What a wild weekend! Probably my favorite weekend in Suriname thus far. Jozien, a teacher at Fritz’s school in Kajana from Holland, organized a trip to Sintia Dam with the rest of the teachers (2 Dutch teachers and 3 Belgian interns) and invited me to join. Side note: Fritz has done a great job promoting his school to attract Dutch–speaking volunteers to help teach at his school.
After finishing my English lesson on Friday at 1 pm, I rushed to the river because Ronald and Boisie, our guides for the weekend, told me not to be late or they would leave without me. Well, after about 3 ½ hours of waiting, sitting in the shade by the riverside, playing guitar and getting to know each other, we finally left Langu and began the journey to Sintia Dam, (pronounced like Jean-Claude Van Damme)…..Suriname time truly tests your patience.
Sintia Dam is a place where few people go. It is a large rapid with a riverside camp site located 4 hours (by motor boat) upriver of Langu. In my opinion, it represents the upriver edge of the Saramaccan world; I have only heard one person say they have been further upriver, and that was Goutubedi, my 83 year old Saramaccan grandmother.
After travelling 30 minutes from my site, we reached Awaadam, which is both the name of a rapid and the nicest tourist resort on the Upper Suriname/Gran Rio. After Awaadam, there are no more villages, only a few camps where men might come to work for a couple days. It felt like we entered a new section of the river, granting us access to pristine rainforest. Disappearing from human proximity, we immediately began to see more wildlife, passing by turtles, alligators, vultures, toucans and red macaws.
I sometimes get made fun of by other volunteers because I get so excited about going “DEEP into the jungle,” exaggerating the adventure aspect of our expedition into the interior. And that is simply when I am going to my site. They should have seen me on our trip to Sintia Dam, enthusiastically rounding every bend, my neck stretched out, as if I might be the first person to set eyes on each tree or animal. Now we actually were entering the jungle, leaving civilization in our wake, as we crept towards the heart of Saramacca.
Leaving Langu at 4:30 pm, I was under the impression that we would make it to Sintia Dam before night.
As night was arriving, we asked when we would reach our destination but were not comforted by Ronald’s reply of “It is still far away.” It became pitch black, yet Ronald continued driving us through the dark. I was treasuring the tranquil moment to myself with my head tilted back looking up at the starry night. Orion’s Belt and the Seven Sisters towered over us. This sky, different from ours at home, was once as unfamiliar to me as the sounds of the Dutch language, but now comforts me, making me feel like I am not that far from my friends and family.
We pulled over several times, which I thought were attempts to see if we arrived at Sintia Dam but it turned out we were just searching for a place to make camp for the night. Surrendering to our hunger and fatigue, we decided to proceed no further and make a camp for the night. On several occasions, I have contemplated over all the different places I have slept in my life. This might take the cake for my most exotic location. Our camp, consisting of several broken down houses and thatched roof huts, was in the middle of the jungle, hours from any trace of civilization, where only our prayers (and Ronald’s gun) could protect us from predators. We had to cut the area with a machete because the brush was thick and obviously no one had stayed there for years. Ronald joked that we were going to “break the day” because it wasn’t safe for anyone to sleep but it turned out he was just kidding. We cooked, sat around the campfire and sang songs on the guitar until we could no longer resist the thought of our hammocks.
The next morning we finished the journey to Sintia Dam, requiring two more portages up rapids and forcing the majority of the passengers to get out and pull the boat up against the strong current. Once we arrived at Sintia Dam, I did a little bit of this:
Ronald and Boisie took us on a walk through the forest where we learned about trees, vines, plants and life in general in the bush. Besides a few birds, we didn’t really see much wildlife, probably because we were a group of 10, but it was a fun walk and we did learn a lot.
When we returned I decided to climb up the rocks of the rapid to explore a little but all of a sudden was stung by a pack of wasps. I, without thinking, jumped into the river and stripped, reacting to the sharp pains by slapping at the wasps that still clung to my body. It must have been a pretty funny site watching me splash around naked in the river swatting myself all over. But no one saw me because I was out of sight from the rest of the group. It was a minute of intense pain followed by concern over how my body would react. Luckily the pain subsided and my body didn’t react abnormally which it has seemed to do with every other odd encounter I have had with the jungle.
It was the worst bee/wasp experience I have had since my brother threw me into a bush next to our house which also happened to be the home of a bee hive.
Next I went fishing with the two brothers. First you have to fish for some small fish to use as bait for the larger ones. But after that….
….Piranha! Right after Boisie caught a piranha, I joked to Ronald that he can’t let his younger brother outdo him. Sure enough, seconds later he pulled out this “pataka.”
Baba got his share too! He got to eat the piranha’a vicious red eyes….mmm protein.
At night Ronald demanded that I eat the piranha’s head with the instructions that I can eat everything that is not bone. I think that tops the list of weird things I have eaten in Suriname. It was delicious.
Sunday we waited for the rain to stop before journeying back to Langu. Ronald and I went pataka fishing and this time I caught a small one. Fishing with sticks in the jungle makes the whole process a little more prehistoric!
We loaded the boat and within half an hour saw a wild jaguar standing on the side of the river staring straight at us. Mintues later we saw a pack of monkeys playing around in a tree. I managed to snap a photo of the jaguar as he jumped back into the bush.
The majority of the trip back was in the pouring rain but in the words of the great Jon Gimber, “Its only raining if you think about it.” Unfortunately, as much as I thought about the upcoming sunshine, the clouds didn’t break and neither did the violent rhythm of my shivering thighs. Baba and I hugged each other for some extra warmth but he didn’t look happy with me at the time. I bet when you think of Suriname you think of a tropical climate. Although accurate, nowhere in that description does the word “cold” come to mind. I can tell you that that was all I was. Wet and cold. I probably should own a poncho or rain jacket by now.
All in all awesome trip!
I wanted to let everyone know that we recently received all the money needed to purchase the indestructible soccer balls. Thank you to each and every person who donated to this project! It means alot to have your support! I will keep you in the loop on the status of the project’s implementation.