We were halfway between Port Kaituma and Jonestown Sunday before I thought to ask Emil Rudder who owned the tractor we were riding on.
"I don't remember this tractor?" he asked as we bounced along the rutted, twisting dirt road that links the tiny airstrip at Port Kaituma, where Rep. Leo J. Ryan's body lay a year ago, with Jonestown, where the Rev. Jim Jones was also dead.
"This is the tractor," Rudder continued, pausing just long enough for the words to have effect, "that Jim Jones sent to kill you. Jimmy Jones was a bitch, a real bitch, you know,"
A year after Ryan and four others in his party of aides, diplomats, journalists and defectors from the People Temple were killed on the runway at Port Kaituma and 909 others died after taking cyanide-laced grape drink at Jonestown, there are still many signs of the awful events that occurred, one after the other, on the afternoon of Nov. 18, 1978.
Those in Port Kaituma who played a role in the drama -- men like Rudder and women like Helen Rowe, who offered her little bar as a haven to the Port Kaituma survivors at what then seemed considerable risk -- are still living in the little hamlet in the Guyanese rain forest 130 miles from Georgetown and five miles from Jonestown.
At the former commune itself, scraps of paper, spent syringes, placards on building walls, trunks and even the odor of death that a year ago was overpowering after the mass suicide-murder, are still evident, recalling the final, horrifying day of Jim Jones' isolated world.
For one who was in Jonestown until almost the very end and who was wounded during the ambush at Port Kaituma, my return to Jonestown Sunday, a year after I thought I had left this part of the world for the last time, was a strange but not altogether unpleasant experience.
It brought back memories, more sorrowful than angry, of the weekend a year ago when all of us -- both those with the congressman and those with Jim Jones -- found ourselves caught in a drama that ultimately took more than 900 lives for reasons that can be explained but perhaps nevery fully understood.
Despite the memorles, my trip back to Jonestown, and especially to Port Kaituma, also offered an opportunity to chat with those who still live there, particularly Rudder and Rowe, whom I remember only for the kindness and risks they took on our behalf once the shooting at the airstrip had ended.
Emil Rudder was the police corporal who met Ryan when the California Democrat brought his group here and warned the 19 persons aboard, including myself, not to move more than 10 feet from the craft.
The gun Rudder was carrying was aimed directly at us the first time we met but, only a day later, he tried as best he could to protect us when it appeared that Jones might send another group of marksmen to kill those who had survived the initial massacre on the runway.
"It took a long time for me to forget," Rudder said as we bounced toward Jonestown Sunday. "I still often think about Don Harris and Greg Robinson," the NBC correspondent and San Francisco Examiner photographer killed along with the congressman at Port Kaituma, he added -- his eyes, more than his words, expressing the sadness he feels.
Before joining Rudder and leaving Port Kaituma for Jonestown shortly before noon Sunday I went to the rum house near the airstrip where most of the survivors spent a terror-filled night before the first troops came to our rescue on Sunday, Nov. 19, 1978.
I wanted to thank the woman whose name I did not know until Sunday, who let us stay with her and her family, who gave us food and drink and who calmed our fears that a second group of gunmen from Jonestown might return that night to kill us.
I wanted to ask Helen Rowe why she and her family risked allowing us to hide in their ramshackle little bar when others in Port Kaituma had refused.
"The reason? Just human feelings, I guess. Nothing more," she explained as we sat and drank another Pepsi together in the bar.
"My husband said, 'Helen, we're going to help those poor people. We can't leave them outside all night.'
"I asked him, 'Why? Suppose something happens. I was afraid to tell you the truth. We were made to understand that the people from Jonestown would be back.
"But my husband said we should help. Then the ambassador came and said, 'Just don't open the door.'"
I gave Rowe a copy of a book I and others at The Washington Post wrote, called "Guyana Massacre." I wanted her to know that in it I had thanked her for her kindness even if I had failed to get her name last year.
The book, like all the others written about the events at Jonestown, is not available in Guyana because the Guyanese government, which owns the company that imports books, has tried to keep its own people from knowing the details of the bloody denouement of the Peoples Temple.
At Jonestown, itself, the government has stationed a security force of about 10 policemen to keep the curious out. It has also brought in about 50 farmers to till the field carved out of the jungle by Jones' followers and to tend the 170 pigs, 115 cows and 250 chickens that remain.
They have succeeded in keeping the commune in excellent working order despite predictions last year that Jonestown would be quickly overrun by the fast-growing rain forest.
What is most noticeable now is the silence where once, only a year ago, more than 900 Americans lived. Their laughter and cries and the droning voice of Jones, amplified by loud-speaker, are only memories now.
After the bodies were removed from Jonestown by the U.S. Army, the Guyanese spent weeks trying to disinfect the commune and make it habitable again. The floor of the central pavilion, where many of the bodies were found, was covered with a mixture of seashells and dirt. The main altar was stripped of its floorboards, which had been stained by rotting bodies.
But crushed into the fertile soil, scattered through the wooden cabins and dormitories, neatly displayed in the central pavilion -- in all the places where the members of the Peoples Temple walked, slept, listened to Jones' monologues and drank the poison he served them -- and reminders of what happened a year ago.
In cabin 50, I found a trunk that belonged to Tom Kice, one of the gunmen who attacked us at Port Kaituma. In another cabin, I found a piece of unused Peoples Temple stationery among the clothes and other reminders of human life.
In the house where Jim Jones lived, the stench of death absent in the other buildings was still present.
The personal effects of those who had lived there -- bottles of hair rinse, eyedrops, a drawer full of used syringes and a package labeled "morphine sulphate" -- were still scattered about.
And, in the central pavilion, the sayings that Jones lived and died by still hang on painted signs. Once above the altar reads:
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."