Isaias Fermin Fitzcarrald was a man of those times. He was born in 1862, the eldest of the seven children of an Irish Navy man who had established himself in the mining district of San Luis de Huari, in the Central Andes of Perú, North of Lima. He studied first in Huaraz, close to his hometown, and then in Lima.

An undated early photograph of Fitzcarrald

He lived a tempestuous youth during the years of the Peruvian-Chilean war of 1879, and the Chilean occupation of
Lima. Of him it is said that, after finishing school, he was seriously injured in a gambling quarrel in which he almost died. He had been looked for as a Chilean Spy, and changed his name to Carlos Fernando to evade justice.

Before his was twenty, he went into the forest trying to run away from
Lima, the war or maybe his own demons, which, judging from his agitated, adventurous and short-lived life had apparently never stopped haunting him.

He started working in the jungle by joining forces in the upper Uacayali with a Brazilian rubber tapper. In 1883, they enlisted several laborers and went into the completely virgin forests of the
Pachitea River. He gathered his first "good lot of rubber" and sold it in Masisea, near the place where the Pachitea drains it's waters into the Ucayali.

The movie poster

It is really amazing what this man achieved during his short time in the jungle. At 26 he was already known as the richest rubber man in the Ucayali. And at 31 he was recognized as the discoverer of the isthmus that today carries his name. According to historians, this was in Perú "the most important geographic discovery of the nineteenth century".

During his life in the jungle until his death, he revealed himself as a tenacious man, a brace colonizer and an exceptinal leader and organizer. He mobilized more than 300 people of different races and temperaments. From the central jungle and the northeast coast of
Perú to put them to work with the Campas (Ashaninkas) of the upper Ucayali-Urubamba Rivers. And with the Piros of the Mishagua-Madre de Dios, forming an army of thousands of men. Thanks to Fitzcarrald's attributes (and no doubt with the help of some Winchesters), he had managed to ensure their blind obedience. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand how the natives could have followed him in rubber tapping expeditions that lasted for years. With these contingents, he establised a series of stations along the banks of the rivers at distances of 20 to 30 miles apart. This scheme allowed him to count with intermediate points of support for the long and strenuous navigation throughout such a vast region.

Klaus Kinski played the role of Fitzcarrald during the 1984 movie.

Years later, Colonel
La Combe, head of an expedition to the jungles of Perú, wrote, referring to such achievements, "only a giant of the stature of Fitzcarrald could have accomplished such a task in so short time". For others, however, Fitzcarrald was nothing but another predator of the Amazon jungle. A vulgar adventurer, a simple pawn of English imperialism, that with his unscruplous greediness destroyed the native cultures and displaced the indigenous tribes from their territories. The controversy about Fitzcarrald's doings has been opened since his tragic death.

When opening the isthmus route, Fitzcarrald came into contact with the big Bolivian rubber tappers who operated in the
Beni, Madre de Dios and Orton Rivers. Amazed by this deed and the economic significance of the new route, they were eager to associate themselves with Fitzcarrald. According to the historians, as a result of this discovery, Antonio Vaca Diaz, an extremely whealthy rubber businessman of Riveralta, Bolivia, decided to travel to Europe to bring goods through the Atlantic and Amazon to the port of Iquitos, and carry then his cargo to Bolivia through the route opened by Fitzcarrald. In April 1897, he arrived in Iquitos to establish a partnership with Fitzcarrald. And to that effect incorporated, "The Orton Bolivian Rubber Company for London and Iquitos Trade" and bought the corner occupied today by the Fitzcarrald Restaurant and Bar, to establish its commercial place of business.

July 9, 1897, two months later, Vaca Diez and Fitzcarrald were drowned in the Urubamba, when the vessel which was carrying them to the isthmus was wrecked. Fitzcarrald was 35 years old.

More pics of the great undertaking!



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