THE DOGS are the first to welcome us. As the pilot, Francisco, eases our plane to a halt at the end of the bumpy grass runway, they race towards us, roused to a frenzy of barking and capering by the sound of the engine and the arrival of an interloper. Behind them figures appear at the doors of the two or three buildings that comprise Demini airstrip.
Here in the remote rainforest of North-West Brazil, any arrival from the sky is greeted with expectation. There are no roads that lead here, or even a navigable river. Aeroplanes are the lifeline to the outside world.
At the end of the airstrip are refuelling facilities and a small clinic, staffed by nurses on a monthly roster. There is a kitchen and communications equipment, and some fresh coffee to greet us.
As we unload, figures begin to emerge from a narrow path that leads out of the forest. First come curious little boys in long red shorts, looking, with their black hair, dark eyes and light brown skin, as if they might have stepped straight from the other side of the Pacific. Indonesia or even China. They’re followed, a little more warily, by young girls and, with them, older women, most of whom wear nothing but a brief decorated red apron round their waists. The young men, like young men anywhere, make an entrance of self-conscious swagger. They carry bows and very long bamboo arrows with thorn-sharp wooden points. As the women stand and watch from beneath the shady eaves of the clinic, the men gather around appraising us curiously. Sensing I might make a good foil, one of them arches back his bow and sends an arrow flying high into the air. Then he gives me his bow and bids me do the same. Amidst much chortling I unleash one of the arrows, which thuds into the ground about five metres away. They seem to like me for having a go and when I take out my notebook they gather round it with great interest. The man with the bow asks for my pen and writes something in my book, in his own language, in fluent longhand. Another likes my straw hat and pops it on his head as unselfconsciously as an MCC member on a hot day at Lord’s.
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