National Geographic : 1972 Oct
from the west, black from the north, and blue from the south. They merge into a main stream milk chocolate in hue, yet purer chemi cally than most tap water in the United States. Almost 14,000 miles of Amazon waterways are navigable, and several million miles of igarapes (passages through swamps and woods, often concealed by overgrowth) are penetrable by canoe. "It's a maranon-amaze -that only God could figure out!" Francisco de Orellana is supposed to have complained. The one-eyed conquistador became the Ama zon's first explorer when he crossed the con tinent downriver in 1542. For a while Marafi6n was the river's pre ferred name. But Friar Carvajal, Orellana's chronicler and first but not least of the river's tellers of tales, originated the name that en dured when he reported attacks by women warriors like the Amazons of Greek myth. Today Marafi6n denotes a magnificent Peruvian tributary laden with the Andean silt that gives all the brown-water rivers their muddy color. Collecting runoff from a spec tacular array of snow peaks, the broad Mara fi6n narrows to 100 feet to squeeze out of the Andes through a gap called Pongo de Man seriche-Gateway of Fear. It spills onto the flatlands and then snakes eastward to the Ucayali River. Where the two join-not cleanly but tangling like embattled boa con strictors-the two-mile-wide main stream takes the name Amazon for its final 2,400 miles to the Atlantic. From this confluence last year I traced the farthermost source of the Amazon yet dis covered. It lies up the Ucayali's chief head water, the Rio Apurimac, and beyond-4,000 miles from the River Sea's mouth. (See map, pages 460-61, and the supplement map South America, distributed with this issue.) Previous expeditions to Amazon sources sooner or later went astray by turning up a largerfork of the river instead of pursuing the 457 to the river's moods, this family ekes out an existence on a farm beside the swift watercourse.