Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Try Not To Wet Your Pants


Chapter 15 (1st part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Pongo Menseriche

The plan that July night in 1899 after leaving the stores cached in their new base opposite Borja (near the Pongo) was to go back to Mitaya Isla, where Ed and Pedro were with some of the stores. The explorers made great time, the current carrying them the whole distance in a mere hour and a half, easy after the previous three days' slog.

The satisfaction of merely glimpsing the Pongo Menseriche, the gorge, made them light-hearted, so they were definitely up for it. Even now I feel light-hearted about them arriving, and we're talking 1899 and it’s all ancient history! But you gotta love the ancients, the bizarre stuff they put themselves through -- hard knocks a'plenty -- sometimes they died, sometimes they got the girl, and sometimes they just let out a whoop and a holler and if everything fizzled out to nothing they went back to work.

Indeed, with these guys it was still terrific hard work traveling at night with a strong current going fast. There's places on the Marañon river where it's live boiling water, the wicked swirling of currents around rocks, and you're also watching for fallen trees. The roar of the waves is so great it's like a train, then peaceful and steady. A lot of it you have to judge by sound. Definitely not for newbies, greenhorns, or river virgins.

If you're ever going to do it -- say you and your buddies want to relive the adventures of this book to the extent that that's possible -- it'd definitely be to your advantage to patiently build your skills on rivers closer to home. And if you don't have any rivers suited for decent practice, please, at the very least put a boat on some logs and get some kids to pull on it with ropes for, whatever, 20 minutes. Then you'll be ready for the real thing.

Because, no joke, think how perilous this would be. It's not a simulator, not a video game, it's three things: you, the river, and life and death. You're steering a relatively fragile craft through the many perils of the place and there's no forgiveness, no do-overs, no "my bads"; everything has to be just right in one take. It’s not TV, it's real life...

Your fleshy meaty paws grip the meaty paddle, you flash signals between yourselves, maybe a goofy grin and crossing yourself. Two thumbs up means good, the look of consternation and hair standing on end means not so good. Then you come 'round a corner and find yourself on a snag in boiling water, what do you do? Again, possibly prayer, violent oaths, crossing yourself, re-situating your fleshy meaty paws with a meatier grip and hoping to goodness everyone knows the signals.

Then you're off again, thinking, "We're gonna make it!" when suddenly the canoe's spinning in circles at a 45 degree angle! Now you're thinking, "I'm gonna wet my pants one way or the other!" And don't forget the fact, those snags aren't just odd branches but entire trunks of hundred-foot trees. Which could lift the boat high in the air. Or snap it clean in half. I just mentioned wetting your pants, now you've lost all control... That's why you needed to make sure you took care of business earlier rather than later, because you never know, later might be too late, and later than that could bring, would bring an endless stream of tragic, painful, soul-crushing regrets.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Rum, Guns, Anarchism


Chapter 14 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Borja

Up de Graff's expedition had use of the steamer to go up-stream as far as the steamer would go. So on they steamed, being the first steamboat in a long time to navigate the Marañon above that particular station. But only two days of hunting and lounging on the deck brought them to the highest point the craft could manage, where they necessarily stopped.

While halted and cutting fuel, Up de Graff had his first disillusionment as to the prowess of Ambusha the cook. He took Ambusha into the woods to look for game, but the latter was so incompetent at reading or making trails and keeping track of his location that in no time he would've been forever lost. For example, he looked at a well-used trail of tapirs and discerned it as having been traversed by "a war-party of Indians with women." To us that'd be like mistaking a cowpath for the interstate highway!

One other night after the steamer had returned downstream, Up de Graff's hunting resulted in four monkeys roasted for supper. They made a paste of the brains which along with hardtack made delicious sandwiches resembling paté de foie gras. Speaking of delicious animals, Jack later bagged a snow-white alligator measuring about five feet and prepared it for supper. They even had leftovers from that particular meal, all white meat of course. But we have a little bad news too, that they lost two dogs that jumped overboard and disappeared into the forest, most likely to be killed by tigers.

A little more of the Ambusha follies was in the offing. Ambusha always remained near the camp, never missing a chance to drink his fill of the rum. Up de Graff noted in his journal, "When he is not occupied with cleaning his rifle, he is busy reading up anarchism." They came to the unanimous decision to relieve Ambusha of cooking duties. Rum, guns, anarchism. They believed he was more proficient at mixing poisons than cooking, so he could be a danger to everyone.

Having broken camp one morning and stowing their stuff in the canoes, one of the guys caught sight of a tapir swimming. Jack had a gun ready, and being a crack shot, raced off and shot it, with everyone going to drag it to the river. Estimated at 600 pounds, it was of course tough to drag, but once in the water Up de Graff got astride it with a paddle and floated it down to camp. They cut it up for meat and cured it in the smoke of the fire, judging the feet and snout of the thing as being the greatest delicacies. You can still get pickled pig's feet, but as far as tapir goes, I haven't seen any in a while.

Another day as they pushed upstream they came to Borja, where a colony (est. population 100) once was. In the years since then it was overgrown and obscure. But it was still recognizable by gigantic limestone boulders, with the place being notable for its closeness to the mouth of the Pongo Menseriche, a gorge through which the Marañon River runs [Wikipedia].

Monday, July 15, 2019

Monkey's Great Every Meal


Chapter 13 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Barranca

It was day much like this day, except in the distant past. They had sunshine, water, a world stretched out around them, and though it was the distant past it simultaneously felt like "today" in exactly the same way our day constitutes the present. Something of a head-scratcher, I know, but if you keep thinking of it like our own lives it makes more sense. They weren't back in time, they merely lived then...

There was a character named Don Juan Ramirez who was a wealthy dealer in rubber and slaves. He organized his business to suit the place and it really flourished, big-time, with 300 Indians working rubber for him in half-a-dozen rivers. He also had steamboats to take passengers where they wanted to go. Which brings us to Up de Graff's team, who were with him on the Marañon going to Barranca. They passed many interesting settlements with canoes darting out from the various hamlets, some to be seen, some not to be.

Traveling there sounds very monotonous except for the clearings, since there's very little relief from dense walls of trees stretching on and on. The Amazon system has some 50,000 miles of water navigable by river-steamers basically like theirs. On this journey they'd gone up-stream for 10 days, daily stopping to hunt the night's dinner and chop fuel. The principal quarry was monkey, in fact the main dish at every meal, served as soup, stew, or roast. Monkey steaks, monkey soup, monkey see, monkey do. Even though we might easily be nauseated were we to live wholly on deer, wild turkeys, or any other forest game, that most certainly does not apply to monkey. From big to little, small to large, hairy or picked clean, as long as it's statutorily legal, every monkey is universally outstanding and delicious no matter how many times you eat it.

On the tenth day they arrived at the last Cocama settlement on the Marañon. Joining them there were expedition members Morse, Iberico, with their new, big canoe, the Exploradora. While at the settlement they bartered some goods for food with the Cocama Indians, one good for you, one food for me, etc.

Up de Graff charmingly describes these people's clever, devious way of spearing river-seals. When one's been killed, since it's impossible to lift it over the sides of the canoe, the occupants -- usually a man and a woman really rock the boat -- getting out and flooding it till they can float the river-seal in. Then, holding the seal's nose and the bow of the canoe together, they force the craft ahead, the backwater evacuating from a specially constructed poop. Then they climb back in and make tracks for certain and for shore!

The steamer pushed up the river and made Barranca that same night, a fine time being had by all.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Our Candidate For Governor

 
Chapter 12 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Tropical Politics

I've dreaded this day, knowing it lingered. Because it has to do with politics, exactly what everyone wants to avoid. Politics is a terrible thing on a blog because someone's going to get mad, then hit the door to escape and not look back. My only redeeming hope is that since it all took place in the 1890s and in South America, just maybe, possibly, I'll be able to keep the other continents in line and the precious traffic I get everyday. Folks, please don't desert me. My self-image is a tossup between sewage and poison... I'm down to my last nerve, please don't kill me... I have a lot to live for. Maybe I do or maybe I don't. But I like eating...

OK, let's say the crow files 600 miles, that's about the distance it would've flown from Iquitos to Lima. For anyone who isn't a crow, the journey is even longer, having to cross the Andes on untrodden paths. It's sheer misery, and the shifting of the river bed can also affect your plans; you might circle around for hours and not realize you haven't yet left. So once you're the governor in a place like that, you're set. Fairly isolated. You've got great personal responsibility and power. Not to mention the various taxes you receive from imports, trading, penalties, etc.

Unless this happens: One day in Iquitos, having already gotten a new governor, approximately 50 ruffians recruited by outlaws came up-river and dropped anchor. They took over the barracks, swore in the former governor's guard, and shot the new governor in the open street. He’d made a big mistake, telling people that whatever import duties they had paid the previous guy, they needed to pay again, to him!

It was so bad, another adventurer tried his hand at the coup game. Solomon Casas organized and led the counter-attack. Up de Graff says he was a prominent merchant and good soldier. Up de Graff also threw his support to Casas. (I implore you, dear reader, if you supported any of the previous scoundrels -- one, two, or three -- and are still hurting over their ouster, you should skip the rest of this paragraph. In which I declare my own support for whomever Up de Graff liked. Yes, I'm following his lead. Because I don't know one guy from another. And if Up de Graff was good enough to write this book, I assume he also knew who should lead Iquitos...

So one day our party formed in front of the store, then marched to the barracks. There was no resistance. Sentries that may have harbored deep resentment disappeared. And word was sent to Lima that order would be preserved until a properly constituted Federal authority should arrive. Iquitos settled down again.

Jack Rouse and Up de Graff took on two new members for the expedition, both Peruvians, Philipe Iberico and Pedro Valcarcel. As far as getting equipped for the journey, they bought new stores, food such as dry bread (hardtack) and corned beef. Then they realized they were buying several tons of stuff, too much cargo for the average canoe. When they heard of a giant cedar in one of the forests, they had a new canoe hewn from it. They named it the Exploradora.When they received word that it was done, they started up-river on a steamer to get it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

True-False: Teeth Grow In Mouths


 Chapter 11 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Iquitos

Iquitos was a town that sprang up a la western boom towns and flourished as long as commercial possibilities lasted. Up de Graff says when he was there the population was about 3,000. Later it grew to around 20,000. But by the time of writing his book, copyright 1925, Iquitos was again the home of only a handful of natives. A little sociology there, of which I'm neither qualified nor intellectually grounded enough to fully explain. And I've explained some arcane things, like the fauna of various backwater creeks I fell in as a kid, that I wisely summed up as "weeds."

He and Jack Rouse paddled into Iquitos on December 28, 1898. That detail will be on the test, people, Know It! They were "be-whiskered tramps" walking down the street, except they had a lot of rubber for sale and so they weren't hard up. Remember I said something about them picking up rubber here and there? I thought it was basically enough rubber to fill a suitcase, but according to page 28 it was two tons of rubber! With that kind of money they could get cleaned up and find accommodations at a hotel, the Hotel Roma. A room with actual beds! It wasn't a bank of sand, mud, and trees, but it was still nice.

They soon moved from there, only eating at the hotel, and went to "bunk" with a Dr. King, an American. He was an enthusiastic individual and must've been a colorful guy, because Up de Graff's take on him was: "The doctor made Vesuvius look like an iceberg." That's going to be a guy you can glean some interesting information from! Dr. King had tried various money-making enterprises in Iquitos, such as selling patent-medicine. Then he discovered that dental work was more in demand. So he made his own diplomas and certificates and started pulling teeth!

Sometimes Up de Graff puts "Doctor" in quotes, sometimes not. There was one patient who'd been on the point of death for days. He was worn out by fever and the attentions of "Doctors," including Dr. King, and died. His death certificate was a work in creativity, the cause of death being "a congestion of the elementary canal between the gall-bladder and the lungs, causing the cold bile to rise and cake round the heart." A tragic situation, yes, but you gotta admit, no more tooth ache!

Jack and Up de Graff at this point were waiting to book passage back to New York. When they met another American there to explore (Edward Morse), then another guy (Charles Pope), known to the natives as "Ambusha" because he ground his teeth when he slept; "Ambusha" refers to a bird that sings at night. As time went on, Up de Graff and Jack changed their minds about leaving, and now the mission was on to find Inca gold! By the way, Ambusha barely made the expedition, being notoriously known for having an oily manner, shiftiness, obviously a liar, and a student of anarchism and toxicology.

Test: When did Up de Graff and Jack paddle into Iquitos?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Crabs? Sit On My Face


Chapter 10 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Highway Robbery

Reunited, Up de Graff and Jack struck out for Iquitos. Up de Graff summed up their feelings: "A life which we had endured so long had become intolerable." They had found some rubber and stowed it in the canoe with their other belongings. That was good. But then ten days of the trip were characterized by a terrible struggle for food, to the point that they were making do with odds and ends. Certainly finding a stray yungaruru nest with eight eggs is a decent haul, you can't depend on a steady supply.

Among the pesky "adventures" no one would like to have were: A land-crab sitting on Jack's face, and since he was unable to see it it could've just as easily been a scorpion or big spider; most of the rubber was stolen from the canoe; they confronted the rubber thieves by gunpoint, warning them that next time they might just mistake them for monkeys, which meant they be "shot on sight."

Along with the other discomforts was the sun itself. They had little protection from the sun in their raggedy clothes, bearing down on them and reflected on the river. Jack peeled off three or four skins within a couple weeks from sunburn. Then add the mosquitoes and gnats, hey, it'd be tough to be travel agent for this place. But the terrible suffering wasn't over. Let's throw in the "black smear." Insects swarmed in clouds day and night, sometimes settling on their bodies in such numbers that they left a substance on them, a mosquito-paste that'd be left on their hands after wiping bugs away. They called it a black smear.

A day or two later, though, right when I was about to take them some bug spray by time travel, they drew alongside a steamboat. They spoke with the owner of the craft, Don Juan Abelardo Morey, who at first mistook them for Indians. But Up de Graff shouted back, "We're Americans!” Don Juan ordered food to be brought. And they were able to look at themselves in a mirror, which was surprising. Two years without a haircut or shave, each haggard, barefoot, and shaggy, nothing good about that. (No wonder those other people avoided them for over three weeks!) They asked how long it'd take to get to Iquitos. The answer, five or six days paddling.

Fortunately, Don Juan treated them right, canned sausages, Edam cheese, crackers, sugar biscuits, beer, bread, etc. Plus fresh clothes! As they got back in the canoe, they shoved off for Iquitos with a contact there, a friend of Don Juan. "Go and see Dr. King." They arrived in six days.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tapir, Canoe & Time Travel Too

 
Chapter 9 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Passage Money

The explorers were doing great till a tapir smashed their canoe to bits. I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but I'd bet all of us hate when that happens. You think being blindsided and sideswiped by a semi truck on the interstate is bad -- that's an accident -- tapirs and canoes is like cats and mice, if you make it 20 feet without an attack, you're lucky. 

OK, I'm going to assert something, something true that you probably won't believe. My grandpa was born the same year the exploration began, 1897. And some years ago he turned me on to a few coordinates that his people passed on to him. Because the Up de Graff team actually lost their supply of bananas that day when the tapir hit the boat. Then later, with the coordinates and willpower, Grandpa failed to make it back in time to help. So they were hungry all those years. It took a later generation, me, to build on Grandpa's willpower, and with the added incentive of being able to see him getting his diapers changed, I was able to focus with such intensity on a stack of calendars, and, yes, achieve the impossible. 

Up de Graff indeed stuck to the cover story; it's in his book: Page 104, "We gave thanks to Providence for endowing the bananas ... with a specific gravity of less than 1.00. We were able to rescue them after a short swim..." The word Providence is code, his admission that something extraordinary happened, not just pertaining to the buoyancy of fruit. For I myself came up out of the waves -- indistinct, not fully manifest -- with 40 cents worth of bananas, of inestimable value if it meant the team's survival. Can you see the distinction between me and the bananas? They're bright and sharp, I'm shadowy, only briefly there. That's all I'm claiming. In and out of the river before the piranha could threaten the family jewels. And later I was able to see baby Grandpa getting his diapers changed, real diapers, not disposable.

They finally came to the Napo River and it was a couple hours to meet up again with Andrade -- back to civilization -- and they were outfitted with new supplies. Food, pots, kettles, not bananas, which they had plenty of, guns, fishing supplies, and clothes. And they were off, lots of supplies, but also vampire bats and the usual pests. There was more trouble with tapirs. One tapir dived under the poop (p. 108), not something its family was happy about that night. 

As far as problems, Up de Graff was attacked by the fever. He was shaking, then had an attack of sweating. It was so bad, week after week for months, that'd he feel the fever returning, and he could only briefly recover by shaking. Jack quipped that he'd missed his calling, "You'd have made your fortune shaking down Brazil nuts." (p. 111). 

Month after month passed, a lot of it monotonous. With suffering. Sickness. Then the boat became detached from its moorings one night and started down the river without them. Jack dived in to save it, but they were both swept out of sight. When the morning light came, still no Jack. In the afternoon, though, Up de Graff heard singing -- and considered it a hallucination, much like the miraculous fetching of the bananas -- when Jack walked in! With no assistance from me.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Great Ranch, No People

 

Chapter 8 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
A Phantom People

Jack brought back interesting news: "I've found a trail -- as big as Broadway!" Up de Graff was exhausted and in pain, but news of a trail had a positive effect on his weary leg muscles. He got up and went through a gap in the thicket and saw the path. It was five yards wide and a well-used trail, with lots of footprints. His instinct told him it must lead to a large ranch. Where there could be food and shelter.

About 500 yards ahead they saw the signs of a clearing, then in a few minutes they were in the open, with rows of banana-plants, yuca, yams, and sweet potatoes. The ranch (chacra) was three or four acres with a house on one corner, a big gable with sloping roof. This could be good, it could be bad. But they figured they may as well fit in with whomever and see about something to eat. Let me end the suspense by saying no one else showed up!

They really made themselves at home, kind of nasty, really, by cutting a window in the wall and trimming the ends of the place, so they could see anyone who appeared. They made a fire to cook by. There were hot coals already there. Inside there were lots of spears, round earthenware pots, stone hatchets, fire-making material, blow-guns, some masata in a pot, and a dozen stone fireplaces ranged round the sides of the building, and dishes. The fire obviously meant someone was there just recently. So they were wary about being attacked and used the weapons for security, if needed. 

The explorers lived there three weeks. They still had injuries from their previous days of disaster, and tried to recover. For example, their feet were festered from the thorns, still embedded under the skin, so they used machetes trying to dig them out. It's all unpleasant, ranging from loose nails, watery matter exuding from under them, to sores between their toes with an unpleasant odor, to microbes, etc. A first aid kit would've come in handy and maybe Dr. Kevorkian. "Kill me, kill me now," I might've said.

After three weeks' convalescing, they were again exploring. They made a different camp for themselves, but still went back to the ranch for food. Weeks and months went by. They ate a land-tortoise.  Then Jack was "bitten by a bad snake and already felt queer." He killed the snake, then Up de Graff went to fetch it. Because if Jack were to swallow the gall-bladder of the snake by which he'd been bitten, and apply a ligature to the affected limb above the bite and a hot coal to the bite itself until it was cauterized, he'd be OK! Amazingly, in 48 hours he was OK, except for giddiness and bleeding at the nose and mouth. My mom was a fearsome medicine woman with a bottle of red dope, baby aspirin, heating pads, and humidifiers, but even she didn't know the benefits of snake gall-bladders...

They loaded the canoe with supplies from the ranch and pushed off.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Day After Day, Misery

 

Chapter 7 (2nd part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Hunger

Of course yesterday they found the canoe, but if you yourself would like to test your jungle sleuthing skills and see how hard it was, I challenge you to traverse the intricacies of the forest maze above. It's not as hard as it looks.

But something seemed hopeless, the outlook Jack and Up de Graff had after the canoe tipped. They had no hope of recovering a single thing from the deep muddy stream. The things that floated were miles away. The rifles and provisions were embedded in the silt under very deep, swift moving water. Had they tried to dive for things, the muddy current would have been too strong. It's hard for me writing the blog today to come up with funny stuff. I have a feeling this is going to be brutal.

Their immediate problem was food. They decided their only hope was to pick a trail and get going on foot. So, barefoot, no hats, only pants and cotton shirts, blankets, machetes, and a bottle of molasses to their name, they set off. Thorns gave them a lot of trouble. Then it was ceaseless rain. The ground was swampy. They slept on a more or less clear patch of ground, but woke up itching. OK, not too tough, thorns, rain, swampy, itching. OK, yes, it's tough.

On the second day of the march they swam across a swift stream twice, losing their blankets. Their feet were nearly numb from the thorns, it was nearly as bad as you can imagine. A little later they swam the stream a third time and found their own machete marks from before. They'd gone in a complete circle. It's that deja vu feeling all over. My own sense of direction's getting bad too. Where I live, to me south doesn't feel like south, and north feels east but I know 100% that it's north. This is true.

Jack joked, "If you'd only told me you were coming back for another dip, I'd have waited for you." OK, back to the suffering: On the third day, the pangs of hunger left them, but they knew they'd only get weaker if they didn't eat. They tried something from the top of a palm tree, looking like celery. But they couldn't keep it down, being nauseated. Awaking on the fourth morning, their scratches were infected, causing a maddening irritation, breaking out like ring-worms. The third day, the fourth day, everything's getting worse. Probably should've bargained with the Yumbos not to run out on them, had they only known.

They struggled ahead, Jack finally killing a turkey with a machete. But they couldn't eat it for sickness. The fifth morning they woke up in a puddle. Trying to go on, Up de Graff sank to the ground. But Jack went on, then came back excited, shouting, "Get up, for God's sake, man; I've found a trail -- as big as Broadway!" I'm not peeking ahead. I hope his news is as good as it sounds!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Holy Hell, One Thing After Another


Chapter 7 (1st part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Hunger

When Up de Graff was at the deserted shack, abandoned by the Yumbos, he concluded that the people of the Amazon country are full of surprises, in this case the old disappearing trick. He told Jack, but all the complaining in the world wouldn't help them. They took action instead, packing and heading back to the canoe. By evening they'd arrived and weren't surprised to see the canoe gone. Come on, Yumbos, sometimes life calls for a little consideration!

They thought it over in the morning, the penalties there for stealing canoes, and found it wisely abandoned not too far downstream. Up de Graff considered this a period of suffering, with too much dependence on the Yumbos, and except for a stroke of fortune they might not have saved themselves. They headed back upstream in search of them. But they didn't make the same rapid progress as they'd made with them, although they learned bit by bit how to pick up speed. My brother taught me a lesson like this once on how to ice skate faster, "Run on your tippy tip toes!" Which is great till you crash and burn.

Suddenly they noticed a dead alligator, which meant something bigger was near. Jack called out, "Let's get out of here!" That's when they saw the biggest anaconda they'd ever imagined. The estimated length was between 50 and 60 feet. Up de Graff, in the stern and out of reach of the rifles, called to Jack to shoot. The noise of getting to his gun alarmed the snake, and as it twisted in the water and quickly vanished, the boat was nearly wrecked in the waves. Snakes like that, what can you say, they're too big for their britches. Like trying to put an 18-wheeler in the downtown parking garage.

One other night they'd tied the canoe to an overhanging branch. After supper they put their things back in it. It was close by as they slept, but something bad was about to happen. Up de Graff writes, "Hour after hour the water fell away, hour after hour the rope tightened. For a long time the stores must have resisted the gradually increasing pull of gravity as the canoe little by little approached the perpendicular, having long since reached the rope's limit." Then, early in the morning, everything they had except two machetes and some molasses slipped "in a fateful avalanche" into the water. No one likes "I told you so," but I would've insisted on fitting anything in the tent we couldn't afford to lose.

They were now 60 days up river from the nearest post without food or the means of getting it. Jack muttered, "Holy Hell." That's right, Holy Hell. I would've cussed a blue streak worse than that -- all the usual words -- for whatever good it might've done. It steels your resolve, I think. It brings your emotion to the fore and you feel your determination mount. That's the answer to any do-gooder who gets on your case for cussing.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Yuge, Yumbo Problems

 
Chapter 6 (2nd part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Law of the Forest

Andrade told the Yumboa, a tribe of Indians, the easiest way to get to the mouth of the Yasuni River. But they were very shy about entering a place of ill repute and didn't want to go. Little by little, though, they were persuaded to accompany the expedition. So off they went, 'Yasuni River, Here We Come!' The name Yasuni means long river. It's also sluggish and deep, covered with deep verdure in places, so you feel like you're right in the heart of the forest.

Once there, the Indians enjoyed excellent hunting, getting lots of monkeys from at least 13 different species. Up de Graff even started a collection of monkey skulls that he pulled from the pot as they cooked. Wild turkeys were also numerous and tapirs were seen daily, so there was no shortage of good meat. There was also a lot of fish, including piranha. One was hooked and fell to the bottom of the boat, where thrashing around it made a wound like a miniature shark on Jack's feet. I can imagine the screaming and thrashing around if, say, the boat had tipped over, the churning of the water. Then total quiet except for some last sad gurgling. Fortunately, that didn't happen.   

Among the wildlife was also the anaconda, the largest snake in the world. They can grow up to 50 feet. While bathing one morning, Up de Graff felt something heave under him, which turned out to be an anaconda about 30 feet long. They killed it with a shot that cut it in two, near the head, then dragged it ashore. I myself saw a snake about that big in a missionary meeting when I was a kid. The strangest thing I ever saw in church, except for some of the ladies' hair.

On they went, day by day, deeper into the Unknown. One of their principal sports was hunting the masquisapa, the largest monkey, jet-black with white markings on its face and head, and a long prehensile tail like animated rope with five ends. These are good sport because you can never get a still shot. But the Indians are better at hunting them with various skills they've developed over time. 'Sit still, you big lummox, so I can get a decent shot!' Very uncooperative.

After a while the idea occurred to them to strike inland and build a permanent camp for the area. They left the boat bottom up and followed a long hunting trail. It was so far they were 18 hours from the canoe! They built two shelters, one for Jack and Up de Graff and the other for the Yumbos. But they got a fairly rude awakening in the morning, when they discovered the Yumbos had abandoned them!

It might be fitting to roll the slow motion collage of their time with the Yumbos, with a cloying instrumental of "The Way We Were." The caption at the bottom about them meeting is: "At first they seemed very shy of entering the place of evil repute." Hold it, stop the film. Yes, little by little, they persuaded them, extra pay, a promise of return if there was anything bad awaiting them, etc. And "finally" they consented to go! All page 65. Now a scant 10 pages later they've abandoned them. My verdict around 130 years later, you should've seen it coming.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Yucky Mejias Bad, Yuca Masato Good



Chapter 6 (1st part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Law of the Forest

How would you like to be a professional yuca chewer? (Yuca is a particular plant's root.) The way they make the sacred drink masato de yuca (in the book called masata) is actually to chew the yuca in their mouth. I'm not an overly queasy person, but at first that sounds terrible. But I'm guessing once it's chewed and spat out and has fermented the appropriate time, any bacteria is neutralized in the fermentation process. Note: These are my unprofessional, uninformed surmises. If you ever drink masato and find your Uncle Leroy's dentures in the glass, I cannot be held responsible. All information on grandmaslump.com or any of its affiliated companies, of which there are none, is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered factual. Except for the disclaimer just issued.

Our chapter opens with the explorers waiting for Mejias. At the end of chapter 5 they had met this Columbian trader who carried on a fairly shady trade. They traded with him, then leaving, left their canoe and stores at his post while looking for Indians for the expedition. That came with a three week delay. When they got back to Mejias' place, he was gone. As was their cache of stuff they had left there. But their Indian helpers followed his trail and they caught up to him. They intended to hold Mejias to account at the point of a gun! But once encountered, he ran to the edge of the "open space" area, looking "plumb hostile," so they shot and ... Mejias was dead.

A couple days later they were at another rubber-post, a place established by a Senor Abarca. The talk about Mejias was he'd had an unsavory reputation and that Up de Graff and Jack Rouse had acted in accordance with the Unwritten Law of the Land. For trade, Abarca referred them to another guy two days downstream known as the King of the Napo, named Andrade. His place sounds like our equivalent of a big truck-stop for truckers, an important post in a well-chosen spot at the junction of the two of the most important rivers northwest of Iquitos.

Staying with his family for a couple days, the explorers ate and had their fill, then were treated to some masata. Andrade said, "I can recommend this specially: it has been chewed by my daughters." The daughters blushed in acknowledgement of his compliment. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Vampire Bats Gotta Eat


Chapter 5 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Napo

Up de Graff got a companion in Jack Rouse, who just showed up at the door. He was about 45, rugged, not broadly built but giving the impression he was strong. And he didn't stand on ceremony. Up de Graff called him Mr. Rouse and he put in, "Cut out the titles." They shared a decent meal of rice and beans, very welcome to Mr. R--, er, Jack. But who could blame his appetite, he'd had nothing to eat for two months but bananas. Reminding me, I have a problem with bananas: Fruit flies! I wouldn't make a great companion on their journey when even fruit flies bother me...

Jack's story was he'd run away when he was 14. Most of his family was killed by Indians. He’d drifted to the Klondike for gold. Then he was a messenger and driver on a stage-line. Somehow he made his way to South America, probably under shady circumstances, and there he was. He said curtly, "Uncle Sam is looking for me," which is all kinds of nasty! Still, a perfect resume for a job equally as nasty in what lay before them. 

Their journey would commence in the morning, so they hoped to spend a comfortable night on the floor of the shelter. As they lay talking, Up de Graff noticed something periodically flying in one end of the shelter, crossing over them, and disappearing at the other end. In fact, they flew so low they could feel their wings on their faces. Thinking it was owls, they let it go. (Who does that?) When Up de Graff woke at dawn, though, he felt dizzy and weak. Then he saw "a great ugly clot of blood" hanging from the back of Jack's head. He thought it must've been the Indians. Then he noticed blood on his own blanket. He called the Indians in to explain it, but they laughed it off, saying the "night-birds" had been feeding. Vampire bats!

Larger than an ordinary bat, its wingspan is between 10 and 12 inches. And of course it lives on the blood of live animals and people. It has two pair of very sharp eye-teeth, and there's a lot of other information here I'm never going to need, and certainly if I ever do it'll never happen twice. It's a constant thing, though, for those unfortunate enough to be there, to the point that if you're under an awning, say, the Vampires will make a hole the size of their head in the material and proceed to suck you dry! Not at all good for your awning.

Anyway, terrible as all that is, the got up, did their business, and were off by 2:00 p.m. on the Napo River. With a stiff current they made good progress. They found a place to sleep, but when they awoke they found they'd been tapped again by the bats. Doh! Which was apparently a problem over the years. 

After a few days they reached the mouth of the Suno River and found a Columbian trader, Mejias, who outfitted them with some important goods, guns, etc. He then turned them on to some inside dope on a little river, an unexplored job (you didn't hear it from me), called the Yasuni. Savages there? Yeah, yeah, lots of savages. But, you know, I've heard they might be descendants of the Incas, that's Inca as in GOLD. So they went up the trail to Loreto to find Indians to help on an expedition. But it would take three weeks for the Indians to prepare their marching kit.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Who Needs Mules, You Got Men


Chapter 4 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Jack Rouse

Up de Graff left Quito with two Indian muleteers and four mules, headed downhill for Papallacta. The mountainous area made the going rough. Arriving there, he made his way to the governor's house. He presented his passport, which the governor couldn't read. Up de Graff read it to him, embellishing the text to say that the governor was to give him eight guys to help on the journey. (They later had to abandon the animals because the trails below were only good for foot travel, making me think, How'd they get up there? They must've been born on top of the mountain by virgin birth and possibly without a mother!)

The governor responded to the president's supposed command and got eight of his best guys, apparently with nothing else to do, to help carry Up de Graff's things. They actually offered to carry Up de Graff himself, since that was other times done for priests, but he preferred to walk.

The group went down about 8,000 feet, then the Indians cautioned him not to make any noise or it'd rain non-stop crazy, in sheets, as much rain as anyone would be unlucky enough to see. But he, wanting to prove their fears folly, fired his rifle. And guess what, the rain came down in sheets. Not his best decision.

They came into Archidona where there was another governor, who put up Up de Graff in his house, where he slept well. Up de Graff flashed his passport again and said he needed a canoe and this governor was also quick to help. He would deliver a canoe for him in the town of Napo. So he -- our hero -- was ready to get going in a couple days, off to Napo.

He set off, the forests swallowing him up, and recalled again the great explorer Stanley. Up de Graff looked ahead himself to unlocking a thousand secrets of those little-explored areas, if you discount the wealth of knowledge the natives in those places had for thousands of years, which .... What can you say? .... he did.

Then at the town of Napo, Up de Graff had to wait a tiny bit for his canoe to be ready, when someone came up behind him and said, "I've heard you're pulling your freight downstream." That was Jack Rouse, who joined him in the journey.

A few things stand out in these amazing details. Just telling the governors they were to help him in certain ways when those instructions hadn't really been given, that's balls. It pays to know how to read. And how about him shooting his gun when the Indians coming down the mountain told him to keep quiet? I'm sure I would've thought those guys knew what they were talking about without making a mess for myself and the others.

And who among us would prefer to walk if you had eight guys offering to carry you? "Yes, I'm a priest, upsy daisy." Take a book, get another governor to fetch me an umbrella, read a little, maybe doze off, of course giving the strictest orders, "When we get there, put me down and let me walk in the town first, just so they know who's in charge here."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Turning Toward Adventure


Chapter 3 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Exodus

Our chapter opens with F.W. Up de Graff still working at Salinas for the Cordovez family. There had been a revolution and its head was Alfaro, who became President. Some of the folks were completely opposed to Alfaro, but once the jig was up they changed their clothes and marched in support of him. Gotta stay on the good side of power... In terms of democracy, though, this might mean there's only half as many people as we think we see!

When the revolution kicked into gear, Up de Graff happened to be there (in Guaranda) on business and took in some of the action. Then headed back to the Cordovez estate. A few days later a party of 20 officers show up to arrest him. But he'd had some warning, so he showed up at the front door with a gun. They wisely handed him the warrant and left.

Skip this, skip that, he finally left the Cordovez place for good, no longer entirely welcome, and was staying in a "hotel" (his quotes) in Riobamba, which was a worse dwelling-place than he had on the estate. He wondered, What shall I do, what shall I do? Then took a horse-drawn stagecoach to Quito, where he ended up meeting with President Alfaro and getting a passport for other travel in South America.

At the end of this chapter he shares a letter he wrote to his mom, telling her that "tomorrow" (Jan. 10, 1897) he'd be leaving on foot on an expedition toward the Napo forest, about 600 miles away, with some Indians employed to carry his equipment. He expected to camp on the Napo River, build some canoes, and start on a 4000 mile trip. I like this part: "I take absolutely no money with me," except what he'd need years later to get back to New York. The rest of his cash he invested in machetes, and beads and trinkets for trading with the Indians.

He finishes the letter with basically, 'Don't write back,' because there'd be no way he'd get the letter. And that was it, he was off!

That'd take a lot of bravery. One, I'd hate to be involved with a bunch of (probably) crooked cutthroat politicians in the midst of a revolution. I'd barely survive peacetime there. It's always better to fly a little more under the radar, which hadn't yet been invented. Still, Up de Graff lives a fairly humble life in his journeys henceforth, off to see the headhunters and escaping the powers that be (Alfaro, Cordovez, revolutionaries) who might've also had his head.

I'm trying to process his thinking process. Which must come down to this, get out there, go for all the gusto, if you live or if you die, it'd be worth it for the sheer adventure. And, importantly, for the riches of gold he expected to find. I'd probably be much more skeptical about the gold. Even if you found all of it you'd ever want, the idea that you'd get out of there with it is farfetched. The place is crawling with cutthroats. You really think you're going to be boarding the boat later, declaring your only possessions, a hat, machete, and three tons of gold? Don't think so!

But the adventure of it would be great, gold or no gold.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Cordovez Brood


Chapter 2 of 25 -- Head Hunters of The Amazon
A Land of Opportunity

Recall, Up de Graff went to Ecuador on the invitation of a friend from college days and fraternity. Being a guy who loved outdoor living, Up de Graff went hunting. This wasn’t just squirrels or rabbits like I used to hunt, but monkeys, turkeys, wild pigs, parrots, deer and jaguars. He remembered how hunting monkeys (baboons) really excited his enthusiasm. But it was the taste of them that stood out so clearly in his memory, saying, “The gastronomical possibilities of a baboon probably occur to only a very few of the millions who gaze at him through iron bars.” I'm not able to disagree.

Beyond that, he met the rest of the Cordovez family, including a brother most famous for the picturesque cursing of the peons. Which, though I disapprove, it'd still be nice to have a sample, maybe extending to a minute. “You worthless shiftless son of a bitch, I’m cutting you off from rum at the fiesta! You can die of thirst for all I care!”

But it was the father of the clan whom Up de Graff ranked the most egregiously worst of the bunch, and this goes along with modern sensibilities of fairness, honesty, and respect. Meaning, I may as well brag, I am personally more refined than the average Cordovez (of that particular group, now dead). Few of us are as wealthy as they were, but their riches seem to have been amassed in large part via hook or crook.

I’ll try to tamp down my righteous anger and stick the bottle of vitriol back in the cupboard and remain as dispassionate as a person of my sensitive sensibilities can reasonably be expected to muster or attain.

Further, Up de Graff says the Cordovez menage at Riobamba included, in addition to the terrible old man himself and his sons, his wife who kept house. The old man was generally unkempt, having little use for soap and seldom changing his clothes. But my qualms with the old man — it’s something of a simmering rage, threatening to boil over any minute — has to do with his abominable treatment of others. Which Up de Graff also had a hand in, to the extent he could stand it, when he finally quit.

Old Man Cordovez sent him to Salinas. Which is an interesting place for its elevation and views all around. North of there are mountains that rise over 22,000 feet above sea level. Making the average everyday mountain look like a pimple. On a good day, when the sun’s just right, other mountains have to pack it in in frustration.

The main sins of the Cordovez family and the old man in particular have to do with him not paying his workers, and additionally always scheming to keep them in servitude by being indebted to him. I thought I had a bad boss or two, but this guy was scheming people into perpetual slavery. And I have a hard time overlooking that, no matter how pretty the mountains are.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Headhunting South America


Chapter 1 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Beginning of the Trail

Fritz W. Up de Graff in the U.S. (1890s) had a frat brother from South America, D. Enrique Domingo Cordovez, called the Count. They talked about the backwardness of his country Ecuador, which fired in Up de Graff a determination to go help make some modern improvements. Maybe street lights, shoes on horses, and eventually cars and the internet. Lots of big dreams.

But he and his team first had to deal with other exploration and discovery, finding their way around forests where in just a few minutes you could be lost forever in a swamp or bog. It’s no small undertaking to avoid the undertaker there unless you were swallowed whole by an alligator or burned at the stake in one of the worst pagan rituals. The darkness lit only by wild flames, discouraging war cries, the sharpness of handmade spears, and a total absence of law enforcement added to the generally bleak outlook.

Still, other explorers of the past had done their thing and lived to tell, like Stanley from “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” fame, in Africa. Up de Graff’s youthful, untamed spirit vibrated in sympathy with the Count, probably the same feeling young men get today when it’s Porn Week on streaming TV. How will it work out? Will there be a happy ending worthy of the name? Will he find vast treasures of gold, caves of gold, trenches glistening with unbridled, untamed, unparalleled quantities of gold, shimmering, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen waxen GOLD?

Personally, I don’t know what I’d do with gold if I found it. I'm sure no one would really respect my rights when I registered my find: “I claim the gold of South America, having found the main vein at such and such coordinates, in my neighbor's backyard.” 20 minutes later I’d be overrun with guys with pick axes and guns aimed in violent intent at one another and me. It’s the kind of thing -- finding gold -- you should never tell another person, including friends, who’d step over you in a second in their lust and crazed abandon. It'd be better to find cotton candy.

Anyway, Cordovez tamped down some of Up de Graff's hopes, assuring him that there was indeed the possibility of making “a handsome capital,” just fabulous fortunes, which were already ripe to be had with various enterprises in America. But in 1894 to an adventurous spirit, “a handsome capital" was good enough. So off he sailed in 1894 with only $100 in his pocket, hoping for great adventure. He was there for seven years without so much as a day off.