Thursday, April 30, 2009

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

Chapter Five: The Tale Told by an Idiot

I don’t know how long we wandered through the trackless rainforest. It could have been a day … it could have been a week. I was lost in my own nightmarish monotony. Left-right-left-right. Swear. Left-right-left-right. Grumble. Left-right-left-right.

A grain of sand in my shoe was getting bigger with every excruciating mile. One morning it was as big as a grapefruit, and by mid-afternoon it was about the size of the Rockies. I wished it were in my other shoe. There was a hole in that one.

We had sung “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” so many times that I had begun to think that his name really was my name, too. If we had been interrogated by some foreign or domestic agency right then, I would have willingly and eagerly admitted to being John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt without so much as the threat of waterboarding.

The Amazon had been, at first, a panoply of thrilling originality. Over time it had become a tiresome pageant of tedium. I chewed on my shirtsleeve for several hours. I wasn’t really hungry — I’d recently eaten my hat — but I thought it might help relieve the stupefying boredom of our slow march.

I was exhausted, I was bored, I had eaten nothing but insects and textiles for days, and I had not used the restroom since I had left the United States. But, I had saved a square foot of this hell-forest and I was damn well going to look at it! When it comes to real estate, the only thing that is really mine is my funeral plot and the square foot of rainforest I saved on Facebook with my (Lil) Green Patch. And this was the only one of the two I’d ever be able to appreciate.

My square foot was out there and, by God, I was going to see it.



I was prepared for another Left when Pepe stopped suddenly, causing us all to plow into his back.

“Hey! … WTF … Ow! … You sorry son of a … Oink-a!”

“Don’t eenybody move. Don’t even make a sound. Dere ees a very beeg jaguar een front of us.” Pepe started to back up slowly.

“OH MY GOD!” somebody shouted, but I’m not going to tell you who it was. If the jaguar hadn’t seen us before, he certainly did now.

This wasn’t your typical Disney “Johnny the Jolly Jaguar.” We couldn’t just pull a porcupine quill out of its paw and have him lick our hands and lead us to a lost city of gold. No, this was 350 pounds of well-muscled malevolence, and it was mad. It let out a cry like a catamount. Which makes sense if you look on Wikipedia.

I slapped Christy Smith-Christie hard across the face. She hadn’t been the one to startle the animal, but it did relieve a little of my tension.

A leads to B leads to C. We were at C. “We going to die now,” Pepe explained to us.

I screamed like a girl.

“Throw it the pig!” I said. I hadn’t yet learned that not every problem can be solved by throwing a pig at it.

Our native guide, Pepe, did what any rational native guide would have done. He ran away.

“You can’t outrun that thing!” I called after him.

“I don’t haff to outrun eet, Meester Bob! I chust haff to outrun jew!” And he was gone.

I took stock of our situation. We were three starving Americans and a pig hopelessly lost somewhere in the Amazon Rainforest staring down the business end of a jaguar. No two ways about it … Pepe was right. We were about to die.

The jaguar growled. I stepped behind Timmy, but the Pole Cat gave me a stern look so I stepped behind him, instead.

I was more or less prepared to die. I had canceled my newspaper subscription and left a key with the neighbors. And I did have that funeral plot.

I closed my eyes. Then I opened them because I thought I should look death in the face. Then I closed them again because the jaguar was looking right at me. Then I tried opening just one. Then I put my fingers in my ears and blinked rapidly so it looked like a silent movie. Yep. That’s the way I wanted to go.

I didn’t hear the rustling in the leaves because I had my fingers in my ears, but suddenly a half dozen Waiayotta tribesmen appeared from the forest, each with an arrow tipped with a poison frog aimed right at the jaguar. They did know their frogs.

The jaguar scowled — if they can scowl — and disappeared into the forest. I put my fingers to my lips and whistled the way cool people do, and the cat came back.

“He went that way!” I said, pointing after Pepe.

The jaguar and I made eye contact, and, for a split second, we understood one another on a visceral level. Predator to predator. “Thanks for supper. I’ll show you a lost city of gold sometime,” he seemed to say. And he was gone.

Christy Smith-Christie slapped me hard across my face. O.K. … O.K. … Fair is fair. We were all relieved and made to thank the Waiayotta, our champions.

“Schlemiel! Schlimaazel!” one of the warriors said to us.

Of course, we had lost our interpreter when Pepe ran away so we had no idea what he was getting at. We tried speaking English loudly, since that always seems to work. We tried some universal hand signals, but it seems Little Bunny Foo Foo had never hopped through this forest. They looked at us as if we were some kind of brainless foreigners, not Americans.


I’d heard that sound before.

The Waiayotta warriors stepped aside to reveal four of their kinsmen bearing a lavish palanquin bearing — who? — our erstwhile companion and sometime god of the Waiayotta, Geo the Clown!


The clown was always smiling, but he seemed to smile extra scarily as he nodded to one of the tribesmen with the frog arrows.

“Inka dinka dinka dinka doo!” the Waiayotta said. A dozen more tribesmen came forth and made us ready for the next phase of our journey.

The Pole Cat, Smith-Christie, Timmy and I were each helped into our own individual sillas, which amounted to not much more than a waiting-room chair strapped to the back of one of the burlier natives. The pig was wrapped in a more traditional papoose and carried by a less imposing tribesman. He seemed quite comfortable and happy to travel in style. A few of the other natives took up our gear. We all fell in line behind Geo in his grand palanquin and, looking like something straight out of the Sherpa Image catalog, we resumed our journey.


I don’t know who arranged it, but each silla had its own selection of magazines. People … Newsweek … Southern Living … Highlights. I was halfway through a connect-the-dots when we finally came to a halt.

“What’s this?” asked the Pole Cat.

“Where are we?” asked Smith-Christie.

“Werv u brawt us?” That was Timmy.

The Waiayotta knelt and Geo the Clown stepped out of his sedan. He stood a little taller than I remembered. And he spoke. That was a first.

“Here is the rainforest you have saved,” he said. His voice was sort of a cross between Kelsey Grammer and Harpo Marx.

“Yippee!” was our first reaction, immediately followed by, “Where?”

Honk-a! spoke the horn. A Waiayotta stage hand came forward with a black bag, gave it to the clown and removed to a respectable distance.

“It is here.” The clown rummaged in the bag a moment and brought out a white hard-hat and gave it to the Pole Cat. “Behold!”

Nobody says “Behold.” That’s stupid. Nevertheless, the clown indicated a tree none of us had noticed before.

“It’s the tallest in the forest,” said Geo. “Climb it.”

The Pole Cat brought out the climbing gear he had carried all this way. Ropes and spikes and jangly metal things. He stood at the base of the tree and looked up.

“I’m scared!” he said.

“Put on the hat.”

The Pole Cat put on the hard-hat and began to climb. In minutes he was higher than he had ever been before. And he wasn’t afraid!

“I get it now! I understand! I don’t have to be a lineman. It’s wireless. It’s all wireless! Oh, why didn’t I see it before? Hey! How do I get down from here?”

Geo turned to Christy Smith-Christie, the Berkeley co-ed. He reached in his bag and he brought out a long, yellow ribbon which he gave to her. He revealed to us another tree. The widest in the forest.

“Behold!” Now I thought he was just showboating.

“Here is the tree you wanted to hug. Your parents are watching. They always have been. They know you love them and they always have. Now, click your heels three time and hug your tree. Tie this ribbon around it in their memory as you go.”

She hugged the tree, chalked off the first hug and the second. When she was on the far side of the tree, hugging and chalking, the clown focused his attention on Timmy.

“Timmy. U wnt d cof syrup trE.” He reached in his bag and produced an empty medicine cup and a formidable syringe. “Bhold! L%k
der,” he made a grand gesture — grander than was warranted under the circumstances — “Yr trE awaits. Fil d cup N yr kin wil B :-$$$ 4ever.”

“Tnx, Mr. *:O)”

I regarded the clown with anger and suspicion. “I’ll bet you don’t have anything in that little black bag for me!” I said.

“But I do,” he said, reaching into his bag.

“Don’t say, ‘Behold,’” I said. I might have rolled my eyes.

“Be— Oh … O.K. Look over there.”

There it was. I’d spent hours on Facebook to make this moment a reality. And here it was. I was looking right at it. My own square foot of rainforest.

It was on a level piece of earth, exactly one foot by one foot, tastefully landscaped. It was enclosed by a short, white wooden fence with a gate which was open, inviting. On the square foot within the fence grew an apple tree laden with plump, juicy apples. Granny Smith … Red Delicious … I don’t know what kind they were. I didn’t really care. I was famished.

As I prepared to step inside the little white fence, I noticed that the rainforest had one more surprise for me. Entwined among the branches of the apple tree was what had to have been the biggest snake I had ever seen. I’m pretty sure it was an anaconda.

The allegory was not lost on me.

“Looks like you’ve got a choice to make,” said the clown.

Now, I know when I’m being set up for a Fall. Snake in the apple tree? That’s the oldest trick in the Book!

“Nothing doing!” I said.

I was pretty hungry, though. And the apples did look pretty good. What harm could just one bite do?

But I’m a thinker. I thought, I’m standing in one of the few places on earth untouched by the hand of man. A virtual paradise. Mankind was getting closer to my little square foot of rainforest every minute. It shouldn’t be like that. I guess that’s why I tried to save it in the first place.

I thought, I have faced all manner of inconvenience and discomfort to come here because this rainforest is something I believe in. And, once I’m here, I find a snake in a tree with several very tempting apples. The last time anyone was in a situation like this, man was cast out and paradise lost.

So. I made a decision. Paradise it was, and paradise it should remain. This time, Man would leave voluntarily and the forest would remain in all its magnificence, unseen and unmolested. I closed the gate on the little white fence and latched it behind me.

“I’m ready to go home now,” I said.


Now I’m back to the old routine. Doing what I can to save the world, one click at a time. Because I care just that much. I’m glad I saved the rainforest, but it’s good to be home.

And, yes, I did finally get something to eat. Before we left the rainforest, my companions and I enjoyed a nice roasted pig. Don’t ask me where the apple in its mouth came from.

Hey! A friend just sent me a drink on Facebook. I think I’ll go down to the bar and find it.

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