I had the pleasure of interviewing geoscientist and National Geographic Explorer, Andrés Ruzo on the publication of his first book, The Boiling River.
Many of us have childhood dreams, perhaps of long lost places, imaginary worlds we might once be lucky enough to visit. We might be told stories, ones which we believe at the time but they never come true. This one did – and it was real.
As a small boy, Andrés’ grandfather told him a legend.
This legend is one a lost city of gold hidden deep in the Amazon—and a legendary river which boils. His Aunt later mentioned that she too, had visited this mysterious river. Expecting that this story was merely a legend, he set out to visit this mystical area – ‘The Boiling River’. It runs so hot that locals brew tea in it. Animals that are unfortunate to fall in are instantly cooked.
Before he spoke to his aunt, Andrés had questioned geologists and other colleagues about the existence of this section of the Amazon River. Most said it was probably an exaggerated legend. Andrés was told by a geologist to “stop asking stupid questions… you’re making yourself look bad”. Thankfully, he ignored this advice, continuing to ask questions and be curious about the world around him. This led him to take the journey to find the Boiling River. He was shocked to discover that the river did actually exist and perhaps more shocked by the sheer size of the river.
Now, the Boiling River faces an even bigger challenge – deforestation has reached the sacred area, and the river’s jungle is disappearing.
Being about 90% the size of the United States, the Amazon basin plays host to such a wide range of species and so many different cultures. Unfortunately this brings up a multitude of issues including illegal gold mining, dam construction and even some terrorist groups.
Policies, rules and regulations alone are not enough to drive off illegal loggers. Andrés mentioned that in a weird way, the local answer for the threats facing the Boiling River and its jungle lie in eco-friendly and economic development, he calls this “sustainable sustainable-development”. The idea is that this form of development drives funds to this high-poverty area of the developing world and it will reward locals for protecting, rather than clear-cutting the remaining jungle.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems is illegal logging. These are people who illegally come into the jungle and illegally harvest large and valuable trees. Incredibly, just a single tree can sell for anywhere between 5 and 10 thousand US dollars. Very surprisingly, in much of the Boiling River’s jungles are still intact because of an oil company that keeps the illegal loggers and poachers out.
Protecting this area is of paramount importance, and has proved full of obstacles. As he mentions in the book “…In less than a year a large part of the Boiling River’s Jungle has disappeared…” There’s now a huge question posed of how we protect this area in the short and long-term. Andrés has found part of his solution by bringing together the local shamans and the oil company—both of which have a vested interest in protecting the jungle from loggers and clear-burners.
As discussed at length on boilingriver.org, the goal of Andrés’ efforts is protect the river and its surrounding jungle from being clear-burnt.
So what’s next? As far as the Boiling River is concerned there’s still a lot more to do. The first thing on the agenda is to make the river a Peruvian national monument. This would make the area a national landmark and become a prominent feature on maps – rather than an unknown, and relatively unvisited area. The local shamans have tourist centres that help bring essential income to the region, and allow these native groups to fund their efforts to protect the jungle.
As far as Andrés is concerned, he will continue working to scientifically study, as well as protect the Boiling River area. He also plans on finishing his PhD in geophysics this year, and plans on continuing with his exploration work.
Having read the book, it’s an incredible account of his expedition to the Boiling River which will intrigue even reluctant readers. One of the biggest things that comes across is the fact that science isn’t just researching an idea, it’s about finding an area, pursuing it, exploring the subject and coming up with solutions to issues and questions.
The Boiling River really is where legends come to life.
For more information on Andrés’ work and the Boiling River, check out these links!
Boiling River Project
The TED talk: http://www.boilingriver.org/tedtalk/