Cover image for Sacred monkey river : a canoe trip with the gods
Sacred monkey river : a canoe trip with the gods
Shaw, Christopher.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2000]

Physical Description:
316 pages : maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F1435 .S53 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



At the border of Mexico and Guetamala lies the Usumacinta river. The river and its tributaries form the region that once supported the achievements of the Maya. Shaw has travelled these rivers by canoe, his story brings together the thrill of adventure travel and the acute eye of the naturalist.

Author Notes

Christopher Shaw has been a river guide, a caretaker, a magazine editor, and a regular commentator on North Country Public Radio. He lives in Middlebury, Vermont, where he serves on the admissions board of the Breadloaf Writing Workshops.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

A naturalist who once edited Adirondack Life magazine, Shaw canoes the rough waters of Guatemala's Usumacinta River in this uneven Mesoamerican travel adventure. Like the river itself, the narrative begins slowly, gradually gathering momentum as the author abandons secondary anthropological research in favor of his own, often profound, impressions. The Usumacinta has always contained a liminal world; Shaw describes the fluid boundary between Guatemala and Mexico as "an unruly no-man's-land inhabited by political refugees, fugitives and foreign adventurers." Shaw's travels took him through Mexico's Chiapas region not long after the Zapatista uprising (a little more modern political history earlier in the narrative would have helped novice readers immensely, especially since Shaw slips back and forth between the main journey and one undertaken in 1989, before the uprising). During his river run, he encounters rebels, wayfarers and, in the book's most exciting sequence, drug smugglers. He also confronts exhilarating danger in the river itself ("the boat leaped forward onto the crown, and the world dropped away"). In describing the remote, rugged landscape, Shaw comes down heavily on the side of ecological conservation, bemoaning the loss of the surrounding rainforest to loggers and chicleros (workers who harvest sap from the chicle trees to make gum). A gifted travel writer, Shaw evokes the Usumacinta's territory with startling clarity, though his chronology is sometimes confusing. Veteran canoers and armchair travelers, as well as fans of ancient Mayan civilization, will find these narrative waters exhilarating, if a bit choppy. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

1 Foundationp. 17
2 Palenquep. 45
3 Delta and Portagep. 77
4 The Dividep. 104
5 The Headwatersp. 130
6 The Watery Pathp. 153
7 The Canadas and Miramarp. 175
8 Canon Coloradop. 200
9 The Lacantunp. 220
10 The Ambiguous Zonep. 243
11 Split Skyp. 264
12 The Cosmogramp. 289
Afterwordp. 311
Acknowledgmentsp. 314