July 12, 2012

Three famous visitors to the Amazon I bet you did not know about

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This is not about celebrities. It’s about historical figures. You know, Abraham Lincoln or Vladimir Lenin. And, to be fair, I got these from the excellent book on the history of the Amazon: Tree of Rivers by John Hemming. You have to enjoy the Amazon to cover its 400 pages, but it is a superbly researched and well written book (so is Hemming’s other book, the Conquest of the Incas). Anyway, without further ado, here they go:



Theodore Roosevelt (pg 236-244)
It is appropriate that the North American president who founded the National Park system had an epic Amazon journey. In 1914, Teddy Roosevelt, already 55, visited Brazil on a hunting trip to  Amazonia. The government of Brazil assigned the great woodsman Colonel Candido Rondon as his guide. Rondon, who may have been the first indigenous rights activist in Amazonia has whole state  named after him: Rondonia.

Anyway, they had no mission beyond hunting and exploring. Hunting is not as good in the Amazon as it is in Africa: game is smaller and much harder to find. So I imagine that after a disappointing tapir or red brocket deer kill, Roosevelt turned to exploring. Rondon gave him a choice of four rivers to descend from Rondonia northwards to the Amazon. One was an unknown tributary called the Duvida, or “River of Doubt” because now when knew where it emerged. Roosevelt of course,  picked that one. During the eight week 1000 kilometer descent, he almost lost his son Kermit in the rapids and was “wasted to a mere shadow of his former self”. The Duvida was christened the Roosevelt River by Rondon.

I love his quotes from his Amazon travels, which could be found in any field biologists journal:

“Now, while bursting thru a tangle, I disturbed a nest of wasps, whose resentment was very active; now I heedlessly stepped among the outliers of a small party of the carnivorous foraging (Eciton, army) ants; now grasping a branch as I stumbled, I shook down a shower of fire-ants (Dinoponera) which stung like hornet, so that I felt it for three hours… ”

“Because of the rain and heat our clothes were usually wet when we took them off at night, and just as wet when we put them on in the morning.”



Henry Ford (pg 264-268)
Who would have thought that Ford founded one of the Amazon’s first businesses to go bust? It turns out that around 1922 Ford wanted to break the Dutch- British cartel on plantation rubber, which was steadily raising prices. Some shady Brazilians sold 10000 square miles of land in the state of Para where he could replicate the Asian and African rubber tree plantations in the Amazon. Any Peruvian forestry undergraduate will tell you that is an extremely risky proposition: high densities of any native tree species will attract pests (in Asia and Africa, rubber is a non-native species, so it has no pests). So, Fordlandia was built, complete with a cinema, a hospital, churches schools, tennis courts, swimming pools, social clubs, avenues lined with eucalyptus, and a golf course. By 1935, 1.5 million rubber trees were planted, but as they grew enough for their canopies to touch, they lost their leaves to the endemic South American Leaf Blight. They moved the plantation and built a large Fordlandia at a palce called Belterra. After 2 million trees were planted, the blight struck again. In 1945, Henry Ford II abandoned the enterprise having sunk 10 million dollars without tapping a single rubber tree.

Otto von Bismarck (pg 122)
The founder and first chancellor of the German Empire (ca. 1870) was an aide-de-camp in an expedition to the Amazon led by Prince Adalbert of Prussia. The expedition visited the Amazon in 1842 with the goal of exploring the Xingu. Ive tried googling more on this expedition because Hemming doesn’t mention much about it (von Bismarck, was after all, a lowly aide de camp), but I keep finding Bismarck biographies on Amazon DOT COM! Amazon.com is one of the few bummers of real Amazon work!

Please let me know of any other historical figures in the Amazon who are known for their Amazon adventures. And if you,re planning to become a historical figure, don’t forget to visit us at our Amazon jungle lodges.

1 comment:

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