A Bridge too far ?
Tony Morrison remembers "Plans for a road linking the Pacific and the Atlantic across the heart of South America have been talked about for years. When we were in Peru in the early 1960s at least two routes were on the table and both had pros and cons. Now it has been done and the 700+ metre bridge across the River Madre de Dios, opened in late 2011 has completed the first road link between Peru and Brasil "
2011 Marion Morrison in a collectivo taxi en route for Iñapari, Peru on the Brasilian frontier  1969 Tony Morrison beside the Alto Madre de Dios river at the road-head close to Shintuya

" In 1969 we were based in Lima, Peru making a films for BBC TV. The Manú had just been recognised by Ian Grimwood, Wildlife Adviser to the Peru government, as the most untouched of the rivers in the Peruvian Amazon forest and we were the first TV journalists to know.

Cusco.... the Journey to reach the Manú river took us over the Andes Mountains to Cusco the old Inca capital. From Cusco two routes led eastwards over snow-capped ranges to the Amazon lowlands via Paucartambo and another via Urcos to Quince Mil.

Both routes were rough. We drove our Land Rover to Paucartambo, then to the very small settlement of Pilcopata and the river Alto Madre de Dios near Shintuya. Roads penetrating the Amazon were in the Peruvian news and there was a proposal to extend the Shintuya road to the mouth of the Manú and then northwest through the forest to Iñapari at the Brasilian border.

Progess Notes of alarm were raised as the road to Shintuya would open the way for easy access to the Manú. But road building meant progress so machinery and bridges to cross small rivers were moved in. For a few years Shintuya bustled. Meanwhile the other route via Quince Mil was improved and Puerto Maldonado grew so the Manú route to Iñapari was dropped."

By the late 1970's the route to Brasil was settled and a suspension bridge to cross the Madre de Dios river at Puerto Maldonado was built in Austria by the world famous engineering company Waagner Biro. The parts were shipped to Peru.

Once erected the bridge would cross the river to a dirt road leading almost due north to Iñapari where it would cross another river - the Acre - on the Brasilian border. But the bridge languished in a warehouse for twenty five years.

Peru 89' Four students from Southampton University, England, chose the road north from Puerto Maldonado for an academic study and their report gives a superb snapshot of the roadside communities, their size and and their economy in 1989.
The communities of Planchón - 39 kims and San Lorenzo -145 kms were well established by 1989 and are now small towns while Iberia, established in 1961 has grown to over 5000 [2012] and has its own airstrip on the southern side of the town.  

The opening up of this part of Peru dates back to the late 19th Century especially in the northern sector around the present day Iberia and the border region. In those days it was a centre for the extraction of rubber latex from native forest trees. Rivers such as the Tahuamanú and the Acre were well-known but access was usually by boat from the lower reaches. Contact was not with the rest of Peru but with Europe or the United States via the rivers and the Atlantic. All that changed with the collapse of the Amazon Rubber Boom after 1912 and the region began to look westwards.

Now the road and bridge are in place the new economy will be based on using the land and forest products or transporting goods from the hugely industrailised Brasil

With special thanks to John Forrest -Tambopata Reserve Society [TReeS] and the Peru '89 team
in 2011 the route to the Atlantic was still broken near Abuna in Brasil where the BR 364 reaches the River Madeira - traffic still crossed by barge


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