National Geographic : 1952 Nov
The Jungle Was My Home "You animal!" he roared. "Why do you not dive in and eat the grass ahead of us?" I quickly pacified Carlos. We were in a serious predicament, and I did not feel that any display of temper would help. Finally we marshaled all hands, and with long poles, known as zingas, which Lauro and Rosendo had provided, the boat and barge were pushed gradually across the clogged surface of the lake to clear water beyond. "Ark" Hauls Herself Through Water Plants Our second encounter with water plants occurred a couple of days later, and this was more serious. The River Gypsy slipped and scraped over the first obstacles, then seemed to have settled herself for a long rest. The little dugout's outboard churned the water furiously, but neither pole nor motor power budged the ungainly flotilla a foot. Finally we sent two men ahead to pull the plants from the channel as much as possible (there was still some water between the bot tom of the houseboat and the bed of the river), and Lauro and Rosendo rigged the anchor so that it could be carried ahead and fastened in the bottom. Then, using a hand winch at the forward end, we were able to kedge off the marsh bed, yard by yard, until we were clear again. After hours of work we managed to reach the far edge of the tangled growth of marsh weeds, and once more the River Gypsy and her escort rode proudly down the Cara Cara. A week later, after following a tortuous course through several lakes and creeks, we emerged upon the broad Paraguay. From this point south to the mouth of the Miranda our trip was fairly routine. We veered east of Corumba, through an estuary known as the Paraguay-mirim, since I did not want to encounter the rush of small boats that might put out from the town to see the floating menagerie I was taking south. Trouble at the Rivers' Crossroads For several days our trip went serenely, until we came to the point where the Para guay-mirim and the Paraguay merge again. We were now 500 river miles south of Descal vados and 100 miles from the junction of the Paraguay and the Miranda, where I knew our greatest troubles lurked. The river below Corumbi is nearly a mile wide, and the wind often howls along its broad expanse in fierce gusts. We kept our river caravan close to shore, and at one point, as we passed a settlement near the end of the Paraguay-mirim, we had to lay to for three days while the winds buf feted the open water of the river (page 702). A hundred river miles below Corumba lie Porto Esperanga and the railroad. After we moved back into the main stream of the Para guay, we hung out running lights at night because we occasionally sighted other boats. Some 30 miles above Porto Esperanca the Miranda pours from the east into the Para guay. I was squatting on the forward end of the houseboat, with Edith beside me, when I first sighted the mouth of the Miranda, beyond a bend on the eastern shore. This was the most treacherous part of our voyage, since we were now required to turn the River Gypsy and its attendant barge into the mouth of the Miranda against the current, before the double force of the Paraguay and the Miranda should sweep us on to the southward. Our river entourage, which we now called "Siemel's Ark," could move with some ease with the current; but when it came to maneu vering against the current and crossing the rip between the two rivers, I was afraid our 5 horsepower motor might be a little less than adequate. Manpower Checks the Flotilla I called out to Lauro, "Bring out the poles! " Suddenly, however, the current quickened, and we fairly shot toward the river mouth, with Lauro bawling to the hands to grab their poles from the racks and get set for the crisis. But in the next minute the rip from the Miranda had caught us and swung the 80-foot flotilla broadside. The no th bank of the Miranda, where I had hoped to make my turn, swept past and swiftly receded. Suddenly Bernardo, one of the helpers, shouted from the forward end: "Boss! There is bot tom! I have reached it!" He had thrust his pole down to starboard and was lustily pushing on it. Two others, on the same side of the barge, had also reached bottom, and within a few seconds the com bined braking power of the poles stopped the forward movement of barge and houseboat. Slowly they began to edge the River Gypsy toward the mouth of the Miranda, only a few hundred yards away. With Lauro organizing the crew, the men worked in relays, pushing their poles along the sides so that the boat moved forward at about the speed they were walking. Poling a combined barge and houseboat upriver is no child's play, and it proved to be an especially tough chore for my boatmen, who were accustomed to taking the course of least resistance-downstream. Lauro's crew of polemen trudged up and down the narrow deck of the houseboat with growing disgust. Their only relief came at intervals when the dugout, with its heroic motor, proved able to keep the barges under way.