Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest
By the acclaimed author of The Soul of an Octopus and the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig.
When Sy Montgomery ventured into the Amazon to unlock the mysteries of the littleknown pink dolphins, she found ancient whales that plied the Amazon River at dawn and dusk, swam through treetops in flooded forests, and performed underwater ballets with their flexible bodies. But she soon found out that to know the botos, as the dolphins are locally called, you must also know the people who live among them.
And so in Journey of the Pink Dolphins, Montgomery―part naturalist, part poet, part Indiana Jones―winds her way through watery tributaries and riverside villages, searching for botos and hearing the tales of locals who believe these ethereal dolphins are shape-shifters―creatures that emerge from the water as splendidly dressed men or women only to enchant their human onlookers, capture their souls, and then carry them away to the Encante, an underwater world. Montgomery takes readers on four separate journeys, exploring the river-dwelling dolphins’ natural history, chronicling their conservation pressures, unraveling their prehistoric roots, and visiting with shamans who delve into the Encante.
that morning. Already, the water level at camp had dropped two inches. The fish, he said, would go to the Amazon, and the dolphins would follow. So, crying “Spines! Branch! Ants!” we threaded our way north through the flooded forest to one of the channels leading to the Amazon—thick, brown, and wide as a sea. We waited, but saw no dolphins there—not even Moises, with his Amazon eyes. So Moises directed our canoe through a young, mostly submerged forest of cecropia (as our cries of “Ants!”
university and feed apples to the buffalo. The words I found calming, and sweet as incense. Beneath my closed eyelids, I saw caterpillars, then butterflies, then leaves, then birds, a gentle stepladder of becoming. I thought: What a kind and gentle man to shepherd us to the Encante. Time stopped during the ceremony. The sound of the shaking leaves reminded me of rain; between the cadence of the leaves and the mesmerizing whistling and chant, I felt myself slipping toward sleep. Sleep, I decided,
in the ancient Brazilian highlands, whose sediments leached away millions of years ago. Because these sandy soils are too poor to break down organic chemicals, the Negro is laced with acids and stained with tannins. Its waters are nearly sterile. The muddy water of the Solimões owes its light color to huge quantities of nutrient-rich silt gathered from headwaters in the geologically youthful Andes. It teems with piranhas and electric eels, fish with bony tongues and bulging eyes. Pink river
make the piranha the symbol of the Amazon, for they are one of the fish that truly molds the ecosystem. As an animal, I find them very elegant and very impressive indeed,” he said—although, he confessed, “I don’t like handling them.” At the moment, the piranhas were having a field day. At high water, they have to hunt mainly at river edges, where fish may have become stranded, while in low water, the fish are so concentrated they can attack anything that moves. For the dolphins, too, this was a
and lambs hang dripping from meat hooks, hooves and heads still on. The men’s hands are slippery with blood. Behind the vegetable stalls, smiling men and women chat over mountains of produce: softball-sized avocados that smell like hand cream; parsley with its roots still on, gasping for the soil; yellow melons, shiny fragrant limes, and strange fruits with alluring names like genipapo, acerola, maracujá, pitomba. It is impossible here not to think, at once, of sex and death: the dead fish with