Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dispatches from the Amazon-Second in a Four-part Series

This is an update we received July 13 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.

Meyers in front of Rondon's house.

I had the good chance to meet Eliar Negri, Secretary of Tourism, Commerce, and Industry of Vilhena. He personally took me to visit Rondon’s house. It is a whitewashed construction with a front porch and has obviously received a new roof. We had to enter into an area reserved for exclusive use of the Brazilian Air Force but were able to get in through a gate in the fence. This is most probably a place where Roosevelt stayed before embarking down the River. In front of the house there is a strange steel contraption with a crank and a set of gears. I could not establish for sure the purpose of the heavy machine but suspect that it was intended to stretch the copper wires of the telegraph line. Eliar informed me that inside the house one can still find some of Rondon’s personal effects but it was locked.  There is also a cemetery in front of the house but no markers. These must be Rondon’s camaradas, soldiers, and Indians that died in this area. There was a rumor (as there is often) that he had buried gold in the yard and this was followed by furious digging.
Afterwards, he took me to the fairgrounds and introduced me to its president, an Italian named Agostinho Pastore. He informed us that there are very few horses in Vilhena, except for expensive purebreds kept by rich ranchers. We are in the middle of soy country, which is the local gold. It is transported by truck to Porto Velho, 500 miles north, and then by barge down the Amazon to satiate the ever-growing needs of an ever-growing  Asia. Soy is the most important component of the local economy. Mr. Pastore also told me: “Forget about horses! What you need are mules. Much more endurance.”
And much less pleasant to ride, I thought to myself.
He told me that farther south, close to the beginning of our planned land journey, there are plenty of horses and mules. He offered to keep them in his corrals, once we make it to Vilhena, and informed us that it would be a simple matter to repatriate them to their point of origin, since there are large numbers of cattle trucks in the area.
I could not contact the person that knows about the steel boat that the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition and resigned myself, in the afternoon, to watch one of the most boring matches of my life, Holland vs. Argentina.  The historian never called back and probably changed his mind about offering to help. However, I was fortunate to contact someone who owns a car rental and will take me this afternoon to my destination: the headwaters of the Roosevelt River. More to follow!

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