Presenter, explorer and angler Jeremy Wade on the best rivers for solo moments
Rivers are spiritual, mind-expanding places, essential to all life, making them excellent places to just ‘be’ on, contemplating the Universe, when you’re indulging in some solo travel. And few people on Earth know rivers better than Jeremy Wade: angler, biologist, author and presenter of River Monsters and Mighty Rivers. He tells Flash Pack about his six favourite rivers to be alone on.
The Teles Pires, Brazil
A lot of the Amazon is quite monotonous, flat, claustrophobic. But when you get to the edges, it gets more interesting. It’s rockier and more mountainous, so you’ve got rapids. It’s pretty hard to get to. The reason I went there was for fishing—it normally is!—because it’s quite remote, which means you’ve got a healthy fish population there.
Travelling on the river is quite strange. There are places where it’s almost like an optical illusion, where the water is going so fast, in places, you almost feel as if the water is going uphill. There’s also a big series of falls called Sete Quedas, which means Seven Falls in Portuguese. Unfortunately, this is precisely the kind of place where they like to put dams, but there should still be some interesting landscape and interesting water.
There aren’t really any roads into there, so we’re talking a light plane onto a dirt airstrip to get in, or possibly a long boat journey that you’d have to sort yourself: there no passenger boats as such. But it’s a special and non-typical corner of the Amazon.
The Okavango, Botswana
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There are many hippo’s around, in waterholes, lakes, and rivers. They look cute with only their ears and noses just above the surface. They look clumsy when being on land with their short legs and clumsy bodies. But beware! For good reasons they are by far the most dangerous animal due to being underestimated. They can be quicker than expected, and in water they’re fast. They don’t appreciate their territory being disturbed, and many intruders (humans) get killed. So keep distance.(Captured Dec.22nd.2018) #instagram #okavango #okavangodelta #photooftheday #nofilter #nofilters #nature #wildlife #photography #visitbotswana #river #safari #safariphotography #hippopotamus #africasafari #nikon_photography #nikon #botswana #naturephotography #nikonphoto #nikon_photo #nikonaustralia #nikonasia #nikonafrica #afrikainpictures
This is a very unusual river, in that it doesn’t flow to the sea, it flows into the Kalahari Desert. There’s an inland Delta. Like many rivers, it doesn’t flow at the same level all year round, it has seasonal variations. The Delta can be a very scenic place. It’s very, very rich in wildlife, especially crocs and hippos.
You need to see it by boat. A lot of these places aren’t really for totally independent travel. You could if you knew what you’re doing and you had a four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a boat on the top. There are lodges around. The lodges tend to be quite expensive because, again, it’s quite hard to get to and everything has to be brought in.
The fish that most people go for are tiger fish. They look a bit like silvery scaled-up piranhas. It’s a place you’ve got to be careful. The last time I was there, I was actually scuba diving and getting some rather close up views of Nile crocodile. That’s something that requires knowing what you’re doing and doing it in the right conditions. Normally, being in the water with a Nile crocodile is a recipe for disaster.
There’s great game viewing here by vehicle, but a really good way to do it is by water. You’re on a water boat, there are weeds, and fish eagles, all this kind of thing. It’s just a nice way to see the wildlife.
If you’re in a good boat with somebody who knows what they’re doing, you’re going to be safe from the crocs. More of a concern is hippos. Although they’re vegetarian, they’re very territorial and they don’t take kindly to somebody driving a boat over the top of them. You can get on the wrong side of the hippo by accident, so be with somebody who knows their way around hippos.
There’s very much a feeling of being alone with nature. There are very few people out there, so there can be quite a feeling of vulnerability, in a way. You wouldn’t wander along the banks, so experiencing this really has to be done from the safety of a boat.
The Delta is a very complex waterway, so it’s quite tricky to navigate. Again, you need someone who knows their way around. The water really pervades the land, so the land and the water are very intermingled. It’s a very good way of unobtrusively getting close to wildlife.
What’s always very nice is just to turn the motor off and just sit, drift and let yourself just blend in at the background. That’s a special experience in a place like that. Just go out, be quiet and see what turns up.
The Columbia, USA
It’s in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It runs between Washington State and Oregon. It runs through lots of different types of country in quite a short distance. You’ve got mountains, then it comes down to the coast. Again, it’s quite special from the point of view of the fish that are there.
Most people look at it and they see the surface of the river, but you’ve got a good population of white sturgeon which can grow to around 1000lbs. It’s now quite a centre for recreational fishing. A dramatic river to be out on. Great spots overlooking the river, very spectacular.
It runs through Portland, Oregon, so it’s user-friendly and easy to access. It’s well-served with hotels. It’s pretty well-served for visiting anglers. There are guides there. Again, if you want to get out on the river, best to get someone who knows the river to take you out. You can drive around and see it, you can find somebody a boat to take you out.
It’s also a bit more, I guess democratic. A bit more open to people of average means than some places.
Generally speaking, it’s a very outdoorsy kind of state. There’s a lot of walking, hiking, fishing. It’s got some quite dramatic country around the river. If you’re hiking, the river is a great part of the scenery, it’s part of the attraction.
The Kaveri, India
This is in South India and flows across various states. It flows eastwards from the mountains in what they call the Western Ghats. It’s a very rich area for wildlife. You have wild elephants on the river there, you have river otters, monkeys, you even have—or used to have—crocodiles.
I was there a long time ago. One thing I quite enjoyed there was travelling by coracle. I got hold of the local coracle made out of split bamboo for the frame. Then, in the old days, they used to use hide: buffalo hide or something like that. Nowadays, they tend to use a sack material. Cover that with tar and you’ve got a very lightweight, very practical vessel for getting down the river.
It’s just perfect for that kind of river because it’ll bounce off rocks. Coming down the rapids, you can tuck into a slack behind a rock and then off you go again. It’s very easy to just pull out, put on your shoulder, carry it and off you go. Worse comes to worst, you can sleep underneath it. I spent quite a long time, more than 30 years ago, camping beside the river just bunking up in lightweight tents.
The biggest main city on the main stretch of the Kaveri is Bangalore, which has expanded tremendously. We tend to all have quite stereotypical views of India. This is a part of India that is very different from that, very wild, rivery. It’s surrounded by rounded hills, a lot of forest, quite a few rapids as well. It’s quite a big river. For the independent traveller who wants to find an interesting place on their own, even today, it could be a good place to check out.
They worship rivers in India. Rivers are sacred to the Indians, in particular, the Ganges. The Ganges is seen as a goddess. People make pilgrimages to the Ganges. It’s the wish of many people to be cremated beside the Ganges and have their ashes be scattered in the water. Yet, the Ganges is horrendously polluted. She’s very disrespected at the same time.
A river like the Kaveri better embodies the idea of rivers as being sacred to Hindus. Much of it is universal as well. We all have this affinity with rivers. I think you feel that in India, but you feel it more on a river like the Kaveri.
Have a spiritual Indian adventure on the Keralan waterways by clicking here
The Fitzroy, Australia
A very big river, but it’s surprisingly unknown. Its character changes through the year. I’ve just come back from there. In the dry season, it shrinks to just a chain of pools in the river beds. There’s no real flow to speak of. When the rains come, it’s just this raging current. It sometimes bursts its banks. It floods whole towns.
Again, from my point of view, it’s got a very interesting underwater life. You have bull sharks swimming up the river into freshwater. That’s pretty unusual. The upper limits of sharks are always a bit under discussion, but bull sharks can reach 9 or 10 feet long and 400 pounds. In the freshwater, you’ll maybe get four-footers, five-footers. Though I’ve heard of one big one, allegedly around the 10-foot mark that, was a pretty long way up the river, in completely fresh water.
Also, sawfish. That’s quite a rarity. You get juvenile sawfish up the river, but a juvenile sawfish is still anything up to about seven feet long. You also got stingrays up the river. The lower river is quite a place for saltwater crocodiles as well. It’s quite inhospitable!
If you like that sort of free zone of dangerous wildlife, that’s the place to go. Don’t go swimming. Don’t stand too close to the banks unless you’ve taken really good local advice. There’s a feeling of real wildness there. It’s not really a river for travelling along. Navigation to any extent is impossible. It’s more a case of just dropping into certain places along the length by vehicle and exploring that way.
One spectacular place on the Fitzroy is the Danngu or Geikie Gorge. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve been before on a river. You can go out along it by boat and the banks are the remains of a prehistoric coral reef: this massive limestone sculpted cliff. It brings home the whole process of geology, the antiquity.
So you get that feeling of the sacred nature of water. When you’re out in the landscape and you’re quiet and you’re still, you’re open to these feelings of realising your place not just in the landscape but also in time. Being in the presence of a long-dead coral reef, hundreds of miles inland, can be quite overwhelming.
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The longest river to run through a single country. Back on the Yangtze and it’s crazy to think that at the source, I was able to step over this river! ? I feel there is a bond, it’s taken me through so many ups and downs and I’ve experienced so much already. There have been many times that it’s tried chewing me up and spitting me out, but I’ve remained dogged and persistent and feel that we’re now both at one with each other. ? The Yangtze truly cuts through some of the wildest and most beautiful parts of not only China, but the world.
I hadn’t been to China until last year and I found it quite an eye-opener. in terms of being alone on a river, China is obviously quite populous, but interestingly, down by the river things can be quieter and a bit more intimate.
And you can meet people. I was wandering down and there was this old boy with a fishing rod pulling up small fish for his pet turtle at home. He offered me the rod to have a try myself. This is the thing I find with water, in terms of meeting people, it makes people more friendly. If you want to make connections with people, it’s often easier to do by the water, because you’re possibly there for the same reason.
The reason that made me travel in the first place was my interest in fish, and from that, I became, by accident, almost an anthropologist. When I go somewhere to fish, that brings me into contact with other people who fish, and I get to see how those people live. So, in China, you’ve got the big cities, but those cities are on the river, so there’s a connection. There are people who care passionately about these rivers, who don’t want them to just be a drain and a navigation route. And the interesting thing about the Yangtze river, is that you can follow it up to the Tibetan plateau. So, if you’ve got the means, those upper reaches are completely different.
One of the big landmarks on the Yangtse is the Three Gorges dam, which is so enormous it’s hard to take in. It’s something to see, but it’s almost too much to process. Going further up, though, you’ve got the Great Bend, where you find the upper Yangtze flowing down from the Tibetan plateau and for a while is running parallel with the Mekon before it hits this rock formation and is deflected to the east.
It’s such an iconic view, which changes throughout the year depending on the water level, and there’s an incredible viewpoint you can reach by climbing a hill. It’s almost a transcendental feeling. You’ve got this view, but you’re also thinking that if this lump of rock hadn’t been here, it wouldn’t have floated east and the whole history of China and the world would have been different. Geography affects history and rivers are such a big part of geography.
One reason people travel is to broaden the mind and meditating on the nature rivers is quite an interesting way to do that. How has this river shaped the country, the people?
Jeremy Wade’s ‘Mighty Rivers’ is on Fridays at 8pm on ITV, beginning with ‘Danube’ on 4 January. Extended hour-long versions show the following Mondays at 9pm on ITV4.
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