Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dispatches from the Amazon - First of a Four-Part series

This This is an update we received July 10 from Professor Marc Meyers, who is currently in Brazil, scouting locations for an expedition up the River of Doubt, which he plans to start this fall. Meyers plans to retrace the steps of Theodore Roosevelt, who explored the river 100 years ago, in 1914.
More on Meyers' planned expedition here.

An earlier dispatch from Meyers was published online by UT San Diego here.

I decided to visit the key areas where the original Rooosevelt-Rondon expedition passed this summer.  I flew to Cuiaba, close to the town where Rondon is born. From there, I took the bus to Caceres, on the Paraguay River. It was supposed to be an uneventful trip of three hours, but a tragic accident in which six persons died and about 20were injured delayed the bus for several hours. My initial decision to rent a car and drive to Caceres myself would have put me in the middle of the turmoil. I returned the car after trying to get out of Cuiaba for 40 minutes, getting lost several times.

Caceres is a city of approximately 60,000 on the river. I inquired about regular boat transportation from Corumba and was informed that a boat has to be hired for that purpose. The trip takes approximately three days and stops at points in the Pantanal can be arranged. There is a large tourist fishing fleet in Caceres and these boats can be leased for a small group.
Bus station in Caceres.

Aware of the dangers of driving in Brazilian highways, where semis, buses, and cars fight for the right to pass each other on two-lane highways with zero shoulders, I decided to take the bus, a very comfortable and economical option. The ticket was $35 for a 500 km trip. I was able to assess the terrain that the horseback portion of the expedition will cover. 

Caceres is surrounded by marshy land; I could not identify the post of Tapiropoan on the river. The names must have changed in these 100 years. The highway, BR 362, follows supposedly the telegraph line laid by Rondon prior to the 1914 expedition and followed by Roosevelt. However, the Utitiarity Falls are not along the highway, but directly North of Caceres. The road gently rises to a plateau, called Chapada dos Parecis. The cerrado and low forests have been for the most part replaced by pastures. On our West side, we followed a mountain range. The horseback portion should not encounter any major problems.

I was pleasantly surprised by Vilhena, the last portion of the RR expedition, where the River of Doubt starts. It is, interestingly, still called Rio da Duvida on maps and MapQuest. It is only farther North that the name changes to Roosevelt River. The city has a population of  about 70,000 and is the result of a major immigration wave in the 1970s. It is now an important center of the entire region and the symmetric arrangement of streets, order, and a certain harmony are clearly the result of the immigrants from the South of the country. It is at an altitude of 600 meters which provides a pleasant climate all year long, something that definitively has helped its development. In Vilhena, I have three primary goals:
1.       Visit the headwaters of the River of Doubt.
2.       Inquire about the availability of horses for the travel from Tapirapoan to Vilhena.
3.       Visit Rondon's house.
4.       Establish local contacts and obtain support from the mayor for the expedition.

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