The ‘Where’s Manchester Expedition’


Chris Smith and Liz Peel, both photography instructors, will be taking a trip to Peru and Bolivia from where they will be paddling a canoe down the Rio Manuripi and its lesser tributaries in the Amazon basin. Whilst on the trip they will capture on film the Rio Manuripi as it is today. Their aim of the expedition is to find this Manchester in Bolivia.

The idea for the adventure

Chris and Liz came across the village of Manchester on a 1950s Russian air map of Bolivia. In 2004 on a previous trip to Peru. When looking for a route around the north side of Lake Titicaca into Bolivia they were scouring the creased and faded map they had been given by other travellers when Liz noticed a placed called ‘Manchester’ amongst a thousand Spanish place names. All they knew at that time was that it stood on the banks of the Rio Manuripi. What it was doing there was too big a mystery to pass up and an idea was born there for them to make a return trip to Rio Manuripi with a canoe full of photography equipment and enough food for three months to find the Manchester of Bolivia.

Forgotten Manchester

All Chris and Liz have been able to glean from Internet searches and correspondence from both sides of the Atlantic has told them that this forgotten Manchester was right in the heart of the Pando region of northern Bolivia and that it Anthony Webster-James, a young Mancunian engineer, who had moved there to set up a rubber smelting plant in the height of South America’s rubber boom in the 1800s. At this time, Manchester was a small market town that served the needs of the workers for as long as the boom lasted and it was forgotten again almost as quickly as it was founded. Webster-James married a Bolivian girl and lived out his days in the country until his death, never returning to England. Apart from these details, Chris and Liz had no idea if Bolivia’s Manchester still physically existed, if people still lived there or even exactly where it was. The maps they had were less than reliable.

The Rio Manuripi

The Rio Manuripi is a slow, winding river. Progress will be slow as their canoe will have no outboard motor. This will allow the couple to use their photography skills to record what they see; giant otters, scarlet macaws, howler monkeys and other wildlife including butterflies and the reptilian caiman.
Throughout the trip, the couple will live on the water by day and camp beside it at night. With over two-thousand-six-hundred different species of fish in the rivers of the Amazon Basin they hope the river will feed them more than just piranha, which flourish in the Rio Manuripi.

The couple plan to start their trip from the riverside village of San Silvestre, on the border with Peru with the expedition ending at the site of Manchester in Bolivia.