A Traveler’s Guide to the Great Rivers of the World

The Amazon, a muddy, light river.

The great rivers of the world are all very unique and can be seen in your backyard, if you look closely enough. First let’s talk about the Amazon, since it is the biggest river in terms of water discharge and the widest at its mouth at roughly two miles. It is one of the world’s darkest rivers, but not as dark as the Congo since it originates in very high mountains, which give a river light, as opposed to rainfall and jungle and lakes, which breed darkness. The Congo is, although this may be hard to believe, much like the Mississippi, which is the fourth largest river in the world, and interestingly, separates the North American Continent east from west. It’s a beautiful thing, crossing the American continent simply by moving across the river.

There are river islands to see too, and the Mississippi has some big ones, treed islands that could easily offer refuge to a man and his family, as they did Huck, in his day. But the more serious river islands are in the Nile, which is technically the longest river in the world and this river is one of the oldest and most interesting because it is here that man began to use riverplants to make papyrus and write. The Brahmaputra is interesting and long, and very turbid, at peak season, and swift moving, not as serpentine as the Mississippi or the Congo, and for that reason much scarier, but not as dark. There is a river island in its middle that is the biggest in the world, with a monastery on it. It rarely, if ever, floods. It merges into the Ganges and becomes the largest wetlands region in the world, where it drains into the Bay of Bengal, and it is there the man-eating tigers hang out, but don’t worry, from your bedroom window you’ll be safe, just know that they do exist, are out there. The Ganges itself isn’t as dirty as everyone presumes, you know, because the blind river dolphins are carnivorous and eat all the carrion that the religious Hindus deposit into the water. In Varanasi, the locals drink the water, and after all, it’s sacred, which goes to show the power of belief. The Ganges becomes paltry in dry season, although it is sizably wide when full, and because the water comes from the Himalayas, along with the water that drains into the Brahmaputra, it’s really, like the Amazon, one of the lightest rivers, much like the Yangtze, although I have a sneaking suspicion the Chinese are up to something by noting that the Yangtze is only some fifteen miles longer than the Mississippi, since the U.S. beats them in geographical size, since we include our coastal waters (I just have trouble believing that the Yangtze’s length isn’t manipulated by their government, which can see you in your bedroom, through your window, but that’s neither here nor there).

I just found out, actually, that the Amazon is longer than the Nile. Which makes sense if you consider discharge, and badass animals that live in it, because while the Nile does have seriously scary crocodiles, that’s kind of it, although they do also have Egyptians and a grand history which kind of make up for the animals and fishes long extinct from civilization and tons of sewage and filth dumped daily into it by Cairoans, who aren’t exactly the cleanest people. But I think for the sake of history we’ll keep it the way we started this story, since it’s kind of like making a “discovery” that Pluto isn’t big enough to be a planet, it’s like, well we all got used to it for so long, that it doesn’t really matter. So now that that’s put to rest let’s talk about the Siberian rivers, one of which drains from the Sea of Baikal into the Kara Sea, a preliminary of the Arctic Ocean. Just think about how cold it is out there. And desolate. That’s the kind of river you see and you’re like, well guys, I don’t think it’s really worth it to cross this one. I mean, first off, it’s too wide; secondly, we haven’t seen much for a few thousand miles, what makes you think we’re going to see anything for the next thousand? And in the back, the voice of that intrepid guy, really hardened by his seventeen year prison sentence who you recused, who in retrospect, you probably shouldn’t have, who’s like, Come on, we have to get to the Pacific. And you’re like, Listen Lewis and Clark, unless you’ve got a Sacagewea for us, we’re turning around and heading back to Moscow, because that river right there, the Yenisey, that’s named after the Mongols who first tried to cross it and were like, maybe we should go a little downstream first. Yeah, that’s a serious river, number five in the world, we’re not dealing with that. The Ob I could handle but the Yenisey, unh-unh.

There are many other rivers of varying depths, colors, shapes, widths, and they are all very interesting because most of the time they are very old. They have carved out land for millions of years, in the way the Mississippi has, and carried with it sediment, millions of years of it, so that they create wetlands and shallow swamps, bayous even, in the case of Louisiana. Then there’s the fact that people use rivers for travel, and for water, and as borders, which again, refers back to my argument that when you cross the Mississippi, you are now on one side of the American continent or the other. Certain drainage basins are wider, such as the Rio de la Plata, which is really almost a bay, much like the mouth of the Amazon, which might be a South American thing, you know, although the Orinoco– which by the way, thanks to Enya, has one of the most mellifluous sounding names of all rivers– because it’s a much smaller river, has an average looking drainage basin, which is comparable to other large rivers, but dwarfed by its big sister, the Amazon. Both, however, and this might be an American river thing, are brown most of the way. At the point of confluence with their tributaries, especially when seen from above, from an airplane or a satellite photo, you can see where the main branch moves from blue to brown. The Missouri and Ohio rivers do this when they join the Mississippi, as do the Jin and the Luo when they join the Yellow, but it is not as extreme as with, say, the Paru and Trombetas, not as clearly visible from satellite or airplane, although at certain points, the Yellow is muddier than the Mississippi, which goes to show that imbalances along the way are equalized in the end.

There are other rivers with famous names that aren’t nearly as long, but are just as cool, such as the Po, the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, the East, the Thames, the Euphrates, the Rio Grande, the Negro, the–

A Final Note: The best way to see these rivers is at night, or dawn, depending on your mood and the atmosphere of your home.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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