Looking Back – Rio Roosevelt Expedition 1992
25 years ago, Carr Clifton and 20 other adventurers and scientists successfully retraced the
1914 Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition through the Brazilian Wilderness
Located deep in the Amazon Basin of South America, Brazil’s Rio Duvida (The River of Doubt) provided a multitude of challenges for the 1992 Rio Roosevelt Expedition led by Charles Haskell and Elizabeth McKnight of New Century Conservation Trust. The expedition consisted of professional river guides, two professional photographers (including Carr Clifton), a writer, filmmaker, Brazilian scientists, two Cinta Larga chiefs and Theodore Roosevelt’s great grandson, Tweed Roosevelt.
This epic 1000 mile journey retraced former president Theodore Roosevelt’s 1914 expedition, one of the first to chart the headwaters of the Amazon. Following an extremely accurate map drawn from the 1914 expedition by Roosevelt’s partner, Candido Rondon, Brazil’s premier Amazon explorer, the 1992 team found many of the locations chronicled in Roosevelt’s book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness. The river was subsequently renamed the Rio Roosevelt following the 1914 expedition that nearly killed the former president from malaria and a leg infection, and was undoubtedly Roosevelt’s toughest wilderness adventure. Roosevelt never fully recovered from the perilous adventure and died five years after returning from his expedition at the age of 60.
Candice Millard’s book, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey is highly recommended reading for those interested in Theodore Roosevelt and his 1914 expedition. A full account of the 1992 expedition was documented in the PBS documentary, New Explorers: The River of Doubt available from Kurtis Productions.
Carr Clifton’s Expedition Journal
(journal begins two weeks after final expedition preparations in Brazil and travel to the headwaters)
March 2, 1992
For the past two days, February 29 and March 1, we drove from Vilhena on dirt and mud roads to the Rio Roosevelt. It was one tortuous journey. We had three 4×4 Toyota flatbeds and three 4×4 Jeeps loaded to the gills. We must have winched at least 10 times in different locations to get the trucks through massive mud holes . . of course it didn’t help that the hired Toyotas had very bad tires. On the first day we struggled until midnight, pushing and pulling, digging out and jacking up . . incredibly hard work. We finally bivouacked at some wood cutter’s camp. The following day the drivers of the Toyotas (who had been preparing the road for our arrival) went on strike. They didn’t want to drive the pungie stick path to the river, and believe me, it wasn’t much more than a footpath. On both days we had a road that was actually corduroy roads, logs placed cross ways over marshy ground.
We finally made it to the river in the smaller Jeeps and immediately went swimming to rid ourselves of the incredible amounts of sweat and mud. We then had to shuttle all the gear from the flatbeds to the Jeep vehicles to make the final push to the river. Humidity was high and bugs were fierce. Once we were settled down in camp, we all went swimming again. Jose Cabrall, one of the Brazilian scientists, was getting out of the water and accidentally grabbed onto a poisonous caterpillar. He immediately felt severe pain and swelling in his hand. Dr. John Walden gave him something for pain, but he tossed and turned moaning in pain until the strong narcotic took effect. Later in the evening, the Cinta Larga Indians, Oitamina and Tatare found a large scorpion in camp. We feasted on salted beef and retired.
March 3, 1992
This morning we started on the Rio Roosevelt. Four whitewater rafts and one kayak, 17 people in all. We would pick up four more people and one raft in about four days from the bridge Oitamina showed us days earlier. The crew included:
Charles Haskell, Leader USA
Elizabeth McKnight, Leader USA
Jim Slade, Head Boatman USA
Mike Boyle, Boatman USA
Mario Peixoto, Boatman Brazil
Kelley Kalafatich, Boatman USA
Joe Willie Jones, Boatman USA
Chip Haskell, Navigation/Communication USA
Tweed Roosevelt, Historian USA
Joe Kaminsky, Video USA
Carr Clifton, Photographer USA
Mark Greenberg, Photographer USA
Oitamina, Chief of Cinta Larga Indians, Brazil
Tatare, Sub-chief of Cinta Larga Indians, Brazil
Jose Cabrall, Scientist Brazil
Geraldo, Scientist Brazil
Joao, Scientist Brazil
Dr John Walden, Doctor USA
Sam Moses, Writer USA
Assiz Finia, FUNAI Representative
Today we passed the telegraph bridge remains where Theodore Roosevelt’s party had put in to attempt the first descent of the Rio Roosevelt. We also saw a recently abandoned Cinta Larga camp. We went about eight miles and made our camp on a small point of land on the inside of an oxbow bend. The first day has been exciting although opportunities to take landscape photos have been non-existent!
March 4, 1992
Today started off early, shoving off at 8am. We saw lots of wildlife including giant freshwater otters, incredible!!! They had a whitish-yellow coloring under their chins. Some yellow and blue macaws flew over us at least twice. I actually got goose bumps on my entire body. One of the boats saw an anaconda and some caiman along the shore. We also saw our first monkey dangling in a tree. We covered lots of miles, reaching camp at 4:30pm. Oitamina showed us a place that was an old FUNAI post (Brazil’s National Indian Foundation), just four logs left. We had to machete a place to camp tonight. The bugs weren’t bad. Tomorrow, we head to the Navaite Rapids. Mike Boyle hit a snag and punctured his boat, so we patched it – it took almost two hours. I also got to row today for a while. Lost my only pair of sunglasses yesterday in the river (first day), oops!!!
I couldn’t sleep in today, so I got up at 4am, my chest hurt – I hope from just sleeping on hard ground. The saw grass cut the hell out of my legs and my toe is hurting badly from stubbing it.
March 7, 1992
Well, we made it to the first rapids and it was a portage. We camped near a burned down structure. Oitamina said it was gold miners that the Cinta Larga Indians burned out. The portage was not too difficult, in fact, quite easy. It is a beautiful area with lots of sandstone plateaus and rock outcroppings. We stayed here two nights and then headed down river to our first resupply stop at the bridge where we drove in earlier. We reached the bridge after a great day of floating, but very hot and humid.
Joe Willie Jones, boatman, Beth McKnight, Expedition co-leader, and Assiz Finia, the FUNAI representative, showed up about an hour and a half later with food and lots of beer. People became a bit intoxicated, especially Mike Boyle, Oitamina and others . . . what an exciting group!! We are seeing lots of macaws, blue and gold, every day.
We left for the next set of rapids at 1:30 in the afternoon in a total downpour. Of course, we don’t use rain gear but instead just get soaked. Any rain gear would be way too hot. We reached the rapids and the boatmen decided after scouting them to stop and camp at 3pm and attempt them in the morning. One branch is un-runable, but a channel angling to the right is a safer bet though tricky to get to. I shot some photos this afternoon and will try in the morning. Tonight I am tenting with Mario and Cabrall as I am too tired to set up my own tent.
March 8, 1992
The fog enveloped our camp this morning as we packed up. We had lots of ants in the grass that would bite your feet as you walked around, very painful! We ran two sets of rapids, one we think is Broken Canoe Rapids. The first set was a sharp right angle turn to avoid a huge hydraulic that could have been deadly. At the bottom a tree was across to add to the danger. We all made the right channel that split off from the main channel. Mario and I went down it sideways and backwards over a big rock. The next set was down river a slight distance but with huge standing waves. Jim Slade came through first and slammed into a great standing wave, quickly losing control of his oars. Luckily he made it through the rest without incident. Mario came through with Oitamina and Geraldo, spun sideways and almost flipped. Everyone (finally) made it through this set. We proceeded to float restfully downstream.
We stopped at a farm and talked with a little girl sifting rocks out of pinto beans (the first inhabitants we had seen). We then floated down to another settler’s shack and talked with two farmers who were carving out a poor existence amid the rainforest. They said their community was about 60 strong with a church and a small town . . . we couldn’t believe it. The bugs have been taking a toll on all of us, mostly our ankles. I have bites all over my entire body. It rained like crazy today while we were on the river, I was quite cool when I was drenched. We made camp finally around 4pm and I quickly started coffee. Spaghetti for dinner . . . YUM!
March 10, 1992
Yesterday we reached a FUNAI Post that was actually a Cinta Larga Village. Oitamina’s brother and Tatare’s friends lived there. We stayed the night and bought a pig from the Indians who cooked up a feast for us – manioc, rice and pork. It was great, we ate plenty. It was a great relief, because, that morning we discovered that a lot of our food that we had received at the resupply was poorly packed for the drive in and had become tainted with gasoline!! We threw out all our flour and spaghetti noodles, some candies, milk, etc. We are still testing our food supply to see how bad it is. We supplemented our rations with rice and flour from the Indians. Today most everyone’s ankles are swollen from bug bites. Many have bites on their faces and hands. We dropped into the most remote part of the river today and will be in it for at least 10 days. Lots of spiders, many very large ones, much larger than a tarantula with longer thinner legs. We camped tonight above a big set of rapids with some tough moves to avoid disaster. The stinging BEES were unbelievable in camp, swarming over everything. I think everyone got stung except the Indians and myself. The waters we passed through today were infested with piranha, so we had to be careful when swimming. If you jumped in from the boat, hopefully you wouldn’t be jumping into a school of them.
March 11, 1992
We have packed up camp and are in the boats waiting for the boatmen to finish scouting the next set of rapids which look pretty technical. They have been gone for over an hour. We are sitting in the boats in a large eddy with thousands of honey bees swarming over us. I finally got stung on the hand. Everyone seems to be a bit tired today, we need a layover!! Jim Slade seems to want to finish the trip sooner than planned. I really don’t mind especially if I keep doing poorly with photos. It is difficult to get good photos here. We just made it down the rapids, a couple of sharp turns to make the channel we wanted. Mario missed the left channel and went down one we did not scout. Luckily it was OK. We met down below in an eddy to eat some peach bars when Tatare started yelling “cobra!” and pointed up above the rafts about four feet above our heads. There sat, ready to fall into the boats, a large poisonous snake. We were actually pushing against the vines and limbs that dipped into the water, practically brushing the snake into Mike Boyle’s boat. The Indians said it was a type of rattlesnake. We floated down a quarter mile to hear the sounds of another rapid. Three boatmen are scouting it now, so we sit and wait, ready to prepare lunch.
We negotiated the rapids without difficulty – this is where Roosevelt found the petroglyphs along the river. We then ran many Class II rapids until we camped at 3:30pm.
March 12, 1992
Today started with Chip almost getting bitten by a snake, probably poisonous. It raised its head in the air and prepared to strike as Chip took a leak. We started the portage of 1.5 miles around two 15 foot waterfalls. Luckily for us, but not for the rainforest, there was a partial skid road that was recently punched through for illegal harvesting of mahogany trees. We were quite thankful, or it would have been easily a week long portage instead of two days. The bees hassled us constantly, stinging everyone. I was stung at least six times today. The leaf cutter ants where we portaged our equipment to, were so bad that by our third portage they were already eating on the boats and food bags. We unrolled the rafts, inflated all five and put them in the river. We piled the frames in tent fashion and put food bags off the ground. Some of the group saw monkeys along the way, another group saw a fer-de-lance, one of the most lethal snakes in the world. One good bite and you are out. We also saw the largest moth in the Amazon, wing span of 9 to 12 inches. I took no pictures today, too much work sunup to sundown with lots of jumping fully clothed into the river. We all would do this a few times a day and soap off all sweat and salt from our clothes so the bees would not be all over us. On a day like today, your clothes would become fully drenched from head to toe in the first 45 minutes of the day from sweat!!
March 13, 1992
This morning we, the film crew, convinced Charlie after much discussion, that we should only move camp to where the boats have been portaged to so we would have time to photograph, and so the scientists could work. He seems to have forgotten why we were here, to make a film, write a book and do photo essays. There has been a lot of bad blood over this subject. Almost everyone wants to slow down. Charlie and Beth, through inexperience I suppose, want to go by a clock and move, move, move. So, today we did two final loads to finish the five trips per person portage over the 1.5 miles. It was hot and the most humid yet. It also rained super heavy for one hour today. It is now 8:30pm and sweat is still dripping off my forehead and nose onto my thermarest sleeping pad. It is bearable but sweating this much is very unusual for many of us. We jump in the river at least four or five times a day fully clothed because our clothes are literally dripping and totally soaked through and through most of the day. The bees were back, usually about ten on you at all times. I was stung five times today.
It is a real challenge trying to photograph with sweat pouring, and I do mean raining from your head, face and hands, and also have bees going up your shirt, stinging you on your arms, all the while you are looking for spiders and cobras. And, oh yes, not to forget about the ants that are everywhere, in every size, shape and color. The chonta ant, is especially fierce. It’s about one inch long and their bite can practically paralyze a person, knocking them out of commission for six to ten hours . . . super painful and to be avoided at all costs. I did take three medium format photos today, so I feel good about that.
Tomorrow, we head into a particularly dangerous stretch of whitewater where places to exit the river may be nonexistent. In other words, no eddies or slack water to get to shore. There are, we believe, some waterfalls ahead, so being careful and scouting all the rapids ahead of time is required and imperative. We will be entering mountainous and canyon type terrain below here.
March 14, 1992
We made it through all the rapids without mishap, some Class IV whitewater through beautiful country . . . big trees. This morning before departing, rigging the boats took on new meaning. The bees swarmed with a vengeance, I was stung six times before we shoved off. Kelley, Joao and I were in the last boat to leave so as each boat left the shore, the bees from that boat and group of people stayed and by the time the last two boats left, we had thousands of bees swarming over us. It was mass insanity, Tatare had at least 100 swarming around his head, boy, were we glad to get out of there.
We finally made camp about 4:30pm. Tatare caught a bird with his bare hands. Oitamina and Tatare used the bird meat as bait and quickly caught five piranha while Mark Greenberg and I bathed not 50 yards away. They were giant, the teeth and jaw were easily the size of human dentures. The Indians boiled the fish whole and we had a feast. While we were eating, the Indians heard a noise. It sounded like a distant breeze, they said it was rain coming but we just shrugged it off as rustling leaves. Before we knew it, the rain hit and hit hard. Everybody dashed for their clotheslines and the equipment left out. We “civilized” people must always learn the hard way.
March 15, 1992
Rain pounded camp all night long, the heaviest we’ve seen. I got up first, like every morning, to make a pot of cowboy coffee. The main tarp had collapsed and filled with 30 or 40 gallons of water. It also broke one of the lantern’s glass. After 10 to 15 minutes, I had the tarp restrung but all the lighters were out of fuel. It took some time to finally get my fix of coffee. It is now raining like I have never seen before. It is pounding everything and everybody. We have retreated to the tents after breakfast. The roar of rain combined with the darkness is most impressive. The tents are starting to show some weakness. Mine is dripping inside in about four places. Everything is wet except my sleeping sheet which I have put away. Nobody knows if we should pack up or wait. We have never seen continuous rain like this so far on the river. It just brings a whole new meaning to WET. I’ve got to do something about my tent or I may drown!! I cannot express in words how hard it is raining except that I have never, ever in my entire life seen such a downpour!!! Holy shit! Even the Indians are saying “WOW” (they learned this word after everyone saw the piranha they had caught).
Later we finally took a vote and it is final, we are laying over another day. The river has come up at least 2.5 to 3 feet and thank God, the rain has stopped. We all got some much needed rest today, and some are doing laundry or drying out cameras etc around the fire. Tweed has the generator going tonight for his bug light. His sheet is hung, waiting for unusual bugs to land on it. Then he sucks up the bugs into a vial for further study. He has quite a collection of beetles from daytime collecting.
Mario told me a very interesting story today about Oitamina. Oitamina told him about illegal squatters (miners) who were trespassing on Indian land (Oitamina speaks fluent Portuguese). He and seven Cinta Larga Indians went to talk with these four men to tell them to leave. The miners were extremely rude and threatening to the Indians, and they adamantly refused to leave. The Indians warned them to leave one last time, but the men basically spit in their faces. The Indians left, went into the jungle, fashioned clubs and returned and killed the miners. The police investigated and just left the bodies where they were and did not follow up on the killings. The Government looks the other way when Indians kill trespassers on Indian lands. Mario told me that as he understood Oitamina, this was not the first time he has killed Non-Indians. He became Chief after his father was killed by rubber tappers. The Cinta Larga retaliated by killing the rubber tappers. The Cinta Larga have not had an easy go of it in the last 30 years. The ones that have not been killed by non Indians, have died or been afflicted with disease etc.
The Doctor said almost everyone on this expedition has some infection or affliction by now. I have been fortunate that I have not needed his expertise so far.
March 16, 1992
Today, we got up to a beautiful day. We had oatmeal and granola for breakfast and aimed for the usual 8am departure. Someone threw plastic onto the fire and it started to smoke. The smoke drifted towards the boats at the banks of the river. This smoke caused four to five inch long poisonous caterpillars to start falling from the trees directly into and around the boats we were loading. By the time we doused the fire and moved the boats, at least 30 caterpillars had fallen into the boats and around us. It was quite a panic situation because if one landed on one of us, we could be in serious trouble or at the least suffer pain that is described in one of our manuals on insects as being a pain so intense as to be supernatural. Nevertheless, we were running around with tarps on our heads throwing gear into the boats. Mike Boyle went to untie his bowline and almost grabbed one of the caterpillars on the knot he was undoing. We made it out safely and ran some great rapids through fast moving shoots through trees. It was quite exciting. We were approaching a FUNAI outpost of Cinta Larga Indians. These were ones who did not want us to travel through their land, but Oitamina being head chief overruled their decision. As we were approaching the outpost, Oitamina, being in my boat, told us he must go first because of the hostile Indians. He said that they may shoot at us. Mario also said Oitamina was telling him to get the shotgun we brought with us ready! He and Tatare seemed to be quite nervous as we passed near the encampment. We did not see any Indians, which tells me that they were definitely seeing us. We ran more rapids and made camp at 3:30pm in dense jungle with giant fan palms. Cabrall and I were passing each other on a footpath in the middle of camp when he looked down in front of us and pointing, asked, “What is that”? I looked down and saw a foot long cobra which Cabrall quickly dispatched with his machete. It was a fer-de-lance type the Indians just said, “deadly poisonous”.
Mike Boyle at twilight, became alarmed when he thought he saw two Indians in a dugout canoe pass camp on the river. He was pretty sure but he really could not be totally certain. Doc was a bit alarmed but tried not to show any concern. Later, Mario told me that Doc put up strings and ropes around his hammock area to awake him at someone’s approach. This group of Indians have killed white or non-Indians before. In fact, Oitamina showed us where they had killed three miners in 1983. I think I will sleep lightly tonight! Note: In 2004 29 illegal diamond poachers were killed on this reserve by the Cinta Larga tribe.
March 17, 1992
Well, no trouble last night. I got my best photo today although I had to handhold my camera in the boat along the shore. Could not have gotten it any other way. It was a beautifully tortured drooping tree hanging over the river. Shot with 35mm and 6×7.
We ran some good rapids today, the largest waves yet. Mario punched through a big wave train of standing waves, they were quite fun!! The sun was fierce today with one super hard rain that was incredible, very warm. We found a cobra in our camp again today. We covered about 20 miles and camped at 4:15pm. Lots of us have staph infections. I’ve still managed although my feet and legs are taking a beating with piume (small insects) bites covering my legs completely and swelling my ankles. They do not heal very well and with the combination of wet feet 15 hours a day, they have caused havoc. Tonight it is quite warm and very humid!
March 18, 1992
Today we headed to a ranch for the second resupply. The sun was quite fierce again and so were the piumes. We were about halfway to our destination when Fabio (in charge of resupply) flew over the river. He dropped a note in a water bottle into the river that said the resupply would be on Friday. We made it to the fazenda (ranch) around 3pm and were put up in deluxe accommodations. We were fed a great dinner of beef, rice and beans. Joe Kaminsky and Mark Greenberg seemed to have botfly larva or eggs under their skin. The doctor cut one of Mark’s wounds open and found what he thought were larva or eggs. It looked very painful. Joe has a more serious problem – he has about four of these on his arms and legs. The doctor said they had two choices, one is to lance and take the larva out and risk infection, or wait until a breathing hole breaks the skin. When this happens, the larva can be extracted by placing a piece of meat over the hole to cut off the air supply so the larva will come to the surface and actually bore through the meat, at which time you throw the meat away. Note: these actually turned out to be possible Staph infections and in Joe Kaminsky’s case, one was Leishmaniasis, a possible fatal disease if not treated promptly.
March 22, 1992
The last couple of days have been spent at Fazenda Morakitan eating lots of food. The owner flew in from Sao Paulo and is very hospitable. The accommodations were five star, a beautifully tiled, screened in ranch style house with many beds and hammock areas. We had all we could eat and drink compliments of the owner. On Saturday, some other Brazilians flew in from the surrounding area for a barbecue of lamb, beef, manioc, rice and beans and some very strong drinks called, I think, Kipirenias.
We saw jaguar tracks around the fazenda. The owner flew Joe Kaminsky, Mario, Kelley and me upriver about 20 miles for aerial photographs. It was incredible – Joe almost lost his video camera out the door-less plane. It was much too short of a flight, but the pilot had to get back to fly a judge, sheriff and a mayor back to Sao Paulo.
March 23, 1992
Today we lashed the remaining four rafts together (one was left behind with the resupply vehicle) and put the 9.9 hp four stroke heavy load outboard on and started back down river. We ceremoniously christened the flotilla the “Mother Ship”. Mark and Joe flew over and shot aerials of us departing. The motor is pushing us at a good pace and I predict we will be at the pickup spot (a large riverboat will pick us up where the Rio Roosevelt meets the Aripuana) in four to five days.
Sam Moses, the writer, whose leg looks awful, possibly caused by some sort of poisonous plant, and Mario Peixoto have left the expedition to do interviewing on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The drive out from the fazenda is an eight hour drive on a dirt road through possibly hostile country. Our resupply came in three vehicles guarded by military of the State of Rhondonia and an armed FUNAI agent. Cabrall, Oitamina and Tatare have finished their part of the expedition. We have picked up another passenger, a tough old guy by the name of Markus Mello. Moral is getting a bit shaky, as most people want to get home, so my job as a photographer which needs lots of time to produce photographs becomes very difficult. I have not covered in this journal all the difficulties with personalities and conflicts which seems to always occur on trips of this size and length.
We motored into the night. We hired a skiff and boat operator from the Fazenda Morakitan. A ranch hand, Marcus, Geraldo and the skiff operator went ahead to locate the next fazenda. They finally located it and talked with the foreman, Antonio, who agreed to put us up for the next two nights. We were fed a great dinner of rice, beans and the ever present beef, and retired to a large comfortable ranch headquarters that in years past was high class. To us it was still high class with huge screened in porches. The whole structure was 10-15 feet off the ground with a magnificent view of the Rio Roosevelt. It rained quite heavily that night and we were very relieved to be inside once again. Morning brought heavy low clouds and our concern was aimed at the plane and flying conditions, because Mark Greenberg, Joao, Tweed Roosevelt and Chip Haskell are supposed to land at the dirt airstrip at this ranch. They were left behind at the Fazenda Morakitan to do a Good Morning America hook up by satellite phone and also for Joao to do some interviews and more Brazil nut radiation and soil sample testing. The vaqueros have been great to us here, posing for photos and even herding cattle. Antonio is of most help showing us around the fazenda and feeding us lunch. Doctor John Walden attended to one of the ranch hands who has malaria and also to Antonio’s two or three year old daughter.
Antonia said he runs 1600 head of Brahma cattle, a small fazenda compared to most. He loses approximately two head of cattle a week to jaguar and a couple of cattle from electric eels when he swims them across the Rio Roosevelt. When they get shocked by the eels they sink like rocks. Our crew finally flew in today at 3pm and put the front landing gear into a ditch and the prop dug into the mud throwing mud all over the plane. We pushed them out and checked the prop. They were lucky, a damaged plane out here would cost many thousands of dollars to have repaired.
March 24, 1992
Today we departed the Fazenda Concisa well rested from two nights of sound sleep. Like we did at Fazenda Morakitan, we hired a skiff and operator to assist in visiting and interviewing the settlers along the river and for stopping to photograph. By hiring the skiff and operator, we won’t have to slow down the progress of the Mother Ship, to accomplish the work that must be done. Mark, Joao and Joe rode in the skiff today.
The Mother Ship stopped today at a rubber tapper, boat builder and other dubious occupations person’s house. It was a house on stilts with a pole floor. He had six kids and a wife. He also had a jaguar skin out back that was in poor condition. Lots of macaws flying around, always in pairs. We’ve seen ten to twenty blue and golds and also blue and red macaws every day this last week. We’ve also seen toucans and often hear their call. The bird life on this river is incredible. Another sign of minimal impact on this watershed. Parrots of many kinds are as common as ravens in the southwestern US, we see them every day, many times.
March 27, 1992
Joe K, Joao and I rode in the skiff to photograph and take notes on the living conditions of the settlers along the river. Around sunset, the pecky pecky motor propelling the skiff broke down, we paddled with two paddles into the darkness until we heard voices and spotted some dimly lighted structures. We pulled in and talked with settlers, who were very friendly. We came to the conclusion after they said the Mother Ship was two hours ahead of us, to spend the night and continue in the morning. Our hosts cooked us beans, rice and meat for dinner and of course coffee con sugar. We rolled up in anything we had to keep the mosquitoes off us. I used two life jackets for a bed and swatted bugs most of the night. We departed in the morning after many photos and paddled downstream to look for the Mother Ship.
Since we were using only paddle power, in an awkward skiff designed for motor power, we could not go down a swift channel, so we had to abandon the skiff and go overland through the jungle to find where our companions had camped. After using a machete for about a half mile, we located camp above the huge rapids. The Brazilian boatman of the skiff was going to paddle back upstream where he knew he could get the part to repair the skiff from a friend. Our decision on the gigantic rapids was that they were too dangerous and all our gear and boats must be portaged about a third of a mile.
March 28, 1992
Today we completed the portage and headed downstream. It was a beautiful day with very little rain. At camp this morning we saw gigantic grasshoppers which Mark photographed on my hat.
Finding campsites is very difficult because most of the forest is flooded for the first 50 yards and virtually impassable even with machetes. The river is definitely at a high level. Its now about 400 or more yards wide. Camp tonight was at an abandoned settlers house with high ground and a clearing. Tweed treated me to some of his 200 proof grain alcohol mixed with grapefruit juice. The alcohol is what he uses for preserving bugs and the grapefruit, we harvested at the abandoned settler’s home.
March 31, 1992
On the 28th we ran some large rapids and passed up a beautiful location for Joe K. and I to photograph and film. Joe was really pissed because we ran the wrong channel for whitewater footage. Before we knew it, the two lead boats were far down river. We camped at a settler’s home around dusk. We saw freshwater dolphins for the first time today. We departed the settler’s home after photographing the sign planting ceremony “Rio Roosevelt Expedition 1992”.
After about an hour of sun, we received the hardest and coldest rainfall of the entire trip. It rained heavily for about three hours and chilled us all. We then ran the last of the Rio Roosevelt and met the Aripuana River. A little further down we met the first boat to pick us up at the ferry crossing of the Trans-Amazonian Highway. We loaded all our gear on the river boat and proceeded to drink lots of beer until we fell asleep like vagabonds all about the boat. I slept on two folded up rafts down near the engine room, very loud and fumy. The engine room on this boat was so loud that Mike Boyle showed us you could enter it and scream at the top of your lungs and a person one foot away would not hear you at all. We reached our larger boat which will take us to Manaus at 6am this morning and we are now underway. It was waiting for us at a town where the Aripuana meets the Maderia. This is the first we have seen, “Novo Aripuana”. This new boat is quite luxurious, with a bar and private cabins each with a bathroom. We will be on it for 28 hours. We reached the Amazon River, the largest river in the world, after floating on the second and third largest as far as volume of water, the Maderia and Rio Negro, the world’s three largest volume rivers. We arrived at where we started the expedition at the Tropical Hotel on the Rio Negro at 3pm, and moved into the alien comfort of a five star hotel.
I would like to thank Charles Haskell and Elizabeth McKnight for making the 1992 journey a reality.