Friday, January 14, 2011

Up The Amazon – A Rite of Passage

In the late eighties I served as an apprentice on a banana boat and it took me fifteen years to tease my taste buds back into accepting the taste of bananas without sending out an evacuation alarm throughout my body.

I had a lot to learn, as I was reminded off by everybody else on board, but the curriculum existed only half of maritime topics. It so appeared that the maritime world is rich in rites of passage. Some passages I never achieved and will not by virtue of the few withered principles I still maintain, but yes, I received baptism from King Neptune, learned to participate in the hallowed story telling tradition that keeps this world’s sailors from going berserk, and publically hold my mama in the highest regard.

Amazon river - Is that a church up there?

There was one particular experience that separated the men from the boys. When it was story time, and the crew gathered on the aft deck around barbeques and carton boxes of Heineken export, one casual mentioned destination spawned awe in the hearts of the young ones. It was always an old bosun or a whispering oil man who would start by glumly mentioning a year. “’Twas in 1969…” or “Back in ’52…,” and then utter the dreaded words, “…when we was Up The Amazon…”

The Crimson Mercury loading dire reeking goo, somewhere on the Amazon.

For two decades I had wished I could mesmerize the masses by being able to say that I had been Up The Amazon. My time came last year. And for a week we slithered through the yellow mud and struggled to keep seawater filters open, AC’s humming and beer, lots of beer, cooled. It was so hot, we could fry an egg on the head of the Chief Officer. But at nightfall we would gather on deck, brave swarms of bugs the size of Rottweilers, and stare at the thick jade jungle, the jelly-fish clouds with their curtains of rain over it, and the villages in which we imagined stone-age tribes with princesses of astonishing pulchritude, who did nothing all day but stare over the waters, waiting for a sailor to liberate them and take them home.

The legendary Amazon moth

And wouldn’t you know, I did find my princess.  I took her home, and we are living happily ever after. She’s with me, my Draga. There’s one thing greater than going Up The Amazon, and that’s laying in the arms of someone you truly love. That was another thing I had to learn. 
Today we turned again from the blue Atlantic water onto the great river. In a few days we will be deep into the arborous heart of South America. We’ll have taken a sea going vessel as far in-land as is possible anywhere on the planet.

Goodness, I feel so jazzed, I might go and eat a banana.

A village on the Amazon; fifteen minutes past Stone Age

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