There are moments in our lives that define our character. Very often at the time they are happening we do not even realize it— but they do just the same. Recently, while riding across the Vizcaíno Desert in Baja on my motorcycle I remembered one of those moments that put last year into perspective.
Many years ago, I was a wild animal trainer on a movie in Brazil were I was responsible for the training of several jaguars. We had been working on this movie for over a year shooting mostly in the jungle. We shot at 55 different locations. Part of my job was to scout locations that would work for the animal scenes. This was demanding and dangerous work being that we were a long way from home and many times found ourselves in situations that we would just have to say, “Only in Brazil.”
The director, John Boorman, was brilliant but demanding. Clearly, he was a person used to getting his own way. At one point he directed us to find a location with a waterfall that would serve as a backdrop for a jaguar scene. We searched for days hiking further and further up a river, deeper into the jungle. Finally, after trekking miles, we found the perfect spot. It was a spectacular series of small waterfalls stepping down into a series of deep azure pools; each filling the next until reaching a huge pool that mirrored the surrounding jungle. The river’s mist filled the clearing with competing rainbows. But it was the rocks that were the most stunning. They were pure white except for patches of emerald green moss. It was pristine, magical.
I approached some Indians who were laundering their clothes at the edge of the pond. They laughed and gossiped loudly as they slapped their wet linens on the rocks. Through our interpreter, GuGu, they told us the place was called Piedra Blanca, the same as their village and they had lived near these falls for generations.
After showing the location to Mr. Boorman, we arranged for a meeting with their chief. The director explained that he wanted to use the falls and all the area around the pond for a movie. They did not know how movies were made and this took some time to get across. Further, he wanted to pay for the privilege to use the area. This became even more confusing as they did not have a concept of private ownership of land. But it was clear they understood the concept of money when a large bundle of Cruzados were produced. The chief slyly took them looking around confused.
Now at this point it became really confusing when Boorman explained that he wanted guards placed around the whole area and that no one was to use it as he did not want anyone marring the rocks or moss. But when more Cruzados were produced they quickly took them looking from one another bewildered. As we were leaving we saw the chief’s sons hastily clearing the laundry area. Boorman’s parting words emphasized that no one was to use the area until we returned.
We left a few days later for our next location several hundred miles away. As the year passed the film crew, from time to time, sent someone down to check on the falls and always it was guarded and as pristine as when we first found it.
We worked, moving often as the time went by but still we had not returned. At some point, I realized that we would never get back for that shot and month later we left for England.
Years later I was working on another film at Pinewood studios and ran into the associate producer of the film who had been with me when we found the falls. I asked him what he thought. He laughed and said that was how legends were born. He paused and said, “Only in Brazil.”
I often wonder about that place and those people. I wonder if they are still guarding it, waiting for our return. I wonder if generations will be guarding it waiting for the return of the strange outsiders with the big bag of money. I wonder about many things.
Very often we can find ourselves in situations where we are preforming tasks that make about as much sense as guarding those falls. When you find yourself in such a situation get out as quickly as you can. If you have the courage to do that—you, too, can have the luxury of saying “Only in Brazil” or, only in any place like it.
That’s what I did.