It seems very strange to be walking in a place where a million eyes are watching. As our guide told us, the path we are following along the Amazon River is filled with creatures who consider humankind the next lunch.
Our guide pushed onward, chopping branches as he walked. Behind me was a local man dragging a mule. The two toted all of the supplies we supposedly would need for our tour and return. I carried a backpack and a long pointed stick. I was told that a gringo with a rifle was dangerous, and with the stick I could ward off nearly any beast (I doubted the logic but did as told). Our guide also told us that many of the tiniest bugs and caterpillars were far more dangerous than the larger animals. Paranoia had swept over me during the lectures at the base camp.
I checked my watch, we had been walking for five hours – it seemed like a week. The jungle foliage blocked out most of the sun, and only occasional hints of light filtered through.
We generally walked in silence, listening for the guide’s voice, who would occasionally say, “Momento.” Which meant we could pause for a short break, too short, for about the time we relaxed our sore muscles he would yell, “Arriba.” And we would be off again.
We are on our way to see and examine the ruins of a village. The Kuikuro people lived along the river and built connected villages, with sophisticated plazas and bridges. Scientists state that they were a gentle people who conserved agriculture, replanted the forest, built their homes from lumber, and seemed to have lived a high level of cultural existence for hundreds of years before Columbus.
We stumbled into a clearing and I asked our guide. “What happened to the Kuikuros?”
He pointed at my companion and me. “Gringos.” Then without another word he yelled, “Arriba.”
An hour later we stopped at a small stream and a small marsh. Our guide and supply man washed themselves in the water while we watched. Finally, our guide walked toward us. “Take off your clothes and wash your body and the clothes, you have bugs on your skin you cannont see.”
We did not question his demand but followed his instructions. When we had washed out our clothes and our bodies, our guide pointed to a tall mound at the edge of the marsh. There is the first village. We will camp there tonight.
We climbed the hill and began setting up our camp . From our vantage point we could see back into the darkness of the jungle from which we had come.
“Is there any other way out of here?” I pointed at the jungle all around us.
Our guide laughed. “We will follow the old trail to the diggings. You can walk another 100 kilometers from there to the next village. But, it is an area controlled by banditos. We will be returning the way we came.”
The supply man built a campfire and immediately put on a pot of coffee. He had filled his pot from the stream below. We pulled the netting over our sleeping bags and curled up around the fire. After a painful night I opened my eyes to a screaming bird. Our guide and supply man were already loading the mule.
Soon the majesty of God’s creation came to life and the sleepy marsh area came alive in the bright sunrise. Our guide motioned us onward and we left the picturesque scene for another jungle walk.
About two hours later we stood at the edge of a wide clearing. Numerous men and women seemed to be scurrying about carrying shovels and picks.
“The digs.” He pointed at the beehive of activity. “Go ahead. Jose and I will stay here and wait till you finish your business – today, tomorrow, it doesn’t matter.”
My companion and I stepped onto the path. I looked back at the guide. “You said, gringos killed the people here? By war? What?”
“Roll up yer sleve.” He pointed at my shirt.
I followed his instructions. “What for?”
“See that round scar on your shoulder?”
“Yeah, that’s my small pox vaccination scar.”
“They didn’t have small pox vaccinations when the gringos first visited here."
I musta had a "so what" look on my face.
He continued. "The people didn’t have diseases before the explorers came.”
The Bible in my backpack suddenly weighed a million pounds. God forgive us.
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