Crippled by the Corantyn

I had thought, waking up, that a few Mosquito Bites would be the most irritating problem of the day. After yesterday's good progress through a glorious maze of river islands we looked really set to overcome the vagaries of nature and get back on track to Kwamalasamutu ... the mighty Corentyn thought otherwise.

We broke camp early in the usual good spirits we've become accustomed to. Sharing jokes in different tongues, greeting the new day and each other positively, we untied hammocks and packed our belongings. Downing the last of our coffee we made our way to the water oblivious of the warning roar coming from the upstream rapids. With a final goodbye to the almost Mediterranean cove of Arapahu and we were on our way again.

As the bubbling waters ahead came into view they looked docile, almost inviting in comparison to the Wonotobo Falls, but weaving closer through the twisting currents the mood soon changed. Aweiti, Basha John and the Captain cautiously pointed the way as we edged closer to the heart of the rapids, their stern faces reflecting the need for total concentration. At first we crept along the banks, skirting the most powerful currents, to an outcrop of rock that offered the best vantage point. Aweiti waded in fearlessly to scout the path, but thigh-high in water his 'tree-trunk' legs could barely take the strain. So the suggestion to follow was quickly dismissed by our far more cautious Amerindian friends, Captain and Basha John. At that point the only option was to carry the load overland, and blast the lighter boat past the problem.

Barely finding the footing with heavy bags hanging off me, I joined the chain of load carrying up the steep muddy hill as the boat set off on its latest challenge. Sweating hard we set the bags down on a fallen tree as the welcome scream of a straining engine approached. Triumphantly we re-loaded.

The same process began again with the occasional authoritative and bellowing command from Await to his son Marcel on the engine. "Slowly ... Slowly... this way ... that way". The tension increased dramatically as we approached huge static waves and the three front men began signalling boldly to each other, (but not in the same direction!), their preferred route. Suddenly without prompting Marcel stole the moment, with everyone's fate held firmly in his hands he opened the throttle fully and charged for the waves. All hell broke loose, as half the boat started crying out their fears. Waves came at us like a stormy sea, but what seemed like a lifetime was over in a second and with hearts pumping like crazy we idled into the banks.

Once more I lumbered into the trees as the boat took off. But this time after dark glances and stern words Aweti was now at the engine. Half way back to the remaining baggage I heard the loud crack of metal on stone and rushed back to the shore. Minutes later the boat floated into view with running man, Max and the crew clinging for dear life to the boat, their wide eyes and anguished looks said it all .The propeller was smashed making a last push for calmer waters, and they 'd spun dangerously down river.

Brave Oky, who calls himself Lion, will no longer be known as 'pussy cat' (due to his habit of carrying light loads). He instinctively drove into the wild waters with a rope in hand and swam like a man possessed to the nearest tree to secure the boat from crashing down the river.

All consumed with a sinking feeling, we wracked our brains to find a solution to this new emergency. But stuck out here without a spare, the position was, without a doubt, critical. The look of despair on Marcel’s face, the sense of defeat in Aweti, the passive submission in the Captain’s eyes shattered the general optimism of this morning in an instant.

With only two options available to us, neither of which is perfect. We broke out the satellite phone and hacked a hasty clearing in the dense jungle. We drew on all of our resources making a few frantic calls to Paramaribo, and tried to find the spares needed or any way out of our predicament. The first call was to Intertropical Airways - the only company in Suriname with a helicopter capable of finding us out here....engaged. The second call was to Cyril (Roberto's partner) to ask him if he could organise a plane to fly into the nearest airstrip (about 25 Kilometres down stream). This, we might just reach if we are lucky. Without a new propeller and a helicopter our trip on the Corentyn is over. The whole crew have fought their way past every obstacle nature has laid in front of us... We have made camp in the forest by our crippled boat and await tomorrow and what it might bring ......



Bigi Sula

Lion to the Rescue