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The Boiling River: Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon (TED Books) Hardcover – February 16, 2016
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About the Author
Andrés Ruzo is a geoscientist and a National Geographic Young Explorer. The Boiling River is his first book.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Revelations in the Dark
I am standing on a rock in the middle of a river. Nighttime in the jungle pours around me. Instinctively, I reach up and turn off my headlamp. The blackness is complete now and I pause, waiting. I had missed the darkness. I breathe in. The air is thick and abnormally hot, even for the Amazon. As my eyes adjust to the dark, the outline of the jungle slowly distinguishes itself from the night: blacks, grays, dark blues, even silvery whites. It’s amazing what we miss when the lights are on. The moon is hardly a sliver, and innumerable stars dominate the sky above, illuminating the vast jungle and bathing each leaf and rock with their soft light. All around me, vapors rise like ghosts in the starlight. Some are thin streams of mist; others are clouds so large that their billowing appears to be in slow motion.
I lie down on the rock and am still, watching the steam rise into the night. When a cool breeze blows, the mists thicken and roll, forming pale gray-blue eddies against the sky. The rock beneath my body glows dimly white in the faint light. Where my back and legs touch the rock’s surface, I’m sweating lightly. A torrent of water, hot enough to kill me, wider than a two-lane road, surges past my rock, emitting a roar that drowns out the jungle’s nighttime chorus. My senses are sharp and every movement is keenly deliberate.
I’m in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. The other members of my team are in bed in the tiny community nearby, but there is no way I can sleep—not with what is before me here. My heart is beating hard, but I feel a complete calm. My eyes follow the river’s vapors as they rise and melt into the firmament. The Milky Way flows across the sky like a reflection of the river below. The Inca referred to the Milky Way as the Celestial River, a path to another world, a place inhabited by spirits. So the vapors join two great rivers here. It’s clear why the people who live here regard this jungle as a place of such spiritual power. The shaman’s words echo in my head: “The river shows us what we need to see.”
This is becoming one of the greatest adventures of my life. This will be the story I tell my children and grandchildren—and every action I make in this moment adds a new piece of the story. Every passing second now seems to hold a greater significance. Burning-hot water splashes on my right arm. I sit up, pulling my arm to my chest, no longer lost in thought. I recall my professor’s words from volcanology field school: “The people who die on volcanoes are the inexperienced who are ignorant of the dangers and the experts who have forgotten they are dangerous.”
I stand, make sure I have a firm footing, and jump back onto the nearest shore. As I look back at the Boiling River I can’t suppress an excited whisper: “This place exists. This place actually exists.” I remember the shaman saying the river has called me here for a purpose, and I can feel a greater mission about to take place. I won’t get much sleep tonight.
The vapors dance in the starlight as I make my way back to my hut, my mind filled with thoughts of the river, the dark jungle surrounding it, and the story that remains to be written. It’s a story that began with a legend heard in childhood—a story of exploration and discovery, driven by a need to understand what initially appeared unbelievable. It’s a story where modern science and traditional worldviews collide—not violently but respectfully—united in their sense of awe for the natural world.
At a time when everything seems mapped, measured, and understood, this river challenges what we think we know. It has forced me to question the line between known and unknown, ancient and modern, scientific and spiritual. It is a reminder that there are still great wonders to be discovered. We find them not just in the black void of the unknown but in the white noise of everyday life—in the things we barely notice, the things we almost forget, even in a detail of a story.
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Andres Ruzo starts with a brief, beautifully evocative description of the "Boiling River". This is followed by a nicely framed and romantic memory piece about the author in his youth hearing tales of the "Boiling River" from his playful grandfather. Fast forward to this young doctoral candidate who plans to map Peru's geothermal areas, but can't get the idea of the Boiling River out of his mind.
From there it is a short leap, through some fortuitous circumstances and connections, to a canoe trip, a jungle trail, and arrival at the River. We skip all of the lame Amazon adventure conventions, (not one piranha), and instead set up our measuring equipment and embrace the real mystery - how and why does this River exist? There are three possibilities - two involve fascinating earth science and the third would be a great disappointment. No more spoiling.
As Ruzo teases the answers out we meet a large but manageable cast of characters who are interesting and engaging, but not your usual Amazon jungle cliches. We have a shamanic episode that is reported with respect, sympathy, and affection, but mostly we are concerned with this thermal mystery. The good news is that we reach a satisfying explanation. As a bonus, there is an overarching mystery about why oil company surveyors in the 1930's, who explored the area thoroughly, never found the River. The answer to that question comes at the end of the book in a Santa Barbara library archive, and it is as neat and tidy as any country house murder mystery solution.
The book is brief, which is fine. Anything more would have added bulk for bulk's sake and detracted from the story. Our author is sincere, competent, generous and thoughtful, and makes a wonderful guide and companion. His enthusiasm for his subject, and for the protection of this natural wonder, is never over the top or strident, but strikes just the right balance between informative, romantic, and awed.
The upshot is that, although brief, this was a fascinating and rewarding read - nicely structured and well paced by a very engaging storyteller who would have made his grandfather proud. An excellent find. (Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
If you love a mystery, have an interest in ecology and the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest, or if you believe international petroleum companies are the scourge of the earth, you should read this book.
Andrés, a budding geology student, tells of his research into a legendary boiling river deep in the Peruvian Amazon jungle. A place he was told of as a child by his Abuelo (grandfather).
While I'm sure the printed and ebook versions are preferred by some, I highly recommend the Audible version. Andrés narrates his own book and doing so shares his passion and amazement for the adventure.
The Amazon rainforest has a new champion. His name, Andrés Ruzo!
So what is it? It's science meets spirituality .... I have loved Geology for many many years and learned as much as I could from reading. I had the awesome experience living in the southernmost Mojave Desert right up upon the San Bernardino Mountain's foothills Outside of Apple Valley, Ca. This was indeed a spiritual experience for me ... and this book resonated with me ... finding mystery and wonder in nature and the world around us is probably the most wonderful experience. I drove the mountain "off road" roads and the desert "off-road" roads and marveled at nature. every night the Milky Way was overhead and the sky so full of stars that it was difficult to pick out the constellations ... So This book brought me to the Amazon of today and to a great geological mystery. There is a great blend of exploring, science, and a plea for respect and preservation of the world's few remaining wild places.
This was a simply wonderful reading experience ... some great "take-aways" and much on which to reflect.
I heartily recomment this little book to all!!!!
Special places exist in the world. This is one of them. It is hoped that he can help keep this river and those who use it pure.
A celebration of this unique area is shared in his book. Some neighbors honor and work with those who live here, while others tear down the forests and burn the remains to farm and 'develop' the area.
I admire the author Andres Ruzo who has connected with this place. He is trying to preserve the Boiling River and the people who celebrate and honor it. His concern extends to his PhD Thesis on this geologic wonder. He does not want his research used to exploit the people or the resource.