Hotel Arara loomed in the recesses amongst the towering foliage at the Rio Negro’s edge. It was set almost inconspicuously in the rainforest, a dark elaborate shadow hidden in the trees. Points of its palm-slatted roof jutted up intermittently through the forest canopy, a long wooden pier reached out towards us in greeting. It looked to be a large complex, yet was unobtrusive and coexisted with the abundant nature all around it.
Omar, our captain, had explained the history of the Rio Negro to us on our three-hour journey upriver while his first mate, Sandro, did most of the navigating and steering of the boat. I had taken the opportunity to relax in one of the hammocks on deck, shaded under the boats second level. As I glanced through the fringe of my rede (hammock), I saw the city of Manaus with its loading docks and commerce pass by and give way to sparsely populated, tree-lined, hilly embankments.
As we journeyed further and further upriver, there was just the occasional riverside shack built on its own little pier, a small boat moored next to it amongst the palms and mangroves. The natives waved as we passed, watching the river’s traffic was apparently one of their favorite forms of entertainment. The last little pier-home went by, and we spent the next couple of hours chugging along with virtually no sign of human life on the passing wooded riverbanks. Finally, I felt the motor’s monotonous rumble throttle down as we slowed on our approach to the dock. I swung my legs around and sat up in my hammock.
As we disembarked Sandro reached out a steady hand. “Não, obrigado,” I declined his offer, and jumped down onto the wooden planks of the wobbly pier unassisted. He watched me gain my balance and let his hand fall back, relax at his side. “Obrigado pela viagem segura,” I said with a smile. (Thanks for the safe trip).
His expression didn’t change. His skin was smooth and even, a deep reddish-brown, his black hair short and spiked on top, long in back.
“It’s beautiful here,” I offered, turning to look about at the long expanse of water that glistened in the sun behind me, then back around to look down the pier to the hotel nestled in the forest.
“Sim, é muito lindo,” Sandro agreed, but offered nothing more. He was a man short on words but long on action, I decided, surveying him up and down. Most Brazilians are very friendly and talkative, but not Sandro. He looked to be of native Indian descent, he was strong but not tall. His arms hung loose and powerful at his sides, calm yet ready for anything. He walked neither fast nor slow but appeared tireless, as if he were prepared to work 24 hours straight if necessary, steady as a tanker in the night.
Sandro led Luiz, Emilio and I to our individual quarters. First he gave us a tour of the complex. He led the three of us past the restaurant and lounging deck area, the planetarium, heliport and meditation dome. I looked down over the railing as we followed the hotel’s intricate network of piers. We were approximately fifty feet off the ground. “The hotel is built on such high piers,” Luiz explained for lack of Sandro’s words, “because during the rainy season the river can rise by forty feet or more at this location. Tomorrow, after we film a discussion about the Amazon and the impact of the Movimento dos Sem Terra for our documentary, Sandro will guide us up through the igarapés (small rivulets) that feed into the river. We will truly get close to nature!”
I ducked as a flutter of large, dark wings crossed right above our heads, so close that I felt the brush of wingtips and a rush of air in my hair, a giant blue parrot. “Uma arara,” Sandro pointed at the magnificent bird as it landed in a nearby Pau Brasil (Brazilwood) tree, beating its wings. It began squawking and pecking at the succulent fruits.
“The hotel is aptly named,” I said, wondering just how much closer to nature we would get than this. Here in the middle of nowhere in the Amazon jungle, it was a far cry from my life in Seattle writing computer documents for Micromole in my little cubicle!
We arrived at my “room.” I followed Sandro up the ladder about 30 feet higher than the pier up into the trees to an upper deck that surrounded my quarters. Two rattan chairs and a wooden table with a chess set looked inviting sitting half under the shade of its eaves. I grabbed the railing with both hands and leaned my head back into the sun while Sandro unlocked the door and opened my room.
“How is it up there?” Luiz called up from where he and Emilio waited below.
“The weather’s fine, but the air’s a little thin,” I joked, looking down through the branches at them.
“I hope you don’t have vertigo,” Emilio said, motioning a tumble with one hand.
“Only when I’m falling,” I replied, glancing past them to the scrub vegetation far below. It would be flooded again in a matter of months as the river rose during the rainy season and converted it to a river bottom once again; but the plant life grew at such a rapid pace that in the meantime it was a lush, tropical forest floor.
“We’re going down to the hotel’s restaurant for a bite to eat and to plan out the details for tomorrow’s interviews and presentation,” Emilio said. “I’ve got to make sure that Luiz looks sharp, since he’s going first. I don’t want him to make us all look bad!” he half joked.
“Don’t worry, I can’t make you look bad, you’re doing that well enough on your own,” Luiz snapped with a grin, slapping his sandy-haired partner on the back of his shoulder.
Emilio was a good-looking man from the South of Brazil, Curitiba. He cockily flipped his sun-tinged light brown hair back and laughed. Let’s see what the waitress thinks. We can each give her a taste of our presentation.” He began walking down the pier and waved goodbye to me. Luiz soon followed.
“Tchau,” I called down to them.
“Tchau,” they returned. “Ate amanhã,” Luiz said. “Look for us later if you like, we’ll probably have a drink at the bar. If not, we’ll see you in the morning.”
I decided to check out my room and then go down to see what the meditation dome was all about. I surveyed my surroundings from the deck. A half dozen other tree-fort like rooms stuck out in places, half hidden in the forest canopy. Even higher up amongst the treetops was the main observation deck of the complex, off in the distance. Other than that there was only nature as far as the eye could see. Off to my right, a bit of forest and then the vast Rio Negro disappeared into the horizon and more trees; ahead and to my left the rolling, endless forest. As I turned I saw the muddy brown water of a tributary snake its way through the dappled foliage with alternate patterns of sun and shadows. It bordered the back of the Hotel Arara complex.
My room was light and sunny, warm with Brazil wood. It had a wet bar, main room with a small table, and bedroom with adjoining bath. It was clean, airy, and understated. Bright tropical colors dyed its draperies, bed spread and a rede (hammock) that hung by the door, to be used on the deck. I got a drink of water and went down to the meditation dome.
From my “Tarzan loft” to the dome it was a five-minute walk thru the pier maze. Along the way I passed a woolly monkey who walked on all fours along the rails, a pleasant-looking chap, and a band of smaller monkeys, macacos de cheiro, jumped through the trees a little further, attempting to provoke me. Then there was the dome, just beyond the heliport, that had messages written on its deck in several languages, welcoming those who arrived by air. I passed by the big yellow “H” written on a wide expanse of deck, and moved on to the meditation dome, which was partially covered in vines and flowers. It stood twenty feet high by fifty feet wide, an upside down opaque glass bowl with skylights peeking through its foliage-covered roof. Its base was high above the ground, but here the pier was enormously wide underneath it, giving the space a sense of stability and calm. I circled the dome and carefully entered the low door at the opposite end.
Inside it was cool and shady. Soft ambient music with a Bossa Nova touch swirled in the air from unseen sources. Incandescent light beamed from above through the skylights in spiritual, hazy shafts. A couple of beautiful women lay on mats across from me, relaxing in their own thoughts. I lay back and let my mind wander:
Dreams are a classroom for the mind. It is a time when the brain is unencumbered by the outside world and can act and explore on its own, with certain departments shut down, at rest. A classroom complete with a playground…
There were two beautiful women in my dream. The three of us had just been part of a team that had fought together to win a battle. The attackers had come from all sides at our encampment, by water and from land. In the end we dispersed them and counter-attacked them on all fronts.
Just when it seemed that all had been lost and that we would be overwhelmed, that we couldn’t possibly win, someone remembered and shouted, “Hurry, get the sprayers, get the paint!”
I was rinsing my sprayer behind enemy lines with a brunette girl from my childhood who also rinsed hers; we quickly helped each other prepare for battle. Then we entered the fray and spread out amongst the others who were already in the midst of fighting. As I sprayed my paint up in the air in long arcs and sometimes directly at my opponents, showering them and splattering them with paint, some of them even appeared to be coworkers, people I had known and loved over the past. Afterwards, we the victors tended and cared for one another. I went into a room and “watered” two of my compatriots as I made my rounds, for they had embodied themselves, in part, as plants. It was a greenhouse room, and as I watered them, I wondered aloud, “am I overdoing it?” She was part Golden Cypress and part variegated flowering Mandevilla, a most exotic and exquisite combination, two plants side-by-side, yet growing as one.
“No, I’m parched,” she said, and I gave her more water. She sighed in relief, moistened her lips, and kissed me. The other one beckoned for attention, so I watered her, too.
“Oops, I HAVE overdone it,” I thought, as she took the Cypress part of herself out of the pot and showed me the standing water in the vase of herself.
“That’s okay,” she said, “but you’re doing it all wrong.”
“No I’m not,” I thought, and the woman who was the nearly identical plant to the left nodded, and agreed.
“No, do it like this,” the other one insisted, and took my hand that held the watering can and helped me let the water fall. “See that blue stone down there?” She pointed down to a spot deep inside of herself. “Let the water fall and hit that, then swirl it around in a clockwise motion, like this.” She helped guide my hand and we did it together, then she let go of my hand and let me spiral it myself, continue it on my own once I had gotten the hang of it and my resistance had softened, my frustration and anger had turned to love.
The woman who was the other plant nodded and smiled in agreement.
As I began to wake up, they became fully women again, one on either side of me. They looked similar, but one was harder and firmer, the other softer and more flowing, I could tell by the graceful long curls of her hair and the kindness in her face. The other one was kind, too, yet more rigorous, with straighter hair, of the same light color. She had been the one who had taught me how to water her. I smiled, and she kissed me, too, and I woke up.
I lay there and stirred, and pondered the dream. At first I wondered if it were a fantasy, and if we were about to have three-way sex. But then as I let myself unravel and slowly piece myself together, I realized that these two women represented aspects of me. They were like the right and left sides of my brain. Each was necessary for the existence of my total self, and each was responsible for different aspects of me. There was, indeed, a sexual nature to the dream, but it was as if part of my brain used that as a technique to make other parts of my brain pay attention, to help make sure that all of me was present to learn the lesson.
What was the lesson of this dream? That I must work to keep the different aspects of myself in harmony, the creative with the pragmatic, analytical with explorative, hard with soft?
The battle with the other people in my dream was really representative of an internal battle within me, the different aspects of my “self”. The feeling of winning that overcame me was one of a return to harmony, anger and confusion turned to love and acceptance, peace; not brute, mean victory. Those two halves of my brain must learn to cooperate; sometimes they can fight like brothers and I may not even know it, I may feel frustrated without even knowing why.
Next day I awoke high in the rainforest. An arara scolded her mate with sharp beak and tongue right outside my tangerine curtains, the flutter of her mate’s great wings threw a shadow across my face as he playfully fled. Cicadas buzzed in symphonic unison, louder, then quieted suddenly as if on cue. A howler monkey screamed thru the vegetation and a tucano with a multicolored beak lighted on a tree just beyond the araras. I rubbed my eyes and then opened the curtains wide. I got up and took a can of guava juice from the mini bar and went out on the deck. The air was humid and warm with the sun that buzzed above to the orchestra of life all around me. It must have rained during the night, although I didn’t hear it, I must have slept deeply. I climbed down my ladder to the main pier system and walked through the network of bridges to the archway near the base of the observation tower. It was 11:00 AM.
The film crew was setting up over there. One camera was already placed at the top of the precarious tower where Emilio would give his presentation, embraced by the panoramic forest view. As I moved towards them and began to cross the archway I saw several crew members at the base of the tower taping down long cords on the decking and setting up another camera for Luiz. He looked up from his notes and waved over to me with a smile. I paused halfway across the archway and glanced down at the underbrush on the ground, a good seventy feet below. For a moment I remembered the time I had gone bungee jumping in a canyon near Vancouver, B.C. a few years back. The thrill had been hair-raising enough; I had screamed the whole way down. But what was worse than the initial fall was that after the full stretch of the cord I had to endure the tortuous, continuous recoil as I was flung back up on the rebound only to fall again, then back up again, back down, until finally it stopped and I lay limp at the end of the rope hanging headfirst like a tired, beaten, if exhilarated animal. Here there was no bungee cord, not even a rope in sight, and if we needed to flee for some reason, say if the place caught fire, there might be little choice but to jump to escape the flames.
I crossed the remainder of the archway and greeted Luiz at the platform on the other side. “We’ll begin filming live in about half an hour,” he said.
“Live?” I asked. “I thought you were prerecording this documentary to be edited and aired later.”
“We are,” Luiz said, looking down at his notes. “But this particular segment here has caught the interest of the international press. There are news teams here from Europe, Japan, and the U.S. O Bloco has decided to cover this episode live, with a plug advertising that the whole documentary series will be airing in a couple of weeks.” He motioned to the international news teams behind him, who were also setting up. Some soldiers armed with high-powered rifles were stationed periodically near the news teams and by the surrounding buildings. They were P.M.’s, Polícia Militar.
A flash of steel and the movement of bodies down below caught my peripheral vision. Literally hundreds of people, men, women and children, were gathered down there on the igarapé, a muddy tributary, in a group of canoes and small fishing boats, all tied together, and along the riverbank. “Who are they?” I asked.
They are the Sem Terras, the MST,” Emilio answered. “Somehow they caught wind of what we were doing and decided to take the opportunity to gain some media attention. They’re getting more and more organized every day. They even have some TV’s, loudspeakers and microphones down on their boats.”
“That explains the presence of the military police here,” I said. “They probably want to make sure that no one gets hurt.”
“The military doesn’t quite know how to handle the situation of the landless people. They have already reacted violently several times against the MST,” Luiz interjected.
“That’s right,” Emilio pushed back his hair from his forehead and straightened his jaw. “Even in my hometown, Curitiba, in the South, supposedly one of the most civilized parts of Brazil, violence has erupted against the Sem Terras. In May of 2000, close to 1,000 PM’s (Military Police) intercepted 50 buses carrying roughly 500 Sem Terras about three miles outside of Curitiba. The PM’s fired their guns and threw tear gas canisters at them. One of the landless, Antonio Tavares Pereira, the father of five children, was shot in the chest and later died. As many as 150 people may have been injured or killed in this confrontation. Most of the Sem Terras were probably too afraid to seek treatment for their injuries, and many remain missing.”
The cameras were rolling live now, Luiz addressed the crowd, spoke into his microphone and faced the camera.”Boa tarde (Good afternoon). We are gathered here in the heart of the Amazon to discuss the importance of this natural wonder to Brazil, and to the entire world. We are also here to talk about the MST, the Sem Terras, and what should become of them. For just as this river is vital to the health of the earth, so is the plight of its people.”
He then went on to discuss in more detail the relationship of the Amazon with humanity, reiterating much of what he had said in Belém, as it was important that he cover as much as possible in a short amount of time for this opening live segment, to give the viewer a taste of things to come.
I was tired, it had been a long day. This business of film reporting was hard work. Luiz was really nailing it.
One of the foreign reporters turned without warning and held his microphone up to my face. He asked me in Portuguese:
“Com licença, you look to be a foreigner, what’s your name, where are you from and what’s your opinion about the MST?”
I looked back at him and then into the camera. Several more microphones were thrust in front of me.
“I believe that the MST has a right to be heard,” I cleared my throat. “Every man’s voice is important in this world. The MST has the right to be heard by the Brazilian government. It is a question of the protection of human rights!” I held up my fist for emphasis, mostly out of nerves, and to wake myself up. I gave my best Serge Weiken stare, unblinking.
I hadn’t meant to speak so emphatically, but I was taken off guard, and spoke from the heart. I looked down and out over the crowd gathered below. The cameras panned out over them as well. The sun was setting.
A cheer rippled through the MST gathered in their boats and on the banks of the igarapé down below. I saw their arms rise up in a unifying battle cry in my honor in the silhouette of their protest flames. A red flare shot up from one of their boats and blazed up against the dark forest and across the evening sky. I looked down and out towards the pier and film crews, international news teams, and hotel guests that had gathered close at hand. Some of the PM’s that were standing guard were talking on their radios, one of them pointed up at me. With a shock I realized that Luiz and Emilio were no longer at my side, apparently they had already fled. Instinctively I hurried down from the tower, half jumping and practically falling down its stairs like a macaco de cheiro leaping through the trees.
Halfway down I saw Luiz waving up at me to hurry, he pointed down one of the piers as he turned and ran, disappeared through the crowd. I followed quickly as the guards closed in. Ahead, a flash of Luiz’s white pants and running feet disappeared into the forest darkness. Behind, the guards were pointing and shouting at me as I ran. Adrenalin rushed through my veins as I clocked it into high gear. Strange golden animal eyes up in the trees reflected in the beams of the flashlights that waved back and forth behind me. I could hear and feel the pounding feet of the PM’s on the wooden planks of the decking as they chased me; they were just thirty yards behind. The pier branched in three directions: “Meditation Dome,” “Heliport,” and “Reception.” I raced down the middle one, going on pure instincts. My feet barely touched the ground as I practically flew. Rounding a bend,
I was suddenly caught in the wind and glare of a chopper preparing to take off. I ducked and fought against the blast of air and grabbed the hand of an arm that reached out for me.
Luiz’s voice was barely audible above the roar of the chopper’s blades as he pulled me aboard and we lurched up into the air. “For a moment, I thought we’d lost you!” He grinned and grabbed me with his other arm and helped me to a seat.
“What’s going on?!” I shouted against the solid wind of the chopper’s blades and looked down below.
“Apparently the guards think we’re supporting the MST, that we may be secretly helping them. You sounded like their spokesman!”
The PM’s were pointing up at us with their high-powered rifles as we pulled up and away. One of them shouted up to us through a bullhorn, demanding that we come back to land. Luiz waved furiously at the pilot for us to continue onward and upward. I stared down and caught the eyes of a young soldier who looked determined and ready to pull the trigger as we climbed further into the air. The points of many other gun barrels were also directed at us, surely they would open fire and blow us out of the sky as we tried to flee. But we pulled away, higher and higher, and somehow they didn’t fire a shot.
“How did you know they wouldn’t shoot?” I asked Luiz, sighing and letting my shoulders slump.
He smiled and nodded. “I didn’t,” he answered, “but I figured they wouldn’t, since we are members of O Bloco, and it would cause great controversy if they did. I took a gamble.”
“Some gamble!” I said. “You rolled the dice with our lives!” He shrugged and bent over to loosen the laces of his shoes. But then, I thought, the last thing I wanted was a confrontation with the Brazilian Military Police. As that official had told me in the jail house in Fortaleza, one more incident, one more strike against me, and I would go to prison for a very, very long time. And Brazilian prison might just be worse than death.
Luiz got up and went forward to talk with the pilot. I glanced over at Emilio, who was rubbing his eyes, cheekbones and forehead with his eyes closed. The tension in his eyebrows softened. In all the confusion, I hadn’t really noticed that he was aboard until now.
“Where are we going, Emilio?” I asked him.
He opened his eyes slowly and looked back up at me as if he was surprised to see me there, too. “We are heading southeast,” he replied. He worked his mouth for a moment, and continued, “It depends upon what radio transmissions we receive along the way. We also have a portable TV. If we can pick up a signal or a message and it looks like you are in serious danger, we will probably drop you outside of Natal, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. It’s a small city, and the government is not likely to look for you there. Luiz and I will attempt to return to Fortaleza and smooth things out. We will explain what’s going on to Carissia, and hopefully you won’t be too far behind us. We’ll get you back,” he nodded. His face was pale.
I nodded in hopeful agreement, but I had my doubts. At least we were relatively safe for the moment. The sweat began to cool in my hair, on my neck and back, where my shirt was stuck slick to my skin. My heart beat began to slow down, it had been racing for some time with all the action.
Luiz returned, holding several cans of beer against his chest.” A cerveja está quente,” he said (The beer is warm). “Mas é melhor do que nada.” (But it’s better than nothing).He handed me one of the lukewarm cans of Antarctica. It had condensation on the outside, still pretty cold by my standards. But Brazilians like their beer estupidamente gelada (stupidly cold).
“Obrigado,” I thanked him, snapped it open, and guzzled about a third of it down all at once. It was the best beer I had ever tasted. I smiled back at him and sighed.
“O que que é, Serge?” He asked with a raised brow. (What is it?)
“Cerveja quente não é tão ruim!” I answered (Warm beer isn’t all that bad!). The three of us toasted the moment, and laughed.
The text above is the second chapter of “Brazil, Awaken!”, Scott Kerwin’s adventure romance novel about the personal discovery of passion, enlightenment, and red hot Latin love, all set in a beautiful Brazilian paradise! This chapter in the original is called “Amazonas – (The Amazon Region)”
It is loosely based on his own personal adventures in Brazil; fifteen separate trips of a month or more over the last fifteen years…here unfolds the mystery of the MST, the landless workers movement in Brazil, passionate encounters with Brazilian women, and the discovery of what is really important in life, how we can truly help each other to make this world a better place!
The author is currently working on finding agents and publishers for his book. He is an American married to a Brazilian woman, knows Brazil and understands Brazilian culture well, and speak Portuguese fluently. You can contact him at: Criscott93@aol.com or call 206/669-8722
Copyright 2009 Scott Kerwin