Weather Forecast


Ely adventurers phone home from Brazilian river

Members of the 2014 Rio Roosevelt Centennial Expedition team pose for a photo in their canoes on the Rio Roosevelt in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Amy Freeman)

It’s hot and humid during the day, but the nights are cool, the bugs aren’t bad and the fishing has been fantastic.

That was the report by satellite phone Friday from Ely adventurers Paul Schurke and Dave Freeman, who are more than halfway through a 400-mile trip down Brazil’s River of Doubt — or Rio Roosevelt — first made famous after a 1914 expedition by former President Teddy Roosevelt.

“It’s been amazingly dry here, almost no rain.  … It sounds like it’s been rainier and buggier back home,” Schurke told the News Tribune.

Schurke, 58, and Freeman, 37, said they had to change their original plans because of some “political unrest” that forced them to canoe the lower 300 kilometers of the river first.

Now, after securing permission from local native tribal leaders, they are about to paddle the upper 130 kilometers.

There’s almost no information available on what they will encounter on that leg, with the best description coming from Roosevelt’s diary from the 1914 trip.

“We expect to come into some very large rapids and lengthy portages, but no one knows for sure,” Freeman said.

The Minnesota adventurers hope to find some of the same spots where Roosevelt camped, some of which were photographed 100 years ago.

The duo, now alone after their Brazilian guides had to leave the trip, have 12 days to finish the river and get to Sao Paulo, where on July 2 they are scheduled to catch a flight back to the U.S.

So far they have encountered native tribes, some of which have had little or no contact with outsiders, as well as a jungle teeming with monkeys, jaguars, crocodiles, macaws, toucans, snakes, beautiful butterflies and much more.

And a river with about 2,000 species of fish.

“We have provisions for nine days, but we could stretch that because the fishing has been so good,” Freeman said.

“We swim with the piranhas during the day and then eat them at night,” Schurke said. “Most of what we catch are piranhas. … They’re actually very tasty.”

Schurke said the Cinta Larga, the indigenous people who live and farm along the river, still live much the way they did in 1914. After their initial issues gaining permission, the duo said they now are being treated as honored guests.

“Other than a satellite dish in the village, and a generator and TV that they turn on for a couple hours at night, they seem to be living the same lifestyle they did 100 years ago,” Freeman said. “They are still tapping rubber trees … still hunting wild game and catching fish. They are remarkably unchanged by the contact they have had” with modern society.

The duo described the lower river as large and swift, like the Mississippi in southern Minnesota. They said the upper stretch, what they’ve seen so far, is narrower, with a thick jungle wall on each side; more like the upper St. Louis, they noted.

Three of Roosevelt’s 19-person party did not return from that storied expedition 100 years ago. One drowned, one was murdered and a third, the murderer, was left behind and presumably died in the jungle.

Schurke and Freeman expect a far less dramatic ending to their trip.

“We’re in good shape, very healthy,” Freeman said. “It’s going remarkably well.”

To learn more Read more about the expedition at