Barred by reefs, and full of rapids and impetuous currents, it cannot become a commercial avenue. At the point where it makes its great bend the river Chinchipe pours into it from southern Ecuador. Just below this the mountains close in on either side of the Marapon, forming narrows or pongos for a length of 35 miles, where, besides numerous whirlpools, there are no less than thirty-five formidable rapids, the series concluding with three cataracts just before reaching the river Imasa or Chunchunga, near the mouth of which La Condamine embarked in the 18th century to descend the Amazon. Here the general level of the country begins to decrease in elevation, with only a few mountain spurs, which from time to time push as far as the river and form pongos of minor importance and less dangerous to descend.
Finally, after passing the narrows of Guaracayo, the cerros gradually disappear, and for a distance of about 20 miles the river is full of islands, and there is nothing visible from its low banks but an immense forest-covered plain. But the last barrier has yet to be passed, the Pongo de Manseriche, 3 miles long, just below the mouth of the Rio Santiago, and between it and the old abandoned missionary station of Borja, in 38 degrees 30' southern latitude and 77 degrees 30' 40" western longitude.
According to Captain Carbajal, who descended it in the little steamer "Napo," in 1868, it is a vast rent in the Andes about 2000 ft. deep, narrowing in places to a width of only 100 ft., the precipices "seeming to close in at the top." Through this dark canyon the Marañón leaps along, at times, at the rate of 12 miles an hour.
The Pongo de Manseriche was first discovered by the Adelantado Joan de Salinas. He fitted out an expedition at Loxa in Ecuador, descended the Rio Santiago to the Marañón, passed through the perilous Pongo in 1557 and invaded the country of the Maynas Indians. Later, the missionaries of Cuenca and Quito established many missions in the Pais de los Maynas, and made extensive use of the Pongo de Manseriche as an avenue of communication with their several convents on the Andean plateau. According to their accounts, the huge rent in the Andes, the Pongo, is about five or six miles long, and in places not more than 80 feet wide, and is a frightful series of torrents and whirlpools interspersed with rocks. There is an ancient tradition of the savages of the vicinity that one of their gods descending the Marañón and another ascending the Amazon to communicate with him, they opened the pass called the Pongo de Manseriche.
From the northern slope of its basin the Amazon receives many tributaries, but their combined volume of water is not nearly so great as that contributed to the parent stream by its affluents from the south. That part of Brazil lying between the Amazon and French, Dutch and British Guiana, and bounded on the west by the Rio Negro, is known as "Brazilian Guiana". It is the southern watershed of a tortuous, low chain of mountains running, roughly, east and west. Their northern slope, which is occupied by the three Guianas first named, is saturated and river-torn; but their southern one, Brazilian Guiana, is in general thirsty and semi-barren, and the driest region of the Amazon valley.
It is an area which has been left almost in the undisturbed possession of nomadic Indian tribes, whose scanty numbers find it difficult to solve the food problem. From the divortium aquarum between French Guiana and Brazil, known as the Tumuc-humac range of highlands, two minor streams, the Yary and the Parou, reach the Amazon across the intervening broken and barren tableland. They are full of rapids and reefs.