Here’s a 2 1/2 minute video we created for our home town school board and community. It provides a good and quick summary of some of the interesting experiences we had on the first 2/3 of our trip. We made it just after arriving in Africa in late March.
The nature of the river has changed. The calm stretches between rapids are shorter and there are many more small rapids and riffles. Like Roosevelt we have noticed that the trees are getting larger as we descend the river. This was a very important fact for Roosevelt because very soon his men would have to search the forest for giant trees to carve into canoe to replace canoes that were lost in rapids. In fact today we will pass through the area where the things took a drastic turn for the Rondon Roosevelt Scientific Expedition. First we will encounter the rapids where Simplicio drowned. Then we will explore the place where the expedition lost two of their canoes and had to spend precious time and effort carving new ones.
Yesterday afternoon we spontaneously decided to stop at a farm house along the river to stretch our legs and practice our Portugese. No one was home so we walked up the road and noticed more houses. We had stumbled apon a small village, which even had a store. We treated ourselves to ice cold drinks and a bag of potato chips. It was getting late so we asked if we could camp on the soccer field. Then the math teacher and his wife invited us to stay at their house. We were treated to soft beds, a tasty dinner, and a chance to learn about life in small, isolated village. When the roads are good it takes 3 hours to get to the nearest town. Our hosts have chickens, fruit trees, and a large garden. However, they also go to town once or twice a month to shop. There is a bus that goes from the Cinta Larga community to town 3 times per week. It stops here and at farms along the way.
Today we plan to paddle to the next Cinta Larga community. It is the largest Cinta Larga community. We will end our canoe journey there. We hope to spend several days there learning more about the Cinta Larga. They are having a big celebration on Saturday. We hope that we can stay for the festivities, but we will have to ask the chief for permission.
Last night we camped by the bridge near the Teneie Marques, a Cinta Larga community. Brazil was playing in the World Cup. We could hear cheers coming from the community. We think the whole village was watching the game together. Brazil won and just before dark two teachers and several children walked across the bridge to play soccer on the beach near our camp. I struck up a simple conversation with one of the teachers using my basic Portuguese. Soon all of the kids were admiring our canoe and watching us. We tried to pronounce a few Cinta Larga words and everyone laughed.
Kids playing soccer on the beach.
We asked if we could visit the school and the teachers said that we could, but that we would need to ask the Casica (chief) for permission. In the morning we learned that the Casica was not in the village, but we were able to talk to the second chief and she gave us permission to visit the school.
This morning we were a little nervous because we were not sure if we would be welcomed by the Cinta Larga. Our nervousness quickly disappeared after we entered the village and were met with smiles and generosity. We are very grateful that the Cinta Larga let us visit their community. We learned that there are about 3,500 Cinta Larga and they live in about 15 villages. The children learn to speak Cinta Larga at home when they are young. They learn Portuguese at school and they have a textbook that is in Portuguese and Cinta Larga.
The community nurses help us find other Cinta Larga communities on our maps.
We were able to spend several hours visiting with some of the teachers, nurses, as well as the Cinta Larga. Everyone has been very friendly and I think we have made a good impression. We also visited with Oito-mina, who was one of the Cinta Larga guides on a rafting trip down the Rio Roosevelt about 20 years ago. He gave us two giant arrows that he made and we visited with him in his home for a long time. We saw several hunters going off into the jungle with bows and arrows that looked just like the ones that Oito-mina gave us.
This afternoon we said goodbye and paddled a few miles downstream to the next rapids. We are now camped at a beautiful spot in the middle of the rapids. Tomorrow we will continue downstream past several more rapids. We will look for signs of Roosevelt’s campsites and continue our journey in his footsteps.
Three days ago we loaded our canoe where Theodore Roosevelt first caught a glimpse of the Rio Roosevelt. One hundred years ago Roosevelt and his team followed the telegraph line to where it crossed this then unknown river and began their descent. The river seems unchanged from Roosevelt’s time. The forest is alive with a wide range of animals. We have seen many troops of monkeys, a playful family of otters, macaws and many other birds. One of our most unusual animal encounters was with a capybara. Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world. They look like a 100 pound Guinea Pig. We surprised a large capybara standing on a sand beach. When it saw us, it let out a squeal and dove into the water. I grabbed the camera and was ready to take a picture when it surfaced, but we never saw it again. It disappeared underwater. The only thing we could think of was that there was an entrance to a burrow underwater and it swam into its burrow and disappeared.
Last night we camped in a clearing close to the first rapids, Navaite Rapids. We could hear it rumbling in the distance and the current was getting faster and faster, just like Roosevelt describes in his journal. We found an old trail running along the river that looked like it has not been used in a very long time, but the earth is compacted and plants do not grow in the center of the trail. We think it is a traditional Cinta Larga trail that has probably been used for centuries. Perhaps the Cinta Larga silently watched Roosevelt’s crew from this very trail.
We only paddled for a couple minutes this morning before reaching the beginning of the rapids. We pulled our canoe into the thick vegetation along shore. We were relieved to find an old trail that we could use to portage around the mile-long rapids. The first half of the portage took us through dense jungle. Then we came to a vase expanse of open grassland and large sandstone rock shelves. Roosevelt’s crew laid hundreds of logs down here so that they could drag and roll their dugout canoes around the rapids. It took them 3 days to complete this portage. Paul and I are traveling light. We were able to carry our lightweight canoe and all of our supplies over the portage in one trip, which took about 20 minutes. This is where the real adventure began for the Roosevelt Rondon Expedition. This is the first of more than 50 rapids that they had to navigate.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the rapids. Less than a mile above the rapids the river is over 100 feet wide. Here the river is funneled between sandstone walls and at its narrowest point is only 4 feet wide! We tied a rock to a 30-foot rope and dropped it into the narrow channel, but we were not able to find the bottom. We could easily spend several days here, like Roosevelt did, marveling at the rapids and exploring the unique sandstone shelves. There are two iconic photographs from Roosevelt’s expedition that were taken at this spot. One of Roosevelt and Rondon standing on a rock that looks like an upside down top hat, and another of Lyra holding a rifle across the narrowest part of the rapids. It was really fun replicating those photos.
The river ahead is full of rapids and historic spots. We look forward to continuing our journey in Roosevelt’s footsteps. When we stood on top of the top hat rock we knew for certain that we were standing in a place Roosevelt and Rondon stood 100 years ago.
We made it to the mouth of the Rio Roosevelt. This is the end of the river, where it pours into the Aripuana River. I think we feel as good as Roosevelt did we he saw the rest of his original party camped here 100 years ago. It has been a pleasure following in Roosevelt’s footsteps.
Paul and I still have 2 weeks in Brazil. We plan to work our way back to the headwaters of the river. We really want to meet the Cinta Larga and paddle the first part of the river. We look forward to sharing the rest of the adventure with you.
Everyone is doing well. We have just begun a long, 15 km stretch of rapids. This involves a lot of portaging and some paddling. I’ll have a bigger update for you when we reach the end of the rapids– and the mouth of the Rio Roosevelt.
Students requested to see morpho butterfly photos after their mention in our latest Notes from the Trail. Here they are:
The blue morpho butterfly with wings open.
The blue morpho butterfly with wings closed.
Yesterday we saw our first sloth! Sloths are one of my favorite animals. We have been looking in the trees for them for a long time. In Brazil they call a sloth preguica, which means lazy.
It’s true that sloths don’t move much, but that is not because they’re lazy — it is so they won’t be noticcd by predators. They hang upside down, motionless from the canopy branches of cecropia trees for days at a time, munching on leaves when the spirit moves them.
Did you know that sloths don’t defecate from their perch? The reason is that predators would note their presence from the scent on the ground below. So sloths come down about once a week, trek some distance from their tree to defecate, bury their feces to hide the smell and then lumber back up to their perch.
Other sloth quirks:
–Their fur grows forward (rather than back like all other animals) so that rains drains off them while hanging upside down.
– Each hair has tiny pits all along it that serve as “planters” for an algae that grows on the sloth and turns them green — a great camoflage benefit when you live among leaves.
– The sloth’s “home-grown” algae is highly nutritious so the sloth slurps down the green algal slime that it gathers when it grooms its coat with its scoop-shaped toenails.
— Like its hair, the sloths toenails face forward and are not retractable. That means their babies must climb onto mom’s back by themsevles and hang on for dear life. If they fall off, well, they’re on their own.
A dense fog hung over the river this morning as we loaded our canoes and paddled through the whirlpools and small waves in rapid below our camp. However, it was not long before the sun was blazing overhead and our GoalZero solar panels were charging our batteries. After an hour and a half of paddling, the dull roar of a rapid warned us of the challenge ahead. The river split into a maze of channels and we had to slowly make our way down the rapid. At one point the channel we choose ended with a narrow three foot drop with a large rock blocking our way. We had to work together to drag our canoes over rocks to get past the drop. Luckily we were able to run the last 1/2 mile of the rapid with out having to portage.
The rest of the day passed quickly and we found a campsite in the forest at the mouth of a small river that enters the Rio Roosevelt. The area is full of wildlife. We were greeted by 4 river otters when we arrived and had a troup of monkeys visit our campsite several times this evening. After dinner Paul and I paddled upriver and heard a loud nose coming from the forest. We tied our canoe to shore and walked into the forest to investigate. We found over 100 white lipped peccaries slowing moving through the forest. Peccaries are a type of wild pig and they smell really bad. We watched them for a long time before continuing upriver.
Miles Traveled: 27
Hours Paddled: 7
Lunch: Raisins, nuts, and a Clif Bar