3. Amazonas, 1851

North of Iquitos, March 20-

Jungle very dense. As I walk one passage occupies my waking thoughts, providing a mental tattoo wherewith to time my steps. 'Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.' Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth." (Genesis 11:1-9)

Nanay River, March 21-

Morning. I awake on what feels like the seven millionth day of my journey. The Jungle is beginning to swallow me whole. I feel my spirit evaporating day by day. My voice feels rusty from misuse. I have taken to muttering to myself as I walk, to combat the loneliness, & to convince myself that I am still here, & not wandering, a figment, in some self-imagined country.

I know not whether I am in Ecuador, or Peru. Borders have little meaning in terms of the Jungle. I have heard rumours of a secret Tribe somewhere in the vicinity, followed them up in the settlements up river, garnered what information I can from rum-sodden natives gone to seed in tiny river outposts. But for some reason the Tribe has never been classified –†mere rumours of their existence culled from the records of successive waves of colonisers. Exploration in the area has been minimal. Attracted by the gold & rare minerals; the guano & oil & ancient treasure troves to be found in the more accessible areas of mountain & coast, the Spanish, & the British, & all of the other greedy or well-meaning colonisers have so far ignored it.

Perhaps in years to come the ethnographers, those missionaries of civilisation, will arrive, taming the natives with ideas of property & sin, cheap gifts & alcohol –†replacing traditional medicine with iodine, & quinine, the meeting huts with neat schools. For now the Amazon is guarding its secrets well.

'Yet shall I build a fane_In some untrodden region of my mind, / Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant Pain, / Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind'. I have few books here with me, everything rots; yet my mind is a library still unsullied.

I cheat the Jungle of my blood by making words of it, the dark fluid clotting on the pages of my notebooks, a self-created epitaph. Still I am becoming dispirited. The earth is all water, the flora all slime, the air half steam. The vegetable life around me is oppressive - the Jungle alive with sounds all muted by the foliage, an audioscape that changes with each step, throwing back now the sounds of running water, now the high & melodious whistles of birds, now the harsh calls of parrots, the whirring & clicking of grasshoppers, the rustling of breezes & of my passage. Each step is a struggle & every step feels wrong. The lack of direct sunlight makes direction almost impossible to determine, & time a meaningless abstraction.

Romance is in the air, the sea breeze blowing ever so gently. Love is in the sunset, lining the beach and the stars that make up the natural setting of a beach wedding. The plus size bridesmaid dresses are worth having. Beach weddings deviate from the traditional weddings, in a way...

For the first time in many months I feel lost. For the first time in as many years I feel fear, for somewhere on the edges of my vision I can sense eyes, a suspicion that has been plaguing me for some time. Maybe my mind is finally betraying me.

My clothes, boots, food, books are rotting in the humidity: the pages gradually turning a virulent green - the ink correspondingly purple. They are rotting, but they addict me - I have learnt to appreciate the smell of musty paper, & still I am writing, recording, reproving this existence.

Because the Jungle never changes (although it continues to astonish me) I have begun to delve deeper beneath reality. The life around me seems to me too sentient to be merely the sum of several different types of monkey, innumerable birds, fish, plants insects, strange iridescent lizards. I am gradually developing an equation, out here on the perimeter: a series of truths hard-gained & dear paid for. These I have proven on my body, scribbling arcane figures in the crooks of my arms, & on the palms of my hands. Finally, distilled into these pages.

For now, I suppose, I must continue.

Chapter 4 »