A Short Hop to Kwamalasamutu

Operation 'Grass Hopper' started in the 50's. Groups of hardy workers floated heavy machinery up Surinamese rivers as far as they could go. From there they cut through the jungle and started clearing the land creating small airstrips in the middle of nowhere. It was an ambitious plan, attempting to open up the interior of this jungle-clad country. The idea was to fly in road making teams once the airstrips had been completed. Then they would then start cutting trails towards each other from remote areas across huge distances. As I say, it was an ambitious plan, one that never fully came to fruition. Almost fifty small airstrips where created. Today, what remains of them form the interiors lifelines to the outside world

Amotopo is an old grasshopper station, established in the 60's. Apart from the overgrown remains of an old research hut perched on a hill about a kilometre away, there is nothing but angry mosquitoes, 700 metres of red gravel runway.... and a decrepit wooden shack.

After hauling our equipment through the forest one last time with the crew, we sat under the shade of the 'reception shack' awaiting the sound of our plane. These last few weeks have been an endurance test - one that I will never forget. As I sat there listening intently for the noise of the engine, a thousand images of the past days ran through my mind - Aweti struggling bravely through the wash, Marcel half possessed powering through the rapids - throttle in hand, little Lion swimming for his life towards the bank to save us, Edwin hacking through the forest to find the way, Michael (the former parrot catcher now turned eco-guide) laughing and cracking jokes, Suresh the crazied tractor driver revving his engine, and last but not least Sergio 'Brank's Son smiling enigmatically at the back of the boat.

Then came the strange experience of leaving them, re-supplied and load-lightened, but still in the Mosquito zone ... Amotopo long way from home and the Wonootobo Rapids once-again between them and their destination. Roberto's Plan A is pretty desperate... to tie empty Gasoline Bottles to the boat, and basically throw it down the Rapids and leave the river Gods to decide its fate. Either it will be smashed to smithereens in which case they will once again be in Suresh's hands - we joked with Suresh when we heard of the border tension between Guyana and Suriname "we've got a hostage, but the trouble is that he's got the gun". Plan B is too hard to even think about.... Drag the boat back over the hilly, rocky, track 3km to the foot of the rapids.

It was a strange separation. I gave my monocular to Edwin, the silent backbone of the crew, ever watchful, and never a clumsy or hurried movement. For about an hour we sat suspended between the sadness of leaving the Corantyn Crew and the excitement of moving on to Kwamlasamutu departure. But I'll never forget the moment when the door swung closed and I sat filming and waving at the same time, and Edwin stood, looking through his new spyglass back through the strangely oval window. The engine revved and we pulled away into the sky leaving our fellow strugglers in Amotopo.

Suddenly the rivers were flying beneath us, rapids once huge, were now mere frothing streams. After a half-hour hop we fast-forwarded to the Trio Village of Kwamalasamutu (Kwamala). If anywhere was the source of our quest here in Suriname it is Kwamala, in the deep south of the country, in a more undulating and hilly part of the forest, at a slightly higher elevation, with smaller rivers. Kwamalasamutu is a Trio village (pop 1,300), at least the dominant group is the Trio. But as the Granman pointed out, he is the leader but there are ten other tribes within the village, all at varying degrees of linguistic and cultural assimilation to Trio. The Granman is village leader ... the villagers themselves are, in reality, drawn from ten different tribes, each one with a captain.

If there is any reason for our trip here in Suriname it is to meet the Trio people of Kwamalasamutu and focus on the knowledge of their traditional healers. If there is any one man in Suriname that we had hoped to meet and have guide us through the forest, it would be Fritz Von Troon, a character we have heard from the beginning of our project. It was therefore a dream come true when we touched down in Kwamala and the doors opened and Fritz was there to meet us.

What followed has to be the best day of the trip so far. I wish it were not so late in the night and I could give more time to describing our first afternoon in Kwamala in more detail. We were led to meet the Granman on arrival. He received us in a meeting house under the gaze of half the village. The discussion proceeded slowly and methodically with Romeo, our new guide, interpreting through the Basha to the Granman. We explained our wish to offer him and his village a platform to say whatever they wished, to the world via the Internet. We said that we would like to film in the village for five days. And asked his permission. After about an hour the meeting was adjourned till five in the afternoon, during which he could think about our proposal. We meanwhile washed our clothes, bathed in the creek and ate a hearty meal of chicken beans and rice.

We returned at 5 and resumed discussions, this time armed with our camera and computer. We showed the Granman the video-letter sent by Captain and Basha John yesterday and then played him yesterdays web-video: "the making of the video letter'". As the meeting started to take off the mood slowly changed from one of deliberation to one of collaboration. The gathered crowd watched as we played the web-film of our boat disaster of two days ago. We told the Granman we would make a video of him seeing the video letter and send it to the world and show it to him tomorrow. The meeting went wonderfully and at 9am tomorrow we meet with him again, and he will begin to share with us the cultural knowledge of his people. We sleep tonight in anticipation of a whole new world opening up to us tomorrow.....



The Crew

A Sad Goodbye

Sharing the News