The Rivers Ran East

Have just put down one of the most extraordinary adventure travel books I have ever read. Leonard Clark’s The Rivers Ran East, published in 1953, relates a quest for gold in the farthest reaches of the Amazon Basin, a journey so packed with high drama that many on-line reviewers declare it fiction, not fact.

Here be gold?

Here be gold?

Clark and his companions – including Inez Pokorny, an equally intrepid American woman who shows up in Iquitos – survive stand-offs with headhunting tribesmen and witchdoctors, confront anacondas, piranhas and crocodiles, and at times almost starve. Along the way they witness hitherto-unknown birds and animals and benefit from miraculous cures known only to the jungle people. Finally, Clark and Pokorny stagger out of the jungle and into the foothills of the Andes, laden with shrunken heads, live ocelots and bamboo containers stuffed with gold dust.

And all this follows Clark’s earlier years of exploration, espionage and guerilla warfare in China, Tibet and Mongolia. Yes, it all sounds just too far-fetched – but the US Consul in Iquitos, Peru, happily penned a glowing introduction to The Rivers Ran East . The review by Clark’s niece also adds credibility.

The book has long been out of print.  If you’re in a hurry, copies can be found on-line, but why not browse the secondhand book stores first?

Why have we Aussies never heard of Clark’s derring-do before? One modern-day Italian traveller did set out to follow at least some of the way in Clark’s footsteps, with mixed results.  And here’s the Peruvian tourism bureau’s offering on Iquitos and the surrounding region.


5 thoughts on “The Rivers Ran East

  1. Hi, I have been once down the Maraon already in search of Clark’s legacy and will return in 2013 to search for the Spanish ruins. Check out my site at and let me know what you think. We welcome all support and input! Thanks for spreading the word about an amazing book! -Dan Travers

  2. I checked out this book from the school library when I was about 10 years old (that would have been about 1961). It was the best book that I’d ever read up until then….probably one of the best I’ve ever read. I’ve told each of my 6 kids about it, and I remember the vivid descriptions (the process of shrinking heads was simply fascinating!) I’d love to locate a copy, so I will take your advice and look in used book stores. In the meantime, congratulations on finding this book and the world it opens up!

  3. Thanks! Travelers Tales in The SF Bay Area, USA, had lots of copies last time I checked. Our return this coming September is a “GO” as we already have three more team members joining us. Anyone else want to have a once-in-a-lifetime adventure?

  4. An author interested in the Amazon emailed me saying there was a website about this called theriversraneast so I followed that and got here!

    In 1952 as Mr. Clark’s book was about to be released I was traveling northeast along the Rio Perene from La Merced with a Native Elder. I was there learning secret oral histories. We completed the nearly identical journey just as his book came out. The differences were we traveled with 300 dollars for two of us, and we turned west at the river junction southwest of Iquitos. The only thing we had resembling weapons was a Brazilian style bowie knife for the Elder and a child’s sized machete for me. It was everything Mr. Clark stated.

    We had tried to sneak past the Chanchamayo plantation by going along a tiny trail on the southeast side of the river but a few days later men in 2 dugouts caught up with us and ordered us to return with them to the coffee plantation.

    The Chanchamayo coffee plantation owner was amazed that a white child was traveling with a Native Elder and was suspicious of us until we explained we were on travel grants from the US including a tiny grant from the Geographic Society and could he add anything about the dissapearance of Col. Percy Fawcett? That did it. He decided to help us by sending us to Sutsuki with 2 of his men in a dugout.

    In 1953 I was part of a lecture tour in which myself and the Elder discussed our travels. Later in the year some persons thought that we were paraphrasing Mr. Clark’s book. We hadn’t read it!!

    I can corroborate many of the things Mr. Clark describes. Those who think he was exaggerating are revealing the severe limitations of their own world view.

    Around 1956 (I think) I ran into Mr. Clark in San Francisco and he was ticked off because some foolish person told him we were copying his journey. He cooled off when he realized we were already on the river for completely different reasons when his manuscript was being finished, and that I was about 7 years old at the time.

    Mr. Clark told the truth absolutely. It was that wild and is wild and dangerous country.

    Colyn P. Spurrell

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