Getting out of town was seeming increasingly unlikely. I had spent some of my time in Boa Vista visiting with Catholic priests and lay workers to talk about Indian issues, so I returned to the church offices and wandered into their library. I may have been in an odd frame of mind, but their books seemed piled like sandbags against the hostile fire of the world. Or maybe they were just moving the books around. I was looking for material they had published on the Indian question, though I also noticed a pamphlet about Evelyn Waugh’s visit to Boa Vista with a drawing on the cover of the writer emerging from the jungle in a skirt. I had an interesting conversation with a lay brother, an Italian who had lived in the country many years and taken a Brasilian wife. We talked about cultural survival and assimilation.
I also talked while I was there about the general state of the Catholic Church and about politically active Liberation Theology, which was claimed to address the social reality of the poor, but for which the poor seemed indifferently enthused and there was under way a constant erosion of church attendance as the poor blacks embraced the African religions and poor whites and mixed races embraced evangelical protestantism. It seemed that the Church’s adoption of political activism might not be speaking to their social reality and I asked one of the priests if this didn’t concern him. He replied that for 500 years the Church never did any good in Brasil. And it was true that the Church was not growing in numbers, but it was growing as a conscience.
At length, I heard from my guide that his vehicle would shortly be fixed and so I checked out of my hotel, not because I believed him but because I had resolved that either we actually went somewhere that day or I would take the evening flight back to Manaus. It was raining outside and in the lobby of the Hotel Euzibio flies were walking over the TV watchers, who ignored them.
But alas, our mission must abort, as the car, now reassembled, cannot be started. And I, a person of tropical patience, finally gave up and told my guide that it was not meant to be and I was going back to Manaus. I paid him 3,000 Cruzados (US$13) for his services to put a dignified end to the thing, though it turned out there was no flight to Manaus that evening and I must return to the hotel for another night. The nice lady at the desk was happy to see me again so soon and I could have my old room back.
Freed of my guide, I found that Boa Vista was actually a pleasant enough place, or at least easy to get around in on foot. The rain had stopped and the sun was out and I walked down to a place where I could sit on a balcony in the breeze and look out across the river at sand bars and beaches and forest and fields beneath huge, towering clouds in the eastern sky. For all the frustration of the trip, I was glad I had come here and, if there was nothing to be accomplished, then I was content with that, and the next evening I flew back to Manaus.
These events took place twenty-five years ago and to judge by what I find on Google Images, almost every place I went has been changed significantly and, in the case of some undeveloped areas, are now essentially beyond recognition. Much of the world I saw seems no longer to exist.