"Don't you think the Amazon's a little far to go for the weekend?" My husband asked.
"Not really," I answered. "If you don't count the overnight flight to Rio, which you shouldn't because you're already going there for a Friday morning business meeting."
"But Rio's a wonderful city, and July is their winter. Why don't we just spend a nice, cool, weekend there?"
"Because," I said reasonably, "We'll be flying over the Amazon anyway on our way to your Monday meeting in Bogota. Who knows when we'll ever get such a perfect chance to see it again?"
"Never, I hope," I heard him mutter. "Do you realize the Amazon basin is on the equator? It's probably one of the hottest places in the world."
"So is Washington," I said. "We can wear our same summer clothes."
I did get one new outfit, a wraparound skirt from Garfinckel's, jungle khaki on one side and tropical flowers on the other.
"Why don't you get some books too, so we'll know about the culture and the people?" my husband said.
"I already know about the people," I burbled. "First there'll be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, flying down to Rio, and next it'll be like Tondeleyo - I'll come through a beaded curtain in a jungle hut, and you'll - "
He blanced. "No I won't, it'll be too hot!" He backed away.
But still I could see the idea appealed to him, because he packed his bead necklace, the one I like because it's sexy and tropical-looking. I packed our white tennis hats from Woodies - lighter weight than pith helmets, I explained - and we were ready.
"Goodbye, Washington, see you next Tuesday," I said as our plane took off.
They gave us little zipper purses with toothbrushes and washcloths, and the attendants all spoke perfect Portuguese. The easy listening was Latin with a jungle beat, and painted jaguars and parrots peered at us from the cabin's decorative panels. I was in a lather of excitement, peering down in the dark. The pilot said we were only over South Carolina, but I imagined the Caribbean, Venezuela, and then the bulge of Brazil.
"Brazil!" I said aloud. "How that name invokes jungles, tomtoms, Stewart Granger - "
"That was Africa. 'King Solomon's Mines,'" Tony said from behind his sleep mask.
The next morning - Friday - we landed in Rio and Tony sped off to his meeting while I completed our arrangements at the Amazonas State tourist office. We had the best Indian guide in the Amazon, the manager said. Duca would show us everything. We would like him. It would all be perfectly safe.
"That's too bad," I said to Tony when we met back at the airport after lunch. "It doesn't sound dangerous at all."
But I peered down anyway as we left the coast and flew north into roaring headwinds, up over the Brazilian plateau. In two hours we saw Brasilia, the gleaming white capital laid out in the shape of an eagle, below us. Another hour and the plateau descended. There was green ahead, gray-green at first, then dark, spreading east, west, flowing under and behind us.I glued myself to the windows, seeing endless emptiness; no roads, no towns, just an occasional tiny streamer of smoke spiraling upwards.
"It's gigantic!" I turned to Tony.
"The largest forest left on earh," he said, looking up from his guidebook. "Supplying a fifth of the world's oxygen, and a fifth of the world's frest-water supply."
I nodded happily. "Maybe we'll get stranded. We'll eat nuts and berries, and we'll tell all our friends . . ."
I looked down again in time to see a quick tan slash - the Transamazon highway - and then the green again. One more hour at 600 mph. The pilot announced our descent to Manaus and I grabbed Tony's elbow.
"There it is!" I shouted. "The river!"
It lay below us, pale silver in the afternoon light, the largest river I had ever seen. Goosebumps rose on my arms. All of a sudden I felt really far from Rehoboth.
Outside the airport the heat hit us like a bomb; Tony reeled back, lurching for a taxi.I was more upset about our hotel, an elaborate airline-run creation of Mediterranean-style architecture, set in a tropical garden with a zoo. It was air-conditioned.
"You can warm up outside," Tony said as he seated himself in front of our room vents, the cold air blowing directly on his face. "This pamphlet says there's a multilayered pool with a waterfall."
The water was as warm as the air, 98 degrees at dusk, and I felt better until I saw our dinner: European wines, vinaigrette dressing on the huge chunks of hearts of palm, bearnaise sauce on the baked river fish.
"Where are all the nuts and berries?" I wondered as I watched Tony finish off his baklava.
The next morning, Saturday, we boarded our excursion steamer. I had known there was no escaping thie first, civilized part of the river, but still I was startled by the traffic: cargo boats, small ferries crossing from bank to bank, even floating gasoline stations that also carried ice for the fishing boats. We settled down under a roof in open seats, taking pictures, watching the other passengers - all local - and looking at the weird arrangements of buildings on the river's edge.
Seasonal rainfall in the Andes to the north and west causes a regular 45-foot differential between high water and low, and everything along the banks either floats - on rafts, pontoons or platforms - or is on 30-foot stilts.
Tony read from his guidebook: "Brazil's main harvests are, in order, jute, rubber, Brazil nuts and timber; there are 200 kinds of mammals in the Amazon basin; the biggest family is the rodents. There are 1,800 species of birds, 1,500 species of fish and a constricting snake, the anaconda, that lives in the water and can grow to 45 feet and weigh 400 pounds." He was getting to the lists of trees and flowers when I began to feel queasy from the roll of the boat - it was going fast and the water was choppy. Soon the town fell away and the banks were lined with trees, most of them looking dead. Tony explained that Amazonia is full of deciduous trees that all shed on their own schedules, so that year round there are always some that are bare.