We are not alone. More intelligent life exists!: read on:
We were finally alone with hundreds of miles of pristine jungle separating us from the nearest habitation.
It never fails to leave me with a desolate feeling, to be alone so far from human civilisation. I was always left with a sense of trepidation but also a great thrill. But then, in this day and age, you were never truly alone. While you had your satellite phone you could always summon up assistance if required, even if you were in the most desolate region on earth.
Out here though, that assistance might be a long time coming and it might find it extremely hard to reach you. It was probably a false security. To all intents and purposes we were on our own.
Without more ado we set off. I directed them and Vitor took his place at the rear and started up the outboard while Enzo sat at the front with a paddle in hand and watchful eye. His job was to survey the water ahead for danger and parry away any submerged logs that might appear in front of us. The last thing we wanted was for some water-logged trunk to sink the boat or capsize us.
I sat amidships ostensibly in command even though there was little for me to do. That did not stop me from barking out orders from time to time, even if they were unnecessary. I was not in the business of making myself popular. This was all about survival. They knew their tasks and where we were heading, so for now I was essentially redundant.
For the most part I sat quietly, alternating between watching the GPS displaying our progress and observing the impenetrable barrier of green on either side of the river. Trying to see far into that dense jungle was a hopeless task. My eyes attempted to pierce the gloom between the trees but failed miserably, even so I could not refrain from trying. I could not shake off the feeling of impending doom. It was a feeling I had never experienced before. The usually excitement of being in the midst of such intoxicating beauty, setting off on an adventure, had been replaced by a sense of imminent danger that utterly spoilt it. The shadows in the foliage seemed sinister. It felt like we were being watched and heading for disaster, yet I could see no reason for my apprehension. I knew there were no other humans in that thick jungle.
Progress was slow. We were in no hurry but it felt like Enzo and Vitor were being extra cautious. It was best to put safety first but their over cautiousness only served to add to my misgivings.
With a great effort I controlled my fears as we progressed and I became used to the distressing sensation in my gut. I was determined to enjoy the splendour of the place.
There was plenty of opportunity to appreciate the beauty of our surrounds. Each time we passed a flock of brightly coloured birds or caught sight of a troupe of monkeys or an alligator poking its snout out of the water to watch us go by, it sent a wave of delight coursing through me. I was back in the wild. Though I did note that neither of my two companions seemed to show the slightest interest in the wonderful creatures we were encountering. That was not a good sign as far as I was concerned, but I put it down to the fact that, having been brought up here, they were probably used to the wonders of this verdant paradise.
The forward motion of the boat created a welcome cooling breeze. Vitor and Enzo took the opportunity to take off their shirts, their fluid movements and rippling muscles exuding efficiency, confidence and security. I noticed a number of scars and tattoos which tended to confirm my suspicions about their military connections though they were extremely reticent to share much of their personal history with me. All I could get out of them was that they had grown up in a small village on the Amazon and had left home at an early age to seek their fortunes. There was no mention of any military background though both had the same tattoo of a skull with crossed carbines on their forearms. I figured that was proof enough.
They were undoubtedly thoroughly at home in this environment. Not that it did much to relieve my nerves. I kept my khaki shirt on, setting an example as a leader, soaking as it was, and tried to relax.
Flocks of parrots took to the air, spooked by the noise of our outboard, a herd of capybaras trotted along the banks, casting nervous glances in our direction and groups of curious monkeys swung through the branches to get a better look at what was making such a strange loud noise.
Who knew what other eyes were watching unseen from the impenetrable dark. But I had the irrational, spooky feeling that we were being definitely being observed. If anything, those fears were growing the further up the river we progressed. No matter how much I tried they refused to be suppressed. The disquiet had settled like a wet blanket over me.
That first day we made slow but steady progress before setting up camp for the evening. There was little talk around the campfire, merely basic discourse concerning what needed doing, setting up the actual camp and hammocks, who took sentry duty and preparations for the next day. I did not mind that too much. I was back in the jungle I loved and I had no intention of befriending my two colleagues – just as long as they carried out their responsibilities and proved reliable I was content. Or I would have been if only I could have freed myself of the mood of gloom and fear that assailed me and refused to go away.
We used our instruments to take readings and recorded our observations as we were employed to do. I made sure that we were as professional and efficient as possible. There was a lot of money riding on this venture. I intended to make certain that we did our jobs.
I took first watch and passed over to Enzo at midnight before retiring into my insect-proof cocoon, dangling high up in the tree branches safe from marauding carnivores and invertebrates. That night I felt safe and snug in my hammock listening to the sounds of the nightlife. It sounded as if we had set up camp in the middle of some major intersection where every conceivable animal and insect passed by. The whole area was alive. It was like being on a wildlife motorway. But that was something I was familiar with. I relished it. I found them reassuring. The animal life was not the cause of the uneasiness that gnawed at my guts and put my nerve endings on alert.
‘I will make Brazil the greatest country in the world,’ Pinosaro stated arrogantly, nodding towards the camera with his signature pout.
He was sitting in his Presidential office. Behind him a large map of Brazil was prominent. It was easy to see the proposed superhighway marked out in orange through the large expanse of green.
‘We will not be dictated to by the greedy dogs of the West,’ he said, spitting out the words as if referring to some diseased vermin. ‘They want it all for themselves. But this country is the richest in the world. We have the greatest assets. It is time that we took control of our resources and profited from the wealth we have locked away in this great land.’
He gestured towards the map on the wall.
‘All we lack is the will,’ he asserted with great passion. ‘We must believe in ourselves. We have to invest in order to prosper.’ He leaned forward, placing both hands on his desk and fixing his audience with two glowing orbs, bulging eyes, glaring out at them from his resolute face. ‘I will change your favelas to mansions. I will make you all rich. Together we will make Brazil the greatest nation in the world.’ The veins on the side of his forehead throbbed with the intensity of his performance. He knew his poverty-stricken people inside out. He knew how to press their buttons.
It was the type of rhetoric that had made the poor believe in him. When the desperate, living their miserable, hopeless lives in the violent, gang-infested poverty of the favelas, heard him speak, they could picture a different type of life, a different reality, a place of security, comfort and prosperity. He presented them with a vision of the future; one in which they had a future. He gave them hope. It was the mantra that had brought him into power.
‘Never again will we have to bow down to the USA,’ Pinosaro assured them, his fiery eyes glinting from his granite features. ‘It is our land,’ he asserted fiercely, ‘our wealth, and it should be exploited for the good of the people of Brazil. It will make us the greatest nation in the history of the world. It will make us all wealthy.’
He pulled himself to his full height, thrusting out his chest and raised his head in regal haughtiness.
‘I have removed the restrictions holding us back,’ he told them, as if it were these environmental laws that was making them all poor; as if suddenly the wealth would not be going into the pockets of the rich investors but would finally find its way into the pockets of the ordinary people. His face shone with sincerity. He stared out at them as if making a solemn promise. There was not the slightest hint of betrayal. He was the consummate politician; the consummate performer. There were no Oscars in his trade but there were rewards enough. ‘I have repealed the legislation forced on us by foreign powers,’ he lied. ‘They want us hog-tied so they can keep us down. But I have freed us. I am opening up the forest for the good of the people. We will all prosper from the massive wealth it contains!’
The image of Pinosaro shone out from millions of bars and antiquated TV sets in millions of the poorest slums. Men looked up from drinking to listen. Families crowded round their tiny sets to tune in to his message.
They did not care about the forests, its creatures or any threat of pollution. They were crammed together in the dirt and squalor of disease-ridden shanty towns. They did not believe things could get any worse. They lived among the open sewers and garbage of the clogged up creeks, infested with flies and rats, with their kids playing in among the rotten detritus. They did not care about anything apart from getting out from the nightmare of their lives. All they wanted was to get a bit of what everyone else had.
Pinosaro was offering the message of hope that the poor longed to hear. They had flocked to him in droves from the crowded slums of the favelas of Rio. Pinosaro was their saviour. He talked their language. He promised them the earth. They did not even mind if he made himself obscenely rich in the process, just as long as he delivered for them.
All around the globe the impact of Pinosaro’s landslide victory had been met with different degrees of enthusiasm and dismay.
Some saw him as a short-term popularist who would feather his own nest and be gone in a flash.
Some saw him as a champion of the common people who would benefit from the economic policies he was bringing in. They put people before all other considerations and thought him to be a strong man with sound business sense.
Yet many saw him as a major threat to the planet. They viewed his opening up of the Amazon along with the resultant devastation, as a total disaster for nature and the world. They were horrified at the proposed highway to open up the interior and the effect that would have on climate change and species extinction rates.
The major business conglomerations saw Pinosaro’s mad scheme as a great opportunity. The construction, mining, oil and logging companies knew that for all Pinosaro’s bluster there were not the home-grown industries in Brazil to cater for this massive expansion. There would be ample opportunities for outside operatives and expertise to gain a foothold and make a tidy profit.
There was much gnashing of teeth, shrugging of shoulders and rubbing of hands.