The President of Brazil is after opening up the Amazon jungle and making himself extremely rich. Peter Cummings is an English explorer who has been brought in to survey the project.
Pinosaro, the madman, actually believed he could carry out one of the most audacious engineering ventures in the history of mankind, even though anybody with half a brain could see that the whole enterprise was foolish. He was proposing to build a highway right through the Amazon jungle, from Bellem through Santarem, Manaus to Muto and finally connecting up to Quito in Bolivia. It was intended to open the rainforest up to mining and logging as well as promoting trade. He arrogantly claimed he could make Brazil the greatest, wealthiest country on the planet. He told his adoring acolytes that Brazil had the resources and he was the man to turn them into cash. The whole idea was ridiculous. Some of the land he was thinking of crossing was treacherous and impassable. The cost of the project was too colossal to think about. But that was Pinosaro’s problem, not mine.
I knew it was a mad idea right from the start but I was not about to tell him that. Everyone knew of Pinosaro’s legendary temper. He had no idea of the obstacles in his way. I knew the scheme would never be completed. It was a mammoth project with such huge problems that it would cost trillions to reach fruition and Pinosaro could not raise that kind of funding.
Not that any rational reasoning ever impacted on Pinosaro. His mind only focussed on power. But I suspected that he was never really interested in completing this project in the first place. His primary aim was purely political. He sold the idea to the poor Brazilian people and made them believe in it. They voted for him in droves. They were behind him. That was enough to get him elected. He had the power and that was all he cared about – well that and money. His personal wealth was growing beyond all measure.
The thing is that when you have the power the cash flows in. They might not believe in that highway but all the mining, oil and timber companies wanted a part of the action. They were eager to get their hands on all that untapped wealth. Financing the project, at least for its initial stages, was not an issue and Pinosaro was carefully squirrelling away his share of that loot.
I do not think any of the people involved with Pinosaro actually believed they would achieve the whole of the scheme, but they knew that the first stage would open up the rainforest and they would get access to some of the greatest unexploited resources on the planet. It did not matter if they had the project completed, merely starting it would be sufficient to unlock those resources. They would be long gone before the infeasibility became apparent.
As for environmental issues, well they were never a consideration – not when there was huge profit to be made.
Personally I hated the idea of the rainforest being decimated but I tried to put that aspect out of my mind. Inside I was furious with myself. By accepting the role, I was part of a project that might speed up the destruction of the very thing I loved – the wilderness.
So that is why I was here.
The proposal had been irresistible. Pinosaro was offering me the opportunity to do what I loved best – to explore places that had never been seen before. There was nothing I liked better. I focussed on that. I deployed the common excuse that if not me then it would be somebody else. Pinosaro was not about to be deflected from his great scheme.
The other thing about this project that angered me was that Pinosaro insisted that I would be accompanied by two unknown companions who he assured me were highly capable local men who were conversant with the jungle and aware of its dangers. According to him they would be valuable in this terrain.
I had no qualms about using local expertise but I liked to put together my own team. When you were out there confronting the sort of dangers you were bound to encounter in such remote places you had to know who you could trust and what they were capable of. But it seemed this was not negotiable. If I wanted the job I had to accept the terms. So I found myself teamed up with two men I had never met before and had little time to get to know. I had to trust to fate. That had not filled me with confidence.
I was only introduced to my two companions just before we were due to leave and we were in a whirl of activity so there was little time to talk. It was all a bit of a rush job. We had just three days in which to make detailed plans and gather the requirements for our trip – hardly any time for such an undertaking. Luckily, I had the experience and knew what I would need.
The two men – Enzo Silva and Vitor Ruiz – were Brazilian nationals, brought up in the rainforest and supposedly adept at trekking and dealing with the type of dangers we were certain to encounter.
I had to admit that they looked the part. I was impressed with their physique and the capabilities they displayed right from the start. Despite my reservations I could see that they were going to be an asset while trekking through the type of terrain we were going to encounter. They were tough, strong and resourceful but, on the downside, I found them surly and not greatly friendly. I would far rather have had my own team, but took a pragmatic view; they seemed capable and it was the only way I could get the opportunity to embark on this venture. I had to put up with it.
I was in no doubt as to the real reason they were there. I knew their appointment, good as they might well be, was more of a political choice. They were there to make sure I kept in line. That was obvious. Pinosaro was using this expedition as a publicity stunt. He wanted to splash it across the media so everyone could see the grandiose operation that he was sponsoring. To that effect we were given the full media treatment and I had to perform before a hundred cameras. Not that I minded that too much. It was the price you paid and I was used to it. I did not find the media too much of a hardship.
But those two guys worried me. They seemed arrogant. That did not bode well. Arrogance does not make for good teamwork. It created friction. I weighed them up straight away and saw that the only way this was going to work was to have a hierarchy. If we could not be a team of equals one of us needed to be the boss.
I felt I needed to impress upon them just who was in charge of the operation. I laid out the plans, told them precisely what I required and established the protocols. I made it quite clear what their roles were; they were the support crew – I was in charge.
They seemed to accept things without argument but I had the distinct impression that the acceptance was skin deep; they were merely tolerating me. As far as they were concerned, I could play whatever role I wanted. They would go along with it – just as long as it suited them.
So it was, after all the hoo-ha of preparation, that I found myself, along with my taciturn companions, being deposited on a beach in a clearing on a tributary of the Putamayo River. It was a small river that took us into the densest forest on the planet; an area that no man had ever set foot in. That tributary was the only way in to the designated area. There were no clearings and the rapids, weed islands and logs made it impossible for amphibious craft to land. The place was as inaccessible as a place could be.
Our task was to head down that tributary, make our way into the dense forest, and explore the area, chart it and assess how a section of Pinosaro’s highway could be laid through this unknown expanse of virgin forest. While we did that we were meant to be noting any other possible commercial opportunities – oil, minerals or hardwood trees.
I had previously carried out such surveying work so I knew how to go about it.
In truth I had little hope of coming up with anything useful to Pinosaro in terms of laying that damn highway, and I do not really believe he cared one way or another, but at least I would get to explore an area of the planet where no man had ever been, not even indigenous tribes. For some reason the native Brazilians had put a taboo on the whole region. None of them ever ventured in. The rumour was that it was inhabited by evil spirits. But I was a 21st century man. I did not believe in evil spirits. The idea of getting into that area filled me with elation even if the whole venture was nothing more than a token gesture for Pinosaro’s crazy scheme. Indeed, it made me happy to think that it would come to nothing. I was relying on that. So I was in a good mood on that count.
Or at least I had been – right up until the moment we arrived on that desolate beach – now that elation was totally immersed with this overwhelming sense of dread. Maybe there was something in those evil spirits after all? Even though my rational mind rejected such superstitious nonsense, a deeper lurking fear was tugging at my subconscious, sending shivers through me.