28 Years Later
The Javari River. Its 700 miles mark the border between Peru and Brazil, and are home to the highest concentration of isolated indigenous peoples in the world – people who know no borders. I made two trips up the Javari in the early ‘90s documenting the lives of the Matsés (Mayoruna) tribe, establishing friendships there, and collecting medicinal plants for Shaman Pharmaceuticals.
Nearly three decades have passed since those original excursions and there has never been more attention paid to the Amazon, its peoples, and the pressures modern life are imposing there.
This January, when the water is high and navigation is possible, I want to return to the Javari. The mission is threefold.
First, the people. The health of the Amazon is best-judged by how its people are faring. How are my old Matsés friends doing? What changes have they made to their semi-nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle? What of their intimate connection with the spirits of the plants and animals? Have they been able to sustain it? Matsés healers. Are any still alive? And do their children carry on the Matsés medicinal traditions? What about outside influences? Have new indigenous groups come to live on the river? And, crucially, are commercial interests encroaching on their territory to extract valuable resources?
Second, the plants. Science has only relatively recently begun examining vegetation in the vast Amazon region and has barely begun to understand what its plant species can do. Much more remains to be discovered. Plant collection makes valuable specimens available for ground-breaking research. We will collect both dry specimens, for inclusion in the Herbarium of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and live specimens, for endophyte research in Iquitos, Peru.
Third, perspective. The Amazon is a place that, once I saw it, I had to fully understand it. Most importantly, I have been a student of the region and of its people and have even had the privilege to call a few of them teacher, and friend. My work as a journalist and writer, hopefully, has allowed others to share in the experience.
So, now, my team and I want to explore just a bit more, to bring back news of what we find, and to reflect on what it may mean for us. The Amazon Rainforest, after all, is referred to as being the lungs of the planet, that benefit us all. But, in addition, we have a link, through shared humanity, to the peoples who live, invisible to most, beneath the green canopy and who have vast knowledge of its nature. My team and I wish to return to the Javari with curiosity, an open mind, and a spirit of adventure to see not only what is happening there, but what else we might discover. Significant discoveries came about during the original trips and, this time, the itinerary will include a leg taking us several days further up the Javari than we’d covered before. A nearly three-decades-long perspective will guide us on our journey.
Now, we must ask for your help to make this happen. We need your financial support – for the boat, the crew, fuel, goods, gear, food, medical supplies, and everything else that goes into outfitting a 50-day expedition. You can view our current budget here
Don’t delay! Give now! There is much to do to prepare. Thank you!
Where we plan to explore
Iquitos to Leticia
From Leticia, up the Javari River along the Peruvian / Brazilian border
Help take a small bite towards our goal!
Receive a commemorative Javari Expedition T-Shirt
Help make new discoveries possible!
Receive a digital copy of your choosing of one of Peter's books and a commemorative Javari Expedition T-Shirt
$1,000: "Mono" (Monkey)
Thank you for helping us swing towards our goal!
Receive digital copies of Ayahuasca in My Blood and Sapo in My Soul, and a commemorative Javari Expedition T-shirt
$2,500: "Bufeo" (River Dolphin)
Help make navigating these waters possible!
Receive 100 Select Digital Photos, Signed Copy of Expedition Trip Notes, signed copies of Ayahuasca in My Blood and Sapo in My Soul, and a commemorative Javari Expedition T-shirt
Come and join us!
Receive an invitation to you or someone you choose to join the trip from Iquitos to Leticia, 100 Select Digital Photos, Signed Copy of Expedition Trip Notes, signed copies of Ayahuasca in My Blood and Sapo in My Soul, and a commemorative Javari Expedition T-shirt
Become apart of the Magic!
Recognition with “Additional funding provided by . . .” on each dry specimen housed in the Herbarium of BRIT (Botanical Research Institute of Texas), Invitation to you or someone you choose to join the trip from Iquitos to Leticia, 100 Select Digital Photos, Signed Copy of Expedition Trip Notes, signed copies of Ayahuasca in My Blood and Sapo in My Soul, and a commemorative Javari Expedition T-shirt
Monies Raised Towards Trip
Gorman 2022 Expedition
Some of our Goals
What we Hope to Accomplish
How are the lives of the Matsés and other indigenous tribes changing? Are they maintaining their medicinal plant traditions? Notes from the 2022 expedition, together with those from the early ‘90s, will provide an important record of the Javari and her people.
Gorman and his crew will collect and document various plant species of interest throughout the expedition to bring back for further study. Dry specimens will be included in the Herbarium at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. Live specimens will be used for endophyte research in Iquitos, Peru.
This is perhaps the best mission of all. To see what we might see. To find something we didn’t even imagine. On my prior trips, the Matsés introduced me to the secretions of sapo, the Phyllomedusa bicolor frog, which has led to the pharmaceutical study of the possibility of utilizing that material in Western medicine. And in this spirit of adventure and discovery, we will go several days further up the Javari than before.
Peter Gorman Discusses His Prior Trips and Why He Is Going Back
Peter Gorman Discusses His Prior Trips and Why He Is Going Back
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 38 years, including a few years in the late 1990s when I opened The Cold Beer Blues Bar on Puerto Mastranza in Iquitos 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. The encounter was extraordinary and left me feeling that I had to go where the majority of Matsés live: On the Alto Javari and Galvez rivers at the border between Peru and Brazil.
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, Nicotiana 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 once they were lured into a hollowed out log, and other items used by the Matsés. I also collected leaves from several medicines Pablo and Alberto showed me.
When I returned to New York I began to wonder whether Moises had brought me to real hunter-gatherers or to some sophisticated tourist tribes. 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 Garden.
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 New York Botanical Garden.
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 (who I wound up marrying the following year), a motorist (the owner’s son), and a timonel (driver) 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. 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 proved as successful as the first, again with more than 50 plants collected in bulk and as herbarium specimens. Shaman was very generous with the Matsés, the group that supplied the majority of the plants, and spent more than 2 years acquiring nearly 1 million acres of land for them as a return gift for having shared their plant knowledge.
28 years have passed since that second trip. I want to go back to the Javari. I 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.
I have been asked to do some plant collecting of dried specimens with a focus on flowering plants and epiphytes which will become part of the herbarium at BRIT, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. I have also been asked to collect live specimens to be used in Peru for research into endophytes, bacteria and fungus that grow in plant cells and are believed to have medical promise. And just maybe in the process we discover something new, which is the dream of every expedition ever mounted.
The trip will take roughly 50 days during high water season in January and February. The first 10 days will involve outfitting the boat, acquiring the fuel and food, and making any physical changes to the boat (like building a small room to store sufficient dry goods), and then the trip itself would run roughly 40 days.
A trip like this requires funding. If you can swing it, we’d love to have you all aboard, not in person, but in the glorious spirit of adventure and exploration.
About Peter Gorman
Writer, Explorer, Naturlist
Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well known to people in the field. Since 1984, Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there--as well as all of 1998-2000--generally using Iquitos, Peru as his base of operations.
He has collected botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for Dr. Vittorio Erspamer at the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome.
Peter Gorman, explorer, journalist, and consummate storyteller. Each of his books offers a unique window into those remote and wild places we long to see and understand.
Ayahuasca In My Blood
25 Years Of Medicine Dreaming
Sapo In My Soul
The Matsés Frog Medicine
Magic Mushrooms In India
And Other Fantastic Tales