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A great river journey never leaves you. John Gimlette has traced Mark Twain’s steps alongside the Neckar in Germany, and sailed down South America’s waterways on cargo boats and tugs

By John Gimlette   August 2011

My first night on the Río Paraguay, I slept on the wheelhouse roof. Every now and then, the skipper leant out the window, and fired into the swamps. What was he was after? “Capybaras,” he said, grinning, “Or alligators…”

A great river journey never leaves you. Anthony Burgess thought rail travel was perfect, because you slept as you progressed. But railways cut their way through the landscape. Boats ease their way along, doing the journey that nature intended.

So it was that, leaving Asunción, we clattered off midstream, causing the glassy surface to shiver. We passed a graveyard of rotting…

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