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The Journey

Posted by Dr. D , 31 August 2012 · 296 views

I took the river boat from Macapa.  The engine puffed against the currents of the Amazon and when passing the great bend that turns westward, the captain warned against having your hands in the water. Piranhas, you know.  The heat is unbearable, torturously humid and weighing upon you.  You inhale deeply often just to keep your lungs working.  Shortly before dusk of the first day you pass the Cudahy Meat Packing facility with its long dock extending into the river.  The captain tells that waste from the plant is dumped into the river on Thursdays and only then will the piranhas appear.  They have somehow created their internal clock to know what day it is to gather for their feast.

There is no sense of time on the river.  The scene on each side becomes identical to the last and you become philosophical.  The river is much like life.  It has a source but can never return to it.  It has no option but to move forward and it probably doesn’t know to where.  At some forgotten village you pause to deliver wares to the stores and goods to the clinic.  Black faces with wide, bright smiles greet you and wave when you depart.

The second day takes you to Manaus.  It is now a thriving city but it was lifeless when you first saw it years before.  The great houses of the rubber barons were empty and the concert hall was magnificently hollow with monkeys swinging from torn strips of the velvet curtains.  Decades before, a piano had been moved up the river on a flat bottomed boat and reassembled on the stage of the concert hall.  The piano was needed for the visit of Enrico Caruso.  Manaus had been one of the richest cities in Brazil but then synthetic rubber was invented and the site and its prime industry was no longer needed.

It is on this day that you see the pink dolphins.  People will forever doubt your word when you tell of them but they are there, magnificently pink, leaping against the charging current.  The river is unlike any other.  Beneath its flow rests the gold of the Incas in quantities so vast that the Spaniards needed fourteen galleons to take the gold from the walls of but one of their temples.  But the river guards it treasure, claiming hundreds who tried to take it.  The river is a keeper of secrets, knifing through the dense jungle and moving past people never seen by that illusion we call civilization.

It is on the third day that the boat moves close to a cluster of twisted mangrove roots and the skeletal remains of what was a wharf.  Your bags are placed there and the captain promises to return in three days.  Your trust in humanity has never been tested more than in that moment.  Within minutes, however, the boat is moving away and the rhythm of its motor lost as it maneuvers another bend.

You are at Fordlandia, a place almost forgotten to history.  Along the remains of a street stand squat Victorian houses.  A large metal processing building is near the far end of the street.  A tall water tower still stands vigil over all that was.  You walk cautiously on the street.  All steps are taken with caution in the Amazon.  An old rocking chair stands abandoned on a porch; a store with traces of words written in scabs of red paint upon its windows.  Uniform rows of desks rest beneath blankets of dust in the old school.

You sleep in the house that appears to be in the best repair.  The sprawling fern branches make excellent brooms.  There is a bed with a mattress that has decomposed into dust.  You have one of those paper sleeping bags they recommend for the jungle.  You closed all the doors and are secure and yet the jungle comes to life by night.  The chattering and hum is loud and monotonous as if each creature was warning against the others.  At last, the wonder of sleep saves you.

This was the great experiment.  Henry Ford’s utopia, the foundation of a new society carved out of a true wilderness.  Every convenience was brought here and families came to be the pioneers.  Engineers planned the dream of production, never knowing that the rubber trees Ford wanted could not be re-planted and survive.  Heavy equipment, building materials, trucks and tractors all arrived on the river boats.  Natives were brought as laborers and no one knew the extreme of the differences between their cultures. Later disputes over issues of labor would enrage the natives until they drove the trucks into the river.  Lives were threatened, the heat became unbearable, snakes and monstrous insects invaded the houses.  And then it was gone.

Fordlandia was abandoned and Henry never came to see it.  It stands here as a gaunt reminder of a frivolous dream.  It screams of the consequences of extravagance.  It is a message within itself telling us that we become our own limit and our visions of being something better are eventually clubbed back into reality.
You spend the third day sitting on the ruins of the old dock.  The sun lowers and your fear rises within your chest.  Few, if any, boats come this far upriver.  If forgotten, how will you survive?  It was stupid to pay for the entire trip instead of each part separately.  All the splendor and beauty you have admired for three days suddenly become your enemy.  It will consume you.  You are not equipped to combat it.  An hour later comes the chugging of the boat.

The captain asks how you fared and with all the confidence you can muster, you tell him you did very well.  It is a lie, of course, but he does not need to know.  “No one comes up here,” he tells you, “why did you?”

You have to pause and permit the thoughts to process.  At last you look back at the serpentine river and answer, “Nothing deserves to be forgotten.”




I have read about this town, saw some pictures.  I wonder if the Ford tried to understand the natives maybe it woulod have worked, or not.  Thanks for the journey, I am facinated by the Amazon.  Also, you are brave I believe.

Peace
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