Two years ago we cycled over the Andes through the city of Arequipa, traversing dry arroyos that in the wet season would be feeders for what was then considered the official headwaters of an infant River Amazon. The source then believed to be a snow patch high up to on Volcan Misti.
Two years on and the parameters have been rearranged. The Rio Mantero has now been declared to be the new source. It's judged to be 80km longer. Like waterfalls, it must be difficult to decide on a set of conditions upon which to enumerate, be that volume, width, height or lies. Other contenders must exist. If only because there's so much scope for aggrandisement by contending local authorities.
It's all semantics; what's fact is we're cycling up an impressive gully. A canyon that contains an incongruous mix of bananas and sheep, pines and papayas, that steel green river and an exciting road. Ask a child to draw a twisty road and they might well produce what we have been riding for two days. One moment it is a voluptuous two-truck width, the next it's turned anorexic. Of course this is when the taxi car and the quarry lorry meet. At times the never-parallel white lines that the engineers have considerately painted, disappear over the edge, the asphalt undercut and washing away. A soft slump in the tar that makes me grateful that we're travelling supposedly on the landward side. Except we're not. The inside, the cliffside, on this wet morning, is birthing a rubble of small stones that I can hear skittering down and can see peppering across the road; that, and the best way to see around corners is to hug the outside berm. It's true that corner-approaching traffic hoot their horns, only the reverberating echo makes it near impossible to tell if they're in front, they're meeting colleagues or their hooter simply requires exercise.
That wet morning has had a dramatic effect on our crystal green river. It's been transformed into a churned up ruddy morass, carrying a burden of dissolved mountain. We follow this new incarnation, reflecting on how rare it had been to track a pristine running river. When suddenly, it returns. We back track to investigate. There's a confluence. Our newly returned green rio mixes with a raging stream that erupts out of a soft red mountain. I can hear the avalanches of rock and soil constantly gravitating down the steep slopes. It's a salient reminder of how young these mountains are and how erosion re-models a landscape.
We're only a hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean, yet these waters will travel a continent, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. That's fact. It will, however, as we travel further north, be interesting to see if we can find yet another new contender for the title 'Source of the Amazon'