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EXPLORE | Beni River, Bolivia


From a source high in the Bolivian Andes, the Beni River's waters flow northeast for 1,000 miles before spilling into the Amazon. | David W. Shaw

"There's no twilight in the tropics. Night falls like a curtain."
—Waldemar Young

I was somewhere on the Beni, standing riverside, upstream a day or more from the Amazon outpost of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia. For miles around the camp I was sharing with two local guides, there was nothing but rainforest. Cascades of rain had fallen throughout the day, and now fog ascended in plumes from the trees. My feet, sandal-shod and sore, settled into the warm river mud. It worked slowly between my toes, then onto the tops of my feet, a spreading blanket, cooling the raw skin. The Beni's water was full of grit and went by in powerful waves. I let the mud keep me there as dusk passed into night.

When it was dark, I looked toward camp, where the guides were making dinner. The men had been raised deep in the forest around us, and they spoke Tsimané by the fire. They had caught fish from the river and foraged Heliconia fronds from the forest. I saw them place the fish on the leaves and wrap them up into green packages. Steam rose as they laid our meal on the coals.

I shut my eyes, felt my empty stomach lurching for food. But I wasn't ready to move, so I listened. The rhythm of their voices swirled like sparks from the popping fire. The river rushed, frogs chirped, insects droned. Droplets fell from watery trees. My gentle shifts of weight drew sucking sounds from the mud below. Soon the food was ready. I leaned left, then right, trying to get loose from the goo. But the mud adjusted as if it wanted to keep me a little longer. I gave up easily, allowing my feet to settle like roots in the riverbank. —David W. Shaw


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