The two travelers were soaked from head to toe by the time they reached the Spaniard’s home. The canoe pulled up into the mud and they toppled out of it, grateful for the chance to stretch their legs. They thanked the local and handed him a sack of coins, which he stared at confusedly for a moment before pocketing it. As the canoe pulled back into the river, they heard the local man laughing to himself. Grinning at each other, they looked up at the small hut which camouflaged into the forest.
The Amazon. They had finally done it.
This is a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I heard it first hand at a party about three years ago and was fascinated. So bear with me, keep reading and I promise you an adventure.
Professor Eli Greene reclined on the sofa next to his wife, as they celebrated their 60th birthdays. On the wall was a framed photograph inside a painting he had done himself. The photograph was of two people standing on a raft on the bank of the Amazon River.
“I’m going to tell you the story of that picture,” he told a room full of smiling party guests. “It was a long time ago, before we had children…
It was raining on that morning when Eli left the house for the pharmacy. He had to verify a new stagier that day, and he was not looking forward to it. He unlocked the doors and disarmed the alarm, enjoying the few minutes of peace and quiet until another crazy day began.
The door creaked open and Eli looked up. For a moment he thought it was just the wind, but then he noticed a woman walking toward him. She was practically the size of a fairy. She had long black waves below her shoulders and bright, curious eyes. Eli caught himself staring and cleared his throat.
“Morning,” he said.
She stood on tip toe to see over the counter. “Good morning. I’m Jess.”
Maybe it wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all.
It may have been love at first sight, or it may have taken a few times to really sink in. The moment when Eli knew he was captivated for life was when she told him what she had always wanted to do.
South America, she told him, was the place she wanted to travel. “There’s a legend about a man who lives at the very end of –”
“– the Amazon River,” he completed her sentence. “I’ve heard it. The Spaniard.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “I’ve always wanted to meet him.”
Eli gaped at her. In his mind he said, “Me too,” but what he heard was, “Will you marry me?”
“So that was how we met,” the professor continued. “And it was time to begin the journey we had both been waiting for.”
The twelve hour flight had finally come to an end. They touched down in Miami, Florida, tired from the travel but excited at the knowledge that this was finally it, the adventure to the Spaniard of the Amazon. They were to spend one night in a motel before continuing their journey to the southern hemisphere. Jess was glad to take off her shoes and collapse on the bed.
“Ugh!” she exclaimed, scrambling back to her feet. “The sheets are damp!”
Eli frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m asking them to change them,” she announced. He shrugged in response. Moments later an attendant arrived with a set of fresh bedding.
“These are damp as well,” Jess scowled. “This is unacceptable!”
“What do you expect from a cheap motel?” he offered apologetically.
“Clean sheets? That’s standard.”
Eli sighed as Jess called the hotel management and explained the situation.
“Hon, you know where you are, right?” the manager said over the phone.
“I don’t understand,” replied Jess.
“Hon, you’re in Miami. Things just don’t dry the way you’re used to up north.” The manager hung up.
“Despicable!” Jess exclaimed.
Eli glanced at her. “South America,” he reminded her.
She nodded. “South America. Where things don’t dry.”
“Traveling always sounds so magical,” explained the professor. “But you don’t always hear about the strange new experiences of being in a different part of the world.”
Eli placed the bags of produce in his backpack. “Thank you,” he said, and the salesman nodded graciously. Eli handed the man a pile of gold coins. The man stared at the coins.
“It’s money,” said Eli. “For the fruit.”
The man looked further confused. “Nothing to trade?”
Eli nodded. “Yes. The money. I’m trading the fruit for money.”
The man shook his head. “What can I do with this?” he handed to coins back to Eli.
Eli and Jess glanced at each other.
“Do you know how we get to the Spaniard?” Jess asked.
The man laughed. “But it’s not hunting season,” he said, as though this should have been obvious to them.
“Goodbye!” said the man. The waved to him and continued walking, puzzled by this experience.
“Everyone thought we were insane,” said the professor. “And looking back on it, they were right.”
“The Spaniard,” Eli said for what felt like the millionth time. “He lives at the end of the river.”
The skipper looked at him. “Ah, yes, I know this man.”
“You do?” Jess’s face lit up. “Finally!”
“I knew it was real,” said Eli. “So how do we get to him?”
The skipper shook his head. “It’s not hunting season,” he explained.
Jess and Eli exchanged glances. “Why does that matter?” Jess asked, but the skipper simply chuckled and disappeared inside his boat.
“Why don’t we rent a canoe?” offered Jess, noticing a small shop on the river bank.
“Certainly,” Eli agreed. “Who said we need local help?”
She grinned. He kissed her.
Ten minutes later, they were on their way. With life jackets strapped tightly around them, Eli took the paddle and sat in the canoe.
How hard can it be to operate a canoe? he thought. You just use the paddle, right?
Apparently, taking a canoe upstream on the Amazon river is no small job. Eli struck with all his might and managed to get the canoe about two feet up the river. Jess squealed as the water splashed her and Eli continued forcing his way inch by inch across the water. The canoe went backwards. He tried again. But all the canoe wanted to do was go with the flow.
Eli sighed. “We’ll find a way there,” he promised. Jess squeezed his hand.
“I know,” she replied.
The man with the canoe was built like an ox, with black hair all the way down his back.
“Will you take us up the river to see the Spaniard?” they asked. He stared at them.
“Why do you wish to visit the Spaniard?” he inquired.
They glanced at each other. “We would like to speak with him.”
The man chuckled. He waved away the pile of gold Eli offered him and gestured toward the canoe. “It’s a long ride,” he warned them.
“That’s okay,” said Jess. “We want to go.”
The man nodded. “It is a strange request, to visit the Spaniard.”
“We’ve noticed,” said Eli. “But we want to go.”
“All right,” said the man. He took two battered life vests out of the bottom of the boat and handed one to each of them. “You swim?” he asked.
“Yes,” the both said.
“Good. You do not swim in the Amazonas.”
The canoe trip took about an hour. The man clearly knew what he was doing much better than they did. Operating the canoe upstream was no problem for him. Eli and Jess held hands as the canoe tumbled over the waves. They watched as the tall banana trees slipped by them, welcoming them.
“Here,” said the man, anchoring the canoe in the shallow water. They stepped into the water and walked up to the bank.
“Good luck getting back,” said the man. “It’s not hunting season.”
The Spaniard greeted them outside his house. It was small, just one story high, and made entirely of wood put together skillfully. “Welcome, guests,” he said, bowing them into his home. The two could barely hide their excitement. The Spaniard of the Amazon, himself! He served them coffee and bananas. He told them the story of how he became the Spaniard of the Amazon.
“I left America after the war in Vietnam,” he said. “I no longer wished to live in a world with such disasters. I came here for some peace and quiet, a place where I could be entirely on my own, without the disappointment of people.”
His tone was bitter as he spoke of his time in the United States army. He explained to them how he lived at the end of the river, growing his own food, heating the house with firewood when needed. He had running water but no electricity. They were fascinated by his lifestyle.
“Can we come live here?” Jess whispered to Eli, who grinned at her in return.
They stood on the edge of the river bank. The spaniard frowned.
“Where is your boat?” he asked.
“We came in a canoe,” said Eli. “Someone gave us a ride.”
The Spaniard shook his head. “It’s not hunting season,” he said.
“What on earth does that mean?” asked Jess. “Everyone has been telling us that.”
“It means,” sighed the Spaniard, “that the usual hunters who come and go along the river are not out at this time of year. Nobody visits the Spaniard of the Amazon,” he explained.
Eli and Jess stared at each other.
They had no way to get back.
“Do you have a boat or something that we could borrow?” Eli asked. The Spaniard shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But it is very strange that you came to visit me. I am usually not equipped for visitors.”
Eli nodded. “I understand.” He glanced at the banana trees that grew around the Spaniard’s home. “Maybe we could build a raft.”
The Spaniard laughed. “Do you know how to build a raft?”
Eli shook his head. “How hard can it be?”
The Spaniard looked amused. “You are very daring,” he commented. “But yes, you can build a raft. I will show you.”
Jess’s wish of moving to live with the Spaniard seemed to be coming true. Building a raft, it appeared, was no simple task. The wood had to be collected from fallen trees, as cutting down the trees was not an option. Then the wood had to be dried.
“But we’re in South America,” Jess pointed out. “Where…”
“Nothing ever dries,” completed Eli. “How do we dry the wood?”
“Ah,” the Spaniard smiled. He showed them a room in his house where he stored the firewood. There was a fireplace in the corner. “The heat dries out the air,” he explained.
It took nearly a month for all the wood to dry. Then it had to be cut, shaped, sanded, and pieced together. The Spaniard knew exactly what he was doing. He instructed Eli exactly what shape to cut the wood, and what length, and how to nail them to each other so the raft would float. It was days and days of hard work for both Eli and Jess, though the Spaniard seemed to be enjoying himself. The nailed planks together until finally the raft was ready. Eli styled a paddle out of one of the remaining pieces of wood.
They were ready to go. Eli and the Spaniard laid the raft into the water and held it to the shore with rope.
“Good luck,” said the Spaniard, as the couple boarded the raft with their belongings.
“Can you take a picture?” Jess asked, handing the Spaniard a camera. He knew exactly what to do with it, even after his years of being away from technology.
“Thank you,” they said. The rope was released, and they sailed off down the river.
“And the whole way back, alongside whirlpools and rocks and waves, there was this banana,” said the professor, placing his glass of wine on the coffee table. “It followed us the whole way back to the mainland.”
“Did you eat it?” somebody asked.
Eli smiled. “Would you have eaten a banana that made its way across the Amazon?”