It was fascinating to watch the pilot fly his plane, literally flying it by his body. Taking off from this jungle stream, he takes the wheel with his arms and the trees are getting closer and GAGAGAGAGAGA! we go up in the air RAAAAAAAAA! literally he just flies this plane—talk about flying by the seat of your pants!
Now that’s the kind of thing—when we all started out we didn’t have any idea that we would run into things like this. And the dangers of the jungle there are dangers that are almost all unseen. The vampire bat is an interesting thing in this area. The translator we were with said one of the big problems is that the vampire bats kill the chickens these people grow in their chacras. I didn’t see one but many of the people told me about them. The vampire bat attacks by moving in quickly—it’s a tiny bat. It usually bites the nose of the person. A quick bite with very sharp teeth. It does not attach itself to you. The blood flows immediately because it has needle-like teeth that dig deep, and it injects an anti-coagulant into the wound and the blood. The person remains asleep—doesn’t even wake up—it’s all painless. The blood flows and the bat laps up the blood.
[Remember I described Dr. Carneiro’s hammock
stained with his blood caused by vampire bats.]
On the other hand, the jungle itself is indescribably beautiful. Great orchids unlike any we know. The jungle has a strange quality about it that some people describe with one word—solemnity. A quality of course, of solitude. But more than that, a kind of cathedral-like air about it. In this kind of heavy rainforest, the undergrowth is not as great in other types of forest because the sun can’t get down to the ground, so smaller plants can’t grow. But these great trees reach into the air maybe a hundred-and-fifty feet. Can you imagine a tree that’s fifteen stories or more in height? These fantastic trees reach up and form a canopy that’s impenetrable to the sun. And these natives—the Shapras and other Indian tribes—move through this jungle like shadows.
So the plane set us down in Shapra country. I made a tape nights ago when I was in the Amazon River Basin, many, many hundreds of miles from civilization in an area that is still marked on the Peruvian Air Force maps as unexplored, uncharted. I carried this little recorder in a big pack on my back. We went in about a mile-and-a-half in from the river, over this almost impassable trail, walking over logs and through the trees. It was just a tiny trail, and was so hard to get through because Tariri, the chief—a strange, powerful, very paternal kind of man. Kind of a combination of Kruschev with that peculiar sense of humor, a little touch of Stalin, a little touch of Santa Claus—apparently the greatest fighter the world has ever seen. The reason he was chief for so many years, such a powerful chief in the area, was that he had personally disposed of all of his rivals—that’s the way you stayed being chief—it is not an inherited job, it is not an elected job.
Many years ago he became chief merely by braining everybody else who wanted to be chief—in fair combat. And you wind up taking his head and eventually you take enough heads that you’re recognized as the local big man.
More to come.