This Boiling River in the Amazon kills anything that enters

Have you ever heard of the Amazon’s Boiling River, or Shanay-Timpishka, whose scalding hot water kills almost anything that enters?

Long the subject of mythical, spiritual and scientific fascination, theories have swirled as to why the river bubbles and froths. A man called Andrés Ruzo went to investigate the river and now works to protect it.

Located in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, the river is difficult to get to. It entails a flight from Peru’s capital, Lima, to Pucallpa, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon. A lengthy drive along dirt roads follows, leading to the Pachitea River, one of the Amazon River’s large tributaries. Next comes a boat journey, approximately half an hour upstream, when the water’s temperature might begin to steadily rise. At first like bath water, but eventually scolding, this is the Shanay-Timpishka. 

The water is at its hottest at the lower portion of the roughly 5.5-mile (9km) long river. As wide as 100 feet (30m) and 4.5 m (about 15 ft) deep, the Shanay-Timpishka is more than a small stream. Its name translates as ‘boiled by the heat of the sun’, with shanay translating as “heat of the sun” and timpu being the verb, “to boil”.

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From the tepid water at the top of the river, the temperatures can rise to around 200 °F (93 °C). The hottest temperature Ruzo, a geothermal scientist, ever measured it at was 210.4 °F (99.1 °C). 

Ruzo’s fascination dates back to when he was a boy when his grandfather would tell him tales of a mythical city of gold deep in the heart of the Peruvian jungle. Though he never believed the stories to be true, the legend of the lost city stuck with him into adulthood. To his surprise, he discovered the incredulous river deep in the Amazon, with water hot enough to kill a human. Historically a place of pilgrimage for shamans and sorcerers, the river now faces increasing threats like so much of the Amazon rainforest: from poachers and deforestation.

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There were three main theories as to how the Shanay-Timpishka came to be. One was that it could be a volcanic feature, caused by a magmatic system that the scientists had originally missed. It could also have been a non-volcanic feature, caused by hot water flowing from within the earth at abnormally high temperatures. The third was that the river was not natural, but the result of an oil spill, as it is near the oldest active oil field in the Peruvian Amazon.

Ruzo discovered it to be the second: a non-volcanic, geothermal feature with water flowing at anomalously high rates.

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