In Through the Brazilian Wilderness Teddy Roosevelt chronicles his travels through unchartered territory in Western Brazil. Roosevelt, along with his son, Kermit, and several naturalists from the American Museum of Natural History joined Colonel Cândido Rondon, a Brazilian explorer on his scientific expedition to discover the source of a previously unknown river.
I was very interested in TR’s story because I’ve lived in the part of Brazil where his journey began. I recognized some of the city names and most of the animals he mentions. But I wondered if some of the details might be dull for someone with less knowledge of the area. Also, I felt severely handicapped by the Kindle version of this book because there was no map and I would very much have liked to have seen exactly where they were at specific times.
The trip fulfilled two purposes. The naturalists collected specimens for the museum: 2,500 birds and 500 mammals. (Amazing in light of the many laws in place to preserve Brazilian wildlife today.) The other purpose was for Rondon and company to travel up the unexplored river and chart it on a map for the first time. Roosevelt wrote:
We did not know whether we had one hundred or eight hundred kilometers to go, whether, the stream would be fairly smooth or whether we would encounter waterfalls, or rapids, or even some big marsh or lake. We could not tell whether or not we would meet hostile Indians, although no one of us ever went ten yards from camp without his rifle. We had no idea how much time the trip would take. We had entered a land of unknown possibilities.
At first the journal was a dull routine of animals seen and miles travelled. Halfway through the trip they reached some rapids that were impossible to descend. The canoes had to be unloaded and the baggage carried by land to the bottom of the next calm spot in the river. Then they were reloaded and the group went down the river for a few miles until the whole process had to be repeated over again. The action picked up as canoes were lost, a man is killed, Kermit almost drowns, and Teddy becomes ill with a life-threatening fever.
After two months in canoes (Feb 27 to April 26, 1914), their mission was accomplished. They had put a 600 mile river on the map which had previously been unknown. The unofficial name for it was “The River of Doubt”, but by the end of the grueling trip, it was dubbed “The Roosevelt River”.
Final note of interest: If you type in River of Doubt on youtube, you can see several short, silent movies of the expedition.