The only professional soccer player I ever actually met was a man named Sete, or Seven – his number on the pitch. I met Sete in the Amazon rainforest, to the right of the Rio Negro river. A bad knee injury had put an end to his career with FC São Paulo, but like many men of his ilk, he hadn’t put away a penny. So here he was in the jungle, searching for gold. Not me. My stories are my gold and the border area between Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia is rife with stories, but the one about the gold seekers is the best. They feared neither god nor man but they did fear the black jaguar, which is why they never walked alone – and even rarely in pairs. The group I had joined consisted of ten men and two women, and Sete was their leader. Despite his sports injury, the former striker was the fastest mover of the lot, which is saying something when you’re surrounded by rangers and indigenous types.
I’ve never seen men move so fast carrying so much weight: their equipment, their hammocks, their machetes, their cooking pots, their beans and rice – and since they needed enough food for at least a month if not two, everyone was weighed down by roughly 30 kilos. Everyone except me, that is, because I had a porter. But I still brought up the rear, while Sete was always out in front. He didn’t wear rubber boots like the rest of us, incidentally, he wore soccer cleats. He swore by the studs, and the track through the jungle proved him right! In muddy parts, in swampy bits, here, there, going uphill, coming down or balancing along a log that was lying across a ravine (there were many of those) – Sete’s cleats were the real deal. The only drawback: Rubber boots protect your legs more fully against snakebite, but Sete wasn’t bothered about snakes.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.