Travel Thursday: Paddle to the Amazon

Don Starkell documents his two-year canoeing odyssey from Winnipeg, Canada to Belem, Brazil in the book Paddle to the Amazon. This remarkable journey is full of fascinating details of the climate, water, people and animals along the way.

Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 17, 1982 A couple of days ago, west of Puerto Ordaz, we were trailed for over an hour by five dolphins, or toninas, whose silvery skin was blotched with pink patches and whose dorsal fins were small and soft-looking, unlike the more prominent fins we are used to. From time to time, one of them would rocket towards us on the surface and then veer away sharply as it got to the canoe, doing its playful best to give us a good splash.

Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 22 A while ago several of our friendly toninas gathered around our campsite, poking their noses and eyes above water to see what we were up to. We realize now some of them have been following us for three or four days. Many of them have distinctive pink blotches, so that we’ve come to recognize them as individuals. The day before,we were surprised to see one that was entirely pink.

Rio Orinoco, Venezuela, January 27 We had a magical experience as we left camp this morning. Several big toninas were swimming along in front of us, half watching us as we stroked. Every so often, one of them would break from the rest and power in toward us, jumping into the air a few feet from the canoe and doing a somersault, sending a high spray of water over us. We’ve begun to suspect that they don’t follow our canoe merely for friendship but because we tend to scare the smaller fish out from along the banks.

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