My Favorite River

Elephants in Chobe River

Our California winter this year has been blessed with abundant rain. As I walked in my neighborhood park last week, I marveled at the numerous rivers and streams.

 

I pondered what my favorite river on earth was, thought about it all week.

 

Rivers traverse all the continents. Over the centuries, cities have been founded on rivers for their power. They support large populations, and carry heavy loads of people and products. Rivers are the basis for the growth of civilization.

 

I have known so many rivers. How could I pick just one? Could you?

 

One favorite at the top of my thoughts: the Chobe River in Botswana. A popular watering place for African game. We watched wild dogs celebrating a kill, elephants crossing, and hundreds of ungulates.

Wild Dogs, Chobe River Nat’l Park, Botswana

 

Chobe River, zebra crossing from Botswana into Namibia

 

Waterbuck, Chobe River, Botswana, Africa

 

Then there is the Zambezi, another favorite. It is immense, and one of its most spectacular features: Victoria Falls.

 

Victoria Falls, Africa

Zambezi River

Zambezi sunset

In Zambia, where the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers converge, we had many lively experiences as we waited for the ferry to cross the river.

Waiting for the ferry at the Zambezi River, Zambia

Zambezi River crossing, Kazungula Ferry

 

And the Luangwa River, a major tributary of the Zambezi, holds the largest concentration of hippos in the world. Native residents share the river with crocodiles and hippos.

 

Hippos and Fishermen, Luangwa River, Zambia

 

 

Folks who fish rivers can read the water like a book.

 

Across the world in South America is the Amazon; we spent a week on the Madre de Dios River, a tributary.

 

It was buggy and humid in Amazonia, almost uninhabitable. I treasured the time we spent cruising this river, for the cool breeze and mosquito relief; and the myriad of wildlife species.

Boarding the boats, Manu, Madre de Dios River

 

Amazon river (near top) and jungle, aerial photo

Red and Green Macaws extracting nutrients from the river wall (photo by B. Page)

I have many favorite rivers elsewhere, too. My home country has so many rich riverways. The Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri, brings frigid waters tumbling down from the Rocky Mountains.

Yellowstone Falls

The Colorado River, the Snake, the Columbia…and many more that I have had the opportunity to behold.

Colorado River, CO

In California, my home state, the Sierra Mountains deliver our highly revered water every day. We talk in winter about the snowpack, and every time officials measure the snow levels it makes all the newspapers, because this is the year’s source of survival. Dozens of rivers transport this liquid gold to us.

Deer Creek, CA; in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Drought and fires haunt us, and we revel when it rains.

 

What about the river of my childhood, the Mississippi? I was born and raised in the Midwest, where the Mississippi is integral. I’ve had decades of adventures on this river’s numerous branches.

 

Horicon Marsh sunset, Wisconsin

 

Could the Mississippi be my favorite?

Mississippiriver-new-01.png

Mississippi River basin. Courtesy Wikipedia.

As I continued to ponder the earth’s rivers, I remembered my times on the Rhine, the Danube, the Thames, the Amstel, and more.

Amsterdam bridge

 

Australian rivers, where I saw the rare Papuan Frogmouth (bird) from a motorboat; and my first wild platypus.

Papuan Frogmouth, Daintree River, Australia

Platypus

As I walked in the park beneath the California oak trees, I heard rambunctious acorn woodpeckers conversing, and red-tailed hawks declaring their territories.

 

I love it that every day the river here is different depending on the light, time of day, precipitation.

 

It is here that I finally got the answer I was seeking. For today, my favorite river is this one…

 

…where my feet are planted, where my eyes take in the ever-glinting movement, and my spirit is calmed by the whispering waters.

Northern California neighborhood park

This funny little river, a stream, really. Quiet, perhaps unnoticed by some, it is a wealth of life and bliss.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise indicated.

Male Kudu, Chobe River, Botswana, Africa

 

Flying out of the Amazon

Manu Airport, Peru

Manu Airport, Peru

The radio tower, check-in, and seating area were all under one modest thatched roof. The concourse was merely a  walk across the grass, and the runway was also used as a soccer field when the airplane wasn’t in use.

 

It had taken us three days on a bus to traverse the Andes Mountains, then two more days on motorized canoe down the Madre di Dios to get deep into the Amazon Rainforest.  Flying out would be quicker, an arrangement that our tour guide had made as we proceeded to other parts of Peru.

 

Manu-airport-luggage,-Peru

Airport hustle and bustle

Interesting “airport” and interesting flight.  There were about ten of us in the travel group, and before we could board the plane we had to be weighed.  All bodies and luggage were weighed on a scale like you see at the doctor’s office.  After we stepped off the scale the attendant yelled our weight to the other attendant with the clipboard.

 

Manu-airport-runway,-PeruAfter an hour or so it was time to take off.  They lined us up by our heftiness.  The plane had no aisle and only fold-down seats.  We sat three abreast, shoulders touching, heaviest in front.

 

Scarlet Macaws at Manu Airport, Peru

Scarlet Macaws at Manu Airport, Peru

Earlier the scarlet macaws, roosters, and geese had distracted us while we waited to board; it was better not to think about any of this.  Now we were excited because we would be flying over the Amazon River basin, the largest in the world.  Great sights and great photos awaited us.

 

The take-off was a bit shaky.  Trundling across a grass field is rough.  With the windows rattling and our bodies severely jostling, we were all happy when our little bucket-of-bolts cleared the thick mass of trees.

Pale-winged Trumpeter in the airport

Pale-winged Trumpeter in the airport

 

We had a few minutes of utter bliss, seeing the massive, meandering river from above.  The Amazon Rainforest, so thick and dense, for miles and miles in every direction.  There was much animation and every camera was wildly clicking.

 

Then all the chattering stopped, almost in unison, when each individual body felt the effects of our unpressurized cabin.  We were flying up and over the Andes Mountains–the world’s highest mountain range outside of Asia–in a plane that was not pressurized.  The highest peak is 22, 841 feet (6,962 m) above sea level, I doubt we were up that high.  But all ten of us suddenly had heads that felt like they were going to burst, and every breath was choked short.  There was an older pilot and a younger pilot, they both wore oxygen masks from take-off to landing.

 

Jet and group during boarding

Jet and group during boarding

The worst of the mild hypoxia passed as we began our descent into Cuzco, it had lasted 20 or 30 minutes.  The laughter started up in bits and pieces, the headaches subsided, and everyone was fine.

 

We landed on blacktop and came to a smooth stop.  We all clapped because we were so happy to be on land again.  The pilots seemed happy about the landing too, and then we learned their secret:  the main pilot, the young one, was a student in training.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

The Amazon River

Hoatzins

Hoatzins

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.

 

I'm on this boat. Photo: B. Page

I’m on this boat. Photo: B. Page

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.

 

Peru Village on Madre de Dios Tributary of Amazon

Peru Village on Madre de Dios Tributary of Amazon

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