In the year 1499, Vincete Pinzon was surprised to find his ship sailing through fresh water, although he couldn't see any land. He thought he was near India, but was actually off the coast of Brazil, where the Amazon River empties 7,500,000 cubic feet of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second, and freshens it for a distance of 150 miles. He continued to sail west and eventually anchored his vessel in the vast 208 mile wide mouth of the river. The vivid blue of the tropic Atlantic had radically changed to a silty bronze and all around him lay an intricate maze of islands with sandy beaches lined with thick jungle. Pinzon and his men explored some of the more prosperous inhabited islands hoping to find treasure, but the returning tide cut their visit short. As it met the powerful river current, twenty-four foot high waves forced the explorers to beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of the Atlantic.
The newly discovered river became known as "La Mar Dulce" (The Freshwater Sea) and regarded to be one of those rare phenomena of nature because of its magnitude. It has been suggested that thousands of years ago the lower course of the river formed a vast inland sea (which received it's waters from the Amazon, Tocantins, Xingu, Trombetas and many smaller streams) that was linked to another 400,000 square mile sea above the cataracts of the Madeira on the Bolivian plains. Also included in the network was a third body of water, larger than Lake Superior, occupying the area of Lake Titicaca in the Andes.Today the Amazon has over 1,000 tributaries with a combined length of 40,000 miles. The main canal begins in the rainforests and lakes of the Andean foothills where it gathers the waters of its many tributaries like a gluttonous brown snake of 4,000 miles long. Every day it's mouth disgorges twenty-five times more water into the ocean than the Nile in flood, and enough sediment to form a solid cube of earth equaling 500 feet on every side. These two factors are more than capable of drastically altering the eastern face of South America from prehistoric times, but even so, the Amazon and its tributaries still bear a strong skeletal resemblance to the fantastic canals of Plato's Atlantis.
Despite the erosion of time, flooding and partial submersion, there are some very prominent physical features that prove South America may be the lost island paradise explorers have vainly sought since Plato's literary inception over 2,000 years ago. In the first place, he tells us that Atlantis was situated directly opposite the Straits of Gibraltar...but this is misleading because in his more detailed account he reveals that the bulk of the island lay below the equator "where it was sheltered from the north."Then he describes the magnificent mountains that rose abruptly from the sea on one side of the island. Almost certainly, these are the Andes (or Quechua Antis) mountains that supported many wealthy villages, farms, forests, lakes and rivers that abundantly watered the great oval-shaped plain forming the greater part of the island from the foothills to the opposite seaboard.More importantly, Plato vividly details the fertile irrigated plain that was engineered with a network of canals that encouraged a flourishing interior and international commerce. The most prominent of these water thoroughfares was an incredible 100 foot deep canal excavated along the base of the mountains to collect the run-off and carry it around and through the plain where it emptied into the ocean on the seaboard side of the island. The remains of these Canals still fulfill their original purpose throughout the Amazon basin.In fact, Constantine and Paul Georgescu spent two years (from 1979 to 1981) steering their 32 foot riverboat "Niculina" through 24,000 miles of river from Venezuela to Argentina and back, and planned another 13,000 mile journey from Argentina to and across the Caribbean, up the Mississippi, into the Great Lakes and on to Quebec, Canada. "We showed that river communication in South America is a possibility for the first time," said then sixty-two year old economist Constantine.South America has an estimated three million square miles of uninhabited land and thirty percent of the world's reserves of fresh water, and a third of its forests lands. Economists and geographers have long agreed that the interior has great potential for fishing, cattle raising and agriculture development, and holds untold resources of minerals and energy. "But most of these riches are untapped just because nobody could get them out." The two brothers were convinced that the continent's river network could transform the wild interior into a land of plenty. Paul Georgescu, a 57 year old engineering professor at Simon Bolivar University in Caracus, hesitated to make an estimate on the cost of linking all of South America through it's rivers, but he felt it would be at least $ 50 billion. At that time, South America's governments were mired in a debt crisis, so he didn't think it likely that there would be any available financing for the river project.However, Constantine energetically pointed to the fact that the South American rivers made European waterways (like the Rhine and Thames) look like tiny brooks by comparison. "The total flow of the Thames in one year is the same as that of the Amazon in one day, and the latter alone has eleven tributaries that are longer than the Rhine." The Rhine carried 250 million tons of cargo every year making its banks one of the most economically active areas in the world, while the Amazon's potential was largely untapped....and the South American economy remained in a vicious unproductive cycle.In 1983 Peru's President Fernando Belaunde Terry and some other South American presidents made part of the trip to the Bolivar bicentennial ceremonies in Venezuela by river aboard the "Amazonia" to show his support of continental integration through waterways. Perhaps the future restoration of these ancient waterways will reveal the ruins of the forgotten prehistoric world mentioned in the writings of many explorers throughout the centuries.