Paddle to the Amazon: a 20,000 Kilometre Epic

I just finished reading “Paddle to the Amazon: the ultimate 12,000 mile canoe adventure.” Excellent book!

I happened across it by accident … my wife’s grandfather passed away, and I received some of his books, including this one.

It’s the story of Don Starkell and his son Dana, who paddled from their home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Belém, Brazil … all in an open-top canoe. (For part of the journey, Don’s other son Jeff was along.)

The length of the journey itself is astounding: nearly 20,000 kilomtres. But the fact that a good portion of those kilometres where in ocean water is even more amazing. Canoes and the sea typically don’t mix.

Don and company followed the Red River upstream to the Mississipi, which they rode downstream all the way to the Gulf, travelled along the coast of the US, Mexico, Central America, and part of South America, until they went upstream on the Orinoco, downstream on the Rio Negro in Brazil, and finally connected with the upper Amazon and paddled all the way to its mouth at Belém.

Along the way they were robbed multiple time, accosted by hostile soldiers and militia dozens of times, and benefited from the kindness of strangers both rich and poor countless times. They camped on beaches, warehouses, and yacht clubs. They were capsized dozens of times, marooned by storms, half-starved, sick, wounded … you name it.

Don took notes – almost a million words – during the trip, and after the trip an editor and author, Charles Wilkens, helped pare that down to a more manageable 200,000 words. The book keeps the form of a diary, and recounts the ups and downs of a trip that took a little over two years to complete.

Great book, great story, great adventure.

The only wish I had after reading it was to have another book, this time told from the perspective of Starkell’s son Dana. I get the feeling that he took the trip almost entirely because of his father. While I’m sure he benefited immensely from it, I’d like to hear the story from his perspective as well.

The book is not new: it was published in 1987, and the trip ended in 1982 or thereabouts. However, it’s still very worthy of a read and I notice that the book – a newer edition – is still available on Amazon.

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