The Head Waters of the Amazon

    It was now time for my hitch in the jungle to begin.  I was put on a large passenger plane, a DC-4 I believe, that took me to Yurimaguas, a large jungle city northeast of Lima and on the jungle side of the Andes.  It  was on one of the 3 rivers that made up the headwaters of the mighty Amazon.  Deminix, the German Oil Company that ran the show, had a small office there.  As I recall, I was told that the population was about 30,000.  To my amazement, the biggest building, other than the giant Catholic Church, was only a 2-story building.  Shanty shacks were all over the riverside.
    I was introduced to one of the bosses and was to stay the night until one of the choppers could break loose and come for me the next day.  The company accountant, an American, took me under his wing.  We had dinner after which he took me on a tour of the city's bars.  I found out later that nobody wanted to be around the guy because he got drunk so often and was known for breaking up a few bars.
    After several tries he finally found a bar that would let him in.  It did not take him very long to get drunk and we were asked to leave. We hit one more bar where he broke the jukebox, which caused the bar tender to chase him. So here we are, walking down the street and this guy is drunk and singing "The Streets of Lorado" as loud as he can.  The local police were know as "white mice" to him because of their white shirts and usual quite manner.  They were watching us constantly from the alleyways.  It was my understanding that they were judge and jury and enforced such with the slinged machine gun that they all carried. I honestly thought I was going to get shot because of his midnight singing. Somehow he found his way home and I slept on the sofa.
    I want to say something about the girls in the office there.  As I remember, the temperature in the jungle was always around 83 degrees.  Let a cold wave come in and the temperature drop all the way down to 80 degrees and the girls would come in with heavy sweaters.  They couldn't work because they were freezing to death.  The next day they would all have colds.  Let a heat wave come in and the temperature sore to 86 degrees and you swear they were all dying.  They couldn't get enough fans on them.  No work got done either.  I always thought that rather interesting.
    The next day one of the choppers came and picked me up and brought me to "Angomos Base" which was down river about 30 minutes by chopper or 1-hr by speed boat.   It didn't take me but 30 seconds or so to see that one of our flight procedures had to be revised.   In case of engine problems we were to pop the floats and set her down on the river.  No-Way Jose.  That river was only going about 30 mph and had huge trees floating down it all over the place.  The entire shore, outside of the city, was lined with trees that would easily turn over a chopper on floats.  No Thank You, I 'd much rather put it into the trees and just hang there for a while.
    When we got to Angomos base I was introduced to the guys.  They introduced me to Tito, the Argentinean base boss for that shift, then the guys took me to the mess hall and we talked for a while.  Something was wrong thought but I couldn't put my finger on it.  I couldn't help noticing that the old chief pilot kept writing things down in a little shirt pocket note book.
    The dual controls were put in one of the ships and Steward and I went out for a day's work.  He was really good and showed me the ropes while explaining the geoseismic side of the operation.  They were there to find the pockets of oil that were under the jungle.  They did it by placing super sensitive sensors all along a 2-1/2 miles stretch on either side of a central point (computer tent) that was always set up on a grid line.  The grid line was surveyed in advance and had to go in a straight line no matter what.  The "Trochas" cut out the grid trails and cut out a football size heliport every 5 miles.  There were several teams of Trochas putting in several grids.  The computers (I believe about 8 of them) were designed to be backpacked along the trail then coupled together, along with the batteries at the midpoint site.  Putting the computers and batteries in the chopper and moving them from one site to the next saved a heck of a lot of time.  All the "abraoes" (laborers) had to do were to carry the many rolls of cable along the trail to the next location.  We even helped them there by sling loading some of the cables, in a leap-frog type operation to the next site.
    When all 2-1/2 miles of sensor and explosive wire and charges were set the field boss, an ex-Egyptian commando name "Busony" and his helper "Hippie Roho" (a red-headed Mexican) would zero out the computers and yell out a signal for everyone to stand still.  The command would then be yelled as fast as possible all the way up the line to the last man and back again.  When everything was still they would set off the charges, get their readings on paper graphs, then send out the command to begin picking everything up and moving to the next station.  They loved the chopper because it saved them the 5 mile jungle walk and let them get right to the fun stuff.
    The old chief pilot had diarrhea a lot and seemed to be sweating all the time.  He rarely flew in the afternoon and stayed in his tent working on a journal I believe.  He would be at every meal thought and if anyone said anything about the way the operation was being run he would take out his pocket note book and write it down.  He would make a big deal about getting the time down and then give the offending person one of his "I got you now" looks.  I had the feeling the guys were just waiting for him to leave before they would have their say on things.
    When the old chief pilot left for a few days the guys sat me down in the mess hall and began filling me in on everything.  Bill Miller, the big Deminix Company boss, was there now and sat in on the meeting.  He was well aware of the conflict between the chief pilot and the rest of his crew.  He said that anything we decided to do was all right with him as long as the choppers kept flying on schedule.  In short, the chief pilot had no idea how or what to do to run the operation so the guys were doing it on their own so it would run right.  They were not aware that Steward was now the new chief pilot.  They were glad that their letters were reaching somebody in the head office.  Unfortunately they assumed that I, being a "company man" could correct all the problems by "ordering" things changed.  I could not, all I was suppose to do was report back directly to the NY Chief Pilot.
    After a few days the old chief pilot flew in and shut down his chopper without any cool down.  I was waiting for him with book in hand and showed him where it stated that the engine needed a 2 minute cool down.  He acknowledged such then we all went into the mess hall for a talk. I then informed him of what I was told about the operation from the chief pilot in NY and that Steward was suppose to be the chief pilot now.  He knew that Steward was suppose to be the new chief pilot and that the information was never passed along.  When I showed him the time audits I did on both choppers he acknowledged the fact that because of his frequent overnights with the chopper we were piling on time to one ship and that was really screwing up maintenance.  He took notes on everything and left for Yurimaguas on one of the speedboats before dawn the following day.  The camp boss said he was glad he had left.  Steward didn't want anything to do with being chief pilot so I was given the task of making everything work right and getting the ships back on schedule.
    After a couple of days I began making some changes.   The troches were putting the chopper pads in the middle of the jungle clearings.  I had them put them at one end because there was not much wind in the jungle and the trees were so tall that it didn't get down to the pad any ways.   This gave us a lot more time to load up the blades if we were going in heavy and to get into transitional lift a lot earlier before powering out of there.
    The other big change that I made was to put the girls up front.  The back seats had been removed and plywood flooring put in to make the back section into one big cargo area for all the cables.  Now about the girls.  The abraoes worked a 6 month on and 3 days off schedule and got paid $1.50 a day for it.  Jungle law said that you had supply them a woman every 3 weeks I believe and we had 3 of them that we flew around.   One I never saw because she was always sick.  One was a much older woman that always wore commando cloths and could easily pass for one of the guys.  The third was a young lady that always wore a pretty dress, carried a purse and always carried a pair of shoes that she only wore from the chopper pad to the special tent that they had set up just for her.  She was as pretty as any stateside high school home coming queen and had a smile and figure to boot.  She definitely was in demand.
    A special tent was set up just for her that was off by itself.  It always had the best mosquito netting they had and a special foam mattress that was just for her.  She provided services for 12 abraoes a night at a cost of 50 cents each and would stay over if the site had more than she could accommodate in one night.  They treated her like a queen and she was making a killing at $6.00 a night.  She was making about 3 times what the workers were making busting their butts hauling that cable all day.  I say 3 times and not 4 because some of the guys couldn't pay so she bartered her services.   That's how we got our little hanger zoo.  One guy had two baby short-eared killer Black Panther kittens that were about 8" long.  She got the panthers and Kusterman bought them for $1.00.  Another guy swapped her 4 giant snails and so on and so on.
    The old chief pilot, besides not understanding why all those people down there could not understand English, had ordered all the females' to ride in the back with the cables.  That made us look bad to the workers and they showed it by loading and unloading the chopper in slow motion if they did it at all.  I saw how important the girls were to them and told everyone to let them sit up front in the other seat.  Boy did that ever turn the abraoes attitude towards us around.
    Bill Miller held the unofficial world's record for catfish at some 600 lb..  Seems his hobby was catching the giant catfish that were in the Amazon.  He could only weigh 1/2 a fish at a time because all he had access to was the chopper cargo scales that we used.  He kept pictures of all his catches.
    Bill also had a full grown pet Ocelot that had paws twice the size of your hand, huge black eyes, and teeth about an inch long.  It had been a family pet and a well mannered one until some little kids pelted it with stones to hear it snarl.  It had gotten much too fidgety to keep at home so he brought it to Angomos Base.  At the base it was unknowingly put on a new concrete pad that was still curing that was for a new large building.  The cat started acting funny so one of the mechanics got brave and went over for a look see and found that the lye in the concrete was eating up its paws.  The boss then moved the cat into the corner of the mess hall and had a semi-circle drawn to show the maximum distance that the chain reached.  The mechanics then went to work putting milk on the cat's paws which neutralizes the acid it seemed.  The cat knew they helped it and let them become friends.
    It didn't take long before the mechanics had worked up a little proof-of-manhood initiation.  They found that the cat liked to play.  To do that you had to walk into the circle then call the cat over.  Next you would give it a little slap along the side of the head and the cat would begin to play just like a regular state side cat.  It seemed to love the attention but sometimes it got a little rough.  When it broke the skin with its teeth it was time to stop and most times you would have to pry its jaws apart in order to get your arm back.  I tried to hold out as long as I could but the guys really got on me so my time finally came.
    I've got to tell you, that was one of the hardest things I ever made myself do.  Here was this jungle cat that could probably kill you with one bite and you had to get within its killing range and give it a good slap along side the head.  Some initiation.  In any case I did and just like everyone else he started playing.  We played for a few minutes and all of a sudden it had my right elbow and had a strong enough grip that the teeth broke through the skin in several places.  I stopped and it stopped and I said "NO" and those big black eyes just stared back like it knew it went too far but did not know what to do, including letting go.  I said "NO" again, even more emphatically and it let go.  That was the one and only time I played with the cat.
    We ate well at Angomos base and had steak just about every night even though the entire country was under a sever meat shortage.  It seems that a few years before the government had ordered all the large cattle ranches to be broken up and the cattle divided among the locals.  Everybody got 2 cows or steers.  Then most everybody promptly killed one for a feast and in just a few weeks 1/2 of all the cattle were gone.  After that I believe the sale of beef was only allowed during the first 15 days of the month and was still in effect while I was there.  In the jungle nobody was looking so things got stretched a bit.  It seemed that every cow that was killed for the camp had a calf inside, which was taboo to the locals, which resulted in all the meat going to us.  We ate well.
     Behind the showers was a fruit tree that was in full production.  At every meal we had several pitchers of juice from that tree and was it ever tasty and easy going down.  It was almost addictive it was that good.  The evening meal was always looked forward to because of the quality of the meal and the company you were enjoying it with.  Most nights that is where we stayed until time for bed.  We enjoyed each other's stories and comments of the happenings of the day.  It was an honor to be around such people of challenge.
    We slept in tents that had thatched roofs overhead with 2 men to a tent.  Everything had to be mosquito proofed because if you got stuck outside for the night I doubt you would make it, they were that bad.  You also had to use orange bulbs because the white ones would attract lots of little bugs that could get through the netting.  I remember falling to sleep one night with just the tip of my finger touching the netting.  I had 7 mosquito bites on the tip of that finger the next morning.  Sometimes you could hear the rats moving around in the thatched roofing but they never seemed to come down and bother any of us.
    Everyone would try to use the bathroom just before dark so as not to have to leave the tent at night.   Slight bouts of diarrhea were common and if you had to go there was a procedure you had to follow.  You would take 2 cans of "By-Gone", (large cans of industrial strength insect spray) and run to the bathroom.  You would then stop at the door, take a very deep breath, and spray the heck out of the area.  Then you would go into your stall, shut the door, take another deep breath and spray the heck out of it.  This would kill about 200 or so mosquitoes.  While still holding your breath you would do what you had to do and get out of there as fast as you could so you wouldn't have to breath that stuff in.  It was strong.  You had to spray the heck out of the tent door also and hope you got most of them so they wouldn't follow you in.  The mosquitoes were bad.  Thank GOD they didn't come out during the day.
    Because the operation was so new and the choppers were so efficient the survey crews couldn't keep up.  Bill Miller complained that nobody upstairs would listen to him and his suggestions were being ignored.  He said that they made him take a course on saving money and he talked about being shown a chart on the life of a paper clip.  It was suppose to be recycled an average of 12 times he said.  He said he told them the class was ridiculous and that if they ever gave him the 2 chain saws he kept asking for he could stay even with the choppers and save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    Now flying over solid jungle is like flying over open water, no use thinking about an engine failure, if that engine quits your going down in trees.  With that in mind we low leveled just about every place we went.  There were benefits to doing that and one was you get to see and sometimes chase the parrots.  The second was that the jungle did have hills and valley and ridges.  Granted they were sometimes only 20'-50' tall but flying on the deck let them stick out like a sore thumb.  One such ridge was some 40-50 miles away and at the end of our main easterly grid line that had already been completed.  Instead of flying the grid line out you could low level to the left of that ridge and cut about 8-10 minutes off your time.
    Another aid to navigation that was out there were the "Kpock" trees.  I probably spelled that wrong but what the heck.  Any ways, the Kpock tree is a lot taller than the other trees and looked like it was dead.  There was only one to about every 100 square miles and they were good to get your bearings off of.  Out in the jungle you have to take what you can get.  What they needed out there was a good international orange lighter-than-air balloon with a tether that would get it about 50' above the canopy.  If they put one up on the grid turns that were about 50 miles out we could have cut corners on a lot of runs instead of flying the line out.  Now with global navigation finding those holes would be a piece of cake.
    Flying the line out means hitting the holes, the large cut out areas that the choppers had landed in earlier.  You can't see the path so for the most part you would get up to 300 ' or so and time yourself to each hole.  If you missed one or got lost you would get up high enough until you spotted one again then its back to time and heading.
    The choppers were equipped with Automatic Direction Finders and we had several small hand held radios that transmitted on a frequency they could receive. Busony had one and we would have him turn it on for the first 2 or 3 trips into the new site.  The other was at the old site we were picking up from.  By using the homing radios and timing the 5 mile trip you were able to stay low and be efficient.  By the 3rd lift you normally had the run down and could pick it out on short final by the different colored trees and dips and ridges in the jungle.  It was a nice little setup until the radios went dead.
    On one run, during the first part of my hitch when the old chief pilot was still there, we had to move an entire crew from the very farthest point of one grid to the same point on the other major grid line.  The old chief pilot was the other pilot.  This was about a 50 mile move, about 50 miles out from base.  We had to take our fuel with us in jerry cans because of the distance.  It was all time and heading with a little prayer that when the time was almost up you would have run into the 5 mile signal bubble of those little hand held beacons.   While I was low leveling the route from the very first lift the old chief pilot had to climb to 5,000' to find the same landing spot.  After the first few runs it was just like a normal 5 mile move only much longer.  Only problem was that the old chief pilot constantly screwed up the rotation by wasting time climbing that high every time which eventually stacked us up over the pick up/drop off point.  He sure wasn't 281st material.  It took all day to move everyone and we didn't get back until late.
    I was proud of the fact that I only screwed up once down there.  One of the camp's pencil pushers had to go out to one of the mid-range holes for some reason and had to stay a while.  I dropped him off and went about moving the line in another location.  After the work day was over they were serving supper when someone made the comment that so-and-so wasn't there.  Darn!  It registered instantly and I knew right were he was.  Time was critical because you sure couldn't find one of those holes in the dark and he was out there a ways.  One of the mechanics and one of the hanger workers went with me for the extra set of eyes.  That particular hole was about 6-8 down on a cross line between major grids.  Because we were almost out of light I broke from the main line with a calculated turn and hit the cross line thanks to the eyes of the hanger worker behind me.  Was that guy ever happy to see me.  The mosquitoes were just starting to come out and he would have been a goner if I hadn't of come back for him.  In any case he gave me a good chew out and didn't talk to me for a few days.  It was dark when we got back to base.
    The village of Icelandia was just down the river a ways and it had been an easy day and we were all back at camp early.  Bill Miller suggested we take a couple of the boats and go down river and visit Icelandia but to be back before dark.  We did and about 8 of us went down to see the sights.
    The city had several thousand people as I recall and had several bars.  We saw them all because they were all in the same section of town.  Now I don't care much for beer, especially warm beer thought I do enjoy a nice wine.  Each bar had several bottles of wine for sale and would let you sample some.  The taste wasn't that great but beggars can't be choosers in the Amazon so after sampling about a bottle's worth I bought a bottle.   Funny thing though, there were some roots in the bottle along with the wine.  I figured it was just their way of doing things.
    It was getting late so we headed back to camp that was now 45 minutes away instead of the 15 minutes or so that it took to get there because of the current.  It was now supper time so I brought the bottle for all to share at the end of the meal.  When I suggest it was now time to try some I got no takers.  Bill then asked me if I knew how they made wine in the jungle and I said no.  He then informed me that they call it wine to be like the big cities but that it actually came form the juice of the root that was in the bottle.  The older village ladies find the root, then clean it, then chew it, then put the juice in the bottle, then put in some small sections of root so that the bottle can be identify as to what flavor wine it was.   I about died when I heard that.  I was spitting all night long and I also remember brushing my teeth several times.  They had a good laugh on me with that one.
    When a chopper was out there was always a man in the hanger manning the radio.  The radio room was small but had enough room to house the little Zoo that the guys had accumulated.  They had 2 rather nasty little wing clipped parakeets, the 2 baby panthers, a small spider monkey and a rodent that looked exactly like a miniature racehorse.  That monkey would hold on to your arm for dear life and would scream bloody murder if you tried to forcefully take it off if it did not wish to do so.
    To pass the time we would take one or both of the nasty little parakeets out of their cage and put them on the floor then let one of the baby panthers out.  The panther would start stalking the parakeet and the parakeet knew it and would squawk like heck to be put back in the cage.  It amazed me that a 2 week old panther already knew how to hunt.
    One of the guys brought over the ocelot to see if it would play with the panthers.  The second one of the two panthers got within range it sprang on it and killed it instantly.  The guy holding the chain then kicked the ocelot across the hanger.  The other baby panther died about a week later from not eating.
    The only firearm allowed in the jungle was a single barrel shotgun.  There were huge buzzards flying around base camp all the time.  Being the hunter I was I asked if I could borrow a few shells and see if I could get one.  They apparently had been shot at before because as soon as I stepped out of the hooch and they saw that shotgun they took off.
    The river fascinated me.  You couldn't see down more than 2" into it because of all the silt.  The bank that it had cut out was about 25' down.  It was the dry season but we did have rain.  I estimate the speed of the flow to be about 25-30 mph.  The river was loaded with huge trees being swept down river.  Every so often you saw a raft being swept along that was loaded with some kind of produce.  There were no more than 2 people on board and the steering was done with a small rudder in the back.  I was told that they were going down river to one of the many towns to sell their goods.  After the sale they would take one of the two foot paths that were on either side of the river to get home.
    Bill Miller was originally from Oklahoma and loved to fish for the giant catfish that were in the river.  He had a special rig made up just for the giant fish.  He took 1/2 of a 55 gal drum and filled it with concrete and put in a section of cable that had a loop on the top.  That was his anchor.  Then he had two empty 55 gal drums chained together (the bobber) and from there a long chain ran to the loop in the concrete drum. From the loop ran another chain that had a very large bated hook.  The concrete drum was needed to keep the bait in one location on the bottom of the river.  When the giant catfish swallowed the bait it would pull the pin out of his hookup mechanism which freed the bobber drums.  When the dock workers saw the barrels moving they would give Bill a call and he would take one of the boats and hook up to the drums with a large rope.  He would then tow the drums back to camp and the awaiting camp workers would pull it up the bank from there.  I wish I had kept one of his pictures that he proudly showed to anyone interested.  I believe his largest fish was just over 600 lb..  The fish itself looked like a hammerhead shark with it's nose being the hammerhead shape and it had a long whisker that came out of both sides of the nose and ran all the way to the tail of the fish.  Bill said they ate well from the fish and that it was a welcomed change from the usual menu.
    Our section of jungle was very interesting.  To our south was a huge area we were told not to fly over because it was a drug lord's growing area.  To our north was a section of jungle where the natives killed all strangers no questions asked. To the west was the river and civilization that was run pretty much by people of German decent.  To the east was solid jungle.  Our area had huge electric eels that could kill a man 30 ft away if they were both in the water and it had the only aggressive venomous snake in the world.  Make that snake mad and it would supposedly follow you for hours waiting for a chance to bite.
    Bill told us a spellbinding story one night of his initiation into the jungle many years prior.  He said it was to be his first overnight in the deep jungle and he was looking forward to the experience.  As camp was being set up he noticed that the abraoes seemed to be gathering a lot more firewood than needed.  When he asked why he was told it was because a "gringo" was there and that there was a huge creature in the jungle that rarely was seen and that it loved to feed on gringos and could easily smell one out.  Bill gave them a "yea right" and went on about his business.  As nightfall came the abraoes made it a point to sharpen their machetes and stack extra shotgun shells near the fire.  Lanterns were lit and well-timed stares into the jungle by the abraoes let Bill know he was in for something.
    A short while after dark there came a huge growl that had to come from at least 20 miles away deep in the jungle.  Bill said it sounded like a creature that had to be all of 20' tall and weighting several tons in order to put out that much resonance.  All the abraoes looked in it's direction and one of the men said "too far away".  A short time later another such call came from another section of jungle only much closer.  "Still too far away" was the only comment.
    Then another call came that was within a few miles of their camp and the abraoes started getting nervous.  The head abraoe said something to the effect that they had the scent now and for all to get ready. This unnerved Bill for indeed this was for real because nothing could make that large a sound that far away in so many directions.  He said he was really worried and from that point on kept a machete in his hand and a flashlight in the other.
    As the night wore on more and more of the gigantic resonating sounds could be heard, some far off and some very close by.  Just then one of the creatures let out a jungle shaking roar just a few hundred feet down the trail from their camp.  The head abraoe told Bill to stay near the fire, that they would go and try to fight it off.  As the last abraoe was disappearing into the dark of the jungle trail Bill followed right behind.  He said no way was he going to stay by that fire by himself.  He also said that he was now totally scared to death.
    As he made his way along the trail, following the noise and lights of the abraoes, he came upon a small wide spot in the trail where he found all the abraoes gathered and literally rolling on the ground in deep laughter. He said that he was in a deep sweat and must have had the look of death on his face yet here were these guy laughing.  With several lights now shining on him the abraoes laughed even more.  One of the abraoes told him to look over here and shined his light on one of the nearby trees.  Bill couldn't see anything at first but then the jungle started to shake as the sound once again began to resonate.  In the beam of light Bill saw the "monster" of the jungle.  It was a little tweetie bird that was had to be all of 4" long and apparently generated that gigantic sound from a swelled pouch under it's beak.  He'd been had he had to admit.
    There was one thing that I wanted to do there that I never got around to and that was to swim in the Amazon, like the abraoes did every evening.  I wanted to be able to tell my future children that I swam in the Amazon even thought it was supposedly loaded with piranha.  We had showers but the abraoes preferred the swim along the bank of the small tributary stream that helped form the point of land the camp was on.  When I asked about the piranha I was told that they only traveled in schools and were not really that much of a threat.  If you felt a nibble then you got out of the water right then and the swim was done for that day in that location.
    So here I was with the chance of a lifetime to take a swim in the Amazon, with the abraoes all around for the safety-in-numbers thing.  I went back to my tent and changed into my short pants then went back to the small dock that the abraoes were swimming off of.   When I got there everybody had left.  I looked down at the water and just for a second pondered the question of whether to take a swim by myself or not.  I chose "not" and went back to my tent and changed back into my long pants.
    My 20 day tour was just about up now.  I had made some fine friends and flown in the Amazon.  Busony and some of the others had made plans to do some deep sea fishing off of Northern Peru.  Three ocean currents converged there, which stacked up the anchovies.  That in turn brought in the fish and it was a big game fisherman's heaven so I was told.  I was invited along and looking forward to the trip.
    When my time was up I had my choice of taking the chopper to Yurimaguas or the speedboat, I chose the boat.  What a ride.  I envied the job of the "motoristo".  I believe the trip took well over two hours.  I knew it would be one heck of a ride and it was.  There was a long board across the front of the cabin area that had been drilled out and held at least 50 shear pins for the motors.  A toolbox was in the back of the boat.  When we were about 10' from the dock he jammed the throttles full forward and because the boat was so light we just about jumped out of the water.  From then on it was a game of dodging all the stuff coming down the river.  I felt like I was inside a pin ball machine.   A better analogy of that today would be one of those video race car games you can play at Wal-Mart.  In any case, he would cut it close to limbs and partially submerged trees while all the time trying to read the swirls in the river for underwater dangers and eddy currents that he could use.  With the river already doing about 30 mph to begin with he had his work cut out for him.
    Time and again we would hit something underwater and break a shear pin.  When that happened he would steer the boat over to the side of the river and find an eddy to put the boat in.  With the good motor still running I got to hold the wheel and work the throttle in order that we stayed in the eddy.  With the new shear pin in place he would lower the engine and start out again.  I believe we went though almost a dozen pins before docking in Yurimaguas.
    On the flight back to Lima I was able to talk myself into riding with the pilots in the cockpit of the DC-4.  Was I ever surprised to see how "generic" the cockpit was.  There were several holes in the instrument panel where gauges and navigation instruments use to be.  Maintenance had left off the panels under and along side the cockpit, I guess because they had to go behind there so often.  There were wires hanging all over the bottom of the panel and dust on every control tube pivot bearing where grease use to be.  The pilots though were very friendly and apparently satisfied with the air worthiness status of the ship.
    When I got to the airport I was picked up by one of the office personal and taken directly to a meeting with the operations manager.  The meeting was short and sweet. He told me he was running things down there and that I had caused a lot of trouble.  I was given a ticket back to New York City and immediately taken back to the airport where I was put on the plane for home.  I had spent just over a month in South America but it seemed like a lot longer than that.
    At Kennedy Airport I was met by Decair's chief pilot.  He was as surprised as I was at my firing.  After we got out of airport traffic he pulled over and asked what the heck had happened down there.  For 1-1/2 hours we talked as I filled him in on what was really happening down there.  When we got back to base we all went in for a talk with the company president.  He let me begin my story but I was almost instantly cut short and told that I was a liar.  The president had supposedly been on the phone and talked with the ops manager there.  He then told me that there was no work for me there and that I was to leave.
       I stayed in touch with some of the folks there and found out that two months later some folks from the main office had gone down and "officially" fired the old chief pilot.  The flight and maintenance records were brought back and gone over.  That resulted in an accounting team going back down resulting in the removable of the ops manager and supposedly a big shake up in Decair's management with one person leaving.
    A short time later the whole operation fell through.  With all the dangerous work done the Peruvian Air Force pilots took over and Decair was asked to leave.  The mechanics could not get their toolboxes out and everyone had money exchange problems because the office there could not come up with the needed currency exchange vouchers.  Kusterman came down with a jungle skin disease that put him in a special hospital in NYC that specialized in that kind of thing.  I heard he was there for over a year.
    I had heard the old chief pilot finally decided to impress the guys by taking on the cat.  I was told that as soon as he slapped that cat it came up with claws out and raked him on both sides of his body from the ears to the belly button.  It seems the cat could tell good people from bad people.  I believe they told me it took over 180 stitches to close him up.  You got to remember thought they were jungle stitches from the doctor who was really a dentist and he had to use sewing thread.
    Even as short a time as it was I sure do treasure these memories.  So much for the Amazon and the memories of the fine folks that I had met there.

The End