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Along the River that Flows Uphill - in more detail

A Yanomami man, his lower lip stuffed with the customary wad of tobacco

IN 2005, GEOGRAPHICAL – the official magazine of the Royal Geographical Society in London – commissioned the authors to write an article about a strange river in Venezuela called the Casiquiare.

 

This river is like no other on the face of the planet, since it joins two other river systems – that of the Orinoco and of the Amazon – which should be entirely separate; and it does this by apparently flowing up and over the watershed that divides them. This should not be possible.

For Richard Starks, the commission offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to test himself against the standards set by his childhood explorer-heroes – men like Burton, Speke, Baker, Livingstone and, especially, Henry Morton Stanley. For Miriam Murcutt, the commission was simply a welcome chance for adventure.

The two authors hired a boat and an Indian guide to take them 1,000 miles up the Orinoco and along the length of the Casiquiare to the Rio Negro, which flows into the Amazon near the town of Manaus in Brazil.

 

They expected to travel only with their guide, but when they boarded his boat, they found he had brought along his extended family, as well as a party of Venezuelan fish-researchers and a young, overly persistent entomologist.

Yanomami mother in a Casiquiare river village

A few days into the journey, their guide took on another passenger – a Yanomami Indian from a primitive tribe that is reputed to be “the most violent people on Earth”.



ALONG THE RIVER THAT FLOWS UPHILL is an account of the authors’ journey. It begins conventionally enough, but when a Yanomami hunter threatens to shoot them with a poisoned arrow, the authors are forced to confront the risks they are taking.

 

Richard Starks – from whose point of view the book is told – retreats to his roots and blends science, math and reason in an attempt to rationalize that risk and to question his courage as measured against that of his hero, Henry Morton Stanley.

This need to rationalize risk surfaces again when FARC guerrillas attempt to kidnap the authors and hold them for a $20,000 ransom.

Along the River that Flows Uphill has been well reviewed by readers and critics. It was first published by Haus Publishing, London, as part of its Armchair Traveller series of literary travel books. It is now also available in a Kindle edition.

 

You can listen to a Rick Steves interview with the authors on the Travel with Rick Steves national public radio program.