Saturday, May 14, 2005

To the Amazon, with Paul Theroux

    I travel to find obstacles, to discover my limits, to ease the passage of time, to reassure myself that innocence and antiquity exist, to search for links to the past, to flee from the nastiness of urban life and the paranoia, if not outright dementia, of the technological world.
This time Paul Theroux travels to the Amazon, eastern Equador, "where the ayahuasca vine clinging to the trunks of rain forest trees grows as thick as a baby's arm." Travelling eastwards, his group arrives in Lago Agrio,
    a boom town that had grown to accommodate the sprawl of the American oil companies, which were exploiting the rainforest and displacing the Indians,
a stinking town -- "the sour creamy stink of spilled oil" -- "of furtive shadows and sharp clicking heels." Mostly there are those who work all night in the oil fields and spend their mornings getting drunk and finding women. Polished skulls of endangered jaguars, hunks of tortoiseshell, stuffed bats, mounted lizards, dead spiders transfixed by needles, all these are there for sale; also weapons of all sorts. In fact one can have "a Toxic Tour, a survey of the local blight caused by Halliburton and Occidental Petroleum."

Then Theroux goes to a Secoya village, a village beyond a long reach of a river, and in the late evening,

    daylight drained from the sky, the jungle darkened, the river gurgled at the hull of the dugout; yet the river, amazingly, was still visible, holding the last of the light, as though the day glowed undissolved in its muddy current.
One day he decides to go deep into the rainforest. Three hours of walk to the forest, and there are "brilliant heleconias, beaky strelitzias, wild-eyed blossoms, pink torches of wild ginger, and the attenuated Datura Brugmansia, Angel's Trumpet, that gave people visions and could make them go blind. Ayahuasca, too: the vine was unprepossessing and serpentine on the tree trunks."
    Only the dimmest daylight penetrated to the bottom of the forest. The greenish air was littered with gnats and filtered sunlight, and here and there a large woolly wheel of a spider's web, the spider crouched at the edge like a small dusty plum with legs.
Theroux was just beginning to think that "it was possible to believe that, though humans had passed nearby, none had interfered with it, nor had never bent a stem, nor plucked a flower, that this was a little Eden of the Secoya people", and a gigantic helicopter lands near by with its Americal oil companiy people.
    It was one of the ugliest things I had ever seen in my life.

    "This is Secoya land," I said. "How can they be drilling for oil?"

Later, Theroux learns "that the local people had been paid a pittance by the American oil company, so that the fence could be erected, but no profits would accrue to them, and it was only a matter of time before this part of the rainforest would have the shops and brothels and bars and oil-spattered roads of Lago Agrio."

And much more ...

Read the full thing.


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