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

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