I heard rifles being fired in the forest, and presently Antonio returned with some fine jacu (Penelope cristata) he had shot.
The entire morning of August 12th was absolutely wasted, owing to the conduct of my men. Even after they had had a good meal, not a particle of which they offered me—not that I asked them for it—they were still in a riotous mood.
As was my habit when I had anything to eat, I always shared it in equal parts with them: when the chocolate was ready—notwithstanding their behaviour—I asked them for their cups, and each one received his share of that delicious beverage. As usual also, I sorted out that day the customary allowance of tobacco to each man, which I had been fortunate enough to save in our accidents.
When I offered the chocolate to Alcides, he handed his cup to Filippe to bring to me, and when it was handed back to him he flung it away saying he would prefer to die rather than drink the filthy English stuff.
Matters were a little critical. A great number of rollers were required and a number of wooden rails. Curiously enough, the man X, who had been the most violent that day, was the only one who came to thank me for the chocolate, and offered to work, the others all refusing to move.
He and I cut down three or four trees, when the other men—ashamed of themselves—took the axes and proceeded to work also. But instead of cutting down trees which were straight they cut down the knottiest trees they could find, and made rollers which were absolutely useless. It was their silly way of wasting the little energy they had left. The result was that they had to do the work over again and cut other trees and other rollers.
Eventually we succeeded in pushing the canoe over the rocks until we were some 20 m. from the water again. With some effort we succeeded in shoving her along 18 m. out of those 20 m. There only remained the last 2 m.—unfortunately uphill, which made our effort a little greater. Here the men again stopped work and refused to give that last push to get the canoe over those rocks and then into the water. Once more they said they would shoot me and then proceed through the forest on foot.
Matters looked bad indeed. Those 2 m., with a sharp angle upward, made an insurmountable obstacle which I could not negotiate alone. With the corner of my eye I saw the rifles of my men levelled at me. There was only one way out of that difficulty—to give my men a little excitement.
"Very good!" I said to them. "If we have not the strength to move the canoe over those rocks, we certainly have the courage to shoot the rapid." I said I had never yet known a Brazilian who failed when it came to courage, and I was sure they would not fail, as I had already seen how brave they had been.
Flattery always answers.
"Come along, boys! We will take the canoe back into the rapid."
In a moment they had deposited their rifles on the rocks and they were all helping me to push the canoe back the way we had come.
The rapid in that particular part was devilish—not unlike the narrow channel we had gone through some time before. The passage, with high rocks on either side, was tortuous, and threw the water with great force from one side to the other, producing high waves in the centre in such confusion that it was quite terrifying to look at them.
When my men looked at those awful waters, they suggested that perhaps we had better let the canoe down with ropes. I had quite made up my mind that we should lose the canoe for certain in that spot; and had we gone down in her ourselves we should undoubtedly have lost our lives as well.
When we started taking her down with ropes—our ropes were all rotted by that time, and had no strength whatever—the canoe was tossed about in a merciless manner. I recommended my men as they ran along to beware of the ropes catching on the cutting edges of the high rocks. No sooner had the canoe started down the swift current than one of the ropes at once caught on a rock and snapped. The men who held the other rope were unable to hold it, and let it go. I saw the canoe give three or four leaps in the centre of the channel and then disappear altogether. That was a sad moment for me. But as my eye roamed along the foaming waters, what was my surprise when I saw the canoe shoot out of the water in a vertical position at the end of the rapid and waterfall! That was the greatest piece of luck I had on that journey. By being flung out of the water with such force she naturally emptied herself of all the water she contained, and I next saw her floating, going round and round the whirlpool at the bottom of the rapid.
The next problem was how to recover the canoe, as she happened to be on the opposite side of the stream. There for more than two hours we watched her going round and round, while we sat on the rocks, absolutely speechless. Eventually we saw her gradually come out of the whirlpool and drift slowly in the recanto or backwater on the opposite shore some 400 m. away, revolving slowly around herself.
My men were perplexed. They now said they would all leave me at once and proceed on foot. Under no circumstances whatever would they accompany me any more. They must have their pay and go.
So after a few minutes I paid the salaries of all the men, excepting the man X. To my surprise the men, instead of going, remained seated a little way off.
I had a plan in my head of swimming across the river below the whirlpool, where the water was placid although of great width, but I could not very well place myself in such an awkward position as to leave on the river bank the large sums of money which I carried on my person. I certainly could not swim across such a long distance, and in such a current, with the heavy bags of coin and banknotes round my waist. I feared—in fact, felt certain—that in the mood in which my men were that day, the moment I entered the water and was quite helpless they would fire at me and get away with everything I possessed. I knew that they would never dare to do it unless they could catch me in a helpless condition.
I called Antonio—who was an excellent swimmer—and said that I offered a reward of L10 to any men who swam across and recovered the canoe. Antonio reflected deeply for some time, then consented to go if another man went with him. For nearly an hour he confabulated with Filippe the white man, who was also a splendid swimmer. It was with some relief that I saw the two eventually enter the water, after a paddle had been tied with long strings round each of their waists in order that they might be able to bring the canoe back.
At the point where they started the river was 200 m. wide. Although seemingly placid the current was strong. They drifted down some 300 m.—I with my telescope keeping a sharp watch on the canoe, which was still going round and round, and was now once more almost entirely filled with water. No sooner had the men, quite exhausted, reached the opposite bank than the canoe, which had been in that spot for some hours, for some reason or other started out and proceeded to float down stream in the very centre of the river. Filippe the negro and I at once started on a chase on our side of the water, in case she came near enough to seize her. I shouted and signalled to the men on the opposite bank to swim across once more to try and catch her in mid-stream.
As luck would have it, after a chase of several kilometres, over cutting rocks and great banks of sand in which we sank up to our knees—while the naked men with their paddles ran as fast as they could on the opposite bank—the canoe drifted close to the other bank once more, and the men were able to board her. It was a great relief to me when at last the canoe was brought over to our side and we towed her back so as to get the baggage on board and proceed on our journey.
Each of the two men who had rescued the canoe at once received the reward I had offered, and Filippe the negro, who had shown willingness in recovering the boat, also received a handsome present.
The entire day of August 12th had been spent in going those few hundred metres of the rapid. Our camp that evening was but 400 m. from that of the day before.
The minimum temperature of August 12th had been 70 deg. F., whereas during the night of August 13th it was 62 deg. F.
That little adventure had pulled the men together somewhat. I spoke in great praise of the courage that Antonio and Filippe had shown in swimming across the stream.
The river was smooth for a little distance, when we proceeded once more with our navigation; but soon it became narrow—only 40 to 50 m. wide—with strong eddies in its deep channel between rocky sides. Some magnificent sand beaches 15 to 20 ft. high were observed, particularly on the right bank, not far from a tributary 3 m. wide which entered the main river on the left side. Lower down, the river described a sharp turn, and there we met another most dangerous rapid. It was entered by a passage 50 m. wide, after which a circular basin of rock—evidently an ancient crater—100 m. in diameter appeared; then the water flowed out with terrific force by a channel only 30 m. wide. The stream produced prodigious eddies in the circular basin. Waves of great height were dashed to and fro from one side to the other of the narrow channel, between high rocks on either side. The water flowed first in a direction E.S.E. for 500 m., then turned off suddenly to due east for a distance of 400 m. That spot was most difficult for us to go through.
Soon after, the river turned due north and broadened to a width of 120 m. for some 4,000 m. A great basin was crossed, with submerged rocks, forming counter currents of great power and most unpleasant whirlpools. I observed with some concern a stupendous vortex 30 m. in diameter and with a deep central depression. The water revolved with such velocity and force that it formed a series of high-crested white waves running one after another at a terrifying speed around its periphery. The water was raised around the vortex certainly 10 or 12 ft. above the level of the river—owing to the opposition between the rotating water and the current. We gave that vortex as wide a berth as we could; it really frightened one to be near it, although there was no particular danger unless we got right into it.
A charming island was passed soon after, on which, as well as on the left bank, were innumerable rubber trees, but there were none on the right, where chapada was to be seen.
We had in front of us a hill range 300 ft. high. As we went farther we were in a channel between high rocks strewn about along both banks in fragments of great size; then we were once again in a circular basin with high vertical rocks—perhaps another extinct crater. We were here in a region of volcanic formation. No sooner had we passed this basin than we came upon another bad rapid, 400 m. long, which divided itself into two channels, after going through a narrow passage not more than 30 m. wide, where we got tossed about in a most alarming manner, being once or twice nearly dashed to pieces against the rocky sides. We had had so much trouble with the rapids that day that by sunset we had only gone 19 kil. 600 m. Since we had come to that volcanic region we had found rocks with great holes in which stagnant water lay. Myriads of insects—regular clouds of them—worried us nearly to death.
On August 14th we started early, the minimum temperature having been 70 deg. F. during the night. After leaving the rapid we came to a great basin 1,000 m. across. A most beautiful sand beach 300 m. long was to be seen on the left side, below a vertical cliff of great beauty, 200 ft. high. Another great sand beach was to be seen on the right of the river, where it described a sharp turn to 30 deg. b.m. Then the river dashed through a passage of rocks only 80 m. broad, and emerged once more into another great basin with many indentations in its rocky coast.
Some 6 kil. beyond, another basin was found, with more rocks strewn on and near its eastern bank, and a number of rocky islets. A high hill range with vertical cliffs stood on the west side and ended abruptly at the end of the basin. Low hills ran all along the river on the left side.
The river had an average width here of 250 m., and flowed mostly in directions between north-west and north-east.
We went down all the time on troubled waters, with rocky banks and innumerable obstacles all the way. We went through another terrible and most intricate rapid—the Labyrinth—and passed through a channel only 40 m. wide between high rocky banks. Then, after that, for 9,500 m. we had fair and smooth navigation, with a range of flat-topped hills 300 ft. high, extending from W.S.W. to E.N.E., in front of us to the north-west. Here there was a regular maze of channels, all more or less bad. We did not follow the principal one, which was strewn with rocks, but a smaller one, at the end of which, unfortunately, we found a barrier of rocks which we could not surmount. We had all the trouble of dragging the canoe back up the rapid until we could turn her round into another channel.
We arrived at the waterfall of S. Simao, where we went through numerous channels, following the right bank as much as we could, until we arrived at a gigantic staircase of rock, down which the water divided itself into little channels. We took all the baggage over the rocks on the right bank—a very heavy task, as we had to climb up and down big boulders with sharp edges. We slipped many times with the loads we were carrying, and many, indeed, were the patches of skin we left behind in that particular place. We had a great deal of trouble in finding a place where we could take the canoe down. Eventually we had to go right across the stream over the waterfall and land on an island of rock in the centre of the river, where I had seen with my telescope that we might perhaps find a suitable passage for the canoe.
Crossing the river diagonally just above the fall was risky work, and although we described a big arc up the stream, we only just managed to make the island before we were borne down by the current.
The horseshoe-shaped waterfall was about 300 m. across and some 30 ft. high. When the river is full it must be beautiful, for the east side, which was then absolutely dry, is covered entirely by water, which must form a wonderful series of cascades. When the river is in flood, the waterfall, extending from north-west to south-east, has a total width of 1,000 m. There were some picturesque bits of rugged foliated rock over that great staircase, and huge cracks through which the water gurgled and foamed—those fissures formed not by the erosion of water but by volcanic action, perhaps by an earthquake. The large fall to the north-west, over which the water flows in every season, had on one side of it a steep incline, down which we took the canoe until we came to a drop about 15 ft. high.
We halted for the night just above that high drop, spending a most miserable night, being simply devoured by insects. The minimum temperature during the night of August 15th was 72 deg. F.
My men were in a beastly temper in the morning, when we had to proceed, as on previous occasions, to make an artificial channel by moving innumerable boulders of all sizes. It was a heavy task, for we hardly had any strength left, our meals having been most irregular of late.
A channel was not so easily made in that particular spot, as there were some boulders which we could not possibly move, and the canoe must be made to go over them.
We had only been working for a few minutes, when again there was a riot among my men; again they took to their rifles and said they would leave me and the canoe there. Worse luck, the canoe got stuck hard on a rock, and the men could not move her. I cut down some rollers and some levers of the hardest woods I could find in the forest near there, and when once I had set to work a little more intelligently than they did, I had no difficulty in moving the canoe along. Eventually, with my men swearing at me the whole time, the canoe was safely at the foot of the waterfall.
We were in great luck that day, for we found plenty of wild fruit—very nutritious—and we killed one or two large birds. My men grumbled all the time, saying that they were dying of starvation, no meal being a meal at all in Brazil unless accompanied by a small mountain of feijao (black beans). I had a few boxes of sardines left, but I reserved those for extreme occasions which might yet come.
At the bottom of the fall was an immense basin, 1,200 m. wide and 3,000 m. long from north to south. The temperature was stifling that day—96 deg. F. in the shade, and the sky overladen with clouds.
Fourteen kilometres by river below the S. Simao came another waterfall, that of All Saints.
Observations with the hypsometrical apparatus gave an elevation of 772 ft. above the level of the sea.
We halted above the rapid on a beautiful beach. A curious thing happened. Antonio in jumping into the water out of the canoe felt something sharp under his foot. In looking down he saw a magnificent sword. On taking it out of the water we found that it was an old sword of the time of the Emperor Pedro II. A fight must have taken place there between a Brazilian expedition and the Mundurucu Indians, who at that time were to be found, I believe, in that region. Presumably the expedition had been attacked at that spot while trying to land. The sword was in excellent preservation.
At Death's Door—Mundurucu Indians—All Author's Followers poisoned by Wild Fruit—Anxious Moments—Seringueiros—A Dying Jewish Trader—The Mori Brothers—A New Hat—Where the Tres Barras meets the Arinos-Juruena—The Canoe abandoned
WE had a minimum temperature on the night of August 15th of 70 deg. F.
We descended the All Saints rapid and fall, 150 m. in length, with no great difficulty, although with a certain amount of hard work.
A large basin was below it, in the eastern part of which was a charming island. Innumerable rubber trees (Siphonia elastica) were to be seen in that region. We found the south-east passage the best in descending that rapid; but, although comparatively easy, we had to use the greatest care, as my canoe was by now falling to pieces, and a hard knock against a rock would be fatal.
At the eastern end of the basin was a narrow channel between high rocks, where the current was extremely strong. A cluster of high vertical columnar rocks was seen. The three channels into which the river had been divided joined again in that basin, and were forced through a passage between high vertical rocky walls not more than 35 m. apart.
The water naturally was much troubled in being forced from different sides through that narrow passage, and I knew that there must be danger. We pulled up the canoe along some rocks 50 or 60 m. from the entrance of the channel, and I instructed two men to land and go and explore, to see what was in the channel. The top rocks in that particular spot formed innumerable little points, quite sharp, and it was painful to walk on them with bare feet.
Antonio and white Filippe, who had been instructed to go and reconnoitre, went a short distance away, where they sat themselves down behind some rocks, comfortably smoking cigarettes. After twenty minutes or so they returned and said they had gone all along the channel, and there was absolutely smooth water and no danger whatever. I was not well satisfied with their answer, but they swore they had inspected the channel thoroughly, and there was no danger. So I ordered them to enter the boat once more, and we started off.
No sooner had we turned the corner round the high rocky cliffs and entered the narrow gorge than we were confronted by a huge central wave some 40 ft. high in the channel. It was formed by the clashing waters, coming from three different directions, meeting at that spot and trying to push through simultaneously. Before we knew where we were the canoe actually flew up in the air, in an almost vertical position, to the top of that enormous wave.
Baggage, men, and dogs slid down in confusion, the canoe gliding back into the water and progressing as swift as an arrow down the channel. The next moment we were on the point of being dashed against the high rocky cliff on our right. To my amazement, and just as I was expecting the impact, the canoe only gracefully shaved the rock, the backwash which took place along the rocks shifting us once more toward the middle of the stream.
Once again the great rush of water shot us up in the air, above the central wave, and this time the canoe bucked and rode down on the other side of that foaming mass of water.
My men were terrified. "Rema! rema! (Row! row!) for Heaven's sake!" I shouted to the perplexed men, as I tried to instil into them a little courage, when within me I really thought we were lost. As I shouted those words I saw to my horror two of the paddles washed away, and as I quickly measured with my eye the length of the channel I perceived that we still had some 200 m. more of that kind of navigation before we should shoot out of that dangerous place.
Up and down we went several times on that high central wave; several times did we again shave the rocks on either side of the narrow channel. We were quite helpless, my men in chorus yelling "We are lost! we are lost!"
Alcides bravely stuck to the helm for some time, but the force of the water was so great that he was knocked down into the canoe and had to let go. When we reached the point where the narrow passage came to an end, the waters looked so diabolical that when my men shouted "We are lost! we are lost!" I could not help saying "Yes, we are!"
I held on to the canoe desperately, as we were banged about for a few seconds in a way that nearly stunned us, the waves striking me in the face with such force that it took me some moments to recover. When I did I found that we were already out of the channel and in the whirlpool, the canoe full of water but fortunately saved.
I lose most things in the world, but I never lose my patience nor my sense of humour. I could not help laughing when I looked at the expression on the faces of my dogs—an expression of terror and astonishment, as they looked first at the place from which we had emerged and then at me, which I am sure would have meant in words: "Good gracious! where in the world are you taking us?"
We had to halt as soon as convenient in order to cut some new paddles. It took my men some hours to recover from the effects of that experience.
As is generally the case after a violent emotion, a great deal of merriment was produced, my men for the rest of the day talking about the incident and reproducing in a realistic way the sounds of the rushing water and the impact of the waves against the canoe.
We found after that a great basin 3,000 m. long, 1,300 m. broad, from west to east, with a lovely sand beach 1,000 m. long on its eastern side.
At last—after all that time without meeting a soul—I came across a small tribe of Mundurucus—six of them all counted. They had their aldeja, or village, on the right side of the stream. Their chief rejoiced in the name of Joao. They were tiny little fellows, the tallest only 5 ft. in height. If you had met them anywhere else than in Central Brazil you would have mistaken them for Japanese, so exactly like them were they in appearance. Their faces were of a very dark yellow, almost black, with perfectly straight hair, just like the Japanese or their near cousins, the Tagalos of the Philippine Islands.
The Mundurucus were mild and gentle, soft-spoken and shy. They had all adopted Brazilian clothes. The hut of the chief was extremely clean and neat inside, the few utensils that were visible being kept in a tidy manner.
Joao spoke a little Portuguese. From him I was able to buy a quantity of farinha, which came in useful to us, although I had to pay an exorbitant price for it—L4 sterling for each 50 litres or thereabouts—that is to say, about 51/2 pecks in English measure. The price of farinha on the coast would be less than four shillings for that quantity.
What interested me most among the Mundurucus was their strange ornamentations. The angular pattern was a great favourite with them, especially angles side by side, and the cross—which I think had been suggested, however, by their contact with Catholic missionaries farther down the river.
The rudimentary figures which they carved—merely lines for the body, legs and arms, and a dot for the head—were extraordinary because they represented the body and limbs covered with hair, done simply by minor parallel lines. I asked the Mundurucus why they represented human beings with hair, whereas they themselves were hairless on the body and face. They said it was because in ancient times all the people were hairy like monkeys.
I was strongly impressed by the difference in type between those Indians and the Bororos, and also by the great difference in their language. When later on I came in contact with the Apiacars, another tribe of Indians living on the Tapajoz River, and closely allied to the Mundurucus, I discovered that their language bore a certain resemblance, curiously enough, to that of the Maya Indians of Yucatan in Central America.
I had been so busy taking notes of all I had seen in the aldeja, that when we started once more down the river I did not at first miss my best dog, Negrino, of whom I had got very fond. We had gone some 4 or 5 kil. down the river when I discovered that my men had given it away to the Indians while I was occupied studying the geological formation of that part of the country. It was impossible to go back all those kilometres against the current to recover the poor dog. Although it gave me a great deal of pain I never for one moment let the men see it, as I knew that it was in order to hurt me that they had disposed of Negrino.
It is never right or useful to take revenge, for if you wait long enough you are always avenged by Providence. That afternoon my men saw some wild chestnuts on a tree, and they insisted on landing to pick them. They knocked down the tree, as usual, to get the chestnuts, although it was fully 3 ft. in diameter. They picked a great many of the wild chestnuts and proceeded to eat them—Alcides, much to my amazement, actually offering me one. I asked them if they knew what they were eating, as I quickly observed when the tree fell down that not a single chestnut had been touched by birds or monkeys.
I have always noticed in equatorial countries that if you never touch fruit that monkeys do not eat you will seldom get poisoned. My men said that they had never seen the fruit before, but as it looked pretty they were going to eat it, and a lot of it. So they stopped some time cracking the nuts and eating them with great delight.
When we got back to the canoe we had only gone a short distance when Filippe the negro was seized with violent pains in his inside. His eyes had become sunken, his lips were quivering, and in a moment he was seized with cramps all over the body—so much so that he collapsed.
We had to halt on a small island of rock, where we took Filippe out and I had him laid flat on his chest, he being just like a corpse. I inserted a leather strap into his throat in order to cause immediate vomiting, then I unpacked some of the castor oil which still remained in my possession—we never seemed to lose the beastly stuff—and gave him a dose powerful enough to kill an ox.
The other men were laughing all the time, saying that they felt no pain at all; but their boast did not last long, for a few moments later, while I was watching poor Filippe, Antonio and the man X threw themselves down on the rocks, rolling over and contorting themselves, evidently in most excruciating pain.
The same treatment was applied to them in turn, and I watched with great concern three men out of the six spread out helpless, and in such a dreadful condition that I really doubted whether they would be alive in another hour. I considered myself fortunate that the other three had not been poisoned.
Half an hour later—it was impossible to move on with the three men lying helpless on the rocks—Filippe the white man and Benedicto also collapsed. Again the same treatment once more.
Alcides looked at the other men with an air of contempt and said: "They are rotten fellows! They cannot eat anything without getting poisoned. I feel no pain at all; the fruit has done me no harm."
When I turned round to look at his face it had turned a lemon-yellow colour, which I did not quite like, but I did not mention the fact to him, and went about from one dejected man to another to try and bring them back to life again.
Filippe the negro opened his eyes for a moment. "I am dying!" he said. "Good-bye, sir! Please give all my money to my sweetheart in Araguary."
I noted her name and address in my book, for I really thought Filippe was about to expire.
The moans and groans all round me were most funereal, and the odour unbearable, the nuts having formed a chemical combination in their insides which made their breath most offensive. The heat in the sun was oppressive on those volcanic rocks. My bare feet were absolutely scorched as I walked on them.
Not many minutes later Alcides was rolling himself upon the rocks in intense pain. When I rushed to him to apply my favourite method he rebelled, refusing the treatment.
"Very good," I said to him; "will you live or will you die?"
"I prefer to die," said he, and proceeded to moan and groan, and also to dictate the name and address of his sweetheart in Araguary for me to pay to her the money which belonged to him.
In a way I was sorry to see my men suffering so much. I was already thinking of how I could get out of that difficult dilemma. If they had all died it would have been out of the question for me to work the huge canoe alone going down such dangerous rapids.
Some four hours were spent in deepest reflection, a little distance off from my men. I had done my best, and I could do no more for them. I returned every little while to see how they were progressing, but for the first three hours they were in so pitiful a condition that I really thought they could not possibly recover.
When Alcides was almost unconscious I applied to him also the remedy I had used for the other men.
It was only after some five hours or so that Filippe the negro began to feel a little better. Gradually one after another the men, half-dazed, were able to get up, swaying about as if badly intoxicated. They said they saw all the things in front of them moving up and down. Evidently the poison had affected their vision and also their hearing, as they said they could only hear me faintly when I spoke to them.
Late in the evening I persuaded them to get once more into the canoe, as it was not possible to camp on those rocks. We floated down—fortunately for us the river was placid for some 15 kil., and we let the current do most of the work—I steering while all my men lay flat in the bottom of the canoe. We passed along two or three beautiful islands with quantities of rubber upon them.
My men felt very bad the entire night, but by the next morning they were a little better, although in a most exhausted condition. We had a minimum temperature of 72 deg. F. during the night of August 17th.
We had some luck that evening, for we came to the hut of a seringueiro, a negro, and his wife, who had cut down a portion of the forest near their hut and cultivated some mandioca. Their amazement at seeing us appear was curious to watch, especially when they looked at our canoe—held together with pieces of rope and stopped up with pieces of our garments.
Those poor people, stranded there without a possibility of getting away, were extremely kind. My men heard with delight that we should find no rapids of great importance from that point down stream, and that we might find a few other seringueiros on our way.
I was able to buy from the seringueiro a quantity of food, my men being overjoyed at the prospect of eating feijao again with their meals. Naturally the expense of taking food so far up the river was very great, and I was glad indeed to pay the exorbitant price which the seringueiro asked of L10 sterling for each 50 kilos of farinha; feijao at 6s. a pound; sugar at 5s. a pound—the prices which the seringueiros themselves had to pay for those commodities from the rare trading boats which once a year reached that farthermost point.
We started down stream once more, passing a tributary stream, 5 m. wide, on the left bank. We had only gone 9 kil. when to our great joy we met two trading-boats owned by a Brazilian Jew, who was on board in a critical condition from malarial fever. Although in a dying state, he had not lost his racial commercial ability. It was most interesting to watch his expiring countenance while trying to strike the best bargain possible. He sold me sixty candles for 60s., eight biscuits for the equivalent of 7s. 6d., and a quantity of dried meat at 5s. a pound.
He looked askance at us, as he could not make out who we were, what we were doing up that river, where we could have come from. At last he signed to me that he had something to whisper in my ear. He asked me if I was a runaway cashier from a bank! I told him that if I had been a runaway cashier I would certainly not come and spend my money on the Arinos-Juruena River.
The sight of human beings again—if that term could be applied indiscriminately to all we had met so far—had greatly excited my men.
Some 13 kil. farther, the river being smooth but swift, we came to a basin 700 m. broad, where the river described a turn toward the north-east. We came upon a large clearing on the hill-side on the left bank. There we saw the remains of two or three huts which had been destroyed by fire. We perceived one or two people, and we landed. We found that it was the shed of an enterprising Peruvian trader who had established himself there in order to collect rubber. Only a few days before we arrived a great fire had taken place, which had destroyed nearly all he possessed; but—fortunately for us—they had saved a few things, and I was able to purchase a quantity of rice, biscuits, dried meat, beans, farinha, condensed milk, banho (liquid lard in tins), and a number of other things, such as clothes, shirts, rope, nails, axes, etc., which we needed badly.
The Peruvian trader—of the Brothers Mori's firm—must have had a handsome store indeed at that place, a quantity of jewellery, rifles, pistols, etc., all badly injured by the fire, being seen strewn on the ground as we walked about.
The Peruvians are wonderful traders, most remarkable people for exploring unknown regions and carrying on commerce to the most distant points where human beings are found. That particular Peruvian firm had foreseen that that region will some day develop to a great extent, and they had therefore established their store at the most distant point where it was possible to navigate the river without extraordinary dangers.
The prices charged by the Peruvian, even when circumstances might have led him to put a high price on the goods he sold me, were far lower than those of the Jew in his dying moments.
The river was there 1,000 m. wide, and of amazing beauty, flowing to 30 deg. b.m. N.N.E. for 5,000 m. in a direct line.
We had gone 30 kil. that day, and we had had so many things happen to us, we felt so rich and happy with our new purchases and with the prospect that our trials were nearly over, that when night came we had a grand meal, and slept soundly notwithstanding the swarms of mosquitoes which buzzed around us.
During the night of August 18th the minimum temperature was 71 deg. F. During the day the temperature of the air was not much warmer—only 78 deg. F. in the shade with a nice breeze, while 113 deg. F. were registered in the sun.
We halted for one day in order to repair the canoe, as it was all we could do to keep her afloat, she was leaking so badly. Poor Benedicto, who had spent the last few weeks baling out the water, swore that the moment he could leave the expedition he certainly would, since he felt he should turn into a fish soon, as he had not been dry one second for the last two months.
The minimum temperature during the night of August 19th was 72 deg. F.
When we proceeded down the river we came upon most beautiful sand beaches, one as much as 500 m. long. Quantities of most delicious tortoise eggs were to be found. Furthermore, we killed some giant tortoises. Altogether we felt that all of a sudden we had dropped from a regular inferno into a heaven on earth.
My men were paddling away with great vigour and were making rapid progress, the river flowing almost all the time northward, with deviations of a few degrees toward the east, in stretches from 2,000 to 6,000 m. in length. We crossed an immense basin 1,500 m. broad with most gorgeous sand beaches. Their formation in small dunes, occasionally with an edge like the teeth of a double comb, was most interesting. Once or twice we came to musical sands such as we had found before. Everywhere on those beaches I noticed the wonderful miniature sand plants, of which I made a complete collection.
As we went down we came to one or two seringueiros' huts, and to a store belonging to our friend the dying Jew, who rejoiced in the name of Moses. As he had taken all the stuff with him in the trading boat in order to exchange it for rubber from the collectors, he had left nothing in the store except a cheap straw hat.
As my hat by that time had lost most of its brim, and the top of it had got loose and was moving up and down in the breeze, I thought I would not lose the opportunity of getting new headgear. So the purchase was made there and then, and thus fashionably attired I started once more down stream.
We passed on the way most impressive sand banks and beaches—500, 700, and one 1,500 m. long. The river in some spots was 1,000 m. wide. A great island 4,000 m. in length—Bertino Miranda Island—was then passed, with a beautiful spit of sand 15 ft. high at its southern end. Hillocks were visible first on the left bank, then on the right. Other elongated sand accumulations of great length were found beyond the big island, one a huge tail of sand extending towards the north for 1,000 m. Beyond those accumulations the river was not less than 1500 m. across, and there an immense beach of really extraordinary beauty ran on the right side for a length of 11/2 kil.
On that beach we halted for lunch. In the afternoon we continued, between banks on either side of alluvial formation, principally silts and clay, light grey in colour or white. In fact, the soil in the section directly below the higher terrace of the great central plateau of Matto Grosso, was formed by extensive alluvial accumulations which had made an immense terrace extending right across all Central Brazil from west to east, roughly speaking from the Madeira River to the Araguaya and beyond.
After we had gone some 5 kil. in a straight line from our camp to 10 deg. b.m., we perceived a headland with a hill upon it 200 ft. high. We had been greatly troubled in the afternoon for the last two days by heavy showers of rain and gusts of a north-westerly wind. Once or twice we got entangled in channels among the many islands, and had to retrace our course, but we went on until late in the evening, my men believing firmly that we had now reached civilization again and that the journey would be over in a few days. I did not care to disillusion them.
Late at night we camped on a magnificent beach, 1,000 m. long, at the end of Araujo Island, 1,200 m. in length.
We had gone that day, August 19th, 46 kil. 500 m.
My men hung their hammocks on the edge of the forest. That camp was extremely damp and unhealthy. When we woke up the next morning all my followers were attacked by fever and were shivering with cold.
We left at 7.30 a.m. under a limpid sky of gorgeous cobalt blue. We passed two islands—one 700 m. long (Leda Island), the other 2,000 m. (Leander Island). When we had gone but 11,500 m. we arrived at one of the most beautiful bits of river scenery I have ever gazed upon—the spot where the immense S. Manoel River or Tres Barras or Paranatinga met the Arinos-Juruena. The latter river at that spot described a sharp turn from 20 deg. b.m. to 320 deg. b.m. We perceived a range of hills before us to the north. Close to the bank gradually appeared a large shed with a clearing near it on a high headland some 200 ft. above the level of the river where the stream turned. On the left bank, before we arrived at the meeting-place of those two giant streams, we found a tributary, the Bararati, 30 m. broad.
The S. Manoel River showed in its centre an elongated island stretching in an E.N.E. direction. Where the Arinos-Juruena met the S. Manoel it was 1,000 m. wide, the S. Manoel being 800 m. wide at the point of junction.
No sooner had we turned to 320 deg. b.m. than we perceived on our left the collectoria of S. Manoel, with two or three neat buildings. Several astonished people rushed down to the water as they saw the canoe approaching. When I landed the Brazilian official in charge of that place and his assistants embraced me tenderly and took me inside their house. When I told them how we had come down the river, tears streamed down their cheeks, so horrified were they.
"Did you come in that log of wood?" said the collector, pointing to my canoe. I said I had. "Good gracious me!" he exclaimed. "I will not let you go another yard in that dangerous conveyance. I will confiscate it, as I need a trough for my pigs and it will just do for that purpose, and not for navigating a dangerous river like this. If you want to go on by river I will supply you with a good boat."
That was the last time I put my foot inside my canoe. I removed for good the British flag which had flown daily at her stern, and it gave me quite a serrement de coeur when I patted the poor canoe on her nose and said good-bye to her for ever. Notwithstanding her miserable appearance she had done really remarkable work.
A Fiscal Agency—Former Atrocities—The Apiacar Indians—Plentiful Rubber—Unexploited Regions—Precious Fossils thrown away by Author's Followers—A Terrific Storm—Author's Canoe dashed to Pieces—The Mount S. Benedicto
THE State of Matto Grosso had recently established a fiscal agency at the junction of the two rivers in order to collect the tax on the rubber exported from that region. The Fiscal Agent, Mr. Jose Sotero Barretto, and his assistant, Mr. Julio Vieira Nery, were intelligent and polished gentlemen. Their predecessor was not like them. His barbarity, not only to the Apiacar Indians but also to the Brazilians in his employ, was almost incredible. For no reason whatever he killed men right and left, until one day as he was getting out of his canoe one of his men shot him in the back.
So much has been said of late of atrocities in the Putumayo Region that perhaps one may be allowed to say that the Putumayo Region is not the only place where atrocities have occurred. To any one not acquainted with those regions it is difficult to understand why those atrocities take place at all. Curiously enough, they are due to a large extent to medicine. Those regions are all extremely malarial. The people who are ordered there are afraid of being infected long before they start on their journey. They begin taking preventive quinine and arsenic, which renders them most irritable and ill-tempered; the solitude preys upon them, and they add to the poisoning from medicine the evil effects of excessive drinking. Add again to this that few men can manage to be brave for a long period of time, and that the brain gradually becomes unbalanced, and you have the reason why murders are committed wholesale in a stupid effort chiefly to preserve oneself.
The Apiacar Indians, I was told, were formerly much more numerous in that region than at present. Most of them had been killed off, and their women stolen. When Mr. Barretto arrived at the collectoria he had great trouble in persuading the Indians to come near him; but he has been so extremely kind to them that now the entire tribe—some twenty people—have established themselves at the collectoria itself, where they are given work to do as police, rubber collectors, and agriculturists combined. Mr. Barretto and his assistant were much respected and loved by the natives. Unlike his predecessor, he treated them with the greatest consideration and generosity.
Mr. Barretto furnished me with an interesting table showing the amount of production and export of rubber from that district for the year 1910. From this table it appears that from May 3rd to December 31st 30,356 kil. of the finest quality rubber, 10,153 kil. of sernamby (or scrap rubber), 4,858 kil. of caoutchouc, and 30,655 kil. of sernamby caoutchouc—altogether a total of 76,022 kil.—passed through the collectoria on the Matto Grosso side, which does not include the opposite side of the river, belonging to the Province of Para, where another collectoria has been established. That quantity of rubber had been collected by some eighty people, all told, including the local Indians.
It was impossible to get labour up that river. The few seringueiros, chiefly negroes who were there in absolute slavery, had been led and established by their masters up the river, with no chance of getting away. Their masters came, of course, every year to bring down the rubber that had been collected. Twenty times the quantity could easily be brought down to the coast if labour were obtainable. Not only was the Juruena River itself almost absolutely untouched commercially—as we have seen, we did not meet a soul during the fifty days we navigated it—but even important tributaries close to S. Manoel, such as the Euphrasia, the Sao Thome, the Sao Florencio, the Misericordia, and others, were absolutely desert regions, although the quantity of rubber to be found along those streams must be immense. The difficulty of transport, even on the Tapajoz—from the junction of the two rivers the Juruena took the name of Tapajoz River—was very great, although the many rapids there encountered were mere child's play in comparison with those we had met with up above. In them, nevertheless, many lives were lost and many valuable cargoes disappeared for ever yearly. The rubber itself was not always lost when boats were wrecked, as rubber floats, and some of it was generally recovered. The expense of a journey up that river was enormous; it took forty to sixty days from the mouth of the Tapajoz to reach the collectoria of S. Manoel. Thus, on an average the cost of freight on each kilo (about 2 lb.) of rubber between those two points alone was not less than sevenpence or eightpence.
As the River Tapajoz is extremely tortuous and troublesome, I think that some day, in order to exploit that region fully, it will be found necessary to cut a road through the forest from S. Manoel to one of the tributaries of the Madeira, such as the River Secundury-Canuma, from which the rubber could be taken down to the Amazon in a few days.
From the point of junction of the River Tres Barras or S. Manoel and the Juruena, the river was fairly well known. It was partly in order to ascertain whether the project of the road from S. Manoel to the Madeira were feasible, that I decided to leave the river and cross the forest due west as far as the Madeira River.
I spent two or three most delightful days enjoying the generous hospitality of Mr. Barretto. I was able to purchase from him a quantity of provisions, enough to last us some three months, and consisting of tinned food, rice, beans, farinha, sugar, coffee, and dried meat.
Mr. Barretto kindly arranged to send his assistant, Mr. Julio Nery, and three Apiacar Indians in order to help me along during the first two or three days of our journey into the forest.
As I should be travelling on foot from that point across virgin forest, and we should have to carry whatever baggage we had, it was necessary for me to abandon all the things which were not of absolute importance, so as to make the loads as light as possible.
I left behind at S. Manoel a tent, some of my rifles, a quantity of cartridges, etc., the only articles I took along with me besides provisions being my cameras, instruments, the photographic plates already exposed, with some two hundred plates for further work, and the geological and botanical collections, which by that time had got to be valuable.
As I was unpacking the different cases in order to sort out the baggage, I came to the box where I expected to find the precious fossil human skull and the vertebrae I had discovered in Matto Grosso. To my horror the fossils were to be found nowhere. I asked Alcides and the other men, and pressed them for an answer. I received a terrible blow indeed when they confessed that nearly a month before, one night while I was asleep, they had taken the valuable possessions and had flung them into the river. Their excuse was that the loads were heavy enough in carting baggage along the rapids, and they would not be burdened with what they called "stupid stones."
This last bit of infamy turned me so much against my men that I could not bear the sight of them. It will be easily understood that when you go to such great expense and risk as I did in obtaining valuable material, and had obtained it, to be deprived of it through the ignorance and meanness of one's own men, who were treated with the greatest generosity from beginning to end, was certainly most exasperating. In a half-hearted way I packed up all the other things and made ready to continue the journey. The contempt I had for my men from that day, nevertheless, made it quite painful to me to be in their company. At S. Manoel the men gave me no end of trouble. Benedicto refused to go on any longer. The other men wanted to halt there for a month in order to recuperate their strength. Filippe the negro was drunk, and slept all the time we were there.
I know too well that on expeditions it is fatal to halt anywhere; therefore I was anxious to push on at once. The night before our departure Mr. Barretto gave a grand dinner-party in my honour, long speeches being read out by him and his assistant, when we sat down on rough wooden benches and packing-cases to a most elaborate meal of fried fish, grilled fish, boiled fish, tortoise eggs—quantities of them—stewed pork and roast pork. A whole sucking-pig adorned the table. The greatest happiness reigned that night at table, and I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mr. Barretto for his exquisite kindness during the two or three days I was his guest. My men were also asked to the banquet, and had a good fill. But I felt extremely sad, quite broken-hearted, over the loss of the fossils, and I could really enjoy nothing notwithstanding outward appearances.
After dinner, when my men had retired, Mr. Barretto and his assistant expressed great surprise at my not having been murdered by my followers before then. They said that in their whole experience they had never come across such impossible creatures. They could not understand how the Governor of Goyaz could possibly let me start in such company. They seemed most anxious for me, as some of my men had evidently, while drunk, spoken at the collectoria and said things which had greatly upset and frightened the fiscal agent.
Three days after my arrival in S. Manoel I was ready to depart, having conceived a plan to go some 60 kil. farther by river to a point from where I would strike due west across the forest as far as the Madeira River. I was just about to go on board the boat placed at my disposal by Mr. Barretto, when a terrific storm broke out, with lightning and thunder, and a howling wind which blew with fury, raising high waves in the river—very wide at that point. It was a wonderful spectacle, with the river in commotion and the dazzling flashes of lightning across the inky sky. Amidst it I saw my faithful canoe being dashed mercilessly by the waves time after time against some sharp rocks, until she broke in two and foundered. I was sorry to see her disappear, for she had served me well.
When after a couple of hours the storm cleared, I took my departure, on August 24th. During my stay at S. Manoel I had taken observations for latitude (7 deg. 16'.9 S.), longitude (58 deg. 34' W.), and elevation (601 ft. a.s.l. on the river, 721 ft. at the collectoria).
Just across the river, at the mouth of the Tres Barras, was the collectoria for the State of Para. The Para seringueiros worked on the Rio Tres Barras and its tributaries on its right side—that is to say, the Annipiri, the Igarape Preto, the Cururu, and another (nameless) stream. There were, perhaps, altogether some eighty or a hundred seringueiros, all told, working in that immense region on the Para side. In the year 1910, 90,000 kil. of rubber were collected by those few seringueiros, and in the year 1911 a slightly larger amount was sent down the river from that point. The Para Fiscal Agency was only established there on December 11th, 1910. The collectoria was situated in a most beautiful spot on a high point overlooking the mouth of the Tres Barras, and directly facing the Juruena-Arinos. On the Juruena previous to reaching S. Manoel on the left side was a stream in which gold was to be found.
Amid the affectionate farewells of Mr. Barretto I left S. Manoel in a beautiful boat belonging to the fiscal agent. The effects of light on the water were wonderful after the storm. The river, immensely wide, flowed in a N.N.W. direction, then due north in great straight stretches from 2 to 4 kil. in length. As we had left late in the afternoon we were not able to go far. We passed some beautiful islands, one particularly of immense length, with an extensive sandy beach at its southern end. After going some 18 kil. we came to a great barrier of rocks extending across the river from south-west to north-east. Some distance below those rocks a great sand-bank spread half-way across the stream.
We halted for the night at the fazenda of Colonel Gregorio, a seringueiro from whom I expected to get an Indian who knew the forest well and who could be of some assistance to me in going across it. The house of Col. Gregorio—a mere big shed—was a regular armoury, a great many rifles of all ages, sizes, and shapes adorning the walls; then there were fishing spears and harpoons, vicious-looking knives and axes. In the principal room was a large altar with a carved figure of the Virgin standing with joined hands before lighted candles and a bottle of green peppermint. The latter was not an offering to the sacred image, but it was placed on the revered spot so that none of Gregorio's men should touch it. Enormous balls of rubber filled the greater portion of the floor, waiting to be taken down the river.
With great trouble the Indian—a man called Miguel—was induced to accompany me; also a young boy, who, at a salary of 15s. a day, agreed to act as carrier.
It was not until late in the afternoon on August 25th that we left the fazenda in order to proceed down the stream. We passed the tributary river Roncador on the left side, with its beautiful high waterfall a short distance before it enters the Tapajoz. We came soon afterwards to the island of S. Benedicto, south of which on the left bank was the hill of the Veado, 120 ft. high. Directly in front of the island, also on the left bank, was the Mount of S. Benedicto, where legends say an image of that saint exists carved out by nature in the high rocky cliff.
As we passed under the hill our crew fired several volleys in honour of the saint; then we landed and I climbed up to go and see the wonderful image. Many candles had been burnt on a platform of rock on the cliff side, and the sailors who came up with me brought a new supply of stearine and set them ablaze on that natural altar. The men pointed out to me the figure of the saint, but with all the best intentions in the world I could see no resemblance whatever to a human being.
"There it is! there it is!" they shouted, as I twisted my head one way and the other to see if I could find a point of view from which I could see the saint. The men knelt down and prayed fervently for some minutes, as they believed it was necessary to pay these signs of respect in order to ensure a good journey down the river. Some went as far as to tear off pieces of their garments and leave them on the rocky platform as offerings.
The eastern face of the S. Benedicto Mount was a vertical wall 200 ft. high in horizontal strata of a deep grey colour, and some 300 m. in length along the river.
We had wasted so much time, and the men rowed so badly, that we made poor progress. We only went 21 kil. that day. We halted for the night near a seringueiro's hut at the small rapid of Meia Carga, or Half-charge Rapid, because at low water the boats have to be half unloaded in order to get over that spot.
The minimum temperature during the night was 69 deg. F. We slept in the boat, and were simply devoured by mosquitoes. The chief of the Indians who had been lent me by the Fiscal Agent became seriously ill during the night with a severe attack of fever. All my men, with no exception, also became ill, and were shivering with cold, owing to fever. The chief of the police, Luiz Perreira da Silva, who had been placed by Mr. Barretto in charge of the Indians who were to accompany me, in jumping from the boat that night on to the shore hurt his foot, the pain caused by that slight injury giving him also a severe attack of fever. So that of the entire crew there remained only two men in good health—viz. Mr. Julio Nery and myself.
Amid moans and groans we got the boat under way at 6.45 the next morning, the men paddling in a half-hearted manner. As the current was strong we drifted down fairly quickly in a northerly direction, the river there being in a perfectly straight line for some 8,000 m. The width of the river was 1,300 m.
Behind a little island on the left side, and approached through a circle of dangerous rocks, was the hut of a seringueiro called Albuquerque, a man in the employ of Colonel Brazil, the greatest rubber trader on the river Tapajoz. We landed at that point and made preparations so that I could start at once on the journey on foot across the virgin forest.
The loads the men were to carry were not heavy—merely from 35 to 40 lb. each—the heaviest load being the one I carried, so as to give a good example to my men. We had ample provisions to last us, with a little economy, three months. When the moment arrived to depart there was not one man who could stand up on his legs; the policeman with his injured foot could not even land from the boat, as it gave him so much pain. The chief of the Indians was so ill with the fever and the medicine he had taken that he really looked as if he might not survive. The other Indians refused to leave their chief; while the Indian Miguel, whom I had employed subsequently, flatly refused to come along. Much time was wasted talking, Mr. Nery, a fluent speaker, haranguing the men, who lay around helpless, holding their heads between their hands or rolling themselves on the ground.
It is extraordinary how many ailments fright can produce.
The accounts of the forest which I had heard in the neighbourhood were most conflicting. It was really impossible to tell beforehand what the crossing overland between the Tapajoz and the Madeira River would be like. In order to encourage my own men I had once more increased their pay for the extra hard work I required of them on that occasion, and I promised them each a further present of money if they succeeded in carrying all the loads safely as far as the Madeira River.
They had agreed to do the work, but unfortunately they were the most unpractical men I have ever come across, and insisted on carrying the loads in a way which made it impossible for them to carry them for any long distance. For instance, one man insisted on carrying a heavy wooden packing-case slung on one side of the body just over the hip, in the fashion in which Italians carry barrel-organs in the streets of cities; another man suspended a case on his back by a strap which went round his neck, so that after a few minutes he was absolutely strangled; while Filippe the negro let his load hang so low that it would certainly cause a bad sore on his spine. I tried to teach them, but it was no use, as it only led to a row. Absolutely disgusted with the whole crowd of them, late that afternoon of August 26th I made ready to start on our difficult journey.
Starting across the Virgin Forest—Cutting the Way incessantly—A Rugged, Rocky Plateau—Author's Men throw away the Supplies of Food—Attacked by Fever—Marching by Compass—Poisoned—Author's Men break down—Author proceeds across Forest endeavouring to reach the Madeira River—A Dramatic Scene
BY three o'clock in the afternoon I had been able to induce the Indian Miguel, his friend the carrier, and three other Apiacar Indians to come along with us for a few days in order to carry the heavier packages as far as possible into the forest, so that I could spare my men.
It was some relief to me—although I saw plainly that we should surely have disaster sooner or later—when one after the other my men took up their loads and started off. I gave them the correct direction with the compass, almost due west; in fact, to make it easier for them I told them that afternoon to travel in the direction of the sun.
With Filippe the negro at the head my own men started off at a rapid pace, the others following, while I was at the tail of the procession in order to see that no stragglers remained behind. For a short distance we found an old picada which went practically in the direction we wanted, so my men followed it, only cutting when necessary the vegetation which had grown up here and there.
I had only gone a few hundred metres when I saw the ground a little way off our track covered with some white substance. With my usual curiosity I went to see what it was, and found to my disgust a large quantity of rice which had evidently been scattered about there a few moments before. A few yards farther was another patch of white upon the ground, as if it had snowed. A whole sack of flour had been emptied and scattered about in such a way that it could not be recovered.
I well knew what was happening. My men were throwing away everything in order to make the loads lighter. So relieved of the weight, they had got far ahead, while the Apiacar Indians who had remained behind were behaving in so strange a fashion that I had to stay in charge of them, so that they should not escape with the boxes of instruments and collections which they were carrying for me.
We went that afternoon some 6 kil. through fairly clean forest, barring a few obstacles such as huge, ancient, fallen trees, the insides of which were all rotted away or eaten up by ants. In one of the cavities of those trees I found another quantity of food which had been hidden by my men. Hampered by the Indians, who were giving me no end of trouble as they refused to carry their loads, it took me some little time to catch up with my other men. When I did I found them all seated, smacking their lips. They were filling their mouths as fast as they could with handfuls of sugar. When I reprimanded them there was an unpleasant row. They said they were not beasts of burden, that men were not made to carry, and that therefore they had thrown away all the food. Under no circumstance would they carry loads any farther.
A great deal of tact and persuasion were required. Alcides had discarded nearly all the stuff he carried, and was one of the chief offenders on that occasion.
Matters looked bad. We camped that night near a little streamlet at the point where it had its birth. We still had plenty of food left, notwithstanding what they had thrown away. I warned them that if they threw away any more we should certainly all die of starvation. During the night one of the Indians ran away carrying with him a quantity of our provisions.
On August 27th I once more proceeded on the march westward, this time with no picada at all to follow, but cutting our way all the time through the forest. Mr. Julio Nery, who had been sent with me, was an enthusiastic and brave man, but in trying to help made us waste a great deal of energy and time. After marching eight hours we had only gone 10 kil. in the right direction, having made many deviations in order to find what he called a more suitable way. We travelled occasionally over thickly wooded, slightly undulating country, but generally the land was flat.
In the afternoon, when we arrived at the foot of a small hill, we were caught in a drenching storm, the foliage letting the water down upon us in profusion. The walking became heavy. In order to make the loads lighter, my men had removed from the packages the waterproof coverings I had made for them from waterproof sheets. The result was that in that storm nearly our entire supply of salt—some 50 lb. of it—was lost. The powdered sugar, too, suffered considerably, and became a solid sticky mass.
We arrived at a stream 10 m. broad flowing from north to south, where we had to halt, as my men said they were absolutely exhausted and could not go another step. The water of that stream was simply delicious. We killed a monkey, which my men ate eagerly for dinner.
On August 28th we left that stream at eight o'clock. We were confronted by a succession of steep hills with vertical rocks of immense size, on the summit of which were great slabs also of rock, not unlike angular roofs of houses. It was most difficult, I confess, for my men to take the loads up and down those giant rocks, especially as there were many fallen trees among them and the rocks themselves were extremely slippery.
It would not do to repeat in these pages the language of my men as they scrambled up and rolled down the numerous rocks—falling so clumsily that they always managed to injure themselves more or less. I was sorry for my loads, especially the instruments, which got knocked about in a pitiful way.
We came across three distinct hill ranges of that type, over which we had to travel, the highest point being some 300 ft. above the level of the Tapajoz River. The last bit in particular of that hilly region was diabolically steep, with loose rocks which gave us no end of trouble. A beautiful little streamlet flowing east descended in cascades among those huge rocks. Eventually we reached the summit of the plateau, a huge flat expanse of dark red volcanic rock. My men were so tired that we had to camp on that elevation. Nothing but a few shrubs grew in the interstices of that great table of rock, which extended for several kilometres to the north. The barrier of rock, a spur of the great central plateau, was very interesting from a geological point of view.
On August 29th we again marched westward, cutting our way through the forest, and found two streamlets—one flowing south, the other north. Late in the afternoon we arrived at a spot where there was another great mass of rock, most troublesome for us. My men were discontented, saying that when they agreed to march through the forest they had not agreed to march over rocks—as if I had placed these there on purpose to annoy them. They were extremely morose. I knew by their manner that I had fresh trouble in store.
In the centre of that second immense table of rock I found a few pools of putrid rain-water in cavities. My men wanted to halt there, but I induced them to march along in hopes of finding a stream at the bottom of the tableland. Unluckily we went on and on until the evening and we found no more water at all. Only a torrential shower came upon us during the night, and we were able to fill our cups with water to quench our thirst. Men and baggage got soaked in that storm. The loads were much heavier to carry the next morning.
On August 30th, when I called the men in order to make a start, two of them were attacked severely by fever, their temperature being 103 deg.. They seemed to be in agony, and had no strength left.
Mr. Julio Nery said that his duties called him back to his post, and he must return with the Indians under his charge. He accompanied me up to lunch-time, when we all together had a hearty meal. After lunch I gave Mr. Nery and his men ample provisions to return to the river Tapajoz, where the boat was awaiting them. Not only that, but I presented Mr. Nery with a handsome rifle and a watch, in remembrance of his politeness to me. In order that he might have a pleasant journey back I also gave him the few tins of delicacies which I had brought for myself, the only four tins of condensed milk I had been able to obtain in S. Manoel, and a few tins of sardines which had remained from my provisions I had taken over from England, and which he liked very much.
It was a great trial to me to see how my men wasted food all the time. When I examined the loads once more I found that nearly the entire supply of flour, farinha, rice, lard, and much of the tinned stuff had been thrown away. We had been marching four and a half days, and out of the three months' provisions we only had food enough left to last us a few days.
With my reduced party of my six original men, the Indian Miguel and his friend the carrier—eight altogether—I started once more in a westerly direction, opening a picada—that is to say, cutting our way through the forest.
We crossed two streamlets flowing north. After that we came upon a most troublesome patch of swampy land with high reeds in it, the leaves of which cut our hands like razors when we forced our way through them, struggling in mud and slush up to our knees, sometimes as high as our waists. A streamlet flowing north formed the marsh in that low place. The moment we had got out of the marsh the men threw themselves down and said they could go no farther. I pointed out to them that that spot was most unhealthy, and tried to persuade them to go some distance from that pestilential place. But they would not listen to reason, and there they would stay.
Although I had offered them every possible inducement to come on—their original high pay had been practically trebled as long as the hard work should last—and I had treated them with the greatest consideration, yet they refused to come any farther. They said they had decided to go back.
In examining my loads I found that they had abandoned my sextant and other instruments in the forest, and it was only after a great deal of talking that I could induce the man X to go back with me to recover them, for which service he received an immediate present of one pound sterling.
As luck would have it, that evening my men shot a plump jaho (Crypturus notivagus) and a large mutum (Crax pinima), two enormous birds, most excellent to eat.
That camp was stifling, the moisture being excessive, and the miasma rising from the putrid water poisoning my men in a disastrous way. The drinking-water, too, from that swamp was full of germs of all sizes, so big that with the naked eye you could see hundreds of them in your cup. We could not boil the water because all our matches had got wet. We wasted hundreds of them in trying to light a fire, but with no success. Flint and steel also proved useless, because the wood was also soaking wet and would not ignite.
August 31st was a painful day for me. Two of the men were badly laid up with fever, the others were most obnoxious. I had endless trouble in making them take up their loads and start once more. The man X said he would take the load which contained my instruments, but he would certainly leave it, as soon as he had an opportunity, concealed in a spot where it could not be found again. I told him in plain words that if he carried out his intention I would shoot him dead, and I would from that moment do the same to any other man who rebelled. I was surprised to find that the lot of them took their loads upon their shoulders and proceeded to march along as quietly as possible.
The Brazilian forest was—unlike the equatorial forest of Africa—comparatively clean underneath, there being very little undergrowth. It was quite easy to cut one's way through if one knew how. There was a great art in cutting one's way through the forest. If you happened to know the way trees grew or liane were suspended, it was easy enough to cut them with one sharp blow of the large knives. But if you did not happen to know the formation of the trees and you struck them the wrong way, you had to hit them many times before you knocked them down. The same thing and worse happened with liane, which could be severed easily with one stroke if it were applied the right way, but which wound round and entangled you in a merciless manner if hit at a wrong angle.
No observant person, however, experiences trouble in marching through the Brazilian forest, and if not hindered by impossible followers it would be quite easy to march long distances daily in any part of the forest without much inconvenience.
This statement only applies to the actual marching, and does not at all mean that you had not to go through severe sufferings and endless trials of other kinds. Unless you were careful where you were sitting, you found yourself spiked by thorns of great length which were strewn all over the forest hidden under the thick carpet of discarded foliage from the trees. Not only that, but the moment you sat down your body was simply invaded by swarms of ants of all sizes and degrees of viciousness, which proceeded to bite you all over with considerable vigour. There were not many mosquitoes where the forest was dense, but there were millions—in fact, milliards—of bees, which rendered your life absolutely unbearable, as they clung to your face, hands and clothes. Fortunately, they did not sting, but clinging with their claws upon your skin they produced such an irritation that you were nearly driven mad by it.
Then there were fetid bugs of huge size, the sickening odour of which when they touched you had quite a nauseating effect. They seemed to have a particular fondness for settling upon your lips or entering your mouth. When by mishap you swallowed them, their taste was something too appalling. Once or twice while I was eating I had the misfortune to crack one or two under my teeth. I had the bad taste of them in my mouth for hours after.