Richard Evans Schultes and Rubber

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Lost Amazon Feature

Featured: Wade Davis The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, 2004.

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 September 2019

Richard Evans Schultes & Rubber


I met a young Swiss man about thirty in Pakistan in 1995. I’ll call him Marc. We shared a jeep with he and his girlfriend up the Kaghan Valley through the snow. The first time I saw Marc, though he was lean and wiry, I mistakenly thought that he was not prepared for the rigours of Pakistan. I was wrong.

He’d walked alone the length of Africa a year or so before. Earlier he’d travelled with a friend in the Pacific. The friend adopted his approach of not wearing shoes through the bush and ended up in hospital with blood poisoning.

I imagine that Richard Evans Schultes was of that type. He was a botanist, explorer and admirer of indigenous tribes for their plant knowledge in the Amazon, at a time when that was still possible.

Schultes’ personal hero [from a young age] was Richard Spruce, a British naturalist who spent seventeen years exploring the Amazon rainforest.

Although George Lucas modelled the character of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark on several famous archaeologists, he could equally have been modelled on Richard Evans Schultes. Like Indiana Jones, at Harvard Schultes dressed as a conservative professor and thought of himself as conservative:

[He was] outfitted in grey flannel slacks, red suspenders, starched white shirt and a white laboratory coat. I was to learn that this was his uniform in Cambridge, as much as his pith helmet, khaki pants, and khaki shirt were his uniform in the Amazon.

He remained continuously in his beloved Amazon Valley [from 1941] until 1953, when a Harvard administrator discovered that he had only taken out a one-year leave of absence, and it was time to return. (Michael J. Balick)

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Making Rubber Bands in Burma

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Featured Image: Fallow Fields Outside the Weaving Village on Bilu Island

Fallow Fields Outside the Weaving Village on Bilu Island
Fallow Fields Outside the Weaving Village on Bilu Island

ORT_Logo  Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 August 2019

Making Rubber Bands near Mawlamyine, Burma, February 2017

By the old Moulmein pagoda lookin’ lazy at the sea… wrote Rudyard Kipling on his 1889 visit.


Travelfish contends not much has changed from Kipling and apart from the traffic they are partly right. We liked the sleepy backwater atmosphere of Moulmein, renamed Mawlamyine. Travelling out of there by boat, when we left the huge river seemed part of a lost era. George Orwell’s family connections in Burma and one of his postings during his years in the Burma Police were in Moulmein.

Made famous in his essay On Shooting an Elephant, which begins:

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me.

My favourite amongst Orwell’s novels, his only real novel to my mind, is Burmese Days a very funny, but chilling anti-colonial story. U Po Kyin, the corrupt magistrate is one of the great villains of literature. Burmese Days is set in Katha much further north above Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River.

Denise and I spent a month in Burma in early 2017 on our way to a wedding in Thailand. We went to Burma to see how much the country had changed since our last visit in early 1996. The suppression of the population in 1996 was terrible. Things had improved for people dramatically, though the country is still under the stranglehold of the military junta. Ko Ni a prominent legal adviser for Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy and strong critic of the military, who was working on constitutional reform, was assassinated outside Yangon Airport terminal by a gunman with links to the military in the two weeks between us flying up north and returning to go to Bago.

We travelled from Bago and its pagodas outside of Yangon to Mawlamyine by bus, not too unpleasant. The end of our journey was signalled by the magnificent bridge across the Salween River (renamed Than Lwin by the junta).

Continue reading “Making Rubber Bands in Burma”