CHAPTER III. OTHER INCIDENTS DURING MY STAY IN REMATE DE MALES
Remate De Males, with Nazareth and Sao Francisco, is set down in the midst of absolute wilderness. Directly behind the village is the almost impenetrable maze of tropical jungle. If with the aid of a machete one gets a minute's walk into it, he cannot find his way out except by the cackling of the hens around the houses. A dense wall of vegetation shuts in the settlement on every side. Tall palms stand above the rest of the trees; lower down is a mass of smaller but more luxuriant plants, while everywhere is the twining, tangled lianas, making the forest a dark labyrinth of devious ways. Here and there are patches of tropical blossoms, towering ferns, fungoid growths, or some rare and beautiful orchid whose parasitical roots have attached themselves to a tree trunk. And there is always the subdued confusion that betokens the teeming animal life.
Looking up the Itecoahy River, one can see nothing but endless forest and jungle. And the same scene continues for a distance of some eight or nine hundred miles until reaching the headwaters of the river somewhere far up in Bolivian territory. No settlements are to be found up there; a few seringales from seventy-five to a hundred miles apart constitute the only human habitations in this large area. So wild and desolate is this river that its length and course are only vaguely indicated even on the best Brazilian maps. It is popularly supposed that the Itecoahy takes its actual rise about two weeks' journey from its nominal head in an absolutely unexplored region.
I found the life very monotonous in Remate de Males, especially when the river began to go down. This meant the almost complete ending of communication with the outer world; news from home reached me seldom and there was no relief from the isolation. In addition, the various torments of the region are worse at this season. Sitting beside the muddy banks of the Itecoahy at sunset, when the vapours arose from the immense swamps and the sky was coloured in fantastical designs across the western horizon, was the only relief from the sweltering heat of the day, for a brief time before the night and its tortures began. Soon the chorus of a million frogs would start. At first is heard only the croaking of a few; then gradually more and more add their music until a loud penetrating throb makes the still, vapour-laden atmosphere vibrate. The sound reminded me strikingly of that which is heard when pneumatic hammers are driving home rivets through steel beams. There were other frogs whose louder and deeper-pitched tones could be distinguished through the main nocturnal song. These seemed always to be grumbling something about "Rubberboots - Rubberboots."
By-and-bye one would get used to the sound and it would lose attention. The water in the river floated slowly on its long journey towards the ocean, almost 2500 miles away. Large dolphins sometimes came to the surface, saluting the calm evening with a loud snort, and disappeared again with a slow, graceful movement. Almost every evening I could hear issuing from the forest a horrible roar. It came from the farthest depths and seemed as if it might well represent the mingled cries of some huge bull and a prowling jaguar that had attacked him unawares. Yet it all came, I found, from one throat, that of the howling monkey. He will sit alone for hours in a tree-top and pour forth these dreadful sounds which are well calculated to make the lonely wanderer stop and light a camp-fire for protection.
On the other hand, is heard the noise of the domestic animals of the village. Cows, calves, goats, and pigs seemed to make a habit of exercising their vocal organs thoroughly before retiring. Dogs bark at the moon; cats chase rats through openings of the palm-leaf roofs, threatening every moment to fall, pursued and pursuers, down upon the hammocks. Vampires flutter around from room to room, occasionally resting on the tops of the iron partitions, and when they halt, continuing to chirp for a while like hoarse sparrows. Occasionally there will come out of the darkness of the river a disagreeable sound as if some huge animal were gasping for its last breath before suffocating in the mud. The sound has its effect, even upon animals, coming as it does out of the black mysterious night, warning them not to venture far for fear some uncanny force may drag them to death in the dismal waters. It is the night call of the alligator.
The sweet plaintive note of a little partridge, called inamboo, would sometimes tremble through the air and compel me to forget the spell of unholy sounds arising from the beasts of the jungle and river. Throughout the evening this amorous bird would call to its mate, and somewhere there would be an answering call back in the woods. Many were the nights when, weak with fever, I awoke and listened to their calling and answering. Yet never did they seem to achieve the bliss of meeting, for after a brief lull the calling and answering voices would again take up their pretty song.
Slowly the days went by and, with their passing, the river fell lower and lower until the waters receded from the land itself and were confined once more to their old course in the river-bed. As the ground began to dry, the time came when the mosquitoes were particularly vicious. They multiplied by the million. Soon the village was filled with malaria, and the hypodermic needle was in full activity.