Eyes on the Amazon

January 1, 2011

The author recounts his trip to the Amazon, comparing points to former President Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon's expedition.

"Basically, I believe the world is a jungle, and if it's not a bit of a jungle in the home, a child cannot possibly be fit to enter the outside world."-Bette Davis

Ill-equipped for the voyage, Roosevelt and his expedition encountered tropical diseases, punishing whitewater rapids, inadequate food supplies, Indian attacks, piranhas, alligators, drowning, and a murderer among the group of explorers. At one point, Roosevelt-suffering from unremitting fever, weakened by malaria and dysentery, undernourished, and probably septic from a bacterial abscess in his leg-asked his son to leave him behind to die. He contemplated ending his life with a lethal dose of morphine he had secreted in his baggage. The group finally did emerge from the rainforest. Roosevelt survived, but after losing 55 pounds, and was never the same physically strong man again. About 4 years later, he died.

A different journey

Like Roosevelt, I have fearlessly explored Brazil. I venture to offer my own approach to visiting this beautiful country. No doubt the biodiversity of the Amazon basin is spectacular, but my preference is for the inhabitants of the beach ("praia" in Portuguese) ecosystem.

Book an oceanfront room with a balcony that affords one the opportunity to practice speaking Portuguese with passers-by while sipping a nice white wine. While Roosevelt's group feared attack from hostile, scantily clad Indians of the forest who practiced cannibalism, my experience is that the inhabitants of the coastline, while scantily clad, are extremely friendly and tolerant of visitors who attempt to communicate with them in their native tongue.

Avoid the mistake made by the members of this expedition almost 100 years ago, who traveled without adequate provisions in a hot, humid environment. Brazil is a tropical country, so be certain to have room service bring plenty of ice, ensuring that your pinot grigio remains nicely chilled.

Reference

Millard C. The river of doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's darkest journey. New York: Doubleday; 2005.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.

He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu