My eyes rested long upon the graceful white-painted hull of the R.M.S. Manco as she disappeared behind a bend of the Amazon River, more than 2200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. After 47 days of continuous travel aboard of her, I was at last standing on the Brazilian frontier, watching the steamer's plume of smoke still hanging lazily over the immense, brooding forests. More than a plume of smoke it was to me then; it was the final link that bound me to the outside world of civilisation. At last it disappeared. I turned and waded through the mud up to a small wooden hut built on poles.

It was the end of January, 1910, that saw me approaching this house, built on Brazilian terra firma - or rather terra aqua, for water was inundating the entire land. I had behind me the Amazon itself, and to the right the Javary River, while the little house that I was heading for was Esperanca, the official frontier station of Brazil. The opposite shore was Peru and presented an unbroken range of dense, swampy forest, grand but desolate to look upon.

A middle-aged man in uniform came towards me and greeted me cordially, in fact embraced me, and, ordering a servant to pull my baggage out of the water, led me up a ladder into the house. I told him that I intended to go up the Javary River, to a place called Remate de Males, where I would live with a medical friend of mine, whereupon he informed me that a launch was due this same night, which would immediately proceed to my proposed destination. Later in the evening the launch came and I embarked after being once more embraced by the courteous Cor. Monteiro, the frontier official. The captain of this small trading launch was an equally hospitable and courteous man; he invited me into his cabin and tried to explain that this river, and the town in particular, where we were going, was a most unhealthy and forbidding place, especially for a foreigner, but he added cheerfully that he knew of one white man, an Englishman, who had succeeded in living for several years on the Javary without being killed by the fever, but incidentally had drank himself to death.

The night was very dark and damp, and I did not see much of the passing scenery; a towering black wall of trees was my total impression during the journey. However, I managed at length to fall asleep on some coffee-bags near the engine and did not wake till the launch was exhausting its steam supply through its whistle.

My next impression was that of a low river bank fringed with dirty houses lighted by candles. People were sitting in hammocks smoking cigarettes, dogs were barking incessantly, and frogs and crickets were making a deafening noise when I walked up the main and only street of this little town, which was to be my headquarters for many months to come.

After some inquiry, I finally found my friend, Dr. M - - , sitting in a dark, dismal room in the so-called Hotel Agosto. With a graceful motion of his hand he pointed to a chair of ancient structure, indicating that having now travelled so many thousand miles to reach this glorious place, I was entitled to sit down and let repose overtake me. Indeed, I was in Remate de Males.

Never shall I forget that first night's experience with mosquitoes and ants. Besides this my debut in a hammock for a bed was a pronounced failure, until a merciful sleep temporarily took me from the sad realities.

Remate de Males lies just where a step farther would plunge one into an unmapped country. It is a little village built on poles; the last "blaze" of civilisation on the trail of the upper river. When the rainy winter season drives out of the forests every living creature that can not take refuge in the trees, the rubber-workers abandon the crude stages of the manufacture that they carry on there and gather in the village to make the best of what life has to offer them in this region. At such times the population rises to the number of some 500 souls, for the most part Brazilians and domesticated Indians or caboclos.

Nothing could better summarise the attractions (!) of the place than the name which has become fixed upon it. Translated into English this means "Culmination of Evils," Remate de Males.

Some thirty years ago, a prospector with his family and servants, in all about a score, arrived at this spot near the junction of the Javary and the Itecoahy rivers, close to the equator. They came by the only possible highway, the river, and decided to settle. Soon the infinite variety of destroyers of human life that abound on the upper Amazon began their work on the little household, reducing its number to four and threatening to wipe it out altogether. But the prospector stuck to it and eventually succeeded in giving mankind a firm hold on this wilderness. In memory of what he and succeeding settlers went through, the village received its cynically descriptive name.

Remate de Males, separated by weeks and weeks of journey by boat from the nearest spot of comparative civilisation down the river, has grown wonderfully since its pioneer days. Dismal as one finds it to be, if I can give an adequate description in these pages, it will be pronounced a monument to man's nature-conquering instincts, and ability. Surely no pioneers ever had a harder battle than these Brazilians, standing with one foot in "the white man's grave," as the Javary region is called in South America, while they faced innumerable dangers. The markets of the world need rubber, and the supplying of this gives them each year a few months' work in the forests at very high wages. I always try to remember these facts when I am tempted to harshly judge Remate de Males according to our standards; moreover, I can never look upon the place quite as an outsider. I formed pleasant friendships there and entered into the lives of many of its people, so I shall always think of it with affection. The village is placed where the Itecoahy runs at right angles into the Javary, the right-hand bank of the Itecoahy forming at once its main and its only street. The houses stand facing this street, all very primitive and all elevated on palm-trunk poles as far as possible above the usual high-water mark of the river. Everything, from the little sheet-iron church to the pig-sty, is built on poles. Indeed, if there is anything in the theory of evolution, it will not be many generations before the inhabitants and domestic animals are born equipped with stilts.

Opposite Remate de Males, across the Itecoahy, is a collection of some ten huts that form the village of Sao Francisco, while across the Javary is the somewhat larger village of Nazareth. Like every real metropolis, you see, Remate de Males has its suburbs. Nazareth is in Peruvian territory, the Javary forming the boundary between Brazil and Peru throughout its length of some 700 miles. This same boundary line is a source of amusing punctiliousness between the officials of each country. To cross it is an affair requiring the exercise of the limits of statesmanship. I well remember an incident that occurred during my stay in the village. A sojourner in our town, an Indian rubber-worker from the Ituhy River, had murdered a woman by strangling her. He escaped in a canoe to Nazareth before the Brazilian officials could capture him, and calmly took refuge on the porch of a house there, where he sat down in a hammock and commenced to smoke cigarettes, feeling confident that his pursuers would not invade Peruvian soil. But local diplomacy was equal to the emergency. Our officials went to the shore opposite Nazareth, and, hiding behind the trees, endeavoured to pick off their man with their .44 Winchesters, reasoning that though their crossing would be an international incident, no one could object to a bullet's crossing. Their poor aim was the weak spot in the plan. After a few vain shots had rattled against the sheet-iron walls of the house where the fugitive was sitting, he got up from among his friends and lost himself in the jungle, never to be heard of again.

About sixty-five houses, lining the bank of the Itecoahy River over a distance of what would be perhaps six blocks in New York City, make up Remate de Males. They are close together and each has a ladder reaching from the street to the main and only floor. At the bottom of every ladder appears a rudimentary pavement, probably five square feet in area and consisting of fifty or sixty whiskey and gin bottles placed with their necks downwards. Thus in the rainy season when the water covers the street to a height of seven feet, the ladders always have a solid foundation. The floors consist of split palm logs laid with the round side up. Palm leaves form the roofs, and rusty corrugated sheet-iron, for the most part, the walls. Each house has a sort of backyard and kitchen, also on stilts and reached by a bridge.

Through the roofs and rafters gambol all sorts of wretched pests. Underneath the houses roam pigs, goats, and other domestic animals, which sometimes appear in closer proximity than might be wished, owing to the spaces between the logs of the floor. That is in the dry season. In the winter, or the wet season, these animals are moved into the houses with you, and their places underneath are occupied by river creatures, alligators, water-snakes, and malignant, repulsive fish, of which persons outside South America know nothing.

Near the centre of the village is the "sky-scraper," the Hotel de Augusto, which boasts a story and a quarter in height. Farther along are the Intendencia, or Government building, painted blue, the post-office yellow, the Recreio Popular pink; beyond, the residence of Mons. Danon, the plutocrat of the village, and farther "downtown" the church, unpainted. Do not try to picture any of these places from familiar structures. They are all most unpretentious; their main point of difference architecturally from the rest of the village consists in more utterly neglected facades.

The post-office and the meteorological observatory, in one dilapidated house, presided over by a single self-important official, deserve description here. The postmaster himself is a pajama-clad gentleman, whose appearance is calculated to strike terror to the souls of humble seringueiros, or rubber-workers, who apply for letters only at long intervals. On each of these occasions I would see this important gentleman, who had the word coronel prefixed to his name, Joao Silva de Costa Cabral, throw up his hands, in utter despair at being disturbed, and slowly proceed to his desk from which he would produce the letters. With great pride this "Pooh-Bah" had a large sign painted over the door. The post-office over which he presides is by no means overworked, as only one steamer arrives every five weeks, or so, but still he has the appearance of being "driven." But when he fusses around his "Observatorio meteorologico," which consists of a maximum and minimum thermometer and a pluviometer, in a tightly closed box, raised above the ground on a tall pole, then indeed, his air would impress even the most blase town-sport. I was in the village when this observatory was installed, and after it had been running about a week, the mighty official called on me and asked me confidentially if I would not look the observatory over and see if it was all right.

My examination showed that the thermometers were screwed on tight, which accounted for the amazingly uniform readings shown on his chart. The pluviometer was inside the box, and therefore it would have been difficult to convince scientists that the clouds had not entirely skipped Remate de Males during the rainy season, unless the postmaster were to put the whole observatory under water by main force. He also had a chart showing the distribution of clouds on each day of the year. I noticed that the letter "N" occupied a suspiciously large percentage of the space on the chart, and when I asked him for the meaning of this he said that "N" - which in meteorological abbreviation means Nimbus - stood for "None" (in Portuguese Nao). And he thought that he must be right because it was the rainy season.

The hotel, in which I passed several months as a guest, until I finally decided to rent a hut for myself, had points about it which outdid anything that I have ever seen or heard of in comic papers about "summer boarding." The most noticeable feature was the quarter-of-a-story higher than any other house in the village. While this meant a lead as to quantity I could never see that it represented anything in actual quality. I would not have ventured up the ladder which gave access to the extra story without my Winchester in hand, and during the time I was there I never saw anyone else do so. The place was nominally a store-house, but having gone undisturbed for long periods it was an ideal sanctuary for hordes of vermin - and these the vermin of the Amazon, dangerous, poisonous, not merely the annoying species we know. Rats were there in abundance, also deadly scolopendra and centipedes; and large bird-eating spiders were daily seen promenading up and down the sheet-iron walls.

On the main floor the building had two large rooms across the centre, one on the front and one on the rear. At each side were four small rooms. The large front-room was used as a dining-room and had two broad tables of planed palm trunks. The side-rooms were bedrooms, generally speaking, though most of the time I was there some were used for stabling the pigs and goats, which had to be taken in owing to the rainy season.

It is a simple matter to keep a hotel on the upper Amazon. Each room in the Hotel de Augusto was neatly and chastely furnished with a pair of iron hooks from which to hang the hammock, an article one had to provide himself. There was nothing in the room besides the hooks. No complete privacy was possible because the corrugated sheet-iron partitions forming the walls did not extend to the roof. The floors were sections of palm trees, with the flat side down, making a succession of ridges with open spaces of about an inch between, through which the ground or the water, according to the season, was visible. The meals were of the usual monotonous fare typical of the region. Food is imported at an enormous cost to this remote place, since there is absolutely no local agriculture. Even sugar and rice, for instance, which are among the important products of Brazil, can be had in New York for about one-tenth of what the natives pay for them in Remate de Males. A can of condensed milk, made to sell in America for eight or nine cents, brings sixty cents on the upper Amazon, and preserved butter costs $1.20 a pound.

The following prices which I have had to pay during the wet season in this town will, doubtless, be of interest:

    One box of sardines $ 1.20 
    One pound of unrefined sugar .30 
    One roll of tobacco (16 pounds) 21.30 
    One basket of farinha retails in Para for $4.50 13.30 
    One bottle of ginger ale .60 
    One pound of potatoes .60 
    Calico with stamped pattern, pr. yd. .90 
    One Collins machete, N.Y. price, $1.00 12.00 
    One pair of men's shoes 11.00 
    One bottle of very plain port wine, 22,000 reis or 7.30

Under such circumstances, of course, the food supply is very poor. Except for a few dried cereals and staples, nothing is used but canned goods; the instances where small domestic animals are slaughtered are so few as to be negligible. Furthermore, as a rule, these very animals are converted into jerked meat to be kept for months and months. Some fish are taken from the river, but the Amazon fish are none too palatable generally speaking, with a few exceptions; besides, the natives are not skilful enough to prepare them to suit a civilised palate.

A typical, well provided table on the Amazon would afford dry farinha in the first place. This is the granulated root of the Macacheira plant, the Jatropha manihot, which to our palates would seem like desiccated sawdust, although it appears to be a necessity for the Brazilian. He pours it on his meat, into his soup, and even into his wine and jams. Next you would have a black bean, which for us lacks flavour even as much as the farinha. With this there would probably be rice, and on special occasions jerked beef, a product as tender and succulent as the sole of a riding boot. Great quantities of coffee are drunk, made very thick and prepared without milk or sugar. All these dishes are served at once, so that they promptly get cold and are even more tasteless before their turn comes to be devoured.

For five months I experienced this torturing menu at the hotel with never-ceasing regularity. The only change I ever noticed was on Sundays or days of feast when beans might occupy the other end of the table.

But what can the Brazilians do? The cost of living is about ten times as high as in New York. Agriculture is impossible in the regions where the land is flooded annually, and the difficulties of shipping are enormous. When I left the hotel and started housekeeping on my own account, I found that I could not do a great deal better. By specialising on one thing at a time I avoided monotony to some extent, but then it was probably only because I was a "new broom" at the business.

As illustrating the community life that we enjoyed at the hotel, I will relate a happening that I have set down in my notes as an instance of the great mortality of this region. One afternoon a woman's three-months-old child was suddenly taken ill. The child grew worse rapidly and the mother finally decided that it was going to die. Her husband was up the river on the rubber estates and she did not want to be left alone. So she came to the hotel with the child and besought them to let her in. The infant was placed in a hammock where it lay crying pitifully. At last the wailings of the poor little creature became less frequent and the child died.

Before the body was quite cold the mother and the landlady commenced clearing a table in the dining-room. I looked at this performance in astonishment because it was now evident that they were going to prepare a "lit de parade" there, close to the tables where our meals were served. The body was then brought in, dressed in a white robe adorned with pink, yellow, and sky-blue silk ribbons. Loose leaves and branches were scattered over the little emaciated body, care being taken not to conceal any of the fancy silk ribbons. Empty whiskey and gin bottles were placed around the bier, a candle stuck in the mouth of each bottle, and then the whole thing was lighted up.

It was now getting dark fast, and as the doors were wide open, a great crowd was soon attracted by the brilliant display. All the "400" of the little rubber town seemed to pour in a steady stream into the dining-room. It was a new experience, even in this hotel where I had eaten with water up to my knees, to take a meal with a funeral going on three feet away. We had to partake of our food with the body close by and the candle smoke blowing in our faces, adding more local colour to our jerked beef and beans than was desirable. More and more people came in to pay their respects to the child that hardly any one had known while it was alive. Through it all the mother sat on a trunk in a corner peacefully smoking her pipe, evidently proud of the celebration that was going on in honour of her deceased offspring.

The kitchen boy brought in a large tray with cups of steaming coffee; biscuits also were carried around to the spectators who sat against the wall on wooden boxes. The women seemed to get the most enjoyment out of the mourning; drinking black coffee, smoking their pipes, and paying little attention to the cause of their being there, only too happy to have an official occasion to show off their finest skirts. The men had assembled around the other table, which had been cleared in the meantime, and they soon sent the boy out for whiskey and beer, passing away the time playing cards.

I modestly inquired how long this feast was going to last, because my room adjoined the dining-room and was separated only by a thin sheet-iron partition open at the top. The landlady, with a happy smile, informed me that the mourning would continue till the early hours, when a launch would arrive to transport the deceased and the guests to the cemetery. This was about four miles down the Javary River and was a lonely, half-submerged spot.

There was nothing for me to do but submit and make the best of it. All night the mourners went on, the women drinking black coffee, while the men gambled and drank whiskey in great quantities, the empty bottles being employed immediately as additional candlesticks. Towards morning, due to their heroic efforts, a multitude of bottles totally obliterated the "lit de parade" from view. I managed to fall asleep completely exhausted when the guests finally went off at nine o'clock. The doctor diagnosed the case of the dead child as chronic indigestion, the result of the mother's feeding a three-months-old infant on jerked beef and black beans.

Life in the hotel during the rainy season is variegated. I have spoken of having eaten a meal with water up to my knees. That happened often during the weeks when the river was at its highest level. Once when we were having our noon-day meal during the extreme high-water period a man came paddling his canoe in at the open door, sailed past us, splashing a little water on the table as he did so, and navigated through to the back room where he delivered some supplies.

During this feat everybody displayed the cheerful and courteous disposition usual to the Brazilians. At this season you must wear wading boots to eat a meal or do anything else about the house. Sleeping is somewhat easier as the hammocks are suspended about three feet above the level of the water, but an involuntary plunge is a thing not entirely unknown to an amateur sleeping in a hammock; I know this from personal experience.

Every morning the butcher comes to the village between five and six o'clock and sharpens his knife while he awaits calls for his ministrations. He is an undersized man with very broad shoulders and a face remarkable for its cunning, cruel expression. His olive-brown complexion, slanting eyes, high cheek-bones, and sharp-filed teeth are all signs of his coming from the great unknown interior. His business here is to slaughter the cattle of the town. He does this deftly by thrusting a long-bladed knife into the neck of the animal at the base of the brain, until it severs the medulla, whereupon the animal collapses without any visible sign of suffering. It is then skinned and the intestines thrown into the water where they are immediately devoured by a small but voracious fish called the candiroo-escrivao. This whole operation is carried on inside the house, in the back-room, as long as the land is flooded.

It must be remembered that during the rainy season an area equal in size to about a third of the United States is entirely submerged. There is a network of rivers that eventually find their way into the Amazon and the land between is completely inundated. In all this immense territory there are only a few spots of sufficient elevation to be left high and dry. Remate de Males, as I have explained, is at the junction of the Itecoahy and the Javary rivers, the latter 700 miles in length, and thirty miles or so below the village the Javary joins the Amazon proper, or Solimoes as it is called here. Thus we are in the heart of the submerged region. When I first arrived in February, 1910, I found the river still confined to its channel, with the water about ten feet below the level of the street. A few weeks later it was impossible to take a single step on dry land anywhere.

The water that drives the rubber-workers out of the forests also drives all animal life to safety. Some of the creatures seek refuge in the village. I remember that we once had a huge alligator take temporary lodgings in the backyard of the hotel after he had travelled no one knows how many miles through the inundated forest. At all hours we could hear him making excursions under the house to snatch refuse thrown from the kitchen, but we always knew he would have welcomed more eagerly a member of the household who might drop his way.

And now a few words about the people who lived under the conditions I have described, and who keep up the struggle even though, as they themselves have put it, "each ton of rubber costs a human life."

In the first place I must correct any erroneous impression as to neatness that may have been formed by my remarks about the animals being kept in the dwellings during the rainy season. The Brazilians are scrupulous about their personal cleanliness, and in fact, go through difficulties to secure a bath which might well discourage more civilised folk.

No one would dream, for an instant, of immersing himself in the rivers. In nine cases out of ten it would amount to suicide to do so, and the natives have bathhouses along the shores; more literally bathhouses than ours, for their baths are actually taken in them. They are just as careful about clothing being aired and clean. Indeed, the main item of the Brazilian woman's housekeeping is the washing. The cooking is rather happy-go-lucky; and there is no use cleaning and polishing iron walls; they get rusty anyhow.

The people are all occupied with the rubber industry and the town owes its existence to the economic necessity of having here a shipping and trading point for the product. The rubber is gathered farther up along the shores of the Javary and the Itecoahy and is transported by launch and canoe to Remate de Males. Here it is shipped directly or sold to travelling dealers who send it down to Manaos or Para via the boat of the Amazon Steam Navigation Co., which comes up during the rainy season. Thence it goes to the ports of the world.

The rubber-worker is a well paid labourer even though he belongs to the unskilled class. The tapping of the rubber trees and the smoking of the milk pays from eight to ten dollars a day in American gold. This, to him, of course, is riches and the men labour here in order that they may go back to their own province as wealthy men. Nothing else will yield this return; the land is not used for other products. It is hard to see how agriculture or cattle-raising could be carried on in this region, and, if they could, they would certainly not return more than one fourth or one fifth of what the rubber industry does. The owners of the great rubber estates, or seringales, are enormously wealthy men.

There are fewer women than men in Remate de Males, and none of the former is beautiful. They are for the most part Indians or Brazilians from the province of Ceara, with very dark skin, hair, and eyes, and teeth filed like shark's teeth. They go barefooted, as a rule. Here you will find all the incongruities typical of a race taking the first step in civilisation. The women show in their dress how the well-paid men lavish on them the extravagances that appeal to the lingering savage left in their simple natures.

Women, who have spent most of their isolated lives in utterly uncivilised surroundings, will suddenly be brought into a community where other women are found, and immediately the instinct of self-adornment is brought into full play. Each of them falls under the sway of "Dame Fashion" - for there are the latest things, even on the upper Amazon. Screaming colours are favoured; a red skirt with green stars was considered at one time the height of fashion, until an inventive woman discovered that yellow dots could also be worked in. In addition to these dresses, the women will squander money on elegant patent-leather French slippers (with which they generally neglect to wear stockings), and use silk handkerchiefs perfumed with the finest Parisian eau de Cologne, bought at a cost of from fourteen to fifteen dollars a bottle. Arrayed in all her glory on some gala occasion, the whole effect enhanced by the use of a short pipe from which she blows volumes of smoke, the woman of Remate de Males is a unique sight.