National Geographic : 1928 Sep
BY SEAPLANE TO SIX CONTINENTS Manaos is the child of jungle rivers. Though it is about as far from the sea as Chicago is from New York, ships from all over the world tie up at its floating wharves. They have to float, as do also its bridges, for the Rio Negro, on whose banks Manaos stands-12 miles from where the Negro joins the Amazon-rises and falls as much as 33 feet. But my curiosity was aroused more by the number of enormous, half-finished palaces than by the strange floating bridges. Crumbling now, though never completed, they contrast strangely with the spick-and-span aspect of present-day Manaos.* "They're monuments to the rubber boom," I was told. "Years ago the whole world went crazy over Brazilian rubber. Manios spawned millionaires overnight. In their madness they started these castles in the air, but the boom broke before they were finished." Friendly souls took me to the theater, though, having averaged but four hours' sleep a night for weeks, I was dog tired. In a fine red-plush box seat with gilded rails, I promptly began to snore while a soprano sang from "Madame Butterfly." The Italian consul with me got up and apologized. People applauded him. This awakened me. I got up, said a word or two, and then the good-natured audience let me rest. Theater-goers here still speak of the tragic fate of an Italian lyric troupe that sang in Manaos about the time of the Spanish-American War. Yellow fever broke out; the director and nearly every actor in the troupe died in the epidemic. Now the Brazilian Government has done much to stamp out this plague. The Amazon-mighty artery from the Andes to the Atlantic! So wide, it looks like a sea. Named "Amazon" by the early Spanish explorer, Orellana, because Indian women on its banks fought beside their warrior husbands against the Span iards, like the Amazon fighting women Herodotus tells of. So variable in flood that Indians in boats during high water pick Brazil nuts * See, also, "Exploring Amazon in a Hydroplane," Stevens, in the NATIONAL ZINE for April, 1926. the Valley of the by Capt. Albert W. GEOGRAPHIC MAGA- from the tops of tallest trees. Astound ing in the incalculable number of cubic miles of fresh water drained each season to the sea-rain water that falls on an area of more than 2,722,000 square miles. Even after seeing it I still can't realize its size. How little we know yet of Brazil! That Madeira River we flew down, almost as big as the Amazon where they join, with a rise and fall of 50 feet! After we quit Manios, flying down the Amazon was, in a way, disappointing. It was so big, with lakes and tributaries, and we went so fast that we couldn't see it in much detail. THE AMAZON IS STILL IN THE MAKING Without a well-worn bed or permanent main course, one may say the Amazon River is still in the making. That sounds foolish, because our world is so old; and it, of course, isn't true of Amazon headwaters, in upper Peru; but from its sources this giant river, winding back and forth, runs close to 4,000 miles to reach the sea. From the foot of the Andes to its mouth, the fall is slight; so that, with its myriad lakes and large but leisurely feeding streams, it is minus a true, fixed channel. In some stretches the lower Amazon is close to 60 miles wide. Here and there forests along its banks are broken by plains or lakes, dry or full, depending on the season. The river has been used as an arterial "through highway" by white men since Pinz6n saw it. Pizarro, after he had con quered Peru, sent an expedition to this "white sea whose waves rolled over sand of gold and beach of diamonds." From Quito this force, commanded by his brother Gonzalo and numbering 300 Spaniards and 4,000 Indians, started down the Napo River to the Amazon. Hunger and disease nearly wiped them out. Some survivors, under Francisco Orellana, built a small boat on the Napo and reached the Amazon. Somewhere near the mouth of a tribu tary stream his men tried to land on the jungle's edge; but Indians drove them back. It was here that Indian women, fighting alongside Indian braves, led Orel lana to call the tribe Amazons, from which came the river's name.