Off a rickety wooden pier with rotting pylons we step into the river panga and set off through a Rio Negro tributary into the Amazon jungle. Last night’s rain heated steamily adding a voluptuousness to the air and a ghostly mist that hovered inches from the water cutting an eerie corridor through the jungle. Like we had entered the Degobah System we embarked. Below fallen branches spanning part of the waterway, between tight bends and jungle thicket invading the backwater’s space we buzzed, the chattering of our motor the only noise above the insect and birdlife. The jungle dense with obscurity, breathing, heaving.
Our skipper only cutting the engine to drift past precariously close to an outstretched tree snake and to point out an area on the bank where he thought he may have just seen a jaguar in the distance. Other than these occasions we pushed into the dark recesses of the rainforest sending squirrel monkeys, brilliantly coloured macaws and parrots and a leafy wash of interrupted reptiles, scurrying away.
By late afternoon we pulled up to a nondescript bank and scaled its heights as part of a much needed leg stretch. Onto the top of the bank we walked through a grassy clearing before coming to a village of indigenous families. Our greeting party was a small child barely walking, in a pretty but dirty little dress, walking around with a large knife. She waves it at us, cutting the air in play before dropping it to play with an old coca cola bottle.
The village was basic with wooden and grass shelters on bare dark dirt. Our skippers gone, Juan heads out ahead of our group being sized up by the local Indian community, the children clutching at their parent’s legs, peering out from behind them in tentative fascination. Juan comes back to us, from the looks we were receiving it was uncertain whether we were in the right place but he informs us the village chief was on his way to greet us. We stood around, the locals keeping their distance but eyes affixed until a larger bellied man made his way over.
“That one is the chief” he whispered to me, which left me wondering why we were talking like spies in the expanse of the jungle. Juan and the chief spoke in Spanish for a few moments. It was fast and heavy in dialect and I couldn’t understand any of it, but before long Juan calls out to our group pointing in a direction and saying we could stay that way. I thought it rude to stay on someone’s property without having the courtesy of saying hello at least. I walk up to the chief with hand outstretched.
“Hola” I say with a smile.
“Hola” the chief responds.
“Mucho Busto” I say and turned to walk away, satisfied I had shown my politeness. Behind my back the chief grimaced and then looked at Juan all confused like. I was heading back towards the group when Juan catches up to me.
“Pronounce your words” he hisses.
“What did I do?” I question
“Its Mucho Gusto when you are pleased to meet someone, not Mucho Busto”
“Oh, did I say Mucho Busto did i?”
“Yes” he hisses again
“What does Mucho Busto mean?” I query
“You told the chief he has big breasts……”