Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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moment. The jangada was moored to the bank with solid cables, so that
it could not be carried away by the current when it floated off.
Quite a tribe from one hundred and fifty to two hundred Indians,
without counting the population of the village, had come to assist at
the interesting spectacle.
They were all keenly on the watch, and silence reigned over the
Toward five o'clock in the evening the water had reached a level
higher than that of the night before--by more than a foot--and the
bank had already entirely disappeared beneath the liquid covering.
A certain groaning arose among the planks of the enormous structure,
but there was still wanting a few inches before it was quite lifted
and detached from the ground.
For an hour the groanings increased. The joists grated on all sides.
A struggle was going on in which little by little the trunks were
being dragged from their sandy bed.
Toward half-past six cries of joy arose. The jangada floated at last,
and the current took it toward the middle of the river, but, in
obedience to the cables, it quietly took up its position near the
bank at the moment that Padre Passanha gave it his blessing, as if it
were a vessel launched into the sea whose destinies are in the hands
of the Most High!
FROM IQUITOS TO PEVAS
ON THE 6th of June, the very next day, Joam Garral and his people
bade good-by to the superintendent and the Indians and negroes who
were to stay behind at the fazenda. At six o'clock in the morning the
jangada received all its passengers, or rather inhabitants, and each
of them took possession of his cabin, or perhaps we had better say
The moment of departure had come. Araujo, the pilot, got into his
place at the bow, and the crew, armed with their long poles, went to
their proper quarters.
Joam Garral, assisted by Benito and Manoel, superintended the
At the command of the pilot the ropes were eased off, and the poles
applied to the bank so as to give the jangada a start. The current
was not long in seizing it, and coasting the left bank, the islands
of Iquitos and Parianta were passed on the right.
The voyage had commenced--where would it finish? In Para, at Belem,
eight hundred leagues from this little Peruvian village, if nothing
happened to modify the route. How would it finish? That was the
secret of the future.
The weather was magnificent. A pleasant _"pampero"_ tempered the
ardor of the sun--one of those winds which in June or July come from
off the Cordilleras, many hundred leagues away, after having swept
across the huge plain of the Sacramento. Had the raft been provided
with masts and sails she would have felt the effects of the breeze,
and her speed would have been greater; but owing to the sinuosities
of the river and its abrupt changes, which they were bound to follow,
they had had to renounce such assistance.
In a flat district like that through which the Amazon flows, which is
almost a boundless plain, the gradient of the river bed is scarcely
perceptible. It has been calculated that between Tabatinga on the
Brazilian frontier, and the source of this huge body of water, the
difference of level does not exceed a decimeter in each league. There
is no other river in the world whose inclination is so slight.
It follows from this that the average speed of the current cannot be
estimated at more than two leagues in twenty-four hours, and
sometimes, while the droughts are on, it is even less. However,
during the period of the floods it has been known to increase to
between thirty and forty kilometers.
Happily, it was under these latter conditions that the jangada was to
proceed; but, cumbrous in its movements, it could not keep up to the
speed of the current which ran past it. There are also to be taken
into account the stoppages occasioned by the bends in the river, the
numerous islands which had to be rounded, the shoals which had to be
avoided, and the hours of halting, which were necessarily lost when
the night was too dark to advance securely, so that we cannot allow
more than twenty-five kilometers for each twenty-four hours.
In addition, the surface of the water is far from being completely
clear. Trees still green, vegetable remains, islets of plants
constantly torn from the banks, formed quite a flotilla of fragments
carried on by the currents, and were so many obstacles to speedy
The mouth of the Nanay was soon passed, and lost to sight behind a
point on the left bank, which, with its carpet of russet grasses
tinted by the sun, formed a ruddy relief to the green forests on the
The jangada took the center of the stream between the numerous
picturesque islands, of which there are a dozen between Iquitos and
Araujo, who did not forget to clear his vision and his memory by an
occasional application to his demijohn, maneuvered very ably when
passing through this archipelago. At his word of command fifty poles
from each side of the raft were raised in the air, and struck the
water with an automatic movement very curious to behold.
While this was going on, Yaquita, aided by Lina and Cybele, was
getting everything in order, and the Indian cooks were preparing the
As for the two young fellows and Minha, they were walking up and down
in company with Padre Passanha, and from time to time the lady
stopped and watered the plants which were placed about the base of
"Well, padre," said Benito, "do you know a more agreeable way of
"No, my dear boy," replied the padre; "it is truly traveling with all
"And without any fatigue," added Manoel; "we might do hundreds of
thousands of miles in this way."
"And," said Minha, "you do not repent having taken passage with us?
Does it not seem to you as if we were afloat on an island drifted
quietly away from the bed of the river with its prairies and its
"Only?" repeated the padre.
"Only we have made the island with our own hands; it belongs to us,
and I prefer it to all the islands of the Amazon. I have a right to
be proud of it."
"Yes, my daughter; and I absolve you from your pride. Besides, I am
not allowed to scold you in the presence of Manoel!"
"But, on the other hand," replied she, gayly, "you should teach
Manoel to scold me when I deserve it. He is a great deal too
indulgent to my little self."
"Well, then, dear Minha," said Manoel, "I shall profit by that
permission to remind you----"
"That you were very busy in the library at the fazenda, and that you
promised to make me very learned about everything connected with the
Upper Amazon. We know very little about it in Para, and here we have
been passing several islands and you have not even told me their
"What is the good of that?" said she.
"Yes; what is the good of it?" repeated Benito. "What can be the use
of remembering the hundreds of names in the 'Tupi' dialect with which
these islands are dressed out? It is enough to know them. The
Americans are much more practical with their Mississippi islands;
they number then----"
"As they number the avenues and streets of their towns," replied
Manoel. "Frankly, I don't care much for that numerical system; it
conveys nothing to the imagination--Sixty-fourth Island or
Sixty-fifth Island, any more than Sixth Street or Third Avenue. Don't
you agree with me, Minha?"
"Yes, Manoel; though I am of somewhat the same way of thinking as my
brother. But even if we do not know their names, the islands of our
great river are truly splendid! See how they rest under the shadows
of those gigantic palm-trees with their drooping leaves! And the
girdle of reeds which encircles them through which a pirogue can with
difficulty make its way! And the mangrove trees, whose fantastic
roots buttress them to the bank like the claws of some gigantic crab!
Yes, the islands are beautiful, but, beautiful as they are, they
cannot equal the one we have made our own!"
"My little Minha is enthusiastic to-day," said the padre.
"Ah, padre! I am so happy to see everybody happy around em!"
At this moment the voice of Yaquita was heard calling Minha into the
The young girl smilingly ran off.
"You will have an amiable companion," said the padre. "All the joy of
the house goes away with you, my friend."
"Brave little sister!" said Benito, "we shall miss her greatly, and
the padre is right. However, if you do not marry her, Manoel--there
is still time--she will stay with us."
"She will stay with you, Benito," replied Manoel. "Believe me, I have
a presentiment that we shall all be reunited!"