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The incredible, astonishing thing

And now I experienced the incredible, astonishing thing that our jungle was. In the north, my native Virginia forest was full of all sorts of trees, but what was that to the mad luxury, to the unbridled variety of plants here? I was used to the Virginia thicket, but how to compare it with this wild tangle, this green fury, this mass of inexorable branches, leaves, vines, thorns, where it was difficult to take a step, where everything imprisoned a man, weighed down his body, suffocated his mind and soul? Yet, when you experienced it more closely and regarded it carefully, this mindless, mind-numbing confusion revealed its internal logic and order, and this made me see the jungle’s wild beauty and take profound pleasure in it. But I never knew what the jungle was to me or to any man: was it a kind friend or an implacable enemy?

There were many animals in this forest, but they were difficult to spot and even harder to hunt. A green veil covered them, and at the same time, their alert senses warned them from afar of the approach of a hunter. Yet, in this wilderness, there were paths, both human and animal, and they made it easier to sneak quietly and approach the game.

If the great fascination of hunting is the surprise that awaits the hunter behind every bush, and the source of its magic is the possibility of an unforeseen development, then the forest of Imataca could be called the perfect hunting ground, a hunter’s paradise, a cradle of all unlikely encounters. What varied beasts ran through this forest, what wonders wandered here!

In addition to the jaguar, other predatory cats might jump out in front of the hunter, one of which, as fawn-colored as a lion, Pedro called a puma. Guasupita deer and wild saguino pigs in the depths of the woods, water pigs on the banks of the rivers, and mashadis, huge animals with skin as hard as a shield and noses elongated like a bizarre elephant trunk. And monkeys. Countless flocks of monkeys. Or, one could encounter hateke—a beast completely covered with armor plate, and another freak, tamanoa, a devourer of ants with a ridiculous long snout and front claws so robust that it could tear a man apart, or meet an even greater freak, unau, a quadruped completely docile, hanging like fruit under a tree branch and, all the more surprising, almost motionless.

And a variety of water and forest turtles and lizards, among which the iguana were real dragons, both in appearance and disposition, only more modest in size; and a numerous tribe of venomous snakes and giant constrictor snakes, and the treacherous caymans—crocodiles lurking in still waters. And in these waters, apart from the swarms of edible fish, what monsters: the flat sipari with a poisonous spike in the tail, the small huma of maddening bloodthirstiness, jaringa, the Indian stories about which at first seemed to me a fairy tale, because the little monsters, quite unassuming to look at, when touched by a man supposedly struck him like a thunderbolt and paralyzed him. And the immeasurable, colorful world of millions of birds on the ground and in the air, a world garrulous, gorgeous, cheerful, above which, however, circled the gloomy ruler of the sky: the crested giant eagle, the semi-legendary mezime, the invincible killer of monkey, a giant said to be able to lift a fifteen-year-old boy into the air.

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