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Episode 31: Buscando el Río Hirviente (In Search of the Boiling River)

By Duolingo on Thu 13 June 2019

Andrés Ruzo grew up listening to his grandfather tell a story about a river with boiling waters in the Amazon. When he later became a scientist specializing in geothermal energy, he set a goal for himself: Go deep into the jungle and find that river.

Click here for more pictures of the Boiling River!

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Transcript

Martina: When Andrés Ruzo was 13 years old, he heard a legend from the time when Spanish conquerors came to his country, Perú.

Andrés: Mi abuelo Daniel me habló de esta leyenda. Él era un hombre alto, atractivo y muy elegante. Él estaba tomando pisco, un licor de uvas preparado en Perú, y empezó a narrar una historia sobre los incas, el imperio más fuerte de Sudamérica.

Martina: That story talked about a river with boiling temperatures on the Peruvian side of the Amazonian jungle. The weird thing is, there's no active volcano there that could make a river boil.

Andrés: Años después, comencé a estudiar ciencia y energía geotérmica. Estaba seguro de algo: el río en las historias de mi abuelo era solo una leyenda.

Martina: Until the day he was guided deep into the Amazon rainforest to find this river that boiled – el Río Hirviente.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories to help you improve your Spanish listening and gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again – and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Martina: The Incas were called the “People of the Sun”, and they had the biggest empire of pre-colonial America. Their territory stretched across Perú, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The empire’s capital was in Cusco, Perú, and their last emperor’s name was Atahualpa.

Andrés: Mi abuelo me dijo que, cuando los españoles vinieron a conquistar Perú, se querían llevar todo el oro del lugar. Sin embargo, para hacerlo, tenían que confrontarse con Atahualpa, el emperador de los incas.

Martina: Francisco Pizarro, who was the leader behind the siege, captured and killed Atahualpa and thousands of Incas. His feats of glory and newly found wealth made him famous in Spain, and Spaniards started coming to Perú looking for more gold.

Andrés: Para vengar esa masacre, los incas empezaron a enviar a los españoles hacia la selva del Amazonas, un lugar tan difícil que aun para los incas fue imposible ocuparlo.

Martina: The Amazon Basin is a region roughly 90% the size of the continental United States and stretches across nine different countries1. It’s the largest tropical forest in the world with one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity, and it’s crossed by the Amazon River, the world’s largest.

Andrés: Es un lugar muy complicado y peligroso. Pero los incas les decían a los españoles que ahí había una ciudad llamada Paititi, o “El Dorado” en español, y era el lugar donde podrían encontrar todo el oro de sus sueños.

Martina: As they searched for El Dorado, Spaniards would lose themselves in the complex terrain of the jungle. And if they came back, they’d tell stories of warrior archers with poisoned arrows… giant snakes that could swallow a man whole, or of powerful shamans living near a boiling river.

Andrés: Cuando era niño, mi abuelo me habló de ese río, un río de aguas tan calientes, que caer en él, resultaría en una muerte inmediata. Con los años, esta historia fantástica se volvió un lindo recuerdo.

Martina: Andrés went years without thinking about the boiling river. He became a scientist, and began a doctorate in Geophysics and Geothermal Energy at Southern Methodist University, in Texas.

Andrés: Elegí esta especialidad porque pienso que es muy importante para nuestro planeta desarrollar energías sustentables.

Martina: Geothermal energy is a type of sustainable energy that harnesses the Earth’s heat to produce electricity, or conserve energy. Geothermal energy has some key advantages: it doesn’t depend on fossil fuels and doesn’t produce nuclear waste.

Andrés: Y tampoco necesita del viento o del sol para generar energía. ¡El calor de la tierra siempre está activo!

Martina: But locating geothermal energy resources that are hidden underground can be challenging. So Andrés was part of a team that successfully mapped out areas of geothermal energy potential in the United States2.

Andrés: Cuando terminamos el mapa, pensé: “¡Lo hicimos aquí en los Estados Unidos, y lo puedo repetir en Perú! En Perú necesitamos nuevas fuentes de energía renovable y creo que tenemos mucho potencial geotérmico. Pero primero tenemos que hacer un mapa para encontrar este potencial”.

Martina: So Andrés went back to Perú to map its geothermal energy resources. He started scouting the country, looking for areas with very high temperatures, great for transforming geothermal activity into electrical energy.

Andrés: Durante mis estudios, me acordé de la historia de mi abuelo acerca del Río Hirviente en la Amazonía. Y, por primera vez, me pregunté si existía de verdad.

Martina: Andrés consulted colleagues, scientists and researchers, experts from universities, government institutions, oil, gas, and mining companies to ask if anyone had ever seen this legendary boiling river.

Andrés: Algunos conocían la leyenda, pero todos me decían lo mismo: “No”. Nadie pudo confirmar su existencia. Incluso, algunos me dijeron que era un cuento de locos. Un geólogo con mucha experiencia me dio el siguiente consejo: “No haga preguntas estúpidas”.

Martina: The argument he kept hearing was: how could a “boiling river” exist with no active volcanoes nearby? To get a boiling river, or a thermal river, you need a tremendous source of heat, lots of water, and the right plumbing system to quickly get that hot water from deep in the earth up to the surface without it cooling.

Andrés: Después de dos años de preguntar y preguntar sin tener ningún resultado, perdí todas las esperanzas. El “Río Hirviente” era solo una leyenda. Pero todo cambió en junio de 2011, cuando fui a cenar a casa de unos tíos en Lima.

Martina: Andrés was living and working in Perú by that time. During a family dinner at his aunt’s house, she asked him about his research and Andrés told her about the advances in his geothermal mapping work in Northern Peru.

Andrés: Yo también le hablé de mi curiosidad por encontrar el río legendario del que tanto hablaba mi abuelo, y le comenté que, desafortunadamente, no tuve suerte. Le dije: “En fin, el Río Hirviente es solo una leyenda”. Ella me miró sorprendida.

Martina: That was when his aunt, after taking her last bite, told him something that would make him reconsider everything he had heard regarding this legendary river:

Andrés: “Pero Andrés, yo lo he visto y hasta me he bañado en el río”. La miré, sin creerle. ¡Mi tía tiene un buen sentido del humor! Yo le pregunté: “¿cómo vas a bañarte en un río hirviente?”.

Martina: Andrés’s aunt explained to him that you can only bathe in the river after a very heavy rain. Even then, only in parts of the river, and not for very long as the water heats back up to dangerous temperatures.

Andrés: También me dijo que el río es sagrado para las personas que viven cerca del lugar. Y que un chamán, el maestro Juan Flores, lo cuida. Mi tía antes trabajaba en derechos indígenas y gracias a ese trabajo ella conocía al chamán.

Martina: In the Amazon, a shaman is a leader and traditional healer who heals spiritual, emotional and physical ailments using the plants of the Amazon.

Andrés: Los chamanes también son un medio de comunicación entre nuestro mundo y el mundo espiritual.

Martina: Maestro Juan comes from a long line of shamans on both sides of his family.

Andrés: Durante seis meses traté de comunicarme con el chamán, pero fue imposible. Y cuando estaba por regresar a los Estados Unidos, mi tía me dijo: “No me sorprende que no te hayan respondido”.

Martina: “You’re a geologist,” she told him, “and in general when geologists wants to study an area it’s because there are natural resources there to exploit. Oil and mining companies soon follow. I know that’s not your intention,” she said, “but they don’t know that.”

Andrés: Ella me dijo que si quería conocer el río, tenía que ir a la selva. Y se ofreció a llevarme. Así que, a la mañana siguiente, ya estábamos en camino. Todo pasó tan rápido que yo no podía creerlo.

Martina: We’ll get right back to the story in just a moment, but first we want to tell you about a great way to support this podcast and continue practicing your Spanish. If you haven’t already tried duolingo, you can download it today and learn over 30 languages completely free. For even more convenience, like offline lessons and an add-free learning experience, upgrade to Duolingo Plus. You can start your 7 day free trial of Duolingo Plus by going to duolingo.com/getplus. Your subscription supports free content that you already know and love, like this podcast. Thanks and now let’s get back to the story.

Martina: They took a plane from Lima to the city of Pucallpa. There, his aunt contacted the shaman’s wife. The shaman was out of town, but she gave them permission to go to their community in the jungle and arranged with his apprentice to show them the river.

Andrés: Era mi primera vez en la Amazonía y no sabía qué esperar. Estaba un poco nervioso. Viajamos por dos horas en una camioneta 4x4 hacia un pueblito donde el aprendiz del chamán nos estaba esperando.

Martina: From there, he led them up the Pachitea River, a large river in the Amazon, on a pekepeke – a motorized canoe. After about an hour going against the current, the shaman’s apprentice pointed to the distance and said: That’s the mouth of the river!

Andrés: Nuestro pekepeke nos llevó de las aguas color chocolate del río Pachitea, a las aguas color verde del Río Hirviente. Yo sentí claramente el cambio de temperatura, de frío a caliente. Era como estar dentro de un baño caliente, pero no hervía.

Martina: The water was just warm. The shaman’s apprentice told them they had arrived at the mouth of the Boiling River, and they had an hour hike through the jungle to get to the community, Mayantuyacu3. He explained that yacu means water, and that Mayantu is a powerful jungle spirit.

Andrés: Dijo que, con ese nombre, ellos tratan de invocar a los espíritus de la selva y del agua. Luego, desembarcamos y caminamos entre árboles enormes. Había animales e insectos alrededor de nosotros. Yo sentía el olor particular de la selva: ese olor húmedo con aroma a tierra y fruta descompuesta en el suelo.

Martina: The day was hot and after hiking through the jungle for an hour, Andrés, his aunt, and the shaman’s apprentice, rested at the top of a large ridge.

Andrés: Después de ese largo viaje, yo quería saber si el río de verdad era un río hirviente y si todo mi trabajo había sido útil.

Martina: Then, he heard the sound of a low, distant surge, like ocean waves constantly crashing. He asked the shaman’s apprentice about the noise. “It’s the river”, he said. Its name is Shanay-timpishka4, which means “boiled by the heat of the sun”.

Andrés: Yo olvidé el calor y mi cansancio. Veía el vapor blanco subiendo entre los árboles. Corrí muy rápidamente, pasé un bosque y llegué a la comunidad de Mayantuyacu. Y ahí, después de años de dudas, lo vi: el Río Hirviente.

Martina: The river had a white veil of steam floating just above its surface. It was wider than a two-lane street and its turquoise waters flowed between ivory stone banks, surrounded by green walls of foliage and tropical trees.

Andrés: ¡Era como estar en el paraíso! Pero todavía tenía que medir la temperatura de las aguas. Yo solo quería saber si el río de verdad hervía.

Martina: Being the scientist he is, Andrés had various scientific tools with him: his GPS, his compass, his rock hammer, various thermometers, a scientific multi-meter to look at water quality, one to measure electrical conductivity in the water and a PH acidity test.

Andrés: Cuando usé mi termómetro, no lo podía creer: ¡187 grados Fahrenheit! Era increíble. Está bien, no hervía, ¡pero este río te podía cocinar vivo!

Martina: The shaman’s apprentice led them one hour hiking upriver to the boiling river’s headwaters, where it starts out as a small cold stream. There, in the middle of the jungle he said that they were at one of the most sacred sites on the entire river.

Andrés: “Aquí vive la Yacumama”, nos dijo el aprendiz de chamán, señalando una roca tan grande como un auto y que tenía la forma de la cabeza de una serpiente gigante. “Ella es la madre de las aguas calientes y frías”.

Martina: The Yacumama is a mythical serpent spirit, 60 feet long, who gives birth to hot and cold water. At this site, a hot spring bubbled up from beneath the Yacumama boulder to mix with cold stream water — and so, bringing the legend to life.

Andrés: Esa primera visita al Río Hirviente fue mágica. Llegó la noche y el aprendiz de chamán me explicó que este sitio es sagrado. Las grandes nubes de vapor que salen del río se combinan con las estrellas y conectan nuestro mundo con el mundo de arriba.

Martina: Andrés and his aunt spent the night in Mayantuyacu. The next day, Andrés was able to see firsthand how the community there depended on the river. He asked if he could have tea, and the apprentice gave him a cup with a teabag and told him to get the water from the river.

Andrés: Como un hombre de ciencia yo sé muy bien que muchas aguas termales tienen microbios, metales pesados y otras cosas malas para el ser humano. Pero decidí tomar el riesgo, porque vi que las personas del lugar usaban el agua para todo tipo de cosas. No lo podía creer, pero el agua era limpia, pura y con un sabor agradable.

Martina: Andrés also learned that the shaman and his apprentices treated a number of foreign patients — visitors from all over the world who went there to be cured using traditional Amazonian medicines.

Andrés: Pero algo todavía no estaba claro para mí...

Martina: This river had not been studied, documented, mapped, or identified as a special site for geothermal studies or Amazonian culture and spirituality. Why? Everything became clear once Andrés finally got to meet the shaman.

Andrés: Me habían dicho que el Maestro Juan era un experto, una biblioteca humana de información. Me lo imaginaba vestido con un largo traje ceremonial, con collares de semillas y dientes de animales salvajes, y con una corona con largas plumas de pájaro.

Martina: Andrés was anxious to meet him, but when he finally saw him, he was a bit surprised — the shaman was wearing a Nike t-shirt, shorts and a pair of crocs over long socks.

Andrés: Evidentemente, yo tenía mucho que aprender. El chamán no estaba en contra de la cultura moderna, ni de los extranjeros que querían conocer el río.

Martina: The shaman explained that, in a vision, a powerful tree spirit had told him that the Boiling River and its jungle would be saved by non-Amazonians. He wanted to bring his people and non-Amazonians together to learn from each other and protect the jungle.

Andrés: Pero también me confirmó que nunca nadie había venido a estudiar el río. No había colaboración ni información apropiada acerca del río. Y así, en el 2011, fui el primer científico en recibir la bendición chamánica para estudiar el Río Hirviente.

Martina: The shaman agreed to let Andrés study the Boiling River, but with one condition: after analyzing the water samples back in the lab, Andrés had to pour the samples out onto the ground, regardless of where he was in the world — so that the water could find its way back home.

Andrés: El Río Hirviente ahora es mi proyecto de vida. Yo voy varias veces al año y cuando no estoy en la selva, sigo trabajando por el bien del lugar.

Martina: Thanks to Andrés and his team, the world now knows that the Boiling River of the Amazon is not just a legend. In fact, it’s now considered the largest documented thermal river on the planet. Next year, he and his colleagues will be releasing the first of a body of studies, almost 10 years in the making. The area surrounding the boiling river is one of the most deforested in the Peruvian Amazon, which loses the equivalent of half a soccer field of forest every minute. To know more about the current fight to save the Amazon surrounding the boiling river, visit Andrés’s website boilingriver.org or check out his book, The Boiling River, Adventure and Discovery in the Amazon.

This story was narrated by Andrés Ruzo, and he wrote it in collaboration with Camilo Garzón, a writer and journalist living in Washington, DC. We’d love to know what you thought of this episode! Send us an email with your feedback at podcast@duolingo.com. And if you liked the story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode. With over 300 million users, Duolingo is the world's leading language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes in making education free, fun and accessible to everyone. To join, download the app today, or find out more at duolingo.com.

I’m the podcast’s executive producer, Martina Castro – gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from Krisboruff, qubodup, Ramston, and thiagoriedel under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Author: Camilo Garzón and Andrés Ruzo
Narrator: Andrés Ruzo
Script Editor: Catalina May
Senior Editor: Martina Castro
Sound Designer: María Murriel
Mixing & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro

1 Brasil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Guyana francesa, Venezuela, Perú y Surinam.

2 https://www.energy.ca.gov/tour/geysers/

3 (pronounced: “Maya” -- like the mayan people. “Tu” like the number “two.” “Ya” -- YAW (think y’all without the “ll”) and finally, “cu” pronounced like a baby’s “coo.”)

4 “Shanay” como “Shanaia Twain” (pero sin la última -a”) “Tim” como “timbre” y cerrado con una -p suave Luego “ishka” en inglés: eesh-ka y en castellano sería: Ísh-ka