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Fall 2004 Issue
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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The paddle the man methodically dipped in the water had the shape of an inverted spade from a card deck. He was perched in the front of his homemade dugout canoe and approached us as though he saw six “city slickers” floating through the Amazon basin in fancy synthetic canoes as often as he saw the monkeys and macaws that filled the jungle.

Chico dos Santos, a rubber taper, canoe and paddle craftsman, fisherman, fishing guide, and subsistence farmer, lives in the Amazon with his wife and four children. The family’s two houses are built on stilts to avoid the annual rainy season flooding, and a large sign reading “Que Sejam Bemvindo Amigo” (“Welcome Friend”) greets visitors when they arrive. This man mesmerized us all as we worked to repair our canoes for our first “night float” in the Amazon basin.

As dusk fell, we clambered into our canoes, set up our cooking platform, waved goodbye to our new friends, and drifted into the nighttime sounds of the jungle while preparing a fish dinner: piranha again!

Our constant companions were the Big Dipper, Scorpio, and the Southern Cross — an interesting blend of northern and southern skies that somehow linked the different places from which we had all come. The night float was a magical experience tempered by tight sleeping quarters. Some lucky souls slept soundly enough to snore unperturbed, while others fidgeted restlessly in the bilge of our persistently leaky canoes. Some of us resigned to our fate and played chess and sipped coffee until daybreak.

The Roosevelt River begins in the Amazonian state of western Brazil, Rondonia, in what is known in Brazil as the “legal Amazon.” From here it winds roughly 650 kilometers northward until its juncture with the Aripuanå River. The river gets its name from Teddy Roosevelt, who joined his grandson on a Brazilian government expedition down the river in 1914, then called the River of Doubt, to discover where the upper river joined the extensive Amazon drainage. During this expedition, two men died, the group lost at least five canoes, and everyone contracted malaria. We were hoping for less dramatic results, and mainly wanted to familiarize ourselves with the Amazon jungle, fulfill our lifelong dreams to explore a part of the Amazon, and gather information for a future proposal for a NOLS program in the Brazilian Amazon backcountry.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Atila Rego-Monteiro, a NOLS Instructor since 1992, has more than 1,000 river miles logged, including a trip into the Brazilian Pantanal, expeditions down the Grand Canyon, and a crossing of the Gulf of California.

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