Sounds like something from a James Bond movie where the villains are thrown into scalding hot waters to die! But this is far from a movie set!
For Peruvian geoscientist, Andrés Ruzo, the myth about a river in the Amazon that burns so hot it can kill had fascinated him since childhood. But it wasn’t until he was completing his PhD project on geothermal energy potential in Peru that he began to question whether the river could actually be real.
In 2011, Ruzo took a chance and hiked into the Amazon rainforest with his aunt, and saw the famed river with his own eyes.
Much to his disbelief, it was steaming hot. “When I saw this, I immediately grabbed for my thermometer”, said Ruzo. “The average temperature in the river was 86 degrees Celsius, not quite boiling but definitely close enough … It’s not a legend.”
Ruzo obviously wasn’t the first to discover the river, and as suggested by its indigenous name – Shanay-timpishka, which means “boiled with the heat of the Sun” – he also wasn’t the first to wonder what made it so hot.
Though the river’s ancient name, Shanay-timpishka, translates to ‘boiled with the heat of the sun’, the river boils because of fault-fed hot springs.
The total river system is about 9 kilometers (5.5 miles), but it is the 6.24 kilometers (3.8 miles) on the lower part of the river that are hot. Most of that flow, particularly during the dry season, is hot enough to kill you. Small mammals, reptiles, or amphibians regularly fall in and are boiled alive. One of the things I love about being there is that it forces you to be extremely intentional with every step, because there can be really serious consequences if you do fall in.
The river area is also home to the Santuario Huistin and the Mayantuyacu, two native Amazonian healing communities, who have long considered it a sacred site and place of spiritual powers that only the most powerful community healers would visit “to commune with the spirits” and learn about the secret healing powers and rituals of their predecessors.