From Granman to Gold Men

After yesterdays meeting with the Granman and his Captains Gazon had sent his private boat driven by one of the Bashas to ferry us to the Granolo Rapids. Having spent so long in perocs with small engines I felt a little lost sitting inside the enormous Granman size barge, with its mighty 65 horsepower engine driving us through the water at high speed, swerving around bends and across rapids that previously would have caused some alarm. It's a whole new experience being on the river in a big boat... the noise of the engine; the pace of that river life passes you by in a flash.

The rapids themselves would have presented as much of an obstacle as those we encountered on the Corentyn had we not had a boat waiting for us on the other side. After hauling our belongings to the other side, following the over grown railway tracks that used to ferry boats and cargo past the falls we loaded our new boat and readied ourselves for the next leg of the journey.... This time under the guidance of Johannes and his crew from May ye Du (meaning to do something positive!).

Maroons approach navigation of the river in a completely different way from the Amerindians we have been travelling with just recently.... Power... horsepower, nerves and knowledge see them swiftly from point to point...

Within no time at all we reached the junction of the three main rivers that serve as life lines for the interior of Suriname and neighbouring French Guyana- the Tapanahoni, the Lawa and the Marowijne. Turning swiftly up stream we began our journey along the boarder of French Guyana towards Bensdorp and goldmining country.

I spent most of the day (7 hours) watching as the world zoomed by at high speed .... With each mile that passed came subtle changes in the scenery.... Boats laden with drums of fuel appeared, where before there had been nothing... We passed six goldmining pontoons, each churning up huge amounts of sediment from the riverbed and spitting out a murky mixture of silt and mercury. On the French side of the river settlements, villages and small towns appeared ...unlike those on the Surinamese side they looked almost modern... at one I saw the wreckage of a burnt out car, large houses, flags flying... It all seemed quite strange.

Sometime later!

I'm sitting on a oil drum perched on the banks of the Lawa River. It’s now around 7.30 in the evening .....its pitch black and I can't see a thing....In the distance I can here the sound of Brazilian voices ... Jay and Max are scrambling in the darkness trying to organise the equipment for the coming days....

Of all the situations I have found myself in since the beginning of this trip I think this rates as.....the most uncertain . We have just arrived in the small goldmining settlement of Bensdorp. I'm squinting at the computer screen surrounded by darkness, and hungry mosquitoes ... desperately trying to write this diary entry so that I can share this experience with you. For a long time now, I have wondered what it would be like arriving in 'Gold Country'.. I'd had visions of gnarly faced gun-baring goldminers chewing bullets and spitting blood............... I wasn't far off...

The reception committee, a group fitting the above description stood on the riverbank and stared blankly at our boat as we pulled in. We have been invited here to meet with Henk Narrendorp, a key player in goldmining activities in Suriname, and owner of some of the largest concessions in the country. We want to ask him a few questions about his work and the impact it has on the environment and the surrounding communities.

Looking somewhat uncertain Johannes approached a small group standing on the river bank and explained the reason for our trip... With oil drums stacked high on the shore, heavy machinery scattered around the clearing we were led to a small radio hut... Stepping inside was like stepping into another world... nothing short of the Wild West. Behind the counter of a small bar made of roughly hewn wood a blankfaced Brazilian women stood staring transfixed at a television screen.... by her side a shiny set of gold scales...

Two four-wheel motor bikes have just appeared out of the darkness to drive us deeper into the forest to the mining site where we will meet Mr Naranendorp tomorrow... There is a lot of noise ... the lights are on me... I see guns....got to go...


Thanks for the Ride Granman

A Gold Mining Pontoon - A Sign of What Lies Ahead


Nature in the Balance

LINKS - The Forest People's Programme - Mining in Suriname
LINKS - Gold Fever in Suriname
LINKS - Land Rights
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