this point Tony Morrison continued
bridge has a fascinating story. It is the longest suspension bridge ever constructed
by the Austrian engineering company, Waagner-Biro. It was ordered back in the
late 1970s and when the parts arrived a shortage of cash and the lack of infrastructure
such as a road, left the parts sitting idle in a warehouse for about 25 years.
All that changed with an Peruvian-Brasilian accord to fulfil the long cherished
dream of an inter oceanic route.
is hard to imagine that this huge river - it rises by at least ten metres in the
rainy season - it is also hard to imagine that it is not navigable all the way
to the Amazon. But on the way it joins two major rivers - here I'll just name
them. The Beni comes in from Bolivia - one of it's tributaries is that polluted
trickle that runs through La Paz - another is the Mamoré coming in from
southern Bolivia with tributaries such as the Piraí the river of Santa
Cruz de la Sierra - and these with many finally they become the Madeira, the Amazon's
great tributary. This huge river then pours over series of giant rapids which
to date have blocked the way to upstream navigation.
road north from the Madre de Dios crosses one famous river - the Tahuamanú
- in fact, the town here - Iberia was once
called Tahuamanú. Its history is tied to the late 19th Century and the
story of rubber when the near feudal control of the area was making fortunes for
absentee landlords . Some of you may recall the film and book Lizzie I
created for the BBC in 1985. Lizzie, a young Victorian lady spent the final days
of her short life on a rubber barraca , a collecting point downriver from
Tahuamanú eventually leads to the Amazon via the river Beni and the rapids.
Here is the Tahuamanú near Iberia - taken from the road bridge.
At the border about 60kms onwards the road crosses the Acre river - also with
a great rubber era history - but unlike the Tahuamanú with its route to
the Amazon blocked by rapids, the Acre river flows to the Purus - It is shallow
and without rapids. In high water the Purus is navigable for 2600 kms to the main
Amazon - no wonder that in the Rubber Era small ocean going steamers were seen
not far from here
before leaving the border there is a final curiosity - the settlement of Bolpebra
in Bolivia - just 1500 metres from the Aduana - Customs Post . It's the place
where Bolivia, Peru and Brasil meet - it's a fairly fluid frontier you could say.
But now looking at the future use of the InterOceánica maybe a few
tips can be gleaned from the history of the rubber era as the size of the profit
from rubber trees depended largely on the cost of transportation - Tahuamanú
rubber had to go out via the rapids - that problem in turn spawned a couple of
railways and one immense fortune - Nicholas Suárez, a Bolivian who made
his money by transporting goods around rapids at a place on the Beni river he
called Cachuela Esperanza - the Rapids of Prospect.
was taken downriver around the rapids and goods imported from Europe went upriver.
Suárez became so powerful that ran his own private army - I mention all
this because in Amazonia today the cost of transportation is all important - remember
- Amazonia is much the same size as the continental USA
the past five years I have made five long bus journeys across Amazonia - choosing
a comfortable bus instead of a canoe or hacking through forest as I did in the
past. Perhaps a comfortable bus reflects my status as a Senior Citizen and. also
reflects on a changing Amazonia - one in which good bus travel is possible and
the penetration of the original wilderness from every direction is going ahead
at a remarkable pace.
my first bus journeys I sensed that my wife Marion - who has anything but fond
memories of mosquitoes and canoe travel didn't believe my stories . But recently
she has joined me and seen what I am calling the New Amazonia as - indeed - it
is very much part of modern Brasil
New Amazonia I do not mean that all the forests have gone - AND I'm not
going to join in with the haggling over percentages being cut or still standing
or the concern over carbon dioxide and climate change or the controversy over
the use of Amazonia as a resource - that is for others and another time.
Here I will show just a few pictures and you can see how towns and cities
are big. And growing quickly - Just a few names you may know
Velho - in 1950 its population was 5000 now it is 436,000 and it has a newly
completed bridge across the River Madeira
- once thought of as the centre of the Amazon now has 2 million people, a special
incentive industrial zone turning out hundreds of good ranging from smartfones
to motorcycles. AND a new bridge 3.595 kms long built across the Rio Negro - started
in 2007 opened last year.
- You will not find this place in older atlases - it was back in 1972
that the first roads were set out in the middle of the Mato Grosso - The Denser
Forest -that magical name for a wilderness so much talked about in the early
is now somwewhere in the middle of all these soya fields and has grown to over
110,000 people  The name is an acronym for the name of the company that
founded the town.
on a river of the same name draining to the Plate system is the gateway to the
Mato Grosso - it is another city of a million or more. In 1950 the population
was just 62,000
list could be endless so I'll stop here - So what brings people into Amazonia
? Farming, small industries and minerals. And the products? How do they export
them? - Soybean is the most talked about as it is sold internationally with 29
million metric tonnes going from Brasil to Asia in 2010. [28,739, 253 metric tonnes].
Mato Grosso was the major producer
returning to the InterOceánica and the theoretical export route from
Amazonia via Peru's Pacific ports.
It is my belief that the cost per ton is
too high as even in 40 tonne trucks there would be the extra cost of fuel to climb
over the Andes mountain ranges. The cost of transporting the fuel and the cost
of financing the drivers and return journey.
take the northern route over the 4,750 Pass of Pirhuayan and down to Urcos near
Cusco. -- From Cusco to the Pacific is not
downhill all the way and there are formidable barriers to cross. One of the most
notable obstacles is the canyon of the Apurimac river flowing from the south and
reckoned as the Amazon's source.
The canyon is over 2000m deep and the road goes down to the river and then out
again with a series of hair-raising bends.
obstacle has been known for centuries and in Inca times a great bridge of ropes
made from twisted dried grasses crossed the river. .. It inspired Thornton Wilder
to write of the Bridge of San Luis Rey
the Apurimac going westward are the heights of Yaurihuiri at over 4300 m that
together with shorter climbs along the way that would add up to over 9600 m of
uphill driving for the truck drivers or about 800m more than an ascent of Everest
you imagine a line of about 1500 trucks [lorries] grinding uphill in low
gear and then through snow covered passes?
1500 trucks would be required to carry the same as a Panamax grain carrier ship
[Panamax = the largest size of vessel able to pass through the current Panama
southern route leading to Ilo and Matarani has to climb to the Abra Oquepuño
at 4850m which is 40 m higher than Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain and then
after a short descent the road has to climb another 700+ m before eventually heading
downhill to the Pacific. As far as I can see the total uphill driving from the
eastern Andean foothills on this route would be over 5300m.
you imagine the 2011 Rondonia soya production alone, of 446,000 metric
tonnes being taken in 40 tonne trucks to the top of Everest and then down again
before being shipped? That would be crazy not just from the Dollar cost but the
pointless waste of energy.
the Brasilian state with the best connection to the Interoceánica is
not yet a major producer of soya. Among the State's production are brazil nuts,
natural oils and latex - used for organic condoms made in a factory in Xapuri
on the Acre river.
can see how the figures for long haul road transport of soya do not add up commercially.
In the adjacent state of Mato Grosso the soya harvest in 2011 was 22 million metric
tonnes. Just try putting that into 40 tonne truck units - it is done today but
tomorrow there will be a specially built railway.
US Department of Agriculture monitoring world prices for soya noted the rising
cost of truck transport to get the soya to river ports - this rise was in part
due to recently imposed Brasilian restrictions on driving hours.
For most bulk transport the Amazon river provides low cost shipping to all parts
of the world including Asia. From the port
of Amazon port of Santarém - that's where Michael Palin began his journey
to see Henry Ford's old plantations in Fordlandia - from Santarém and from
Manaus 2,300,000 metric tons of soybean were exported last year.
When talking of figures for Manaus that usually means from the grain port of Itacoatiara
on the Amazon's northern bank, some 200 kms downstream from Manaus. Itacoatiara
is virtually opposite the mouth of the Madeira and ideally placed to receive barge
traffic from Rondonia
the Brasilian answer to soybean transport is to use trucks to get the soybeans
to silos and then by barges along the rivers or on lakes now filling behind the
huge dams being built for power.
an aside I should mention that one proposal by an American 'think tank' of the
late 1960's suggested creating a series of Great Lakes in Amazonia The idea was
reported widely and in 1967 The Times, London, carried almost a full page
story and map.
plan suggested that a series of dams not exceeding 33m high could be built across
some rivers and create lakes allowing shipping between ports on the surrounding
shores. With transport in place it would become easier to extract timber or minerals
and the permit the production of energy. For years the idea was viewed with alarm
as a nightmare
now in 2011 rivers, dams and man made lakes are part of the planning to permit
low cost transportation of the immense amounts of Amazonian agricultural produce,
minerals and timber.
the western side of Amazonia close to Interoceanica connections a series of dams
has been planned to open the route along the Rio Madeira to the Amazon - two of
the dams are almost complete and will have ship-locks Both are being built on
rapids previously major obstacles to navigation
Santo Antonio dam near Porto Velho, 3,100 m long and 13.4m high will generate
3,140MW when it is fully on stream in 2016. Much of that energy will be 'exported'
to southeast Brasil
Jirau dam [also Girau ] is about 120 kms upstream from Porto Velho
and also due to be fully generating by 2016. It is 1,150m wide and 62m high
are truly staggering projects and if the four dams are completed will change this
corner of Amazonia forever. Just over 4000 kilometres of waterway will be opened
for navigation and by one estimate as much as 143,000 hectares of land in western
Amazonia will be opened for soybean planting - assuming of course that all the
soil is suitable
give you some idea of the scale and intention
one set of locks at Tucuruí on the Tocantins river over in eastern Amazonia
where the system is working already. Two sets of locks give a lift of 75 metres
and the contructions totally more than the height of Big Ben [London's famous
clock tower] - you can even drive under the main lock. A six kilometre canal has
been cut to link the two sets locks and avoid rapids.
using barges any bulk products from Madre de Dios Region could be exported at
low cost via the Amazon - much as rubber was in the 19th century. Of course the
other two dams would be essential for simplifying the route - but money for products
and money for infrastructure seem to go and in hand - at least in Brasil.
finally back to the thorny topic of further road building in Madre de Dios
and especially in the province of Purus. I will repeat John's map.
are suggestions that a road could be built from Iñapari to Puerto Esperanza
on the Purus. Not everyone is against the idea but objections include the danger
to the Alto Purus National Park and contiguous reserves.
The area is largely pristine tropical forest and as John has said it is home to
small pockets of forest tribal people - perhaps numbering no more than a couple
of hundred who have had no real contact with Europeans since the rubber era.
A road here would simply introduce more people and machinery.
feel this is a good place to finish as a new road would certainly improve the
life for the Peruvians lin Puerto Esperanza and the existing settlers along the
rivers. It would and open up the area which in any case is already gaining from
the changes in Brasil across the border.
the Peruvian Government is not entirely against the road as long as it is controlled....
so with economics on its side and the need to establish a stronger Peruvian presence
in Purus the road could get a go ahead.
to what may happen in this part of Amazonia is crystal ball gazing territory
present about 18.4 pc of the Madre de Dios Region is devoted to parks and reserves
--- And how the remainder of the land is used will depend on how well it is suited
to crops. In the short term small scale farming and extraction of forest products
will enjoy easy transport along the new highway. But any large scale agricultural
production requiring major investment would look very carefully at transport costs.
first steps will be logging and already trucks are seen every day - even back
in the 1960s when we were there making TV films for BBC , timber from Quincemil
was being hauled over the mountains . I can recall riding uphill on a truck carrying
apile of lumber and chatting with an American anthropologistabout a forest people,
the Huachipaeri - the timber we were sitting on was bound for Cusco.
once the new hidrovias are completed the main export route will be via the Amazon
- In high water season the Purus river offers an easy route but it is long and
very meandering so it is not good year round, but soybean is harvested usually
in March a high water season for the rivers.
So with more people - more roads - more regional prosperity it adds up to add
up to a very good reason to rigorously protect the likes of the Manú, Tambopata,
Manú and Bahuaja-Sonene reserves.
Interoceánica road itself will almost certainly act as a conduit bring
settlers from the impoverished highlands - you can see that economic in the case
of Pucallpa - a road of sorts was built in 1945 and the population is now 200,000
- in Bolivia Santa Cruz de la Sierra was a small town of about 50,000 in 1950
but with a road built in the 1950s it has grown to over 2 million - and is the
largest city in Bolivia
is with apologies to the Anglo Peruvian Society that I will finish in Brasil near
Brasilia, the capital built from scratch in the cerrado in the late
1950's. Perhaps we should not forget that President Belaúnde also had a
plan to move the Peruvian capital from Lima to the rainforest - it was named Ciudad
Constitución and it never really got of the ground. But rough roads connecting
the site to other parts of Peru are in place.
In 1977 I was helping the producers of a David Attenborough Life on Earth
film and was taken to a small reserve the Aguas Emendadas about thirty
five kms outside the city. From this particular spot streams beginning underground
flow south to the Plate system and Buenos Aires or north to the Amazon and Belém.
month ago I was there again to see how apart from in the reserve the cerrado
had survived - the reserve is remarkably well protected by guards and surrounded
by a fence. But outside the fence huge soya fields sit cheek by jowl with a wilderness
still home to wildlife much as we filmed just less than forty years ago. Two towns
one with 76,000 people and connected by a major highway now abut the remaining
10,500 hectare protected area
is truly taking over the planet. Thank you for coming out on this chill evening
..... and goodnight