COMPETITION: LITERALLY LOST 68
Sunday 07 March 1999
Great brown and grey rocks, great broken boulders, rounded and carved, appeared now on the river banks. Sometimes they were square and huge and cracked: ruins, they seemed, of the fortifications of giants. And on these rocks, on soil just inches deep, the great trees of the forest grew, their roots spreading laterally, so that the soil seemed made of roots and the trees appeared to be growing out of nothing. Many trees had toppled into the river, their green and white and black trunks forming perfect Vs with their reflections, reflections which also created intricate patterns out of broken branches and the occasional isolated bare white stump. Lianas hung on the forest wall like a tangle of white cables, sometimes falling straight and continuing in their reflection. This was not the landscape for the camera: the tropical forest cannot be better suggested than by the steel engravings in the travel books of the last century.
Presently we were lulled, Dr Talbot read a paperback novel I had never heard of. I took out my book, the Penguin edition of The Immoralist - it served me right, reading out of a sense of duty - and was immediately concerned about the possible impropriety of the title. For Dr Talbot had told me earlier of the prohibitions at the mission, in whose boat we were travelling: no cigarettes, no alcohol, no coffee, no tea, no pepper, no meat, no skin-fish, no singing or whistling of anything except hymns. We had already broken a few rules. The American had been taking coffee and I had steadily been taking whisky to offset the discomfort of my cocoa-damp clothes. I had also been smoking.
Moving always now between rocks, messages being shouted out from the boat to Amerindians on the banks, we came to the portage. We heard the roar of the falls. The sun lit up one bank and the water, which in shadow was black, was like red wine held up to the light, with dancing luminous webs. The launch was unloaded. Dr Talbot and myself entrusted all our baggage to the Amerindians and with difficulty made our way through the mud between tall straight white trees of varying girths. Once or twice we slipped.
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