National Geographic : 1933 Nov
A JOURNEY BY JUNGLE RIVERS TO THE HOME OF THE COCK-OF-THE-ROCK Naturalists Enter the Amazon, Voyage Through the Heart of Tropical South America, and Emerge at the Mouth of the Orinoco BY ERNEST G. HOLT LEADER OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY VENEZUELA-BRAZIL EXPEDITIONS With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author OUR big freighter had won her game of hide-and-seek with a West In dian hurricane, and now, 13 days out of Jacksonville, she stood against a sul len brown flood from the southwest. She had steamed against it all day long, alone except for occasional native boats, whose sails of brown, blue, or red gave promise of a colorful picture to come. Over the starboard rail there was nothing but muddy sea and night's darker canopy; on the port beam, only a low black line along the hori zon. Then the quartermaster put over the helm, the ship slipped to leeward of the end of the black line-and we caught our breath. The familiar smell of salt spray was gone from the easterly trades. In its stead came a delicate perfume, hauntingly sweet, the entrancing odor of wet earth, of leaves, of blossoms unseen; while above the low black line rose a dull-red three-quarter moon etched with a fretwork of branches. Another turn and the electric lights of Para (Belem) blinked through the dark ness; a startling rattle of anchor chain, a splash, and we had arrived in Brazil. MARKING AN UNEXPLORED BOUNDARY Two years before, Brazil and Venezuela had determined to mark their common boundary, which, according to treaty, fol lows the watershed of a rugged chain of mountains that extends from British Gui ana more than 900 miles southwestward to the banks of the upper Rio Negro. Be cause this remote region was not only geo graphically unexplored, but was totally unknown zoblogically, the National Geo graphic Society had obtained special per mission of the governments concerned to attach a party of naturalists to the official commissions appointed to carry out the boundary demarcation. It was my privi lege to be intrusted by The Society with the natural-history investigations. The first work was done during the dry season of 1929-1930.* On that expedition our party traveled with the Venezuelan Commission from Ciudad Bolivar up the Orinoco and down the Casiquiare to join the Brazilians on the frontier, but trans port difficulties and the consequent loss of time prompted the Venezuelans to approach the international boundary this season from the southern side. Accompanied by Charles T. Agostini and Emmet R. Blake, I had come to rejoin the Commissioners, through whose splendid co 6peration our investigations had gained such a propitious start in the previous sea son. The rendezvous was Mangos, nearly 900 miles up the Amazonas (Amazon), one of the mouths ofwhich we had just entered (see map, page 589). "There are few situations more intri guing to the traveler," writes another who has ridden at anchor here, "than to be lying at midnight off Nossa Senhora de Belem do Grao Pari. "Blackness toward the west, and silence. How it calls to the heart of a wanderer! Naked Indians on the shores of the Xingui. Alligators basking in the mud. Birds of gorgeous plumage and strange fruits .. It pulls with the force of a primal passion." Since 1500, when Pinz6n filled his casks from a sea of sweet water while yet no landfall was made, and especially since 1543, when Orellana returned to Spain to spread tall stories of female warriors and a golden city of Manoa, this mightiest of rivers has kindled imagination. * See "In Humboldt's Wake," by Ernest G. Holt, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1931.