IN AN INNERTUBE, ON THE AMAZON
One afternoon in March 1962, I stood in the courtyard of a U.S.
Information Service institute in Barranquilla, Colombia, and met
Hunter Thompson. As a name, he was unknown to us then, but he
was clearly there, a young man, two or three years older than I, and
traveling. I remember chinos and walking shoes, sleeves rolled up, a
shirt with brick in its color, a camera around his neck and another
on his shoulder. His suitcase leaned against a cement pillar from
which an omnipresent yellow wash was flaking. A separate, smaller
case, transparent of purpose, suggested he was a writer. I was a
recent English major, and this was not yet an illustration from
Thompson was taller than I, and lean, though less skinny, for I
was losing thirty pounds to the heat from a not particularly ample
frame that year, my first out of college and first in the sub-tropics.
Barranquilla, near the Caribbean coast of Colombia, spread around
a port dredged from the Magdalena River, in the swampy, sandy
reaches of the Magdalena delta. Anything as clear as a beach was a
dozen miles or more north, the Caribbean as remote to us, practically, as Miami. March meant hot and dry after hot and rainy.
Thompson was sweating, having just lugged his bags in from somewhere. Even after months of acclimatization, and with no bags to
carry, I too was sticky.
Heat enveloped us there in a delta of its own with no discernible
current. It touched us first on the tarmac, black and radiant, as we
stepped from the plane and, blinking from the glare, sought the
nearest shelter. It pursued us to the corner where we waited for the
bus, a gaudy mirage of red and yellow shimmering toward us; to
bed at night with damp sheets twisting around us; to a space behind
the school building where I taught, where boards, a cement mixer,
and sand, traces of an expansion project never completed, perhaps