If you’re trying to think of a large country in which you could go for an expedition, you could certainly do a lot worse than choosing Brazil. With an area of 8.5 million square kilometres, Brazil is the fifth largest country on the planet. With such a large area there are plenty of opportunities to go exploring. The most famous wilderness area is of course the Amazon river basin and rainforest, which occupy most of the northern half of Brazil. There are many other places to explore of course, such as the semiarid deserts in the northeast, central savanna regions, the eastern Atlantic coastline and southern mountain ranges and temperate coniferous forests.
Into the Rainforest
Gareth Jones, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and Aaron Chervenak, photographer / filmmaker, are no strangers to exploring Brazil. In 2010 they undertook a canoe expedition into the Brazilian Amazon. At the beginning of this journey they encountered Brazilian miners and indigenous Waiãpi Indians, but it was not long before they left civilisation completely. Navigating their way through the Tumucumaque region, “Lucille” the machete enabled them to cut their way through the jungle. Their only company was the wildlife, such as Jaguars, brown snakes, monkeys, ants and mosquitoes!
The two of us were alone in a vast expanse of rainforest with no sign of human life, no indigenous villages, no trails, no litter, no aeroplanes above. It had been this way for weeks. We were paddling up the Rio Amapari, heading deep into the remote Tumucumaque region on Brazil’s frontier with French Guyana. The maps we had found of the area were useless and had ‘relief data incomplete’ stamped all over them…
Brazil 9000 Expedition
Starting this September (2012) explorers Gareth Jones and Aaron Chervenak are going to embark upon a mammoth 15 month expedition which will take them the entire length of Brazil. They will start at Brazil’s northern most point Monte Caburaí, from where they will make their way to the Amazon basin. From there they will kayak downstream to the Atlantic Ocean. Following the coast southwards they will hike towards Brazil’s southern most point at Chuí on the border with Uruguay. If time becomes short they will resort to using bicycles but the entire expedition will be human powered, even river crossings by ferry will not be an option!
This coastal route is far longer than cutting a direct southern path but more rewarding. There will be detours inland as and when the site of coconut palm beaches becomes monotonous! This includes travelling inland across the barren Caatinga scrubland before meeting the coast again at Recife. From there the march continues along the tropical coastline to Rio de Janeiro.
The entire distance of the expedition will be over 9000km (5500 miles)!
Interview with Gareth Jones and Aaron Chervenak
Brazil 9000 is one of the most exciting expeditions that we’ve heard about. We couldn’t resist asking the Gareth and Aaron to tell us more about it…
CheapTents: What inspired you to take on epic adventures?
Aaron Chervenak: Summers spent with my aunt and uncle in the North Woods of Wisconsin & Minnesota (USA) evolved into a love for adventure and the wilderness. A few years ago I took a solo trip to Micronesia’s remote island of Kosrae. I was embraced by the local community and shown what true hospitality and friendship means. I always carry these lessons with me.
Gareth Jones: My Dad loves the outdoors and camping trips in Snowdonia were my first taste of adventure. Later on, I took a huge amount of inspiration from the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, especially his Kon-Tiki Expedition where he and some friends drifted across the Pacific on an ancient bolsa raft. I learnt a lot from Heyerdahls courage and concern for the impact our society is having on the natural world. Also, the Royal Geographical Society in London has been a valuable resource. Their annual ‘Explore’ weekend is a recommended event for those seeking inspiration and advice for expeditions or adventures of any size.
CheapTents: What has been the highlight of your previous expeditions into the Amazon rainforest?
Gareth Jones: Spending weeks isolated and alone in the remote Tumucumaque jungle (in the Brazilian state of Amapa, near the border with French Guyana). There wasn’t a single sign of human existence to be found out there. It was a unique glimpse into a world untouched by man. The jungle can be as loud as any city and the range of peculiar noises took some time to get used to. We’d fall asleep to the sound of a nearby jaguar, and find its prints and strong scent on the river banks near our camp in the morning.
Aaron Chervenak: That trip was one of the first times when I felt that I truly faced my fears of the unknown. When this veil was lifted, I got a clear impression of nature and its cycles. The greatest surprise of all was to find that the Amazon was in fact NOT “man vs nature” but rather a beautiful and fragile place that we can exist alongside. We made a short film about this voyage ‘South at the 28th Spring’.
CheapTents: What dangers have you faced during your previous expeditions?
Gareth Jones: In reality piranhas, snakes, spiders and jaguars are low down on the list of jungle hazards. The mosquito is a far bigger killer than all of those things. I’ve had dengue fever before but we have both avoided malaria through taking the tablets, covering up and using lots of repellent. A comical but sinister threat is the wild pig. They roam in large packs, have huge teeth and can be aggressive. Falling dead wood from the trees above when sleeping in your hammock is another bad one. And of course, there’s the danger of going insane spending so much time alone in close quarters with one another.
CheapTents: Why are you walking / cycling / paddling over 9,000 km across Brazil?
Aaron Chervenak: It’s a journey that has never been attempted, not even with the use of motorised transport. I see it as a chance to inspire people to take on bold challenges and go see the world. As an American, my country puts so much focus on an educational system which is a progression from school to career – nothing within that model allows us to take a step back away from the pressure, away from expectations, and take time to look deep into ourselves and ask where our true interests lie. There’s no better way to do that than to travel.
Gareth Jones: The slow pace of ‘human-powered’ transport is the perfect way to interact and learn about the people and environments we visit along the way. We aim to create an unprecedented portrait of Brazil through photography, film and story and will be mixing the drama of our personal endurance challenge with this unique insight into Brazil’s people, cultures and natural environments.
CheapTents: What types of terrain will you traverse?
Gareth Jones: I think we’ve devised the ultimate route to experience Brazil’s diverse environments and people. Instead of going straight south, we are taking a much longer route. We’ll be visiting indigenous territories, luxury penthouses, deforested ranch lands, pristine rainforest, industrial ports, deserted beaches, fishing villages and huge metropolises.
The expedition starts at Monte Caburaí in the remote Amazonian region where Brazil borders Venezuela and Guyana. It ends at Chuí on the border with Uruguay. After travelling through the Amazon basin by canoe, we will hike out across the scorched, barren hinterlands and then on down the tropical coastline.
CheapTents: What training and preparation are you doing?
Gareth Jones: We’ve been together in California for the last 3 months, working on ideas for our film production, planning equipment, logistics and training.
Aaron Chervenak: A lot of our training has been out in the desert and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and we’ve also done some great urban hikes in Los Angeles. These have helped us judge the average distances we’ll be covering each day and feel out the weight of our pack loads.
CheapTents: What aspect of the expedition are you most looking forward to?
Gareth Jones: Simply being back in Brazil. We both love it so much. I’m especially notorious for my obsessive passion for all things Brazilian, be it the remote reaches of the Amazon rainforest, the beaches of Rio, the people, the music….don’t get me started or the list will get long. I’m very excited to be heading back into Amazonia. It’s a real paradise, at least in the parts we haven’t mined or chopped down yet. The feeling of being deep in the tropical wilderness and buried in its sounds and smells are memories that helped me survive my office job. I haven’t been fishing for a while either, so can’t wait to be back on the river.
Aaron Chervenak: Besides learning about Brazil and its people and history, I can’t wait to kill my phone contract and strip down my daily worries to basic questions like “do we have coffee this morning”, “how far can we walk today” or “can we find a good camp tonight?”. This trip is about total immersion into new surroundings over a long period of time, breaking away from the typical cycle of short work vacations that pull you back to your job just as you are beginning to learn something new about yourself and the world.
CheapTents: What part of the adventure do you expect to find most challenging?
Gareth Jones: The daily strain on our bodies over the next 15 months will be intense. Something else on my mind right now is the paddle through the Amazon delta region. River pirates are a possible threat (the murder of high profile Kiwi Yachtsman Sir Peter Blake is a disturbing example of this). A more tangible concern in this area is the maze of islands and the complex navigational challenge as the river nears the Atlantic and splits into numerous channels. The mighty river gets mighty tidal at this point, further complicating things. Of course, the entire length of the Amazon has recently been swum (Martin Strel) and walked (Ed Stafford) – We take great comfort in that!
I’ve lived in Brazil for years and never been mugged. However, on this journey personal safety is a big concern for both of us, especially as we walk through the poorer outskirts of major cities. These are places where people face major hardships and we are vulnerable targets. Keeping our photo and video footage safe and backed up presents a logistical challenge.
Aaron Chervenak: And above all those challenges is the test Brazil 9000 will put on our friendship. Will we drive each other crazy and split somewhere on the road? That’s a serious nightmare scenario that’s on both our minds. We’re as close as friends get, but under that daily pressure and close proximity it will be a big test. Discussing in advance these potential bust ups and scenarios has helped.
CheapTents: What role will the internet and social media have in Brazil 9000?
Gareth Jones: We’ll be using our blog and social network pages to post regular updates on our progress and share the images, film and stories that we gather along the way. We are lucky to be partnered with the amazing online travel magazine Sidetracked.co.uk – It’s creator John Summerton has been behind the project from an early stage and developed the Brazil 9000 website . There is also a social network platform specifically for adventurous folks – have a look at Explorers Connect.
Aaron Chervenak: We’re taking a Yellowbrick tracking device with us – a great bit of kit that allows our followers to track our progress on a live map and for us to tweet updates via its connection to the Iridium satellite network. Expect to hear tweets like “Gareth just ate all my share of the food, again”.
CheapTents: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Aaron Chervenak: Our Ally canoe made by Bergans of Norway. It’s the best collapsible canoe on the market. The Ally can be transported in a special backpack, allowing you to check it in with your luggage on flights or portage with it on your back, weighing 20 kg/44 lbs. We will use it on our main river phase, then switch to our lighter pack rafts once the hiking begins.
Gareth Jones: My Arc’teryx backpack. We’ve used Arc’teryx packs before in the Amazon and on Brazil 9000 we both will use the Arc’teryx Naos 85. They are totally waterproof packs that also have an advanced ergonomic load system suitable for carrying heavy loads over long distances.
CheapTents: Any people or sponsors that you’d like thank?
A huge thanks to all the individual donors who’ve contributed via the Paypal link on our site. We’re also lucky to have some top companies providing our equipment:
- Ally Canoes
- Aquabound – paddles
- Aquapac – waterproof camera cases
- Yellowbrick – global tracking device
- Hennessy Hammock – our jungle camping rig
- Arc’teryx – backpacks
- Asolo – hiking boots
- Exofficio – jungle clothing
- Keebunga – clothing
- Nemo – ultra light tent
- Natural High & Alpine Aire – camp meals
- Pelican – Casing for our hard drives
Media partners & support:
- The Royal Geographical Society
- Education Through Expeditions
- Explorers Connect
CheapTents: Anything else you would like to say?
“Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.” John Muir.
CheapTents: Many thanks, Gareth and Aaron, for taking the time to answer our questions. Brazil 9000 is going to be an amazing expedition. Good luck!
Follow Gareth and Aaron on their expedition!
Photocredits: Aaron Chervenak and Gareth Jones
More Exciting Adventures to Read About!
If you enjoyed this interview then why not read some of our other interviews with hikers, adventurers and filmmakers?
- Louis-Philippe Loncke – Versatile explorer of deserts and canals
- Andrew Skurka – Hiked around Alaska and the Yukon
- Leon McCarron – Walked 3,100 miles home from Mongolia
- Paul Bride – Pro Adventurer & Travel Photographer / Videographer
Update: 10 Sept 2012
Gareth and Aaron have now left Los Angeles, heading north through Roraima to Mount Caburai, our remote and official start point on the border with Guyana. After two years of planning, the voyage is soon to begin. – Click here to see a video filmed in Los Angeles by Gareth and Aaron.
Update: 28 Jan 2013
After 126 days and 2345km, Gareth and Aaron have paddled into the pretty Amazonian city of Santarem. Read about their adventures on the Rio Branco.
Update: 6 Dec 2013
Gareth and Aaron have now covered 3362km, over a third of the planned expedition distance. Here’s the a video update of their journey from Santarém down the Rio Amazonas through Pará and the delta to Belém.