Tuesday, November 02, 2021

My Money-Raising Pitch for an Amazon Expedition

 I am trying hard to raise funds for a trip to the Amazon in Jan and Feb, 2022. I have been promised some funds but need $33 K more. It is a big trip back to the Javari river where I have taken two boats previously, in 1993 and 1994. This is a long pitch, but a good read, and maybe one of you reading has a rich uncle. Hope so.

January-February 2022 Javari River Expedition Proposal


By Peter Gorman


I’m not certain of the format for this type of proposal, so I am just going to jump into the water here.

    I’m Peter Gorman. I’m 70 years old from Whitestone, Queens, New York. I lived in Manhattan for 30 years and have lived in Joshua, Texas for 20-years now. I’m a dad and a granddad and proud of the kids. I have spent an average of 3 months in Peru annually for the past 37 years, including a few years in the late 1990s when I opened The Cold Beer Blues Bar on Puerto Mastranza (Pablo Rossel and Requena) and lived there with my family full time.

    I first visited Northwest Amazonia in 1984, got absolutely fascinated, and returned for a month of survival training with jungle guide Moises Torres Vienna in 1985. On that second trip we ran into a family of indigenous Matsés who were in the process of building a camp not far from the Aucayacu River after having left the Galvez River. I won’t go into it all here but the encounter was extraordinary and left me feeling that I would have to get out to where the majority of Matsés live: On the Alto Javari and Galvez rivers.

    In 1986 I got out to those rivers, visited several camps — spaced roughly 8 hours apart by peque-peque – and made a fast friendship with Pablo, the headman of one small camp, and his brother Alberto, the only other adult male in the camp.

    During my time with Pablo I was introduced to two vital medicines: sapo — the mucous or sweat from the phyllomedusa bicolor, known typically as the large waxy monkey tree frog — and nü-nü, a snuff made from the inner bark of the cacao tree and black tobacco, Nicotia Rustica.

    During the course of the trip I collected several broken arrows that had been used to kill monkeys, a quickly fashioned stick-and-vine noose used to strangle boars hiding in a hollowed out log, and several other throw-away items. I also collected leaves from several medicines Pablo and Alberto showed me.

    I mention these details because when I returned to New York I began to wonder whether Moises had brought me to real hunter-gatherers or to some sophisticated tourist tribals. In an effort to figure that out, I decided to offer the things I’d brought from the jungle to the American Museum of Natural History. A meeting was set up and I was nervous because I imagined they would look at my things and tell me to get out of there with my tourist junk.

    That is not what happened: Dr. Robert Carneiro, head of South American Ethnology, and Lilah Williamson, who was designing a permanent Hall of South American Peoples for Dr. Carneiro, both wondered how I’d gotten my things and asked if they could have them for the new, permanent hall. Of course I said yes, and they asked me to write a report on the entire trip and very specific information on how and where I acquired each item I was giving them.

    The report included the sapo and nü-nü, and the sapo section was passed along to Dr. Vittorio Erspamer, a pharmacologist working at the FIDIA Research Institute at the University of Rome.

    The plant medicine leaves were passed on to Dr. Steven King, a botanist working on plant-based medicines at the New York Botanical Gardens.

    While Erspamer went wild for my report on the use of frog sweat — which began a correspondence that lasted for several years until his death — Dr. King was absolutely nonplussed with my plant collecting skills. He told me that if I should ever wind up genuinely collecting plant medicines I would have to spend a couple of weeks learning to do it correctly at the Botanical Gardens.

     That chance happened in the 1992, when a new pharmaceutical company, Shaman Pharmaceuticals, went into business. King was a key player in the organization which had Dr. Richard Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany, as its front man.

     By chance, Dr. King and I met at a seminar to introduce the new company and he agreed to partially back a plant collecting trip to the Javari River for me if I would take the private plant collecting course he’d proposed years earlier. I did and it was fantastic.

      The trip necessitated my having a boat to move sufficient supplies to collect plants. I spent a couple of weeks in the ports around Iquitos searching for a boat to rent before I found a 39’ Brazilian boat that would be perfect. It took a week to supply and outfit it, and then, with a tiny crew: a cook I wound up marrying the following year, a motorist (the owner’s son), and a driver (timonel) to share the chore of getting the boat safely down the Amazon to Leticia and then up the Javari several hundred kilometers to the Galvez and the Alto Javari.

     I collected plants from a number of villages along the Javari, most of which were Matsés, but one of which was a Bora camp that was not supposed to be anywhere in that region.

    The 32-day trip was successful — 55 medicinal plants were collected both in bulk and as herbarium specimens — including a new subspecies of one of them.

     The following year Dr. King sent me back, this time with Dr. Tom Carlson, a medical doctor and botanist with Shaman Pharmaceuticals. Because the first trip had gone so unexpectedly well, Shaman footed the entire bill for the second trip.

      The first boat, the Rey David was no longer available, so I started searching and finally found the Jacaré, a 51’ fishing boat that I had converted to a deck boat.

      That trip was also successful. Unfortunately, Shaman fell on hard times and there we no more trips with them. Additionally, Peru refused to sign onto an Intellectual Property Rights Agreement dealing the medicinal plants, so no one else was going to hire me either.

      25-years have passed since that second trip. I want to go back to the Javari. I want to do a little plant collecting but I primarily want to record the changes that have taken place on the river since I was last there. Is the Bora village still in the area? Has someone taken up the job as plant healer from my old friend there or are they dependent on visits from modern doctors to take care of them? How about the village of blond Matsés on the third day up the river, the result of some German missionary women being stolen some years ago. Is that camp still there? What about the crazy camp of indigenous San Luis (I can find nothing about them) whose camp I have visited several times but I’ve only ever seen their slaves, never a single indigenous? How about logging? There was very little commercial logging there years ago (the good mahogany was taken decades  before I ever arrived) but what is the situation now? How many gringos, both missionaries and adventurers visit or live in that hinterland, the border between Brazil and Peru?

      I think that is a record worth having, and coupled with my two initial trip reports — along with a 1988 Javari report on a trip done with Moises — would make a unique addition to the literature of the Amazon. And, of course, I think I am the person who is best suited to doing it.

     The trip would take roughly 50 days during high water season in January and February. The first 10 days would involve outfitting the boat, acquiring the fuel and food, and making any physical changes (like building a small room to store sufficient dry goods), a then the trip itself would run roughly 40 days.

     A trip like this requires funding. I can break those costs down category by category if you like. There is the cost to get me there and for my expenses once in Peru. There is the boat rental, fuel, motor oil, dry goods, fresh goods, jungle outfitting, pay for a team of 8 for 50 days, and a host of other things that would need payment.

    Here is a hint of those costs:

Boat rental (gorgeous boat, strong enough hull for the Amazon, well outfitted and price includes the owner’s representative, his motorist, and one driver): $7,500

Fuel and motor oil: $3,500

Dry goods for 40 days for 14 people plus people we run into on the river:  $3,000.

Staff: (3 people in the kitchen and clothes-washing detail, one person who speaks various dialects; one Matsés man; 2 assistants for me, general work, and to assist with plant collecting; 2 people to keep the boat clean and to stay up nights to keep an eye out for pirates) $1,000-$1500 each or roughly $11,000 total

One medical professional for emergencies: $3000

Two quality drones to be handled by Matt H. a lawyer handling the non-profit and other legal matters connected to the trip. (Drone footage, to the best of my knowledge, has never been taken on the Javari. We would be interested in seeing what is going on on various tributaries before we entered them; what villages may be hidden behind the trees lining the banks, etc.) I recommend the EVO 11 Pro K. I recommend it because I did a television show where it was used and its range is 5+ miles with a fly time of nearly 90 minutes with two batteries in use. Two, with tax and extra rechargeable batteries: $3,900.

My costs: Air flight for both Devon W. (associate who has worked with me in the jungle for nearly 10 years) and myself: $3,000. Our expenses in Iquitos and on the river for duration of trip, $3,000; pocket money for the unforeseen: $5,000; money to buy gifts  for the heads of the various military outposts we need permission to pass— panettone, a bottle of whiskey and 5 gallons of fuel for their generators generally does it — and money for FUNAI for permission to enter the Javari: $2,000. Total $13,000

Kitchen equipment: While I can supply pots, pans, plates, silverware, we need two or three good thermoses, dish soap, shower soap, scrubbers, buckets for water to wash with, one extra stove, a freezer, a fridge (used for both is fine) 30 tanks of propane, fresh food — from potatoes, carrots, beets, yams, yucca, corn, and plantain, to fresh veggies and fruit that can be re-upped in Leticia, 4 days up the river at the Brazilian military base of Peleton; four more days up the river at Angamos, and everything else needed to make and serve 50 meals a day. $2,500.

Additionally, while I can provide hammocks, mosquito nets, boots, blankets, etc, we need jungle goods from fishing line and hooks to several rented shotguns for protection, machetes, lanterns if the generator goes, spare propellors, cotter pins, and spark plugs for the engine and a host of little, but important items. $500

All sorts of miscellaneous items from extra fire extinguishers to heavy plastic to prevent rain from coming through the large windows of the boat to a rented or purchased satellite phone for emergencies as there will be very little cell phone coverage. $500

    The list gives you a good idea of what is needed to do this properly. There would be benefit to funders in that drone footage would be available for any documentary; all purchased items from drones to freezer to kitchen equipment would belong to you as well.

    The above items, all ballpark but all fairly close to real expenditures come to $48,500. We have been promised roughly $15,000 thus far, leaving a $38,500 hole. That is where you come in.

    Let me know if you need anything else from me. I will be glad to provide anything you like.



Peter Gorman


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