I made two trips to the Pantanal, Brazil's enormous interior swamp. So many stories yet to tell of these trips. The man on the left, for example, is a story. He paid hard cash for our group of American teacher-tourists.
We were sold like livestock from one tourist ranch to another, and never consulted. We were told we were moving to a more beautiful area for a few days. We were loaded in the back of a hot truck and transported for eleven hours across the dry road-less savanna that is the Pantanal in the dry season. We bounced and banged our heads on the hot tin roof of the truck bed. We burned our hands on the hot metal when we braced against the roof for endless bumps. For hours, the driver said we would be there soon. At one point our driver, the man at the far right in the photograph stopped at this house owned by the man in the center. This picture, however, was taken on the way home, not on the horrible trip into Bihia Bonita Ranch. The driver had never transported anything but livestock and didn't think of telling us cows where he was going. We slowly baked in the truck or walked around the hot road grumbling. Humidity and temperature were near 100 degrees. We watched our driver enter this house and an hour later come out with an ice-cold orange soda. He hoped back in the truck, saying nothing and mindlessly drove on for hours more never speaking.
We, a group of Graded School Teachers, were flabbergasted, hot, thirsty and angry. Later the ranch owner admitted to us he had never had tourists at his ranch before. We were his first guests/prisoners. The rancher who sold us to him said he could sell us water at highly inflated prices, and in that way become rich. The trip to the ranch was so grueling, and we were beaten and bruised on arrival. Evidently the trip had been considered a tool in making us compliant and thirsty enough to pay exorbitant prices. In the end, as bunch of natural teachers, we organized to educate and help the bewildered Rancher.
The Doctors Bohuslov, a teaching couple, were along and soon in charge. She, the head of Escola Graduada’s English department, and he, head of the math department, took a decisive leadership role in the adventure. They organized the kitchen and several creature-viewing expeditions into the wild. There was no shortage of Pinga, Brazil's potent rum. They established proper prices for water and meals. Jennifer Merchant and her daughter Madeleine, the only student along, had decided they would have a fun-bonding trip, no matter what. As a couple of playful girls, nothing could defeat them as they giggled about in pink shorts. Jennifer was the estranged wife of Dr. Merchant, our boss at Graded School. She and I became pals for the trip. This, perhaps, wasn’t wise. James Rostron, the boyish math teacher, became the voyage’s humorous commentator. I drove him crazy by introducing him as my son, saying I hoped he grew up just like me. His lines were at times so biting and deep that Doctor Misses Bohuslov at one point threw a glass of wine in his face. Bruce Carroll, a science teacher taught us the names of every plant and creature. He also taught us how to fish in the Piranha-infested Lake. One had to sling a caught fish over the heads of snapping gators. Along with myself, this group was destined to become known notoriously as the Pantanal Seven when we missed our return flight to Sao Paulo and put Doctor Merchant in quite a bind--but that’s another story.
A French photographer and his boy lover were the only other guests at the ranch. The Frenchman's room was filled with bags of snakes and we suspected he was illegally exporting his deadly catch. Still it was fun going on his outings, capturing and photographing the area's exotic snakes. For some reason he and his helper did this in bare feet. On one trip we met a man who had part of his upper arm bitten off by a giant Anaconda. I photographed the giant chunk taken from his bicep. The Frenchman also threw a baby alligator into a pack of sleeping adult alligators. The adults ate the baby so quickly I didn’t get a photograph.
So it was we stopped by the little house shown in this picture. The place setting and empty beers are mine. On the way out we shared our idea of making his house a rest stop to and from the ranch. We bought all the man's beer and soft drink supply, and sent him on two-day trip to town for more. We were his first customers in a trade that likely still thrives today. The rancher gave me his hat when we parted, and told me shaking his head that people were much more trouble than cattle.