Natural Barrier - Wonotobo Rapids

Last night while we were settling in we were treated to few cups of the local Kasiri Beer. This loosened a few tongues. I was talking to Edwin, a soft-spoken Indian guide who is with us. He put it pretty well.... "God gave just one way up the river....a good way... if you go another way.... you die".

Aweiti and his son Marcell are the Maroon boatsmen guiding us up the river. Earlier, just as the light was fading I had gone with them to film at the foot of the Wonotobo rapid. As we approached the water began to boil around us, and the boat sank a few inches deeper into the frothy water, pulled this way and that by the flow and counter-currents. It is fascinating to watch these skilled boatsmen as the work together - father and son, master and apprentice; one at the front guiding the way and reading the currents, the other at the back working the motor as if he were a sculptor. We have beeen told that, when crossing rapids, Maroons will not speak the name of the rapid until after they have passed it. As we edged near the bottom lip of the torrent I began to feel the power of the river, and understood in a whole new, and more immediate way, the spiritual respect that the waters command from the people who live by them. The roar of the cascade seemed to be grumbling a warning to us...... 'go carefully.... I'm watching.... one false move... one transgression and I'll swallow you up and snap your boat like it was a twig'. As we drew away from the rapid I realised my heart was racing and my mind whirling... Laughing Marcel teased his father for being afraid. Proud Aweiti denied it with a shrug.

This morning we were woken, slightly surreally, at first light by the sound of the "Spice Girls". Living way up here, a fresh supply of batteries provided by us was cause for turning on the tape recorder full volume at every opportunity. We groaned but there was no way round it, so we rose too.

Today's job was to try to find a way around the Wonotobo Falls. First we returned together to each part of the spectacular rapids; The Dutchman, The Blue Crane, The Frenchman, The Englishman, and the Wonotobo main rapid. Instead of blathering on in superlatives, I reckon I'll leave it to the pictures and video to give you an impression.......... They are huge!!!

After gawping at the white waters churning towards us like massive white rollercoasters, we turned to the serious matter of trying to find a way around them... a way through which it would be possible to drag a one-and-a-half tonne 40 foot canoe. Scrambling over ridges through the forest, and wading through creeks swollen by the heavy rains, the roar of the Wonotobo waters close by to our right, we eventually made our way to an opening above the white water.

Buoyed by our success, and optimistic for the prospects of continuing our journey upstream, we broke for some lunch to return in the afternoon for the big Fitzgerald-esque heave-ho through the forest.

When we returned, we rammed the boat as far up the bank as possible, unloaded our baggage and fuel, removed the outboard motor and tied a rope to the nose of the canoe. Drafting in a little help from the camp where we are staying we had managed to muster twelve men. We lined up on the rope, dug in our heels like a one sided tug-of war, and "One...Two...Three...PULL!!!"........

Not an inch, not even a millimeter of ground gained. Roberto, our guide then produced a winch. "6 tonnes tension" he smiled as he strapped it to a tall and broad tree and and began to pump the handle. The rope became tighter and tighter, the tree started to groan.... But the boat stayed stock still. It was beginning to dawn on us that we had a problem....

We still do... forget 'up the creek without a paddle', we're up the river without a chinook helicopter!!! We are 300km up river, nearly half way to Kwamalasamutu,and we're stuck at the rapids. Does anyone out there have a Chinook handy....?! (GPS Coordinates N 04 degrees 22.481 mins / W057 degrees 57.688 mins). Wach for smoke..we'll light a fire when we hear you coming...! One way or another we'll make it happen.


Raw, Rare and Inspiring

Natural Barrier- Wonotobo Rapids

Slow Progress