The hot sun brought an early end to our travels yesterday, but this was the start of several unexpected events. We stopped at an old farmstead, were greeted warmly by its sole inhabitant, Jose, and settled in for the day. When Jose commented that this old farmstead was the only one on this stretch of river, we checked our GPS. Much to our delight it confirmed that our latitude matched that of the farmstead where Rondon and Roosevelt had camped 100 years before. We had stumbled upon historic ground!
As we marveled at this discovery, Tonico pointed out an old table tucked in the brush by the riverside with initials carved in it that matched those of Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Kermit, who accompanied Theodore on the 1914 expedition. We raced down to check. Sure enough, “KR” was clearly etched in the tabletop. Adding to the fun was an ancient hand-carved canoe paddle we found half-buried in the riverbank behind the table. Left behind by Roosevelt team? It could well be (You can be the judge. We hope to bring the paddle home with us.) But we know the initials weren’t authentic . . . it turns out Tonico scratched them in the table as a good-natured prank.
The next surprise experience was the walk that the farmer sent us on. We ambled past the cows, goats, pigs and chickens he tends, out the gate, and into a primeval cathedral of green – the most stunning stretch of rainforest we had yet seen. We walked for miles on a winding trail with natural marvels waiting around every corner.
Legions of leaf-cutter ants hefting wedges of leaves many times bigger than themselves marched to their catacombs. Morpho butterflies with closed wings are perfectly camouflaged against mottled brown tree bark. When opened, the wings radiate an iridescent ultramarine blue that pulses through the forest like a strobe light as the butterfly flutters about. Finally there were the massive buttresses of the towering kapok tree, wedge-shaped flanges that extend 8 feet or more out from the trunk base to support this sky-scraping tree from teetering in the thin jungle soil.
Our third unexpected experience of the day was our night paddle. After letting the heat of the day pass while exploring the farmstead and then catching a few hours of rest in the evening, we launched our boats in the moonlight and paddled, floated, joked and snoozed into the dawn. With canoes rafted together, we shined flashlights towards the shore to catch the bright orange reflection caiman eyes as these South American reptiles hunkered in the brush. A caiman is similar to an alligator. Then Ercilio played his single-stringed African folk instrument and we enjoyed what is likely the world’s first floating “Bermibau” concert.
Dawn brought us to one of the Rio Roosevelt’s most astonishing stretches: a mile-long tumult of braided rapids and serpentine channels called the “Inferno.” The surge cascading off its head falls is astonishing. Roosevelt’s team got an assist around the head rapids by local residents when he arrived there. We did too. The falls is now the site of a small but very upscale fishing lodge. Their crew used motorboats to transport our gear through the rapids while we ran much of the rapids in our canoes – a great adrenaline rush to finish another fine day (and night) of paddling.