Thursday, April 9, 2009

Paradise Lust: An Eco-Friendly Journey Into the Heart of the Amazon - Chapter One

Chapter One: The Eager Have Landed

Back in the ’70s when trash on our highways was making the Indians cry, I put litter in its place. I followed the words of Ranger Rick and Woodsy Owl as if they were Gospel. I gave a hoot and didn’t pollute. When aerosol hair sprays started poking a hole in the ozone, I laid off the Consort and went with the Dry Look.

In the ’80s, I just said, “No!” to drugs. When Bobby Sands went on his hunger strike, I skipped dessert for a week. I stood by the Polish people and their Solidarity movement despite how they spelled it. I said unkind things about Apartheid. When President Reagan invaded Grenada, I chained myself to a Hispanic person.

I bought a Guatemalan child for pennies a day in the ’90s. When Global Warming came around, I left the door open with the air conditioner on because, yes, maybe we can cool the whole outdoors. I think it’s up to every one of us at least to try!

And now, I’m on Facebook. In the past nine months, I have single-handedly saved — yes, SAVED! — a square foot of rainforest with my (Lil) Green Patch. I know one of my friends has said, “Pshaw! How can sending a cartoon plant to a friend on Facebook save the rainforests?” Well, Gloomy Gus, it just does, that’s all. We’re mean, we’re green, get used to it!

I was so proud of what I had done and that all my hard work had not been in vain that I decided to go have a look at my square foot of rainforest with my own eyes. I wanted to make sure that it was thriving and maybe make a few suggestions to whatever indigenous peoples live nearby as to how it might be tended in my absence.

So, after a quick trip to the Circle K for snacks and the Garden Center at Home Depot for supplies, I packed my G.I. Joe backpack and my My Little Pony lunchbox and set off for South America and my square foot of rainforest.


I arrived at Saint San-Don Pueblo, Brazil by seaplane, which was unfortunate because we landed at a crude, dirt airstrip about five miles inland. As my gear was being removed from the plane, Pepe, who was to be my guide out to my square foot of rainforest came and introduced himself.

Pepe was a sporting lad of no more than 19, with the haircut traditionally worn by the nearby tribes and Moe Howard. He was dressed in a well-made breechcloth and a KISS T-shirt, which he likely gained from outsiders in exchange for some tasteless native baubles or primitive cave painting. Like begets like. This jungle-boy get-up was set off by a hat which would not have looked out of place on Goober Pyle or Archie’s friend, Jughead, and a pair of Air Jordans.

“I yam so glad you could make eet, Meester Bob,” he said in an accent almost untypable. “I haff geeven jew a place een my own cah-been for tonight. I sleep outside on de dirt. Jew freshen a beet and come to de beeg cah-been for deener when de deener bell, jew hear it reeng, eh, Meester Bob?”

After Pepe left, I familiarized myself with his little cabin. There was a single cot of burlap stuffed with nettles on the uphill side of the uneven floor, complete with a blanket fashioned from an old shower curtain. There was a dressing table of sorts which housed a hand mirror with the dour warning that “objects are closer than they appear,” a rusty tin-can lid that I was evidently meant to use as a razor, and a Bible which was so old it only went through Genesis.

On the downhill side of the cabin was a bowl which was, unfortunately, meant to serve as both my washbasin and chamber pot. There was a single window with an ecru window treatment from Sears — the only touch of civilization I had seen since my arrival.

After I saw my things safely delivered to the cabin, I washed my face in muddy water, then lay on the cot to wait for the dinner bell.

I must have dozed off, because when I awoke, I was having a dream about “Mosquito Coast,” a movie I have never seen.

I realized with a start that it was no dream. A mosquito the size of a hummingbird was this close (indicating) to poking me right in the jugular with its angry proboscis and sucking the lifeblood from my veins, the malicious buzz of its horrid wings ringing in my ears. I quickly scrambled for the shotgun I now wished I had brought.

A shot rang out and the mosquito flew apart in an explosion of legs and wings. I turned to see Pepe in the doorway, a smoking .45 in his hand. “Is deener time, Meester Bob,” he said. Only then did I realize that the ringing in my ears was the dinner bell.

“Right-o!” I said, “Let’s eat!”


At dinner, I learned that I would not be alone in my journey into the interior of the rainforest. Others had saved portions of the rainforest through their own (Lil) Green Patches, as well, and each had a reason to visit his or her patch, just I had mine.

In addition to myself, to my right at the dinner table was Roy “Pole Cat” Leary, a telephone lineman from Indiana. He came from a long line of telephone and telegraph pioneers. His grandfather had been the 911 operator when Alexander Graham Bell spilled acid on himself. Bell had said, “Watson … come here … I need you!” It had been Leary’s grandfather who said, “Stay on the line, sir, help is on the way.” But I could tell the Pole Cat was hiding something. ...

To my left was Christy Smith-Christie, A Berkeley co-ed and heir to the Smith-Christie granola fortune. Her father had made his fortune as the discoverer of the secret formulas for the Raisin Arizona, Haight-Ashberry, and Willow-the-Crisp lines of trail mix. Secrets which ultimately died with him when he was mysteriously killed in an oat roller.

Next to Smith-Christie was Timmy, a ten-year-old boy from New Hampshire. His parents were itinerant tree-tappers, moving about New England from season to season tapping maple trees for their syrup. Unfortunately, they were not the swiftest people, in body or mind, and the best trees were usually gone before they could get all their sapping gear together. They often had to settle for oak or poplar trees, the sap of which made for pretty crappy syrup.

Then, at the far end of the table, was the clown. Bingo was his name, but we just called him clap-clap-clap-G-O, or Geo for short. I don’t know what his story was, because he communicated only through the use of a loathsome bulb horn. I hated the clown right from the start.

Dinner consisted of whatever Pepe had been able to “borrow” from our packs while we rested. I had two Slim Jims, a handful of granola with maple syrup and a drumstick from a rubber chicken.

Pepe leaned over to me, munching on a Rice Krispy Treat I had gotten at the Circle K back home. “Ees exciting, eh, Meester Bob? You geet much sleep tonight. Tomorrow we go see your rainforeest. I know you like!”

“I’m sure I will,” I thought as I swizzled my Slim Jim in the last of the maple syrup. “I’m sure I will.”

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