Going down to Rio
Whyever did I want to go to Brasil? I had no good reason, other than some books I had read. I read Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming, Ian’s older and once better-known brother, who describes a trek through the jungle ostensibly in search of the missing Col. Fawcett, whom I had never heard of before and of course had to read about, and what a curious story his turned out to be. And about that time I was in an Evelyn Waugh enthusiasm and read Ninety-Two Days, his account of a trip through what was then British Guiana to the Brasilian town of Boa Vista, and so I had that on my list, as well. And I saw Sebastião Salgado’s haunting photographs of Serra Pelada and public television regularly anguished over disappearing species and endangered tribes and the jungle being paved over with asphalt and forests cut down and sold to the Japanese and I had the impression that if I didn’t see the Amazon now it might not be there next year, or if it was there would be a shopping center.
Then I saw a program on television about a lady going up some tributary of the Amazon on a little wooden boat about the same age and not much larger than the African Queen and it looked like my sort of manageable, Winnie-the-Pooh adventure, so I decided to go.
I like window seats. Knowledgable travelers are supposed to favor the aisle, but I do not. I like the comfortable little nest you can make, often protected by the center seat, which no one wants, and curl up against the bulkhead and look out the window and watch the world slip by below.
I recognized the border by the parallel roads and the empty space as we entered Mexico, country I had driven through in a car, and a while later I saw what at first looked like clouds that had been caught against a mountain top, but I realized they were smoke coming from volcanos and knew that if I were on the ground I might smell the wood smoke of evening fires in little homes as families settled in for supper.
Then finally night fell somewhere toward Tehuantepec and we passed over the Mayan lands in darkness and over the sea and then somewhere along the Colombian coast we crossed over onto the southern continent where the jungles were as dark as the cleared lands. At a little after three in the morning I saw a cluster of lights below us and to the right and the reflection of what might have been a river, and then more darkness until in the early morning light I looked down and saw the unmistakable pattern of the city that I had only seen in books, the bow and arrow -- or perhaps it was a bird -- of Brasilia, that modernistic dream of a capital city out in the middle of nowhere that the Brasilians had built in the ‘Sixties when it seemed that the future would be here any minute and we need only be ready for it. It was a little before seven in the morning when I saw it. There had been a cloud cover over the jungle, but it broke just as we passed over. The city looked very small from the air.