We piled into our jeep with a canvas top and plastic windows, used only when the weather was bad. Mom and dad sat in front while my sisters and I sat on the metal wheel wells in the back. We would grip the edges for dear life, wondering when the constant jarring of the washer board road or pothole would buck us out of the jeep. I hated it when another car passed us or we lingered too close behind another vehicle because we would choke on the dust. What a ride!
We were headed for the “mato”, or jungle. If you think of a dense, trackless rain forest fraught with dangers like screaming monkeys, feral pigs, quicksand, and head hunters, this was not it. Yet it did have its dangers like getting stuck in slippery gooey mud or caught in too soft sand or accidentally stepping on some prickly bug.
Here we had friends who had raised gardens to protect from floods and critters. They also kept meticulous house, even though they were built of mud and sticks and a thatched roof made of palm fronds. It was not uncommon to see someone sweeping their mud floor with a stick broom.
Soon we were onto the softer white sand, slipping a little as we went, trying to avoid areas that were flooded, as we weren’t sure if we would get stuck. I remember the narrow road, the vegetation encroaching on either side. Dad held the steering wheel in a death grip and a clenched jaw, while mom would utter small gasps and “oh Les!” every now and then.
I think over the years they got used to those jungle roads, but those first few times were a bit challenging, to say the least. I mean, mom and dad knew how to drive tractors and navigate muddy roads in the midwest, but this was quite different.
As we came into the village, we could hear the laughter and smell the amazing food that was being prepared for some feast. Brazilians know how to party, even in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember the event exactly, but I think it was some kind of celebration like a wedding.
I remember standing in the kitchen where the local women were preparing the food. I use the term “kitchen” loosely. It had dirt floors, mud walls, and an open fire. No electricity. I peered out the window, which was actually just an opening in the mud wall, and saw the men digging a pit. I asked what was going on, and mom…