__MAIN_TEXT__

Page 1

jan dungel

1


2


deep in THE JUNGLE jan dungel


Text © Jan Dungel, 2011 Illustrations © Jan Dungel, 2009 Photos © Charles Brewer-Carías, Jan Dungel, Radana Dungelová, Miroslav Šebela, Vladimír Šimek, 2009 Graphic design © Jan Dungel, 2011


14 Prolog

50 appendix II Humboldts route Von Humboldt and Casiquiare Casiquiare today

20 Puerto Ayacucho Dead dog Last Polar

56 Rio Negro Casiquiare Call to Prague

24 Appendix I Orinoco

64 Appendix III Hammoks

31 Samariapo Jewish cemetery San Fernando

67 Firm resolve is not enough Mawari Jungle hallucinations

43 Humboldts route Which than...

72 Appendix IV Fauna

11 Foreword

9


77 Funny start Alejandro Moon over the lagoon 82 Leaving motherboat Mythical uakari No more drinking water 96 Appendix V women and Orinoco 100 Heart of the jungle First crisis Wandering with humour 110 Whats up? Deep in the water Maturacรก 120 Appendix VI Bifurcation 126 Neblina, the byproduct Weightlessness No rain 10

134 Appendix VII Neblina Catipan besieged by the plateau mountains 148 In the dark tunnel again 158 24 hours in the day Catipan Rainbow over the jungle 163 Chill and fever Attack under Yapacana 168 Epilog 172 Literature 174 Index


Amazonian antbirds Great antshrike (Taraba major)

Barred antshrike (Tamnophilus doliatus) Slaty antwren (Myrmotherula schisticolor)

Spotted antpitta (Hylopezus macularis)


After 450 years, historians are not yet clearly decided if Lope Aguirre travelled from Peru into the Amazon and then into the Atlantic and thus reached Venezuela mainland throughout the Amazon river, or if in a part of his journey he took another river course and reached the Orinoco via Río Negro and only afterwards continued to the Margarita island. His entire Amazon journey in search of El Dorado has been seriously questioned, since Aguirre´s voyage took less time to reach the island near the Venezuelan coast – as if he had sailed out of the Amazon and along the Atlantic coast. Among other things, that journey would have been impossible without the proper sails and ships. Moreover, the term “Marañones” used by Aguirre to identify his group comes from the Spanish word “maraña” which means "tangled bush" or "thicket" and the “Wrath of God” crew might have chosen another and shorter course to reach Margarita almost 200 years before the unique Orinoco – Amazon connection via Casiquiare was proved and described by padre Manuel Román in 1744. His discovery was first published in the map by Veremondo Rossi in 1778. The first modern attempt to explore the supposed Marañones trail via the Baría River was made by

Georges Pantchenko, the astronomer in charge of the 1970 Venezuelan border commission. He entered the unknown jungle maze from the Casiquiare River, a strange branch of the Orinoco that flows into the Río Negro. But he got lost trying to reach the Cauaburi that would have taken him towards the Río Negro. The idea of searching for the Marañones trail through the maraña (thicket) that deterred Pantchenko made me prepare an “entrada” (entrance) or expedition into the unknown with the help of the German writer Uwe George from GEO magazine. We also intended to reach the Neblina expedition Base Camp on the banks of the Baría River as one of our Indian boat members had done before in 1984. At that time I was also engaged at the Neblina expeditions (1983–1987) and was present in the base camp which could only be reached by helicopter. We were to navigate upstream the Baría River departing from the Casiquiare Channel, inspired by Pantchenko´s idea of finding the unexplored and mysterious inland delta of the Baría River. Thus we would follow in reverse the possible route of Aguirre´s bloody journey of 1560 and then, down the river, we would drift towards the Maturacá Channel and 13


throughout the Huá rapids we would reach the Cauaburí River and further on downriver into the Río Negro and finally the Amazon, demonstrating Aguirre´s possible journey. We set out in March when rivers are at their lowest. Thus we wanted to avoid the large swampy lake created by the Baría and its tributaries that flood the whole area during the rainy season when it is impossible to follow the river courses. But we didn´t expect that the channels of all of those rivers draining the thicket would be clogged with fallen trees. We had to carve our path through logs with axes and brute force, pushing our canoe over and under fallen trees every day. Finally, we decided to make a small base camp that we would move further on each time we ceased to hear the noise of the axes chopping our path ahead. But this did not work either. One day the loggers returned and, while having dinner together with us at the camp, we started to hear clearly how the noise of the axes chopping the logs started again. We knew that no one could live in that thicket and tried to guess who could be working with the axes at night. But the Indian workers explained that the axes were doing the work by themselves while they, the Indians, were with us: that would make their job easier the next morning. Despite all that, they insisted that we should return and forget about continuing. They were convinced that we had to run back in order to use the same river course before it became too dry for our return. so that we would get trapped in the “maraña” until the next rainy season. We had surely heard the noise of the nonexistent gloomy loggers and tried to understand its origin, but finding our own tracks and returning into the main course of Baría River became more important. I knew that Basset Maguire and John Wurdack had sailed the Yatúa river and had followed it upriver to reach the rock outcrop named “Laja Catipán” from which one hundred years before them their predecessor, the great botanist Richard Spruce, had seen the mountain that Maguire would name in 1954 Cerro de la Neblina. It has therefore been for me a great joy to find out that besides Richard Spruce, Maguire, Wurdack and Phelps, Pantchenko

14

and myself with the 140 members of the Neblina expedition of 1983–87, there was an extraordinary explorer and also a superb draftsman who, accompanied by a girl, a friend and two Indians, had been able to follow and finally discover one of the great mysteries of the Amazon jungle: how is it that two of the world´s greatest rivers could flow towards different deltas while being linked somewhere in the heart of the most inaccessible places on Earth, where the labyrinth made by thousands of small creeks swells into a great lake hidden under the canopy of giant trees every year? Jan Dungel is one of few humans who ever dared to enter this region and describes his experience in the documentary book “Deep in the Jungle”. The book is accompanied by his extraordinary drawings and also illustrated with photographs made by his crew members Radana Dungelová and filmmaker Vladimír Šimek. Jan Dungel has followed the lead of Enrique Stanko Vraz, the great Czech explorer and photographer who travelled the Orinoco, Atabapo and Casiquiare rivers down to Amazon in 1892 and that year perhaps took the first photographs ever in Venezuela. So it is a great joy and honour for me to have had the opportunity of presenting this testimony of the work of Jan Dungel, an explorer that has surpassed my own experience and has been able to discover what I could not. His work has only solidified in us the idea that, maybe four and half hundred year before us, this same path could have been the one also travelled in search of El Dorado by Lope de Aguirre, the one who called himself “The Wrath of God”. Thank you, Jan, for opening that new frontier. From now on we will direct our search to find out if those flooded jungles that you discovered might have been the place of the elusive Lago Parime, on the banks of which Manoa was built, the city of the gilded Prince whom the Spaniards called El Dorado. Charles Brewer-Carías Caracas 4th February 2012


I found the Orchid Galeandra sp. on a fallen tree above the water level of one of the Atabapo branches.


I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing: But endless love will mount in my soul; And I shall travel far, very far, like a gipsy, Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman. Arthur Rimbaud


I run down the streets in the general direction of Wenceslas Square, my sweaty shirt stuck to my back. Prague is beaming in the summer sun, people mosey about and it seems that, in contrast to me, nobody has anything better to do than to really enjoy this damn morning. I’m practically gasping for breath as I jog among the pedestrians, while trying to negotiate all the other unruly obstacles. Inside I’m seething and blame my tardiness on the traffic jam entering Prague and on my drowsy co-passengers, who’d held me up earlier in Brno. Our car probably still hadn't come to a complete stop when I get out right in the thick traffic near Charles Square, zigzag among the loudly protesting

vehicles and run in the general direction of the Intercontinental Hotel located on the banks of the Vltava River. I’m supposed to be there exactly at ten o'clock in the morning which is why, after glancing at my watch, I pick up the pace at Old Town Square. By the time I get to Paris street I’m pretty much completely out of breath and am just trying to keep myself from fainting. I finally reach the hotel. Knocking the uniformed doorman to the ground, I jump between the glass of the desperately slow automatic doors and, like the winner of an obstacle race, I pass the finish line in the hotel lobby and fall gasping at the feet of the secretary of the Venezuelan Embassy.

The Orinoco is full of insidious cliffs and rocks between the Samariapo port and San Fernando de Atabapo. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)


Francisco Carillo Batalla, the former president of the Venezuelan FUDECI foundation, was one of the initiators of the Moravian Museum expeditions to the upper Orinoco at the beginning of 1990s. FUDECI and Mr. Batalla himself also significantly contributed to organizing a scientific expedition to the Macizo de la Neblina Mountains in 1983–1987. Right: The Yellow−Banded Poison Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) with its bright colours measuring only about one inch is a Poison Dart Frog specie. (Photo: Radana Dungelová.)

18

Dr. Batalla will receive you in the parlour, but there's no need to rush as he's still in a meeting!" he chirps compassionately as I finally faint.... Dr. Francisco Carillo Batalla was at that time the president of the Venezuelan foundation FUDECI, supporting the development of the natural sciences. In 1991, in the role of a special ambassador of the Venezuelan government, he visited Prague to establish contact with scientific institutions, especially the Czech Academy of Sciences. It is on this occasion at the Venezuelan Embassy in Prague that he learned of the attempt of three Czech biologists to undertake a zoological expedition to the rainforests in the region of the upper Orinoco River and, in my case, of the plan to draw wildlife there in its natural environment. A favourable impression was also most likely made by To the Orinoco’s Headwaters (Panorama, 1988), a book by then-director of the Prague Zoo Zdeněk Veselovský that featured my drawings and which, solely by coincidence, found its way into the hands of Mr. President. With the authority of the Moravian Museum supporting the rainforest exploration project, it didn’t take long: in February of the following year the expedition’s members – Dr. Miroslav Šebela (zoologist), Dr. Antonin Prouza (ichthyologist and parasitologist) and I (painter and zoologist) – first set foot on a Venezuela that had only existed in our dreams. A few days later we were wading through the swamps in the Llanos, watched by hundreds of caimans, tortoises and capybaras – and we also captured our first anaconda. The pages of my sketchbook gleefully filled with new drawings of animals, just as the pages of our journals filled with the names of hundreds of species of birds, mammals and fish that were new to us. The state of our minds could probably best be compared to that of the first visitors to Mars. It was at a later meeting with President Batalla in his office in Caracas that we learned the details of a pioneer expedition to the Macizo de la Neblina mountains, the most secluded plateau mountains covered in an impenetrable jungle in the very south of Venezuela. This now legendary series of expeditions captured the imagination of both the professional and lay public around the world, and Dr. Carillo, as he was known to his colleagues and acquaintances, was one of the main supporters of this exceptional project. He’d declared at the time that the plateau mountain Cerro Neblina was covered in such an impenetrable and completely unknown rainforest region that an expedition by land would be practically impossible. All the members of the expedition were therefore transported by helicopter to the exploration base camp built at the foot of the mountains. Later we were, to our indescribable enthusiasm, officially invited to take part in the continuation of this expedition. Unfortunately,


due to the invasion of illegal gold prospectors from the southern, Brazilian side and other unfavourable circumstances, this second part never took place. But the chance to visit Pico da Neblina, and especially the thought-provoking assertion that it could not be reached by land, left me restless at night. The decisive impulse to take the northern route under the Pico da Neblina came many years later... It was right at the start of the new millennium when my friend Vladimír Plešinger brought with him to one of our regular Tuesday meetings at the Lemonade Joe club in Prague a rather inconspicuous English book entitled In Trouble Again by one Redmond O'Hanlon. Vladimír is undoubtedly one of the leading experts of the natural and cultural relations of Venezuela, and it therefore comes as little surprise that he's also the author of several books on this wondrous country. We’d spent many hours hovered over maps of South America (and of Venezuela in particular) in this club (whose interior I’d help design), and, in doing so, had probably finished off more than our share of Moravian red wines. Our plans to explore more and more places deep within Amazonia passionately multiplied. I’d first shunned the book owing to its rather repulsive cover. After I’d leafed through it and glimpsed a few truly pathetic photographs, I'd stuck it in my jacket pocket and immediately forgotten about it. It was only at home when I'd immersed myself into this book by the British traveller that my opinion radically changed. O'Hanlon described the area of the lower Casiquiare area where I'd just been staying, and his description of familiar places made me absolutely ecstatic. And yet he offered much more. He described the story of his own expedition to the base of Pico da Neblina that had already long ago taken place in my head. The expedition that he'd undertaken in 1987 had as its objective the discovery of the place where the Maturacá natural canal (i.e. the Amazon’s second bifurcation) splits off from the Baria River, and then continues down as the Maturaca River southward into Brazil. Although they were unable to complete the expedition as planned, I was captivated by the idea that they’d managed to navigate the Baria River all 20

the way to the base of Pico da Neblina, and thus conquered a wholly unknown and mythically dense part of the jungle that Dr Batalla himself had recently confirmed as absolutely impenetrable. It was at that very moment that I rid myself of all doubts, and my Amazonian motif for the next several years suddenly took on a definite form. The decision to paint animals in the jungles beneath Pico da Neblina could wait no longer. And if we were to "discover” the elusive Maturaca River that the British were unable to find, all the better! Since 1992 I’ve visited the basin of the upper Orinoco River many times. In 2000, I began organizing expeditions from the Orinoco River, down the Casiquiare River and then southward as far as San Carlos de Rio Negro, and, along with my companions, I made my way so far upstream the Baria and Yatua rivers that even the inaccessible mountains were within view. But due to the extremely difficult natural conditions, the absence of maps and basic information, we always lost our orientation in the jungle's swampland and, in the end, we were happy merely to find our way back. It’s 2006 and I’ve just returned from Venezuela. The third and latest attempt at navigating the Baria River has once again ended in an utter fiasco, even though I'd spent several months carefully preparing for the expedition. The captain of the expedition, Lorenzo Evaristo, along with the rest of the native crew, ended up losing the nerve to embark on the journey to the unknown, and, claiming that the jungle spirit Mawari did not approve, refused to take part in the expedition. The friendship forged by our shared adventure did little to change their mind, and my reference to the considerable costs that I’d already invested into the trip had even less of an effect. Mawari simply didn’t approve and that was that! I eventually came to terms with this setback and immediately began to organize a fourth expedition that was to be attempted the following year. This time I left nothing to chance. Most importantly I reduced the crew as much as possible and entrusted the entire organization of the project in Venezuela to Elvis Largo, whom I know well from several of our past joint expeditions,


including my first expedition on the Baria River in 2004. Elvis is an intelligent and jovial guy, who was born in the jungle but now lives in Puerto Ayacucho. He consequently knows the city life, but also hasn't lost any of his Indian abilities and is absolutely reliable. It was he who, thanks to his contacts, found the second Indian member of the crew, Alejandro “Macho”, from the Curripaco tribe of El Ninal located at the conflux of the Pasimoni and Casiquiare rivers. Elvis also says that Alejandro is positively the only living native in the entire region who "unintentionally" navigated the Baria River, and most likely the Maturaca canal as well. It had almost cost him his life, but he’d made his way back so he’s got to be the right guy for us! Another new member of the crew is TV cameraman Vladimír Šimek, who achieved considerable recognition for his work on the Hatun Mayu project that focused on exploring the headwaters of the Amazon River. Thanks to Vladimír, we’re equipped with a series of satellite pictures of the area of South Venezuela and the latest GPS apparatus. Although more detailed maps still aren't available, our careful preparation back in the Czech Republic has at least provided us with the coordinates of the precisely defined “groping” area. My wife Radana was previously on the Baria River in 2005, and this time there is a fundamental change in the situation. We have our prior experiences to draw from and know exactly what awaits us.

The Yanomamo Indians are indigenous to the rainforests of the upper Orinoco.


Today is June 24, 2007. From the bathroom window of the Apure Hotel I witness the full force of the rainy season. There's nothing left to do but watch the grey clouds in frustration; the small window prevents me from doing anything else all the same. If not for the monotonous pitter-patter of raindrops on the aluminum roof, perhaps I would try to convince myself that I'd spotted a speck of blue sky up there in the upper left corner. But it's no use. The pouring rain sounds as if it would fill the entire space of this tiny WC. It seeps in through the window like a tentacle of sorts, or like the hot and oppressive breath of a beast of prey. Fortunately, not even the foul-smelling puddle of sludge on the floor that constantly trickles from the loose toilet bowl and strange shower beneath the low ceiling can in anyway deepen my sense of desperation. As a matter of fact we're staying in one of the best hotels in the city – usually the rooms are, how shall we say, even more interesting. The constant flow of water also washes the city's main artery, the Avenida Orinoco, but it still isn't strong enough to wash away yesterday's gobs of blood under the

roof of a mysterious minibus stop, which might as well be considered a transfusion station since in all likelihood no minibus has ever passed through here. And so the only change from yesterday when we arrived to the city is the dead dog lying nearby. Otherwise, desolation abounds, the streets, at other times teeming with life, are deserted. Or is it just a strange morning and everything will return to normal as soon as I finally awake? We took the night bus from Caracas yesterday morning to Puerto Ayachucho, the capital of the state of Amazonas in Venezuela. The city, which wasn't officially established until 1924, lies on the right bank of the Orinoco River. It overlooks from a cliff the captivating Atures rapids, but its view carries on even further westward, beyond the distant rocky left bank, where Colombia lies. But the view to the south, to the endless Amazonian plains, past the extensive rapids full of islands and rocks, is what truly rouses the unsuspecting visitor. The landscape, emerging from the morning mist, brings to mind the kitsch backgrounds of the most famous Italian Renaissance painting. Perhaps

The Orinoco: Atures Rapids at Puerto Ayacucho. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)


holding his breath like me, but long before me on this rocky cliff, the German naturalist Baron Alexander von Humboldt, along with French botanist and draftsman Aimé Bonpland, regarded in amazement this dramatic landscape, as did Enrique Stanko Vráz an explorer from Prague. Puerto Ayacucho, Tuesday 3 March 1992 ...the panoramic view of the Orinoco from the cliffs beyond the city is overwhelming. I feel like a real explorer and can also imagine what Von Humboldt must have experienced when he navigated the river here nearly two hundred years ago (1800), or Vráz, who managed to photograph the Orinoco during his travels on this river; these being the first photographs ever taken in Venezuela! They most likely stood right at the place where I now stand, and most likely were looking on in breathless awe at the Orinoco beneath them. Perhaps they too wanted to spread their arms and fly, to soar over the river heading south, where the mountains of the Cuao-Sipapo massif rise out of the jungle's mist. This, incidentally, is the same direction we're headed... Lord, I can't wait! Yet over the past seventeen years that I've been travelling to these places, Puerto Ayacucho has become unrecognizable. In 1992, when I first visited, it was a muddy hole at the end of the world. Today big luxurious cars move along asphalt highways next to rusty remnants of American ships from the periods of the Venezuelan conjuncture from nowhere to nowhere. The city, with its nearly hundred thousand inhabitants, pulses with a loud and restless life on the edge of the jungle. "Ahoj kamoši" comes Elvis's friendly greeting in Czech, but it's the sight of his optimistic face with its broad Indian smile that seems even more inappropriate. His short and plump figure shines with happiness and ease, and our long faces show visible perplexity, if not rage. I was ready to tell him off as soon as I saw him, but he didn't give me a chance: he looks as if it were the happiest day of his life, and he actually came on time! Elvis's pathetic optimism is so convincing that it's even 24

stopped raining. Or almost stopped. Without noticing exactly when, the shops lining the entire long avenue have opened, and the vendors take to the streets with their goods accompanied by blasts of loud music. People are everywhere, whole crowds flow in both directions. To my surprise the inert bodies of drunkards lie by the sidewalks in trash heaps. How could they have managed it so quickly? It's just turned eight o'clock in the morning and all our bags have already disappeared from the sidewalk in front of the hotel into the bowels of the jeep. Radana and Vladimir check over their most precious belongings – cameras of all kinds – that, as they both claim, are worth more than the entire car with us in it. We quickly finish off our last Polar, the best known Venezuelan beer from the brewery founded by a Czech brewer named Roubíèek, and without unnecessary pathos we get into the car and head out of the city and south toward the first military checkpoint.


The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is quite rare in the Amazon rainforest. Many years ago I saw it in the bush near the road from Ayacucha to the Samariapo port and the second time quite recently on the Cunucunuma River.


The Ivory−billed Aracari (Pteroglossus azara flavirostris) can be frequently seen along the river banks. Like the other toucans it has a large, slightly curved beak.

Appendix I

Orinoco The Orinoco really is Venezuela's national river, despite the fact that most Venezuelans, crammed in cities and villages in the northern part of the country around the Caribbean coast, never actually see it with their own eyes. The two largest sinistral tributaries with sources in the Colombian Andes, the Guaviare and Meta rivers further north on the Orinoco, demarcate a roughly 300−kilometer− long central segment of the river that constitutes the shared border with Colombia. This latter country also therefore makes definite claims on the nationality of one of the most well known, and yet mysterious rivers of South America. The Orinoco's source can be traced to the Parima Mountains in southeast Venezuela in close proximity to the border with Brazil. Its upper section flows through the mountainous region of rainforests and savannahs that is part of the Guyana highlands, famed for its plateau mountains, the islands of time, as German explorer Uwe George called them. It continues westward through the Amazonian lowlands to the town of San Fernando de Atabapo, where it meets with its longest tributary, the Guaviare River. From this point the right bank copies the higher positioned Guyana Highlands and turns abruptly northward along the Macizo de Cuao-Sipapo Mountains. At Peurto Páez after joining with the Meta River it again changes course, this time eastward. The whole river meanders some 2,100 kilometers before it reaches the coast of the Caribbean Sea where the Orinoco's labyrinth creates a 200-kilometer-wide delta. Fifty−seven years ago, i.e. quite recently, the river's source was still a secret emblazoned by

26


legends and stories of explorers who had unsuccessfully tried to discover it. The professional and lay public first accepted the fabricated discovery of the sources in 1887 following the return of the expedition (1885−1887) led by French explorer and anthropologist Jean Chaffanjon. His deception and, let's be fair here, his pioneering work in the field of geography, ethnography and zoology brought him much recognition and international renown. This famous expedition down the Orinoco and the personality of Chaffanjon himself inspired Jules Verne to write his novel The Mighty Orinoco. In 1931, American physician and explorer Herbert Spencer Dickey became "famous" with another fabricated discovery of the Orinoco's source. It wasn't until the French−Venezuelan expedition, initiated by hydrologist Joseph Grélier, that a definitive end was made to the speculation and intentional deception. Naturalist and writer Vladimír Plešinger puts it concisely: On the very day that the expedition finally made its way to the source of Venezuela's "father of rivers", it met up with another six Yanomamo Indians. Perhaps this should serve as a reminder that terms such as "discoverer" or "first man to the river's source" are relative at best. But, in any case, the Venezuelans and French standing on November 27, 1951 at an altitude of 1,048 meters above sea level and at 2° 19´05´´ north latitude and 63° 21´ 42´´west longitude, had their feet at the most sought−after river headwaters in the world. Grélier, however, proved to be the tragic hero of this story. Despite being the initiator of, and driving force behind the expedition, he never actually saw the Orinoco's source with his own eyes. For when the expedition reached the point from where the journey to the relatively nearby headwaters could only be continued on foot, Colonel Frank Rísquez, the expedition leader appointed by the Venezuelan government, forced him to return with several members of the expedition who allegedly would not have been able to handle the trek. Yet undoubtedly the greatest figure to devote his profession interest to exploring the Orinoco and the Brazo Casiquiare natural canal was the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Along with Botanist and draftsman Aimé Bonpland, he undertook a legendary expedition to the South American tropics in 1779 to 1884 and explored the Orinoco and its tributaries in 1800. The results of von Humboldt's expedition are very precise; most

The year 2005: Our boat navigates the Orinoco above the Maipures rapids. We are about to make our second attempt at conquering the Neblina mountains from the north on the Baria River. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)


This is a sketch of the Atures and Maipures rapids on the Orinoco in Vrรกz's diary. (The Czech Ministry of Culture archives)

28


of his discoveries are still valid today. The situation has certainly changed a lot over the past 200 years, yet in this regard his observations are important historical testimony to the natural conditions and inhabitants of that age. The fact that von Humboldt first devoted professional attention to the Orinoco's bifurcations, i.e. the splitting of the Orinoco into two rivers, from which the one bearing the name Brazo Casiquiare links the Orinoco with the Amazon, is extremely important for my own story. In 1892, Czech explorer Enrique Stanko Vráz undertook his legendary expedition on the Orinoco River aboard the boat Praga. From the river's delta he reached San Fernando de Atabapo, where, like von Humboldt, he continued southward taking the Atabapo River to Yavita, from where he set out on land to the Guainía River. He then travelled westward upstream the Rio Negro and Amazon rivers, and ended his expedition the following year on the Pacific Coast in Puerto de Pacasmayo (Peru). On the Orinoco, Vráz explored the wilderness, the life of the local Indian tribes and took the first photographs, which are priceless in their documentary value. The Orinoco's upper basin is still, however, a desolate area with sparse settlement, and each new and serious−minded expedition generally yields several surprising discoveries. No list of scientific expeditions, especially of those conducted in the latter half of the 20th century, is complete without the lengthy project of the Moravian Museum in Brno, which focussed on exploring the upper Orinoco and its tributaries in the region of San Fernando de Atabapo and Cerro Yapacana. The research conducted in the 1990s (the last expedition to this area was undertaken in 2001), and in particular the systematic research of ichthyofauna, yielded many interesting findings and even the discovery of new types of parasites in freshwater fish.

Enrique Stanko Vráz made the first photographs in Venezuela ever in 1892. Down: Vráz's photo of the junction of the Atabapo and Guaviare rivers. (The Czech Ministry of Culture archives)

29


Cumaná

Caracas

Barquisimeto

Puerto la Cruz

Valencia

Marac aibo l ake

An

dy

VENEZU ELA Mérida

San Fernado de Apure Arauc

Ap

Orino

co

ure

Caicara del Orinoco

a

Ca pa na pa ro Ca ura

Llanos

S ierra de Maigualida

Cas anar e

Me ta P uerto C arreno M

et

CO L O MBIA

Expeditions of Moravian Museum in 1992–2008

ha

da

Yavi 2 441

Macizo de C uao S ipapo

Guyana highl

C u ao 1 880

Ventuari

A u t an a 1 208

S a r i s a r i na m a 2 510

San Fernando de A tabapo Si Sie

Yavita

e ar ui iq as

in

oc

E l N inal

200 km

Negro

BRA ZÍL

B a ri a

S an C arlos de R io N egro

e A r acam u n i a d rr 1 600 ie A visp a 2 112

B aria bifurcation o ciz ina Ma Nebl e d Pico da N eblina 2 994

Un

S

Se

n rra

ía

Ta

tu

ra pi

o

n

pe

ima

Or

Par

a iní

rra

Orinoco bifurcation

Rio

Plateau Mountain (tep0ui)

a

D u id a 2 322

E smeralda

da iri

a

m

C ulebra

Maroa

Gu

ri

Members: Fremio Alvarez, Jan Dungel, Eva Dungelová, Radana Dungelová, Lorenzo Evaristo, Elvis Largo, Alejandro „Macho“, José Manuel, Ivo Svoboda, Vladimír Šimek

In

Pa

H u ach am acar e 2 232 M ar avaca 2 890

po

Expedions organized by the author in 1997–2008

ra

C er r o Yap acan a 1 344

er

e

ba

a Gu

r via

Ata

Members: Jan Dungel, Jaroslav Bašta, Antonín Prouza, Ivo Svoboda, Miroslav Šebela, Štìpán Rusnák

Vic

S ierra de Maigualida

Puerto Ayacucho

a

Orinoco

Icu t ú 2 310

Puerto Páez

C

n

Llanos

Ap ur e

Orinoco

A

d

Llanos

y


Caribbean sea Tu cupita Puerto Ordaz Ciudad Bolívar

Delta Amacuro

Ciudad Guayana

E mbals e de G ur i

G UYAN A

Can a i m a C aroní

ands

A uy á n 2 51 0

Gran Sabana Macizo de Chimantá

Kukenán 2 580

C h imant á 2 342

Pa ra gu a

S a n t a Ele n a d e Ua iré n

B R A Z Í L

Roraima 2 810


Ayacucho occupies the right bank of the Orinoco River, which includes an unnavigable eightykilometer section from that point all the way upstream to the jungle ports of Venado or Samariapo. This section features the Atures and Maipures cascades that complicated the lives of von Humboldt and Vrรกz, among others. Our expedition is no exception; we too are forced to cover this part on land, albeit by car with a decent road to boot. Cars on this road are few and far between so we're afforded the luxury of focusing our attention on the unique landscape of the dense grassy scrubland studded with dark boulders and rocks. In the places where the road crosses the rivers, the vegetation noticeably thickens and the high trees draw attention to the presence of the rainforest on the banks of the nearby Orinoco. Here

I relish the feeling that this is the last road in this corner of the world and if we want to go further we'll have to go by foot down jungle paths or, more comfortably, by boat down the river. We arrive at the port of Samariapo after an hour's ride. Usually we spend a few hours here loading and preparing the boat in the gruelling humid heat, accompanied by a cloud of pestilent black flies. But today we have with us only the bare necessities, meaning a supply of red wine and personal belongings. The plan is to continue by river in a small boat with a strong motor. Exactly a week ago, while we were still home in the Czech Republic, a larger boat set out from here loaded with barrels containing at least five thousand litres of fuel, with food supplies for a month, potable water, field kitchen equipment, fishing poles, rifles

Left: Groups of the Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) are usually our most common and dearest companions during our cruises on rivers of Amazonia. 33


and many other necessities for life in the jungle. This boat is to wait for us at the confluence of the Pasimoni and Brazo Casiquiare rivers, roughly a thousand kilometers south of here. We should reach there in three days if everything goes according to plan. Loading the boat is always a big event; with the helping hands of bystanders, the transfer of our bags from car to boat doesn't take more than 30 minutes. We once again finish off our "last" beer from a miniature can. Only with the refreshing breeze onboard does the temperature of my boiled brain drop to a human level allowing me to contemplate the surprises that await us in the upcoming weeks. Despite thoroughly preparing for my painting expeditions into the depths of Amazonia, the jungle always somehow takes me unawares, often forcing me to change plans that took months to prepare ... but I like it that way, and can hardly suppress my inner waves of enthusiasm in anticipation of the days to come. Dark clouds hover over the river; Elvis huddles in the stern at the helm with his hood on, but it's just drizzling off and on. It has become somewhat of a ritual before heading up to San Fernando to turn the boat downstream toward the Maipures rapids where we enjoy fishing in the rock-strewn waves for ferocious payaras (Hydrolycus scomberoides), a thin silver fish whose teeth are so big that they don't fit it in its mouth. The cook immediately smokes them over the fire on the provisional grill made from sticks and we're comforted by the thought that at least for the start we have a reserve of food "if the need arises". But I'm withholding another reason why I like to linger here. It's here at the edge of the Maipures rapids, where the Orinoco forms a secret landscape strewn with black rocks that silently gaze up from the water to the sky. I always feel here as if I'm in some kind of anxiety dream in which I wander silently in the labyrinth of a giant Jewish cemetery. A few dozen kilometers further on, when the Piaroa Indians' sacred mountain Autana appears above the forest on the horizon, I always return in spirit to the riveting story of the lone seeker of truth in the novel The Lost Steps by

The Saber Tooth Tetra (Hydrolycus scomberoides) is typically our first catch during our travels on the Orinoco. (Photo: Jan Dungel) Left: The Samariapo port on the Orinoco. Ivo is checking gas barrels aboard the main boat before our first travel to Neblina in 2004. (Photo: Jan Dungel) 35


The Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus) belongs to the Cotingidae family encompassing typical rainforest birds of bizarre shapes and bright colors. I caught and painted this young Umbrellabird on the Columbian bank of the Orinoco (drawing on the next page). (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)

36

Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier that actually takes place in this region. But today we broke with tradition for perhaps the first time and, to my surprise, covered in a mere five hours with the smaller boat the two-hundredkilometer segment of the Orinoco between Samariapo and its confluence with the Atabapo and Guaviare rivers. This isn't possible with the slower larger boat as the trip usually requires stopping for the night. The river up to San Fernando forms a somewhat sensitive border with Colombia, which is why we usually anchor on the Venezuelan side across from the Colombian San Rafael farm. During the dry season there's a large sand beach there, so it's great for swimming, and above the river, on the lone peak of a massive cliff, there lies San Pedro, a small community of the Baniva Indians. A cousin of Lorenzo Evaristo, the guy I first explored the Baria River with in 2004, lives there. I therefore consider this to be a pretty safe place, and since the farm across the river once had a Czechoslovak tractor, I feel almost right at home. Even though the Colombian side of the Orinoco is controlled by FARC guerrillas, I went there a few years ago to observe and paint a unique cotinga, the Amazonian Umbrellabird, called pajaro paraguas by the locals. Although the umbrellabird features a uniformly steel-black colour, it also boasts of long black tie hanging loosely from its neck and an umbrella of feathers on the crown of its head. It keeps occurring to me that evolution really went haywire in this case. Right before the town of San Fernando de Atabapo we bid farewell to the Orinoco and enter perhaps the most beautiful river of Amazonia – the Rio Atabapo. It's as if we suddenly broke through to a different space stuck in eternity, and it's so quiet that words themselves seem strange and inappropriate here. I don't think I've come across another landscape so beautiful and sad at once. The touching melody of the Adaggietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 always plays in my head here and captures the river's form better than the most advanced photography. The contrast of the dark tea-coloured water from which abstract sculptures of black rocks emerge against the backdrop of vast


white-sand beaches is stunning. If it weren't for the suffocating heat and humidity and omnipresent jungle, I could easily convince myself that I'm in some strange snow-covered Bohemian-Moravian highlands, perhaps even where Gustav Mahler was born... The river is pleasantly deserted: only sparse settlements can be seen from time to time, and so the spectacular sunsets over the forest, which I most enjoy watching fully submerged in the warm and clear water while being nibbled by various aquarium fish, are perhaps incomparable. But this certainly does not apply in the dry season from November to March. The situation is completely different now. I do my best to suppress my disappointment and try to perceive the circumstances as a scientist would to calm the turbulent intuitive part of my soul: San Fernando de Atabapo, Sunday 24 June 2007 .... The Orinoco is practically void of banks, the water just flowing out into the jungle. There’s almost nowhere to anchor, so we keep heading up

the river. In San Fernando the water also goes right up to the buildings and the view of the town from the river is very unusual. But it’s the Atabapo River that leaves me speechless. In contrast to the river I knew in the past, it is now mighty, wide and overflows its banks deep into the forest. Most of the rocks and boulders are underwater and there's no good place to anchor here either. The places I knew so well are totally unrecognizable; it's as if the Chamuchina rapids have completely disappeared from the face of the earth. Elvis easily navigates us on a shortcut through the treetops to the Indian community of Pintado beyond the rapids – a completely different route from the usual path squeezed into a narrow pass among the rocks. In the end we never even had to leave Venezuela, passing the border stone that marks Colombian territory on our starboard. Yet, to my chagrin, there’s no way of stopping for the night on the river in these places, so we’re forced to remain in Pintado, where fortunately they haven’t forgotten us since our previous visits...

Right: Monumental rocks in the Orinoco River above the Maipures rapids. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) Following two−page spreads: Of all the rivers in Amazonia I came to know, the Rio Atabapo is probably the one I approach with the innermost feelings. Silent beauty of snowy beaches, opaque waters and dark forests along the river banks provide a fascinating background to the natural rock and stone statues, typical hallmarks of the entire region. (Photo: Jan Dungel and Radana Dungelová) 38


The Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) inhabits still water lagoons and minor tributaries on the entire Upper Orinoco. (Photo: Jan Dungel)


The flow of the Atabapo presents a peculiar aspect; we can’t see the actual banks of the river that consist of level ground eight or nine feet high, but that are concealed behind a barrier of palm trees and other low trees with slender trunks that have their roots directly in the water. The segment between the Orinoco and San Fernando missionary post is teeming with crocodiles, whose presence indicates that this segment is part of the Guabiare River and not Atabapo. There are no crocodiles in the riverbed of this latter river above the San Fernando missionary post. We’ve only seen a few babas (caimans), a lot of river dolphins, but not a single dugong. We also kept an eye out for tapirs, araguato (red howler monkeys), zamuro (turkey vultures) and the crested pheasant known as the guacharaca, but to no avail. Unfortunately there is an extreme abundance of enormous water snakes here that resemble boa constrictors and are dangerous for the Indians when they bathe in the river. We’ve noticed them pretty much every day since embarking, as they are prone to swimming alongside our canoe; they must be twelve to fourteen feet long. The jaguars on the banks of the Atabapo and Temi rivers are large and well fed, but they are said to be less bold than those on the banks of the Orinoco. Thus writes Alexander von Humboldt on encountering the Guaviare and Atabapo rivers on 26 April 1800 in his book Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent. Although Caiman still appear there, you'd be hard pressed to find a crocodile – they were practically wiped out long ago. Jaguars still live there as well, and you come across their tracks quite often in places where the jungle meets the savannah. Our plan to take a shortcut to the Rio Negro River in the same way that von Humboldt did is symbolic. Ever since his expedition, this way has frequently been referred to as Humboldt's route. Upon waking in the village, the Monday morning of June 25th immediately embraced me with its cold arms and whispered bemusedly into my ear the promise of another downpour. "Only my uncle's plum brandy can rectify that," I answer conspiratorially into the grey abyss as I search my toiletries bag for two small 46

silver cups and, in doing so, wake Radana. I serve the little goblet with the precious liquid directly to the hammock of my sleepy-eyed co-explorer. For the time being Vladimír refrains from taking part in our little morning ritual. "Fine by me, all the more for us," I laugh and, after rattling off the obligatory toast "which then – around – go in – alevaikau – forever", Radana and I down them. There's little doubt of the disinfecting and positive psychological effect, and, more importantly, we're once again firmly back in reality. This ridiculously absurd invocation of a toast has, however, a quite logical origin. It's an abbreviated version of the toasts of my friends, with whom I wandered through Amazonia on previous expeditions, and it would be a shame not to acknowledge their absence now. One part is owed to my friend and excellent companion, Tonda Prouza, an ichthyologist and parasitologist, who has been exploring the Amazonian ichthyofauna for years. He would always call out at important moments during the expedition: "Onward we go, through the black swamps around the white cliffs!" He was allegedly quoting the Czech actor Jan Werich, but I took the liberty of choose from the whole line the single word "around". The mysteriously sounding alevaikau is a greeting of the Baniva Indians that we adopted during our expeditions instead of saying "hi"... After waking abruptly like soldiers and packing our hammocks, we’re back at our places on the boat. The Atabapo continues to offer us only one view: submerged treetops that border the massive dark river. The landscape is absolutely desolate, even void of birds, and if it weren't for our smiling Elvis at the stern, who fortunately bears no resemblance to Charon, I could easily be convinced that we’re heading down the River Styx. I’m only able to rid myself of this unpleasantly intrusive feeling when we discover on the right bank a massive rock called, appropriately enough, El Tigre. Here we’re able to both bathe and finally have breakfast. The boat buzzes across the river at speeds of forty to fifty kilometers an hour, a speed that von Humboldt couldn't even begin to imagine in his day. The next stop won’t be until we reach Elvis’s birthplace, the


In the morning on board I sketch a hasty portrait of an Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), supposedly Lorenzo's accidental night catch. This was a sad task and the useless death of this beautiful predator caused quite a bit of turmoil in our otherwise solid relationship. During our travels a strict rule of mine is that the natives catch animals only for food, which they normally do anyways. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)

village of Guarinuma. Wading through the wet savannah behind the clay homes with perfectly assembled palm-leaf roofs, I think back to how I once painted toucans in the woodlet not far from here, to the endless night expedition in search of a jaguar and to the unpleasant experience during a journey on the nearby Caname River three years

ago. There'd been three of us aboard – Me, my companion Ivo Svoboda, and Elvis. In negotiating a narrow passageway between rocks we were suddenly confronted by a commando of aggressively shouting Venezuelan soldiers rushing at us. Pointing their machine guns at us they forced us to get off the boat and strip naked. Apparently they thought we were 47


garimpeiros (illegal prospectors), the terror of these lands, and perhaps that’s why they were acting so nervously and aggressively. I was aware from previous experiences that this is a very bad combination. They kept screaming something at poor Elvis who kept diminishing in stature under the soldiers' blunt orders until "fortunately" they found in Ivo's bag a box of rifle ammunition that we had left over after returning from the Baria River. Their attention was now fixed fully on him, and I'm not sure how it would have turned out if another boat hadn’t suddenly appeared around the bend in the river. The soldiers took cover in a flash behind the rocks, except for their commander, who flumped himself to the ground and, lying behind Ivo, ordered him to spread his legs. He then stuck the barrel of the machine gun between his legs and aimed it at the approaching boat. Seconds seemed like hours; the unknown crew kept paddling, but moved very slowly upstream. It was clear that if they had begun to shoot, Ivo would certainly have been the first victim. I'd never experienced anything so monstrous in my life. I lay naked and prostrate on the rock and stifled my rage and helplessness within, clenching the rock beneath me. It turned out that they were Indians from Elvis’s village and the whole dangerously escalating scene had a happy ending we only ended up losing those stupid bullets, which were useless anyways, and which we'd wanted to give to the hunters in the village. At the La Garza settlement on the Colombian side of the river we'd reached a point that was further than any of us Europeans had ever gone before. To continue on the Atabapo would mean for us the imaginary conquering of wholly unknown lands. I took advantage of the stop to sketch a Grey-winged Trumpeter, a bird on long legs the size of a hen that the Indians often raise and keep as pets. Apparently they have a knack for calling attention to the presence of a snake. This can be extremely useful as death by snakebite is quite common in these

parts. Just yesterday in Guarinuma they were talking about a man who was out in the savannah behind the village looking for worms to fish with when he was bitten by the dreaded mapanare (fer de lance). He was able to run to the village, but it mattered little as help came too late to save him. Nevertheless, doctors claim that not all snakebites have to necessarily end in death, even if professional assistance is not available. It depends on many circumstances, but especially on the amount of poison that penetrates to the tissue when the bite occurs. Two years ago Radana and I visited Herman Rodriguez in a hospital in Ciudad Bolívar. Rodriguez is the elder chief of the Yekwanas in Boca de Nichare on the Caura River. He had also been bitten in the leg by a mapanare while walking in the jungle. Owing to his advanced age, it didn't look too promising for him at first, but he survived, and when we met with Herman this spring at his home in Nichare, he was healthy and in good humour. It's strange that La Garza is completely void of people; it seems as if the only adult in the community is a middle-aged woman. As soon as I finished the sketch of the restless trumpeter, she opened to us her little shop hidden deep inside a shanty over the riverbank. There she treated us to sweet coffee and an even sweeter smile. After passing through the checkpoint in Santa Cruz, we leave the Atabapo, and with it the border with Colombia, and enter the waters of the Temi River, which flows westward from the Venezuelan midlands. The land long ago lost its rain-forest qualities and only low vegetation borders the meandering stream. It's clear that the upper part of the Atabapo and Temi are regularly flooded regions where the water devours the firm soil for months on end. Yet this silent and desolate landscape can't conceal its natural attraction. The riverbed loops between the submerged crowns of shrubby trees, and the deep and clear sky full of piercingly white cloudlets is reflected in the dark water.

Left: During the rainy season, the virgin rainforest between the Yavita and Maroa settlements is completely flooded in many places with black−tea colored, yet fresh and clear water. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) 49


Exhausted from the savage sun, but in a good mood nonetheless, we arrived around half past three in the afternoon at today's destination – the tiny village of Yavita. Unfortunately, the only local truck that could drive us and our boat to the other side of the land bridge to the Maroa settlement on the banks of the Guainía River some thirty kilometers from here has just left. We'll have to spend the night here and hope that tomorrow brings more luck. The thought of sleeping here is, however, irksome to say the least. This is partly because we get in so late and because Yavita is, compared to the beautiful wilderness that surrounds it, a mere neglected hole full of garbage, just like every other similar jungle settlement throughout Amazonia. The river is spotted with floating oil blotches, so washing will have to wait till dark when the masses leave the stream's banks and everything is washed away by the compassionate current. We've hung our hammocks under a canopy by the river and right next to a soldiers' shack. After a great breakfast the next morning (bread, cheese, tuna and papaya), we hang around the port and wait to see what will happen. It seems like we've picked up a pretty good sense for the local customs, for that's exactly what everyone else does here. The endless waiting for our truck continues until lunch; we're already completely exhausted from the strain of doing nothing in the oppressive heat and humidity. To add to our misery, Radana has caught a cold somewhere and I've got a cough. Only Vladimír seems content and, with his hands deep in his pockets, sets out to take a look around. I'd just fallen into a recurring deep tropical unconsciousness, when I'm awoken by his yelling: "the truck, truck!" Everyone around us most certainly understands these words, and before I'm able to fully wake up, the truck is surrounded by a vociferous crowd. Though I'm completely used to this, I glance sideways and register the annoyance in Radana's face. I then close my eyes again and try to steal a few more precious minutes of sleep. With the help of soldiers we'd just loaded our boat onto the bed of a truck that's seen better days, when it starts to pour. We're instantly soaked, but happy to finally be on our way. With the jungle forming a 50

tunnel over the road we shout encouraging words to each other over the deafening wail of the truck's motor – but another call, perhaps even a sigh, slips through to the labyrinth of my inner ear: "...I hope we make it". "Well...," I wonder, as we opt for the obligatory: "Onward!" The road is lined by beautiful massive trees that are an unmistakable sign of a healthy rainforest. But most of all it resembles a muddy river, and in places even the confluences of several rivers of various colours. As is the norm in this region, drivers and their vehicles, which seem at first glance to have long ago given up the ghost, manage to handle this terrain in a way that is absolutely unheard of for Europeans. Both men take turns jumping from the truck's cab into the mud, throwing boards and even stray branches under the wheels. The bare tires spin in convulsion and shoot out runny clay everywhere. The truck treads the potholes for a while, sloth-like, before the wheels unexpectedly take hold and the whole truck with surprising energy lunges through the deep water that, in turn, pours into the cab from both sides and then back out. Despite the crew's admirable efforts, we continue forward only with great exertion. So in places where we anticipate the slightest depth of water, we get out and walk down the "road", soon leaving the truck far behind. I take out my binoculars. It's time to explore the jungle and its feathered inhabitants; maybe we'll even be able to take a few decent photographs here. Vladimír has already taken his video camera out of the case, so maybe even we'll get some quality footage.


A truck transporting our boat across a land bridge between the Yavita and Maroa settlements struggles in the soft clay on the road cleared through the rainforest. Whenever hard natural conditions allow it, this land connection between the Amazon and the Orinoco rivers is an excellent shortcut on the way to the Rio Negro that Alexander von Humboldt himself took. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก) 51


Appendix II

Humboldts route We unexpectedly left the waters of the Orinoco behind last night. When the sun rose we were overcome by the feeling that someone had transposed us to a completely new land located on the banks of a river whose name I don’t think anyone had ever heard uttered before. This was to take us on the Pimichin River to the Rio Negro on the Brazilian border. The head of the mission in San Fernando had explained: "First you take the Atabapo, then the Temi and then the Tuamini. As soon as the current of black water prevents you from going further, you leave the river and proceed through the flooded forest. Two friars live here at this forgotten place between the Orinoco and Rio Negro. But in Yavita they will help you transport the canoe across the land to Caňo Pimichin. This takes four days. And if this doesn’t break you, you can go down the Rio Negro without further obstacle from the northwest to the southeast to the small fortification of San Carlos. After Casiquiare you follow the river north and return to San Fernando in about a month, taking the Orinoco westward downstream. "This is the plan that we carried out safely, though not without a certain degree of suffering, and which took us thirty-three days.

Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland in a rainforest hut on the Orinoco (Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz.) Right: Von Humboldt's map of "Spanish Guyana" showing the way of the Humboldt Route. 52


Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and botanist Aimé Bonpland undertook their expedition to tropical South America in 1779−1884. In February 1800 they travelled upstream the Orinoco to the then mission post of San Fernando de Atabapo. Then on April 25th they set out southward down the Atabapo and continued on the Temi and Tuamini rivers until they reached on May 1st the mission post of San Antonio de Yavita. In order to properly understand this book, it's important to note that all three of these rivers are part of the Orinoco's waters. In Yavita they were welcomed by the friars stationed there and roughly one hundred and sixty local natives. The expedition carried on about thirty kilometers southwest to the banks of the Pimichin River. During his trek through the muddy jungle, von Humboldt mentions seeing a large number of dreaded poisonous fer de lance snakes (Bothrops sp.). On the Pimichin River von Humboldt and co. are already in the basin of the Amazon River. They then continued by canoe to the nearby Maroa mission post of the right bank of the Rio Negro (Guainía), from where they continued south to the confluence with the Casiquiare. Their initial intention was to continue to Brazil, which is the reason they first travelled downstream the Rio Negro to the San Carlos de Rio Negro mission post where they spent three days. But Brazilian officials refused them entry into the country, so in the end the expedition continued on May 10th back upstream to the mouth of the Casiquiare. At this point, Von Humboldt obviously already knew that the Orinoco and Amazon rivers joined via the Brazo Casiquiare, which is why he devoted much attention to examining this unique natural phenomenon. This expedition, under arduous and exhausting conditions, proceeded upstream the Casiquiare and on May 23rd they managed to re−enter the Orinoco's water at the point of bifurcation. Four days later on May 27th they made it back to their starting point, the San Fernando de Atabapo mission, where Humboldt's journey ended and the expedition once again proved beyond all doubt that the Orinoco connects to the Amazon. After a day of rest at the mission post, the party continued by canoe downstream the Orinoco until they reached Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar), where their journey down this river culminated.

Von Humboldt and Casiquiare The most agonizing of all physical sufferings are those that are enduring and unvarying and that can only be faced with eternal patience. It’s very likely that Mr. Bonpland in the vapours of the forest around Casiquiare contracted the seeds of a disease that nearly killed him on our journey to Angostura. Neither he nor I were fully aware of the threat that was posed to him. The view of the river full of droning insects had a somewhat monotonous effect, but the remnants of our naturally good mood always enabled us to find relief even during the exhausting journey. We also discovered that if we eat a small amount of cocoa powder without sugar and drink enough river water, it placates our hunger for a few hours. Ants and mosquitoes ended up bothering us much more than our hunger and the humidity. Notwithstanding the hardships we faced during our expedition in the Cordilleras, the boat journey to Esmeralda now seems to us as the greatest suffering during our entire stay in South America. I advise those who have no desire to see the great Orinoco bifurcation to instead choose the route via the Atabapo River and to avoid Casiquiare. This is Alexander von Humboldt's dramatic description of his expedition on the Casiquiare in May 1800. The difficulty of the plan to explore the Orinoco's connection to the Amazon River under the conditions of that period when there was no boat engine, GPS navigation and hi−tech clothing available is unimaginable for today's

54


explorer. Von Humboldt was, however, a determined and extremely knowledgeable naturalist who ranked among the greatest minds of his day. On his expedition to tropical South America he discovered and described a countless number of new species of plants and animals, explored, described and mapped hitherto unknown regions and included all findings and reflections in the book Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent. Elsewhere in his masterpiece von Humboldt writes on the Casiquiare River: In approaching the Orinoco’s bifurcation on the following nights, our journey became all the more difficult. Profuse vegetation grew in a way that was hardly explainable, even for those acquainted with the character of the forests in the tropics. The river’s banks completely disappeared: the river’s edge is formed by a wall of ragged trees. We navigate the canal, which is about two hundred fathoms wide (French fathom = 1,949,036 m) here, lined by two massive embankments covered with creepers and foliage. We keep trying to anchor, but to no avail. The sun will set in a short while; we’ve been travelling for more than an hour. We’re not looking for a clearing (because there isn't one here), but any place that is not completely overgrown with vegetation where our Indians could use their hatchets and hands to clear a spot for thirteen people to rest. It simply isn’t possible to spend the night in a canoe; the mosquitoes, tormenting us during the day, swarm under the canopy covered with palm leaves that protect us from the rain. Never before have our hands and faces been so swollen. Father Zea, who had boasted up to this point that the largest and most intense mosquitoes were at his mission post by the rapids, finally had to admit that the attacks of the swarms on the Casiquiare are the most painful he'd ever experienced. It was also very difficult to gather firewood in the dense jungle as the tree branches in these equatorial regions where it is constantly raining are full of sap and have a hard time burning. Gathering old wood that the Indians call "sun baked” is also very difficult without the presence of a firm riverbank. Yet a fire is necessary, above all as protection against the jungle beasts - our food supply is so low that we don't really even need fuel for cooking.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) in a painting by Joseph Stieler (1843).

55


Casiquiare today The natural canal of Brazo Casiquiare is some 225 kilometers long from the point it splits from the Orinoco to its mouth into the Rio Negro. Most of its tributaries join it from the left side as the river moves southwest. These are mainly black−water rivers − the Guaramoni, Pamoni, Pasiba, Siapa and Pasimoni. The entire river basin is up to this point covered with uninterrupted primary rainforest growth with minimum human settlement (the upper part of the river in particular is completely void of people) and thus humans have had little impact on it here. This is another reason why Humboldt's extremely interesting, precise and absorbing description of natural and cultural relations in the Casiquiare region does not lose any of its currency today. To a certain extent, however, it has the effect of a myth that continues to significantly contribute to a slightly one−sided and, among naturalists and explorers, a de facto errant view of this area. Von Humboldt simply did not chose the best time to explore the Orinoco's connection with the Rio Negro − in May, lashing rains assault the jungles, the river water rises by several meters, overflows the banks and, in places, floods deep into the forest. I'm quite familiar with this despairing situation, having navigated the Casiquiare from the bifurcation to the Rio Negro and back seven times in recent years. With the absence of even the slightest bit of land during the rainy season, finding a suitable place to spend the night, despite being equipped with a powerful motor and rapid mobility, becomes all the more difficult − not to mention the trickiness of regularly and, in the case of an intestinal infection, suddenly having to "go to the john". After hours of discomfort, everyday human timidity is eventually overcome, and the despised bucket on deck becomes the only saviour. When the river is low during the dry season of the winter and spring, the situation is completely different and there are countless picturesque (even to the point of bordering on the kitsch) romantic places for camping on the numerous beaches, rocks emerging from the water, little islands and places in the jungle itself. What's more, there's an increase in the influx of left−side tributaries with swampy black water, and so the originally nutrient− richer white water from the Orinoco gradually adopts a tea colour typical in the jungle. The perceptible decrease in biting black flies is undoubtedly related to this. From my years of personal experience I can honestly say that, in comparison with the Orinoco, the Casiquiare is, in this regard, a calm oasis. There are places here that you can, especially at sunset when the activity of the otherwise vexing black flies tapers off, strip down without worries, submerge yourself in the river's warm waters and fully enjoy the red sun setting over the jungle.

Left: Natural channel Brazo Casiquiare connecting the Orinoco and Amazon River systems. (Photo: Jan Dungel) 57


It comes as no surprise that, between the Maroa settlement and its confluence with the Brazo Casiquiare roughly one hundred and fifty kilometers to the south, the Guainía River is also lined by a completely flooded low jungle. It once again forms the border with Colombia here, but the Colombian side is, in contrast to the Venezuelan side, and save for a few small settlements, practically void of people. Most of the villages on the east side have electricity wires, which is unprecedented in these latitudes. We spot the mouth of the Casiquiare before noon. At this point the Guainía River is already a major river and also bears a new name, Rio Negro. Elvis slows the motor and our boat tentatively drifts in the rousing water in the middle of the confluence of these two massive rivers. The feeling that this is a turning point in our expedition is probably shared by all. We exalt in the idea that today we might just reach the starting point of our planned expedition to the Neblina Mountains. This range is actually quite close to us now; according to the map it's about one hundred and fifty kilometers to the

southeast as the crow flies. But in reality we face an incredibly long journey of hundreds of kilometers and, judging from my past experience, the distance itself will be the least of the obstacles. Vladimír, most likely out of sheer naiveté, tries out Elvis's cell phone and to our surprise makes a call home to Prague on the first try. The call puts him in a slightly sentimental mood: Though it is somewhat absurd in light of the nature of the place and its position, we all have to get used to the fact that our era is beginning to outpace our thoughts. Only later did we realize how lucky he was: despite his persistent attempts, he wasn't able to call through during the weeks to follow. Elvis claims it's due to the weather, which puts me at ease. The boat is once again buzzing over the dark oily surface leaving a deep wake behind us. Elvis suddenly slows down, we pass a wooden bongo full of Indians and the waves from our wake could threaten their overloaded boat. Even with our reduced speed we watch on guiltily as they try to keep their rocking boat from capsizing. I also realize that this may very well be the first watercraft

We were caught in a downpour on the junction of the Casiquiare and Guainía. The photo captures the Casiquiare running in from the north to the right of the rock, and after the river created by the merging of these two branches is called the Rio Negro. (Photo: Jan Dungel)


that we have passed on our journey from San Fernando and I'm once again overcome by the familiar depressing, yet exciting feeling of solitude in the middle of enormity. In Solano we breeze through the final and

Amazonia Charles Brewer-Carías and of the FUDECI foundation to Pico da Neblina. The soldiers say that old Chimo still lives here in Solano, but to my utter disappointment he'd just left for a few days to San Carlos del Rio Negro. Oh

Culimacare Rock rises from the forest on the left Eastern bank of the Casiquiare. This is where I observed and later painted the Pompadour Cotingas (Xipholena punicea – right). (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

surprisingly formal check by National Guard soldiers. I ask about Chimo, the locally famous pilot of Redmond O'Hanlon's British expedition. In the 1980s Chimo also took part in the aforementioned expeditions undertaken by Venezuelan explorer of 60

well, what can you do? The plan was to talk to this man – one of a few who really know the region north under Pico da Neblina – in the hopes of getting some useful information. During my travels on the Casiquiare I'd always


taken the opportunity to ascend the rocky ledge of the conical Culimacare, which reflects on the river's surface by the left bank a few kilometers from the mouth of the Pasimoni. This ledge overlooks the jungle east of the river and, if visibility is good, Neblina's peaks can be seen from it. I can't actually vouch for this, for, every time I've climbed it, clouds or a curtain of mist covered the horizon. Even so, the view to the Amazonian lowlands is quite stunning. The rock also seemed to enchant von Humboldt himself, who first measured its position and for whom the dark cone towering over the jungle represented a fixed point of orientation in creating a map: May 10th – The nocturnal conditions were excellent for determining the latitude thanks to the alpha point of the Southern Cross; by measuring the height of two beautiful stars shining in the legs of the Centaur constellation, I also determined its longitude with a chronometer – though with less accuracy. This observation will also help us determine, with sufficient accuracy for geographical purposes, the position of the mouth of the Pacimoni, the San Carlos fortification and the confluence of the

Casiquiare and Rio Negro. The Culimacare Rock is located exactly at 2° 0´ 42´´ north latitude and probably 69° 33´ 50´´ west longitude. These days you can ascertain the actual position of Culimacare Rock from your desk using the Google Earth program. Though totally unfair to von Humboldt, we can calculate that the rock is actually positioned 320 kilometers west of Colombia (the exact position is 02° 00´14´´ and 66° 44´ 40´´). In his travel book In Trouble Again, Redmond O'Hanlon, the aforementioned organizer of the British expedition to the base of Pico da Neblina, mentions the presence of an ornithological specialty of the highest order – the Cock-of-the-rock. And I can vouch for this. I also found their nests there and observed several dark-coloured females. I didn't manage to see any fire-orange males, however. Yet I did see from the rock ledge over the jungle a striking turquoise-coloured Spangled Cotingas, a flock of Pompadour Cotingas and Paradise Tanagers. Culimacare, Monday, July 9th 2007. Radana and I spent at least four hours up on the


rock ledge observing birds in the treetops below us. A flying group of scarlet Pompadour Cotingas augment the turquoise coloured Spangled Cotingas. In the air the Pompadours spread their radiantly white wings, and, landing in the treetops, it's as if they switch themselves off and completely disappear from view. A few days later for the second time in my life I meet with the colourful Paradise Tanagers. Right before leaving we finally hear the call of the Cock-of-the-rock. We sit still on the rock and wait patiently. Maybe it was my sixth sense that notices a swirling movement behind me and prompts me to slowly turn. In the branches of a bush full of small berries sits the black-and-brown female Cock-ofthe-rock silently feeding. I try to draw Radana's attention to it, probably too urgently, for with one silent wing stroke the bird flies through an opening in the rock and disappears. It's time to climb back down to the river. I desperately try to at least catch a glimpse of a fiery flash, the unmistakable proof of the presence of the male that, like a taunt, we keep hearing near us. We're eventually rewarded with a glimpse of at least a female, but now we really have to get back to the boat. We're behind schedule due to problems with the car

in Yavita, but I'm still surprised to spot a boat on the horizon aiming strait for us. As we later learned, the boat was navigated by Tito himself. He's the chief of the Curipaco Indians from the El Ninal village. Another two men with rifles are squeezed in the bow. To our considerable joy, we also learn that the boat carrying our gasoline and food supplies has already arrived at the village. According to the instructions received over the radio from Elvis, they were also expecting us yesterday. They were worried that we'd run out of gasoline, so they'd set out to meet us with a barrel of fuel. The neat homes of the El Ninal settlement are situated on a dazzling white sandy split of land clenched between the confluence of Casiquiare and Pasimoni. It's already quite late in the afternoon when we tie the boat to a tree in the shallow water. Yet even the sun appears for a while between the clouds. We don't waste time and hang our hammocks under a roof of palm leaves at the edge of the village. The red shining disc grows larger and quickens its descent into the jungle on the other side of the Casiquiare, but we still have some time to dry some clothes. VladimĂ­r quickly ties a rope between two posts in front of a building.

The Southeast panorama viewed from the cliff of the Culimacare Rock. The Casiquiare River is reflecting on the right, the light green surface in front of us is a vast marshy lagoon. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)


The Pasimoni flows silently in from mysterious rainforests never inhabited by people and still today avoided by natives living west around Casiquiare. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


Appendix III

Hammocks Careful preparations must be made for every extended stay in the rainforests of Venezuelan Amazonia; otherwise a romantic adventure can quickly turn into painful and mentally exhaustive suffering. Absolutely indispensable parts of your field equipment include, above all, a good hammock and quality mosquito netting that ensure a comfortable and substantial sleep and renewed strength for the next day. And it provides a lot more than that. After an exhausting trek or boat trip down the rivers of Amazonia in the humid and sultry heat, a hammock and mosquito netting often offer the only asylum − an oasis of safety and peace. They're usually set up by tying them between two trees. The space within a hammock is sealed off from the outside environment, so you're safe from insects, larger mammals and, most importantly, poisonous snakes and stinging ants. In choosing a mosquito net, it's important that the holes are small enough to protect the sleeper from the smallest insects like mosquitoes and, worst yet, the dreaded black fly (Simuliidae), especially the tiniest of them that the natives call jejenes. But before you hang your hammock, you should use a machete to carefully clear out from under it the layer of fallen leaves, branches and low vegetation. Only then is it safe to get in and out of your hammock. When the ground is cleared away it is much easier to recognize the presence of poisonous reptiles, even though stinging ants present a far more immediate threat. The sting of some species, for instance the dreaded black ant of the bullet ant specie (Paraponera clavata), can painfully paralyze its victim for several hours, and even for an entire day. This is why the natives call it the veinticuatro, the "24 (hour) ant". Special attention must be paid in leaving your hammock at night, which is why you can never forget to sleep with a good flashlight. Rain can fall in the rainforest at anytime and sometimes the rain won't stop for several days. In such conditions a light plastic roof stretched between trees over the hammock can provide reliable protection against the rain. And one last important rule: Always prepare your sleeping place while there is still daylight! Good night.

Above right: A rubber roof is indispensable when camping in a rainforest. (Photo: Jan Dungel) One morning in the camp on a bare river bed of the Orinoco. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)


Although the hammock can perfectly protect the sleeper from adversities in his surroundings, shoes and baggage are favorite targets of ant and termite raids. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


It's clear to us all that the village of El Ninal is the very last trace of human existence on this land, and that there is not a soul to the southeast where most likely there was never even an attempt at settlement. It's a great challenge for us, but we believe that we're well prepared to fulfil our expectations and navigate the Baria River all the way to the foot of the Neblina, or use GPS to pinpoint where the arm

of the Maturacá splits from the river. And in my case, of course, to paint wildlife that has never before been in the presence of humans, while Radana is resolved to record our journey through photographs. Vladimír has a similar task: he is to shoot a documentary for Czech Television 2. Our main and perhaps only concern is a feeling of anxiety that comes from entering unknown terrain

Left: The curious Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica) is like no other bird. It has some characteristics of diving− ducks, but it is not a good diver. From the distance it looks a bit like a small duck except that its small head and beak have a completely different shape. It is a good swimmer, though, with webbed feet. It can be frequently seen on the Baria River. 69


Lorenzo Evaristo and José Manuel were members of my second Baria River expedition in 2005. Lorenzo was also the captain and the leader of the entire seven−member crew. Three men stayed in the mother boat waiting for us at the junction of the Yatua and Baria rivers. In the event that we did not return within ten days they were to organize a rescue expedition with the help of natives from El Ninal in the Pasimoni delta.

70

where there's no chance of contacting human civilization, not even in the case of injury or dreaded snake bite. We more or less understand that in such a situation we alone bear the burden of all our risks, even in the worst possible case. But we're firmly resolved and we've even got the requisite dash of courage. I've already mentioned that I'm "familiar" with the Casiquiare and its tributaries from many previous visits, but my first serious attempt to navigate the Baria River was undertaken in 2004 with Ivo Svoboda and two Indians from the Baniva tribe, Lorenzo Evaristo and Elvis Largo. That expedition was led by the experienced captain Fremio Alvarez, who'd aptly proved his abilities on expeditions I'd embarked on previous to that. Although the charismatic Fremio has friends and acquaintances pretty much all along the upper part of the Orinoco and Casiquiare to San Carlos, he was unable to find anyone even slightly familiar with the upper and central Baria River, let alone a southward route to the Neblina Mountains. And the organization of this expedition was always complicated by the fact that the Indians refused to enter the Corazón de la Selva (the heart of the jungle), the name they gave to outlying areas of the jungle. They are extremely superstitious and fear the forest spirits, especially the omnipotent Mawari, who is said to speak with both an animal and human voice. Without any map and navigational options (though the GPS works, without a map there information is of little use), when the riverbed at any moment simply disappears in the thick vegetation and endless swamps, not even strong resolve, constant sawing or exhaustive machete cutting is of help. The maze of swamps in the stifling jungle has, after a few days of unimaginable drudgery, knocked us to our knees. To make matters worse, the Indians begin to succumb to an anxiety bordering on psychosis. The spirit Mawari ultimately becomes another member of the expedition and gradually even takes over as leader. We soon have no idea where we are. Each morning Lorenzo has to climb a high dominant tree and, according to the position of the remote mountains, determine our progress and position as best he can. And if that's not enough, we all begin to suffer from inexplicable states of consciousness. The reverberations of our nocturnal hallucinations begin to penetrate our daytime lives, so that it becomes extremely difficult to differentiate reality from the dream world: Baria River, Saturday, January 23, 2004. Curiously enough, it's not my fear of illness, snakebite or injury that concerns me the most, but of a weird anxiety involving feverish dreams... This morning I had a very strange talk with Ivo. To my surprise I found out that he is suffering from vexing dreams in which he lapses into a word where hallucinations mingle with reality. It was rather unsettling to hear that I wasn’t the only one going through the same nocturnal ordeal! The cruel nights repeat relentlessly, leaving us in zombie-like trances during the day. The whole expedition takes on a somewhat eerie form. We even begin to


2005: Lorenzo and José are setting up our camp. José is cooking the Black Curassow he caught, while Lorenzo is finishing the rubber roof construction. We were chased by downfalls on the Baria River and further south and so it was necessary to carefully secure the campsite every evening. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

suspect the Indians of deliberately adding hallucinogenics to our food to force us to return. But they protest and swear so passionately that they’d never do such a thing that at least I believe them. I begin to have major concerns of the fate of the expedition and try to calm down Lorenzo and Elvis, who are extremely upset over the allegations. Adding to their anxiety is the fact that the land of the Baniva Indians lies hundred of kilometers from here and neither of them has ever been in this region before. It

used to be that Indians didn’t like to pass over the boundaries of their territories and this still applies to a certain extent today. The reasons for this can be found in their past and current customs, and in protecting themselves when contacting other families or tribes (von Humboldt describes that cannibalism was routinely practiced among tribes on the upper Orinoco and in the Casiquiare region). What’s more, they are strongly superstitious and believe in the existence of a mythical half-human creature called

71


Mawari. They’re fully convinced that he is constantly watching us at this very moment and Lorenzo insists that only my stupidity prevents me from being scared (... without suspecting that the nickname corresponds to the popular fairytale character Johnny Fearless from my youth, Lorenzo starts jokingly referring to me as Juan sin Miedo). “All day, every evening Mawari goes around and talks to us in animal voices. He also speaks to us in human voices, but you think it's Elvis or me. But it’s not because we hear it too and we know that it's Mawari, who's here with us!" the otherwise strongminded Lorenzo implored. I realized that I had to take the situation seriously. Even though I later heard that it could have been caused by the pollen of hallucinogenic plants that the humid air around the river was replete with, these inexplicable states of consciousness remained for me a great mystery that I’d never come across on previous expeditions. As time goes by, however, I find increasingly plausible explanations in our own psyches. An encounter with the work of Carl Gustav Jung originally led me to this, especially his theory of the collective unconscious of archetypes that has had a major impact on my view ever since I was a student. At the time I was a passionate admirer of the French surrealist André Breton and his poetry. The importance that he attributed in art to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud logically led me to Jung. In brief, the collective unconsciousness is, as the shared experience of humanity, an integral part of each of our minds, and archetypes can be considered, even if imprecisely, as very ancient patterns of human perception and behaviour. It seems to me that, especially in conditions of extreme separation from society, a person’s mind can sink all the way to the earliest times of human existence, when inexplicable anxiety and fear were a normal part of the life of hunters living in a similarly unknown land void of people. Nevertheless, I consider being lost in an absolutely solitary land, despite the anxiety, an incredible experience and after the situation onboard the boat settles down late that morning, I can fully indulge 72

in the dramatic beauty under the canopy of tall trees. When the sky over the river begins to open up after a few days and the merry cry of the Blueand-yellow macaw occupying the palm trees once again makes its way through to us, a feeling of pure joy takes over inside. It was there that I first observed rare short-tailed monos chucuto (Blackheaded Uakari) that Alexander von Humboldt described two hundred years ago on the Rio Negro, although not many zoologists have seen it since... The second attempt to navigate the Baria to the foot of Neblina the following year, this time with my future wife Radana, took us a little further to the south, yet success again eluded us. That time the experienced Lorenzo Evaristo assumed the expedition's captaincy, while newcomer José Manuel became the fourth crew member: Baria River, Monday, January 17, 2005. The dreaded Mawari is back! Captain Lorenzo once again implored me in front of Radana to testify to having heard the ghost speak through a human voice last year. There certainly is not a shortage of strange noises here at night. You can often hear the tapir's whistle and its heavy steps as

The Amazon River Dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) is one of our most loyal companions. It often circles around our boats, curiously observing us aliens in their aquatic territory.


well as other animals moving around us at night, so I often find myself jumping out of my hammock with a flashlight to try to see which ones they are. But the jungle is so dense and swampy that you don't dare go any further into it in the dark, and it's only the next morning that you discover from its tracks that you were visited by, for instance, a jaguar. Night-time delirium once again becomes part of the expedition. As with last year, we are all without exception once again visited by dark dreams after sunset, and once again it seems that their content is nearly identical. Last night José called my name in his sleep, but he soon settled down and fell back asleep. A quick awakening saved me from my own bad dream in which my hammock, with me in it, had been slowly rising up and then zigzagging to the sides. It poured the whole night and the next morning, as we huddled at the fire with a cup of coffee, Radana started to tell us about her dream. She described a gripping fear in which the whole night some animal had carried her in the hammock on its back. José must have understood what she was talking about as he jumped into her story and, to our surprise, showed that he had had exactly the same dream, which is why he had called out my name. He and Lorenzo have a simple explanation – Mawari was here...

Fremio Alvarez and Ivo Svoboda. Fremio was the leader of all my expeditions to the Venezuelan Amazon rainforest in 1997–2004. He also organized the crew for our first attempt to get through Baria in 2004. Only Elvis Largo, Lorenzo Evaristo, Ivo Svoboda and I took part in the voyage to Neblina itself.


Appendix IV

Fauna The ecosystem of the Amazonian rainforests is considered the most bio−diverse on Earth, teeming with the greatest wealth of plant and animal species. It seems as if the documentary films from tropical South America featuring animals of many colours and often bizarre shapes and sizes against a backdrop of lush tropical vegetation, only confirm this. And yet this has another side to it. It can easily happen that you never even see a mammal during your stay in the jungle, and you soon feel as if you'd see more birds in your backyard. This depends on several ecological rules typical of the jungle's internal mechanism: for instance, many vertebrates and even insects spend their lives in the treetops high above the ground and, though you may hear the call of monkeys quite often, actually observing primates is not that easy. Human presence also plays a role, especially hunting with firearms. When hunting the Indians themselves have to go deep into remote places far from their villages with the journey often lasting several days. Another human factor lies in the massive destruction of the rainforests that has gained momentum in recent years. The natural conditions on the upper Orinoco remain unblemished and most places have not, at first glance, changed over the more than two hundred years since von Humboldt's expedition. Nevertheless, if you're familiar with the current situation and read Humboldt's description of the natural conditions around the Orinoco, Atabapo or Casiquiare, you'll come across one discrepancy: Von Humboldt saw on the riverbanks hundred of crocodiles, thousands of turtles, jaguars and tapirs, and the trees were full of many kinds of monkeys. Unless von Humboldt was guilty of severe embellishment, today's comparison is depressing. Despite this sad reality, if the observer is patient and possesses at least a basic knowledge of the local environment, a thrilling encounter with wild animals is possible even today. I'm not going to start rattling off the animals I've come across on the upper Orinoco to spare you from a long and boring list. Instead, I'll limit myself to animals, mainly vertebrates, that I see the most frequently or that I simply like the best. Perhaps the most loyal companion on my travels of local rivers has been the groups of Giant Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis). Until recently this good−natured and beautiful animal was an endangered species, but today I come across them more frequently than any other animal. The same goes for the oddly sighing Amazon river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis). They curiously watch our boat wherever we anchor. Other abundant mammals include the South American Tapir (Tapirus terrestris), the Jaguar (Panthera onca) and the much smaller Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis). You probably wouldn't actually see any of these, but their tracks and calls are the jungle's normal backdrop. And let's not forget the primates, who give themselves away with their morning cries and daily noise up in the trees: the Red Howler (Alouatta seniculus), the Collared Titi (Callicebus torquatus), the White−bellied Spider Monkeys (Ateles belzebuth), White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons) and on the Baria River the rare

White−necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora)

74


Demonic Poison Frog (Minyobates steyermarki)

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

Peleides Blue Morpo (Morpho peleides)


Black−headed Uakari (Cacajao melanocephalus). One rodent that is extremely profuse and which can be seen at night is the Lowland Paca (Cuniculus paca). It's much easier to observe birds through binoculars. Populating the river areas is the Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona) and the very similar, but smaller Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana). Occupying the trees along the rivers are the gallinacean Blue−throated Piping−guan (Pipile cumanensis) and the Crestless Curassow (Mitu tomentosa). Birds of prey are mainly represented by the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), the Black Caracara (Daptrius ater), and if you're lucky on the banks of the Casiquiare you might see a Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). There are places full of parrots, even the largest like the Blue−and−yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) and Red−and−green Macaw (Ara chloroptera). Birds typically found in the rainforests are the toucans (Ramphastidae) and their relatives the woodpeckers (Picidae). The cotingas (Cotingidae) and manakins (Pipridae) are undoubtedly among the most beautiful birds. In the lagoons around the running rivers live Spectacled Caimans (Caiman crocodilus), and in the rivers themselves on rare occasion you can spot the Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) and some turtles species (Podocnemys sp.). Those with keen eyesight might even see a Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), often four to five meters long, on the banks of Amazonian rivers. These reptiles command great respect due to their size, and encountering them is an unforgettable experience. After sunset, sundry calls of many different kinds of frogs (Anura) fill the air from all directions.

White−bellied Spider Monkey (Ateles belzebuth). (Foto Jan Dungel.)

77


Rising with the first light we're filled with anticipation of our "historical" moment when we finally set out for the empire of Mawari. We silently drink our coffee, Vladimír, his tea. It rains and rains. The dismal grey sky merges with the similarly sinister colour of the river water. There's absolutely no sign that the weather will come to its senses and stop raining for even a short while. Fortunately, neither Elvis nor Alejandro, our new companion starting today, pays the least bit of attention to the rain, and so together, up to our knees in warm tea-coloured water, we prepare to embark. Despite feeling helpless, I try to stay calm. I resignedly watch Elvis's futile attempt to start the obviously overloaded boat that just barely manages

to work its way through the rushing mass of water to the middle of the river. The boat's motor kicks the bucket: water gets inside with the fuel; it coughs a few times and then fall silent. In the middle of the current the boat becomes uncontrollable and so our first attempt to embark ends after just a few minutes. The dark Pasimoni, whipped by the driving rain, pushes us sideways to its mouth and our desperate attempts to row only increase our growing feeling of futility. The Indians on the bank most likely see it in similar terms: we hear a motor starting up and a bongo speeds off in our direction. Looks like we'll survive and avoid drowning somewhere in the depths of the swelling Casiquiare. I glance at my watch and see that it's only a few minutes after ten

Our boat was accompanied by hundreds of flying Blue−and−yellow Macaws (Ara ararauna) on the Baria River. Their flocks often filled the entire skyline over the river. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) 79


Jan Dungel, Radana Dungelová, Vladimír Šimek. Membersof a five− member expedition to Neblina in 2007.

80

(in the morning), and so I cling to the feeble hope that we still might be able to embark today. As half the village looks on in amusement, both our guides fiddle with the motor, while we dampen our sorrows with a drink concocted of cane rum and lime. Maybe it will warm us a little inside and lighten our mood. We finally board the boat again, but before we can even settle ourselves down the motor again conks out and we begin to sink precariously deeper into the wild water. We're still too heavy and, after a futile attempt of less than a hundred meters, we return to the bank. Here, to our increasing dismay, we transfer all our belongings to another thin aluminum boat and, soaked to the bone, once again set out – having lost significant time – into the current. The water's surface is virtually even with the top of the boat's sides and when Elvis tries to squeeze a little life out of the motor, water begins pouring into the boat. It's as if we would just keep getting increasingly bloated! Despite our disgruntlement, if we don't want to sink here and now a few meters from the bank, we have little choice but to immediately turn the bow of the boat around and head back to land! Even our third attempt to embark ends in a ridiculous fiasco. Once again we patiently re-arrange everything, this time into a solid steel bongo a good fifteen meters in length and even tie the original aluminum boat to our stern! The bow is loaded with barrels of fuel drums, and we settle in with our belongings under the roof. It's starting to look promising, but I don't dare hold out the hope that we would actually depart.... today? The bongo majestically cuts a path up the Pasimoni; we lounge about on the benches along the inner sides of the boat, which we use as an occasion to finish off the bottle of rum. There's plenty of room and comfort here, but this boat ambles forward at the desperately slow speed of 12 to 15 kilometers per hour. I wonder if we have any chance of reaching our destination under these conditions. Overcome with anxiety and I'm barely able to beat back a feeling of hopelessness. But “onwards we go“ and we'll see what tomorrow brings... In any case, we finally set out to "nowhere", which in itself is an encouraging feeling. The fifth member of our expedition, Alejandro "Macho", an Indian of the Curipaco tribe who joined us this morning in El Niňal, is preceded by an excellent reputation. Elvis says that last September, a year and a half after our second unsuccessful attempt, he took the Baria and Maturaca rivers all the way to Misao Maturacá in Brazil. But I still didn't know all the details... Alejandro impassively explains that he’d accompanied two white guys, maybe even Europeans (Slovaks, Slovenians?); unfortunately he’s unable to describe their origin in more details. The Baria's level apparently saw a dramatic drop at that time, preventing them from returning. What’s more, they were pitifully prepared; they had no chainsaw, no hatchet, just a machete and little food. After a few futile days, Alejandro came to the realization that if they were going to come out of the ordeal alive, they would have to turn south to Brazil. It took them a long forty-two days before they broke through the swamps to the


Baria River and in doing so, but without suspecting it, they found the Maturaca as well. Exhausted, ill and half starved to death, they made it to the Brazilian Salesian mission post of Misao Maturacá. There, however, they got into a conflict with the local Yanomamo Indians, and if it weren’t for the missionaries who sent for soldiers, the ordeal might have ended in tragedy. The Brazilian soldiers then requested help from the Venezuelan in their repatriation, and so the long rescue mission via the Rio Negro and then north on the Cauaburi River was led by none other than Elvis Largo himself. And here the string of coincidences ends. Though I’m furious inside that a couple of Europeans cut in front of us by a few months, there’s nothing left to do but accept this fact or to simply ignore it. It's four o'clock in the afternoon and it's finally stopped raining. We're completely drenched, but it's warmed up a little, and so, with arms extended like cormorants, we dry off in the gentle breeze on board. We also dry our damp camera, bag and binoculars. Everything is still working! Not long before dusk we turn right off the Pasimoni River into the vast Candela lagoon with the eponymous laja that gradually rises from the water up toward the forest – laja (lahka) is the native name for the rocks that are a characteristic land feature not only here, but throughout the upper Orinoco. In previous years I'd spent the night several times on the rock and always look forward to returning to these familiar places. The very first time I was here was with Indians from the village of Culimacare. At the time I was taking part in an exhausting two-day hunting expedition deep into the vast swampy lagoon (see photograph on p. 60). As usual, one of the Indians sat at the bow of one of the boats wearing a head lamp and navigating not only the person steering our boat, but also another bongo behind us. The night turned to dawn, but it was still dark and cold. We were all exhausted and one of the Indians tried to keep us awake with a monotonous song. But to no avail. The navigator wearing the head lamp must have fallen asleep because he was knocked overboard by a lowhanging branch. To my surprise he remained completely motionless on his back about two meters below on the river's sandy bottom. Only the beam of light shining from the dark depths of the clear water to somewhere in star-studded sky gave the exact location of the poor fellow, who probably would have drowned without even waking from his dream. I couldn't believe my eyes. Then, after two other hunters jumped in the water and pulled the guy back on board, the drenched navigator sat back down in his place and most likely fell back asleep. Five minutes later the bow of the boat dug into a steep meandering embankment and this time nearly all of us ended up in the water. Like the other rivers, the Pasimoni's waters also overflow its banks far into the jungle. This rock is probably the only piece of firm ground we've come across today. It is, however, a very romantic place. We all briskly hang our hammocks in the fading red dusk, and I'm already looking forward to a glass of wine and cigar. The GPS confirms that despite our snail-like start we've covered an unbelievable 120 kilometers!

Elvis Largo and Alejandro „Macho“. The other two members of an expedition which successfully reached the Macizo de la Neblina mountains on a third attempt and marked the exact coordinates of the Baria River bifurcation (Maturacá natural channel split) for the first time.

81


Except for a few moments, the rain held off all day and night. The next morning we wake to a beautiful, though cloudy day. After breakfast and a great swim in the warm water at the foot of the rock (watch out for electric eels!) we lose no time in continuing on our way. I'm once again reminded just how great the Indians accompanying me on my travels have been in their approach, and how they fully respect our interests. In this regard the situation has improved immensely over the past few years! Before long the broad mouth of the Rio Baria appears off our starboard, while part of the Pasimoni's current continues eastward as the Yatua River. VladimĂ­r has caught the surrounding scenery and the details from our satellite map and GPS display on film, but now we are heading upstream due south. As noon approaches, the riverbed noticeably narrows and a few hours further up it is again the narrow river with endless twists and meanders that we know from previous expeditions. The first fallen trees appear. We haven't had to use the chainsaw yet as Elvis always seems to find a way to steer us around the trunks and branches, and if necessary Alejandro lets loose with the machete. The river's picturesque beauty in the late afternoon sun is breath-taking. The jungle is reflected in the river's dark hard surface, and, if I squint my eyes, the border between the forest and water completely disappears and an intoxicating sense of levitation takes over. As always at this part of the river, a flock

of cawing blue-and-yellow macaws accompanies us from above. At one point the startled parrots virtually cover the entire narrow strip over the river, crisscrossing the sky with an indescribable collective shriek. There must be at least a hundred of them! We raptly observe in the waning sunlight the concert of their scintillating azure wings and rich yellow lower half of their body. Their medley of flight in the jungle's openings gives the strong impression of coloured notes on the sky's staff in which each flap of a wing conjures up a differently coloured sound. Twice now today we've passed a piece of firm ground on the bank, but decided not to stop, and to keep going until dark and sleep in the boat if necessary. The bongo always has to slow down around the bends, reducing our average speed once again to a mere fifteen kilometers per hour. At least that gives us time to watch the gangs of Red Howlers and White-fronted Capuchins occupying the surrounding treetops. The sun has already dipped below the horizon; a short stretch of an embankment lined by tall trees and palm trees in a small inlet once again appears before us as if summoned. But, to our chagrin, we discover that the ground is too muddy and waterlogged; there's no other choice but to spend the night in the boat. Soon we have our hammocks tied under the roof and are silently listening to the nocturnal concert of frogs. The moon lights up the lagoon. Today we've covered another 95 kilometers.

Left: The first day on Pasimoni. VladimĂ­r studies the GPS comparing the coordinates with a satellite map and regularly recording our location. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ) 83


The very first morning we watched two Brazilian Tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) marching silently in mud along the bank. At evening we always hear their piercing whistle around our camps.


It's June 30th. Another nearly rainless night and we all slept well! Yesterday we came to the decision that continuing on with the large bongo would be overly difficult (and its low speed merely adds to our worries), and that we should leave it here hidden in the lagoon – as a base camp or mother ship. Elvis and Alejandro are already preparing the smaller boat loaded with our belongings and essentials, photography and film equipment, basic food supplies and a sufficient amount of gasoline in plastic drums. We'll throw the drums ashore and indicate their concealed location by making a slash on nearby tree trunks. I was able to covertly stash several bottles of wine and a few flasks of rum into the pile of things onboard... Once again a feeling of pleasant excitement flows through me; full of good cheer and anticipation we leave the mother ship in our wake and head straight into the Corazón de la Selva, the heart of the jungle. Someone soon spots a group of curassows. Alejandro grabs a gun and, clutching at the creepers and roots, scrambles up the bank. A deafening roar echoes with the shot, but he's missed and the "turkeys" scatter loudly in the forest. I've never seen an Indian bungle a hunt before, and it perplexes me. Are we going to be able to depend on him to bag us any food? Alejandro is stumbling somewhere or other through the darkened jungle undergrowth when just thirty meters from us on the opposing bank a pair of tapirs appear. For the time being they haven't noticed our presence and placidly walk through the mud along the river. Unfortunately the undergrowth is so thick that the animals never really fully come into view, but we're all holding our breath with excitement. "Macho, Macho," Elvis hisses from the boat, already beside himself with visions of a tapir roast, but Alejandro can't hear him and, to my relief, both tapirs leisurely disappear in the dark jungle. We'd hardly gone a few kilometers when we hear from the bank a familiar "bird" whistling that

quickly intensifies. Radana catches sight of them in the treetops and points out to me the dark shadows in the branches directly overhead. At this moment the hysterical whistling of dozens of Black-headed Uakaris fills the air from all corners of the jungle, noisily blending into solid background music. Past experience tells us that the uakari like this place. It is precisely here that I twice had the extraordinary luck to observe and even paint these unique primates. Due to their scarcity and also because, in contrast to other South American monkeys with prehensile tails, they have a short tail, the uakari have become virtually a mythical creature. A uakari erect on its hind legs is barely a meter tall, and yet I've met with Indians who are convinced that they grow to human-like heights and consider them a kind of Bigfoot. I found in my journal from this period this two-year-old entry: Baria River, Tuesday, January 18, 2005. It's twilight, I've been tossing and turning in my hammock trying to pluck up the courage to leave my warm sleeping bag and go out into the piercing, all-penetrating wet. I was probably just coming up with a few more excuses not to, when a strange sound grabs my ear. A strange, oddly melodic whistling of an entire flock of birds is augmented a few moments later by an even louder racket in the branches. My curiosity gets the better of me, catapulting me from my hammock and, barefoot and in just my underwear, I slide through the mud and deep layer of wet decomposed leaves in the rough terrain along the river. This kind of racket is always an unmistakeable sign that a troop of monkeys is nearby, but what kind could they be? Both the fog and the thick vegetation prevent me from getting a good look, and before I can be sure that it's indeed a troop of Black-headed Uakari scurrying around in the treetops, it's too late. I merely catch a glimpse of the red blur of their fur

Right: The Baria River is winding in endless loops and its bed gets narrower as we proceed. We have to leave the mother boat hidden in the lagoon, transport the most indispensable equipment and continue on a small back−up barge. Vladimír is carefully recording footage for his future TV document. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) 86


The original painting of Alexander von Humboldt who depicted the precious Black−headed Uakari (Cacajao meloanocephalus) during his travel on Casiquiare in 1800. Left: my 2004 painting. 89


So far we have managed to pass under the fallen tree trunks but it is clear to us that by the end of the day we will be toiling with a motor saw, axe and machetes in our hands. (Photo: Vladimír Šimek) Left: Alejandro caught a Blue−throated Piping−guan (Pipile cumanensis). Boiled meat and stew made out of this rainforest chicken became our most common dinner. Before the natives prepare their prey I take an opportunity to sketch its head in detail. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

and they're gone. In the dark I nearly run into Radana, who tried to take some pictures of them. I moodily gripe about the bad luck and the weather and together we stumble back to camp from where we can see between the trees the glimmering flames of the morning fire. Suddenly the "bird" calls return and once again the uakari come noisily back toward us up in the treetops. There are probably around twenty-five of them, possibly more. The

monkeys don't notice us; they rush toward the river and through the binoculars I watch the smaller females (some with their young) and larger males with billowing red fur on their back and an even longer black mane around their shoulders. The uproar with which the troop now comments on our presents is unprecedented! All the monkeys have stopped in one of the trees on our bank and try to walk across the same branch to the other side. This of 91


course provides us with the ideal opportunity to observe them almost perfectly, since not more than one monkey at a time can fit on the branch over the water. Yet painting the uakari proves to be extremely difficult owing, above all, to the penetrating wetness and persistent heat. The pencil barely leaves a mark on the damp paper; work turns into a useless exercise in frustration. I can only wait for the midday sun to penetrate the canopy of vegetation overhead and gradually finish the drawing on the boat today. Meanwhile, we've nearly tipped over at least twice in trying to pull the boat over fallen trees and push through the thicket. Luckily the water only got to a few things on the floor and to our clothes, which are always wet anyways. What bothers me most is that my eyes are full of saw dust and the wail of the chainsaw, by which Lorenzo and José tirelessly force our way forward. Our progress is stopped, however, by a large halfsubmerged tree trunk that the chainsaw can't deal with. After the requisite souvenir photograph and toast with a shot of rum, José climbs up the tree where he hangs a bottle with a message in it for the next pioneers to come this way (I'm fully convinced it will be us). I'm still haunted by the unsettling thought that our equipment is insufficient and the unpredictable wilderness will prevent us from reaching the Neblina Mountains. I therefore suggest that we wait until the trip back to devote our time to observing, painting and photographing the uakari. Once again it doesn't take long for the first difficult obstacles to appear. Machetes no longer suffice in clearing the way forward, a chainsaw and hatchet are added to the arsenal. Alejandro appears cool and collected as he pensively seeks the best angle to cut in two the trees in the river. He gives the impression of being experienced and extremely resolute. But at three o'clock in the afternoon our journey is brought to a halt. Just above the river's

surface lie two massive trunks next to each other, not to speak of the wall of branches and plants full of thorns. "Whaaaa, whaaa, whaaaaa" goes the chainsaw for at least an hour and a half. Alejandro takes a break and studies the situation from all sides, even beneath the river's surface, and finally acknowledges that we're going to have to drag the boat over the trunks and branches. Wading up to our wastes, some even up to their necks, we inch the boat to the other side of the obstacle. But before doing this we had to make the boat as light as possible. Finally with a concentrated effort and persistent grunts we manage to do it. Completely exhausted and soaked to the bone, we all take our modest places in the boat and "onward we go". Vladimír is a little uneasy over the fact that in the midst of our struggle we inadvertently lost somewhere in the deep current a twenty-litre plastic drum carrying our entire reserve of drinking water. I too regret this (only because of the unflattering environmental print it leaves), but won't lose too much sleep over it: I'd long ago become accustomed to drinking the water straight from the rivers in Venezuelan Amazonia. We again pass by a short segment of firm ground not long before sunset. Although it is cut with deep and narrow canals that create an entire network of small islands overgrown with tall trees, it looks like the perfect campsite for us, so we quickly set to cleaning up our spot of the jungle and to hanging our hammocks. Radana comments in a somewhat disgruntled voice on the colony of large black ants, the veinticuatro under her hammock, but after a whole day of entomological curiosities raining down on us from the jungle, including spiders (we refer adoringly to the largest one as arachnids horrendus), poisonous caterpillars and whole armies of stinging ants, nobody pays attention to her resigned sigh. “So the most poisonous of ants in all of Amazonia are running around under your bed, what's the problem?” This time Alejandro bagged not one, but two

Left: The Blue−crowned Motmot (Momotus momota) is a typical inhabitant of lowland rainforests in South Venezuela. It leads a very inconspicuous and quiet life though. Every encounter with this bright− colored bird evokes a feeling of being something special. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) 93


different turkeys – pava and paují – the Bluethroated Piping-guan and the Crestless Curassow in English, and our collective mood suddenly takes a turn for the better. The GPS indicates that we only covered about 35 kilometers today, but in light of the thicket and fallen trees in the river, it's a pretty good showing. What's more, Alejandro is proving to be an invaluable crew member. Like a real Indian, he isn't very talkative, but, despite his stocky figure, he's an incredibly competent and determined worker. He's already accepted as his own what must have seemed to him at the start as a rather puzzling quest, and I have the pleasant feeling that we really are all on the same boat.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) This morning Radana came across the footprints of a jaguar which had passed by several minutes ago. Their morning and evening groans make us aware of their constant presence although we have not seen any jaguars in the dense overgrowth along the banks. But Radana was extremely lucky taking several shots of wild jaguars in Brazil (following two−page spread). (Photo: Radana Dungelová) Left: The Baria floodplain marsh is home to many animals. Guessing by the footprints and night calls, the Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is a common predator in this location. We even saw several ocelots, but Radana took a portrait of this semi−barbarous cat in the gardens behind the pub in San Fernando de Atabapo. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

95


Appendix V

Women and Orinoco

After being kidnapped by the Yanomamo indigenous people in 1932 Helena Valero spent an entire 24 years with them. Right: Inga Steinvorth de Goetz set out to find the Orinoco origins in 1969 and was the first woman to reach them. The first expedition ever to succeed was a Venezuelan− French expedition in 1951.

98

In preparing for an expedition into Amazonia the choice of reliable and ardent companions is of the utmost importance. I always prefer people, whom the Amazon rainforest has enchanted above all with its spiritual essence, and who are passionate and inspired by the thought of being there. Usually the best qualification is to have a specific theme with which to enter the jungle − whether that be, as in my case, painting wildlife or photography, scientific research, or "just" discovering new and unknown areas. Each visitor to the rainforest should also fulfil his or her human responsibilities and, through his work or position, contribute to the protection of this tragically and rapidly disappearing ecosystem, even if there is just a slight possibility for such a contribution. This is why gender or even friendships made back home has never been a criterion for choosing companions or the accompanying crew members. I hate to say it, but I have a hard time imagining most of my close friends in the jungle... I myself have undertaken several expeditions deep into the heart of Amazonia with my wife for the simple reason that she is a great companion with the courage and determination to endure extremely harsh natural conditions in unknown areas. Thanks to her passion for photographing wildlife, we have shared some exciting times in their proximity. It's difficult to describe the moments of inner rapture in witnessing a sunset over the river, often paid for by a suffering which there is no shortage of, what with the clouds of insects hungry for our blood. In this regard I'm certainly not an exception: I know many experienced male explorers who welcome the presence of women on their expedition, but we all seem to agree that these expeditions do bear the stamp of something completely original. And if we remain in Amazonia, the presence of the female element in the environment of the traditional Indian culture, to which a woman in such a position is completely alien, is an oddity in itself. The presence of a European woman always results in the crew members of the boat, or accompanying team in particular, showing noticeable discomposure, if not outright confusion. Some natives have problems with simply the sight of a white woman and when, to their surprise or scarcely concealed grin, such a woman assails the river with a machete to forge a path for the boat, makes her way through the jungle or climbs a mountain side just like a man, their confusion only grows and increases in intensity. And consider this, oh great Mawari spirit: a white woman can actually have her own opinion and even make the decisions... actually, it doesn't differ that much from gender relations in Europe. However, it should be pointed out that, in contrast to the stubborn European super−male, the Indians very quickly adapt their views, and after weeks spent together in the jungle, we all depart as friends enriched by the new experience. I'm not going to attempt to speculate what it's like for a woman that is forced by circumstances to spend many weeks in the close proximity of men; how much they have to moderate their habits, normal intimacy and shyness. Without mutual respect, cooperation and tolerance, all those involved face the threat of a devastating explosion of the situation, which, fortunately, I've only heard about from others. It's for this reason, among others, that I confess a deep admiration for European women that, despite the all−ruling male culture, had the courage, the sufficient dose of obstinacy and even the opportunity to undertake an extremely adventurous expedition to the depths of Venezuelan Amazonia, and who have played a


significant role in unveiling the mysteries hidden in this boundless land of a hitherto forgotten corner of our planet. For many years now I've perhaps been most fascinated by the life of a remarkable woman, who somewhat surpassed this. Her name is Helena Valero, a European who, against her will, became an anthropologist and ethnographer par excellence. She certainly can't be suspected of taking up an interest in anthropology for she was even completely illiterate due to her troubled fate. Her story was told in 1965 by the Italian biologist and explorer of the upper Orinoco Ettore Biocca in his book Yanoama: The Story of Helena Valero, a Girl Kidnapped by Amazonian Indians. Helena provided Biocca with direct testimony of the life and customs of the Yanomamo Indians, one of the last people living in the depths of the Venezuelan jungle without regular contact with outside civilization. It was also the first testimony of this kind and is still considered unique and incomparable. Above all, it is important for modern anthropology as it's an authentic record "from within". What's even more surprising is that it's told by a European woman, whom fate allotted the real life of an Indian woman under conditions that are still hard to imagine. She lived as one of the Yanomamo Indians for twenty−four years in a shabono (a round settlement of huts). We learn from Biocca's account that in 1932 she was kidnapped by Indians on the upper Rio Negro as an eleven−year−old child. Her life was spared and Helena became the wife of two Yanomamo men with whom she bore four children. She didn't get back to civilization until 1956, but perhaps it comes as little surprise that she had problems adapting back to another culture and she returned to live among the Indians on the upper Orinoco.

99


Kathy de Phelps was a member of a four− member group of explorers who first got through to the Macizo de la Neblina mountains surrounded by impenetrable rainforests and marshes on the Venezuelan border with Brazil.

Barbara Navarro, an American painter living in Paris. Her art is inspired by the culture of the Yanomamo people she regularly visits in the Venezuelan Amazon rainforest. She is actively participating in rainforest preservation projects.

100

Contact with the Yanomamo was also established in the 1960s by Venezuelan Inga Steinvorth de Goetz "a passionate lover of the Venezuelan wilderness," as characterized by another significant expert on their culture, Padre Luigi Cocco, a Salesian missionary at the Ocamo settlement on the upper Orinoco. In establishing contact with the Yanomamo communities on the Ocamo River, Inga apparently became the first European to reach those hitherto completely unknown areas and provided her testimony of this captured in literature. She is the author of the popular book Life and Belief of the Forest Waika in the Upper Orinoco, in which she describes her own observations of the customs and way of life in the Indian community. In 1969 she successfully made her way all the way up to the source of the Orinoco, which Europeans had managed only once to do before. She thus became the first white woman to stand at the beginnings of the Father of the Waters, but her courageous expedition also repaired the somewhat battered reputation of the Venezuelan participation in the discovery of the source in 1951 (see page 25). It was certainly no coincidence that another woman significantly linked to the history of Amazonian discovery in the upper region of the Orinoco was a Venezuelan, even though she was originally from Australia. Kathleen de Phelps was the first white woman to make it to Brazil's highest mountain range – the Macizo de la Neblina. She describes these journeys in her journal 00Memorias de Misia Kathy / Primera Expedición Phelps al “Cerro Jimé” (now Cerro de la Neblina) that came out in book form in Caracas in 1986. Kathleen de Phelps served as great inspiration for me for many reasons, including the fact that she was devoted to painting and documenting Amazonian birds. I even had the opportunity to get to know her personally and will never forget our meeting in Caracas in 2000. Despite her advanced age (nearly ninety at the time) she was still a charming lady full of energy who, like I, completely forgot about the surrounding world when caught up in talking about exploring Amazonia and painting birds. After going through my drawings from the last visit to Casiquiare, she wrote a nice but funny dedication in her own book with bird drawings and presented it to me: "To the best bird painter in the world! I congratulate you and look forward to your next visit to my home. Kathy de Phelps, April 5, 2000." The area of the upper Orinoco and the especially impermeable and unknown jungles in south Venezuela are still places with minimum human presence, and visiting them always feels like an incredible adventure. That may be why I pretty much never meet Europeans here with one exception: An American living in Paris, Barbara Navarro. Barbara is an artist involved in an environmental movement to save the rainforests. She draws her artistic inspiration from her own meetings with the Yanomamo. In creating her abstract paintings and installations she tries to penetrate to the shamanistic spiritual essence of their culture, and, instead of normal paints, she therefore uses local natural materials such as the pigments used by the Indians for their own decorations. I've only met with her twice; once we shared a campsite on an island in the middle of the Orinoco and another time we managed to greet each other as our boats passed somewhere on the Casiquiare. Yet I find myself thinking of her quite often, mainly because her traditional Indian guide is Elvis Largo, who has also been my frequent companion for many years. It seems as if he's almost obsessed with this American artist and explorer. In recounting their shared expeditions he doesn't even try to conceal his admiration for her, and when he really wants to make me angry, he spitefully says: "Anyways, she knows this place better than you!" And no list is complete, even though this one is most certainly omitting a number


of extraordinary women who've crisscrossed the Orinoco, its tributaries and the swampy region north of the Neblina Mountains, without my wife Radana, who has been exploring Amazonia regularly since 2005. She's photographed wildlife not only in the south in the little known area east of the Casiquiare, but has also undertaken two expeditions accompanied by Yekwana Indians to the similarly unexplored and virgin rainforests in the Maigualida Mountains.

Radana DungelovĂĄ in the company of young and semi−barbarous Giant Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) on the Cariche stream. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

101


The worst moments always come when the river completely disappears in the dark tunnel of the overgrowth. In such cases, we are inevitably faced with exhausting drudgery only to find out that we're not headed the right way ‌ (Photo: Radana Dungelovå)


As we drink our coffee at daybreak on July 1st, we're surprised by a troop of monos viudita. These black monkeys with white faces and hands belong to the Collared Titi species. They too make use of a vociferous call, but, instead of the "bird" whistling of the uakari, their voice resembles more the shriek of a spider monkey, which I'd often mistake them for at first. Yet their first encounter with people gave them such a fright that they hastily disappear in the tops of the surrounding trees. I try to pursue them holding the binoculars to my eyes, but give up after flopping into a muddy puddle for the second time. I also realize that in shuffling among the creepers and thorny thicket I've lost track of the direction back to camp. But this short rush of panic is quickly replaced by a blissful feeling of relief: I hear VladimĂ­r's voice far off. We're once again hard at work and as usual up to our waist or neck in water. The chainsaw, hatchet and machete are in constant employment; we've also learned how to drag the boat over the trunks of trees that have fallen right on the surface or under it. This saves us from a lot of otherwise desperate work with the chainsaw. Yet, despite our determined efforts, we move forward at a woefully slow pace. We still haven't found the message in the bottle that we'd hung on the tree at the farthest point we'd reached in 2005. It's very much possible that we're taking a completely different distributary of the river than two years ago, which is why I'm convinced that we've already gone further this time than on the past expeditions. Time passes faster than expected due to the constant toil, and so the oncoming dusk once again catches us off guard. Thankfully, Alejandro's aim was once again true and dinner is once again secured... When we finally discover a little island of firm land, we quickly hang our hammocks from the trees in the way we've learned. Though they hang close to each other, partially over the river, this dry

niche of privacy in the hammock is nothing short of a paradise and oasis of safety. It's quite remarkable, but we've managed to keep our spirits high despite our indescribably putrid state; the mud, the penetrating and omnipresent water, the intensifying personal odour, mouldy clothing and all. Not even feverish dreams full of dreaded hallucinations can interrupt our sleep, as was the case on previous journeys in this region. So my biggest concern continues to be our slow progress. We lost our way a number of times today, the river even occasionally disappeared, but Alejandro always guessed the right way. He deserves the utmost praise for this. In observing the water's surface, its shimmering in the daylight, the shape of its ripples on the surface, its current and direction, he can always tell which of the river's distributary is the right one for us. And when the water completely disappears from the surface of the Earth under the impenetrable wall of vegetation, he stands and stares into its depths, stretching his neck like a giraffe. At other times he crouches to flail before him the machete and hatchet, and later uses the chainsaw as well to force his way through to places we'd least expect. Yet sometimes the wall of branches, fallen trees and thicket is so hopeless that even Alejandro hesitates. It's only now that he starts to use the trial-and-error method, and later that evening when we're sitting around the fire and I check our progress that day on the GPS display, I marvel at the cluster of circles doggedly returning to the same point. Could we really have gotten so lost today? And yet we managed to cover another thirty kilometers southward. Under the light of our flashlights we study the satellite maps and try to determine our position. All indicators seem to show that we can't be more than some fifty kilometers north of the Neblina Mountains! But I'm unable to determine to what extent the wish is father to the thought, and secretly ask myself: is

Right: Some of the Baria branches are so shallow that we have no other choice but to step out of the boat and wade on behind it. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ) 104


there any real chance of extricating ourselves from this dark jungle maze and where the hell are we? The next morning the serious crisis "finally" appears: Vladimír is visibly upset by the lack of food. I try to somehow resolve the situation and take Elvis aside. Though it's true we don't have much, I'm used to eating what we hunt and what the jungle offers. I fully admit that our diet is lacking some basic foods and deeply underestimated the lack of "something sweet" that Vladimír hankers so much for. Nevertheless, a larger helping of spaghetti or rice shouldn't be a problem. Today's push forward increasingly resembles a ferocious battle with the obstacles: Someone today suggested on the boat that the Rio Baria should be renamed the Rio Madera, i.e. Wood River; in places it really does seem as if there are more tree trunks, branches and thorny thickets of all kinds in the river than water. In overcoming one of the obstacles, we discover just in time on a branch a short distance from the boat a large yellow caterpillar of the Megalopyge family. Though we still don't even have a name for this moth in Czech, the caterpillar's woolly skin full of poisonous bristles is a terror in the jungle. Radana can certainly vouch for this: In the jungle above the Huanchaca Meseta in Bolivia she accidentally brushed her shoulder against one. For the rest of the day she endured states of lassitude and a high temperature, her shoulder swelled up and the hundreds of red punctures became permanently inflamed. We calmly and quietly brush off any bees, wasps, ants, butterflies of beautiful colours and shapes, frogs of all sizes and spiders both hairy and bald that may have landed on each other's back and elsewhere. It's only when this visitation of aliens aboard our boat changes into a rain or torrential downpour of them does one (and sometimes all of us) jump around like a lunatic and violently and hysterically brush the culprits involved in the ambush over the side of the boat if possible. In extreme cases we simplify things by jumping into the river ourselves. The river's distributary narrows in places to merely two or three meters across and the treetops form a continuous vault overhead. It's virtually pitch-

The Baria river branches cut their way up north through the rainforest tunnel where the human aliens become targets to entire armies of numerous kinds of stinging insects and spiders. The dangerous caterpillar of a Megalopyge butterfly is one of the most feared creatures. Its poisonous bristles cause painful skin infection lasting several days accompanied by lethargy and nausea. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) Left: Not even the GPS will help us here. We're tormented by doubt and have to admit that we have no idea where we are. Each of us set out in different directions to find out which way we could possibly continue. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

107


black as we continue on the river; every now and then a ray of skittish sunlight shines through. Our mood is good, but we talk increasingly less and the traces of growing fatigue are evident on each of us. When at half past four in the afternoon we spot a decent spot on the bank, nobody protests and our motions are practically automatic in jumping to the muddy land and starting to clean away the

108

undergrowth for our campsite. For the fifth day running we are completely soaked; in this jungle steam room there's no chance that even an inch of our clothing remains dry. By this I don't just mean the slowly disintegrating shirts or pants we're wearing, but also the clothes protected in our bags. I go to bed wet, wake up wet and get dressed into wet things, as do the others...


In the evening we once again review the satellite shots. The GPS emphatically indicates that the

Maturacá has to appear tomorrow, most likely around the next bend in the river.

The Baria River floodplain is a labyrinth of hundreds, maybe thousands of branches, channels, and islands between them. The entire area is hidden in shadow under the rainforest roof – it is truly impossible to live here! (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

109


It gets ever more difficult to advance! We learned to pull the boat over large trees fallen in the water and so at least for now we manage to avoid the tedious drudgery with the chainsaw. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


All of a sudden, the rainforest opened up, the Baria branches joined in one and we saw the Neblina hills peeking out of the clouds one after another. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


Tuesday, July 3rd: Another wet morning, everything is so utterly wet! Only a morning swig of slivovice (plum liquor) could get me back on my feet. Sitting at the stern with Radana, we silently take in the captivating scenery that the morning sun penetrating the jungle conjures up before us. Its slanting rays diffuse colours through the misty half-light in exactly the same way that gothic windows do in a gloomy cathedral. I'd scarcely noticed that the river had become inconspicuously broader, and when Elvis stops the boat and Alejandro points to something or other in the dark off the starboard, I have no idea what's happening! It's nine-thirty in the morning; Alejandro keeps pointing excitedly and insists that right here is where the canal splits off into the jungle and links the Baria to the Maturacá. Geographically this makes no sense, as there has never been any mention of any connecting canal. But we all hope it's true – and why can't it be? No one can really know for certain. Not even the account of Redmond O'Hanlon's expedition, which also had to go through here, describes any canal. This discrepancy lingers in the back of my mind, but we're already taking celebratory swigs of rum from our tin cups, slapping each other on the

back, and I even spew a few words of wisdom into the camera for Vladimír. But my worries are justified even sooner than expected. The distributary narrows sharply after just a few hundred meters; in some places you can't even spread your arms. The embankments are suddenly three to four meters high here and once again it's almost pitch dark. The water is also nearly black and so shallow that we're forced to get out of the boat and wade. With Vladimír, Alejandro and Elvis dragging from the front, Radana and I push the boat from behind through the tunnel to the next turn that's so sharp that we first have to break down part of the bank with machetes for the boat to even fit through. We push forward with wary step, the water up to our knees; in some places it's treacherously deep, rising to our waists and even up to our necks. From time to time I glimpse a caiman's bulging eyes, but we're all used to them and I even consider them to be my friends. What really concerns me are the dangerous stingrays and great electric eels, of which there are clearly an abundance here. I'm also on the lookout for poisonous snakes, though I've yet to see any in the water's clear current. Indians have the utmost


respect not only for the stingrays and electric eels, but also for anacondas. That said, their stories of these snakes are evidently from the land of myths and legends. My frequent encounters with these reptiles have led me to the conviction that they are rather harmless creatures and move quite cumbersomely on land. Not even piranhas, despite their reputation, represent a serious threat and are delicious to eat... A little further on, the channel visibly swells fed by countless streamlets and rivulets in which the water flows from the heart of the jungle. We're having to make frequent stops to clear fallen trees; attempting to uproot some thicket, I lose hold of my machete which is irrecoverably devoured by the current. It's a shame, for now I'll have to keep borrowing someone's. And then, just as suddenly and without warning, the canal changes into a river with a strong current. We jump aboard the boat, Elvis starts the motor and we proceed onward relatively nimbly. The forest's natural vault overhead gradually thins and, with the motor at full throttle, we buzz upstream the river, which now has a breadth of ten to fifteen meters. It takes us by complete surprise and we're sure something's going to happen. A broad valley opens right before us and in the distance the massif of the Neblina Mountains rears up from the jungle along the entire horizon. A large bird of prey circles against the bluish mountains and wholly invites the feeling of the space's enormity and infiniteness that possesses me. This unexpected change takes me completely off guard, and I'm so enraptured with the cosmically beautiful scenery that I don't even try to curb my enthusiasm and relief that the jungle horrors of the previous days are most likely behind us! At least for the time

being... We marvel as more peaks gradually emerge from the jungle, while Elvis struggles to steer us in the current of what is now a truly swift mountain river. After a while, Elvis suddenly cuts the motor. Alejandro stands at the bow and points that this is the Maturacá that we're looking for, "...and twenty minutes upstream from here is the Campamento Charles," he adds. I'm absolutely sure that we're not on any Maturacá, but that the whole time we've been on the same Baria River that must rise in a canyon hemmed in by the mountains right in front of us. This is fully validated by the satellite pictures clearly showing the upper segment of the river and its source under the peak of Neblina. What's more, we know the exact coordinates of the former Brewer-Carías – FUDECI exploration camp (which Alejandro calls Campamento Charles), so our position cannot be doubted. I take comfort in the idea that, though Alejandro has somewhat muddled thinking at times, it doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't know where the Maturacá actually is! Maybe he really did navigate the river, but just knows it by another name... A wave of panic comes over me that we simply passed by the Maturacá since it could have been any of the distributaries in the labyrinth of the alluvial plain. The bifurcation would then be practically undiscoverable. This last unexpressed thought compels me to interrogate Alejandro in a slightly deceitful way. I don't confute his belief that we're on the Maturacá and have been for quite a while; I just ask him if he knows which way the river flows to Brazil. Alejandro bashfully looks around and then points to a nearby lagoon with stagnant water off our starboard. Its light tea colouring and perfectly smooth surface imply that not only is there no current, but that the water is

Left: Possible attacks of the ubiquitous Pearl Stingray (Potamotrygon sp.) cause us a great deal of worry. Although they do not attack humans directly they are almost invisible in the river−bed and there is always a risk that one of us would step on this chondrichtian. Being stung by it without access to medical help could have serious consequences. (Photo: Jan Dungel) Alejandro and Elvis are more scared of the giant anacondas and are able to tell many stories about their insidious nature. Radana managed to take a picture of this stately – nearly 16 feet long – Giant Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) on the river bank. (following two−page spread). 115


At first, it didn't occur to us at all to look for the Maturacá River behind this vast barrier of silty branches and trunks, and yet it turned out that the seemingly still water flows back into the rainforest right here. Later on we also found out that this part of the river forms one of the largest branches draining water from Baria to the Amazon River system and is clearly visible on a satellite photo on Google Earth. (Photo: Jan Dungel) Right: Despite its shallowness, the flow of the Maturacá is distinctly perceptible in the deep forest. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

very shallow. It all seems fishy to me! What's more, Alejandro proposes to take us to Campamento Charles, while he and Elvis search for the Maturacá, and once they find it they'd come back and get us. I'm adamantly opposed to this, as are Radana and Vladimír – there's no way we're going to miss that! Later that day we discovered the following: about a half-hour journey down from the former FUDECI base the Baria veers northeast (from where we had

118

originally set out), while to the north of the river a lagoon splits off that is some 500 meters long. The lagoon is narrow at first but gets much wider. At its end, marked off by an inaccessible wall of jungle growth, we discover a massive yet unsteady barrier of trunks and branches of fallen trees. The sight of an abundance of light wood stripped of its bark in the middle of the bright green surrounding vegetation and the dark surface of the water was really unusual,


and tons of drift wood caught by the jungle wall floats on an area I estimate to be 30 x 60 meters. That must have been quite a waterspout that was able to cram all those trees and branches here. It never occurred to me that a river's current could continue beyond this natural obstacle – and I'd never seen any instance of it. Yet Alejandro steadfastly insists that it was through here that he got to Brazil. Eventually the two of us are able to get past this natural obstacle after getting out of the boat into the water. Alejandro, however, refuses to go any further, so I alone enter a dark tunnel under a heap of trees bordered by a high growth of bamboo. It's clearly apparent from the place that I descended to that water that flowed from the lagoon was in places only a few decimeters deep and maybe a meter and a half wide, and was joined roughly fifty meters further down by two streamlets flowing from the lagoon above me. Vladimír joins me at this point as

120

does Radana a little later. Vladimír then returns to the boat, while Radana and I continue walking another hundred meters or so down the stream, but the situation remains unchanged. The GPS shows that some 7.5 kilometers from here is the border of Brazil, and so if we really are on the Maturacá River, and Alejandro won't allow otherwise, it could be another ten kilometers to the Hua rapids as the crow flies. It's clear from the satellite picture and map that beneath the rapids on the Brazilian side the Maturacá quickly changes into a "normal" river running through the territory of the Yanomamo Indians. I consider this information and Alejandro's insistence that this very lagoon had taken him all the way to the Brazilian Yanomamo at the Maturacá mission site, and assess it in light of the latest GPS data and satellite photograph that displays our current location. We also already know that the multiple effluents from the lagoon westward into the jungle constitute its


natural continuation, so I reason that this "lagoon" can in fact be considered part of the Maturacá River. It's not visible on the satellite picture under the cover of the dense jungle, but we now know it from our own observations. The same picture also suggests that the perfect splitting of the flood plains of the Maturacá and Baria Rivers occurs some four kilometers to the west of here. But then, due to the natural character of the flood plain and depending on the level of precipitation, it is almost certain that the Maturacá splits again over the course of this four kilometer segment with some of its lesser distributaries possibly returning to the Baria's waters north of here. However, the separation of the "lagoon" from the Baria is incomparably the largest and undoubtedly the biggest canal that carries water from the Baria to the Amazon River. We can therefore positively call this shallow, stagnant and seemingly dead-end lagoon the beginning of the Maturacá natural canal, and the place where the

Baria separates from the lagoon can be considered the elusive bifurcation. The initial segment of the Maturacá and its bifurcation are sufficiently wide in these places; the branches of the surrounding trees don't conceal the water and, to our surprise, it's therefore easy to recognize in the satellite picture. It's an amazing discovery – everything seems so simple to us now! The giddiness we now feel is hard to describe and can perhaps best be expressed as the euphoria of discovery. Vladimír again takes a precise reading of our position with the GPS; we're most likely the first people to map and photographically document this geographic phenomenon. Radana is undoubtedly the first woman of European origin, and in all probability the first woman of any origin to venture into these parts. The exact coordinates of this bifurcation are 0° 50´ 29´´north latitude and 66° 11´ 05´´ west longitude.

This is an assembly of several photos and is the historically first photo−documentation of the Baria River bifurcation. From the reader's point of view, it captures the main course of the river running down− stream continuing north and enclosing a small island (right part of the photo). A branch of the Maturaca River splits from the Baria on the left. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

121


Appendix VI

Bifurcation The Amazonian rainforests in southern Venezuela feature a geographic curiosity called a bifurcation. This name can be traced back to the famous expedition of the “equatorial regions of the New Continent” undertaken in 1800 by Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland, who first devoted professional interest to the bifurcation of the Orinoco. The dictionary defines bifurcation as the division of the river into two parts or branches, in our case of the Orinoco and Baria rivers, for Amazonia has two ready examples of this oddity. After its bifurcation, i.e. the breaking away of the Brazo Casiquaire canal, the Orinoco River continues on its route to the ocean, but the Casiquiare turns to the southwest where it empties into the Rio Negro. So two rivers

BRAZIL Pico da Neblina 2 944 m

Canon Grande

Baria Maturacá flood plain

Brewer-Carías and FUDECI base camp

VENEZUELA bifurcation of Rio Baria 0°50'29'' S 66°11'05'' Z

Ba

ria

flo

od

pla

in

Ba ria

North 10 km

A modified satellite photo (viewed from the north) in the Google Earth program shows clearly how the Baria River originating in Canon Grande (up left) completely disappears under the impenetrable roof of the rainforest after reaching its floodplain. It emerges from its vegetative shelter about 9 miles up north although it "disappears" again. Except for the 500−yard section right after the bifurcation of the Maturacá River, the passage is not visible in the shot at all. 122


67°

66° Orinoco river basin

Rio Baria bifurcation Brewer-Carías and FUDECI base camp

Amazon river basin

100 km

Equator

0° Expedition route

67°

66°


hundreds of kilometers apart from each other end up converging. Yet the waters of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers are joined by another, smaller and less known bifurcation of the Baria River in the extreme south of Venezuela. Much of the Baria’s water is led away by the Maturacá canal which is already part of the Amazon’s basin, while the water flowing down the Baria River to the north eventually merges with the waters of the aforementioned Casiquiare (which, as previously stated, flows out of the Orinoco River). Both bifurcations are for the Amazonian rainforest ecosystem of the utmost significance: the merging of the waters of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers creates the most extensive river system on Earth with an area of 8 million square kilometers that drains an entire one third of the South American continent and on which a virtually homogenous ecosystem of unchanging green tropical rainforest prevails.

Redmond O'Hanlon (1947), a British writer and traveler who lead a 1987 expedition to the Neblina Mountains. He tried to find the place where the natural channel Maturacá splits off from Baria (bifurcation) in the marshy floodplain of the Baria River. He gave an account of his adventurous travels in his book In Trouble Again (1988). Right: A photo from the right bank shows that the Casiquiare is a fairly small river at its splitting from the Orinoco river. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

History Although von Humboldt had already found out from the Indians about the merging of the Orinoco and Amazon waters via the Maturacá canal, the coordinates of this smaller bifurcation were first measured by the Czech− Venezuelan expedition in 2007 as recounted in this book. On the other hand, the discovery of the Orinoco's bifurcation represents the turbulent past of the entire region going back to the 17th century. At the time, virtually nothing was known about the merging of the Orinoco's and Amazon's waters, and for many years after, the existence of the Orinoco's bifurcation was held in doubt (by, among others, Father Samuel Fritz, born north of Prague and the author of a splendid and, for its times, extremely accurate map of the Amazon River from 1691). Perhaps the first to provide credible testimony of the existence of the Orinoco bifurcation was the Jesuit missionary Cristóbal de Acuna in 1639. The distinguished cartographer Guillaume De l'Isle (1675−1726) was then the first to draw the bifurcation on maps, but by the end of his life he'd changed his mind and "retracted" the Orinoco's bifurcation. After 1737, however, Portuguese ships penetrated further up the Rio Negro to the north and inevitably also to the Casiquiare, about whose existence, however, those aboard the ships hadn't the slightest idea. Ironically, when Father José Gumilla (1686−1750) sent to Europe the letter in which he assured the respected professional public of the absolute separation of the Orinoco waters from the Amazon's, his letter travelled from the Orinoco southward on the Casiquiare canal. When in 1743 the Frenchman Charles Marie de La Condamine culminated his years of living in South America with a legendary expedition up the Amazon, he encountered with increased frequency people referring to the connection of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. And before La Condamine managed to return to Europe, another expedition made by Father Manuel Roman proved beyond a doubt the existence of the Casiquiare as a natural canal connecting both waters. Baron von Humboldt writes about this event: Father Roman, the highest superior of the Spanish missions and close friend of Father Gumilla, decided to attempt a courageous act and, after navigating the “Great Rapids" and without the accompaniment of Spanish soldiers, he visited Guipunaves. On February 4, 1744 he set out from Carichana and reached the confluence of the Guabiare, Atabapo and

124


Orinoco rivers, the latter of whose current abruptly changes from east-west to south-north. From afar he spotted a canoe the same size of his own occupied by men wearing European-type clothing. He immediately raised a wooden cross at the bow as a symbol of peaceful intentions, as was the custom among missionaries navigating the waters in unknown regions. The white men, Portuguese slave traders from the Rio Negro, immediately recognised with relief the customary procedures of the order of St Ignatius. They were astonished to learn that the river on which the encounter took place was the Orinoco... The history of discovering the smaller bifurcation of the Baria River is much more modest mainly due to its inaccessibility in the middle of the vast and unpeopled rainforests. But Von Humboldt knew as far back as 1800 that the Casiquiare canal's linking of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers was not the only one. For he mentions a connection between the Baria and Cababuri rivers (Cauaburi), which he learned of talking with Indians, "who provided us at the San Francisco Solano mission with the most detailed description of its course..." At least that's how he describes it in his work Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent. Despite the "detailed" description, von Humboldt certainly had no way of knowing the full truth. For one thing, he was convinced that there were more such connections of the Orinoco and Amazon waters. Only later was it confirmed beyond all doubt that the only other permanent link between the two rivers is the

Maturacá. To be on the safe side, I emphasize that this concerns a "permanent link"; hunters and the local Indians have repeatedly assured me that the Casiquiare and Guiania rivers are connected in multiple places during the rainy season. However, my own experience leads me to the conviction that this is very improbable. Just eighty years after von Humboldt convinced himself from first−hand experience of the merging of the Rio Negro and Orinoco rivers, members of the Brazilian Border Commission Dionýsio Evangelista de Castro Cerqueira and José Jardim y Erman Stradelli along with their Indian accompaniment actually made their way from the Cauaburi to the Maturacá River, and later upstream all the way to the Baria River that then flows "the other way" northward. Without devoting greater attention to it, these men discovered the second Amazon bifurcation – the Baria−Maturacá bifurcation. The tragic yet successful attempt to navigate the Baria and Maturacá by the brothers Adan and José Quinón with accompaniment in 1933 is known from literature. Italian explorer Ettore Bioca probably made it in the 1950s, and in 1970 the Venezuelan Border Commission also attempted this unsuccessfully, but none of the previous explorers measured the position of the bifurcation. The last expedition that set out to rediscover the place that the Maturacá separates from the Baria was led by the Brit Redmond O'Hanlon in the 1980s. But they gave up after an unsuccessful attempt and becoming lost in the labyrinth of swamps beneath the Macizo de la Neblina Mountains. O'Hanlon wasn't even helped


I painted the Paradise Tanagers (Tangara chilensis) at the foot of Neblina where a flock of them was flying in a Cecropia tree−top. I also observed a pair of Channel−billed Toucans (Ramphastos vitellinus, right) on the same tree.


by the fact that in organizing the expedition to Neblina he was assisted by Charles Brewer−Carías, a now legendary explorer of unchartered territory on the map of Venezuela. Brewer−Carías was a part of just about every major expedition to the most remote corners of Venezuela and to the tops of plateau mountains over the past forty years. His advice and practical assistance was most likely invaluable as O'Hanlon managed to reach the Neblina Mountains by water. Shortly before that, Brewer−Carías himself, along with Uwe George, author of the now classic book on the Venezuelan tepuyes Inseln in der Zeit (Islands of Time), had attempted the same expedition. And even though it can be said with absolute certainty that nobody else knew better than Charles Brewer− Carías the conditions in the Neblina Mountains and

the situation northward from there in the area of the Pacimoni and Baria rivers, even he did not succeed. He wrote to me about it in an e-mail: Your adventure on the Maturacá sounds fascinating. We were unable to reach the base camp. My expedition set out on the Pacimoni in 1987 and Uwe George from GEO magazine was with me. We eventually got lost...! The photo (bifurcation of the Maturacá) that you sent me is a real mystery. I'm checking these coordinates on Google to find out where you actually were. Yes, you are the only ones I know of that found your way out of that maze, though maybe Jorge Pantchenko from the Border Commission took the same route in 1970. They got lost too, but 15 days after leaving the Pacimoni they wound up on the Maturacá...

127


The Julia Butterfly (Dryas julia) of the Heliconniinae subfamily is one of the most frequent rainforest butterflies (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


That what keeps me coming back to the tropics of South America is the chance to paint wildlife in its natural environment, to be in close proximity to the animals. It's often a great adventure and I can say without exaggeration that several times I've found myself in a situation in which I felt that death was close by. The search for the Maturacá is undoubtedly a great adventure, but at least for me it's just a by-product of my primary interest. Yet, with today's rush of explorer euphoria and pride that has hit us all, we all want to keep going all the way to the Hua rapids. The Maturacá's water level is, however, woefully low, so this simply is not possible. In the end, after weighing all our options, we decide to put off our departure for a few days. We haven't been harassed by a hard rain for some time now, and the fact that there hasn't been any rain here in the Neblina region is very unusual and completely unexpected. Nevertheless, Neblina's ridge is hidden by dark and heavy clouds, and if it rains during the night or tomorrow the level of the surrounding rivers would immediately rise by a meter or two. Our hope to proceed further therefore seems completely realistic. For the time being Elvis navigates our boat up the Baria where we hope to find the former FUDECI base. Thanks to GPS and the known coordinates, it's even easier than we’d hoped. Old photographs show the research station originally consisting of several oblong wooden barracks. Twenty years later nothing remains except for the remains of rusty corrugated sheet metal and a few barrels scattered among the trees bearing the still legible FUDECI. A certain weightlessness comes over me as I walk slowly through the silent forest among the remnants of distant human presence. These traces seem so strange here, almost like the first footprints of man on the Moon. It’s also odd that

there remains a preserved heliport clearing that, god knows why, the jungle has spared. Before anything else we set up our camp and hang our hammocks. Only then, still before sunset, do we set out upstream and anchor in an inlet by a rocky embankment right under Neblina’s highest peak. In contrast to the vast flood plain that the river runs through to the north, the Baria has a strong montane character here. The rocky bottom is very shallow; rapids dominate the river and we often have to jump in and push the boat between the boulders in the strong current. Soon after climbing onto the bank I spot beautiful northern Spangled Cotingas in a tree over the water. I mention this mainly because I’d never seen this these birds before now. nly because I'd never seen this birds before now. I toss and turn in my hammock and can't sleep after our day full of excitement and unexpected twists. Here, deep in the jungle, it's as if I'm closer to the cosmos than to remote human civilization, and I feel hopelessly insignificant in the middle of an unrecognizable and infinite space. I can't stop thinking of the British expedition that came through here twenty years ago. How could that expedition get so lost here that after several days of searching they came upon their own tracks? O'Hanlon writes: The dugout came to a standstill. I looked up. Cullimacaré had run the boat into the bank. Chimo was resting on his punt pole, staring head. Simon suddenly clasped his arms to his head and bowed his body right forward between his knees. "Oh god, Oh god", he said begging to rock himself back and forth, "dear god". We had come out into another channel. But there were axe marks everywhere. It had been cleared. The vegetation had been cleared right down the

Right: I first saw the turquoise colored Spangled Cotingas (Cotinga cayana) in tree branches on the Baria river bank right under the highest peak of Neblina.

130


stream. Someone had come here before us. We had been forestalled. It was all too late. I felt cold down my back, dull and blank in the head, weary, old. "Who is it?" I said. " Who is it?" repeated Simon with a strangled chuckle. "Who is it? It is us, you idiot. We did it." A little way down to the left I recognized the bole of a big red hardwood. "It's all right," I said, "we've just come in a circle. We'll back and try again." Simon flung himself back against the tarpaulin. "We're lost," he said, pounding his pack with his fist, "it'll take months. We are lost." It was obviously a feeling of futility, physical strain and a lack of food that psychically undermined them until they finally gave up. In fact, they most likely reached the Maturacá; it's just that twenty years ago they didn't have GPS or, imperfect though they are, satellite pictures, like we have now. Just as we did at first, they probably thought that the shallow lagoon leading off the left bank of the Baria was a dead-end, prompting them to search for the Maturacá elsewhere. But who really knows what the situation was like twenty years ago. Perhaps everything was completely different... My agitated mind keeps churning out thoughts: I'm aware that in the forest flood plain that we'd passed through over the past few days the Baria flows into dozens and possibly even hundreds of distributaries and canals that separate the hundreds of little swampy islands among them. Moreover, it's likely that the current of water boosted by the endless rain over Neblina each year forges more and more routes, and thus creates a kind of impenetrable inland delta that is in constant flux. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that this part of Venezuelan Amazonia was never settled by people and is still one of the most

desolate places of all of the Amazonian lowlands. The rain again held off during the night so we spent the entire day in relaxed mode at a bend in the river, the same place as yesterday, in the presence of Pico da Neblina's silent grandeur. Bathing in this cold, rapidly flowing water is undoubtedly a unique privilege in this situation; we all take full advantage of it. About a hundred meters upstream rises the massive crown of a cecropia tree, perhaps the largest I've seen in my life. I've set a net in the thicket beneath it to catch small birds. But now I raise the binoculars and watch in fascination a flock of some thirty Paradise Tanagers. I'm overwhelmed by this latest completely new sighting! Toucans fly around me, as do the striking Spangled Cotingas which have appeared frequently since yesterday. Less exceptional, but also a powerful experience, are the annoying swarms of bees that seem to have gone mad and refuse to leave us, our clothes or our belongings alone for the slightest moment. Vladimír is engaged in his filming and seems content. We dry everything in the blazing sun, including our drenched money – a pretty funny sight. To my disappointment, I haven't caught anything in my net. On Thursday, July 5th it's stifling hot from the early in the morning. The mountains are nearly constantly covered by passing clouds, but not a hint of the longed-for rain. We trudge through the jungle to the foot of the mountain; we intend to climb as high as we can and, from above, get a good look of the landscape that remains in many ways concealed from us here below. But Alejandro is lost and clearly doesn't know which way to go. My steps get heavier from the fatigue of recent days; the oppressive heat, humidity and monotonous backdrop of the jungle's undergrowth are most likely the cause of a perceptible physical and mental decline. I feel as if I'm in

Left: Radana looks at the torso of a once−luxurious scientific camp "Campamento base", the destination of many researchers from Venezuela and the United States of America in the 1980s. Twenty years later we only found the remains of rusty barrels and corrugated metal. Due to its location at the bottom of Neblina, it became a perfect place for building our own field camp. (Photo: Jan Dungel) 133


a transparent bottle, or aquarium if you will, suffocating from an absolute lack of deeper contact with my surroundings. Not even the frequent wading through stagnant reeking water in the gullies of the hilly terrain can revive me. After a few hours we give up and all seem relieved with the decision to go back. Still it was a pleasant and interesting walk,

134

despite not seeing anything out of the ordinary. Later that afternoon we can't resist taking a trip downstream to the MaturacĂĄ's outlet, and VladimĂ­r and I take another GPS control measurement. We spend the rest of the time observing animals on the banks of the river with Radana and VladimĂ­r taking photographs and footage.


We always managed to see the panorama of Neblina only for a few moments. From the reader's point of view (north) the highest peak Pico da Neblina inconspicuously crouches on the right center over the Baria River bank. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)

135


Appendix VII

Neblina The mysterious Macizo de la Neblina mountains in the heart of the jungle, as the Indians themselves call this area, lie directly on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. The highest peak, Pico da Neblina (2 994 m), is the Mount Everest of Amazonia – the highest mountain not only of the Guyana Highlands, but also in all of Brazil (and east of Andes). It wasn't always like that. Not long ago, this peak and another two highest neighbouring peaks were located on Venezuelan territory. A precise measurement of the divide in the 1970s, however, resulted in the border being set differently and, curiously enough, both countries had no problem accepting this decision. Europeans first laid their eyes on the Neblina Mountains in 1853, when British botanist Richard Spruce spied them on the horizon in the mist. It was also Spruce who first made his way to the Baria and Yatua rivers north of the Neblina mountains where, among other things, he discovered an important point of orientation, the Catipan rock. So although people knew about the Neblina mountains in the 19th century, it took another hundred years for the first people to actually get there. This happened in 1954 and the bold explorers who succeeded were American botanists Basset Maguire and John Wurdack, later joined by Kathleen de Phelps and her husband, ornithologist William H Phelps, Jr. It should be pointed out that they chose the way via the Yatua River and not the Baria as described in this book. Ornithologist and wildlife painter Kathleen de Phelps, who took part in several courageous expeditions to remote corners of Venezuelan Amazonia at that time, wrote in the introduction to the publication of her diary from the trip to the Neblina Mountains: A few years before we undertook this expedition, my husband Billy was looking at a photograph that American pilots had taken in southern Venezuela. An enormous mountain could be seen among the endless clouds. Billy immediately enticed me into going; he decided to explore it regardless of the obstacles. In the name of the Phelps Collection he considered it his obligation to conquer this monument and study the local avifauna. Over the course of the expedition we amassed a total of 422 samples of birds of 56 species, including nine birds that

Macizo de la Neblina and its two highest peaks Pico da Neblina (9 823 feet) and Pico Cardona on the distant horizon as captured from the Cahipan Rock over the Yatua river by Spruce. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

136


science never even knew existed. Many people still don't know that the Cerro Neblina (Jimé) is the highest mountain in South America east of the Andes and reaches a height of 3,014 m. I'm very proud to have been able to take part in this expedition, though I do accompany my husband on all his journeys. We were always among the first to ascend the peaks of nearly all the "tepuis". The Cerro de la Neblina is today very well known since the FUDECI (Foundation for the Development of the Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences) expedition managed to acquire many distinguished scientists from all over the world who discovered here a wealth of new findings even though many remain concealed. The difference between our little expedition that we undertook thirty years ago and the aforementioned one is simple: helicopters, electricity, cooks, baths and other creature comforts − in other words, the Neblina Hilton. This doesn't mean, however, that scientists didn't face any problems during their research. Achieving goals is always extremely difficult regardless of the environment... As Kathleen de Phelp's introduction to her diary implies, one of the remotest areas of the Amazonia attracted both the professional and lay public. In 1970 the Expedición Mixta de Límites led by the Georges Pantchenko and Dielarmando de Moraes Mendes reached Neblina by helicopter from the Brazilian side. Among the members of the expedition were venezuelan explorer Charles Brewer-Carías and the botanists Julian A. Steyermark and G. C. K. Dunsterville. Between 1983 and 1987 an avalanche of explorers rolled in as part of the Brewer-Carías and FUDECI super expedition. During that period mainly Venezuelan and North American naturalists were flown in by helicopter to the research base built at the foot of the mountains. One hundred and

Richard Spruce (1817–1893), a British botanist who spent 15 years in South America, namely in the Amazon. In 1853 he ventured as far as the Yatua and Baria rivers. He was the first European to see the Macizo de la Neblina mountains.

137


forty-four naturalists alternated there. In charge of organizing the expedition was also Dr. Francisco Carillo Batalla, the then president of FUDECI, who also provided significant support to the first expedition of the Moravian Museum to Venezuelan Amazonia. But the leading figure of this massive project was Charles Brewer-Carías, who was and still is the most prominent pioneer of unexplored corners of Venezuela. In recent years he has worked with Czech and Slovak speleologists in exploring the underground labyrinths of Chimantá plateau mountains (Churí tepui) where they've already made several major discoveries. Charles Brewer-Carías and Marek Audy describe their adventurous explorations in the absorbing book full of beautiful photographs (Entranas del Mundo Perdido (editor Ch. Brewer-Carías, Caracas 2010). In all likelihood the second woman of European origin to make her way by land from the north to the Neblina Mountains did so in 2007, but in contrast to Kathleen de Phelps, Czech Radana Dungelová took the Baria River. The key words here are "from the north," since the Neblina is today accessible to tourists from the Brazilian side thanks to the trails made by illegal gold prospectors. You can even find several operators advertising such trips on the Internet.

Charles Brewer-Carías participated in over two hundred expeditions into the heart of the Venezuelan Amazon Rainforest and until today he is the most prominent explorer of unknown regions of Venezuela. In 1983−1987 he supervised an extensive scientific project documenting the hitherto unexplored Macizo de la Neblina Mountains. Right: This is one of the first photos to capture the highest twin peaks taken during the Neblina expedition. A newly discovered species of an endemic plant Neblinaria celiae from the tea−plant subfamily is in the forefront. (Photo: Charles Brewer-Carías) Following two−page spread: The “Base Camp” on the left bank of the Rio Baria (Charles Brewer− Carías and FUDECI expeditions 1983–1987). (Photo: Charles Brewer−Carías)

138


W 66o45‘ 00‘‘

W 66o 30‘ 00‘‘

N 01o 15‘ 00‘‘ Satelite view (Adapted from Charles Brewer−Carías archive) Following two−page spread: Although we spent several days under the highest peak of the mysterious Neblina, we only managed a few glimpses at it as it kept hiding in the clouds over the Baria River. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

V aria Rio B

N 01o 00‘ 00‘‘

R

io

N

eg

ro

BR A ZlL N 00o 5‘ 00‘‘

W 66o 45‘ 00‘‘

W 66o 30‘ 00‘‘


W 66o 00‘ 00‘‘

W 66o15‘ 00‘‘

W 59o 45‘ 00‘‘

C e rro A ra c a mu n i + 1 600

Rio Yatua

N 01o 15‘ 00‘‘ Avispa +2 11 2

ENE Z U E LA Rio Ya tua

N 01o 00‘ 00‘‘ Ri o Ba ri a

Bifurcation N 00o 50‘ 29‘‘ W 66o 11‘ 05‘‘

Macizo de la Neblina

Rio B aria Base Cam p ( 1983–1987)

Pico d a N e b l i n a

+2 9 9 4

N 00o 5‘ 00‘‘

M at u ra

B

W 66o 5‘ 00‘‘

W 66o 0‘ 00‘‘

R

A

Z

lL

W 65o 45‘ 00‘‘


Catipan Looking south from the Catipan Rock over the Yatua river you can see the monumental panorama of three mesas. The photo captures the Aracamuni edge running along the horizon. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


On his expedition down the Brazo Casiquiare in 1800, Alexander von Humboldt never reached the Yatua River, so the first mention of the Catipan rock doesn't occur until botanist and explorer Richard Spruce writes about it. He discovered it in 1853 on the right bank of the Yatua and named it, simply enough, Cerrito (rock). But it's not entirely clear to me how he managed to find it, for despite its vastness, the rock is hidden by a wall of trees and cannot be seen from the river. My guess is that he was accompanied by Indians, as was my case four years ago when I "discovered" the rock. These Indians had probably previously come across such places on their hunting trips. Another thing is that I'm not completely sold on the correctness of the rock's name. Spruce named it Cerrito, but the Indians living on the Csiquiare know it as Catipan. The measurement that we took in 2007 specified the rock's position as 10째 30' 97'' north latitude and 66째 24' 91'' west longitude. If the conditions are favourable, from Catipan you can see in the distance on the southern horizon at least three chains of plateau mountains: Macizo de la Neblina, Avispa and Aracamuni further eastward. The highest peak Pico da Neblina (2 994 m) is roughly 85 kilometers from here as the crow flies. Catipan rock is in fact made up of several round granite formations nested into the surrounding jungle that are another example of a landscape feature typical for the river basin of the upper Orinoco and adjacent areas of the Rio Negro.


Besieged by the plateau mountains The painting captures Salto Angel, the longest waterfall in the world where water falls down from the Auyan mesa over 3,000 feet high. The brightly colored cotinga Cock−of−the−rock (Rupicola rupicola) builds its nests at the bottom of the cliffs.


I once heard a pilot declare that La Culebra is the most beautiful place in Venezuelan Amazonia and I realized it wasn't the first time I'd heard this. I couldn't resist and during one trip on the Orinoco I turned off on the Cunucunuma river and travelled northward upstream to this place, which I later found out to be a village of the Yekwana Indians and the extensive savannah right beyond it. Just a few kilometers into the journey we were pleasantly surprised by an impressive panoramic view of the Huachamacare tepui (tepui – plateau mountain). The river is full of boulders here and at times we're forced to drag our boat over the rapids. By Picure island we even have to role the boat on cylindrical poles up past the rocks. But the fruits of our labour surpass all expectations. After anchoring the next day beneath the Indian community and walking through the dark tunnel of vegetation, the jungle unexpectedly opens up completely and the sight suddenly offered will never be forgotten. The savannah is hemmed in by the jungle as though besieged by the plateau mountains – Huachamacare is descending on us from behind and one feels the need to jump out of the way in an act of self−preservation, but there's no place to go! Right next to it a ridge of mountains, dominated by the Marahuaca tepui, attacks us. And before recovery is possible, I'm floored by the massive Cerro Duida that occupies the entire horizon in front of us... "That's another Canaima!" I gasp. I just couldn't resist making that comparison as my feelings during my first visit to

the Gran Sabana plateau mountains were just as overwhelming and I remember feeling convinced at the time that nothing so beautiful could possibly exist. The jungles of the upper Orinoco conceal the most secretive and least accessible plateau mountains of the Guyana Highlands. Mankind still has yet to walk atop them, which in today's age when virtually anything is possible, is all the stranger. So while the most well−known plateau mountains of Roraima, Auyan and others in Gran Sabana buckle beneath the onslaught of tourists, these rainforest islands of time still dream the geological dream of the Gondwana supercontinent. Yet all the plateau mountains have one thing in common. The land on which they are found is of breath−taking beauty. In taking in their vertical walls stretching to the clouds, one can easily yield to the amazing awareness of being part of something ancient, an awareness that previously lay dormant at the bottom of the soul and erupts. Perhaps it is the Gondwana itself in us. The plateau mountains were in past geological times part of the massive Roraima sandstone formation that overlapped the igneous rock of the Guyana Highlands. We can find its remnants from the Gondwana ages, when South America and Africa created a single continent, as far away as western equatorial Africa. The plateau mountains themselves consist of the eroded remains of the original Roraima formation and can generally be described as isolated mountains

The Huachamacare tepui (1700 m) overlooking the rapids of the Cunucunuma river, the right−bank tributary of the Orinoco. (Photo: Jan Dungel)


Rugged cliffs of the rainforest tepui Cerro Duida (2 232 m) are a dominant feature on the horizon over the La Culebra settlement. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

topped by an upper tableland. This runs via an escarpment made of sandstone and quartzite to the base consisting of stony debris, usually overgrown in dense jungle. Geologists think that, after emerging from the Archean ocean waters, the original sandstone layer was not subject to any revolutionary transformation and never again covered by the sea, glaciated or deformed by folding. Thus they are geological islands on the Earth's surface on which life had evolved uninterruptedly from the age when it emerged from the sea onto land, some 400 million years ago. Most of the plateau mountains reach heights of over a thousand meters, but the highest of them, the Pico da Neblina on the Venezuelan− Brazilian border, rises to 2,994 m. In addition to Neblina, Venezuelan Amazonia features a number of

plateau mountains of various heights such as: Autana (1,208 m), Yapacana (1,344 m), Aracamuni (1,600 m), Huachamacare (1,700 m), Avispa (2,112 m), Duida (2,232 m) and Marahuaca (2,890 m). The rainforest plateau mountains also represent an extremely interesting phenomenon for biologists. The isolated upper plateaus with their unique natural conditions have provided a number of opportunities to preserve forms of life that do not appear elsewhere. Exploration of the most well−known of these, especially Neblina in the 1980s, bears witness to this. Scientists feel that further surprises await us in this regard, though this concerns mainly lower life−forms and plants. So far, the only vertebrates discovered have been endemic species (that live nowhere else), mainly amphibians and, surprisingly, even some endemic species of birds.

151


Roraima is one of the most famous mesas of Gran Sabana. It is the highest mesa in the region (9 219 feet) although the upper plain is easily accessible and the first record of its conquest comes from 1884 when Englishmen Everard Im Thurm and Harry Perkins managed to climb it. Marek Audy and Zoltán Ágh, Czech and Slovak speleologists discovered the largest quartzite caves in the world on its top in 2002. (Photo: Miroslav Šebela)

152


As the self−timer snapped we got a photo of our whole group under the Neblina as a souvenir − and so we head back north. (Photo: Vladimír Šimek)


Today is July 6th. It hasn't rained now for three days, so continuing our journey to the Hua rapids is entirely out of the question. On top of that, Alejandro and Elvis express their concerns regarding the Baria's diminishing depth. This is clearly happening and if the water level begins to drop at a faster pace it could really complicate our return trip. There is a real threat that we'll be stranded in the jungle for days, if not weeks. Our friends' faces can't conceal how the mere idea of having to stay in the Mawari kingdom appals them. Offering therefore little in the way of dissent, we follow our breakfast and our last cup of coffee with a quick job packing, and set out without further lingering. The Indians radiate with joy and satisfaction, having obviously felt out of their element here. My left foot is bothering me: the fungus-infested place between my toes and on my heel burns like hell and the first open cracks appear. The Neblina we leave in our wake is symbolically compassionate, and at one turn in the river, not far from the bifurcation, it reveals a panoramic view of its entire ridge from east to west with all major peaks. The mountain slopes are, up to their highest parts, overgrown with dense jungle and the entire region suddenly appears desolate and unfamiliar. This dismal feeling amplifies the absolute silence, not a peep from a bird is heard. Only with the arrival of the first wasps, who immediately appear right after we anchor off a sandy meander, does a refreshing gust of reality come. We bid farewell to the view of the landscape flooded with the morning sun, and take photographs of ourselves and of the mountains, over which dark and heavy clouds are once again gathering. I have to own up to a pent-up feeling of animosity as we re-enter the dark tunnel through which the river passes northward from the bifurcation into the jungle. What's more, to our unpleasant surprise, it soon appears that the trip back is going to be just as exhausting as the journey here. Only here do I really understand Alejandro's concerns and offer him a silent apology: I tend to underestimate his

views and warnings on account of his superstitions. The river's level has, in fact, dropped by an entire meter, maybe more. There's nothing left for us to do but once again saw, cut and drag the boat every few meters over more and more fallen trees that were originally submerged beneath the surface. We're frequently forced to swim behind the boat in waters where electric eels wallow about. Due to the presence of snakes and of the unknown that only our wildest imagination expects is lurking beneath the surface, we still have all our clothes and boots on, and consequently we're once again going to be completely soaked for a long time. Small bees fly straight into our red and sore eyes, and whole swarms accumulate on our elbows and at other places on our shirts, greedily sucking up our sweat. We no longer have the strength to keep brushing them away and soon there's a swarm of hundreds of buzzing creatures on both my elbows. And once again whole clouds of stinging ants and spiders rain down on us from the branches above. Alejandro says we only need to look out for the red ones; the others won't hurt us. Despite a temporary fit of depression, the jungle is mystically entrancing and feels in these remote areas like a forbidden and unknown empire on thousands of islands. We've learned from the experience of our previous journey, and move along appreciably faster than at the start of our expedition. We pass by one our previous campsites in the afternoon and before evening falls we've managed to find another piece of firm ground that we clear away with machetes, hanging our hammocks between trees. The dreaded humidity penetrates into my bed deep into the night; despite the unwelcome bath in my own sweat, I feel relaxed and safe. While outside the world rages... As I climb out of my hammock the next morning there's no doubt that it's finally hit me too. It appears that Radana and VladimĂ­r have already gone through their personal crises and seem somewhat composed, if not content. But I feel worse for the wear. The miserably dreary morning beckons me to end it all and off myself, what with the disgust I feel in checking my things under the

Right: The water receded by more than three feet and as soon as we headed back into the dark rainforest floodplain we had to cut fallen trees previously hidden under water. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)

156


plastic tarp stretched between trees. My boots, bag, shirts and pants are completely covered with a thick layer of termites. Fucking hell, am I supposed to wear this? It pisses me off that the others are having their coffee in peace, even the ants are letting them be. To make matters worse, I can barely stand the pain of my bleeding, fungusinfested foot, and am hardly able to walk. It's half past one in the afternoon, Alejandro is again sawing a path through a fallen tree (how many does this make?) with its massive crown wedged into the riverbank. Camera in hand, Vladimír climbs on to one of the less stable branches and begins to take pictures. Radana and I watch him apprehensively, and then it happens: Vladimír falls and, trying to save his camera, slams his completely unprotected left side down on the branch below him. His face twisted in pain, he manages to stagger through the branches to the boat, where he places his camera equipment in his case and promptly blacks out. I'm just able catch his limp body before it falls in the water. His face is ominously grey and he's not breathing, not reacting to anything. Alejandro jumps panicstricken into the water and, shouting "esta muerto" (he's dead), disappears into the jungle. Elvis just stares absently and crouches at the stern. I try chest compressions on him, Radana slaps his face. Finally, to our enormous relief we notice that it's beginning to work and that he's slightly breathing. We quickly rearrange our things on board, and Radana manages to create within the confined space a provisional bed out of a sleeping bag and our rucksacks. Vladimír has regained consciousness, but is disoriented and keeps drifting off. We're really frightened, but we have to act as if we have the situation under control, otherwise the Indians will simply bolt on us. They won't consider for a second any other explanation than Mawari exacting his revenge for our expedition into the heart of the jungle and insist that, if the spirit so chooses, Vladimír will die all the same. We don't argue, there's no time for that. Elvis throws the rocks that he'd collected beneath Neblina as souvenirs back into the river. "I'm giving these back to Mawari and ask that he lets him live," he

At night we managed to catch a bizarre cicada, the Peanut−head Bug (Fulgora laternaria). It is remarkable not only in its size but especially in its menacing colouring, which evokes the eyes of a predator, and in its strange club−shaped head. Left: The Red Howler (Alouatta seniculus) is a common primate in the South Venezuelan rainforests. (Photo: Radana Dungelová)

159


whispers staring into the jungle. Alejandro, who to my great relief returns shortly after, grabs the chainsaw and tries to finish the job he'd started. A path is finally opened and we can continue on our journey. We have no idea what awaits us now. Vladimír is trembling uncontrollably; he's still unconscious, and when he does briefly come to, he's always disoriented. There's little doubt that our trip back has changed into a life-and-death struggle. Another hour passes. We're all lashing away with machetes and hatchets, Alejandro is working the chainsaw as if his life depended on it. We're now trying silently and determinedly to free ourselves as quickly as possible from the jungle's grasp. We jump in the water, pull the boat over trees, but after a few hours we are literally felled by exhaustion. We must find a piece of firm land and set up camp! Only after dusk has settled do we finally come upon a firm bank – if I can use "firm" to describe a high muddy strip with virtually perpendicular walls nestled in the dark water. We carry out all our bags to the land and make for Vladimír on the muddy base of a tree a provisional, but quite solid bed from the boat's wooden floor. The problem is that we can't hang our hammocks here as there simply aren't any sufficiently strong trees with the right distance between them. We therefore let the Indians sleep in the boat, while Radana and I somehow "make up a bed" on the ground and sleep in sitting position leaning against the trunk of a tree. We carefully transfer Vladimír from the boat; he moans in pain, but tries to help us as much as he can. I take this as a good sign. But as soon as we set him down in his sleeping bag he once again falls unconscious, becomes extremely pale and convulses uncontrollably. This isn't good. I call a meeting and essentially order Elvis and Alejandro to immediately prepare the boat to keep going. Radana and I are seriously worried that Vladimír won't last much longer here, and that we have to find the nearest medical assistance at any cost: This means even travelling at night. We have to reach the mother ship as soon as possible. If we manage that in time, I feel that everything will eventually turn out all right. The Indians are so caught off guard by the unexpected turn of events that they don't even 160

attempt to protest and we immediately set off into the dark guided by just our flashlights. Making our way through the darkness in an unfamiliar terrain is extremely dangerous; the hysterical wail of the chainsaw carries through the bleak jungle and aggressively drowns out the whistling of the ubiquitous frogs. We keep having to jump in the water to drag the boat over obstacles. Radana frequently speaks to Vladimír to make sure that he is conscious, and she protects his head from low branches that could knock him into the river. I pray that the chainsaw holds out: the mere thought of it breaking down sends a wave of anxiety through me. Another six or seven damn hours. It's just after midnight and Alejandro shines his flashlight on something blue. The mother ship! I can't believe it (I still can't believe it), but it's true. It's taken us fourteen or fifteen hours to cover a leg of the journey that we'd planned would take at least two days. After we've loaded Vladimír onto the floor of our bongo boat, which seems so large, roomy and wonderful, we take stock of our wounds. We're battered, full of bruises, and especially Alejandro's back is studded with red welts. It's also clear that he's having a hard time staying on his feet. The situation is still critical, but in light of our condition I decide that it simply is not in our powers to continue on, and even Vladimír agrees. It seems as if he's getting better and, despite his severe pain, has begun to react and communicate with those around him. Radana has prescribed some sedatives and ibuprofen for Alejandro and Elvis to alleviate the pain. As soon as they've hung their hammocks, both Indians fall right asleep without even eating. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for them and so, partly in their honour, I open a bottle of our best wine... Despite our exhaustion, we rise the next morning while it's still dark, and immediately prepare the bongo to leave. Moving the drums of gasoline onboard the bongo and everything else barely takes a few minutes. Vladimír is still in great pain, can barely move, but he's alive! All are noticeably relieved by this information. Even the faces of Alejandro and Elvis are once again beginning to show that unique, but characteristic Indian


expression of impassiveness, which I take as another good sign. Still rather desperate, but now much calmer, we spend a long time aboard the bongo as it majestically makes its way down the meandering Baria. It's a dreary day, a blanket of grey clouds shrouds the sky. The flock of screeching Blueand-yellow Macaw seems somehow inappropriate in the backdrop. Vladimír contorts in pain on the bench, Radana has been hit with a devastating case of diarrhoea and is forced to use the bucket right on deck; the river still doesn't have any bank in sight. Meanwhile, we four boys tilt our heads up to observe the troop of howlers in the treetops over the river in an attempt to save her from at least some embarrassment and shame. And then once again we silently and impassively stare into the gallery of trees along the banks, unwittingly and, needless to say, completely uselessly attempting to dry at least some clothing. We're all downcast and I'm seething that in our haste we left the most beautiful part of the river somewhere far behind us. Except for a few lines

in my sketchbook, I barely have any drawings, as is most likely the case with Radana's and Vladimír's picture taking, let alone the film footage. I feel more and more like a grey spot, a cataract in somebody's eye: a greyness in the soul and in the head, just like in the sky that is reflected in the grey water. But before I die from grey self-pity, I pull out the last bottle of red wine from my secret stash... Thanks to a strong current in the Pasimoni River we manage to reach El Ninal before dusk. We buy a rooster from the local Indians and while Alejandro prepares it for dinner, we hang our hammocks on the edge of the settlement. It seems as if Vladimír's condition has stabilized; he's even started walking, though he can't conceal the relentless pain in his left side. Yet it's clear that the worst is behind him. We all agree that before setting out on the thousandkilometer-long river journey to Puerto Ayacucho where there are several health facilities, we all need to get some rest and regain our strength. I suspect that we'll be able to head out no later than the day after tomorrow.

The infamous mushroom growing Leaf−cutter Ants (Atta cephalotes) are among the most typical rainforest animals. They grow mushrooms in their ant−hills for food which they "feed" with green leaves. Entire armies of ants transport leaves to the ant−hill.

161


The last shot of the rainy Baria. We are glad to successfully reach El Ninal although we all fight tears and nostalgia. (Photo: Jan Dungel)

163


Not even today looking south from the Catipan Rock over the Yatua River would anyone guess that a monumental panorama of the Aracamuni, Avispa and Neblina mesas is hiding there in the clouds. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


There are few signs of life in the village and time listlessly drags by. It feels as if there are more hours in the day here than in Europe. We want to whittle away the hours by returning to the nearby cliff of Culimacare; we still have enough time to return via the Pasimoni all the way to the Yatua River where the Catipan is situated – the local Indians' name for another extraordinary rock formation and important orientation point during our prior visits. Not even Vladimír wants to stay in his bed, and stubbornly insists on coming with us. Though I'm relieved that his condition has improved, I don't make too much of an effort to conceal my disgruntlement. I feel as that if he does take part in such a trip in his infirmed state, he'll not only being putting himself at risk, but the rest of us as well. But I want to avoid an open conflict, so I give in. I only hope that he's able to responsibly assess his situation and capabilities, and that he isn't immediately knocked to his knees by something. The journey to the Yatua River plus the distance to the Chachipan Rock takes three and a half hours. During the dry season the landscape with its meandering river features a broad pallet of colours, smells and shapes, surprises with its unexpected coves and, most importantly, has both firm embankments, as well as numerous sandy beaches that are easy to anchor at. In July, however, when the rainy season peaks, the river floods the surrounding jungle and the entire lower part of the rock overgrown with bushy vegetation. Alejandro, who traditionally takes up the position at the bow, gestures to Elvis at the helm to steer toward one of the larger trees and carefully ties our boat to its trunk. We wade through the shallow water to the edge of the rock where the forest begins. Here we find perhaps the most convenient place to make camp and spend the night. Clearing out a big enough area without Vladimír's help is quite draining and takes a lot of time. His condition has worsened on the trip, and so, for the time being, he's resting on the ground in the wet leaves and trying to gain the strength to ascend the rock from where he hopes to shoot some footage. We all spend most of the day – practically till the rainy dusk – up on the rocks above the jungle. The 166

outdoor theatre offered by the endless forest is so captivating that I don't even regret that heavy clouds are rolling over Neblina in the distance and that the entire horizon is shrouded in a grey sheet of rain. The sight of the green sea of the trees' crispate crowns is always a strong experience for me, and I'll never forget how moved I was when I first climbed the rock in 2004: Catipan, Thursday, January 21st 2004I ran from the riverbank up the steep rock (ignoring the stifling heat) in practically one go. Now I'm gasping for breath, my heart is pounding between my ears, but I keep my eyes fixed before me trying not to look at anything but the black rock beneath my feet. I didn't want to look at anything else, saving it all till I was at the peak, which is why I only turn back to the river when I'm certain I'm at the very top. The scene that now plays out before my eyes can hardly be described. I still haven't caught my breath and feel as if I'm going to burst at any moment. A green sea stretches out from one side of the horizon to the other; its immensity makes me light-headed. It continues to a point somewhere at the end of the world where a chain of plateau mountains rears up from the jungle and envelops the entire southeast panorama like the spectre of a prehistoric dragon. I spread out the map on the baking hot rock and try to determine the individual mountains and their peaks. The nearly flat massif of Aracamuni looms under a blanket of clouds. Running westward, it first dips sharply and then gradually sinks back into the jungle, only to re-emerge in the form of curly cascades of smaller peaks. These slowly smooth out until they form a long table that drops virtually straight down and disappears again into the jungle. That must be the Avispa massif! Surprisingly, it looks as if it's lower, but only because it's farther away from the place I'm standing. I read on the map that Avispa is 2,012 meters high, while Aracamuni is only 1,600 meters. Avispa's right slope just above the tree line grows slowly and gradually into a perpendicular wall, and from there I can already see Neblina's upper plateau.


This plateau runs uninterruptedly far to the west and then, after three small and three massive peaks, once again disappears into the green immensity. Roughly one third of the upper plateau of mountains directly in front of me stretching high into the clouds are Pico Cardona and Pico da Neblina, the latter being Brazil's highest mountain (2,944 m). My god, what a wonder world! A pair of Blue-throated Piping-guans suddenly flies out of the thicket beneath the top of the rock. I've got a good idea what's going to be for dinner... Today's attempt to properly photograph from here Neblina and the other plateau mountains further to the east ended like all previous attempts – in failure. It seems as if the wall of rain along with the tatters of fog constantly conceal the horizon, regardless of the season. Right before sunset a full rainbow spans the southern sky. It looks like a giant triumphal arch

enticing entry to the heart of the jungle, right to the place we'd just returned from. I think, "No thank you, I've had enough for now." This surreal scene is enhanced by the brownish-grey colour of the sky within the rainbow's arch. The jungle has a similarly phantasmal, but honey-like colour, while an ominous darkness dominates outside the arch. Radana and VladimĂ­r take pictures in a frenzy (the latter is also using a tripod to capture film footage), as if they were trying to make up for what they missed beneath Neblina. Later that night, I'm woken by a heavy rain that works its way down the trees, across the rope and into my hammock. The cold water gathers under my back leaving me with the feeling that I'm lying in an aquarium. Two simple lines that I tie to the ropes connecting the hammock to the trees save me from drowning in my bed. The water running down the tree now continues down these extra lines and drips harmlessly to the ground. The typical silhouette of two Neblina peaks viewed from the north. (Photo: Radana DungelovĂĄ)


Chills and fever Attack under Yapacana Returning to Puerto Ayacucho on the Orinoco felt like a rally. The Duida mesa disappeared behind us within only half an hour. (Photo: Radana Dungelovรก)


The morning of Wednesday, July 11th also took us all unpleasantly by surprise: it's still raining and a thick grey veil of clouds hangs over the land. The rain is unrelenting and we suffer in the wet and cold on the long leg of the journey on the Pasimoni back to El Ninal. We huddle together in our rain gear, but under our wet clothing the cold coils tightly around us like an anaconda. And with each breath his grip tightens. For Christ's sake, how many days or weeks has it been since I had something dry on? And we've still got hundreds of kilometers to go in this state today on the Casiquiare and Orinoco down to Puerto Ayacucho! We arrive back to Ninal chilled and soaked to the bone shortly before noon. We're held up a little by the need to refuel and also by the tribal chief Tito, who has decided that he and his son Roberto will accompany us to San Fernando. We can't deny the chief his wish, though he is too robust for our light, but fast boat, which quickly starts taking on water after he boards. He eventually gives up and decides to stay: only Roberto will go with us... Dusk catches up to us on one of the islands in the middle of Casiquiare River. The fishing camp of Capibara, where we planned on spending the night, is still far away. That evening I come down with the chills and a fever. My joints hurt, my teeth chatter and I can't get to sleep in my hammock. No doubt the cold on the rainy Pasimoni is responsible! The next morning brings little in the way of relief: I feel miserable and shake with the chills. I barely notice the journey on the Casiquiare, nodding off from time to time. At any rate the boat is buzzing along at such a speed that I justify this loss of time by telling myself that it's a substitute for the obscenely expensive aero-taxi that we'd originally intended to hire. We have to go through a routine inspection by the military at the former mission post of Tama Tama, which is already on the Orinoco River, but just a stone's throw from

the Casiquiare bifurcation. The inspection doesn't hold us up for long, and before sunset we manage to reach Cariche, a village on a rocky elevation over a tributary of the Orinoco that bears the same name. This was the place where Radana and I came upon a pair of half-tame Giant Otters: Cariche, January 24, 2005: The early morning offers us an altogether new experience: Two young otters in the river beneath the villages are literally flinging themselves at us, apparently begging with shrieks for fish. We carefully lure them ashore while Radana tries to catch them in her camera's viewfinder. Success! Both otters pose for us like models. They're so beautiful, so endearing! Their helpless, child-like gaze with their large eyes on the sides of their heads reminds me of our French bulldog Marushka. It was an unforgettable, even moving experience. Immediately after arriving today we tried to find out what had happened to them. We learn that one day they simply swam away into the jungle with other otters. I'm highly medicated and pass the whole night at Cariche in a deep sleep. When my friends wake me the next morning, I think that it's still the previous evening and that VladimĂ­r and Radana are still sipping rum. But I feel a lot better. The landscape appears desolate and unchanging on the fast trip: forest, water, forest... All the familiar places have completely disappeared under the surface, the massive plateau mountain Duida off the right bank of the Orinoco is covered by clouds, and the Santa Barbara rapids with three hundred and twenty little islands, at other times so intoxicatingly exotic, have now completely lost their magic under the rush of high water. Some hundred and fifty kilometers downstream

Right: The Yapacana mesa overlooks the rainforest from the tip formed by the Orinoco and Ventuari rivers. At the outset of the new century this virgin land was flooded with gold miners and bandits. (Photo: Jan Dungel) 170


another jungle plateau mountain, Yapacana, reflects in the river. In the 1970s the endemic poisonous dart frog, Minyobates steyermarki, with its characteristic red colour, was found here. When I looked for them here at the end of the 1990s, I couldn't find a single one. A few years' later, gold mines were opened at the foot of the mountain and illegal gold prospectors ruled the land, devastating the national park all around. Since then I've preferred to avoid this place when travelling on the Orinoco, though I haven't been able to completely avoid conflicts with bandits: Orinoco (Cerro Yapacana), June 24, 2005 We're approaching San Antonio. Captain Lorenzo has been urging us to heed caution since the morning, as he considers the section of the river under Yapacana mountain to the village of Carida to be dangerous. Our crew is noticeably on guard and the atmosphere is tense on board. Lorenzo himself grabs the rifle and crouches by the side of the boat. The rest of us oversee the boat's navigation. Lorenzo claims that this entire area is controlled by garimpeiros (illegal prospectors) and, allegedly, Colombian FARC guerrillas are also here on a punitive expedition. Their mission is to liquidate a gang of bandits who are passing themselves off as partisans and stealing from both the Indians and the gold prospectors. Apparently a parachute unit of the Venezuelan army is also expected any day, but for now there reigns absolute lawlessness and terror from all kinds of people roving along the river. It certainly sounds like we're getting ourselves into quite a stew, though I don't take the easily alarmed Indians completely seriously in this regard. I leave Radana down in the shade below deck and climb up to the upper deck where I scan through my binoculars the wall of trees, beyond which Yapacana looks down silently from its looming height. There's no sign of the least trace of

human presence and it seems as if Lorenzo's worries are of the same nature as his irrational and unfathomable fear of the spirit Mawari. Right before the settlement of Carida, possibly in the Orinoco's last inlet before it, I suddenly spot a speeding motorboat filled with five men moving directly toward us. They're a few hundred meters from our boat when I realize that these guys are shooting and that the strange sounds are most likely bullets whizzing by. I quickly slide down the ladder and pull Radana to the floor. Our boat's steel hull protects us here and the Indians are ducking behind the wooden panelling between the benches, only Lorenzo sticks his head over the side of the boat to aim his gun at the approaching boat. José is taking cover at the helm in the stern. It's a strange feeling: I know that with our twentyfive-meter boat we don't have a chance to outrun their small motorboat. I think intensively about death, but, oddly, I have absolutely no fear and wait calmly to see from which side it will come. Suddenly the shooting stops. Glancing sideways, I see that Lorenzo is standing up, but is still holding the rifle firmly beneath the edge of the sidewall. José carefully raises his head over the side and then stands. I can't stand the tension in this silence that suddenly set in and so I too peek over the side. The motorboat is buzzing away from us with its crew demonstrably putting away their automatic weapons. "Jesus, what the hell was that about!!??" I scream at Lorenzo. He just shrugs and says: "I guess they thought we were someone else..." We arrive at San Fernando around one o'clock in the afternoon and thus finish the circle of rivers Atabapo – Guainía (Rio Negro) – Casiquiare – Orinoco – Atabapo, the previously described Humboldt route. Venezuelan's call it the Ruta Humboldt and Vladimír aptly points out that aboard our fast boat it was more like the Humboldt Rally.

Left: I painted the Black−spotted Barbet (Capito niger) on the Casiquiare right in the bifurcation. 173


It's Friday the 13th. We're seven days and a thousand five hundred kilometers from the unfortunate place where Vladimír hurt himself. It's seven o'clock in the evening and we've checked into the Amazonas hotel in Puerto Ayacucho. Vladimír is finally in the hospital with Radana and friend Javier. Though the examination confirms that he's out of danger, and the x-rays corroborate this, the fact that he's in constant pain seems to refute this. And, unfortunately, the examination after returning to Prague confirmed our worries – they'd x-rayed the wrong side of his chest in Ayacucho. The internal swelling that had seriously threatened his life, however, abated, though the four broken ribs that turned up on the new x-ray in Prague will remain a painful souvenir for Vladimír for a few more months. Here in Ayacucho, they prescribe him some medicine to reduce the pain, prevent infection and tranquillize him. He's told to stay in bed, which, in our situation, sounds somewhat ironic. Although we're in a city, most Venezuelans in the north refer to Puerto Ayacucho as "a hole at the end of the world". But we're coming from a completely different side, so we enjoy the rare luxury and good restaurant food – we've finally reached loathed civilization!

One of the Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) cubs we encountered on the Cariche River. (Photo: Radana Dungelová) Following two−page spread: Brazo Casiquiare. (Photo: Jan Dungel) 174


Biocca, Ettore: Yanomama: The story of a Woman Abducted by Brazilian Indians. London 1969. (Èesky Sama mezi Indiány. Orbis, Praha 1973.) Brewer−Carías, Charles and Audy, Marek: Entranas del Mundo Perdido (editor Ch. Brewer−Carías, Caracas 2010).

Brewer−Carías, Charles (editor): Cerro de la Neblina. Resultados de la Expedición 1983–1987. Caracas 1984. Brewer−Carías, Charles: Cuevas del cerro Autana. Natura, no. 58, 1976, pp. 33–48. Brewer−Carías, Charles: La vegetacion del mundo perdido. Caracas 1978. Brewer−Carías, Charles: Roraima: La montana de cristal. Caracas 1984. Cocco, P. Luigi: Iyéwei−teri. Quince anos entre los Yanomamos. Caracas 1972. Dungel, Jan: Tam, kde loví jaguár, aneb maloval jsem zvíøata v pralesích kolem øeky Orinoko. Brno 1996. Dungel, Jan: Painting the Jungle. Academia, Praha 2005. Uwe, George: Inseln in der Zeit. Expeditionen zu den letzten weißen Flecken der Erde. GEO–Gruner+Jahr AG & Co., Hamburg 2005. Goetz, Inga Steinvorth de: Uriji jami! Life and belief of the forest Waika in the Upper Orinoco. Caracas 1969. Grelier, Joseph: Aux sources de l'Orenoque. La Table Ronde, Paris 1954. Humboldt von, Alexander: Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America. Narrative of Travels During the Years 1799–1804. Volume 1–3. London 1852–3. Koch−Grünberg,Theodor: Von Roraima zum Orinoco. Ergebnisse einer Reise in Nordbrasilien und Venezuela in den Jahren 1911–1913. Berlin 1917. Lizot, Jacques: Tales of the Yanomami: Daily Life in the Venezuelan Forest. Cambridge 1985. Maguire, Bassett: Cerro de la Neblina, Amazonas, Venezuela: A newly Discovered Sandstone Mountain. Geographical review, vol. XLV, no. 11955, pp. 27–51. Napoleon, Chagnon A.: Yanomamo: The Fierce People. New York 1983.

178


Rice, Hamilton A.: The Rio Negro, the Casiquiare Canal, and the Upper Orinoco. September 1919–April 1920. Geographical Journal, vol. LVIII, November 1921, pp. 321–44. Schomburgk, O. A.: Robert Hermann Schomburgk's Travels in Guiana and on the Orinoco during the years 1835–1839. According to his Reports and Communications to the Geographical Society of London. Georgetown, British Guyana 1931. Spruce, Richard: Notes of a Botanist on The Amazon and Andes. London 1908. Phelps, Kathleen de: Memorias de Misia Kathy / Primera Expedición Phelps al „Cerro Jimé“. Caracas 1986. Plešinger, Vladimír: Ztracené Eldorádo (The Lost Eldorado). Panorama, Praha 1983.

Bare-tailed Woolly Opossum (Caluromys philander)

Veselovský, Zdenìk: K pramenùm Orinoka. (Orinoco‘s Headwaters) Panorama, Praha 1988. Vinci, Alfonso: Samatarí. Leonardo da Vinci, Bari 1956. Vráz, Enrique Stanko: A través de la América Ecuatorial. Viaje por Venezuela. Fundación Cultural Orinoco, Caracas 1992 Wallace, Alfred R: A Narative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, with an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology and Natural History La Table Ronde of the Amazon Valley. London 1853.

179


Acuna, Cristóbal 122 Ágh, Zoltán 150 Alejandro, „Macho“ (Alejandro) 19, 77, 78, 79, 81, 84, 91, 93, 102, 107, 112, 113, 116, 118, 121, 131, 150, 154, 157, 158, 159, 164 Alouatta seniculus 72, 157 Alvarez, Fremio 68, 71 Amazonia 18, 21, 24, 28, 31, 33, 34, 36, 44, 48, 58, 60, 64, 72, 91, 93, 96, 97, 98, 99, 120, 122,127, 131, 134, 135, 136, 148, 149 Amazon 19, 27, 52, 53, 55, 56, 70, 71, 72, 98, 116, 119, 120, 122, 123 Anaconda 16, 75, 113, 168 Angostura 52 Ant, Bullet 64 ant, veinticuatro 64 ants 52, 64, 65, 91, 105, 154, 157 Ants, Leaf-cutter 159 Antshrike, Barred 9 Antshrike, Great 9 Antwren, Slaty 9 Anura 75 Ara ararauna 75, 77 Ara chloroptera 75 Aracamuni 28, 141, 144, 145, 149, 162, 164 Aracari, ivory-billed 24 Atabapo 13, 15, 24, 27, 34, 36, 37, 44, 47, 50, 122, 171, 172 Ateles belzebuth 72, 75 Atta cephalotes 159 Atures 21, 26, 31 Autana 33, 149 Avispa 145, 149, 162, 164 Audy, Marek 136, 146 Auyan 29, 147, 148 Baniva 34, 44, 68, 69 base camp 16, 84, 120, 121, 125, 136, 141 Bašta, Jaroslav 29 Batalla, Francisco Carillo 16, 18, 136 Barbet, black-spotted 171 Baria 12, 18, 19, 25, 29, 34, 47,

180

67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 77, 78, 79, 81, 84, 93, 102, 105, 107, 110, 112, 113, 116, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 126, 128, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 140, 141, 154, 159, 161 bifurcation 18, 27, 28, 52, 53, 55, 79, 113, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 141, 154, 168, 171 Bildarchiv Preissischer Kulturbesitz 50 Biocca, Ettore 97 Boca de Nichare 47 Bonpland, Aimé 22, 25, 50, 52, 120 Border Commission 124, 125 Borhrops sp. 52 Breton, André 70 Brewer-Carías, Charles 58, 113, 120, 121, 125, 135, 136, 140 Cacajao melanocephalus 75, 87 Caiman crocodilus 42, 75 Caiman, Spectacled 16, 42, 44, 75, 112 Callicebus torquatus 72 Campamento, Charles 113, 116 Campamento base 131 Canaima 29, 148 Caname 45 Candela (lagoon) 79 Capibara 168 Capito niger 171 Capuchin, White-fronted 72, 81 capybaras 16 Caracara, black 75 Carichana 122 Cariche 99, 168, 172 Carida 171 Carpentier, Alejo 33 Casiquiare (Brazo) 18, 19, 25, 27, 28, 33, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 67, 68, 69, 77, 98, 99, 122, 123, 145, 168, 171, 172 Castro Cerqueira, Dionýsio Evangelista de 123 Catipan 134, 144, 145, 154, 162, 164 Cauaburi (Cababuri) 79, 123 Caura 28, 47

Cebus albifrons 72 Cephalopterus ornatus 34 Cerrito 145 Chaffanjon, Jean 25 Chamuchina 36 Chimantá 29, 136 Chimo 58, 128 Chloroceryle amazona 75 Chloroceryle americana 75 Churí tepui 136 Ciudad Bolívar 47, 52 Cocco, Padre Luigi 98 Cock-of-the-rock 60, 61, 147 Coragyps atratus 75 Cotinga, cotingas 34, 75 Cotinga cayana 128 Cotinga, Spangled 60, 128, 131 Cotinga, Pompadour 58, 60, 61 Cotingidae 34,75 Curassaw, Black 69 Curassow, Crestless 75, 94 Crocodile, Orinoco 44, 72, 75 Crocodylus intermedius 75 Culimacare 58, 60, 61, 79, 164 Cuniculus paca 75 Cunucunuma 23, 148 Curipaco 19, 61, 78, 145 Daptrius ater 75 Dendrobates leucomelas 16 Dickey, Henry Spencer 25 Dolphin, Amazon river 44, 70, 72 Dryas julia 126 Duida 28, 148, 149, 167, 168 Dungel, Jan 28, 78 Dungelová, Eva 28 Dungelová, Radana 19, 22, 28, 44, 47, 48, 60, 61, 67, 70, 71, 78, 84, 89, 91, 93, 99, 105, 112, 116, 118, 119, 131, 132, 136, 154, 157, 158, 159, 165, 168, 167, 168, 171, 172 El Ninal 19, 28, 61, 62, 67, 68, 78, 157, 159, 161, 168 electric eel 81, 112,113, 154 Entranas del Mundo Perdido 136 escarpment 149 Esmeralda 18, 28, 52 Eunectes murinus 75, 113

Evaristo, Lorenzo (Lorenzo) 18, 28, 34, 45, 68, 69, 70, 71, 91, 171 Expedición Phelps 98 FARC 34, 171 Father Zea 53 Fer de lance 47, 52 Florisuga mellivora 72 Fly, Black 31, 34, 55, 64 Freud, Sigmund 70 Fritz, Samuel 122 frogs 75 FUDECI 16, 58, 113, 116, 120, 121 128, 135, 136 Fulgora laternaria 157 Galeandra sp. 13 garimpeiros 18, 47, 171 George, Uwe 24, 125 Goetz, Inga Steinvorth de 96, 98 Google Earth 60, 116, 120, 125 Grélier, Joseph 25 Gondwana 148 Gran Sabana 148, 150 Guaviare 24, 28, 34, 27, 44, 122 Guainía 27, 28, 48, 52, 57, 123, 171 Guaramoni 55 Guarinuma 44, 47 Guyana highlands 24, 29, 134, 148 Guipunaves 122 Gumilla, José 122 hammock 64, 65, Harpia harpyja 75 Harpy eagle 75 Hatun Mayu 19 Heliornis fulica 67 Howler, Red 72, 81, 157, 159, Hua rapids 118, 128, 145, 150 Huachamacare 148, 149 Huanchaca 105 Humboldt, Alexander von 11, 22, 25, 27, 31, 44, 45, 49, 50, 52, 53, 55, 60, 69, 70, 72, 87, 120, 122, 123, 145, 167 Humboldt‘s route 43, 44, 50, 50, 171


Hydrolycus scomberoides 33 Hylopezus macularis 9 Im Thurm, Everard 150 In Trouble Again 18, 60, 122 Inia geoffrensis 70, 72 l‘Isle, Guillaume de 122 Jacobin, White-necked 72 Jaguar 44, 45, 71, 72, 73, 93 jejenes 64 Jimé (Cerro) 98, 135 Jung, Carl Gustav 70 K pramenům Orinoka 16 Kingfisher, Amazon 75 Kingfisher, Green 75 La Condamine, Charles Marie de 122 La Culebra 148, 149 La Garza 47 laja 79 Largo, Elvis (Elvis) 18, 19, 22, 28, 33, 36, 44, 45, 47, 57, 61, 68, 69, 70, 71, 77, 78, 79, 81, 84, 98, 105, 112, 113, 116, 128, 154, 157, 158, 164 Leopardus pardalis 45, 72, 93 macaw, blue-and-yellow 70, 75, 77, 81, 159 macaw, red-and-green 75 Macizo, Cuao-Sipapo de 22, 24, 28 Maguire, Basset 134 Mahler, Gustav 33, 36 Maipures 25, 26, 31, 33, 36 manakins 75 Mandavaca 52 Manuel, José 68, 69, 70 mapanare 47 Marahuaca 148, 149 Maroa 28, 47, 48, 49, 52, 57 Maturacá 12, 18, 19, 28, 67, 78, 79, 107, 110, 112, 113, 116, 118, 119, 120, 122, 123, 125, 128, 131, 132, 141 Mawari 18, 19, 67, 68, 70, 71, 77, 96, 154, 157, 158, 171 Megalopyge 105 Meta 24, 28 Minyobates steyermarki 73, 171 Misao Maturacá 78, 79 Mitu tomentosa 75 Motmot, Blue-crowned 91 Momotus momota 91 Moravian Museum 16, 27, 28, 136 Morpho peleides 73 mosqito netting 64 Myrmotherula schisticolor 9

Navarro, Barbara 98 Neblina (Cerro, Pico da, Macizo de la) 12, 16, 18, 25, 28, 33, 57, 58, 60, 67, 68, 70, 71, 78, 79, 91, 98, 99, 102, 105, 110, 113, 120, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 128, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 140, 141, 145, 149, 150, 152, 154, 157, 162, 164, 165, Neblinaria celiae 137

Pteroglossus azara flavirostris 24 Pteronura brasiliensis 31, 72, 99, 172 Puerto Ayacucho 19, 21, 20, 22, 28, 31, 159, 164, 168, 172 Puerto de Pacasmayo 27 Puerto Páez 24

Ocamo 98 Ocelot 45, 72, 93 O’Hanlon, Redmond 12, 18, 58, 60, 112, 122, 123, 125, 128 orchid 13 order of St. Ignatius. 123 Orinoco 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 33, 34, 36, 42, 44, 49, 50, 52, 53, 55, 64, 68, 69, 72, 79, 96, 97, 98, 99, 120, 121, 122, 123, 145, 148, 167, 168, 171 Otter, Giant 31, 72, 99, 168, 172

Radio Lemonade Joe 18 Ramphastidae 75 Ramphastos vitellinus 124 Rio Negro 27, 28, 44, 49, 50, 52, 55, 56, 57, 58, 60, 70, 79, 97, 120, 121,122, 123, 129, 140, 145, 171 Rimbaud, Arthur 14 Rísquez, Frank 25 Rodriguez, Hermann 47 Roman, Manuel 122 Roraima 29, 148, 150 Rupicola rupicola 147 Rusňák, Štěpán 28

Paca, Lowland 75 Pamoni 55 Panthera onca 72, 93 Paraponera clavata 64 Pasiba 55 Pasimoni 19, 33, 55, 60, 61, 62, 68, 77, 78, 79, 81, 125, 145, 159, 164, 168 paují 93 pava 93 Peanut−head Bug 157 Perkins, Harry 150 Phelps Collection 134 Phelps, Kathleen de 98, 134, 135, 136 Phelps jr., William H. 134 Piaroa 34 Picidae 75 Pico Cardona 134, 165 Pico da Neblina 18, 28, 58, 60, 120, 131, 133, 134, 141, 145, 149, 165, Picure 148 Pimichin 50, 52 Pintado 36 Pipile cumanensis 75, 89 Piping−guan, Blue−throated 75, 89, 93, 165 Pipridae 75 piranha 113 Plešinger, Vladimír (Vladimír) 18, 25 Podocnemys sp. 75 Poison Frog, Demonic 73 Poison Frog, Yellow-banded 16 Potamotrygon sp. 113 Praga 27 Prouza, Antonín 16, 28, 44

Quinón, Adán a José 123

Salto Angel 147 Samariapo 15, 31, 23, 33, 34 San Antonio (de Yavita) 52, 171 San Carlos del Rio Negro 18, 28, 50, 52, 58, 60, 68 Santa Cruz 47 San Fernando de Atabapo 15, 24, 27, 28, 33, 34, 36, 44, 50, 52, 57, 93, 164, 168, 171 San Pedro 34 San Rafael 34 Sarcoramphus papa 23 Šebela, Miroslav 16, 28 shabono 97 Siapa 55 Sierra Parima 24, 28 Šimek Vladimír (Vladimír) 19, 22, 28, 44, 48, 57, 61, 67, 77, 78, 81, 91, 102, 105, 112, 116, 118, 119, 131, 132, 154, 157, 158, 159, 164, 165, 171, 172 Simulidae 64 Solano 58, 123 Spanish Guyana 50 Spider monkey 102 Spider monkey, white-bellied 72, 75 Spruce, Richard 134, 135, 145 Steyermark, Julian A 135 Stieler, Joseph 53 Stingray, Pearl 113 Stockton, Simon (Simon) 128, 131 Stradelli, José Jardim y Erman 123 Sungrebe 67 Svoboda, Ivo (Ivo) 28, 33, 45,

47, 68, 71 Tama Tama 168 Tamnophilus doliatus 9 Tangara chilensis 124 tanager, paradise 60, 61, 124, 131 tapir (brazilian tapir) 44, 70, 72, 83, 84, 93 Tapirus terrestris 72, 83 Taraba major 9 Temi 44, 48, 50, 52 tepuyes, tepui 28, 125, 148, 149 Tetra, Saber tooth 33 The Mighty Orinoco 25 Titi, Collared 75, 102 Tito (chief) 61, 168 Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent 44, 53, 123 Trumpeter, Grey-winged 47, 52 Toucan, channel-billed 124 toucans 24, 45, 75, 131 turtles 75 Uakari, Black-headed 70, 75, 82, 84, 87, 89, 91, 102 Umbrellabird, Amazonian 34 Valero, Helena 96, 97 veinticuatro 64, 93 Venado 31 Ventuari 28, 168 Verne, Jules 25 Veselovský, Zdeněk 16 Vráz, Enrique Stanko 22, 27, 31 Vulture, Black 75 Vulture, King 23 Woodpeckers 75 Wurdack, John 134 Xipholena punicea 58 Yanoama: The Story of Helena Valero, a Girl Kidnapped by Amazonian Indians 97 Yanomamo 19, 25, 79, 96, 97, 98, 118 Yapacana (Cerro) 27, 28, 145, 149, 167, 168, 171 Yavita 27, 28, 47, 48, 49, 52, 61 Yekwana 47, 99, 148

181


Jan Dungel

DEEP IN THE JUNGLE Illustrations: Jan Dungel Photo: Charels Brewer-Carías, Jan Dungel, Radana Dungelová, Miroslav Šebela, Vladimír Šimek Graphic design, cover, type set: Jan Dungel

182


183


Profile for Jan Dungel

Deep in the Jungle  

A book by painter and naturalist Jan Dungel

Deep in the Jungle  

A book by painter and naturalist Jan Dungel

Advertisement