The tropical rainforest canopy is alive and noisy, mainly monkeys and birds, while the thick vegetation below is impenetrable. So, during our exploration by ship of four major jungle rivers in March 2002, we had few opportunities to beach the zodiacs and go ashore, except in a few places where native peoples had created a clearing for their village. Most of the time the boats crept along narrow tributaries, where the flora and fauna were visible "up close and personal".

We boarded our old friend from Antarctica, the CLIPPER ADVENTURER, in Belem, on the bank of the Amazon. Our itinerary took us up the Amazon and its tributaries the Guajara and the Ariramba (Brazil), the Essequibo (Guyana), the Suriname (Suriname) and the Orinoco (Venezuela). We stopped at Devil’s Island, the former penitentiary island offshore French Guyana, and disembarked in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Air charters took us to the highlands – Kaieteur Falls in Guyana (they handed us ear-plugs as we boarded the Skyvan- uh, oh!), and an overflight of Angel Falls in Venezuela.



The people living along these rivers lead the most primitive of lives, with shelter provided by huts build on stilts over the water, and a diet in which the protein seems to come from captured sloths or agoutis.

Some special memories: drifting on the Amazon at dawn, in almost total silence and watching pink river dolphins surface… sighting a rare Orinoco Goose (which most of the birders on the voyage missed)… watching hundreds of parrot families (usually consisting of two adults and one juvenile) take wing for a day of foraging… watching hundreds of leafcutter ants wind their way to their underground farm with neatly–shaped bits of vegetation… hearing but not always seeing the howler monkeys as they traded deep-throated grunts… watching the scarlet ibis flock at sunset in the Caroni Swamp of Trinidad…

In Brazil, we came across a teacher who was spending three months teaching all grades of math in a small village; she would be followed by another teacher covering a different subject, and then another in round-robin fashion. In a small village in Guyana we were treated to a performance by the schoolchildren accompanied by a battery-driven ghetto blaster, the village’s only electrical appliance.

The very diverse residents in Suriname are proud of their multicultural and multiracial tolerance and harmony, with the synagogue and the mosque share a common lot boundary… and as we went upriver from the capital, Paramaribo, we thought it looked a lot like the San Joaquin in California!

The Clipper Adventurer Aground

The mushy deceleration of the vessel in her way upriver unmistakably reminded us of our own various groundings. The CLIPPER AVENTURER was stuck on an Essequibo sand bank for 24 hours, until the next high-high tide and the arival of three tugs

As we walked on the apron toward the little plane that was to take up to Canaima Park in the highlands of Venezuela, Kathryn asked of the pilot in a simple white dress shirt where were his four stripe Captain’s insigna – having no English, he responded by pulling on a lock of gray hair at his temple – those are his stripes!

Jon and Marilyn

Kathryn re-connected with Jon and Marilyn Shomer, fellow explorers, whom she had not seen since high school days!

St. Joseph settlement

St. Joseph: Village on stilts in the Amazon

Amazon housing

Laundry day at the compound

Amazon Public Transit

Numerous vessels in a variety of designs provide transportation the length of the Amazon. Passengers sling their hammocks on deck for what may be a trip of several days' duration

Guyana Parrot

Essequibo riverbank resident and her companion

Kathryn at the Falls

Kathryn tempts fate at the spectacular Kaieteur Falls of Guyana

Schoolchildren's performance

The schoolchildren of Saxakalli (Guyana) put on a recital

Paramaribo Temple

The Arya Dewaker Hindu Temple in Paramaribo. We also visited the equally impressive mosque and the synagogue

loaded boat on waterway

Locals paddling on narrow tributary of the Amazon in their dugout

Peter and his Zodiac

Peter Harrison and a bunch of avid birders scouting the riverbanks

Conrad Field

Conrad Field, one of our favorite naturalists, with whom we've done both Antarctica and the Arctic


Cute agouti. This rodent is an item in the jungle dwellers' diet

Ile St. Joseph solitary

Old solitary cell at Devil's Island penitentiary. Now invaded by Strangler Fig trees Guards watched inmates from above through grating, and total silence was enforced

Marian Kirby on the river

We linked up with Marian Kirby, a Sonoma grape grower. We later explored Polynesia together

Marilyn Shomer grins

Marilyn Shomer enjoying the river aboard Mike Messick's Zodiac