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THE AMAZON -
MYSTERY AND GRANDEUR

The River Amazon, measured from its sources in Mt Huagra (Chila Cordillera, in the Caylloma district of Region Arequipa), in the Andes Cordillera, where it starts its 6,750 kilometer journey to the Para estuary in Brasil, is the longest and most voluminous river in the world, moving 250 million cubic meters a minute, and penetrating 600 kilometers into the Atlantic. It is longer than the Nile, which measures 6,595 km if one deducts the 75 kilometers by which it was shortened when the Aswan Dam was built. This difference makes the Amazon some 150 kilometers longer, as well as moving the world's greatest amount of fresh water. Its main tributaries are the Ucayali and Marañon rivers, whose sources are in the Andes; an interesting fact is that it moves so much sedimentary soil that many islands are formed, among them Marajo, with a surface area exceeding that of Israel, Switzerland or Holland.

This giant masterwork of nature is naturally surrounded by a halo of myth and legend that has become enriched over the generations and exists in different cultures. The facts are that Vicente Yañez Pinzon discovered and explored the Amazon Delta in 1500; he was followed in 1535 by Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of Francisco Pizarro ("El Conquistador"), who was given the task of exploring the eastern slopes of the Andes in present-day Peruvian territory; when this expedition arrived at the Napo river, Francisco de Orellana was given the task of exploring the great body of water, a task he set out to do with a group of his countrymen, after a long and hazardous journey reaching a much larger and more voluminous river, where they were attacked by a group of ferocious and heavily armed women: this episode was Orellana's inspiration to christen the river in memory of the mythical Greek female warriors as "the Amazon", this thereafter remaining its name. Describing his discovery, he uses terms such as "marvelous, majestic, colossal and incredible", stating it was an "undiscovered wonder of the world", all of this reflecting the impression produced by it on the conquistadors.

Pedro Teixeira made the first upriver trip; between October 1637 and August 1638, he mounted the Amazon to the source of the Napo, crossing the Andes to Quito in Ecuador, returning later by the same route. A number of more recent expeditions have continued this exploration , including the one led by Theodore Roosevelt (1914), sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the Brazilian government.

The Amazon River all along its course is fed by countless minor tributaries that increase both its volume and its biological diversity, as well as irrigating some six million square kilometers of the South American continent. Thanks to the foregoing its basin has been a permanent site of exploration and discoveries, such as that of the great number of ethnic groups that depend on it for their livelihood, or that of its wealth of fauna and flora; one may say that what is at present known about it is not only the accumulated labor of centuries, but also the fruit of many sacrifices, personal tragedies and the loss of life of many would-be explorers, two cases in point being Elmer Faucett (1925) and Raymond Mayfrauis (1945).

As the Amazon River and its basin are such wonders, they could not be other than a highly interesting tourism destination, offering priceless marvels and a wide variety of attractions and enticements for tourists. Not only may it be navigated along its whole length, it also offers incomparable fauna, including thousands of species of wildfowl, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and other insects, as well as innumerable plant species; mention must be made of the great Pacaya Samiria Reserve, whose 2,080,000 hectares form an ideal eco-tourism or high-class adventure tourism area. This area has the privilege of daily hosting myriads of tourists, who are attracted by its natural wilderness splendor, rarely found elsewhere on the planet.

Despite technology advances and human efforts to tame nature, some interesting facts are worth noting: No bridges cross the river, except one, close to the delta; a large portion of the river has not been explored underwater; the Amazon River Delta, at its widest point, measures 540 km; Amazon water is as pure as distilled water; you could fly for hours over the flood basin of the Amazon without seeing a single village; Many ethnic groups that live in the basin continue to do so much as they did in colonial times; The Amazon basin is one of the most uninhabited spots on earth; it includes the world's largest and wettest tropical plain and its most extensive forest; the heavy rainfall soaks most of the lowlands throughout the year, but especially from January through April; Seasonal rainfall variation is reflected by the width, water volume and discharge volume of the river, but annual median rainfall varies from 2,000 to 3,000 mm; During high rainfall months, some river sections which normally measure 1,600 to 10,000 meters width, reach 48,000 meters and the river rises to 15 meters above its normal water level; The average river depth is 91 m; The total number of tributaries is not as yet known, but in Brazil alone they number more than 200; Seventeen of the most voluminous tributaries are over 1,600 km long; Ocean liners can navigate the Amazon along 2/3 of its length. The amount of fresh water transported annually by the Amazon totals one fifth of that contained in all the fresh water deposits in the world.

If you wish to tour the Amazon, the best thing you can do is to use the city of Iquitos as the starting point for your trip; in this city, you can choose among a large variety of travel agencies and excursions, ranging from simple river tours by the well-known peque-peques (very small boats with low-power motors and a very special sound, from which they get their name), up to expeditions lasting several days, including visits to ethnic groups, living together with them, walking through the jungle, fishing, visiting tributaries such as the Nanay and Itaya, and of course visiting the beautiful and ever-welcoming city of Iquitos, a very cosmopolitan place, with communications media, restaurants, comfortable hotels and, above all, the entertainment and comfort that a tourist craves for after enjoying his trip through an enigmatic, mysterious, sultry and bewitching jungle.


 
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