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From Manchester to Manchester: an adventure in Bolivia
Person in canoe on river in Bolivia
Liz and Chris spent three months in a canoe on the Rio Manuripi without knowing if Manchester still existed.

There are other Manchesters in the world but surely none as remote as one deep in the Amazonian jungle and the inspiration for a new exhibition.

'Finding Manchester, Lost in Bolivia' is the true story of an adventure by two modern day explorers.

Intrigued by an old map, Chris Smith and Liz Peel set off into the Bolivian rainforest to find a remote village with an oddly Mancunian name.

Their epic story is told in a special exhibition at Manchester Museum.

Uncharted

Maps of foreign lands are intriguing. Exotic-sounding place names leap off the paper, stirring the imagination.

Chris Smith pushing the canoe
It took 79 days paddling - and pushing - the canoe down the Rio Manuripi

But how many people would travel for months into an uncharted area of the Eastern Amazon basin just to see if a place with an intriguing name still exists?

Back in 2007, Chris from Nantwich and girlfriend Liz who's from Rossendale, were in South America when they noticed something curious on an ancient Russian map they'd been given by a fellow traveller.

"We were studying the map trying to find a northern route round Lake Titicaca on the Peru-Bolivian border," explained Chris.

"Then out of the blue, Liz spotted a little dot on the map called Manchester in amongst all these Spanish sounding names.

"And obviously it pricked our curiosity."

Mystery

Chris and Liz eventually returned to their lives and jobs as photography instructors in Staffordshire. But the thought of going back to Bolivia in search of Manchester wouldn't go away.

For the next eight months, they saved up and quietly plotted their return.

But, as Chris revealed, their research uncovered just one single reference to Manchester in Bolivia - in a book called 'A World of Manchesters' by Roy Cookson.

JOURNAL EXTRACT
"Before leaving England we had pinned down Manchester, Bolivia, to somewhere around 11 degrees, 32 minutes south, 68 degrees, 4 minutes west.

"Now, as the river took us further east, the first few letters of Manchester began to show on the screen of the GPS hanging off a waterproof barrel in front of us.

"A wide smile broke across our faces and butterflies danced in the pit of our stomachs."

"The less information we found, the more our curiosity was raised," he said.

"So, by the time we actually left Manchester UK, we didn't know that the other Manchester still existed, exactly where it was, the nature of the terrain or anything.

"So it was a huge mystery."

Their only clue from Roy Cookson's book, was that the Bolivian Manchester, if it was still there, stood on the banks of the Rio Manuripi.

A folding canoe was acquired and, on 20 June 2008, they returned to South America ready for their adventure.

Getting to the start of the river proved an ordeal itself; it took five flights and nine truck rides from Peru via Brazil to Bolivia before they even reached the head of the Rio Manuripi.

But on a slow-flowing river, their progress was extremely slow, explained Chris.

"The Manuripi is like a mill pond so the only movement was by paddling your own canoe," he said.

"Also, the river meanders incredibly. So, each day we would be paddling for eight to ten hours but some days we would only make three or four miles."

Remote

It was also extremely remote, he said.

"We didn't see a single person for the first six weeks. But that solitude and being part of the Amazon, which in that area is untouched by man, is a rare privilege."

A rusting truck in the Bolivian village of Manchester
Villagers in Manchester make a living harvesting Brazil nuts from the forest

Chris and Liz had plotted the approximates coordinates of where they thought Manchester was from Cookson's book into their GPS receiver.

Weeks later, when they rounded a bend on the river expecting to see Manchester, it was nowhere to be seen!

Undaunted, they carried on until, one morning, they heard a cow mooing suggesting there was a settlement nearby.

Sure enough, the intrepid pair soon saw the palmed rooftops of the village of Manchester on a hill at the end of a lagoon.

"Once we'd reached it, we had a huge sense of nervous anticipation," said Chris. "Did we want to go into the village and burst this bubble of an idea of what perceived Manchester was going to be?"

Nervously, they walked up the hill towards the village, until they saw a man looking down at them.

"He just looked at us, he didn't smile until he was standing right in front of us, and then his face lit up and he welcomed us."

"It was only when we asked him, 'is this Manchester?' [in Spanish] that we realised that it was."

It was a moment of "huge elation," said Chris.

"We'd worked so hard and we were so hot and so tired and so dirty that, to actually stand in Manchester and realise that this place does still exist and that you are standing in a part of British history in the middle of the Amazon jungle, it just felt like an amazing thing to be doing.

"And to receive a welcome from a Bolivian Mancunian of big smiles and handshakes, was everything we'd hoped it would be."

Football

Manchester, it turns out, was founded in the 1880s when a young Mancunian engineer Anthony Webster-James moved there to set up a rubber smelting plant in the height of South America's rubber boom.

To receive a welcome from a Bolivian Mancunian of big smiles and handshakes, was everything we'd hoped it would be.
Chris Smith, explorer

Today, it is home to fewer than 30 families living in huts around a football pitch. There is no electricity, no running water, no roads and no school.

But, each evening, just before it goes dark, all the villagers stop what they're doing in the jungle, for a big game of football. And, yes, explained Chris, they'd even heard of Manchester United.

"Football is a massive thing in South America," he said. "It doesn't matter how remote you are, everybody wears a football shirt because they're cool and practical. And everyone kicks a football around."

But as Chris explained, the people of Manchester knew very little of the village's history and nothing of its founder.

"They have a vague idea of what the outside world is like but they don't really know what it's like. So, in many ways, we were the source of an adventure for them," he added.

"But their hospitality was overwhelming. Everyone was curious about who we are, where we came from, why we chose to paddle down the river instead of using an outboard motor.

"They cooked for us, fed us, gave us a bed, played football with us, put us to work fetching water from the spring in the jungle and we just became part of the village for a week."

Photographs, journal extracts and a selection of the 370 kilos of equipment used on the expedition will be on show as part of a new exhibition.

Finding Manchester, Lost in Bolivia is at the Manchester Museum from 4 September 2010 - 30 January 2011.





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