Down The River of Doubt: Celebrating the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition on its Centennial
Prof. Dr. Marc André Meyers, University of California, San Diego, USA
In 1914 Theodore Roosevelt embarked, unknowingly, into the most difficult task in his adventurous life: to descend the uncharted River of Doubt in the far reaches of Western Brazil, braving hostile native tribes, malaria, and piranhas. It was a particularly strained period in his life, after having lost his election bid, and the tour through South America was expected to be ‘a walk in the park.’ The expedition, co-led by Candido Rondon, legendary Brazilian explorer, succeeded at a high human cost and sacrifice: three deaths and the near loss of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, who asked, wounded and delirious, for the members to abandon him. As a celebration to this great feat of courage, a team, exactly 100 years later, mounted an expedition to retrace the original route.
The expedition had three objectives:
- Retrace the original Roosevelt-Rondon expedition route to gain insight and celebrate the human endeavors and sacrifice of the first expedition.
- Establish a broad based collection of unique biological specimens to be found along the route and perform other scientific research.
- Compare the changes over the past century by using Roosevelt’s original detailed reporting of geography, fauna, flora, and native inhabitants.
Led by Prof. Marc Meyers, a pioneer in the field of biologically inspired materials and design (originally from Brazil), the effort also had the participation of two Brazilian Army officers, Col. Hiram and Angonese, and the support of the Brazilian Army for the land portion. The expedition had a strong scientific emphasis and started in Caceres, crossing the Indigenous areas Paresi and Nambikwara lands on mostly on horseback and foot and descending the river on two kayaks and a canoe.