5. Wanderings

March 24-

82 degrees on the Thermometer. Another hard march today. I am traversing dense Jungle; huge tree trunks litter the landscape & where once they shaded a sparse Jungle floor, now are grown up every type of vegetation, & the whole wrapped around by Lianas & mosses grown over the rotting boles so that it makes for very treacherous footing, & much machete work. Birds of a brilliant plumage, in shades of gold, green & ochre occasionally flit across my path, & the air is strongly aromatic.

In this region grow many of the douradinha; it has a yellow flower, & looks something like our dandelion. The Indians use it as a powerful emetic, the which I have no need for just now.

It is only the thought of all the invisible Jungle, the lure of the empty spaces on my map that keeps me going. It is solely the promise of an Eden, a place of purity & simplicity utterly foreign to the Babel of London, the insensate progress of the Western world that drives me on. It is not my first such journey. Other journals now stored safely in London (where one day this volume too, shall rest, God willing) contain passages describing mandalas built up painstakingly from sand by Tibetan lama's, only to be brushed away on the instant they are finished with yak's hair brooms. I have illustrated first-hand locust plagues in Africa, & passed on recipes for aphrodisiacs, philtres, & near untraceable poisons, learnt from the medicine men of Haiti & the Congo, to my descendants - in the journals that lie safely back in London.

Sometimes I have used guides to take me to those distant & unrecorded tribes, to traverse areas so remote & strange that none of my race has ever ventured there to map their valleys & hills & secret places. Each sentence clawed out of painful ascents into the mountains, to the rocky heights where nothing grows, surviving on a few dried-out grains of corn, goats milk, edible lichens, melting snow water in my mouth, staggering through blizzards over high mountain passes, eyes slitted behind wooden goggles.

But none of it has prepared me for the Amazon, for the rich & hungry Jungle, for the river, its life-blood, & for the unseen & unrecorded interiors, where life superabounds.

Night falls suddenly, the Jungle becoming a negative of itself, deepening shadows where the palms & saplings & vines & trees grow into & around each other. The dark is almost complete - apart from the spark of fireflies, & the occasional star pricked out against the ink of the sky where the Jungle breaks.

March 25-

This morning I stumbled across a clearing that looked as though it may have once been cultivated - perhaps with maize, or manioc - but the Jungle grows back so fast that it's impossible to be sure, or to tell how recently the ground was used. It could be a clue or a Chimera. I have come to the conclusion that I will almost certainly be the last to know when I encounter the people of this Jungle.

Despite the rumours of bloodshed & war between tribes, an almost pathological distrust of outsiders, dark hints of cannibalism & the practice of head shrinking, I have made no attempt at concealment as I hack my way through this Jungle. For one, the sheer density of vegetation seems to insulate against all sound, even the crunch of branches beneath my feet are strangely muted, so that I feel the urge to scream bubbling up within me, if only to reassure myself that I am not forgetting language, losing my voice & the habit of shaping words. Then, too, concealment would be pointless. These people know the Jungle so much better than I.

There have been reports of whole expeditions killed & tortured by Indians, angry & terrified at the strangers invading their territory; people who have learnt the hard way to associate the white man with death, with slavery, with the loss of land & children. The Chaman that I hired back at Iquitos has long deserted me. I awoke one morning to find that the rogue had left & taken the canoe & himself & returned to more familiar lands. I had no hint of what had frightened him so, & little warning of his intended defection except for mutterings about bad magic & death.

These people are too superstitious; As a humanist, I am tainted neither by religion nor fear of unknown spirits. I have no intention of being a missionary; nor am I a tourist. I have looked death in the face; we are old friends now. It is knowledge I am after - a thirst that will never be quenched until I'm in my grave.

March 26-

Another hard day's walking through impenetrable terrain. Only my compass assures me that I am travelling in my intended direction through this matted felted Jungle, knitted together by cabled creepers. The plant life is excessively abundant, characterised by prodigious variety and creates a terrible & wonderful landscape, yet I find myself almost blind to its strangeness, & occupy my mind chiefly with imagining the tribes who have had, as yet, no contact with Western man. In this Jungle dwell people who have never heard of steam, glass, Faraday, or gunpowder. Their customs could be the strangest I have ever encountered; their religion incomprehensible, pantheistic, sublime. How do they imagine the heavenly bodies, who can only catch glimpses of the firmament between the lowering trees?

According to the rumours that I was able to glean in Iquitos, there is one Tribe in this area that writes, & what's more they have reportedly been doing so since 'the beginning time'. The rumours suggest that they are unlike the other tribes in these lands, the Jivaro & Shuar & Machichuenga, who are one & all bloodthirsty & savage in the extreme. This Tribe is rumoured to be peaceful; a nomadic people who nevertheless have magic powerful enough to protect them from their more warlike neighbours.

It is my dream, put simply, to make First Contact with this people, isolated from the world outside their Jungle home. That world feels as distant as the moon here, with the great walls of green rising on all sides, the tangled vegetation, warring for space & light.

Here the possibility of creating multiple worlds exists, the real far away & half-forgotten.

All my life I have been in flight from society, in search of a greater truth, the answer to a single question. What knowledge did Man lose when God destroyed the tower of Babel? What had so terrified Him that he cast Man back into the chaos before speech? It has been the chief labour of my existence to find an enlightened people who have the answers to these questions that plague me so. I can never rest until I do. & when I find them they will take me in, teach me their customs & their language, & through me will discover & come to know their fellow man. I will be their sole interpreter; their unique point of contact. Alone in the world I will understand their ways & a grateful humanity will thank me for revealing the secrets that they have discovered. Secrets of medicine, levitation, magic & divination. Who knows what boundaries of the Mind they have conquered, untainted by blundering Science? All of this will be mine to interpret; to add to my chronicles, to augment the pattern I am creating of the world.

But now the light fades, & it is time to sleep. I write to drive away the demons of loneliness, but neither pen nor paper is limitless. To sleep, perchance to dreamɍ

March 27-

Over the years I have become less & less convinced of the efficacy of language in recording, correlating & explaining the customs & tongues that I have uncovered & chronicled. Thus have I have developed a system of Mathematical Notation combining that of the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians & Sumerians, as well as those of Mesmer - & including symbols & constructions previously undreamed of in any Western or Eastern lexicon. This system functions as a kind of shorthand, allowing me to cross-reference these elements from so many different cultures. It has the additional advantage of requiring far less space than longhand.

My hands, wrists, forearms are covered in notes that I have made whilst travelling through the Jungle. They overlay themselves, & with my fading vision, & the guttering of the tallow, it is a struggle to transcribe them all before darkness or sleep claims me. I dare not expose the notebooks to the continual dripping of moisture from the high canopy, so I try to memorise, & reproduce in detail as faithful as is possible, poor sketches of the marvels that surround me.

Decades of squinting at tiny characters have all but destroyed my vision. My greatest fear is not death, so much as the loss of my spectacles! I preserve these against the damp & dirt of the Jungle by keeping them in an inside pocket wrapped in silk. Sadly it is now slowly rotting away like the rest of my equipment. The humidity here is well nigh total.

Night is falling now; at last it is getting a little cooler. The tallow is holding out, so I shall permit myself the leisure of writing a little more than usual in here; sometimes it is the only way to combat the solitude.

In the background always I hear the sounds of the Jungle. No longer do the chorus of calls, whistles, barks & shrieks that start up at dusk terrify me. At first sleeplessness hollowed my cheeks & lent a grey pallor to my skin. I experienced delusions, & imagined horrors - waking with a jaguar or a puma snarling on my chest, vampire bats sucking my blood at night, giant snakes crushing me & swallowing me whole.

So far, none of these terrors have come to pass. I have seen monkeys, lizards, tree sloths, giant rodents, capybaras, porcupines, but evidently the fanged predators of the Jungle have sought easier meat for their tea. Still, when the firewood situation permits, I build a fire before I camp, & trust that the hammock will protect me from the depredations of ground-dwelling creatures. The merest inch of flesh uncovered is a virtual invitation to the bites of bloodsucking bats & insects alike.

I must remember not to leave anything on the Jungle floor, for it does not stay there for long; a good piece of biscuit was carried away this morning, and my food stocks are very low. There seem to be a limitless number of ants, & all determined to purloin every scrap of anything left unsecured, as if the Jungle is intent on gradually assimilating me.

March 29-

The sun is rarely visible, & direction further confused by the variety & monotony of the landscape, the murmur & lap & drip of water, millions of leaves brushing against each other, parrots calling to each other, monkeys screaming in protest, packs leaping through the trees, cicadas whirring. At dusk the daytime sounds segue into those of the night; the Jungle is at its loudest for the brief period of semi-darkness when then sky is a riot of flame & the stars have not yet begun to emerge. At this time the frogs begin to sing, & join their voices to the spider monkeys calling for rain.

Thus far have I seen little sign of the people for whom I am searching - but only the barest traces of settlements, tools or fires. According to the fragments of information that I have been able to gather, they should be somewhere around this area - always assuming that I have not lost my way or become confused by recurring bouts of Fever. The unwholesomeness of this place may well be the death of me, but I refuse to entertain the possibility.

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The journey through this inimical, yet beautiful landscape can only create in me the most perfect rapport with the invisible people. Hard fought for, the tools with which to decipher their language. I will find them, & when I do I will be the first & only of my race to discover their unique world, to create a bridge between their reality & our own.

From my earliest youth I conceived a fascination for language. Just as we cannot exist save for our thought, so language defines people & ideas. & language is grown from Environment as the Flower grows on the Vine. Thus, one can make no serious study of a language in isolation of both the people & the place that has shaped its lexicon; & it follows that it is only through a minute & careful study of the life around me that I can have any hope of understanding the detail of their existence.

If I am fortunate enough to be able to talk with the Tribe, & so stumble through mutual discovery to a sense of language, it will be solely because I have learned in the very lineaments of my body the shape of their experiences. The World is in its essence made of words; for how can we have any concept of that which we cannot describe? Descartes understood this.

I have interpreted & catalogued innumerable languages the world over, & although sounds repeat, the meaning is never the same; the words are never repeated. It is as if the shattering of language created a million million tiny echoes of the first word; each corresponding to a facet of the consciousness of the earth, in potentially infinite variety.

Chapter 6 »