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  1. I always enjoy books about exploration and this one was no exception. I don't know what was going on in my life that I didn't read it when everyone else did, but I am glad that I finally got it read. Fascinating book. The River of Doubt is in the interior of Brazil. It had been spotted but not explored in the first part of the 20th Century when Theodore Roosevelt, then in his 50s, heard about it. He decided that he had to make an expedition in order to get his most recent electoral loss out of his system. He and his son Kermit had already explored (in a shooting big game sort of way) Africa and so he invited Kermit along. It appears that neither Roosevelt was one for details, so they left the selection of the route and provisioning of the exploration to what seems like a random selection of men, with predictable results. They had WAY TOO MUCH stuff, all of which seemed necessary in NY, but less necessary when it had to be portaged around the multiple waterfalls on their route. And they made a terrible decision about vessels to use, although it's easy to see how it happened. Instead of using canvas-covered canoes, which would have been easy to steer and much lighter to carry, they used the dugouts that were common in the area. But dugouts are heavy and lack maneuverability, neither of which is a good thing in a river that is as turbulent as this one. And boy, did they suffer! Starvation, death, murder, accidents, bugs, bugs, bugs, and disease. Roosevelt never really recovered, dying 5 years later. And Kermit went on to have a very sad life. The hero of the book was the Brazilian leader of the group, Candido Rondon, a man who appears to have been even more indestructible than Roosevelt. Rondon's attitude toward the Indians was light-years ahead of his time and probably helped save the exploring party from being killed, even if they weren't really welcomed. And, based on history, the Indians shouldn't have been welcoming. Rondon was part Indian, I think, and grew up very poor in the interior of Brazil, crawling out of poverty as part of the Brazilian military. He had strung the telegraph line through the Brazilian jungle and developed much-derided attitudes toward the Indians, for which everyone in the expedition should have been grateful. Highly recommend.
  2. The Dallas Morning News gave this book a good review and, once again, their reviewers were right. What a story. The Maya civilization existed in Central America from approximately 1800 B.C. until about 900 A.D., with the "golden age" beginning in about 250 A.D. And then the civilization disappeared, although the people did not. The jungle swallowed up their great cities and monuments and virtually no one--not even the local people--remembered them. There had been explorers who had mentioned encountering "antiquities" in the Central American jungles, but nothing like a full description. But those mentions were enough for John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, life-long sufferers from wanderlust. They had both visited Egypt and other antiquities (not together), but neither was at all familiar with Central America. In 1839, Stephens somehow got commissioned as a special U.S. Ambassador to the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America and asked Catherwood, an architect and artist, to join him. They arrived in the middle of a revolution and the description of their experiences during that time are exciting enough all on their own. But their real purpose was exploring and so as soon as they decently could, off they went. What they found so far exceeded their expectations that they could barely wrap their minds around it. It is to their credit that they were open-minded enough to realize that these ruins were not the work of the Egyptians, Lost Tribes of Israel, etc.--the prevailing view at the time--but of an ancient indigenous civilization. Stephens wrote a book about it, which Catherwood illustrated, and the book was a runaway success, amazing all who read it. I'm not going to tell any more. If you are at all interested in this subject, you should read this book as soon as possible. If you aren't, but know someone who is, you should give this book to that person as a gift. It is hard to believe that Stephens and Catherwood persevered through swamps, steep mountains, heavy jungle growth, vicious insects, and terrible diseases and accidents and that they did it in the early 1800s. The description of the terrible choice between completely encasing yourself in a sleeping bag and sweating through the night versus avoiding the sweatbag and allowing yourself to be completely feasted upon by mosquitos and worse is completely accurate, as I know from being a Girl Scout in South Florida. Ugh. If you read it, try to have nearby access to the internet so that you can look up the various sites, most of which have been cleared and are very beautiful. I've been to some on Cozumel, but I don't think I've been to the ones that are inland. The most common one to visit from Dallas is Tulum (it's near a popular beach resort), but my mother has been to Chichen Itza as have many of my friends. So many places to go and things to see....
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