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Old 02-11-2007, 07:54 AM
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starrwriter (Offline)
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Default A Dream of the Amazon

Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted to see the Amazon rainforest. I grew up with romantic notions of the Amazon, particularly the "enchanted forest" images of the film based on William Henry Hudson's novel Green Mansions. I wondered if there were really spirit girls like Rena somewhere deep in the Amazon.

When I was a young man, I read a short story about the Amazon that haunted me for years. Among The Dangs was written by an obscure black author, George Elliot, who had spent time in the Amazon as an anthropologist. It's the strange tale of a man who parachutes into unexplored territory to begin a wild adventure. He is captured by a tribe of headhunters who had never seen a white man, undergoes mysterious rituals involving hallucinatory jungle drugs, and barely escapes with his life. He goes home to the U.S., but soon he becomes restless and dissatisfied with modern life. The story ends with him parachuting back into the same Amazon region where he intends to stay for good this time.

Later, when I majored in anthropology in college, I was fascinated by a study of a tribe of real Amazon natives written by a French anthropologist. He was the first white man to live among the Yanomamo, who called themselves "the fierce people" because they constantly engaged in warfare.

After college, I got my first chance to visit the Amazon. My Argentine friend Gary and his wife Sylvina planned to go there on vacation and they invited me to join them. Gary's family had lived for generations in the country adjacent to Brazil, but he had never seen the Amazon himself.

At the last minute a monkey wrench was tossed into the trip plans. His name was Bob and he was a complete jerk. For some reason Gary invited him to come with us and I was convinced that Bob would ruin the adventure. He was the quintessential ugly American and I had no intention of traveling with him. I had made that mistake before when I gave in to pleas from another jerk, Steve, to accompany me to Mexico. Steve spoiled the whole trip, as I should have known he would do.

While Gary's group went to South America, I decided to visit Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) to study the original form of Buddhism in practice.

We all returned to Hawaii disappointed. I told Gary the wisdom of Buddha was nowhere to be seen in Sri Lanka -- only the misery of civil war and daily starvation deaths and suicides on a grotesquely over-populated island. Gary told me the Amazon wasn't there anymore.

When I asked what he meant, he explained that he and his wife had gone to Manaus without Bob after the jerk embarrassed them in Argentina. Manaus was a city built by rubber barons around the midway point of the Amazon river. Gary took a days-long boat ride beyond the city, expecting to explore virgin rainforest, but he was shocked to see only vast deforested areas.

"It looked like Paradise Park with a polluted river," he said.

Paradise Park was an inside joke on the Big Island. In contrast to the name, it was a tacky rural subdivision where the ohia trees looked stunted or dead and the bush houses were too close together.

Gary and I got roaring drunk and comisserated about our similar travel disappointments on the opposite sides of the earth. Of course I had read about the gradual deforestation of the Amazon, but I had no idea it was as bad as Gary described. I wondered if it was too late to see the place I had dreamed about for so long.

Some years later I tried to talk another friend, Ron, into going with me to Iquitos, the Peruvian jumping-off point at the headwaters of the Amazon river. At first Ron seemed enthusiastic as we studied maps and watched TV travelogues about Iquitos, but in the end he decided he would rather spend his money on something else. I didn't want to go alone and I cancelled my plans.

I realize now I will never see the Amazon. I had my chances and blew them. Gary says it isn't there anymore and I know he wouldn't lie about that. At times I think the Amazon I pictured in my mind was more of a myth than a real place I could visit in person.
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Last edited by starrwriter; 02-11-2007 at 07:57 AM..