“pao de queijo”
The Amazon. A mix of two rivers that clash together—dark black and muddy brown, rushing up against buildings and huts, stilted one room constructs and walls that hid a city nearby. One thing you don’t hear about is the variety of color that hits you from the land, that the people there paint everything to be seen and viewed so as to give a passing boat more chance to glance over at whatever Portuguese phrase is shouted across the water: bright reds, blues, and yellows that strive to come out of green banks and cloudy sky.
It’s overpowering, scary, and a little too much to take in at once. Everyone’s lives surround the ability of a mass of water to propel them further downstream or, more importantly, allow others the passage to come to market. The water tempts you to dip your toes in because the sun’s making fun of you and beating down your neck, but you know that whatever lies beneath it’s surface wouldn’t be quite as friendly as the Gulf Coast.
People chat across floating barge stores, yelling to ask about each others relatives and the weather. You’ve drifted into a floating city, moist and airy within the tremulous wake of a temperamental river.
Then, you approach a dock hidden by tree roots and a variety of bright green flora, and a trail leads you into the legendary rainforest. Yellow barked trees, ants as large as your thumb, large and frighteningly scaled snakes draped on branches. It grows steadily darker as you proceed, a thick atmosphere you didn’t think existed on Earth. It seems like your lungs are breathing the purest mix of oxygen and water vapor, deepening into your blood and sticking onto your neck and legs. Vibrant greens and browns meet every turn, but when you notice a spot of color, it seems like the brightest hue you can imagine. Rich and over-saturated, the hike follows an unbelievable aspect of life and an experience which returns only with a quick, calm shut of the eyes.
The hotel smelled like my Grandmother’s house. Mildew, a scent that recalled summers in Georgia and country music, sweet tea and biscuits, David Letterman and line-dried pillows and sheets, because her house had the insulation all wrong but they only found out during renovation. We were at home. There was a picture of a naked man in a drawer, with only boots and a hat on standing next to a pile of hay. It was ripped out of a porn magazine. My mom, the epitome of inappropriate, showed it to me—fourteen at the time—laughing. I blushed.
The rooms were lavish, lush, a bit outdated but still enormous and expensive. Dark and exotic wood floors resounded as we set down our luggage on oriental carpets and sat on the king size beds. For once, my sister and I got our own room, which was exciting for a middle class family used to piling up in a room of two doubles at a Super 8 or whatever cheap hotel gave my dad a AAA or military discount. The room had a television, which felt out of place in the middle of the Amazon and having seen daily the horrifyingly disadvantaged and impoverished people of Brazil. The economy made travel cheap for Americans, having such a large gap between the wealthy and poor. Those in power lived in penthouses while most of the country lived on the tops of hills so as to let their waste carry itself down with gravity because there wasn’t plumbing. Seven years later, I’d be curious to see the changes, but it sounds like an increasingly familiar distribution of power.
Outside, on the right of the hotel, before you got to its gardens and other various improvements, exotic animals peered out at you from metal cages. Jaguars perched lazily on branches, and monkeys made friends, spurred by their innate curiosity. Tourists made lazy strolls around the bars, snapping photos before they were off for the day. There was a strange balance of voyeurism and care, interest budding off of concern for the strange species, but it garnered from their captivity rather than a pursuit for equality. Human dominion wins over pieces of this lush sample of biodiversity, surrounding it and categorizing the remains. We walked on.
I think I swam in a safe part of the Amazon. The details are fuzzy, but it was a small slice of paradise affixed with thatched roofed gazebos and bamboo matted reclining chairs. My mom’s smile was wide under her straw hat. My sister Jessica looked out into the distance, surveying the calm waters. Dad talked with our guide, watching birds fly up and over, calling out whenever one splashed down into water nearby. I closed my eyes, letting the voices blur into the wildlife cacophony of frog croaks, bird songs, and the river’s sweet streaming music of coursing water.link • •amazon rainforest• •amazon river• •brazil• •manaus• •prose• •travel• •writing• •south america• •nature• •ecology•