Cutting through all the details of how and why, this was a typical days work on a portable saw mill while living in the Brazilian jungle, back in my stupid days:
I worked on a crew of four—two younger boys, Petro and Moze, myself, and the owner of the saw mill named, Pauvil. Various land owners would hire our mill to go into their great fazendas, covered by lush thick forests, cut down the larger trees, and cut them into useable timber. After all the large trees had been harvested, then crews of Indian laborers would cut the forest down and burn it clear for cattle and plantation use when the seasons were dry.
Now our job went like this: By jeep we pulled the 25-foot portable saw mill to the land. There we began cutting a road into the forest to reach the tree or trees. The larger trees might only be found scattered here and there among the thick jungle, and they had to be hunted out and marked.
Don't be fooled by those Hollywood movies that show the jungle to be a friendly place; hell no and never! The temperature was usually around 100 degrees. That would not have been so bad, but the humidity was usually only one degree less, and you worked in hot dripping-wet air. As you hacked and cut an eight-foot swath through the jungle to reach one large tree, maybe a quarter mile off the main road, you encountered a good variety of snakes in all sizes (some up to 10 feet), tarantulas (some as large as dinner plates), scorpions of all kinds (some as tiny as a peanut, others as large as 8 inches), and then there were the flying-eating creatures that, in my opinion, were far worse than the crawling-creeping things.
Once you cut your way to the working area the large tree had to be felled. When this tree was cut down, it began to rain insects, literally thousands of tree ants, bees, and wasp nests ranging from tiny to huge.
This 100 year old tree was entangled with vines, which also pulled down a multitude of other lesser trees that then had to be cut back and out of the way. We had to wade into this massive thicket and chain saw our way through, cutting all debris off and away from the main tree trunk in order to set the mill up alongside the huge tree. But first, after clearing away hundreds and thousands of branches, all filled with these insects and poisonous creatures, the main tree had to be cut into 16 foot lengths. Then each length was jacked up onto cross logs and lifted off the forest floor. You did this by crawling around on the jungle floor, rolling the smaller support logs around, all the time swatting, smacking, and brushing off crawling things you didn't want to see. This took at least a day of back breaking labor in itself. Only then was the portable mill dragged and pushed over the debris field and set up alongside the prepared log.
In order to be able to work in this flying insect and bug-snake-scorpion environment you had to build smoky fires. This was done by piling up green foliage—no problem there, everything for 3000 miles was green; they called this place the Green Hell. The smoky fires would admit curls of smoke that were suppose to help drive away the flying-eating insects. This worked as well as a fly swatter in the ocean. Then we had to wear protective gear. This consisted of rubber cords securing your pant cuffs to your boots so nothing could crawl up your leg. You wore long sleeved shirts with rubber bands around the cuffs so nothing could crawl up your arm. You wore a broad brimmed hat to keep insects from crawling on your face. Under the hat and upon your head you wore a large scarf that hung down over your ears and neck so nothing might fall or crawl down your neck. Then you wore a lighter hanky around the scarf to secure it around your neck to make sure it did not flop open. Then you wore a netting that dangled from the brim of your hat across your face in order to keep the hundreds of tiny wasps, bees, and flying teeth out of your moist eyes and out of your nose and mouth. In some places it was so bad that we actually carried spray tanks of garden bug killer, such as Spectroside, and would spray each other down with it in order to repel some of the insects. This worked for about a minute, until the bugs fell in love with this garden repellent killer poison. I think it became a challenge to their natural powers of resistance and the garden insect killer lost.
One had to not only be on guard for the danger of a 100 HP saw mill and its massive spinning blades, singing chain saws and open gears in the mechanical machinery, but you actually had to watch out where you put your hand; nothing was safe from dangerous spiders or scorpions.
Now let me tell you about my wonderful lunch break. About noon, just as the day was really heating up to the point that we had already fainted several times from being overheated and the humidity was rising and you could almost drink the air . . . ah, our lunch break came.
Now I would go get my lunch box and find a clear place to sit down on. This was usually on a pile of white sawdust chips cut from the log, since you could see things coming your way against the lighter background. I would then take a 10 foot square mosquito net and lay it out on the ground and get in the middle of it. I would then sit down on a bucket and pull the netting up and around me and make a little tent area inside. This allowed me to take off my scarf, my gloves and gain a few minutes from the battle with the insects. Don't forget the temperature, and how we were dressed. We were covered like soldiers going to battle in the arctic and everything on us was soaking wet. This made the insects go nuts for us, because they wanted moisture and something to drink, like our blood.
You could not lay down, you could not stretch out, but one had to stay wrapped up like a little animal caught into this net in order to eat something. Then, when your turn at eating was over, the next guy got into the net and had his lunch . . . oh boy!
Late in the afternoon you packed up and, if you were lucky, you got to go back to the farm and clean up. But most of the time we worked many miles away from our own farm and had to stay out for a week at a time; staying in barns, filthy shacks called "jungle hotels," and actually sleeping on the ground. Showers consisted of a bucket of cold well water or swampy creek flow, and dinner was cooked over candles under suspended pots, and nothing was more than warm. Nights were filled with real nightmares of creeping crawling things and you dared not get up to use the bathroom, which did not exist; there were onzes (wild cats) out there, I saw them with my own eyes and they watched me while licking their chops. These were leopards about 6 feet long and weighing 150 pounds. They were beautiful, but very frightening.
Ah, good old morning, and another day of working in Green Hell! You must be thinking that I had to me making tons of money under these conditions. I averaged about $10 dollars a day. By the time I bought enough medicines to cure my jungle rot and stop the itching from all the wasp stings and infected bug bites, I owed someone millions of dollars.
The really good thing about this job was its qualifications: The only one you needed was pure stupidity, blind ignorance, and a Degree in Insanity!
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