The next morning we continued a little way up the river and went ashore where a path came down to the bank and walked some distance back into the jungle to a forlorn, thatched-roof structure with rusted iron machinery that might have been used to grind manioc flour, but now vines were growing around the shafts and gears and when I tried to turn a wheel it was frozen with rust. Ricardo had no idea whose it was or how long it had lain abandoned, as it is hard to tell that about things in the jungle. It was just something that was there. There are abandoned projects all through the Amazon, some of them quite grand. The jungle is a great eater of dreams.
Afterward, we crossed through another stretch of flooded forest and onto a narrow channel that took us to Hymondo’s home.
A path up from the water’s edge led to a cleared area on higher ground where we found Hymondo and his wife and several young children living on their forest homestead. Hymondo seemed bemused by our arrival, but welcoming as all the forest people we would meet would prove to be and he was no doubt happy to have news of the outside world, as here in the deep forest there otherwise was none. I would eventually figure out that Ricardo’s wife was related to Hymondo’s wife, but that seemed not as important as having visitors to break the solitude, and who had brought their own food. Later that afternoon I asked Hymondo if he saw many tourists out here and he said that I was the first one he had seen.
Their home, sitting on an half-acre of so of cleared land, was a raised plank platform, open-sided and with a palm-thatched roof. There were two mattresses on the platform and hammocks suspended from crossbeams. Its sole item of furniture was a metal-framed outdoor chair with a plastic cord seat. There were a few pots and no cupboards or containers and only a few cans and bottles, whose labels I later realized comprised the only paper or printed material that I could see in their home. Interestingly enough, they did not seem to be in want.
Hymondo was clearing some nearby forest -- about two or three acres and apparently with nothing more than a machete and an axe -- and had left the fallen trees and brush to dry, preparatory to burning them off.
After showing us around, Hymondo and Ricardo settled down to talk and I found myself entertaining the children. The boys seemed to find me only moderately interesting, but the oldest girl -- I would guess her twelve or so -- seemed not quite to know what to do with me, sometimes approaching and sometimes watching me from a distance, but it was by then the heat of the day so I eventually dozed off.
Later, I mentioned to Hymondo that I had not seen teenage boys with the families we had passed along the River. He said they had probably left home. He had left his parents when he was thirteen: that was twenty years ago. Men usually marry at about fifteen, or begin living with a girl. Girls become sexually active around twelve.
Whom do the girls marry, I asked. Anyone who will have them, he said. In my notes there are quotation marks around his answer, so those must have been his words. Men usually marry younger women, he said, but life is hard and he will likely have several wives over the years. This was, I knew, how it had been in the old days of the Patriarchy when so many young wives died in childbirth and disease and their husband would then take another, younger wife and start all over again. Hymondo’s wife had had fifteen children, though there were now only six young ones -- the oldest the girl of about twelve -- still living with them, including a baby who was sick with a fever.
I asked about schooling for the children. There is very little, he said. Sometimes there is a teacher and sometimes children go to live at the school, but the teachers often go away and it is not taken seriously.
On a more practical matter, I asked him what he taught his children about snakes. He said he told them that they were dangerous and to avoid them, but whenever he killed one in the forest he brought it home to show them. He said he had killed a very dangerous one the other day, but that he didn’t see many snakes in the jungle.
Hymondo had come here from the south because someone had told him there was good land here, so he came and took some. He has no documents on it and if truth were known, there were probably several people who thought they had legal title to it, but they were far away and Hymondo was in possession and considered the land now to be his.
Later, his wife told me the story of Our Lady of Aparecida. An image was found in pieces in the river by fishermen and when they assembled the statue a saint appeared to them and they caught many fish. This occurred, I later read, far to the south, in the year 1717.
The baby was a tiny little thing lying quietly in her mother’s lap on the floor of their shelter. I hadn’t noticed her move since we had been there. She has a fever, I was told. She was very warm to the touch. It didn’t occur to me to ask about what would be done for the child, as I assumed that, living out here, they had some way to deal with things like this, but then, later in the evening, Ricardo told me that they had asked if I had any medicine that might help. I had no idea what was causing her sickness, but it would have made no difference as the only thing I had that might remotely be of use was aspirin, which I knew was problematic for a small child, but it was all we had and the nearest clinic was a long way off, so I cut a tablet into quarters with my knife and said they should give her one of these with plenty of water and we would have to see what morning brought and I went to sleep very worried, both for the child and for myself, should things go poorly after she had taken my medicine. But the next morning she was better and the fever seemed to have gone away and all’s well that ends well.