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Read Across Unknown South America Part 58

Across Unknown South America is a web novel completed by Arnold Henry Savage Landor.
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A charming island was pa.s.sed soon after, on which, as well as on the left bank, were innumerable rubber trees, but there were none on the right, where _chapada_ was to be seen.

We had in front of us a hill range 300 ft. high. As we went farther we were in a channel between high rocks strewn about along both banks in fragments of great size; then we were once again in a circular basin with high vertical rocks–perhaps another extinct crater. We were here in a region of volcanic formation. No sooner had we pa.s.sed this basin than we came upon another bad rapid, 400 m. long, which divided itself into two channels, after going through a narrow pa.s.sage not more than 30 m. wide, where we got tossed about in a most alarming manner, being once or twice nearly dashed to pieces against the rocky sides. We had had so much trouble with the rapids that day that by sunset we had only gone 19 kil.

600 m. Since we had come to that volcanic region we had found rocks with great holes in which stagnant water lay. Myriads of insects–regular clouds of them–worried us nearly to death.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Conveying the Canoe by Hand down a Rapid.]

On August 14th we started early, the minimum temperature having been 70 F. during the night. After leaving the rapid we came to a great basin 1,000 m. across. A most beautiful sand beach 300 m. long was to be seen on the left side, below a vertical cliff of great beauty, 200 ft. high.

Another great sand beach was to be seen on the right of the river, where it described a sharp turn to 30 b.m. Then the river dashed through a pa.s.sage of rocks only 80 m. broad, and emerged once more into another great basin with many indentations in its rocky coast.

Some 6 kil. beyond, another basin was found, with more rocks strewn on and near its eastern bank, and a number of rocky islets. A high hill range with vertical cliffs stood on the west side and ended abruptly at the end of the basin. Low hills ran all along the river on the left side.

The river had an average width here of 250 m., and flowed mostly in directions between north-west and north-east.

We went down all the time on troubled waters, with rocky banks and innumerable obstacles all the way. We went through another terrible and most intricate rapid–the Labyrinth–and pa.s.sed through a channel only 40 m. wide between high rocky banks. Then, after that, for 9,500 m. we had fair and smooth navigation, with a range of flat-topped hills 300 ft.

high, extending from W.S.W. to E.N.E., in front of us to the north-west.

Here there was a regular maze of channels, all more or less bad. We did not follow the one, which was strewn with rocks, but a smaller one, at the end of which, unfortunately, we found a barrier of rocks which we could not surmount. We had all the trouble of dragging the canoe back up the rapid until we could turn her round into another channel.

We arrived at the waterfall of S. Simo, where we went through numerous channels, following the right bank as much as we could, until we arrived at a gigantic staircase of rock, down which the water divided itself into little channels. We took all the baggage over the rocks on the right bank–a very heavy task, as we had to climb up and down big boulders with sharp edges. We slipped many times with the loads we were carrying, and many, indeed, were the patches of skin we left behind in that particular place. We had a great deal of trouble in finding a place where we could take the canoe down. Eventually we had to go right across the stream over the waterfall and land on an island of rock in the centre of the river, where I had seen with my telescope that we might perhaps find a suitable pa.s.sage for the canoe.

Crossing the river diagonally just above the fall was risky work, and although we described a big arc up the stream, we only just managed to make the island before we were borne down by the current.

The horseshoe-shaped waterfall was about 300 m. across and some 30 ft.

high. When the river is full it must be beautiful, for the east side, which was then absolutely dry, is covered entirely by water, which must form a wonderful series of cascades. When the river is in flood, the waterfall, extending from north-west to south-east, has a total width of 1,000 m. There were some picturesque bits of rugged foliated rock over that great staircase, and huge cracks through which the water gurgled and foamed–those fissures formed not by the erosion of water but by volcanic action, perhaps by an earthquake. The large fall to the north-west, over which the water flows in every season, had on one side of it a steep incline, down which we took the canoe until we came to a drop about 15 ft. high.

We halted for the night just above that high drop, spending a most miserable night, being simply devoured by insects. The minimum temperature during the night of August 15th was 72 F.

My men were in a beastly temper in the morning, when we had to proceed, as on previous occasions, to make an artificial channel by moving innumerable boulders of all sizes. It was a heavy task, for we hardly had any strength left, our meals having been most irregular of late.

A channel was not so easily made in that particular spot, as there were some boulders which we could not possibly move, and the canoe must be made to go over them.

We had only been working for a few minutes, when again there was a riot among my men; again they took to their rifles and said they would leave me and the canoe there. Worse luck, the canoe got stuck hard on a rock, and the men could not move her. I cut down some rollers and some levers of the hardest woods I could find in the forest near there, and when once I had set to work a little more intelligently than they did, I had no difficulty in moving the canoe along. Eventually, with my men swearing at me the whole time, the canoe was safely at the foot of the waterfall.

We were in great luck that day, for we found plenty of wild fruit–very nutritious–and we killed one or two large birds. My men grumbled all the time, saying that they were dying of starvation, no meal being a meal at all in Brazil unless accompanied by a small mountain of _feijo_ (black beans). I had a few boxes of sardines left, but I reserved those for extreme occasions which might yet come.

At the bottom of the fall was an immense basin, 1,200 m. wide and 3,000 m. long from north to south. The temperature was stifling that day–96 F. in the shade, and the sky overladen with clouds.

Fourteen kilometres by river below the S. Simo came another waterfall, that of All Saints.

Observations with the hypsometrical apparatus gave an elevation of 772 ft. above the level of the sea.

We halted above the rapid on a beautiful beach. A curious thing happened.

Antonio in jumping into the water out of the canoe felt something sharp under his foot. In looking down he saw a magnificent sword. On taking it out of the water we found that it was an old sword of the time of the Emperor Pedro II. A fight must have taken place there between a Brazilian expedition and the Mundurucu Indians, who at that time were to be found, I believe, in that region. Presumably the expedition had been attacked at that spot while trying to land. The sword was in excellent preservation.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Canoe being taken along an Artificial Ca.n.a.l made by Author and his Men.]


At Death’s Door–Mundurucu Indians–All Author’s Followers poisoned by Wild Fruit–Anxious Moments–Seringueiros–A Dying Jewish Trader–The Mori Brothers–A New Hat–Where the Tres Barras meets the Arinos-Juruena–The Canoe abandoned

WE had a minimum temperature on the night of August 15th of 70 F.

We descended the All Saints rapid and fall, 150 m. in length, with no great difficulty, although with a certain amount of hard work.

A large basin was below it, in the eastern part of which was a charming island. Innumerable rubber trees (_Siphonia elastica_) were to be seen in that region. We found the south-east pa.s.sage the best in descending that rapid; but, although comparatively easy, we had to use the greatest care, as my canoe was by now falling to pieces, and a hard knock against a rock would be fatal.

At the eastern end of the basin was a narrow channel between high rocks, where the current was extremely strong. A cl.u.s.ter of high vertical columnar rocks was seen. The three channels into which the river had been divided joined again in that basin, and were forced through a pa.s.sage between high vertical rocky walls not more than 35 m. apart.

The water naturally was much troubled in being forced from different sides through that narrow pa.s.sage, and I knew that there must be danger.

We pulled up the canoe along some rocks 50 or 60 m. from the entrance of the channel, and I instructed two men to land and go and explore, to see what was in the channel. The top rocks in that particular spot formed innumerable little points, quite sharp, and it was painful to walk on them with bare feet.

Antonio and white Filippe, who had been instructed to go and reconnoitre, went a short distance away, where they sat themselves down behind some rocks, comfortably smoking cigarettes. After twenty minutes or so they returned and said they had gone all along the channel, and there was absolutely smooth water and no danger whatever. I was not well satisfied with their answer, but they swore they had inspected the channel thoroughly, and there was no danger. So I ordered them to enter the boat once more, and we started off.

No sooner had we turned the corner round the high rocky cliffs and entered the narrow gorge than we were confronted by a huge central wave some 40 ft. high in the channel. It was formed by the clashing waters, coming from three different directions, meeting at that spot and trying to push through simultaneously. Before we knew where we were the canoe actually flew up in the air, in an almost vertical position, to the top of that enormous wave.

[Ill.u.s.tration: A Moment of Suspense.

Author and his men in their canoe going through a narrow channel between vertical walls of rock. The water forced through from three large arms of the river joining at that point formed a high and dangerous central wave.]

Baggage, men, and dogs slid down in confusion, the canoe gliding back into the water and progressing as swift as an arrow down the channel. The next moment we were on the point of being dashed against the high rocky cliff on our right. To my amazement, and just as I was expecting the impact, the canoe only gracefully shaved the rock, the backwash which took place along the rocks shifting us once more toward the middle of the stream.

Once again the great rush of water shot us up in the air, above the central wave, and this time the canoe bucked and rode down on the other side of that foaming ma.s.s of water.

My men were terrified. “Rema! rema! (Row! row!) for Heaven’s sake!” I shouted to the perplexed men, as I tried to instil into them a little courage, when within me I really thought we were lost. As I shouted those words I saw to my horror two of the paddles washed away, and as I quickly measured with my eye the length of the channel I perceived that we still had some 200 m. more of that kind of navigation before we should shoot out of that dangerous place.

Up and down we went several times on that high central wave; several times did we again shave the rocks on either side of the narrow channel.

We were quite helpless, my men in chorus yelling “We are lost! we are lost!”

Alcides bravely stuck to the helm for some time, but the force of the water was so great that he was knocked down into the canoe and had to let go. When we reached the point where the narrow pa.s.sage came to an end, the waters looked so diabolical that when my men shouted “We are lost! we are lost!” I could not help saying “Yes, we are!”

I held on to the canoe desperately, as we were banged about for a few seconds in a way that nearly stunned us, the waves striking me in the face with such force that it took me some moments to recover. When I did I found that we were already out of the channel and in the whirlpool, the canoe full of water but fortunately saved.

I lose most things in the world, but I never lose my patience nor my sense of humour. I could not help laughing when I looked at the expression on the faces of my dogs–an expression of terror and astonishment, as they looked first at the place from which we had emerged and then at me, which I am sure would have meant in words: “Good gracious! where in the world are you taking us?”

We had to halt as soon as convenient in order to cut some new paddles. It took my men some hours to recover from the effects of that experience.

As is generally the case after a violent emotion, a great deal of merriment was produced, my men for the rest of the day talking about the incident and reproducing in a realistic way the sounds of the rushing water and the impact of the waves against the canoe.

We found after that a great basin 3,000 m. long, 1,300 m. broad, from west to east, with a lovely sand beach 1,000 m. long on its eastern side.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Conveying the Canoe through the Forest.

(Notice the side of the canoe split and stuffed with pieces of cloth.)]

At last–after all that time without meeting a soul–I came across a small tribe of Mundurucus–six of them all counted. They had their _aldeja_, or village, on the right side of the stream. Their chief rejoiced in the name of Joo. They were tiny little fellows, the tallest only 5 ft. in height. If you had met them anywhere else than in Central Brazil you would have mistaken them for j.a.panese, so exactly like them were they in appearance. Their faces were of a very dark yellow, almost black, with perfectly straight hair, just like the j.a.panese or their near cousins, the Tagalos of the Philippine Islands.


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