Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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and Yaquita and her daughter did their utmost in persuasion. But the
Franciscan had to visit on that evening an Indian who was lying ill
at Cocha, and he heartily thanked the hospitable family and departed,
not without taking a few presents, which would be well received by
the neophytes of the mission.
For two days Araujo was very busy. The bed of the river gradually
enlarged, but the islands became more numerous, and the current,
embarrassed by these obstacles, increased in strength. Great care was
necessary in passing between the islands of Cabello-Cocha, Tarapote,
and Cacao. Many stoppages had to be made, and occasionally they were
obliged to pole off the jangada, which now and then threatened to run
aground. Every one assisted in the work, and it was under these
difficult circumstances that, on the evening of the 20th of June,
they found themselves at Nuestra-Senora-di-Loreto.
Loreto is the last Peruvian town situated on the left bank of the
river before arriving at the Brazilian frontier. It is only a little
village, composed of about twenty houses, grouped on a slightly
undulating bank, formed of ocherous earth and clay.
It was in 1770 that this mission was founded by the Jesuit
missionaries. The Ticuma Indians, who inhabit the territories on the
north of the river, are natives with ruddy skins, bushy hair, and
striped designs on their faces, making them look like the lacquer on
a Chinese table. Both men and women are simply clothed, with cotton
bands bound round their things and stomachs. They are now not more
than two hundred in number, and on the banks of the Atacoari are
found the last traces of a nation which was formerly so powerful
under its famous chiefs.
At Loreto there also live a few Peruvian soldiers and two or three
Portuguese merchants, trading in cotton stuffs, salt fish, and
Benito went ashore, to buy, if possible, a few bales of this smilax,
which is always so much in demand in the markets of the Amazon. Joam
Garral, occupied all the time in the work which gave him not a
moment's rest, did not stir. Yaquita, her daughter, and Manoel also
remained on board. The mosquitoes of Loreto have a deserved
reputation for driving away such visitors as do not care to leave
much of their blood with the redoubtable diptera.
Manoel had a few appropriate words to say about these insects, and
they were not of a nature to encourage an inclination to brave their
"They say that all the new species which infest the banks of the
Amazon collect at the village of Loreto. I believe it, but do not
wish to confirm it. There, Minha, you can take your choice between
the gray mosquito, the hairy mosquito, the white-clawed mosquito, the
dwarf mosquito, the trumpeter, the little fifer, the urtiquis, the
harlequin, the big black, and the red of the woods; or rather they
make take their choice of you for a little repast, and you will come
back hardly recognizable! I fancy these bloodthirsty diptera guard
the Brazilian frontier considerably better than the poverty-stricken
soldiers we see on the bank."
"But if everything is of use in nature," asked Minha, "what is the
use of mosquitoes?"
"They minister to the happiness of entomologists," replied Manoel;
"and I should be much embarrassed to find a better explanation."
What Manoel had said of the Loreto mosquitoes was only too true. When
Benito had finished his business and returned on board, his face and
hands were tattooed with thousands of red points, without counting
some chigoes, which, in spite of the leather of his boots, had
introduced themselves beneath his toes.
"Let us set off this very instant," said Benito, "or these wretched
insects will invade us, and the jangada will become uninhabitable!"
"And we shall take them into Para," said Manoel, "where there are
already quite enough for its own needs."
And so, in order not to pass even the night near the banks, the
jangada pushed off into the stream.
On leaving Loreto the Amazon turns slightly toward the southwest,
between the islands of Arava, Cuyari, and Urucutea. The jangada then
glided along the black waters of the Cajaru, as they mingled with the
white stream of the Amazon. After having passed this tributary on the
left, it peacefully arrived during the evening of the 23d of June
alongside the large island of Jahuma.
The setting of the sun on a clear horizon, free from all haze,
announced one of those beautiful tropical nights which are unknown in
the temperate zones. A light breeze freshened the air; the moon arose
in the constellated depths of the sky, and for several hours took the
place of the twilight which is absent from these latitudes. But even
during this period the stars shone with unequaled purity. The immense
plain seemed to stretch into the infinite like a sea, and at the
extremity of the axis, which measures more than two hundred thousand
millions of leagues, there appeared on the north the single diamond
of the pole star, on the south the four brilliants of the Southern
The trees on the left bank and on the island of Jahuma stood up in
sharp black outline. There were recognizable in the undecided
_silhouettes_ the trunks, or rather columns, of _"copahus,"_ which
spread out in umbrellas, groups of _"sandis,"_ from which is
extracted the thick and sugared milk, intoxicating as wine itself,
and _"vignaticos"_ eighty feet high, whose summits shake at the
passage of the lightest currents of air. "What a magnificent sermon
are these forests of the Amazon!" has been justly said. Yes; and we
might add, "What a magnificent hymn there is in the nights of the
The birds were giving forth their last evening notes--_"bentivis,"_
who hang their nests on the bank-side reeds; _"niambus,"_ a kind of
partridge, whose song is composed of four notes, in perfect accord;
_"kamichis,"_ with their plaintive melody; kingfishers, whose call
responds like a signal to the last cry of their congeners;
_"canindes,"_ with their sonorous trumpets; and red macaws, who fold
their wings in the foliage of the _"jaquetibas,"_ when night comes on
to dim their glowing colors.
On the jangada every one was at his post, in the attitude of repose.
The pilot alone, standing in the bow, showed his tall stature,
scarcely defined in the earlier shadows. The watch, with his long
pole on his shoulder, reminded one of an encampment of Tartar
horsemen. The Brazilian flag hung from the top of the staff in the
bow, and the breeze was scarcely strong enough to lift the bunting.
At eight o'clock the three first tinklings of the Angelus escaped
from the bell of the little chapel. The three tinklings of the second
and third verses sounded in their turn, and the salutation was
completed in the series of more rapid strokes of the little bell.
However, the family after this July day remained sitting under the
veranda to breathe the fresh air from the open.
It had been so each evening, and while Joam Garral, always silent,
was contented to listen, the young people gayly chatted away till
"Ah! our splendid river! our magnificent Amazon!" exclaimed the young
girl, whose enthusiasm for the immense stream never failed.
"Unequaled river, in very truth," said Manoel; "and I do not
understand all its sublime beauties. We are going down it, however,
like Orellana and La Condamine did so many centuries ago, and I am
not at all surprised at their marvelous descriptions."
"A little fabulous," replied Benito.
"Now, brother," said Minha seriously, "say no evil of our Amazon."
"To remind you that it has its legends, my sister, is to say no ill
"Yes, that is true; and it has some marvelous ones," replied Minha.
"What legends?" asked Manoel. "I dare avow that they have not yet
found their way into Para--or rather that, for my part, I am not
acquainted with them."
"What, then do you learn in the Belem colleges?" laughingly asked
"I begin to perceive that they teach us nothing," replied Manoel.
"What, sir!" replied Minha, with a pleasant seriousness, "you do not
know, among other fables, that an enormous reptile called the
_'minhocao,'_ sometimes visits the Amazon, and that the waters of the
river rise or fall according as this serpent plunges in or quites
them, so gigantic is he?"
"But have you ever seen t his phenomenal minhocao?"
"Alas, no!" replied Lina.
"What a pity!" Fragoso thought it proper to add.
"And the 'Mae d'Aqua,'" continued the girl--"that proud and
redoubtable woman whose look fascinates and drages beneath the waters
of the river the imprudent ones who gaze a her."
"Oh, as for the 'Mae d'Aqua,' she exists!" cried the na´ve Lina;
"they say that she still walks on the banks, but disappears like a
water sprite as soon as you approach her."
"Very well, Lina," said Benito; "the first time you see her just let
"So that she may seize you and take you to the bottom of the river?
Never, Mr. Benito!"
"She believes it!" shouted Minha.
"There are people who believe in the trunk of Manaos," said Fragoso,
always ready to intervene on behalf of Lina.
"The 'trunk of Manaos'?" asked Manoel. "What about the trunk of
"Mr. Manoel," answered Fragoso, with comic gravity, "it appears that
there is--or rather formerly was--a trunk of _'turuma,'_ which every
year at the same time descended the Rio Negro, stopping several days