Wednesday, April 15, 2009

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

Chapter Three: The Co-Ed’s Tale

If music be the food of love, then the bulb horn is, without doubt, the salty snack of malice.

We had awakened the next morning to a gentle, but persistent, rain, eaten a disappointing breakfast of tree bark and shoelaces, and resumed our hike to the bits of rainforest my companions and I had saved by virtue of our (Lil) Green Patches on Facebook.

Each step was a study in misery. It was made worse by the clown and his deplorable horn.

“Should we go left, or right?”


“Do you want to stop a while and rest?”


“Are you going to eat that shoelace?”


The clown was genuinely beyond the pale. If I had had a weapon of any sort, I would have brought it to bear on our friend, Geo, swiftly and with a purpose. No regrets.

It was odd that, despite “rain” being right in the rainforest’s name, I was the only one who had thought to bring an umbrella. I had given this early in our march to Ms. Christy Smith-Christie, our co-ed from Berkeley, because the garland in her hair was beginning to droop.

Our native guide, Pepe, set the pace, leading us clumsily but steadily toward our own square footage of the Amazon. Smith-Christie and the boy, Timmy, followed close behind, she singing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and he listening to his iPod. Roy “Pole Cat” Leary, our acrophobic lineman from Indiana, and I were next in formation, matching each other obscenity for obscenity in time to the throbbing of the blisters on our feet, I in four-four time and he in three-quarter. Occasionally, the Pole Cat would catch his toe on a rock or a tree root and shout a string of staccato invective in half-time until we were back in sync.

The clown brought up the rear. I hoped there were bears.


We stopped briefly sometime mid-afternoon to gather pebbles to suck on.

“Eet help jew from getting thirsty, Meester Bob,” Pepe explained.

Faced with such logic, we each put a few pebbles in our mouths. Smith-Christie cleaned hers first with a small bottle of Purell she had squirreled away in her macramé handbag. I accidentally swallowed one, and it was, incidentally, the best meal I’d had since we’d set out.

Shortly before what was likely dusk somewhere above our leafy ceiling, we were worn nearly to exhaustion. We all wanted to rest for the night, but the thought of sleeping on the sodden, wretched ground evoked such feelings of despair that we agreed to continue just a few minutes more.

It was at about that time that a group of native tribesmen, clad in the briefest of garments woven from local plants and festooned with sharp sticks and bones which had been forced, one way or another, through every protrusion on their faces, leapt from the foliage. They had us surrounded immediately. Each one stood no taller than my shoulder, but the spears they had leveled at us increased their personal space eightfold.

We stood toe-to-toe with their little band, no one exactly sure what to do next.

O.K. I’ll bite. … “What is the meaning of this?!” I shouted with all of the bluster of someone who has just been seized after his archenemy has commanded, “Seize them!”

The tribesmen lowered their weapons. They smiled and talked among themselves. “Walla walla walla walla …” was all I could catch. Finally, one of the gentlemen stepped forward and extended his hand in friendship.

“Ees freendly tribe, Meester Bob!” Pepe assured me.

He engaged the tribesman in an elaborate handshake — they were both Masons, as far as I know — and they spoke to each other in a sort of guttural, Creole pig-Latin/pidgin Portuguese patois. Occasionally laughing in French.

“Hounh hounh hounh HOUNH! We are so dee lucky ones!” said Pepe. “Dees meen are Waiayotta tribe. He say dey want us to veesit dare veellage. Dey eenvite us for supper.”

Now, I’ve seen enough cartoons to know that when a native person with sticks and bones in his face invites you back to his village for “supper,” there is no possible way it can end well. But, I thought, it beats sleeping in the rain digesting pebbles. I gave Pepe the “After You” gesture.

“Lay on, McBuff!” I said.


The Waiayotta village was not far.

It was a bustling community teeming with women and children and old people and warriors as happy as any tribe I’ve ever seen in National Geographic. A crowd of children — some with their first piercing of stick or bone — met us at the edge of the forest. They led us through a crowd of curious onlookers toward a fire pit in the center of a village of native huts.

“Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb …” the villagers chattered excitedly at each other. A little dog joined our procession, nipping at our heels and trying to hump my leg, just as any American dog would have done. It was somehow comforting to know that even here, so far from home, nature had decreed that Bob’s leg is a fine place for a dog to spill his seed.

We stopped before the fire pit and everyone became silent. From the largest hut came a wizened old man, bedecked in a headdress of ornate feathers in addition to the stick-bone combo which was so common hereabout. I was to learn later that this was Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk, the headman of the Waiayotta tribe.

“Yassin … sassin … snazzum frazzum!” intoned the headman, clapping sharply. Once. Twice.

Whatever he said, the result was that each of our party was shown to a hut to freshen up before being escorted back to the fire, now blazing magnificently.


We all sat around the fire, Indian style, as several bare-breasted maidens brought around covered baskets of what I hoped was edible, although I was not especially particular at that moment. I couldn’t see what was in them, but, as I had fully expected to be devoured myself, I wasn’t about to scorn a potluck.

I made eye contact with Smith-Christie and the Pole Cat. I think they were as eager as I to get at whatever was in those baskets. A brief word from the headman, and we would dig in.

“Rooby … rooby roo!” he chanted.

Oh, boy! Supper, come to poppa! I opened the basket.

Frogs. It was a basket of live frogs.

Eh! You gotta eat, I thought, and made to gnaw off a drumstick.

“Walla!” shouted the headman.

“No, Meester Bob! We not to eat dees frogs,” Pepe informed me.

“Wh— ?” I said.

“No … we leek dees frogs. We leek dee frogs and we tell stories.”

“Wh— ?” I said.

So, the tribesmen took it in turns to tell tales of rainforest derring-do of some sort or another. While we all licked frogs.

I’ll admit, they did know frogs and their psychotropic properties! Lick a green frog at the slow parts, lick a brown frog for the fight scenes. Lick a yellow frog for slow motion, and lick one of the little red frogs for rewind. It seems strange to me now, but I think they even have had a frog for subtitles, because those tribal tales were a hoot!

To tell the truth, I could have just sat there licking frogs all night, but before we knew it, the Waiayotta turned as one, their rheumy eyes beseeching us to tell them a story. My companions and I looked at each other helplessly. It was Christy Smith-Christie who rose to the occasion.

“I’ll tell you a story …” she began.


“I was born a small, rich child,” she said. “I wanted for nothing. My parents were the healthiest, wealthiest, most cordial parents any child could ask for. They even gave me their private number as a child so that when I was feeling especially frightened or vulnerable, I could call and leave them a complete and detailed message including my name, date and the exact nature of my fear.”

The Waiayotta must have all licked their subtitle frogs, because I could see they were getting into it.

“My parents had been hippies once. Flower Children. And they made their fortune feeding Flower People’s unsophisticated tastes. If you can strap a bag of oats to a horse’s face for a nickel, why not slap a psychedelic label on it and strap it to a hippie’s face for ten times that much? ’Tis a gift to be simple and ’tis a gift to be free, but to be seen paying top dollar for simple and free at the co-op is a really good ROI. By the time granola prices peaked when the Yuppies came around, my folks were pretty well-to-do. Hemp hemp hooray!”

“Watermelon cantaloupe watermelon cantaloupe watermelon cantaloupe,” the tribesmen murmured.

“And they taught me kindness. When I was a little girl, I collected Barbie clothes. Not the dolls … just the clothes. And every Christmas, my parents would pack them up and take them to Goodwill for the little girls with less fortunate dolls. How do you rebel against that as a child?” she asked. “Put bacon and mayonnaise on your Loveburger?”

My stomach leapt as if it were being assumed bodily into Heaven at the mention of bacon and mayonnaise, but I wanted to hear more.

“I’ll tell you how I rebelled. I started eating white bread and Miracle Whip.”

Again with the stomach.

“… I drank water from the tap and dressed in polyester blends. I ate Velveeta and gave the brie to the dog. I ate salads of Iceberg lettuce with French dressing and croutons of crumbled Saltines. … I wore fur and ate steak. Lots of steak. Rare.”

She droned on and on. I’ll confess, I sort of lost interest for a while.

“… and it was while I was in Mother Jones’s Rehab Facility, I finally realized my mistake. That’s not me! That’s not who I am! If only my parents had lived to see that day!”

“So I used every bit of power and influence I had and saved seven square feet of rainforest. Then I saved two more so the math would be easier. It is my most fervent wish that my nine square feet hold the widest tree in this forest so I can hug it. For my parents. To let them know … to let them know … that I love them. I even brought this piece of chalk in case I don’t make it all the way around on the first hug. See?”

The Pole Cat put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder.

“Natter natter natter …” said the Waiayotta moving as one toward their spears. They were obviously still waiting to be entertained.

“Ohh! Meester Bob … we going to die now.”

I feared Pepe may be right.

But, suddenly, Geo jumped up and grabbed the tribe’s attention.


Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk stayed the warriors with a wave of his hand. It seemed he wanted to see more of the clown.

Geo fished what seemed at first to be a tangle of worms out of his pocket. He put a yellow one to his lips and it grew into a stiff, yellow snake. He picked a blue one, and it grew as well. The same with a red one. Then he took the three snakes and twisted them ’round squeakily until they became — a dog!

“Ooooh!” said the Waiayotta women.

He took a red balloon, a green balloon and a yellow balloon and — squeak-a squeak-a squeak-a — made a hat which he gave ceremoniously to the headman.

“Aaaah!” said the Waiayotta warriors.

The headman then stood to his full height — about as high as my shoulder — and called earnestly, “Sassafrassarassum … rick rastardly!”

Several warriors stepped in and we were again held at spear point.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“He theenk dee clown ees a god, Meester Bob. He want to keep dee clown. He say he geev you a peeg for dee clown.”

“Give him the clown,” I said.

“He say he want dee girl, too.”

“No deal!” the Pole Cat and I said, in unison, then eyed each other warily.

“He going to take deem!”

“Not if I have anything to say about it!” I said, “Run!”

I threw a basket of frogs on the fire, then we all ran, followed closely by the Waiayotta tribesmen who were all the more enraged because the blue balloon in their headman’s hat had already popped.

We reached a wide stream, swollen with the day’s rain. A straw bridge which the tribe had constructed had washed away without a trace. We ran further, the warriors quick at our heels. A sturdier bridge made of sticks had also washed away.

“Come on!” I said, “Next bridge!” and started to run.

Pepe grasped me firmly by the arm to arrest my flight.

“No, Meester Bob. Eet ees over. The Waiayotta never learn to beeld weeth breek.”

And then, as I live and breathe, Geo the Clown pulled a handkerchief out of his sleeve. Then another and another and another.


He tossed one end of the handkerchief rope over a branch and made it fast. We all swung across the stream to safety just as the tribesmen caught up to us. The Pole Cat was the last one — other than the clown — to swing across.

“The pig! Don’t forget the pig!” I screamed.

The Pole Cat grabbed the pig and swung across the stream with it. I looked back at the far side and watched as Geo was overpowered by the natives who revered him as their god. The last I saw of him, the clown was borne away as if on some native mosh pit. I swear he winked at me. I couldn’t help the little lump I felt in my throat.

I looked at the pig we had gotten in exchange for Geo, our companion.

Oink-a! it said, and I had never hated the clown more.

1 comment:

Nessa said...

I'm...speechless. This is a moving testament to the strength of man. And clowns.
(I hate clowns)