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The Amazon, with back pain, Part I

Somehow, woke up this morning with immense pain on the lower right side of my back. It’s the kind that when anything jolts, like you trying to get out of bed, pain shoots through your side.

It was also the day I came back from the Juma reserve, an hour down the river from the city of Novo Aripuana by small motorboat, city being a word I use only because that’s what they call it.  It was one of those times when it pays to be a journalist: an hour with nothing to do except watch the trees go by, try to spot the head of a jacare (the Amazonian alligator), or fantasize about getting home and looking up where you’ve been on the Google Maps satellite shot, knowing it will be a stark river surrounding by stunning green, the kind of place that I often look at on Google Maps and think, wow, it would be cool to be there.

But none of this is really much fun with a bad back, since the jolting of the boat kept me in pretty much constant pain. So I thought of all the other people in the world with bad backs that are not actually temporary, as I assume mine is, and I thought, how do they enjoy alligator heads?  

There was little time to ponder. A half-hour in to an hour ride, we figured out we had too many people in the boat – a bunch of teachers, adult students, and their kids from the school in the reserve I’ll be writing about were there, with their luggage – and realized there wasn’t enough gas to get us back to the city.  So we stopped on the side of the river, at a spot that didn’t look like much of anything. Some of us, including me, trudged about five minutes along a wide clearing through the woods, and came out at a lake.

Through the woods

A small community was perched on the other side of the lake, home to one of the people in the boat.  We whistled across, and someone came in a small motor-powered boat called a rabeta to pick her up. Her mission: to try to find 20 liters of gas in the town we could borrow.  Three of us sat around on a fallen branch, which (because of my back) did not appeal to me, so I tried to sit on the ground. I was quickly warned there was some insect that would cause some extreme itching living in said ground. 

I stood.

Maybe half an hour later, the boat chugged across the lake, with 20 liters of gasoline for us, which we brought back along  path and filled up the boat.

With a bad back, alligators may lose their charm, but running out of gas in the middle of nowhere was still pretty fun.