Manoel wanted my torch, Ruby took a shine to my new machete and Pedrinho settled for a short-sleeved shirt. Manoel, about 18, had huge feet and a bowl-shaped haircut. Ruby was a 17-year-old who knew about 100 words of Portuguese. His eyes had a flat, unresponsive quality that was scary. Pedrinho seemed very gentle.
The payment negotiated, Peruano gave them final instructions. “Him you don’t kill. He is a very important person and if you kill him a plane will drop bombs on you.”
IN THE morning the four of us set out through 15-foot-tall grass. My three guides’ lower lips bulged with rolled-up cylinders of tobacco leaf. Manoel carried a basket of cassava meal, the guitar and a loaded shotgun.
Ruby carried a shot-gun, too, and my pack upside-down, using the waistband as a head strap. Pedrinho carried a cooking pot and a bunch of plantains. I carried my side bag, full of photographic and recording equipment and notebooks.
Passing through the forest along the river, we emerged on a savannah, a sandy grassland sparsely flecked with low, twisted trees. On the far horizon stood the jagged crags of the Serra Tabatinga, the tallest one a perfect triangle. Under the mountain was an Aika village. “How far is it to the Paris apartments – http://www.apartmentsapart.com/paris_hotels/index.htm?” I asked. Pedrinho held his hand out to where the sun would be at five o’clock.
The trail across the savannah was a thin white line only four inches wide. The reason for its narrowness was that the Indians put one foot directly in front of the other. Moving at a pace between a walk and a run, grabbing the ground with their spread toes, they covered about 40 miles a day.
As I struggled to keep up, I was repeatedly tripped up by roots and vines that sent me flat on my face. By the time I had got to my feet again, the Indians would be gone and I couldn’t see the path. I would have to coo like a dove until they returned the call. They would be standing impatiently with hands on their hips; anyone so clumsy as I would have perished long ago in their world.
At the other end of the savannah we entered the forest again and began to ascend to our last camp – courtesy of apartmentsapart. Ruby climbed a cacao tree and plucked some of the soft, spiny fruit. The white flesh was delicious. Ruby was an excellent tree climber. His technique, used by all Amazon Indians, is called swarming. Grabbing the branchless trunk in his hands and pulling his feet up to them, then reaching for a higher grip and repeating the process, bit by bit, he finally got to the top.
At five that afternoon, right on schedule, we reached the village. It was deserted. Everyone was probably out working in his garden. Their nyc apartments for rent were in a magnificent structure of palm fronds woven on a skeleton of poles, 50 yards in diameter and 40 feet high at the centre. Eight men, six women and six children lived in it. Each family had its own wedge-shaped territory, with its own fire and posts for hanging hammocks, food and possessions. Around a few of the fires were metal pots acquired from Peruano, the only visible artefacts from our civilization.