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Paititi, the legendary boiling river discovered in the heart of the Amazon

Scientists didn’t believe Paititi existed. Yet, the boiling river of ancient Peruvian legends has been discovered in the heart of the Amazon.

Many of us grew up with the legend of Atlantis, an island described in one of Plato’s works, said to have sunk in the Atlantic Ocean after having fallen out of favour with the gods. A similar narrative has persisted in Peru in the form of a boiling river, Paititi. It is said that the few Spanish men who returned from fighting the bold Inca in the Amazon rainforest came back with accounts of snakes that swallowed men, spiders that ate birds as well as a river that boiled. Peruvian geoscientist Andrès Ruzo set out into the Amazon rainforest to find it. Initially skeptical, he soon found that the facts are stranger than fiction.

“They’re still looking for Paititi, by this and other names,” Ruzo’s grandfather once told him when he was still a child, offering vivid accounts of the Spanish conquest of Peru. “The jungle keeps her secrets well”.

 

Many years later, as a geophysicist, the tale still fascinated him. However, his colleagues didn’t share his enthusiasm, staunch in their belief that there is no boiling river in the Amazon. This isn’t necessarily because boiling rivers don’t exist, but the ones that do are all associated with active volcanic or magmatic systems. That made the probability of Paititi existing in the Amazon close to impossible – or at least, this is what Ruzo’s colleagues were inclined to believe.

 

Whilst conversing with his aunt Guida and uncle Eo, the geophysicist discovered that there is perhaps some truth to the tale. He was told that it is possible to swim in the river after heavy rain and that a shaman protects the place.

 

 

After deeper enquiry and effort, Ruzo finally came face to face with the boiling river, spanning 6.5 kilometres in length. It is located in the sanctuary of Mayantuyacu, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. What he saw astonished him: frogs and other animals falling into the river losing their eyes and dying instantaneously. The water being so hot that those who live around it use it to brew tea. It is impossible to enter it without suffering third-degree burns in a fraction of a second.

 

Since the discovery Ruzo has been on a mission to preserve the integrity of Paititi, setting up the non-profit organisation The Boiling River Project to raise funds and coordinate conservation efforts. He wishes to ensure that the development of the area, which is also impacted by an oil field, doesn’t come hand-in-hand with the boiling river’s destruction.

 

Featured image: Paititi © Devlin Gandy/The Boiling River Project
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