NO ENTRY- first time in over 5000 miles.

We were told not to run through the reserve, that the Indigenous people of the Waimiri Atroari Indian Reserve were hostile towards ‘white people’. That they had attacked people in the Reserve with bows and arrows.

That they stole the passports and money of a party of people whom had walked into their forest and threw the “booty” into the river! That only their law exists in the Reserve.

One can understand. Thirty-six years ago the BR174 road – one of the Pan Amazonian tendrils planned to open the Amazon to resource extraction – was pushed through their homelands.

The army,  government and their bulldozers would not heed the arrows of the desperate people whose home was being torn apart. Over 2000 indigenous people are believed to have died.

When you look at the satelite image of their Reserve below, it’s evident why they were so committed to stopping the road. Either side of their gates, the forest has gone, a herring bone of fields with charred tree stumps mark the passage of the road and the access for deforestation. Their Reserve remains as the only intact island of wonderful forest.

Waimiri Atroari Indian Reserve northern Brazil, Manaus to the South, Boa Vista to the North. Stars mark the approximate start and end of the Reserve.

But it wasn’t just their fearsome reputation. Laws had also been set inplace to ‘protect’ them. Automated traffic is only allowed to pass through the Reserve in the hours of daylight (apart from public transport which can pass at other times). People are not allowed to pass in other modes of transport.

Undeterred, we were  hopeful we could convince the Indians of our positive intentions and had hatched a plan we hoped they might consent to.

So we ran to the gates of the Rerserve bubbling with anticipation.

A car sat up to its waste in water in a laggon, its lights flashing. Had this been the Indians’ latest victims?

Start of the Indigenous Reserve

We rowed; how were we going to deal with the situation? What was the best tactic? We had discussed this before,  but we were both concerned, tired and tempers fraid.

Finally, a thin chain appeared across the road. The large, sprawling, indigenous camp and Funai building (Brazilian Government Agency who is tasked with protecting the Indians’ rights) we had imagined would be awaiting for us, comprised two small thatch houses. Infront of the chain gate sat three dark, diminuitive, guys in bright yellow t-shirts.

The Indian and Funai Huts at the Entrance to the Reserve by the Chain Gate

Fighting the urge to run through the gate (they didn’t appear to be concerned about our presence) we wondered over to talk to them.

We told them of our project and that we hoped to be the first in the world to run South America, unsupported. They giggled.

We told them we cared deeply for the natural world and that we wanted to share their story and that of the incredible forest that is their homeland through our project. They looked more serious now. Not sure if it was our faltering quasi Spanish- Portuguese stumblings, or the prospect of us in their Reserve.

Either way, it soon came, that little world, “NO”, or “NAO” in Portuguese. So much easier to say than that other little word that requires thought, special rules, special conditions, work..


Gutted. We sat and waited.

Could we run during the day, three days, long miles, to allow us to sleep in two buildings on the roadside over two nights? We wouldn’t have to ingress into the reserve?

“NAO” .

Could we run during the day and get a lift out before it gets dark, restarting from the same point the next day?

“NAO” .

Could a member of Indigenous group run with us?

“NAO” .

Had anyone been allowed into the reserve on foot before.

“NAO” .

We were defeated. There was an option with Funai to apply for a licence to enter the Reserve, but we had been warned that this was hopeless.

And so we find ourselves for the first time in over a year and over 5000 miles (8.000 km) and since starting at the southerly most point of the South America continent, missing a stretch of the route.

Running to the reserve

But even if we can’t run the exact route, we can run the miles! So here we are in Rorainopolis, after running from the northern side of the Reserve gates.

And the plan? Running backwards and forwards! Today 23 miles, tommorow 24 miles… etc.. after three days we will have the miles cracked.

Sad to be running the same road, sad not to have run through one of the most pristine sections of the Amazon yet, sad that the we have had to miss a tiny piece in the jigsaw puzzle, but not sad that we have respected the Indians’ wishes. Afterall, thanks to them the forest is still standing and will be standing for eternity. That is if the Brazilian Government doesn’t plan another hydroelectric dam or anything else……

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