It would be easy to underestimate
the severity of our situation, imagining that this website is all part
of an elaborate movie set designed to grab your attention. If that's
the case then todays episode opens with a happy scene. Sore feet, wet
clothes and aching muscles doing little to dampen the enthusiasm that
the closing moments of yesterday offered; Moses appearing as if from
nowhere and the boat drifting eerily across the forest floor.
To recap; we're 200 kilometres up the largely uninhabited Corantyn River
travelling towards Kwamalasamutu 300 kilometres up-river. Blocking our
way are the Wonotobo Rapids. We're attempting to drag our one-and-a-half
tonne canoe three kilometers through the surrounding jungle on an overgrown
logging trail, around the rapids. In short, there is no easy way out,
if we break the boat we've had it. It isn't a movie...
The first 500 metres seemed to go quite well as we followed close behind
watching the boat slew and roll along after the tractor, over rocks
and logs. On the first hill the chainsaw and machettes went into action,
cutting away obstacles- trees, roots and hanging vines.
In an attempt to protect the underside of the boat we resorted to felling
small trees- the powerful chainsaw slicing through the flesh of the
wood in a matter of seconds. It wasn't what I had in mind but given
the circumstance, we where left with no option. To say progress was
slow would be an understatment. It took nearly three hours of intense
activity- pushing and pulling, scambering through the jungle searching
for pieces of rotten wood to place under the spinning wheels of the
tractor as it dug deeper and deeper into the soft mud. This first hill
of the day was finally conquered by heavy machinery, levers pullies,
sweat, nature and absolute unbreakable determination. For a few precious
moments we all felt like champions, cheering triumphantly as the boat
made its way over the ridge. This feeling would have lasted longer had
it not been for one thing.... The sound of splintering wood! A rock
had pierced its way through the underside of the boat..... YES a big
Aweiti, one of our guides and, I discover, a master boat-builder calmed
my anxiety with a few "No Bigis!" as the boat pulled away and slid off
along the trail.
Brushing aside the implications, I set off after the boat. For about
a kilometre I followed close behind running through the undergrowth
splashing through thick pools of mud. The corners where the most traumatic:
a 45 ft long canoe carved out of a single tree doesn't corner very well
... especially when levered around massive trees by a tractor! Each
corner brought with it a deepening sense of dread. Straining under the
immense pressure our canoe put up an amazing fight - loud cracking sounds
as the sides of the boat bowed and then cracked.
The corners where only part of the problem- huge fallen trees lay in
our way, three major hills where we stalled for a couple of hours repeating
the events of the earlier obstacles- chainsaws, machettes, rotten wood,
swarms of biting insects and mutant ants the size of an elephant!
At one point Jay and I walked on ahead to check the route... more fallen
trees (big ones) and a seven foot deep creek with large rotten logs
semi-submerged serving as a bridge ... Walking further still we entered
into a jungle swamp. We waded waist high through the murky water for
about quarter of a kilometer looking for the other side of the falls.
It was a scene straight out of a jungle war movie, all we where missing
was camouflage, machine guns and an enemy.... I have to give Jay major
points for doing it barefoot! Especially after we saw a Sting-Ray (Electric
Eel and Anaconda territory).
Now, I know all this may sounds a little bit macho...'chewing bullets
an al' - it isn't supposed to. It's just part of our journey to meet
with a remote tribal community here in Suriname. Admittedly we could
have flown...but then we wouldn't have seen the country from a grass
roots level (which is our intention).
In summary..... After 9 hours of the hardest, toughest bone breaking
work I have ever done in my life we finally arrived at the edge of the
swamp. From here we will hopefully be able to float and drag the boat
through to the other side where we can continue the first stage of our
journey (check the 'Journey Ahead' section) .
P.S ...I hope Aweti is a master boat builder.... Because not only did
we punch a whole through the bottom, but we snapped of the front....
The back and cracked the boat right the way down one side.
Tommorrow has its own set of problems.... We're not out of the woods
Under the Wheels
Building the Bridge