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.