So, here I am, in one of the least explored places on earth: the Amazon rainforest. The heavy weight of my pack nearly drives me to my knees. The tangled roots at my feet cause me to stumble and fall. Any step could disturb a slumbering snake. High above in the canopy, howler monkeys create an ear-splitting racket. These troubles are a constant attack at my strength.
My task is to find and befriend the local Yanomami tribe. Given that I have only a shred of knowledge about rainforest survival, I am not undertaking this alone. Skoda and Shuri, two Spanish men from Guatemala, lead the party. Skoda can track a monkey trail three days old, even when the beast goes into the trees. Shuri once fought off an anaconda with his bare hands and set up a camp in just ten minutes. Very useful men, I know that. I'm not so sure about their motives, or their loyalties. Skoda insists on carefully examining every stream we come across. At the moment though, I'm paying him to lead me to the Yanomami.
The other two men in my group, Takita and Djurujure, are of the Yanomami tribe. They look it, what with the sticks driven through their noses and cheeks. They're my interpreters, and will be invaluable when I actually come face-to-face with my quarry. I stagger along at the end of the line. I tell myself God is with me. Yet God seems to be turning a deaf ear to pleas and praises alike, and I just hope I will survive the hardships ahead.
Shuri once again shows his worth by setting up our camp. Inside my tent, though glad for the reprieve from the mosquitoes, I am desperate for some encouragement. I open my Bible at Psalm 86. I read the comforting words, thinking about God's peace. I finger the tube I always carry in my pocket. It's just a little pipe, scarcely noticed by most people. Yet my whole plan is based around it. My musing is interrupted by Takita calling me for supper. When I find out that we're having roasted beetle grubs, I feel like crawling back into my tent. Djurujure tells me they're the “best source of energy in the whole jungle”. Whatever. Fat white baby insects are not for me.
I've been here for two weeks now, and no sign of the Yanomami. Skoda assures me he knows where he's going. How he can I have no idea. It's not as if there are signposts saying 'Yanomami shabono this way'. I've all but given up hope.
Shotgun blasts jerk me back to reality. I have strayed from the path. And my guides have disappeared.
“Skoda? What's going on?” Panic creeps into my voice. “Skoda?”
“Silence, you fool!” Skoda's harsh reply is filled with anger and – strangely – excitement. “I've found gold! At long last, I've panned the right river.”
Suddenly I understand. Skoda cares nothing for my Yanomami mission. He has come here only to get rich. Now he's discovered what he'd been seeking, he will probably kill me at the first chance he gets.
I flee into the jungle, crashing and whimpering and knowing I should be quiet, but unable to suppress the animal sounds of panic that well up within me. I hear screams from behind me, accompanied by gun shots. I charge onwards with renewed vigour, like a maddened bull. Until I see him. He appears silently on the leaf litter-strewn floor. His pierced face gives no evidence of his intentions. It doesn't need to. He has an arrow pointed at my heart. One arrow smeared with enough poison to kill twenty men. My hands shake as I reach into my pocket and pull out my tube. As I hand it over, I probe into the very depths of my memory, and somehow manage to extract some words. They are badly pronounced and halting, but he seems to understand.
“Friend,” I say in his strange tongue. “Friend. I come to help.” He curiously examines my tube, then looks through it, never for one moment relaxing his hold on his bow. I hear him gasp as he sees the wonders of swirling patterns never the same twice. The simple result of the arrangement of three mirrors. My kaleidoscope. My only hope has worked. He takes me by the arm and hauls me off to his village. My mission here has begun.
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