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Text Ben Stookesberry
Photos Chris Korbulic

3/1/10 – Mato Grosso, Brazil

Despite many areas experiencing the most rain in 80 years, Sao Paulo’s freeways and the thoroughfares through Brazil’s expansive interior were in as good of shape as I have seen them. The rivers on the other hand are incredibly full and treacherous, with our first descent of the Expedition demonstrating the true power of a Central Brazilian river. At or near the scour line, the Rio Das Mortes (River of the Dead) sped into the jungle with 15 – 20 thousand cfs at the put-in. Surrounding the river corridor of thick jungle are massive Agricultural complexes; however, the riparian vegetation has been maintained throughout the watershed so even at this extremely high flow the water is transparent and appeared quite clean.

Three years ago during my first trip to Mato Grosso a local kayaker told me about this unrun section of river, containing the big class V we like. Finally, a month ago I came across the whitewater laced canyon on Google Earth located in the upper watershed near where we would enter Mato Grosso from Sao Paulo.

From the satellite photo I saw massive deforestation around the river and expected to be overwhelmed by the destruction of the natural Serrado forest. Once on the ground though, I began to see the place through the eyes of the extremely hospitable land owners and farm workers that have developed the area for the last 50 years. These are the people we have to thank for many of the conveniences of the modern world, i.e. the supermarket.

In addition to providing us with directions for put-in and take-out, the gracious farmers took us up in a crop duster to give us a look at the dense jungle canyon of the Das Mortes. From the air at about 85 miles an hour and 60 – 150 feet off the deck the river looked huge but very manageable. At about 15 – 20 miles an hour and a torso length off the boiling, swollen current, things looked very different from the seat of our Super Heroes.

This incredible descent of a big water canyon on the edge of the Amazon could not have provided a more exhilarating and informative start to the trip. Unfortunately the Das Mortes river and it’s intact jungle corridor is slated for inundation by hydro-electric development over the next 5 – 10 years. From this first encounter with river, jungle, and agricultural plantation it seems that the biggest threat to the Amazon now is from the promise of "cheap and clean" hydro power. The biggest example of this is a massive neighbor to the Amazon called the Xingu. Once dammed, the Xingu will be the third largest dammed river on the planet.

Through the rest of the journey into the Amazon we will be in search of more amazing rivers, and more perspectives from agricultural concerns to the indigenous peoples of the area that are entrusted with the last natural expanses of rainforest.

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