Friday, November 9, 2012

The Plane from Iquitos [Iquitos, Peru- 1959]

Evil-eye, Chief of the Amazon Tribe

It was December 2, 1959, I was sitting on a small prop-plane leaving Iquitos, Peru for a trip flying down and above the Amazon, towards the opening of the mouth of the potent river—, heading for Manaus. 
       As we flew low one could see the waters of the Amazon, its width and the small villages along the way, it always impressed me, but more so from this birds-eye view the Amazon and its snake like windings, and squid like form, with all its tentacles—its tributaries, it all was so enormous.  It would get smaller, and then wider as you flew along its stretched out body, it was four miles wide at one point, and that was nothing compared to other spots of the Amazon. 
       If not water, the Amazon was all jungle, even by the banks of the river, and the tops of the trees, it all looked like a sea of green, towering green, one-hundred and fifteen to one-hundred and thirty-feet high. 
       Pink-Dolphins jumping through the water’s as if they were in a playground; birds parched on high branches sleeping: little monkeys jumping from branch to branch.
       I had heard the Amazon could produce as much water flow as any seven rivers in the world combined; that it was the longest river in the world, seemingly always a debate between the Nile.

       As we continued to fly low down the river about one-hundred and twenty-five miles to the east we started to go inland some. The view was tremendous, the height of the trees, continued to amaze me.  With my binoculars I could see what the co-pilot called The Big Lazy Birds sleeping in the trees; we were less than one-hundred feet over the tops of the trees, and some of the monkeys were going crazy.  Then all of a sudden I heard a shot, it hit the wing of the plane, and then another shot. 
       The copilot, Henry Trakl, ran back towards where I was sitting, looked out my window didn’t see anything unusual, then Captain Derry, came, “We’ve been hit by something, we’re losing fuel, not sure exactly where we can land but I’ll see—try I mean…” then he went back to his cockpit where the copilot was.  All eight of us now were looking out the windows.
       There was Dana and Kim, from Hong Kong, both spoke good English, and then there was Lora from someplace in Florida, she was an accountant, a single on this trip, leaving her boyfriend, back in Florida, evidently less enthusiastic.  Then there was the man from Budapest of all places a professor of some kind, I just called him Professor, he also was alone.  Then there was the three women from someplace in the South West of the United States, they were on a world tour of sorts, and had left Barrow, Alaska to join us.  Martha, the elder of the three women, seeming in their early sixties wee most chatty, and talked about their last rip, in particular, Martha walking five-hundred feet out onto the ice of the Chukchi Sea.

       And now the plane started to lower itself even more so, the captain had seen an opening along with several huts; one big hut was right under them.  The pilot circled the area, the engines were both choking, the propellers were grunting in spurts.  By the large hut, in what looked like the center of the village—a courtyard of sorts—so the pilot felt it was the only accommodating spot for a crash landing. 

Somehow the captain had landed the plane, but the front end of the plane went headfirst into one of the several huts, both wheels broke off, a wing was bent, the torso of the plane was damaged, and there was no way would we be able to use this courtyard as a runway to escape, if even we could find a way to repair the plane.  We were all grounded.
        As we all quickly stepped out of the plane, the village looked deserted; not one fleshly body in sight. We all seemingly started going our own ways—every-which-way, kind of walking in a daze, a dizzy state of shock, we found ourselves in two groups of five. The Captain’s group was headed towards the big wooden hut   to see if he could talk to any of the tribe’s people.  I was walking with the other five towards the smaller huts. 
       As we went from one hut to the next, it come into view, the families were nuclear families, large families, much bedding was displayed about—mats to sleep on for the most part. Now inside one of the huts, on a table we five noticed—the three women from Barrow, and the professor—noticed, cameras of all kinds, watches, rings, jewelry. It was as if these items were prizes, or for that matter, trophies of sorts; collectables.
       Then after a moment’s deliberation, I got thinking we needed to catch up with the Captain’s group, supposedly in the big hutch. 
       Once in the big hutch, I noticed a basement of some kind, let’s call it a dugout in lack of a better word and I noticed the others were down in it—the captain’s group.  It was much cooler there, so it looked than the upper section where I was. 
     “Troy,” yelled the Captain, “It looks like these inhabitants are not friendly creatures.”  Three hours had gone by for him to have figured that out I thought.        He added, “Let’s take our jewelry off and leave it down here so when they come they will realize we are friendly.”  Everyone looked at him, and then started taking it off, everyone but me that is.
       “Troy!” yelled the Captain again, “Are you going along with this or what?”
       “No, sorry Captain, but you’re not in charge anymore.” 
       Being an old soldier, I figured I’d stay alive longer, by following my instincts, my old unpolished skills, more so than his flying skills, which we didn’t need on any longer. 
    “Listen,” I told the captain, “I am not going to leave them anything for a trophy, and I do not see any live people looking like me walking around; in other words no welcoming party.  Matter of fact, I see a hole in the wing of the plane, that was perhaps a rifle used by one of the natives from this here village to shoot us down. 
       “Second, I wouldn’t doubt if they were looking for us this very minute to desecrate our bodies, and burn the plane to smithereens, so no tales can be told.
       “Third, I suggest we go west one-hundred and fifty miles, back to Iquitos.  It should take fifteen-days walking, at perhaps ten-miles per day in the jungle.  We should also burn this village so to let them know we are not going to be easy pickings, plus they will need to re-supply, and this will damage some of that.  And we may need our jewelry to keep us alive, if we find some nice natives in this beastly jungle who like bartering.”
        I wasn’t real sure if we should burn the village, but I said it, and I thought it was the wise thing to do, because  once they seen we were not in the plane they’d come looking for us: hence, it might give us a running start.
       “It sounds better than my plan I have to admit.” Said the Captain, “And so, where do we go from here?” he asked.
       I had thought we needed to go in two groups, if one didn’t make it out of the jungle to safety, possibly the other group would.  And although I didn’t say it, I felt the natives would seek out one of two groups—perhaps thinking it was the only one, and killing all within that group. This would allow the other group to escape without chase.
       We put torches to the village huts and the plane, grabbed some meat that was hanging poles and vines. I had grabbed a gun from the plane already, the Captain said he never shot one, so he’d have no use for it. It had six bullets in its revolving chambers; it was worth its weight in gold to me.  Then with some skins tied to our backs to use as bedding, and a few filled water we found in the huts we headed west.

The five that were with me seemed to want to stay with me, and so we, the Captain and I, both had our teams figured out.  And so into the wild we went, trekking  the deep rooted jungle with all its extending roots, hanging leafage, and untiring creatures that crossed our paths. 
       Fatigued with sore feet, that was the readout among most of us the first six hours of on foot flight through the jungle: trying to get to a  location, possible find a boat somehow near the banks of the Amazon, to help us on our trip back to Iquitos. I told myself anything was possible, and you had to have a plan for the group, and we could modify it along the way. But we were quite a distance from banks of the river at present.
       I had already broken a toenail to my big right toe as I had fallen several times on extending roots. Water was getting into my boots didn’t help either, yet I dare not take them off, too many stones, roots, and those big hairy looking red tarantulas. By and large, they came out of their holes under the tree roots to see what all the commotion was about, and hid back under them, paying us little to no attention, once seen.

         After a while longer, I had taken my shoes off to massage my feet, and walked barefoot over the mucky and slimy jungle patches of leafage and vegetation; jumping over old moss ridden trees laying in our way; some of the trees were so huge I looked like a grasshopper standing next to them.  And everywhere were ants of different design—red, black, many carrying leaf home, five times their size; some so large, they had a hard time balancing them on their backs.  Some ants were huge, others small, all seemingly in a marching mode—stretching deep into the jungle to who knows were. And there was quite an assortment of butterflies, some with eyes in their wings.
       The Professor fell and broke his nose trying to climb an embankment, over roots, roots and more roots.  The three older women were agonizingly tired, and so we stopped to make camp, and I tried to make a fire but everything seemed damp, too damp for the moment.  After an hour I did succeed.
       It was about 10:00 p.m., when I heard some sounds in the nearby density of the jungle. I grabbed a burning stick, my revolver in one hand the fiery stick in the other, thinking animals were a bit more cautious with a flaming piece of fire in front of their noses. And then he appeared, a native, he stood at the edge of an opening to our camp, with a striking creative smile, he then came walking into our camp, I lowered my revolver,  “No want trouble,” he mumbled. He was almost completely naked. 
       After some curtsies were given between him and us, He had explained to us, he had seen a few white people before, learned several words, like: trouble, no, yes, want, eat, hurt, kill, but that was the extent of it. Through his expressions, body language, and those few words, I had figured out, he had heard about us, through some other natives; that we had burnt their village down, and they were looking to kill us all, but he was of another village. He also expressed, that we were very brave to have done that.
       He took us back to his village, it was less than an hour’s walk, and he gave me some ointment for my big toe, and reset the Professors nose somehow. We were for the most part, strange heroes to them.  The women were given hammocks to rest.  And as I looked about the five huts that the village consisted of, I noticed on top of a tree there was a man looking about, a sentry that is, as if in a canopy that circled his whole village. 
    “Man…is guard,” he tried to explain to me. Evidently one needed, in case those from a nearby village might one day decide to exterminate them, the village being the very one we put fire to.

Mana was our new and very kind host’s name. We expected to stay with him,  within his village no longer than two days and be on our way, lest we stay longer and cause him trouble with the village folk we had put aflame to. So he would not get in trouble we would leave, that was our premise, our plan, but he personally extended it, the reason being, his tribe of no more than twenty, took a profound interest in us.  As it was, they had a great celebration for us, and cooked a boar, and fish and even allowed the guards who guarded the village from the canopy, to get involved with the celebration, its festivities; the guard I got to know was named Kana. 

It was morning on the fifth day, I felt we had stayed too long, yet it seemed Mana didn’t want to let us go.  The three older women got along well with helping the youth of the village, and the Professor was as happy as a baby duck just walking around trying to learn their language and customs.  I was more into the adventure part I suppose, and took a few walks with Mana here and there outside of the village, and the night before, we had sought out a  tributary that lead back into  the Amazon waters, while looking for anacondas, but didn’t find any. None the less, we found dugout boat, and I figured that would do, have to do.
        Mana was going to point the way for us this morning back to the Amazon River, that tributary we had found where the dugout boat was.  Actually he drew a map late last night, and we expected to be on our way as soon as sunrise.
       As we all gathered into the center of the village, Mana looked up in the canopy, that stretched from tree to tree around the village,  at the spot Kana was suppose to be guarding, and he wasn’t there.  He then looked at me again, he looked a little ill, and then looked about, into other areas of the high trees, and some reaching higher than a fifteen storey building, but Kana was nowhere to be found. Mana looked at me again; even more ill-fated than before, as if an instinctive, death mask had been crushed into his face and skull. 
        “Hush,” he said to us all, we were the only ones making noise in the jungle, all the birds in the trees had left—and that was a sign of danger.
       Mana’s eyes showed bereavement, and then it hit me, we were the group that would not make it out of the jungle, the 50-50 proposition, I had forecasted: I should have listened to my intuition and left.
       And at that thought, at that very moment, before I could let the carbon out of my lungs, and take in fresh oxygen, a spear went through Mana’s back, piercing his heart, coming out the other side.  He dropped to his knees, then several more spears came, like lightning rods out of nowhere, all hitting the men first, after that the women and kids.  I shot wildly two rounds out of my gun, then three more into the gray darkness of the penetrating jungle, blindly shot, and hit three natives with five bullets, they fell forward out of the leafage.
       No one had a chance to get to a weapon, and no one else could see where the enemy was. I reloaded my pistol, and simply sprayed the area with bullets, where the spears were coming out of.  Out of the six shots, I got three more of the enemy.  And I stood there, just stood there with bodies all around, one bullet in my pocket left, but I dare not try for it I told myself, if I did, I’d not see the spears coming, and so I looked dreadfully about; inch by inch covering a circle around the village—I had learned to look in a three dimensional way, because life is three dimensional, so I looked up, out, and down. 
       I saw from a distance a tall, very tall lean man, with a painted face. He didn’t come close to me, he kept his distance, possibly for two reasons I thought, one: I had the gun, and he didn’t know how many bullets it had, which was none for the moment; and two, he wanted to show me what my  presence created, possibly the disruption of what he considered harmony. The professor and the three women were dead, Mana was now dead,  Kana also,  I really didn’t know who was left alive and to my observation all the twenty or so tribe’s people were either dead, or fled, I couldn’t say for sure.  But there was no way for me to escape, I was in the center of it, it was proving to be a hell of a day.
    The painted man gave me a bow of bravery, and a smirk of contempt, and then walked away, as did everyone else.  And then a spear came towards me, from the tree above, not all that far away—I  thought about the bullet in my pocket, but that was my last thought, I knew I was dead—I wanted him to turn around but he didn’t, he was showing me  I was insignificant—and ……….dead, but I wasn’t dead, was I?

Written March, 2003 (in St. Paul, Minnesota) originally published in the short story book:  “Dracula’s Ghost” © 2003; reedited for publication in a new book, October, 2012.  Drawing of the Chief Evil-eye, by the author, in 2003    (about 800-words have been cut from the original story). Part one of three.

Note: in 2000 A.D., the author took a trip by boat down the Amazon, of Peru, starting from Iquitos, 125-miles, then into the jungle on foot, and to a lodge, there he stayed for five days, as he visited areas, along with one village, where he talked to the chief medicine man. He also went anaconda and tarantula searching at night;  saw the landscape, as described in the story “The Plane from Iquitos,” ; saw: ants, monkeys and strange looking butterfly’s; and walked around a  scientific canopy built some years prior that overlooked the  jungle area, and its top he calls the Green Sea, some 120-feet high. Thus, that is where this story comes from, although of course he has fictionalized much of it.