(Correne Coetzer) Gareth Jones and Aaron Chervenak have done an expedition in the Amazon before and talk to ExplorersWeb about the hospitality of the local people and, on the other hand, commented that an ambush like that on Davey du Plessis on the Amazon seemed impossible to prepare for or avoid; “aside from staying at home and choosing a different lifestyle, which is an unlikely option for an adventurous soul.”
This week the two guys set off “in search” of the start point for their 9000 km human-powered expedition across Brazil, Gareth said a few days ago to ExWeb from Manaus, Brazil’s main city in the Amazon.
Finding this start point, the most northern point of Brazil, seems to be an expedition on its own with a mysterious military border marking that has to be found, nobody who knows the route to it, non-Indians that have been expelled from the area and the government Indian Bureau who is on strike. Read more below.
ExplorersWeb: How did you become expedition mates? How old are you?
Gareth: We met at Manchester University back in 2003. Aaron was over from California visiting some great mutual friends of ours. He asked to stay for a couple of weeks, but stayed for 10 months, camping in a small cupboard under the stairs in our flat. We lived above a row of kebab shops, and their extractor fans ensured his little cave was kept well ventilated with exotic aromas. That’s where the friendship began. We are both 31 now.
ExplorersWeb: What are the logistics behind an expedition like this?
Gareth: We are attempting to travel from north to south across Brazil by human-power; canoe, foot and pedal. However, should we need to make an emergency trip in a boat, car or plane, we have to allow for this. As with Ed Stafford’s Amazon walk, we will be strict in using GPS to mark our coordinates at any such point, and then return and continue exactly where we left off.
One of our major objectives is to document the voyage and create a portrait of Brazil through photography and film. This presents some extra challenges; like balancing our weight restrictions with the necessary camera equipment and safeguarding our footage over 15+ months on the road.
We’re relying on a network of Brazilian friends along the route, where we will deposit our back-up gear and camera equipment, and store copies of our digital footage as we pass through. Keeping things dry is another challenge and we’re using Aquapac to protect our cameras and Pelican cases for our hard drives.
As for the route planning, our start point at Brazil’s most northerly point of Monte Caburai on the Brazil/Guyana border is proving far harder to reach than we imagined. It’s in the same region as Mount Roraima (setting for Conan Doyle’s ‘Lost World’), which has a well established hiking route, but barely anybody goes to Caburai.
After weeks of reconnaissance in the area talking to people and guides, nobody seems to have been there for years or know a route (we’d love to hear from anybody who does). Decent maps don’t exist so we’ll be relying on our Magellan GPS and coordinates to locate the mysterious ‘BG-11A’ military border marker. As neither of us are navigational gurus, just reaching this start point will be a happy moment.
Things are further complicated as this entire region is inside a Macuxi indigenous reservation. In 2005 all non-Indians were expelled from the area and violent confrontations occurred. The government Indian bureau (FUNAI) is on strike, so making a long journey to the region in advance and talking directly with the chiefs was the only way to get permission to pass through their land. After a week hiking through the villages and meeting leaders on both sides of the river, we luckily got the permissions and found the Macuxi to be helpful and kind.
ExplorersWeb: What do you take with you to eat, to wear and to sleep?
Gareth: For when we are really pushing and making camp late, we have a supply of dehydrated camp meals that are quick and easy on our Primus multi-fuel stove. We chose the Californian manufacturer, TyRy Inc, and their Natural High & Alpine Aire range as they’re expedition grade meals minus the usual concoction of nasty preservatives.
We’ll be fishing too, as well as relying on the kindness of the Amazonian river dwellers who in our past experiences would insist on inviting us in to sleep in their hut and fill us up with fish, fruit, farinha and fresh açai.
Our clothing is minimal, but always having a dry set for the evenings is important and quick-drying fabrics help. Most of our hiking will be on the coastal phase and getting the right footwear was a priority. We are using Asolo boots that should serve us well over these long distances.
For sleeping in the jungle a hammock with mosquito net and rain tarp is best. We are using the Deep Jungle rig by Canadian manufacturer Hennessy Hammock. For the times when we don’t have trees to hang from (like the beaches and the dust bowl interior) we are using the incredible light weight Obi 1 tent by Nemo.
ExplorersWeb: We have seen an attack on Davey du Plessis. How concerned are you about your safety (humans or animal)? What have you in place to defend yourself if necessary? (Though attacks can also be out of the blue with no chance to defend)
Gareth: It was horrible to hear about Davey’s shooting and we hope he continues his remarkable recovery. An ambush like that seemed impossible to prepare for or avoid… aside from staying at home and choosing a different lifestyle, which is an unlikely option for an adventurous soul.
We fear the human threat more than any wildlife out there. As two gringos travelling in a portable canoe with cameras, we stick out as a very tempting target. We are ready to give up everything if necessary with the hope of negotiating a non-violent transaction. Speaking fluent Portuguese and having spent a lot of time there may also help a bit, but then again the real fear is of the brutal type of attack on Davey, where zero opportunity for dialogue occurs.
All that said, we should add that in our previous time in Brazil we have never experienced any serious crime and the warmth of the people is one reason we have decided to make this journey. We’ve visited many of the regions on the route and spoken a lot to people to determine how safe they are. The Rio Branco and Rio Negro are the first tributaries we will descend and the crime threat there is relatively low.
Of serious concern to us is the Amazon delta on our approach to Belem. Not only is the river split into numerous channels making navigation hard, there is a notable presence of river pirates. Further south, we are going to have a very tough time approaching the big coastal cities. Slum outskirts of cities like Salvador and Rio de Janeiro are full of people struggling to make a living; they could see us as an easy opportunity.
Regarding wildlife, the reality in the Amazon is that whilst a bite from a snake, spider or jaguar could be lethal; there are plenty more daily dangers to worry about. Mosquitoes are a far bigger killer than all of those things put together.
Capsizing, getting lost, infected cuts, foot issues, water-borne disease, falling deadwood from the trees above your hammock… these are also of more concern than the giant anacondas and mythical killer piranhas shown on TV.
In case of emergency, we are using a Yellowbrick satellite tracking device and have a chain linking people back home to local contacts that are on standby and aware of our route and movements via our Yellowbrick position transmissions. Through the Yellowbrick we can send and receive emails, texts and Tweets from anywhere.
Next: Their previous Amazon expedition and schooling in the jungle by local fishermen
Gareth Jones (UK) and Aaron Chervenakwill (USA) will attempt to do a complete human-powered voyage from Brazil’s most northern point at Caburaí, to its southern extreme at Chuíon the border with Uruguay; covering a distance of over 9000km (5500miles) by foot, canoe and bicycle. After travelling through the Amazon basin by canoe, Gareth and Aaron will hike out across the scorched Caatinga hinterlands and on down thousands of miles of tropical coastline.
The expedition starts in the second half of September 2012 with the search for the start point and is expected to last more than 15 months.
The big Amazon paddle: ExWeb interview with record kayaker Christian Bodegren
Previous about Gareth and Aaron
This expedition (and other expeditions with RSS feeds) can be followed in the live Dispatch stream at the Pythom app and at ExplorersWeb.
ExplorersWeb Expedition List
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