I dedicate this post (and all future Witch Dr. posts) to the small yet dedicated band of readers who appear to be actually reading these posts and – dare I say it – enjoying them. Today I am postponing my nap and the folding of my laundry to write for YOU specifically. Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll nap later and rumpled clothing gives one a certain “Columbo” charm anyways.
So the boat continued on its leisurely pace and the days slid by in a haze of sunshine, damp air and acres of time stretching before us.
Here is an actual list of memorable moments I wrote in my journal at the time.
- The 1st sunrise and the way the sun popped over the horizon and the look on the pastor’s face
- The sight of that town – that glorious town with wide streets and tall trees and that beautiful school
- Rain on my birthday – watching the storm catch us
- A flock of parrots screeching and flying from one tree to the next – green gems in the sky
- Faces – curious faces, dignified faces all along the banks marking our progress
- Satellite dishes next to shacks
- Small children, dirty and barefoot with faces both sweet and hard – selling goods, never begging
- The little boy who thanked me for the cookies
- The night sky brilliant and clear – full of falling stars
- Dolphins jumping in tandem from the waves – grey fins gleaming
- Crowds of children along the banks at night jumping and shouting when the searchlight found them – matches struck and held aloft, do you see us? Lighters held aloft – yes. yes we see you!
- How the faces changed from strangers to friends as we crossed the language barrier
- The way towns appeared out of nowhere – hidden cities at the top of mud stairs
- The pastor covered with mud and smiling
- The airplane landing – people coming from all directions; a flood of color rushing to great the Governor of Tabatinga
- Watching football in a wooden shack – cold Antarctica beer, rain sheeting down the open doorways
- A turtle sunbathing on a tree
- The last sunset
- Waving goodbye to friends
Reading through that list gave me chills remembering. Was I ever that young? Did I really venture so far afield from home and what I knew and believed? I must have because my journal doesn’t lie.
A few final favorite memories before I am off the boat and into Columbia – memories too big for the list.
After the near sinking the Captain and his crew and a few passengers decided that nothing less than God Himself had intervened and saved the boat. The boats chapel – a ten by ten hut on the top deck – was cleared of its cargo of mattresses and a nightly prayer group sprung up. I was not among the saved and spent idle nights on the deck with my travelling companions and a dozen or so other passengers trying to converse under the star studded sky. It’s amazing how far you can get with improvised sign language and good will. My favorite example of communication without words?
An older friendly faced Brazilian said, “You…American ungh” and with this he made a hand gesture to demonstrate a man hefting a giant pumpkin or perhaps a large side of beef. I look concerned. He clarified. “American womens all eeee” hand gestures simulate very narrow twigs or stalks of celery. “But you…you ungh” More pumpkins and ham hocks and a very appreciative smile and thumbs up.
Having spent my entire life up to this point fretting about the ah…generous…nature of my backside in comparison to..well..everyone else (this was pre booty worship days mind you – aerobic sticks ruled the day) I took this to be high praise in deed.
Our obsession with food continued unabated until Ivan – bless his creative soul – made us pancakes from some cadged flour and an egg from the ships cook and crushed aspirin from my first aid kit (substitute for baking soda – seriously). He made us each two small pancakes and we had the daintiest dollop of honey on them. No pancake I have ever had since then can ever compare to how delicious those MacGyver pancakes were.
I saw pink dolphins playing in the wake of the boat for a full hour one day. I could have reached out and touched them. They had a beautiful grey pink sheen and those adorable smiles. I guess pink dolphins are an Amazonian species.
Water issues continued but we got creative. The ships latrines were holes leading into the river. The ships shower was a pipe jutting from the wall spilling river water over the hole in the floor. Quite an elegant design, really. I figured out I could wash my clothes – then myself – by starting in the shower fully dressed for a suds and rinse and then strip my kit and get myself clean. There was a big square hole cut in the side of the boat acting as a window. I was in my birthday suit enjoy my cold-water river shower when I looked out the “window” to see a fishing pongo not more than 10 feet away with three men sitting there watching me bathe with rapt attention. I locked eyes with them and we gravely considered each other while the tide gently separated us once more.
And of course the Governor. Our Captain had managed to sail for almost a day straight and we were nearing the end of our journey. Thoughts of the next leg of our trip consumed us as we had already gambled all of our worldly goods away and where now on to first born and future reincarnations. We were ready to get off the boat. And we did – when the Captain made an impromptu stop at a border town to meet with the Governor who flew in on his own little seaplane. What their business was together one can only guess. But we were docked and going nowhere – mainly because there was a football mach of great importance on and the Captain wanted to watch it.
We all ambled up into the town just as the skies opened up with a proper deluge. Paul and I and a few others found refuge in a little shack with open doors and windows and a tiny little black and white TV next to a big cooler of cold beer. I’m not a big sports fan but I can honestly say I have never enjoyed watching a game more than I did on that rainy afternoon surrounded by friends and strangers – a cold beer in my hand and my eyes riveted on the game.
And then when it seemed as if we would never leave the boat – the trip would never end – it did. But so much more than I dare take the space to write about stays with me to this day.