I’ve had a small, new e-mail exchange with the Amazon Walker. Backing up 15 years I should tell you that one sleepless night I determined to walk the length of the Amazon basin alongside the Amazon River. The best maps — and I don’t claim to have the best — showed a dirt track ambling all over the basin. Research over my next decade revealed the poor road shown in some places had been expunged or abandoned, bridges washed out, tribes gone or melded with others, give or take a headhunter here, there, and elsewhere. The phrase came into my head — Objet dart. Objet poison dart. And white meat river fish as big and ornery as Mississippi gar before the leak. And the waterside overgrown to boot. Perfecto!
Then a year ago I boated the Amazon Rio from the headwaters at Iquitos into Brazil — that Korean and Chinese outpost whose cars and trucks run on swamp grass. I headed for a reconnoiter near where the Atlantic and the Amazon flirted with each other. For a wobbly week I bussed, trucked, and thumbed the width of Brazil, that is the Amazon Basin.
The trip ended one starless night caparisoned with the caterwaulings of humans and near-humans and former humans — and prayers on all of us — with our bus partly full of frightened evangelists singing their Jesusy hearts and lyrics out as our transmission slid us from side to side on muddy roads, one toe into the jungle, then an ankle bringing us back to our slide; the monkeys and monkey simulacrums hooting and hollering at our invasions and prayerful noise.
One of our passengers was a one-armed evangelist who had lost his arm to an anaconda. He was using his remaining arm to protect a little Indian girl who was licking the faces of each of her dolls in turn. To protect her, I guess, from the 15 other unbalanced passengers, that is, unbalanced and unbalanced passengers, who formed congeries of seat neighbors at lurch after lurch of our careering vehicle. At one pee stop the ranking minister realized I was the only passenger with a penlight, was the only soul who could lead our safari through the four feet of mud covering this myopic trans-Amazonic road to a river — any river.
There, perhaps because of the prayers, as if God gives a shit, we caught a morning ferry to civilization. That’s why, after laying up in Iquitos a few months, I wrote the famous Amazon River Walker (at the suggestion of an accountant whose on-line appellation is Cheapbastard) offering to hike with him for a stint. He warily but cordially replied he already had a guide.