Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“There’s a small problem . . .” (our journey into Suriname's interior)

Along with good friends Tony and Anne, we boarded a bus that looked a bit suspecttravelled two hours on paved roads and three hours on a dirt road used by gold miners offering enough bumps and undulations to thoroughly rattle our tailbones and enough dust to cover everything in fine, red dust until our guide Stephan announced, “There’s a small problem.” A broken fan belt halted the bus but Stephan arranged a ride for us with a passing van driven by a cellphone-talking speed demon.

With frayed nerves and covered in red dust, we transferred our supplies to a 38-foot dugout canoe powered by the ubiquitous Yamaha and sped up the Marowijne River for two and a half hours. The motor sputtered and died. “There’s a small problem,” Edmond, the cook said.

We were able to drift the final 200 yards to camp. Our accommodations, on an island on the Marowijne River, were rustic but lovely. Each couple had a thatched roof cabin with two beds and small porch.

Our home away from home

Stephan and two other staff had stayed behind to cope with the bus and as we settled in, Edmond said, “There’s a small problem. I have never been here before and Stephan won’t arrive until tomorrow.”  The problem was solved when Frank, the ‘boatsman’, assisted opening up the camp while Edmond prepared dinner.  It was early to bed with the sounds of the jungle as background music. 

After breakfast, we set out in the longboat with Edmond to visit a Maroon village. Edmond taps me on the shoulder, “There is a small problem. I have no money and we need to give the captain of the village a bottle of rum.”  Problem solved as the boatsman intervened and agreed to provide the rum. 

The Maroons in Suriname are descendants of escaped slaves who set up independent communities beyond the colonists’ control. The Maroons support themselves with small-scale agriculture, fishing, hunting, and running boats on the river.  They live in matrilineal a society where men are allowed multiple wives as long as he provides each one with a house, a boat, and a cleared plot of land for her garden. It is hard to visit without feeling that you are intruding.  We walked about and visited the school scheduled to reopen the beginning of October.

Then Frank brought us to the sula (rapids) where we swam with his 7-year-old nephew, Daniel, and enjoyed the refreshing surge of water.  Daniel fearlessly swam underwater and through the rapids. Frank said piranha are present but not the ones that bite hard.

Daniel and Tony at the sula

We were fascinated by longboats and the boatsmen who steer them. Longboats are made from a dug out log with sides that extend the freeboard to about 2 feet above the waterline.  They ALL have Yamaha engines from 15 hp - 250 hp. Everything on the river moves via these boats:  people, fuel, food, building supplies, and even earth moving equipment for goldmining.  The captains of these boats run the river skillfully avoiding rocks and shallows that only they can see.

Our ride up the river

Edmond and the "boys"

We awakened early with the jungle on day three. Eating breakfast as the toucans called, we took a longboat 45-minutes up a tributary of the river and then hiked two and a half hours on a barely-trodden trail that meandered through dense forest, across streams, and over hilly terrain. The cacophonous sounds of birds and insects suggests an environment teeming with wildlife, but actually spotting anything apparently requires more ability and luck than we possess.  Enormous hungry flies ignored the fact that we wore long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and were doused in DEET. Dripping with sweat and plodding on tired feet, the forest opened up and we spotted recently discovered Minas Falls.  A beautiful Blue Morpho butterfly welcomed us as we quickly jumped into the refreshing pool below the falls. Edmond prepared dinner that included rice cooked with coconut milk and black beans, curried chicken, and aubergine baked with onion, garlic and butter. Arrangements had been made to have cold Parbo beer delivered and all in all it was a spectacular day.

Anne enjoying the river

On our way to the Falls

Sadly, at 10:00 on day four we closed up the camp and loaded our gear on a 53-foot longboat powered by an 85hp Yamaha. Our glimpse into the lives of those who live along the Marowjine River and the opportunity to witness the beauty the jungle in Suriname is unforgettable. Although we didn’t spot monkeys, caiman, or jaguar we know they are here, alive and well for the time being.  All of our small problems were easily solved; however, there is a much greater problem facing the rainforest.  The need to protect this area is critical as loggers, miners, tourists and others present challenges to the preservation of this invaluable rainforest.

Thanks for following our travels and we would love to hear your comments.  

Richard and Kay

some more pics:

Frank loading his boat


Gold mining
Heading to the Falls
Steven helping us get through a shallow spot
Ann and Daniel

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Daily Necessities

Mascara and hair dryer came off the list!  We've been living below 24º N latitude for over a year and my definition of "essential" has changed.

Things I use every single day (not in this order):
1.  Sunscreen. Probably have 10+ bottles of sun protection lotions, sprays, and creams aboard.

2. Bug dope.  American mosquitoes don't like me but the ones in the tropics do.  Malaria, dengue and especially chikungunya are present; I don't wish for any of them.

3. Glasses. Wearing the polarized Sunclouds Tara gave me all the time. Unfortunately, reading glasses also necessary.

4. Hat.  Either this umbrella-sized hat or a baseball cap finds its way onto my head each day.

5. Dawn. Original blue Dawn comes in handy for everything from washing dishes, bathing Murray, doing laundry, scrubbing Sunbrella-covered cushions, dodger & bimini, cleaning tools, getting sea salt out of ropes, lines, and halyards and killing bugs. It's biodegradable and phosphate-free so I'm being gentle on the environment, too.

6. Toothbrush. Son-in-law Pat (a dentist) should be happy to know that I brush daily.

7. Flip-flops.  I'm wearing my 4th pair and on the lookout for a 5th.

8. Camera.  How would I remember everything without photos?

9. Crystal Light & water bottle.  Staying hydrated is a challenge especially when the water doesn't always taste good. Running low on Crystal Light and it's not sold anywhere down here! Somebody needs to visit us with a resupply . . . Paul, again????

10. Deodorant. It's really hot here!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

French Guiana (AKA French Guyana)

Entrance to the Prison Transportation Camp
in Maroni, French Guiana
Although it is 7500km from Paris, St.-Laurent du Maroni has a distinctively European flavor. We hired Frank (from Holland but 6 years living in Suriname) to help us get around. He picked us up at Waterland at 0700 and drove us the 2 hours to Albina on a new paved road. 
Our ride across the border
 The old road was destroyed in the late 1980’s-1990’s during the Maroon rebellions. After traveling about an hour, we passed by the last power line and entered a area of Suriname inhabited largely by Maroons living without electricity and a few other modern conveniences. Once in Albina, we knew we’d arrived at the equivalent of the wild west. Albina serves as a base for nomadic, illegal gold prospectors and as a place to catch a boat ride across the Marowijne (Maroni) River to French Guiana.  Chinese grocery shops, vegetable stands, vendors selling handmade jewelry, baskets, bird cages, monkeys, macaws, and assorted illegal items line the street. It is possible to take a ferry across the river and legally pass through immigration or you can hire a pirogue (small wooden boat) to transport you across.  We chose the latter. 

In preparation for our day-trip, we watched the classic movie with Steve McQuean and Dustin Hoffman, Papillion knowing we would tour what remains of the penal colony once known at the worst place on Earth. From 1852 to 1946 prisoners suffered a living death known as the “dry guillotine” in French Guiana. Three islands collectively known as the Iles du Salut, including infamous Devil’s Island, were a place no Frenchman would go unless sentenced by a judge. 
Richard outside the cell of Papillon
We visited the mainland facility where prisoners arrived from Marseilles after 15-days crammed in steel cages below decks. We entered through the impressive brick entrance to the Camp de Transportation and into the vast parade grounds where the commandant would address the naked new arrivals.
Papillon's cell was second from the right
 Escape was almost impossible. “Don’t forget,” he threatened, “we have two guardians: the jungle and the sea. If you don’t get eaten by sharks or your bones picked clean by ants, you will soon beg to return.” 
Papillon's name is visible on the floor of the cell he was said to have occupied prior to his deportation to nearby Devils Island

On the parade grounds we passed by the concrete foundation that once supported the guillotine used for all executions.  Prisoners were lined up on the parade ground and forced to view the executions; if they looked down, they were punished. The executioner was a volunteer convict who received a “premium” for each execution.  The condemned man was provided a last meal, a glass of rum, a liter of wine, and a cigarette; then he was required to sign a release from prison. 

Buildings still standing include administration offices, the infirmary, and housing for the guards. We visited the cell block where a prisoners wearing red and white striped pajamas were confined to a room with a fixed wooden bench for a bed, a wooden pillow, one bucket for water and one for a toilet, and shackles to be placed around their ankles either overnight or for 22 out of 24 hours depending on their crime. There were 12 cells for reserved for prisoners awaiting the death sentence and 20 cells reserved for those destined for Devil’s Island. Still visible in some cells, are marks on the walls made by prisoners including tallys marking off the numbers of days spent in the cell or drawings of their escape dreams. The bottom half of most of the prison walls, including cells, were covered in paint made from black ashes.  If a prisoner touched a wall or leaned against it, black soot rubbed off on their hands or clothing resulting in punishment.
Tour guide putting the shackles on Tony

The forger, Fredric La Grange, tells how prisoners in solitary lay on their wooden boards, “their legs fettered to an iron bar, staring at any light coming from a small hole, just waiting… waiting… waiting.” La Grange died in 1964. Our guide shackled Tony (a prison warden in his previous life in England) to one of these beds for only 5 minutes but marks on his ankles remained for several hours. Of the 70,000+ convicts that sweated, suffered, and starved in the name of French justice, less than 2,000 would get out alive.

On a more uplifting note, we also spent time at a most fabulous outdoor market held Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Open market in Saint-Laurent du Maroni
 The fruits and veggies were fresh, clean, and attractively arranged on table after table all along the street. We ventured to Le Toucan for a lunch of salad and beer. Too quickly, it was time to cross the river back to Suriname for the 2-hour drive back to Waterland.

Thanks for following.

Richard and Kay

Boats taking passengers and goods
across the Maroni River
(the border between French Guyana and Suriname)

More Pics

Friday, September 12, 2014

Arrived in Suriname, South America

On the Suriname River
Near Domburg, Suriname

Alas, we have reached the southern most point of our journey.  With the exception of a car trip to French Guyana, Atalanta is as far south as she will go.  We are a mere 7º above the equator safely docked at a lovely small marina 30 miles up the Suriname River.  We are surrounded by rainforest in this very remote and interesting ex-Dutch colony. 

We left Trinidad on a Wednesday at sunset and sailed off shore (to stay clear of Venezuela) for the next 7 days.  We arrived in Suriname late in the afternoon the following Tuesday.  We found the trip challenging in that the equatorial current evident in this part of the Atlantic is strong and relentless.  At times we were only making 2-3 knots of headway.  The winds tended to be "on the nose" and the ability to point toward our destination was often a challenge.  Seven days is our longest passage to date and while the weather cooperated (sans a few squalls with 30+ knot winds) and some rain, it is a long time to be on four hour shifts.  Eventually, you realize how much you need a good nights sleep.  Passage-making is a necessary part of the kind of traveling we are doing, but it is not our favorite part of sailing to exotic places.  

Suriname experiences limited tourism.  While we are traveling with another boat, Argosea, there is only one other boat here.  Down river about 5 miles there are another 4 or 5 boats on moorings and that  the total number of sailing vessels that we have seen. This is the road less travelled!

Suriname was a colony of the Netherlands until the mid 1970’s.  Therefore, it has a Dutch influence that is evident in so many ways including language and architecture. Most signage is in Dutch but, fortunately for us, our sailing buddies on Argosea, Tony and Anne both speak and read some Dutch.  Despite the heavy Dutch influence, this is truly a multicultural society.  There are many from Indonesia (Java), China, India and Europe living here in apparent harmony with each other. Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish populations are represented.  On our first trip to the capitol city of Paramaribo, we saw a Jewish Synagogue sharing a lot with a Muslim Temple.  It reminds us of what we can hope for in the future.

Anne and Tony
at Waterland's "Honesty Bar"
(Take what you want and pay when you leave)
The owner of the Waterland Marina is Noel. He is creating a small but lovely eco-resort and is dedicated to its beautiful gardens, preservation of flora and fauna, and building architectural structures that meld with the natural environment.  Upon our arrival Waterland, he toured us around the neighborhood, shared some fine local rums and made us feel very at home in our new locale. 

Our time on the Suriname River will be slow and easy.  We plan to explore the rainforest in search of illusive toucans and jaguars and magnificent vegetation.  We will leave the boat for a couple of days and travel by car south to French Guyana for a few days.  It’s so close; it would be a shame to not explore this storied country.

Our new home at Waterland

The South American adventure is just beginning. Stay tuned for lots more and thanks for following.

Richard and Kay

More pics 
Paramaribo, Suriname
The Capitol and World Heritage Site

Peter and Paul Cathederal


Downtown Paramaribo

Argosea at sail

Murray longing for land

Life on the Suriname River