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Along the River that Flows Uphill - the book and the reviews

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 is published in the United States and United Kingdom by Haus Publishing, London, as part of its Armchair Traveller series of literary travel books. It is also available in a Kindle edition.

Reviews of Along the River that Flows Uphill

Bongo navigating the Upper Orinoco

"What a read! As experienced authors of several books and articles, these writers know their subject and their craft.They write with humor and skill in a way that keeps you turning the pages.This is a really good read and an amazing adventure. The vivid descriptions and history of the area through which they traveled will make you feel as if you have been there too, but without the dangers." - Bonnie Neely, Editor, Real Travel Adventures International magazine, and Top 1,000 Reviewer on

"Wonderfully entertaining. This is an extremely intelligent book - very well written with a few surprises along the way. The authors introduce the reader to a world that many have never heard of and even fewer will ever visit. Along the River that Flows Uphill - from the Orinoco to the Amazon is not just a story but a real-life adventure that takes twists and turns along a remarkable stretch of water that remains nearly untouched. The authors not only give a stunning account of their adventures, but also provide intriguing background information as they go through their journey. The reader feels as though she joined the authors on the trip. They draw the reader in and make the book nearly impossible to put down." - RebeccasReads book review website.

"Along the River that Flows Uphill is a pocket-sized delight full of characters so complex and delightful that they almost seem unreal...The way in which Starks and Murcutt embark on their adventure is nothing if not that pursuit of the unexpected - there is a sense of the unknown and more than a little excitement from the outset when they step off the plane in Caracas...The easy-flowing prose is scattered with information about the history and people of the areas they visit, and there is a nod to social conscience along with details of the rather suspect scientific practices of the late 1960s." - The List, Scotland's arts, events and entertainment magazine.

Boy carrying a take-out of boiled armadillo

"Along the River that Flows Uphill is a fast read and packable companion in 234 pages. It's a pleasant ride for those curious about the world's most controversial river (the Casiquiare) as well as those already enmeshed in adventures of their own." Daily Camera, Boulder, Colorado.

"Five out of five stars. The authors relate their adventures along the mysterious (Casiquiare river) in vivid detail, including a brush with a tribe of Yanomami Indians and a potentially dangerous confrontation with FARC guerrillas. Their reflections on the sights, wonders, and wistful beauties of a little-travelled path make for an unforgettably vivid travelogue." - Midwest Book Review.

"Starks and Murcutt discuss inventive creation stories, mathematical formulas relevant to everyday life and South American history, while alluding to the idea that misinterpreting risk could lead to death but it may perhaps set you free. They are effective in telling their story, while at the same time persuading their readers to book a flight, hail a taxi, shadow a local and wander into the sections of the map where 'here be dragons' is inscribed." - Boston's Weekly Dig.

Fruit ripening aboard a Casiquiare riverboat

"'I’ve nearly died three times in my life -- which is funny in an ironic way, since I was once accused of never taking any risks.' This first line of Along the River that Flows Uphill sets the tone completely. We understand, just from that, that we’re about to embark on an adventure. The other thing that we understand is that we’re in the hands of a storyteller or, as it turns out, a couple of them. The book the two produced is both enjoyable and informative: and so much beyond the travelogue one might expect. It is creative non-fiction. It is literature. It is history. It is geography. It is adventure. And it is cracking good fun." - January magazine, giving the book its 'Best of 2009 Non-fiction' award.

“Authors Starks and Murcutt confront the inner narratives that have given them a passion for adventure and exploration but which have, at the same time, placed them in danger. The travel narrative that results is an absorbing review of well-known historical explorers whose journals came to define the risk, danger and discovery involved in European’s encounter with unfamiliar lands in the Americas, Africa and Asia.” - World Literature Today.

“I love this book; it’s really dramatic. It’s an armchair traveler book - very adventurous -but using you - the authors - as our ‘glasses’, we can see an incredible people (the Yanomami) who have rarely been viewed before. It’s awesome.” – Sandy Dhuyvetter, Executive Producer and Host of TravelTalkMEDIA.

Lucho, a Bare indian guide, foraging in the jungle

"We don’t review too many books at Adventure World, but every so often a book comes along that catches our attention. Recently, I was traveling and grabbed the book, Along the River that Flows Uphill, and threw it my carry-on pack. Three flights later, I was done with the book and I have added it to my must read list for others... The book is part travel journal and part guide for those seeking adventure travel. It delves into the very real dangers that exist in adventure travel. As I was reading it, I was swept away to another time and felt as if I could be reading travel accounts from the 18th and 19th centuries… I believe you too will be swept away in this modern-day Lewis and Clark’esque journey.” - Adventure World magazine.

"I read your book from cover to cover. And so now I say - well done. Very interesting. As an adventure-sport risk-management ‘expert’, I was waiting for the risk discussions, which didn't come to fruition until the end but were planted as seeds in the middle. I enjoyed the many other educating thoughts on explorers, the river, the political situation (in Venezuela), the risk formulas, and the moral dilemmas, etc. Thanks for the opportunity to read the book.” - Tracey Knutson, partner in Knutson Associates, a legal firm specializing in adventure risk management.

You can listen to a Rick Steves interview with the authors on the Travel with Rick Steves national public radio program; or you can hear them discuss their book on TravelTalkMedia, an online and national broadcast news and entertainment program.