National Geographic : 1949 Feb
Sea Fever BY JOHN E. SCHULTZ IT ALL started with rereading the poem Sea Fever in the sparkling mountain air of a moonlit Quito night. "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonelyseaandthesky...." * John Masefield's haunting lines and the beauty of three snow-capped peaks of the Andes, glimmering like ghosts on the horizon, made an irresistible call to adventure. My family had lived in Ecuador for several years, and in the spring of 1947 I had been there for some time on a visit. I intended to return to the University of Chicago for the fall quarter, but the summer was open for travel. It didn't take me long to decide to go "down to the seas again." In my case, though, it wasn't "again," for I knew little of the ocean. It took several days to arrange passports and gather equipment. I had no plan except to start eastward from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and somehow arrive in Chicago in time for school. On May 11, 1947, to be exact, I started walking over the Andes. A friendly U. S. Army sergeant had given me a ride to the end of the road (page 239). My equipment consisted of an old double-barreled shotgun, a 50-pound pack, a few charts, a compass, some sandwiches for the first day, $21 in Ecuadorian money-and a wealth of miscon ceptions about what was to come. Over the Andes by Mule Trail The first few days over a rough, muddy mule trail and up through a 13,000-foot pass were pretty discouraging, although the Indians were friendly and I had no trouble buying food. A week from home and some 130 miles away, my feet were raw; but I was over the worst of it and on the headwaters of a tribu tary of the Amazon (Amazonas) called the Rio Napo. The Napo rises in the Andes and flows through the jungles of Ecuador down into Peru, where it joins the Amazon, the "mother of waters," some 50 miles below the town of Iquitos (map, page 241). At the head of the little-inhabited Napo I bought a slim dugout canoe from a native for 60 sucres, approximately $4.20 at the rate of exchange at the time. Sixteen feet long and as many inches wide, the craft would turn over at a stern glance. Armed with a broad oval paddle and mental pictures of the way Canadian voyageurs propel their canoes, I began to learn to paddle in the first hundred miles or so of rapids. Miracu lously my unstable craft didn't capsize, but I lost all my romantic ideas about northwoods men and came to use the short, choppy stroke of the natives. After a few days, river travel became easier as my paddling muscles toughened and I learned to handle the canoe. In Ecuador the Napo flows through the homeland of some primitive Indians called aucas (meaning "enemy" or "rebellious"), who are considerably feared by their neigh bors. In Quito I had heard stories of white men being killed by the aucas. However, I didn't even see one, nor was I favored with a spear flung from a riverbank! The natives, with whom I spent all my nights and whose food I shared, were uni formly friendly and hospitable, as indeed was everyone during the entire river journey. Monkey Meat Preferred to Parrot By the time it enters Peru the Napo has fewer rapids, is broader, and runs more lei surely. Once in Peru I began to learn many things about the jungle and its people. Going hunting for the first time, back in the cathe dral-like quietness of shady forests, I shot my first monkey and found that I much preferred monkey meat to that of parrot. Most charts are rather vague about the Napo, but, by a rough estimate, I had walked and paddled nearly a thousand miles when I arrived at Iquitos, Peru, with my $21 capital almost gone (page 246). I worked there for five weeks as a mechanic to earn the necessary funds to continue the voyage. Iquitos is as far up the Amazont as ocean going vessels can travel. Some 2,300 miles from the ocean, it is even visited, during high water, by 7,000-ton cargo ships. Curiously enough, most heavy cargo sent from Lima, on the Pacific coast of Peru, to Iquitos, east of the Andes, is transported by water. Freight goes by ship up the west coast of South America, through the Panama Canal, down past Venezuela to Brazil, and 2,300 miles up the Amazon to Iquitos. It is cheaper *From John Masefield: The Story of a Round House. Copyright, 1912, by the Macmillan Company, and used with their permission. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Amazon, Father of Waters," by W. L . Schurz, April. 1926; and "Journey by Jungle Rivers to the Home of the Cock-of-the-Rock," by Ernest G. Holt, No vember, 1933.