Down the Ornicoco: My Greatest Adventure
by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
– Mrs. M. Malaprop with the assistance of Richard L. Howey (flunky)
WARNING: This essay is a bit of pure silliness written in the spirit of foolish optimism that the year should end on a note of fun and with the hope that next year will be better for all of us than this last year was; so if you’re not in a mood for something silly, you might want to try reading the Oxford English Dictionary instead which should keep you occupied for at least a year. If you do decide to read this, please read it slowly and savor the word and concept plays, because it was a real pain to proofread this to make sure that all I got all the errors right.
Note: For those of you not familiar with Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals written in 1775 at the age of 23, he introduced the pompous and linguistically pretentious Mrs. Malaprop who became the epitome of one who misused words in egregious ways and generally abused language. Shakespeare had already used such devices and many writers and comics have subsequently employed them, but Mrs. Malaprop remains, as it were, the grand champagne.
I could, of course, have gone down the Amazon, but why would anybody with any class want to explore a river named after an Enternet Garage Sale Company? I mean, really! Besides, apparently, all sorts of lesser explorers have already done so and written wretchedly tedious books about it.
We departed from Costly Rico on a smeltering Saturday afternoon and soon were gliding along at a speed of 12 yachts. Off the bow, one could watch all kinds of jumpy fish and watch the dauphins diving. We were warned not to lean on the rails and risk falling into the sea, because according to the captain, these were dangerous snark-infested waters.
For breakfast, we had sardines in a rather suspicious white sauce, a bananana, and some very nice, strong hot tea. For lunch, there were crabby cakes, some odd red berries that tasted like fish oil, and a salty seaweed salad which was admirably scrunchy, and another damned bananana–every meal seemed to have one—apparently they had an entire cargo hold full of them from some Bananana Republic. As a beverage, we got lemonade to protect us against scruffy which used to infest earlier sailmen.
Dinner was more a more respectable affair. It began with a fruit (bananana) dish whipped with lemon, nuts, and bits of guano fruit. Next, came an Avagadro salad with a number of sumptuous ingredients, including chopped crabby meat, chopped nuts, some of the nice scrunchy seaweed, and a lemon wedge to squish over the salad. The main course was, of course, fish, on this occasion Pollack, but, as the captain witfully pointed out, not Jackson Pollack, who was, it seems, some strange artist who used fish to erractically spread paint over large caravansaries. The fish was baked, wrapped in sea lettuce (of the genus Vulva) and was quite tasty. Next, in more civilized, circumnavigations, we would have had a meat course, but here we had to make due with a substitute, namely a dish made from squid tentacles, called CALIGARI, after a Dr. CALIGARI who was among other things a cabinet maker. In any case, it was a very tasty dish served with garish sauce and more than acceptable. It was also served with a white wine called Peanut Grigio. Next, came the fruit and cheese course and, for once, mercifully, no banananas, but rather a juicy, ripe guano fruit in chocolate sauce and some splendid English Stilted cheese which complimented the fruit splendidly. The accompanying wine was a rich red port which, as I commented to the captain, was most appropriate, since the dining room was on the port side of the ship. Several around the table giggled at my clever mot, but the captain simply said: “Que?” For dessert, we had “sea gooseberries” in lemon aspic. Some of the guests thought that these were tunacakes and I felt obligated to correct them and informed them that “sea gooseberries” are, in fact, tiny tenofours.
Graduatedly, the ship moved south and after several days, we found ourselves at the mouth of the Ornicoco. Here I had to make a major sacrifice and give up the luxury of the steamer for a river boat. The captain of the river boat was named Juan Fernando Jesus Cortez Bolivar Simon Jorges Manuel Torres Sanchez Miguel Ferdinand Heitor Ignatz Joachim Pancho Roberto Villefranche de Cervantes who amiably answered to the name of Juan.
Contrary to my expectorations, the food on the riverboat was considerably better than that of the steamer. Here breakfast consists of a wide variety of fruits, with the damned banananas being optional, a selection of nuts and a local llama cheese which was delicioso as the Eyetalians would say. The only drawback was a brash American couple complaining that there were no bacon and eggs–these Damned Yankees fuss about everything here and brag about everything American. They gave a long rambling discourse about how one of their precedents had ordered the building of the Panama Canal–Useless S. Grant or Teddy Rosenfield–I can’t remember which one; they all have such strange names. I do remember that Rosenfield formed a group called the Rough Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, was only half listening.
We had a quite satisfactory lunch and the Americans were quite quiet, apparently they were unseasonable travelers and unused to the heat and the humility. We were served a large compost of banananas, of course, with guano fruit, mangles, papayas, passion fruit, sprinkled with chopped Brazil nuts along with a large glass of lemonade.—My goodness, all this talk about food, you’ll think I”m an epicurator and, there is perhaps some truth in that, as my late husband, Jeremy, used to say, “Your are a right ripe old girl!” And, it has always been my filosophy that we should indulge ourselves, modestly of course, in those things which we enjoy.
So, on to dinner. The appetizer consisted of crab meat, surrounded by wild mushrooms and Avagadro wedges. At each port along the river, the crew would go into the villages and buy provisions and we always had fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and local wines along with some very strong local potables. This first evening we had a lightly-colored guano wine which had been fermented long enough to have a bit of a punch. The main course was turtle baked in leaves and varnished with a mustard and onion sauce. There is no other word for it; the turtle was positively scrofulous!! a delicate texture and flavor that puts other meats to shame. And, NO, it doesn’t taste like chicken! Dessert was a moose in chocolate sauce and then we all absconded up to the patios on the deck and had some very strong local brandy made, I am told, from a variety of indignant plants which are chewed by the natives, spat out into a tub, and left to foment. To my delightfulness, the American couple got quite ill and were vomiting over the railing. The Captain, first mate, and I sipped more brandy and smoked some first-rate cigars. Jeremy and I use to have a fine cigar after special dinners. These cigars were Manacudos from the Domino Republic.
The next morning, we arrived at the small port city of Pimento Pirana where we were advised not to go swimming or wading. Once ashore, a guide led us into the rainforest to look for the wild life. The noise level was full of decibells. There were deafening shrieks of the howler monkeys and the ear-shattering decibells from the cockytwos which are actually a kind of paroty. Of course, everyone in the group had cameratas, those little hand-held digitized dealies that mercifully disposed of film. The main object of today’s trek was to find one of the most beautiful, rare wildcats know as Jugulars which have lovely markings and which have, most unfortunately, been hunted for their fur. I think people who hunt such noble creatures as trophies or for fur, should have to engage in hand-to mouth combat without any weapons!
As we walked along under the forest calliope, we were heavily shaded and our activity turned up many fascinating insects, large beatles, some lovely, furry tarantulas–one of which was the size of a small dinner plate and seemed to enjoy being petted. Unfortunately, there were also great swarms of mosquitoes and nats–yes, I know it’s spelled “gnats”, but by writing it as I do, one saves an unnecessary letter–but, I do indeed know the “proper” spelling–after all, I am a highly litterate and well-educated woman. The American couple having taken no precaustions, complained endlessly, until I finally decided to share may mosquito spray with them. Misfortunately, I got a bit confused and handed them my pepper spray canister rather than the one containing the mosquito repellent. After spraying themselves, they ran around wildly, screaming and cursing, using the most outrageous words and behaved in such an altogether crazed and discombobulated fashion, that they scared the natives who had been quitely watching us from behind the heavy growth of ferns, and so they ran off to their village seeking safety from the lunatic white people. When the American couple, the Smiths or Doughs or something like that, had partially recovered, they unleashed a torrent of insults upon my personage in spite of my apologetics. Happily, for the entire rest of the journey, neither of them spoke a single word to me.
No pictures of a Jugular, but we were returning to town, walking along the river, and we encountered a capybara which has to be one of the world’s most wonderful creatures. They are the world’s largest rodents, but don’t be deceptivized, they are nothing at all like rats and other vermin. From my prespective, they are the Zen monks of South America. They are about the size of an Old English Sheepdog, but their coloration is a deep rich, walnut brown. They have incredibly sweet dispostions and love to be petted and cuddled. They often appear to be in a meditative state. However, it is essential to recognize that these are wild animals and do not make good pets. They are highly social among themselves and are easily stressed if isolated even for short periods. They mark territory with urine and feces on your Persian carpet. So, glory in them in their natural habitudes but, for Heaven’s Sake, DON’T try to make them into domestics!
As we proceeded down river, we were at first close enough to the shore to watch the kingfissures make their extraordinary dives. There were also oodles of turtles out basking in the sun along the shoreline.
The insects and the heat finally drove me inside to my cabin to take a nap, although I am not ordinarily a nappy person. When I stretched out on my bed, I observed little lizards with striking pattern scampering across the ceiling. Apparently, they manage this bit of predigitalization by having sticky feet, which is to be preferred over my nephews, all of whom seem to sticky fingers.
Day after day, we slowly proceeded down the river observing agrigators, giant boas which were definitely not of the feathered variety, and birds with unbelievably bright plumbage like the hoatzin.
Without questioning, the two most delightful aquatic dentizens were the river dauphins and the giant river otters. Unfortunately both have become endangered species along with many other animals and plants in this magical wonderland. But how can that be? you ask, there are virtually no people there. Well, I’m sorry to punctuate your balloon, but there is a city which stretches for 40 kilometers along the river bank and has a population of over 1 million people! Someday, in the not too distant future, we’re going to have to make a decision to limit human population growth or destroy much of the wild habitat of this planet and with it most of the wildlife. In short, we need to learn to control our hormondal impulses or watch the planet disintegrate before our very eyes.
The city provided the captain and his crew the change to stock up on all sorts of exotical provisionals while the rest of us wandered around the booths of the fleece markets looking for collectable trinkettes. I bought a very large dried, bird-eating tarantula to put in my cabin to serve as a detergent to anyone inclined to poke around among my things. The Americans, vulgar to the last, bought a dried monkey head which was sold to them as the head of a human baby and for which they paid an erogenous amount of money. Others on the tour bought much more sensate items, such as, some brightly colored, beautifully woven capes with local native designs. Yet others, bought jewelry contains emeralds and citrusines of dubitable quality.
Back on board, I was much heartened by the captain’s pronoucements that we could indeed look forward to some very special meals. That evening, the boat reversed course and we were returning slowly to our point of departure but, on the way back, we were scheduled to visit a game refuse.
The evening meal was a delight as we chugged along. We started out with a small bowl of erotic berries, the like of which I had never encountered before. The first mate had provided a case of delicate white wine which perfectly complimented the berries by bringing out their fruitious essence. I suspect if was made from pinot gregarious grapes. The second course was, as you might expect, fish–to this day, I have no ideal what it was beyond being extraordinarily tasty–baked in bread crumbles, lemon slices, and chopped nuts–superb! The meat course was equally mysterious, sauteed in goat butter, red wine sauce, served with chopped chives, garlic, and Brazil nuts–a treat for the palette. The wine was a Cabernet Sowmingon which very likely was imported from Croatia, like Donald Trump’s wife. Tonight, the chef had really outdone himself and the next course, the wine and cheese selection, was no exception. There were seven varieties of cheese on selection: English Stitled, Danish Blew, Greek Fetid, Dutch Goulish, Scandalhoovian Halfharti, Irish Cheddar and Welsh Llaregubb.
In addition to the cheeses, there was a sampling of sliced sausage and a variety of crackers and crisp breads. Prominent for my palette were the German Viceworst, Genoa sausage, and salami. I had no interest in the Blutworst and other using U.I.Os (Unidentified Intestinal Objects). There was a very nice selection of Chilean wines including a Boredoiseaux and a Pinochet Noir. After this course, we retired to the lounge for stunningly rich, strong coffee, brandy, and other postbrandial imbibulations. One evening, I made the mistake of selecting a Slivovitz–which is an Absurbian plum brandy, which one of my friends later described to me as “liquid Napalm”. If I had limited myself to 1 or 2, everyone would probably have remained cobrasetic, but after my 7th, the captain and first mate had to escort me to my cabin and put me to bed which must have been quite exciting if only I could remember it.
By noon the next day, after 11 cups of strong, black Brazilian coffee, I was quite recovered and ready for the afternoon trek into the bush for another wildlife adventure. That day, we encountered 3 giant anteaters, and along a large stream feedng the Ornicoco, we saw scarlet ibis and delicately pink flamencos. Further on, we came across a steep rock protuberance which we climbed for almost a half an hour before we came across a few yellow-banded poison dart frogs, long known by and used by the natives for their deadly tocsin. From this advantage point, we were also able to see some rare aviator fauna which we had not previously encountered. The first one was the Rosy-Breasted Nut Scratcher, thereafter we observed 2 specimens of the Yellow-Bellied Crop Sucker, then a Scarlet Flicker-Licker, a Mauve Moth Flutterer, and a brilliant red Cardinal Sin, named after the Philippine priest of that name. There are lots of Catholics in South America. However, perhaps the most striking bird was the green and red Crimson Cactus Prickler. A most rewarding afternoon but, I must admit, somewhat tiring. That evening, I slept very soundly and missed all the excitement when 3 groups of natives, quite drunk by all recounts, appeared in dugouts and attempted to board the ship.
Apparently a couple of shotgun blasts in the air caused them to scatter quickly. I didn’t hear a thing, but the other travelers were all abuzz at breakfast with tedious and repetitious detains of this minority event.
The real excitement of the day came after lunch which consisted of a thick turtle soup accompanied by a heavy, dark slab of bread slathered with a goat butter and garlic spread. The wine was a superb Pouilly Footsie and we were just finishing our repast when we heard shouts and joyous laughter from the deck. We all rushed out to see what was going on. River Dauphins! River Dauphins! the crew was shouting and also pointing toward the bow of the boat. The other members of the tour group rushed to their cabins to get their cameratas, whereas I walked sedately forward. I always carry my super spy packet camerata with me which, though I probably shouldn’t mention it, I bought from a Russian detector. It has unbelievably high revolution of at least 10 times anything available on the commercial market. It has the most amazing collection of features: 1200x zoom, time lapse, high speed video, 3-D, Rentgone ray imaging, and 137 other remarkable features and featurettes. I was told that the cost of developing it was obliviously expensive and some claim it took 13.8 % of the Soviet military budget which would be hundred of millions of pounds or dollars and given its preformance,I am quite willing to accept such a figure. What a contrast to the military budget of Andorra which Pete Seeger memorialized in a song claiming that their entire budget in 1962, for ammunition for ceremonial purposes, was $4.90! Such extravagance!
I reached the bow and saw 20 or so beautiful, sleek Dauphins diving alongside the boat, play and chattering their own click language, which made me wonder of some South African coastal tribes might have very early on encountered Dauphins thus providing them with these extraordinaryly appealing sounds which they intergrated into their own language. I was about to take a picture, when I felt myself being unceremoniously pushed aside. I forgot to mention that at the last port-of-cull, we had a new passenger come on board–an obnoxious Albanian who was a smug as a bug in a rug. He was built like a wine barrel and smelled like one. As he tried to maneuver me aside, I brought my walking stick down, with considerate force, on his foot in the middle of the arch. He let out a howler, like one of those raucous monkeys, and went limping over to a side rail. I once again positioned myself and got some fantastic photographs and some video inch-age of these rare creatures. I have always been excited by seataceans, even these freshwater ones.
As we approached the delta of the Ornicoco, I began to see a mixture of freshwater and mariner creatures and organists, such as, jellyfish began to appear. Tomorrow, I would depart to go back to Merry Bold England. My feeling were mixed; I was a tad regretted that the splendid adventure was over and yet, I was pleasing to get home again. I send an email to my staff to have the house ready for my return. This had been the most exciting adventure of my life and yet I was very desirable to get once again into the regular and comfortable, simple routine that usually constitutes my day-to-day existence. Oh, did I mention to you that we did encounter a Jugular and he attacked and so, unfortunately, was shot. I bought the skin for a coat at a rather handsome price, but then on returning home, I felt guilty. I put the skin up for auction for a children’s charity.
Life is such a mystery, isn’t it?
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Mrs. Malaprop's further adventures and opinions can be found in the Library.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the November 2018 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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