Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Once Saved, Always Saved


Chapter 25 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The End of the Trail

We've reached the end of the trail for "Head Hunters of the Amazon" by F.W. Up de Graff. Chapter 25 is only five pages long. But there's a lot of interesting nuggets in it, 'Where's the Gang Now?' stuff.

It tells us that Up de Graff with Morse took a steamboat from Iquitos to Manaos. Then he had to wait a week or two for an ocean steamer to get there to take him to New York. The delay was nearly the cause of his downfall. Because he met another guy who'd left South Africa shortly after a gold shipment disappeared there. Who proposed that they go in together and hold up the bank in Manaos where he knew a gold shipment was that had arrived from England. The guy went in and out of the bank and pronounced the project "a cinch." But finally gave it up when nobody would help.

The same guy then proposed they go to Venezuela where diamond fields had just been found. Up de Graff actually says they made preparations to jump into canoes, having stowed their provisions, etc., when he got a letter from home saying they really wanted to see him. So he gave up the idea. But before he sailed, he met his old friend William Game, just returned from the head-waters of the Jurua, suffering with "berri-berri." I looked it up: "Thiamine deficiency," usually caused by poor diet or alcoholism.

Game had news of Jack Rouse, who'd gone with Game on a rubber expedition with a few Indians. The Indians robbed them of their canoe and deserted. Game and Rouse were soon out of rations. They lived a few weeks, then got berri-berri, which Rouse died of. Game didn't have the strength to get Jack's body out of there, so he climbed on a balsa log and floated down to the first plantation, and after that took a boat to Manaos. Up de Graff never saw him after that, but later heard he was off to the Klondike.

Flash forward approximately 15 years, "not many years before the World War," Morse was standing in the entrance of a New York hotel and saw a guy with a white-bellied spider monkey (maquisapa), doing an organ-grinder gig and passing the hat. That turned out to be Ambusha (Charles Pope)! Who promised to meet Morse later that night, but he never returned.

Back to Up de Graff waiting for the steamboat, still in South America, he went ashore and met a man at the United States Counsul, Mr. K.K. Kenneday, who collapsed when he told him he was F.W. Up de Graff. Kenneday had been looking for him for years, with mail for him piling up in his office all that time. They figured he was dead.

Sailing away, Up de Graff reflected on his whole journey, then arrived in New York on Nov. 18, 1901, seven years to the day since he sailed for South America.

Guess I'll say a few things about myself. I discovered this book in the 1970s. I had it at the place where I worked and we looked at it, found little passages and laughed about them. We enjoyed a little bit of the adventure but thought everything was funny. I had a similar book of exploration with a picture in it of a guy being carried on a bed by natives. I thought that was this book, but it's not. Then my copy of "Head Hunters" was somehow lost in a series of moves.

Then a few years later I found another copy at a book sale, also now decades past. I've recently again gotten rid of a bunch of books when I moved, but kept this one, still intending to read it but never getting it done. Summarizing it as I have now, of course I had to read huge bits of it, get the gist of the chapters, etc., but as for actually reading it word for word, I still haven't done it. And knowing me, I probably never will.

But a few years from now I will have made my way to New York. I will have a white-bellied spider monkey, doing an organ-grinder gig. My copy of "Head Hunters of the Amazon" will be with my stuff. A guy who read my series all the way through -- and thought it was fascinating enough that he was prompted to rob steamers in South America of bank shipments -- will walk up and say, "Aren't you the guy from the internet, Grandma Slump, who wrote about this book?" I'll have the immediate impulse to deny it three times, the monkey will kiss me on the cheek, the Lord will suddenly appear, very disappointed in me, but I'll die and go to heaven anyway, because Once Saved, Always Saved.

Amen?

Monday, July 29, 2019

Sick of Monkey, Taking Pills


Chapter 24 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Crowning Folly

Up de Graff went through a lot but he still wasn't ready to go home. The spirit of the wilds had possession of him. Then he heard of a get-rich-quick scheme concerning the rubber trade, but the only crew he had left was Morse. And Morse was on his way out, leaving him with an Indian boy, Supaitranca. Still, his mind was made up, so they set off on the journey. He spent a few months wandering through swampy forests but didn't find the Indians he was seeking and very little rubber. Then the boy died of fever.

At that point Up de Graff had no living thing to keep him company, not even a parrot. It was a very lonely place. He walked through the forest, but all he saw was the same thing, forest and never-ending swamps. He lived like an animal from day to day and had a hard time finding enough food. My personal opinion, that would be terrible. No food, not even a parrot to keep me company with its meaningless chatter... "Rawk! Cannibals, I'd run if I were you!" Cannibals never eat parrots unless they're terribly hungry.

But he made it back to the town of Barranca, and in a few days Morse reappeared, having news of a "sure thing" concerning exploring. Up de Graff was skeptical, but Morse gave a glowing account of a possible cattle and cedar business in a particular place. He even had a bag of English gold which an Iquitos merchant had advanced him for the venture. This convinced Up de Graff. So off they went, confident of success. 

They had an Indian companion who fell ill of fever the first day, then he became weak and could do no work. They talked it over with him and he agreed to be put on a raft with provisions and to be shoved off toward Barranca. So he was gone.

A few more days and they were demoralized. Ahead was three long months of travel before they would reach a particular place on the river. They were depressed. Then as they happened to be looking out toward midstream they saw in amazement a young Indian girl, Breginia. They talked to her. She was alone. She decided to accompany them. And she was of great value to them, knowing the various dialects of the country, being a good lookout-person, etc. She even knew the arts of tracking and hunting animals, supplementing their dwindling food.

But as they went on at length, they were again out of food. They went on. Up de Graff got sick. But he was able to kill a monkey and eat it and take some Holloway's Vegetable Pills, which was restorative. As they were headed back toward civilization, Breginia departed, because there were guys ahead who would've enslaved her. Up de Graff recalled her fondly, that she saved their lives.

What do you think? Is this journey almost over? I'd say! The chances of finding another companion like Breginia weren't good. And Morse was gone again. And it was all wearing on Up de Graff. It's wearing on me and this is a 100+ years in the future. I'd be saying, "If I never see another drop of river water it'll be too soon! Monkey might be good for survival, but frankly it's making me sick. And Holloway's Vegetable Pills may make you feel better but ... Hmm, you're right, these really are good medicine! Pass me that box!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Grubs, Worms, Ants, Ants, Ants


Chapter 23 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Morona

Ambusha left the expedition at the end of the last chapter. The explorers were down to four. And they went on, paddling and poling their way on rivers for about 90 days. The first 60 were on the Morona, which overflows its banks intermittently over the first six months of the year. Its depth varies depending on the local rainfall.

There's lots of semi-stagnant arms of the river that drain the marshes all around. It is something like a great swampy maze. It makes for difficult traveling by canoe. But there were no natives around to guard against, the biggest enemy being ants. You can't sit down in the woods or even stand in one place for long without being overrun by ants, from almost invisible red dwarfs to giant Alligator Ants, the biggest ant in the world (1¼ inch). You wake up at night with your camp is alive with them. The book has nearly three pages devoted to ants.

Then there's grubs, worms, caterpillars, toads, frogs, lizards, and even rats out there doing their thing. Seriously, there's enough nastiness to make you promise yourself and your loved ones that you'll never go there. And if you do, you declare that you're willingly taking your life in your own hands and hold everyone else harmless as far as blame. But if you come back, we expect souvenirs.  And we're not talking shrunken heads.

After 60 days paddling they had gone around 300 miles. Now jaguars were numerous, and in the river splashing about after fish. The team passed into the Cusalina, en route for Macas. A few weeks on the Cualina, they came to a portage trail that led to the Santiago. They went through an unexplored zone. The sole representative of civilization they found was an old Ecuadorian half-breed and his family. He lived in perfect contentment. They bargained with him to help them transport their things across country about 15-20 miles in exchange for their big canoe. 

In the area they also came to a place that had a small population, a priest -- the rest being away on errands of mercy and church business -- and a few renegade Jivaros. The priest was lord and master of the area and wasn't pleased to see the explorers. But he cheered up when they told him they weren't staying. Nope, he's on his own. Doing whatever. And that's just the way he likes it!

I'm letting the rest of the chapter go, except at the end it was April 1900 and they met a guy named Don Juan Ramirez. He changed their plans.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Ambush's Panic, Two Gunshots


Chapter 22 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Strategy

Up de Graff and the explorers had to move at once. Being at the mercy of the infuriated -- wildly inflamed -- Huambizas was clearly bad policy. Either push upstream or backtrack, go somewhere. But to go upstream would a hard fight; their equipment was too heavy for the five men to cope with. They'd be easy targets for a surprise attack. And they were still desiring to trade the Jivaros out of their shrunken heads.

The explorers decided to follow them downstream where they were sure to be curing the heads. They might be able to make a good deal with them. But between now and then there were still security concerns. A number of battle-heated savages were still around and in a nasty temper. Some were trying to "borrow" rifles, with threatening spears in hand. One especially persistent guy was hit by Jack in the chest with the butt-end of his Winchester. The explorers were losing their self-control, but just wanting to avoid another massacre. And I have to confess, impending massacres always give me the jitters.

You might remember the crewman called Ambusha. He's the guy Up de Graff kept his eye on most, for his excess drinking of rum, reading up on anarchism, having an oily manner, being shifty and a known liar, cleaning his rifle too much, etc., and how he was relieved of his duties as cook. They put him in the middle of the column of boats as the fleet started moving.

They had one last look at the grinning skulls of the shrunken heads with their bulging eyeballs and "dry tongues lolling in a mute farewell." In an hour they stopped at a sandbar for the night. They were separated by a safe distance from their native "allies." But they still could tell what they were doing, sitting around the fires and putting the finishing touches to the heads. There's a little intrigue. All along the head of the Jivaros, Tuhuimpui was hanging around with ideas of his own, even helping guide the formation of boats together with Up de Graff.

Now as they were traveling, Tuhuimpui steered Up de Graff's canoe. Tuhuimpui had received Up de Graff's orders -- this particular boat was not to move up from its place in the rear, and they were to take no risks. In quick succession, then, two shots from downstream roused them. Immediately, Up de Graff swung his rifle to the right and fired it into Tuhuimpui's stomach. The chief wilted and slid into the bilge-water. Other shots were made and the native canoes sped up in panic. These two shots by Up de Graff weren't random; it was arranged that two shots would be the signal if there were trouble downstream.

A few minutes later they came across Ambusha alone in a dugout. He was the one who'd given the alarm. He said, "The Indians in my canoe turned in-shore without a word of warning and landed, leaving me alone on the bank." He was sure they were up to deviltry, so he pushed off and fired. That was a lame story, of course, but Ambusha was judged a benefactor anyway, because Up de Graff was convinced an attack would've come sooner or later, and circumstances would've been more against them. It's always nice to do the wrong thing and have it turn out right!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Shrunken Heads Made E-Z


Chapter 21 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Jivaro Heads

What's a book on head hunters if you never get to the hunted heads and what happens to them? The subject's been mentioned a few times but I feel like we're on the brink here of something more. What they got busy doing when they had a victory on the battlefield. Up de Graff calls the scene a never-to-be-forgotten day, concerning these relics of war. You're in for a real treat. Or if you're the kind of person who gets sick easily, and I definitely am, you might want to sit this one out.

The enemy left their dead and dying behind in their flight. The victors dashed forward to take the most prized spoils of battle, the heads of the slain enemy. They went from corpse to corpse with stone-axes and bamboo knives and other instruments to gather and string these emblems of victory. The explorers being right there in their midst were also pressed into service helping with these practices. Up de Graff says, deflecting any criticism, that "had we attempted interference, we were but five in a horde of fiends, crazed by blood and lust."

He says the stringing of the heads is an art done to facilitate their transportation. They are strung on thin pieces of pliable bark from saplings. The bark ropes are passed through the mouth and out at the neck. We've heard it in western movies how they're going to "string 'em up," but this is a whole different thing. It doesn't make it any less deadly. But in the westerns that's the process of dying, not the aftermath, which, if I recall, is being buried with your boots on.

The party next got down to looting the houses from which the defeated enemy had come. Taking everything of value. Such as Peruvian coins, cups and saucers, knives, handkerchiefs, spear-heads, etc. Then they set fire to those places and that was that.

There was another party of the Antipas who had separated from the others earlier, storming a group of huts up the creek. That other group was on their way back to rejoin the others. They were laden with nine heads of the enemy, some tied in pairs by the hair and slung round the neck of their conquerors. Gruesome enough for you? This procession was led by a diabolical-looking creature, described by Up de Graff as "a short, fat savage; laden with his share of the spoils, grinning in triumph, with his teeth stained black and filed to a point, his thick-set shoulders spattered with the blood of his victims..." Sounds like a real sweetheart.

Up de Graff reflected on how these spoils of war would eventually be displayed in the glass cases of a great museum or be included in the collection of a curio hunter somewhere in the world.

The procedure of crafting a shrunken head is spelled out in some detail on page 276 and following. There are free PDF files of the book, and if you search therein for "The ceremony commenced with the placing of the heads in the sand" you can read all about it. I however am excused from any and all blame for what you do with this weird knowledge, and ask that you don't tell me what it is. I will leave it as your own business, between you and your clergyman, and of course the local police. But, crap, the detail! I'm about to be sick.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Night Before War


Chapter 20 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
War

A native leader, Tuhuimpui, confronted the explorers, "We have heard that you have come searching for gold... You will be killed, so we have come to help you back to safety." Up de Graff responded that they could take care of themselves. The leader replied, "We will help you ... Let us join forces..." Up de Graff believed Tuhuimpui's object was the same as the others, getting his mitts on the canoe full of presents. But they still made a bargain.

Tuhuimpui's escort gave the explorers some 200 men from tribes joined in a common mission. The first day everything went great. They had plenty of choices for meals because of the natives' hunting skills. Then day after day they pushed upstream. Nightly the explorers watched the natives with the same suspicion that they were trying to get possession of their things. But they tried to stay diplomatic. I'm imagining they'd be like, "Can I watch your canoe full of presents?" And we'd be like, "No, thanks, I'm good."

As far as exploring went, they made some interesting experiments with electric eels. The eels are so charged with electricity that you can't possibly keep hold of a metal instrument if you make contact with one. When Up de Graff tried to cut the head off an eel the machete flew out of his hands and his arm was temporarily paralyzed. Electric eels, though, make delicious eating, no cleaning necessary. Slice one like you slice bread and they fry up pure white and firm. How would you like to eel up a feel? I mean, feel up an eel?

Tuhuimpui and his men had now been with the explorers two weeks. Around then they started gearing up for war against the Huambizas. Tuhuimpui's tone was grave. "Now indeed we shall return with many heads." That evening a few from Tuhuimpu's Jivaro force went to spy out the land. Later Tuhuimpui came to the explorer's shelter with a gourd full of dark paint, or stain or dye from huito, a kind of walnut. War paint. The explorers also joined in, right down to darkening Jack Rouse's bald spot! And the scouting party returned. I'm eager for this, put our heads together and come out ahead.

The Indians began preparing themselves for the war-dance. Then came thunder and rain. In a half hour it passed. In the morning they had breakfast, then the time came for the attack, Oct. 27, 1899. The group split into two parties, with the explorers bringing up the rear. The Huambizas were right there ... somewhere. With a great yell, our attackers leapt from their cover and rushed into the scene of the slaughter. But it turned out to be not what they expected. They didn't fire a shot in either attacking or defense. The scene of action revealed only a handful of men and women natives apparently milling around.

Anyway, that was a real downer, but I guess the chapter had to be what actually happened and not the Battle of the Ages, the Battle for the Head of Every Huambiza SOB. Anyway, "Give Peace a Chance," I guess.

P.S. One other nugget of information: The explorer named Game lost his shoes in the mud and only one was ever recovered.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Medicine Man's Work


Chapter 19 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Santiago

Up de Graff and Co. made their way to the junction of the Santiago and Marañon rivers. Then they saw some 200 Antipas canoes. And hundreds of natives in groups of families, some gossiping, some cooking, others having their evening meal, and others thinking of war. It was quite a bit different than the first time he saw this landscape, when they first paddled in and no one was in sight. It's like we always think, the whole world would be a paradise if no one else was around. But what would you do for a butler?

The fame of the expedition had spread among the people. So quite a few natives were waiting to trade with Up de Graff, offering fruit, vegetables, and other products for hand mirrors and striped shirts, for example. The explorers tried to drive it home that they didn't want to trade, having four canoes laden maybe five tons of stuff! But no one could be convinced.

They decided next morning to go round the whole beach and present the crew of each canoe with some merchandise to calm them down. Everyone seemed fine with that, but there was a stiffer problem, needing to organize a fleet to move cargo and canoemen up the Santiago and to guard against attack from a group called the Huambizas. They could pay out some axes, machetes, etc., as reward, but the explorers would need to be vigilant that they didn't simply get the goods and vanish.

Most of the Antipas melted away, leaving only a smaller group of their folks behind. And they were all due to be leaving soon. The explorers were having a hard time keeping everyone together, some pretending to fall sick to get out of the deal, etc. Up de Graff summed up his feelings on the folks, calling them "those treacherous and demoralized creatures who moaned and babbled between every half-dozen strokes of the paddle."

Some interesting things about Pitacunca, the medicine man, who used hayahuasca (its spelling in the book). This plant is how medicine men throw themselves into a trance whereby they can utter prophecies. That night Pitacunca was determined to go no further. He drank the drug and wailed out warnings about trading their labor for a shining axe. He prophesied, "Your homes are on fire and your families fleeing through the woods. The Huambizas have taken off half your wives into captivity..." It was a stern prophecy that made them think. In fact, panic broke out in the camp. (Up de Graff has nasty things to say about Pitacunca, "old fake," etc.) Note: If anyone out there has any ayahuasca, I wouldn't mind having some. I could give you a hammer or one of the cheaper models of axes for a decent supply.

But Pitacunca did some very interesting things, like sucking a patient's cheek and producing from his mouth an ant, a shell, a good-sized spider, a snail or small crab, then he'd vomit. He continued producing insects, dead or alive, a hat-full of them. And other strange things! I'd like to think medicine men like him are completely sincere, but who knows. There about has to be some performance art to it, making it a little more exciting, let's say, than "take two aspirin and blow your nose." I haven't had insects come out of my mouth one times in my life and I've occasionally been sick like everyone.

The explorers made the guys (temp employees) make them a shack that evening, then the next day a permanent shelter in which to cache part of their stores against their return. Next, Up de Graff made everyone return their axes and machetes, having failed to keep their contract of traveling with them. After those folks had gone, a couple hours later they checked their things to see if everything was in order. Well, half the axes and machetes and most of the poison were gone! And they never saw Pitacunca again. What do you suppose happened to him? It seriously was probably the ayahuasca. He could see the realms of glory, he knew they were going to screw him on axes!

Early in the morning they looked downstream and saw 55 Jivaro canoes headed in their direction.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Our Bullets Will Chase You


Chapter 18 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Turning the Corner

Pitacunca (the Jivaro medicine man, whom they called Pete) led the way in his canoe, making giant strokes. Up de Graff reflected on Pete's size (massive), his strength (the embodiment of strength and deviltry), and considered his own security as a white man. He didn't believe he could trust them but didn't completely believe that his rifles would be enough to save himself and team. He calls the Jivaros cunning, knavish, and diabolical, with the courage of wild animals in battle but purely looking out for their own interests. I'm myself a nice guy to everyone, but I'd rather not have overnight guests.

In a few hours they were at the western mouth of the gorge, the Pongo Menseriche. They saw some monkeys and decided to take down some for food for the rest of the trip. They were after the howling monkey, called cotos. Those with shotguns were bested in the hunt by those with blow-guns. But they still ended up with around two dozen of them. Up de Graff himself got three, but his were more of a mess (shotgun spray) than those taken with a blow-gun. We used to get rabbits with a shotgun. And it's worth mentioning one of my own adventures, cleaning rabbits while wearing my mom's fur coat. It was a mess and she was mad.

It was Pete's advice not to try the passage of the Pongo that night, but to lash the canoes together, then they'd run the minimum of risk. After dark, then, they moved a ways upstream and pitched their camp on a sand-spit. The two white men kept watch, one at a time, spelling each other every couple hours. Their biggest fear was losing their allies, "who were liable to disappear if the fancy took them." But all slept soundly. And they heard the Pongo's mighty roar on the night air. That'd be great, white noise like thunder.

They were in the luck with the river the next day. It was just right for passing back up the gorge, the canoes strapped together and a log between them. Sweeping clear of the eastern mouth of the gorge, they came in full view of their camp and were greeted by their fellow explorers. Since Up de Graff and Game were a day late, the others had almost gone out looking for them (as planned). They were also glad to see the extra plantains. And Up de Graff himself appreciated the hot coffee and milk the others had. That might've been coconut milk though, probably was, we haven't see references to cows.

Pitacunca took one glance at the camp and the explorers and turned around. He and his people retreated 20 yards away, sat down, and started a dismal wailing chant in a minor key. They seemed distraught at the sight of so many white people as well as their kit. It seemed to Up de Graff that they would never stop "yowling." They continued for about a half hour, then settled themselves by the campfire.

Up de Graff needed to wait for the water to go down at the Pongo before leaving. So for safety sake he showed how accurate they were at shooting small game, as a warning to the natives, particularly the Huambizas. Get this: He said, If the Huambizas "really aroused our anger, even though they might be half a dozen miles up-stream and round three bends, we should sent our bullets off to chase them and them to sleep." But when the natives started getting restless, the explorers decided to get going, choosing to risk the river instead of the people. You see your chance, you take it. Better to get up a head of steam than lose your own head. Let's head out, folks, while we got a head to head out with!

So they set out, and waged eight hours' war against the seething waters.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Gods--Everyone's God A Few


Chapter 17 (2nd part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Antipas

Editor's Note: I think Up de Graff has the facts wrong in this section in which he discusses the gods of the Antipas and/or Jívaros. It's a confusing section because normally I wouldn't know a South American god from a toadstool in the park. So I went to a little trouble making a collage representing these gods as Up de Graff explained, only to have to redo it (seen above) when it became clear, "Houston, we have a problem!" I have, however, retained Up de Graff's quaint spelling of the gods' names even though anthropologists and the pastors of our local churches have come up with what apparently are more scientifically precise spellings.

Up de Graff says the religion of the Antipas, as far as he knew, is simple and primitive. He says they feared two gods, the god of rivers and rain, and the god of the forest. I'm going to go by my graphic above for who's who or I'll get confused all over again. Friends, I'm an old man. I see my peers sitting by the road in lawn chairs doing nothing. I'm literally the only old man in the Big City worried about South American gods, and I don't want them to make fun of me, so please keep it quiet.

The god of rivers and rain is female, Yacu Mamam. The lord of the forest is male, Chulla-Chaquicuna. Up de Graff calls these the two Jivaro gods. To their worship "they have added a lively appreciation of the existence of the Evil One," and that being is called Supai. They attribute to him every misfortune that overtakes them.

An interesting bit here is that Yacu Mamam has the power to change from a tapir to an anaconda, and from an anaconda to a frog. Her haunts are the rivers and streams, and she brings destructive floods or beneficial showers according to her will. So those three animals -- tapir, anaconda, and frog -- are never molested by the Jivaros because of fear of her anger.

It's been a while since I worked on the graphics, but Up de Graff says Yacu Mamam is "the odd-footed one”. Somehow I determined that "the odd-footed one" had to be Chulla! So if you look at the graphic, which are only representations of these gods and not from scholarly sources, you see I gave his foot a little twist. "Come on Chulla, let's do the twist, take you by your little footsy and go like this! Yeow!" Then I paired them together in an appreciation of the rain (Mamam) with a tree nearby so Chulla would have something of his own to see. You'd hate to have a guy with an odd foot go to a lot of trouble to stumble out there just to look at someone else's rain!

One other note on Chulla being odd-footed, Up de Graff does say Chulla as Lord of the Forest as a man does have one human and one jaguar's foot. So maybe that's what odd-footed meant. However, recall above he labeled Yacu Mamam as the odd-footed one.

By the way, please don't blame me for evil intentions. Because it's not me, it's Supai the actual evil one to blame. Look at that cornball devil's picture! The representation of him makes it look like he's particularly prickly, and as for the hat, I'm good, he can have it. I'll resist temptation.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Anthropology: The Answer's Poison


Chapter 17 (1st part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Antipas

A short digression on the head-hunters and their mode of life will not be out of place, Up de Graff avers, and naturally in relation to the table I'm belly-up, "Tell me more, O great explorer..." That's no joke, he's a great explorer as far as I'm concerned. I'm here in the Big City with manageable challenges and plenty of police to help if there's something I need. Although I phoned in an abandoned car with a flat tire the other day and it took three notifications and something more than a week for them to get around to it. It was there only three weeks.

But today we're focused on the head-hunters, a living example of Stone Age Man, Up de Graff calls them. They lived apart at the time not because they were introverts or shy but because the terrain was more or less inaccessible. There was plenty of land, a good climate, lots of animals and vegetables, woods and rivers. It just happened to be missing the usual beaten paths. There were missionaries, sure, but at that time there had very little to show for their interference. 

The Antipas are semi-nomadic. The year is divided into three parts, not based on the seasons, but to the capacity of the crops they planted to stay alive. So they went back and forth in relation to sowing and harvest. Yuca takes six months to grow and ripen, Indian corn three months, and yams yearly. Sweet potatoes, peanuts, and tobacco are also cultivated in large quantities. Makes my weekly trip to Walmart sound pathetic, although it's also pathetic apart from comparisons.

Up de Graff sketches how their houses were made, how they were situated, etc., which is way too much to summarize. I'll just assume that's where the folks lived when they were at home, and that little Johnny and Susie had their own room, the walls with posters of the latest South American teen idols, and the Mrs. with a little semi-attached garden foyer like Morticia Addams complete with plants that ate meat, tapir, hedgehog, and anything not too bony. They might take your hand, which would be awful. You'd need a witch-doctor for a quick hand job to get you back to normal. 

Our author went with the Antipas one day to see how they fished. They went to a small stream a couple miles from their settlement. The women cut down barbasco wood along the way, a vine whose sap is deadly poison. Arrived at the water, they looked for a good pool. The barbasco was beaten between heavy stones and thrown into the pool. Within a minute or two the fish came floating to the surface and swam aimlessly. You can guess how easy it was to catch them. Up de Graff says that's the only method of catching fish they know except netting! Hmm, it's interesting, even I know more about fishing than an entire tribe of people!

It looks like the Antipas also kill monkeys with poison, so I don't know, they sound completely lazy. But how about this, Jivaro women also used the same barbasco poison when they committed suicide (p. 216)!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Yee Haw, Maw Caw, 3 Boobys


Chapter 16 of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
Diplomacy

Seeing a Jivaro hut on the hillside was a lifesaver for Up de Graff and Game. They felt new strength and their fear was gone. They didn't even think of the possible difficulties in their path. And being indifferent to the effect it might have on the Jivaro, they let out a yell of joy. They should've thought over what that might mean to the Jivaro; was it some kind of war cry? Because that was the effect it had. We used to have a war cry as kids, which was "Yee haw! Maw caw! Booby booby booby!" The "booby" triad was accompanied by repeatedly patting our stomach. How that'd fly in South America, I'd probably be dead.

The Jivaro burst into war-whooping and howling. The idea being to impress whatever foe was out there that they had huge numbers. For three long hours they kept up the yelling, but the intensity varied. Up de Graff broke the spell by leaving his rifle behind and walking slowly up the path. Three scared youths came out for a parley.  He did hand motions like paddling a canoe and they finally followed him. In the canoe the explorers had some trade-goods, including poison in a bamboo cane. There's no mention of warning labels, so we just hope they didn't get it mixed up in the pantry.

These were gifts, and that settled everyone down. From their tribe the natives brought a gourd full of drink called giamanchi, and it ended up being a lot. The Jivaro were quite open by now and the ice broken. But they still couldn't converse, so they tried sign language. The tribe ended up sending a special envoy to the Chief (named Lazaro), and they waited for him. Which only took about an hour.

Of course Lazaro was very interested in what the explorers were up to. They told him they were looking for gold and about their current camp. They accepted an invitation to stay with the tribe. But they still thought they should stay on a small island nearby. The concern had to do with the great health of the Jivaro and the comparatively poor condition of Game. He had old scars from having scratched sand-fly and mosquito bites. And many of them were reopened and resembled a nasty rash. The Jivaro saw it and practically stampeded, but they were fearing smallpox. Running sores are terrible and that's not a running joke.

Up de Graff persuaded the chief that Game didn't have smallpox. Next the Jivaro provided some hospitality. Their medicine man paddled them toward the small island. Once there, they set up a house, started a fire, etc. In an hour they had a decent shelter and fire, plus supper of roast yuca, roast corn on the cob, roast plantains, with peanuts and wild honest for dessert. My graphic makes it look like an upscale restaurant, but I'm just exaggerating, which might've been a mistake, since I started laughing to the point of tears, slapping my knee, and ended up choking on a piece of my own dinner, chicken. I could've used the chief to step me through the Heimlich maneuver. And a house built in an hour would've been nice.

The explorers rested, nursed their feet, ate, and chatted, passing four days on the island. The chief then proposed that he should accompany them through the Pongo. His motive, a great one, was to get the other presents. But it was greater news for Up de Graff and Game, because it meant good help by real river experts.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Hungry Enough To Eat A Capibarra


 Chapter 15 (3rd part) -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Pongo Menseriche

Remember yesterday I said the explorers were looking at food problems again, shortages? That happens today. In fact, I just ate an apple because I knew what I'd be facing, even Old Mother Hubbard sympathetic to Up de Graff, Game, Rouse, and the others, although I could never look down at a dog and tell her there wasn't enough food. That'd be terrible. I'd go without food myself rather than have a dog that doesn't understand go hungry.

On the seventh day near the Pongo Menseriche, a gorge with floods of rushing water passing through it, the water had fallen considerably. They decided to send the advance guard in a 20-foot canoe with 10 days rations to get in touch with the Antipas, who would supply them with fresh fruit and veggies and help paddle the heavy Exploradora super canoe beyond the Pongo.

Game and Up de Graff set off with a plan of passing the whirlpool. The water being reasonably low, they knew that was the best time to pass it. They steered near the outer edge and let themselves be carried around the rim -- dangerous. Then as they swung round toward one cliff, they paddled hard to avoid destruction. Swinging clear, they shot within landing distance of a sandspit, the only place within five or six miles where they could get ashore safely. I know if I'd been there I would've lightened things considerably by asking, "What would you rather have, a rimshot or a shot of rum?"

They camped there that night. The next day they made their way beyond the canon, fighting upstream with pole, paddle, and rope. But Up de Graff knew that troubles were looming fresh ahead of them. The first day they passed in the head-hunters' country, things went well. But progress was slow with the river difficult to navigate, the bed being stony and rough. That had to use the pole a lot. My thought on this is to look for food, fish, something. Turn over rocks, kick up a snake and shoot it, anything. Then worry about making nice with the head-hunters. If you're going to die, leave with a fully tummy.

But everything was a struggle, day after day. There was no game to be had. The food supplies became lower and lower until they literally had nothing but salt. On the sixth or seventh day, Up de Graff shot a capubara*, the only living thing they'd seen in a while. But it's flesh was revolting and virtually inedible. Still, it kept them alive three days. The bottoms of their feet were extremely sore, and they were crawling. They decided, "If at the end of this stretch [just ahead] there is nothing, we turn about."

As they went on, though, about two hundred yards from the bank, on a hillside, they saw a bright yellow Jivaro shack.

-------------
*The capybara, spelled capibarra in the book, is a mammal native to South America. It's the largest living rodent in the world, excluding Mickey Mouse.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Gelatinous Mass, Happy To See Me

 

Chapter 15 (2nd part) of 25 -- Head Hunters of the Amazon
The Pongo Menseriche

The explorers were on their way back to meet the rest of the team. The water was swift and they made good time. By Up de Graff's watch it was only an hour and a half to get there. They found all was well on Mitaya Isla. Their three fellow explorers had benefited by a good rest. I'll probably take a nap myself after finishing this. I woke up last night at midnight realizing that yesterday's (July 17) "Head Hunters" blog wasn't yet written! So I had to climb out of bed and suffer the slow waking up of my laptop to get it done. And in the middle of the night I don't know Pongo Menseriche from Peter Piper Picked a Peck. But through drowsy eyes and the current heatwave got the bastard done...

Up de Graff remembers the few days there chiefly by having lost his pants. (For the graphic I put pants on him, to stay on the right side of the Blue Laws of decency now or in the future.) He ran up against a tiger armed only with a half-barreled double-barreled shotgun. (It was originally a double-barreled shotgun but down to half barrel since the other one and a half had been blown off another time.) How he lost his pants was this: He was swimming the river with the half-barrel double-barreled gun, looking for turkeys which were settled in the trees. But the tiger was only 15 yards away. The tiger looked at him and slunk off. And his pants must've slunk off too.

Morse later found Up de Graff's "damned old pants" stuck in the mud, and filled them with turtle eggs, probably the less said about that the better. Could've been, "Is that turtle eggs in your pants or are you just happy to see me?" It'd be interesting in a slow dance with Sally Ann back at in high school. She feels the bulge, not hard, not even a consistent clump, but fairly gelatinous and diverse, but so as not to embarrass me thinks, "He's got a package all right, most likely jello and carrots, either that or nasty old turtle eggs..."

They continued on several trips as two parties during August 1899. About this time they started having some difficulties again with food. Up de Graff saw his hardtack barrel about empty. The last few biscuits had "whiskers" on them, which I think means mold, about two inches in length. Finally they all arrived, both parties, at Borja and were ready to attack the Pongo Menseriche. They erected a permanent camp on an acre of land. They planted Indian corn and yuca. There were no signs "as yet" of headhunters. If someone tells me the headhunters aren't here "yet," I'm concerned. I honestly don't think I'd look great with a detached shrunken head and fake beard a foot below my chin. But you know how it is, we're always our own worst critic.

Ed, Game, and Up de Graff explored the Pongo in the small canoe. Whirlpools and eddies were such that the craft was tossed like a feather, but it was spared destruction by its lightness. The main current of the Pongo initially is indistinguishable, looking like it's going upstream as well as downstream. There's a mighty gorge estimated about 1,000 feet high. Maneuvering corners is hard, with the currents in the center going strongly downstream. But currents on the sides go upstream by a backwash from the main stream's pressure against the ravine's walls. Then whirlpools. In such a kaleidoscope of motion, the lighter the craft, the easier the passage. I would've had to pee, which also would've passed easily.

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.