A Slow Boat Down the Amazon

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Down the Amazon

Adventurers and explorers have certain goals they want to accomplish in their lives. For mountaineers it is standing atop Mt Everest and summitting the tallest peaks on all seven continents. Other adventurers want to circumnavigate the world solo in aircraft and sailboats. Some tough guys go around the world entirely depending on human power. The Poles are another check box waiting to be marked in an adventurer’s calendar. Travelling down the Amazon River or bushwhacking through the Amazon rain forest rates up there with the best and toughest adventures of all.

DOWN THE AMAZON is the biggest, baddest and most epic adventure to date – a 6,000km canoe trip down the longest river in the world, through the heart of the greatest rain forest in the world, and probably one of the most unforgiving geographies in the world, to raise awareness about climate change and the continuing deforestation of the lungs of the world.

This is not only a first for me, but indeed a first for India and Asia. No other person from Asia has ever canoed down this amazing stretch of geography, down a river that is often called The River Sea. In fact only thirteen people from around the world have either kayaked or canoed the Amazon. That is what makes this effort so special.

The Amazon basin or Amazonia covers an area of about 7,050,000 sq km or roughly 40% of the South American continent. With a 5,500,000 sq km of Amazonia covered in dense tropical forest comprising about 600 billion trees, this is the largest rain forest in the world. The Amazon rain forest is known for various medicinal herbs and minerals available here. While the uses of many of these are known to the indigenous tribes, researchers from across the world are discovering more and more beneficial substances here.

The jungle canopy is so thick that less than 1% of sunlight reaches the forest floor.

The Amazon is home to a tenth of all known insects and animals known to mankind including 2,200 fish species, 1,400 known species of mammals, 1,500 bird species, more than 1,300 kinds of butterflies and 1,000 amphibians. More and more species are being discovered each year. The world’s largest snake, the Anaconda lives in the shallow waters of the basin, as do crocodiles and man eating caimans. Many wild animals are illegally collected for the lucrative international pet trade.

It is up to us to keep the Amazon healthy to allow it continue to provide us with fresh water and medicines. The dense forest traps carbon and play a major role in reversing climate change.

Watch an amazing IMAX documentary on the Amazon basin.

Located in South America, the Amazon is the longest river in the world, flowing through Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru traversing a distance of about 6,400 kilometers. The Central Amazon Conservation Complex along the Amazon Basin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The river and its 1,100 tributaries contain 20% of the planet’s freshwater supply. The river rises about 30 feet during the monsoons, its rich alluvium settles in the surrounding floodplain soils, while the water fills up the lakes and lagoons through its course. It drains over 7,381,000 cubic foot of water into the Atlantic Ocean each second.

During the monsoons, the width of the Amazon River can reach over 50 km while it is almost 150 km wide as it discharges into the Atlantic Ocean. In fact there is so much water that flows into the ocean, that fresh water can be found 200 km off shore.

The river is the main source of transportation. The only way to get to Iquitos, for instance, is by boat or airplane. Most people travel in small dugout or fibreglass canoes or rafts. Modern watercraft are also being increasingly used.

Watch this excellent TED Talk about the indigenous people of the Amazon rain forest, ancient knowledge they possess, how they are being destroyed and the need to preserve these ancient peoples for their contribution to reversing climate change.

  • The Amazon River is located in South America. It runs through Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.
  • The length of the Amazon River is approximately 6,400 kilometres.
  • During the wet season, the Amazon River can reach over 190 kilometres in width.
  • There are no bridges that cross the Amazon, mostly because there is no need, the majority of the Amazon River runs through rainforests rather than roads or cities.
  • The largest city along the Amazon River is Manaus. Located in Brazil it is home to over 1.7 million people.
  • The Amazon has an incredibly rich ecosystem – there are around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and a whopping 2.5 million different insects, with more constantly being discovered. Wow!
  • 10% of the world’s known species live in the Amazon rainforest.
  • 20% of the world’s bird species live in the Amazon rainforest.
  • There are also a number of dangerous species living in the Amazon rainforest such as the cougar, jaguar and anaconda.
  • Anacondas lurk in the shallow waters of the Amazon Basin, they are one of the largest snakes in the world and occasionally attack larger animals such as goats that get to close the water.
  • The Amazon River is also home to the piranha, a meat eating type of fish! Being carnivores, piranhas are known to attack in groups, preying on livestock that strays into the water and possibly appearing in one or two of your own nightmares!
  • The Amazon is home to a whole host of fascinating and deadly creatures, including electric eels, flesh eating piranhas, poison dart frogs, jaguars and some seriously venomous snakes.
  • One fascinating fish found in the Amazon is the Pirarucu (also known as the arapaima or paiche). A menacing meat-eater, the pirarucu guzzles up other fish and can grow to nearly 3m long! And what makes it super deadly? It has teeth on the roof of its mouth and on its tongue!
  • The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, covering over five and a half a million square kilometres.
  • Over half of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil.
  • A study by climate change experts suggests that a 3°C rise in world temperatures will destroy around 75% of the Amazon.
  • At an average discharge of about 209,000 cubic metres per second, it is greater than the next seven largest independent rivers combined.
  • The Amazon represents 20% of the global riverine discharge to the ocean.
  • The Amazon basin is the largest drainage basin in the world, with an area of approximately 7,050,000 square kilometres, and accounts for roughly one-fifth of the world’s total river flow.
  • The Amazon estuary is some 325 kilometres wide.
  • The fresh water, being lighter, flows on top of the seawater, diluting the salinity and altering the color of the ocean surface over an area up to 2,500,000 km2 in extent.
  • Every year, the river rises more than 30 feet, flooding the surrounding forests, known as “várzea” or “flooded forests”.
  • In an average dry season, 110,000 square kilometres of land are water-covered, while in the wet season, the flooded area of the Amazon basin rises to 350,000 square kilometres.
  • The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Covering over 5.5 million square kilometres, it’s so big that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times!
  • Around 400-500 indigenous Amerindian tribes call the Amazon rainforest home. It’s believed that about fifty of these tribes have never had contact with the outside world!
  • This area of immense natural beauty is sometimes referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’. This is because the rich vegetation takes carbon dioxide out of the air, and releases oxygen back in. In fact, more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon. 
  • Due to the thickness of the canopy (the top branches and leaves of the trees), the Amazon floor is in permanent darkness. In fact, it’s so thick that when it rains, it takes around ten minutes for the water to reach the ground!

96.5% of all the water found on Earth is in the oceans and seas. And of all the fresh water in the world only 0.0067% is in rivers and lakes. To put it in perspective, let us keep 150 million glasses of water on the table. This is all the water in the world. Out of this, only ONE GLASS contains drinkable water. The Amazon basin contains more than 20% of the world’s fresh water. Along with the mighty Himalayas and its glaciers, this is the single largest source of fresh water. If we do not look after and preserve this limited source of drinkable water, humanity is doomed.

Climate change combined with human interference is aggravating the problem and if we do not become aware of it and take measures to contain it, all the fresh water in the world will soon dry out and people and countries will go to war for a glass of water!

Carbon Footprint

If you drive your car for 15,000km in a year, the carbon dioxide (CO2) you produce to drive, maintain and heat the car is about SEVEN TONNES. It requires three acres of mature forests to sequester an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide to keep a balance. However, with forests being chopped down indiscriminately and the number of cars increasing every day, the process of carbon emission is reaching alarming levels, raising temperatures and speeding the world towards disaster.

Just two mature trees produces enough oxygen for one person to breathe. With every two trees we cut down, one person stops to breathe.

The DOWN THE AMAZON expedition will bring awareness surrounding the urgent need for conservation and our individual efforts in delaying the effects of climate change. We need to become less consumerist as a use-and-throw society and learn to preserve and protect what we have. The need of the hour (or rather minute) is to Refuse | Reduce | Reuse | Recycle.

• We have to decide to live a more sustainable life.
• We have to take responsibility for our planet.
• It is up to each one of us to leave a better world for our children.
• Together, we can save the world.

If a fraction of the people we interact with on our journey and those who get influenced by the message through social media, change their lifestyle, this gruelling expedition will be worth it … not in terms of gold or silver, but in terms of drinking water and breathable oxygen, which form the bedrock of every living soul on Earth.

The journey commences from Lima, the capital of Peru, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The team will be staying at Lima for about a fortnight finalising logistics, buying provisions, finalising guides, getting the required permits and carrying out last minute checks of gear and equipment. They then travel by road over 700 odd kilometres through the Andes mountains, over three or four days, to reach Sivia in central Peru and the capital of the Sivia DIstrict in Huanta Province, Ayacucho Region, where the expedition actually begins.

The route from Sivia to Belem, Brazil, is divided into four sections:

• the Peruvian section, including the transport section to reach the put-in point at Sivia,
• from the entry into Brazil to Manaus, the largest city on the river,
• Manaus to Santarem, and
• Santarem to Belem and the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

The 6,000 odd kilometre journey is likely to take about three months. The team will be camping out on the river side in the company of a tenth of all creatures that walk this planet, including crocodiles, caimans, mosquitoes, the world’s largest rodents, the world’s biggest spiders, tarantulas, monkeys, eagles, and a host of other creatures which are being identified every other day.

world wide web
world wide web

This page will be the hub of almost all promotional activity woven around the expedition. Visitors can get to know about the background of the expedition, the reason behind it, the causes it propounds, the real-time location, view some interesting clips, follow the daily text/photo/video updates, etc. They can also interact on the site by commenting on their thoughts.

DOWN THE AMAZON will not just be limited to the 6,000km of the mighty river. The aim is to take the grandeur and difficulty of the expedition and the message it is trying to propagate, beyond the physical geography. Consequently, social media will play a major role in the process. There will be an intensive and aggressive social media campaign that will enable the visitors to the various platforms to follow the expedition in a variety of ways and means. Whether it is interesting video clips on YouTube or text and photo updates on Facebook or periodic tweets or pictures on Instagram, there will always be something for the visitors, at least whenever there is internet connectivity.

Garmin InReach

The team will be equipped with dedicated GPS tracking devices. The current location will be uplinked a couple of times every day and the visitors to the website can keep almost a real-time tab on where the team is and how far the expedition has progressed. This GPS tracker also perform a more important task of enabling the Search and Rescue authorities to keep track of the team. The device has a SOS button which can be activated to send a distress message in case an emergency presents itself and the team has to be evacuated.

Hangout

Children are the future of the world and it is up to them to carry out the process of caring for the environment. Humans have managed to aggravate the process of climate change and it is the children who will have to reverse the damages. Prior to the expedition and sometimes during (depending on internet connectivity), the expedition team will interact with multiple schools via video conference talking about the expedition and the cause of conservation, about recycling, answering questions and telling them how they can contribute towards a better world.

Not only is DOWN THE AMAZON an epic, once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but it also traverses through some gorgeous parts that Nature has bestowed on Planet Earth. It will be a shame not document this journey on film. This expedition will be extensively videographed on multiple 4K action cameras. The footage captured will be unique and will bring the necessity of protecting not only the Amazon rain forest, but all other forests and water bodies in the world. The footage captured over the period of the journey will be put together and a full length feature documentary produced. This documentary will be submitted to various film festivals around the world.

The Amazon is home to one in ten species on Earth. Birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, fish, spiders, tarantulas, rodents, and new species are being discovered every week. Also, the team will be spending an awful lot of time cocooned in the sounds of the forest. We will capture sounds and upload individual files for people to access and then use them to create a music track. This will be a global contest for all music composers, both amateur and professional.

This is one BIG adventure and it makes sense to not only document it on film, but also pen a book on the effort. We will bring out a digital edition as well as a print edition, full of the story of the expedition, interspersed with exquisite photographs from the journey. This book is available for sponsorship.

DOWN THE AMAZON addresses a critical issue, that of saving the mighty Amazon, the lungs of the world. With an estimated 390 billion individual trees, it produces enough oxygen to help the entire global population to breathe for at least five years if we assume that ten adult mature, healthy trees produces enough oxygen annually to help one person breathe for a year. With deforestation, we are not only destroying the world’s largest carbon sequester, but inadvertently killing people by denying them oxygen. The DOWN THE AMAZON talks will hopefully be able to raise awareness about protecting our rain forests around the world in particular and the environment in general. We cannot afford to leave a deserted, desolate planet for our children.

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