V. UP THE RIVER OF TAPIRS
After leaving Caceres we went up the Sepotuba, which in the local Indian dialect means River of Tapirs. This river is only navigable for boats of size when the water is high. It is a swift, fairly clear stream, rushing down from the Plan Alto, the high uplands, through the tropical lowland forest. On the right hand, or western bank, and here and there on the left bank, the forest is broken by natural pastures and meadows, and at one of these places, known as Porto Campo, sixty or seventy miles above the mouth, there is a good-sized cattle-ranch. Here we halted, because the launch, and the two pranchas - native trading-boats with houses on their decks - which it towed, could not carry our entire party and outfit. Accordingly most of the baggage and some of the party were sent ahead to where we were to meet our pack-train, at Tapirapoan. Meanwhile the rest of us made our first camp under tents at Porto Campo, to wait the return of the boats. The tents were placed in a line, with the tent of Colonel Rondon and the tent in which Kermit and I slept, in the middle, beside one another. In front of these two, on tall poles, stood the Brazilian and American flags; and at sunrise and sunset the flags were hoisted and hauled down while the trumpet sounded and all of us stood at attention. Camp was pitched beside the ranch buildings. In the trees near the tents grew wonderful violet orchids.
Many birds were around us; I saw some of them, and Cherrie and Miller many, many more. They ranged from party-colored macaws, green parrots, and big gregarious cuckoos down to a brilliant green-and-chestnut kingfisher, five and a quarter inches long, and a tiny orange-and- green manakin, smaller than any bird I have ever seen except a hummer. We also saw a bird that really was protectively colored; a kind of whippoorwill which even the sharp-eyed naturalists could only make out because it moved its head. We saw orange-bellied squirrels with showy orange tails. Lizards were common. We killed our first poisonous snake (the second we had seen), an evil lance-headed jararaca that was swimming the river. We also saw a black-and-orange harmless snake, nearly eight feet long, which we were told was akin to the mussurama; and various other snakes. One day while paddling in a canoe on the river, hoping that the dogs might drive a tapir to us, they drove into the water a couple of small bush deer instead. There was no point in shooting them; we caught them with ropes thrown over their heads; for the naturalists needed them as specimens, and all of us needed the meat. One of the men was stung by a single big red maribundi wasp. For twenty-four hours he was in great pain and incapacitated for work. In a lagoon two of the dogs had the tips of their tails bitten off by piranhas as they swam, and the ranch hands told us that in this lagoon one of their hounds had been torn to pieces and completely devoured by the ravenous fish. It was a further illustration of the uncertainty of temper and behavior of these ferocious little monsters. In other lagoons they had again and again left us and our dogs unmolested. They vary locally in aggressiveness just as sharks and crocodiles in different seas and rivers vary.
On the morning of January 9th we started out for a tapir-hunt. Tapirs are hunted with canoes, as they dwell in thick jungle and take to the water when hounds follow them. In this region there were extensive papyrus-swamps and big lagoons, back from the river, and often the tapirs fled to these for refuge, throwing off the hounds. In these places it was exceedingly difficult to get them; our best chance was to keep to the river in canoes, and paddle toward the spot in the direction of which the hounds, by the noise, seemed to be heading. We started in four canoes. Three of them were Indian dugouts, very low in the water. The fourth was our Canadian canoe, a beauty; light, safe, roomy, made of thin slats of wood and cement-covered canvas. Colonel Rondon, Fiala with his camera, and I went in this canoe, together with two paddlers. The paddlers were natives of the poorer class. They were good men. The bowsman was of nearly pure white blood; the steersman was of nearly pure negro blood, and was evidently the stronger character and better man of the two. The other canoes carried a couple of fazendeiros, ranchmen, who had come up from Caceres with their dogs. These dugouts were manned by Indian and half-caste paddlers, and the fazendeiros, who were of nearly pure white blood, also at times paddled vigorously. All were dressed in substantially similar clothes, the difference being that those of the camaradas, the poorer men or laborers, were in tatters. In the canoes no man wore anything save a shirt, trousers, and hat, the feet being bare. On horseback they wore long leather leggings which were really simply high, rather flexible boots with the soles off; their spurs were on their tough bare feet. There was every gradation between and among the nearly pure whites, negroes, and Indians. On the whole, there was the most white blood in the upper ranks, and most Indian and negro blood among the camaradas; but there were exceptions in both classes, and there was no discrimination on account of color. All alike were courteous and friendly.