History of Site ⋆ Boiling River
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History of Site

Our understanding of the Boiling River’s history (as it relates to people) comes from two primary sources: the local Amazonians, and oilfield documents from the early stages of the Agua Caliente Oilfield’s development (which can be found in the UC Santa Barbara Department of Special Research Collections).


Ancient History


Local oral traditions describe the Boiling River as existing “Before the time of the grandfathers.”


The river’s ancient name is “Shanay-timpishka,” which roughly translates to “Boiled with the Heat of the Sun.” This name is interesting for various reasons. Firstly, the name itself suggests a hypothesis— illustrating how the ancients sought to explain the world around them. Secondly, as this name is in an Amazonian-Quechua dialect, it may not be that “ancient,” potentially only a few hundred years old. There is undoubtedly a deeper history to uncover and more research to be done to truly understand the Boiling River’s significance to the Amazonians’ ancestors.


According to Maestro Juan Flores (shaman of Mayantuyacu), the Boiling River has always been regarded as a place of tremendous spiritual power. In the past, local people were afraid to go into the Boiling River’s jungle—particularly to what is now the Mayantuyacu area—as the jungle was home to very powerful spirits, and even man-eating jaguars. As a result, only the most powerful shamans (some of whom were Maestro Juan’s ancestors) would visit the river in order to commune with the spirits and learn their healing arts.

Westerners come to the River


In the late 1920s, Peru was seeking to expand its Amazonian development, and better connect cities like Pucallpa with the rest of the country. In 1929, American geologist Robert B. Moran conducted an aerial survey from a plane for a railroad construction project, when he spotted a large, oval-shaped landform rising out of the jungle. He immediately identified this as a potential oil reservoir, thinking it was a salt dome.


Moran went on to organize field expeditions in 1930, 1931, and 1932. When Moran and his colleagues first encountered the Boiling River, they became concerned that the Agua Caliente Dome was a volcanic rather than sedimentary structure, as geothermal systems can “overcook” oil reserves, making them worthless. Fortunately for them, they found natural oil seeps elsewhere in the area (not on the Boiling River), and determined that the river was non-volcanic in origin. In their original maps, they referred to the river as the “Shanaya” or “Shamaya”– a distortion of “Shanay-timpishka.”

The river’s ancient name is “Shanay-timpishka,” which roughly translates to “Boiled with the Heat of the Sun.”


In their 1930s reports, Moran’s team mentions that there were “not 50 people living in the Agua Caliente district,” and that most of these are “descendants of the people who came into the district during the rubber boom.” The reports also describe “a few wild Indians living back from the main rivers” that are “seldom seen and their numbers are practically negligible.” This matches Maestro Juan’s account of how only the most powerful shamans would go to the Boiling River, and thus, not many indigenous lived there.


We can only guess what these native people must have thought of the oilmen entering this dangerous place of powerful spirits.


Ultimately, Moran and his team confirmed the Agua Caliente Dome’s oilfield potential, obtained an oilfield exploration and development concession, and in 1938, drilled the first successful oil well in the Peruvian Amazon. Over the next roughly 80 years, the Agua Caliente concession has passed hands from one oil company to another. Maple Energy now operates the oilfield.

Since the early 1990s, non-Amazonian visitors have come to the Boiling River area from all over the world to visit Mayantuyacu and Santuario Huistin for traditional healing.

Shamanic Centers on the Boiling River


A young shaman had just finished his studies to become a healer in various traditions, and was visiting the jungle. In his walk, he accidentally walked into a hunter’s trap and was shot in the leg. He was rushed to the hospital, and doctors told him he would never walk again. A nurse named Sandra challenged him, “If you are such a powerful shaman, why don’t you go heal yourself?”


Recalling the stories his grandfathers used to tell him about the Boiling River’s powerful healing spirits, the young shaman picked up his crutches and re-entered the jungle. At the Boiling River, a Came Renaco tree hung over the river, its roots grabbing onto a boulder and its branches bathed by the river’s vapors. The young shaman healed himself using the sap, bark and leaves of the Came Renaco tree and the river’s waters, and was able to walk again. He founded Mayantuyacu on the same spot in which he healed himself, and began his journey as Maestro Juan Flores. He married his former nurse, Sandra, and together, they run the healing center that helps heal visitors using ancient Amazonian medicine.


Maestro Enrrique (shaman of Santuario Huistin) was originally a builder, and tells of how he received his calling as a curandero after having a vision of the Virgin Mary in the jungle. She told him to put down his tools and appeal to the rainforest to reveal its secrets of how to heal others. He obeyed, and sought the instruction of Maestro Juan Flores. Once his training was complete, he founded his own healing center on the Boiling River—Santuario Huistin. With his wife, Ayme, who is also a curandera and shaman, they heal visitors using traditional Amazonian medicine.


Why it Had Remained a Mystery

Prior to oilfield exploration and development, the Boiling River was a remote feature only known to locals. When oilfield development first began in the area, the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples as well as what was best for the environment were not generally considered.


The Moran reports make it clear that the oilmen were initially troubled by the Boiling River’s presence in the area (as geothermal systems can “overcook” oil reserves, making them worthless). Fortunately for the oilmen, they found natural oil seeps in the area (not on the Boiling River), and were able to show the Agua Caliente dome is non-volcanic. Though the Boiling River was included in the original documents of the oilfield concession, it was only reported as a landmark, and was the oilfield’s original northern boundary line.

Over the past 80 years, the rules, regulations, and requirements associated with oil development in the Amazon (specifically relating to environmental and social issues) have changed significantly. Had the original concession set-up process been done today, it is certain that the Boiling River would have been identified as a culturally significant site.


Since the early 1990s, non-Amazonian visitors have come to the Boiling River area from all over the world to visit Mayantuyacu and Santuario Huistin for traditional healing.


In 2011, Andrés Ruzo was introduced to the Boiling River by his aunt, who had previously visited Mayantuyacu. It quickly became clear to Andrés through preliminary tests that the river was geologically significant; upon sharing his observations with Maestro Juan, Maestro decided to give Andrés his blessing to study the sacred river. Later, Maestro Enrrique gave his blessing to Andrés as well. In doing so, they enabled him to become the first geoscientist to do a detailed study of the Boiling River. Since this time, Andrés has been closely collaborating with both Mayantuyacu and Santuario Huistin to study the river, protect it, and bring it to the world in the most responsible way possible.


In 2014, Andrés presented the Boiling River on the TED MainStage (TED Global 2014) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The TED Talk and the TED Book about the Boiling River launched in February 2016.