Roughly one century after former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt adventured along the Amazon River’s Madeira Tributary, I spent a week in the same river basin on another tributary called the Madre De Dios. He was in Brazil, I was in Peru.
Although he was an experienced wildlife enthusiast and an accomplished and robust man, Roosevelt’s trip through the Amazon rainforests was harrowing and life-threatening. Several of his expedition colleagues perished. And only five years after the trip, he died too, from a fever he contracted there.
Admittedly, I did not almost die from my trip. But it was easily the most physically uncomfortable travel experience I had ever had then, or since.
A large rat falling into our room from the thatched ceiling; huge cockroaches skittering through our quarters every night; an ant bite that ballooned instantly; body covered with mosquito bites (279 at one time); the list goes on. But although there were many challenges, there were infinitely more delights.
For a week we ventured down this river in motorized canoes, stopping at night to camp. Our group had two boats and we carried with us all our water, food, and gear.
Outside of the many incredible wildlife adventures we enjoyed, one of my favorite things to do was cruise down the river.
In the early mornings the river would be foggy and chilly, during the day it would inevitably rain, and in the evening the mosquitoes were fierce. But as long as the boat kept moving, the bugs weren’t too bad, and our perpetually soggy clothes dried out from the breeze.
Sometimes we passed small villages, but mostly we saw nothing but trees, clouds, and wildlife. Flocks of macaws could be heard and barely seen, for they were so high up.
Groups of capybara, the largest rodent in the world, hunted on the shoreline. The pungent odor of peccaries, also known as javelins or skunk pigs, wrinkled our noses as we cruised on by. Caiman rested on nearby sand.
Nights were rough because it was so hot and wet, and the camps were very muddy. Howler monkeys woke us at dawn, daylight would eventually come, and I always looked forward to climbing back into the boat for another wild day.
The Amazon River carries more water and has more tributaries than any other river in the world. At 4,000 miles long, it is the second longest river in the world (after the Nile). And it’s one on which both Theodore Roosevelt and I had the trip of a lifetime. But it’s not for the faint of heart, and I hope it always stays that way.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander