five days ago I was in São Luis when I received a message from Head Office
in Belém instructing me to proceed to Manaus. As I caught the Panair do
Brasil Baby Clipper flying boat to Belém, I little thought that I was leaving
São Luis for good after five glorious years there.
red disc of the hot tropical sun was just disappearing beneath the horizon. Darkness
was falling upon the city of Belém do Pará, gateway to the mighty
Amazon. Already the street lights of the city were beginning to light up. They
formed dim oases of light in the darkened streets. The English run Pará
Electric Light Company complained that the Government controlled tariffs did not
permit them to increase the wattage.
river steamer Cuyabá lay alongside the quay. Built in England originally
for the Amazon River Steam Navigation Company, she was now owned by the Brazilian
Government run firm SNAPP when both the Amazon River Company and the Port of Pará
Authority were nationalized by President Getulio Vargas.
Brasilian stevedores, their naked torsos glistening with sweat, were running between
the warehouses and the ship with sacks of coffee, rice and sugar destined for
ports of call on route to Manaus a thousand miles upriver.
were arriving, the men in white linen suits with straw hats, the women in long
cotton dresses and floppy hats.
black porter arrived carrying my heaviest suitcase on his head and the other two,
one in each hand. Handing my passage ticket to a steward, I was escorted to my
cabin on the starboard side of the promenade deck. I was relieved to see that
I had the cabin to myself except for an over large barata (cockroach) which
was running round on the floor in joyous abandon.
Captain was on the bridge. He gave two long blasts on the siren, sailors scrambled
to loosen the mooring ropes, others dragged the gangway on board and the propellers
began to turn.
that moment a young girl, dressed all in black and carrying a baby in her arms,
came hurrying towards the ship crying out "Stop. Stop. I'm a passenger. Wait
for me." Immediately a young sailor, ignoring the widening gap between the
quay side and the ship, jumped on to the quay. Grabbing the girl in his arms,
he leapt back on board. No sooner had he deposited the girl and her baby on the
deck when she began screaming "My luggage is still on the quay!" But
already one of the stevedores was racing towards a battered suitcase tied up with
string. Picking it up, he hurled it with all his might towards the ship where
it crashed on the deck with a dull thump.
the quay, groups of onlookers waved hands, hats and handkerchiefs. Some of the
women were crying devastated by the thought of their loved ones leaving them.
Out in mid steam, the Captain rang for 'full speed ahead', the Cuyaba surged
forward and the voyage began.
had presumed that dinner would be served immediately upon sailing. To my intense
disappointment I discovered that I was wrong. Obviously the steamship company
considered that passengers should have eaten before boarding.
last - on the Amazon
the boat deck, I leaned against the railings on the port side watching the lights
of Belém gradually disappear from sight. The moon had not yet come up.
All that I could see was the intense blackness of the forest against the background
of the sky. Thoughts welled up inside me. Sad to leave my friends in São
Luis, I wondered how Manaus would be. Were there many English people there? Where
would I live? Would the work be the same? After a while I decided to retire early
to bed ready for the next day.
was very warm inside the cabin. The porthole was covered with wooden shutters.
I decided to remove the shutters and open the porthole. They were very stiff.
I gave a tug and the shutters came crashing to the floor. I was unable to put
them back and there was no curtain. Thus anyone passing by on the deck outside
would be able to see right into my cabin. To dress and undress, I would have to
hide myself somehow by squeezing myself under the window so as not to be seen!
There was also neither soap nor a towel provided. The wash basin had no plug but
at least the bedclothes seemed to be clean.
decided to sleep in the upper bunk. I lay down, then sat bolt upright. The bolster
was a slab of cork whilst the pillow was stuffed tight with kapok. I like a soft
pillow. Throwing both on to the bunk below, I screwed up my shirt and used that
as a pillow.
tickling in my ear
was awakened about 1.30 am by something tickling my ear. As I stretched out my
hand to switch on the light, there was a scurrying sound along the side of the
bunk and a plop as something fell to the ground. With the light on, I looked down.
The floor was alive with cockroaches (baratas) of every shape and size.
The really big ones, some two to two and a half inches long, were flatish and
a dark grey in colour. I reckoned that these were grandfathers. Getting gingerly
out of bed, I took hold of a shoe. I squashed one which left a nasty musty smell.
The others scattered. I could not spend all night trying to kill them all. I decided
that if I got back into bed, covered myself up to the neck in the sheet and put
a handkerchief over my face, perhaps they might leave me alone. I found it very
hot but eventually fell into a troubled sleep, dreaming of falling into a pit
morning at 7 am a bell was rung for breakfast. This was on the aft part of the
promenade deck on long trestle tables. I sat down around the middle. Opposite
me sat Mr and Mrs Butler an American missionary and his wife going to Fordlandia
a plantation of rubber trees set up by Henry Ford. On either side of them were
businessmen returning to Manaus after a business visit to Belem. Either side of
me were two travelling salesmen, one from Brahma beer and the other from Antartica
beer. At the end of the table sat the young girl in the black dress. She had placed
her baby under the table and was holding it in place by her two bare feet.
consisted of two dry biscuits, and a cup of black coffee. Seeing my consternation,
the Antartica salesman told me that they sold tins of condensed milk at the Bar.
Quickly I got up and went to the Bar where I purchased a small tin of condensed
milk and a slice of goiabada [guava] jelly. As the barman made a hole in
the lid of the condensed milk, he suggested that after breakfast I keep it in
my wardrobe to avoid the 'bichos' getting at it. I thanked him for his kind advice.
The Bar also sold beer and Guarana [a refreshing drink made from guarana].
Behind the Bar lay a block of ice. It lay on top of an old sack. For 100 Reis
the barman would hack a piece off, wipe it clean with the palm of his hand or
perhaps wipe his palm clean on the ice, and drop it into a glass.
decided to explore the ship
breakfast I decided to explore the ship. Walking around both the Boat deck and
the Promenade deck, I found small groups of passengers chatting about politics,
women or whatever else two or more people talk about when they are together. Up
forward stood the young girl dressed in black, her baby cradled in her arms. She
appeared lost in thought but as I passed, I felt sure that she followed me with
lower deck seemed to be chaotic. Up forward there was a pile of logs for the engines
for the Cuyabá was a log burning vessel. A young sailor was steadily
passing the logs down to a stoker in the engine room. Aft there were a couple
of cows, a pen full of very straggly looking hens missing feathers around their
necks, which seemed to spend their time leaping into the air to catch midges and
other winged insects. There were also a number of pigs tied by one leg to the
passengers, a motley lot, were seated on top of some of the cargo or squatting
on the deck. There were babies in profusion. Black, brown and white as well as
in-between hues. There were also lifestock. Dogs, a pet goat, several monkeys
tied to their owner's arms, a baby alligator and a couple of brightly coloured
were sailing in 'The Narrows' a part of the river where both river banks were
visible from the ship. The vegetation was very dense and except for an occasional
straw roofed hut there were no signs of civilisation. The river was a dirty brown
and littered with sticks, leaves and branches of trees. From time to time, small
fishing vessels were passed, bobbing up and down in the wake of the ship.
was served at noon
passenger was given a soup plate, a knife and a spoon. On the table were bowls
filled high with rice, black beans and another with chopped up chicken. There
was also a large dish containing a whole baked fish. Some smaller bowls held farinha
d'agua something that looked and tasted like gravel which stuck in my teeth.
[a coarse flour made from mandioca / cassava that has been washed
in running water for several days]
the passengers, spoons in hand, descended upon the bowls ladling on to their soup
plates helpings of everything on the table: fish, chicken, rice and beans. I was
too slow off the mark and only managed to get a couple of spoonfuls of chicken
and one of rice. Dessert consisted of a banana and a slice of goiabada
same afternoon, the ship drew alongside a small river port called Jararacas. There
were three or four wooden buildings with straw roofs as well as a few mud huts
also with straw roofs. Much wood is shipped from here in exchange for salt and
other necessities. In front was a small jetty near which were anchored a number
of tugs and lighters. We were only there for 20 minutes to offload some sacks
of something and then we sailed across to the opposite bank where there were some
more small buildings. Several small naked boys climbed aboard selling wicker baskets.
Then three men appeared carrying various items of furniture from one of the houses
which they stowed on deck so, if it rains, they will get nice and wet! The owner
was moving home!
forest appeared impenetrable. Only occasionally was there a small clearing with
a straw hut on stilts to keep it above flood water. As the ship passed, naked
little girls and boys would run to the river bank and wave their hands. Sometimes,
the boys would jump into a canoe and paddle as fast as they could to try to keep
up with the Cuyabá.
was at 6 pm and as the ship's lights were not very bright, additional light was
provided by some 'Petromax' kerosene lamps. These attracted every known type of
insect of the Amazon which spun round and round the lamp until, giddy, they fell
into one's hair, or worse, into one's food. I was fairly accustomed to insects
with my evening meals but the quantity and variety of the insects even made me
think twice about whether to scoop them up or pass over the food. In the end I
just closed my eyes and ate what was on the plate
not the insects!
were you sleeping?
dinner I went up to the Boat Deck and after walking several times round and round,
I leant against the railings peering into the forest to see if I could see any
animals. I became aware that someone was near me. A soft voice out of the darkness
said "I didn't see you last night. Where were you sleeping?" I turned
my head. It was the girl in the black dress. It seemed a strange question to ask
and after a few moments of thought I answered "Why, in my cabin of course."
Then she said "Wasn't it very hot there? Didn't the baratas worry
you?" I admitted that the cabin was rather warm and the 'baratas' were a
bit of a nuisance but one had to put up with such things. Hearing this she went
in to peels of laughter and said "You must be an Englishman or were with
a woman or perhaps both. On board on the Amazon everyone sleeps in hammocks. If
you like I will show you mine".
was a bit of a silence after that. Then, noticing that she was wearing a wedding
ring on her finger, I asked her if she was going to join her husband in Manaus.
She hung her head and wiped away a tear. Then after a few minutes of silence she
told me her story.
lived in Manaus with her parents who had a small chácara [farm]on
the outskirts of the city. One day she met a handsome young man who was a pilot
in the Brazilian Air Force. They got married and, shortly afterwards, her husband
was transferred to Belém. They rented a small house and were very happy
when, one day, the Air Ministry advised her that his plane had been lost over
Marajó Island. Days passed but there was no news of the plane having been
found so she returned to her parents in Manaus. Then the baby was born. One day
a letter came. The plane and her husband's remains had been located. She was requested
to proceed to Belém to collect her husband's belongings. Now she was returning
with her baby to be again with her parents.
Cuyabá consumed lots of wood. Every so many hours, the ship would
draw up alongside the bank, a couple of sailors would jump ashore and speedily
tie a mooring rope round the base of a strong tree. There would be a pile of cut
logs. Each was exactly one metre in length, stacked in piles, one metre high by
one metre wide by one metre in length. The river boats would purchase logs for
their engines by the cubic metre. The sailors would pick up a quantity of logs
from a pile, wrap them in a piece of sacking and putting them on their shoulder,
clamber back aboard to deposit the logs in a pile on deck.
our next stop
quite a large old town with a two storied Portuguese style building with tiles
on the waterfront. In the principal square was a white church with a rather unsafe
looking steeple. There were a number of red roofed houses, street lights, a factory
of some sort and a decent looking pier. The Cuyabá didn't stay very
long and soon we were sailing towards our next port, Antônio Lemos, an important
saw mill town. Stacks of sawn lumber were piled on the waterfront. It has one
of the largest saw mills on the Amazon
had been sailing along several tributaries of the Amazon River. It was really
delightful sailing along this muddy brown river with the banks so close on either
side. This was no cultivated forest, no place constructed specially for tourists;
this was pure virgin forest. The trees, innumerable varieties, were right down
to the water's edge. Here and there some caboclo had made a little clearing, built
a house of straw raised on stilts above the flood waters. Here he lived killing
birds and spearing fish for food. Everything he needed, he would have to make
or hunt and kill. Manaus and Pará meant nothing to him. His only sight
of civilisation was the passing vessel. One thing there was plenty of, was children.
Every time we passed such a place, numbers of naked children, boys and girls with
dark skins and jet black hair would jump into canoes and paddle out into the wash
of our steamer which would cause the canoes to bob up and down in a most violent
manner much to the children's delight.
before lunch we took on more wood fuel at a place called Itamaraty after which
we sailed out of the tributary and into the Amazon River itself. It seemed as
though we were sailing into the ocean for the banks of the river could barely
be seen. The ship headed towards the south bank when we could no longer see the
night there was a terrible tropical storm. The rain came down as though the Heavens
had opened. There were great sheets of lightening lighting up the forest. Heavy
bolts of thunder shook the earth. I had never encountered anything like it. The
next morning the sky was dull. There was no sign of the sun and it was quite chilly.We
now sailed so close to the river bank that we could make out every flower or tree.
The jungle was very dense with a fierce conglomeration of trees, palms, bushes,
shrubs, grasses and ferns. Huge trees, tall and straight were covered with creepers
and orchids. The pungent heavily scented smell of the forest even reached the
ship. Glorious white egrets flew off as we approached. Other birds looked down
upon us from their perches in the tree tops sending warning hoots to other birds
of the species of the approach of their enemy
Man. Occasionally alligators
were to be seen lazing on the river bank only to slide off into the water as we
noon, the right bank of the Amazon had changed completely
place of the dense forest was a flat grassy plain with a background of tree covered
mountains. Cattle could be seen grazing. This was a large fazenda belonging to
some rich absentee owner living in luxury in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.
There were some Portuguese style houses, a radio station, a telephone system and
the afternoon all had changed once more. Again came the forest and I was amused
by the antics of a group of monkeys who jumped from tree to tree, chattering loudly
and accompanying our progress. Butterflies of multi colours flitted about even
landing on parts of the ship only to fly off if anyone approached.
did not see anything of Maria during the daytime as she was always attending to
her baby. But after dinner, we would go on to the Boat deck, lean against the
railings and discuss all sorts of things. She was very learned and knew the names
of all the trees we passed and what they were useful for. She told me about a
number of Indian remedies and several Indian legends. When we passed some monkeys,
she said that there were 38 species in Amazonia. We saw the Guatibas monkeys
[Ed:.possibly a Woolly Monkey] which are the largest ones and have five
fingers on each hand like a human being. They are excellent swimmers and can easily
cross the river. They have a peculiar howling cry and are known as the English
monkey on account of their red faces and fair hair. They have sandy coloured beards
and yellow eyes with a touch of red. Their tails are very short. They inhabit
that part of the forest which is flooded most of the year and seldom set foot
on the ground. Another type which we saw was the Macaco de Cheiro
[Squirrel monkey] which lives on fruit and small insects. Whether a result of
that or not, it has a rather offensive smell.
before arriving at Santarém, Maria informed me that it was one of the oldest
towns in Amazonia having been founded by the Jesuits in 1661 who built a mission
there to administer to the Tapajós forest tribe.
night fell, the moon turned a deep red which lasted for some 15 minutes after
which it took on its usual colour. Then came clouds of mosquitoes, flying ants,
moths and beetles of every description. At midnight we docked at Santarém.
Being dark I could not see very much of the place but it was obviously quite a
boys, Tapajós forestl people and women came swarming aboard offering all
sorts of fruit, straw baskets, painted gourds and sweet smelling powders and liquids.
Two old women were offering what they called banho de cheiro which they
said lovesick girls would pour over themselves to make themselves more attractive
to young men. They also offered Olhos de Boto , the eyes of a large river
dolphin which are supposed to keep a boy faithful to his girl. I noticed that
several people who came aboard spoke English. Maria told me that after the America
Civil War, many Southern families migrated to Santarém. Many of their descendants
still live in the town and English is widely spoken and understood.
10th August we reached Óbidos, another old town, situated on the opposite
bank of the river. There were many Portuguese style buildings and an old fort
on top of a hill giving a good command of the river. I was told that there was
another, more modern fort, on another hill but it must have been very well hidden
for I saw no sign of it.
were winched aboard
day the Cuyabá entered a small tributary, so narrow that one could
jump ashore from either side of the ship. We anchored in front of a farm. A sailor
jumped ashore and fastened a wire rope around a tree. The owner of the farm boarded
the Cuyabá to advise that he had 20 head of cattle for shipment.
The ship was only 10 feet from the bank. Cowboys lassoed the animals as required
pulling them down to the water's edge. The rope was thrown aboard and the seamen
pulled the animals through the water to the side of the ship. There a noose was
tied around the animal's horns and it was winched aboard. One high spirited steer
jumped up as soon as it's legs reached the deck and jumped overboard and swam
for the bank. This bold action encouraged another three animals to follow suit
and the cowboys had a fine time trying to round the beasts up once more.
next port of call was Parintins where a cargo of sugar from Recife was discharged
and balls of rubber and some bags of cement loaded aboard. Quite a few passengers
got off at Parintins whilst several more came aboard for Manaus. Amongst these
was an Indian woman with high cheek bones, large teeth, long straight black hair
and slanting eyes. She spent most of the time to Manaus squatting down on the
deck. The Captain advised that we would be spending an hour here. I thought it
would be a good idea to have a dip in the river so changing into my bathing trunks,
I dived in. The current was very strong and I was rapidly swept down stream. By
swimming diagonally across the current I managed to reach the bank and climbed
out. I now had to walk back some 150 yards to the ship. This wasn't particularly
pleasant. Leeches stuck to my legs. I was bitten by nasty stinging insects and
torn by thorns. Maria went into peels of laughter when she saw me. However, she
took pity on me and covered them with some green leaves. Almost immediately the
pain ceased and next morning there was hardly a mark to show that I had been bitten.
temperature was rising
was no breeze and everyone was perspiring. That night we called al Itacoatiara.
Rubber and timber is loaded here on ocean going steamers for the USA and Europe.
last evening we went alongside a small settlement called Santa Maria to land a
cargo of sugar, tinned butter and dried meat. It was a glorious evening with a
full moon. I asked Maria if she would like to come ashore with me to stretch our
legs. Together we walked along the only street and on to a grassy clearing. In
the background the forest was outlined like an impenetrable wall. Suddenly, Maria
turned to me and said
I know why they say that Englishmen are cold. We have been on the ship 12 days
and not once have you tried to kiss me. A Brazilian boy would have tried to get
me to go to his cabin the very first evening."
flung her arms around me
that she flung her arms around me and kissed me passionately on my lips. Then,
taking my hand, she slipped it down the front of her dress and placed it upon
her breast. We lay down in the shadows of some trees and time lost all meaning.
It was the ship's siren which brought us back to reality. Hurriedly we got up
and raced hand in hand back to the ship.
morning I awoke to see the outline of Manaus in the distance, the dome of the
famous opera house shining in the morning sun. Soon we crossed the sharp dividing
line separating the muddy waters of the river Solimões, as the Amazon is
known in Brazil, from the dark green, almost black waters of the Rio Negro.
passengers had their baggage piled on deck as we waited for the ship to dock at
the landing stage. I asked Maria to give me her address in Manaus. Instead she
took a small religious charm off a gold chain about her neck, pressed it into
my hand saying "We belong to different worlds which can never meet. Let us
keep the happy times we have spent together as a pleasant memory."
I followed the porter with my baggage across the landing stage, I looked back.
Maria, her baby in her arms, was standing at the ship's rail. She waved her hand
and blew me a kiss. At the top of the roadway I looked back. She was still standing
there, her youthful figure silhouetted against the morning sun. I never saw nor
heard of her again.