In the meantime we have
many contacts in Suriname. One of those is Reggy, who knows almost
everyone here and who is a always the life and soul of the party. He
mixes great daiquiries and he never comes around without a handful of
Reggy also loves collective outings so he organised a trip to Sipaliwini,
the deepest inland of Surinam. By plane of the medical mission which he
could arrange through his sister Ann who is a development aid worker in
the interior. A unique opportunity, as this trip is hard to book with a
tour operator, and IF you can book something like it, it costs around
900 euros pp for 7 days. We spent a third and the greatest
advantage: no group of tourists around us.
Sipaliwini is the largest district of Suriname. It comprises 80% of the
country, around 73,000 km² and of all districts it has the smallest
density of population: 1 person on every 12.2 square kilometer. The
people are concentrated along the rivers; in the northern part the
marrons, in the south near the Brazilian border Trio-indians.
We first flew to the village Sipaliwini. The name of the village gives
one the idea that this is the district's capital, but
Kwamalasamutu is the main town. In the village Sipaliwini live 100
Trio-indians and there is 1 “captain” (chief) in charge. Sipaliwini is a
young village. We were the first tourists to visit it! The captain's
goal in life is to develop his village in a good way. With at the back
of his mind the bad example of the regional “big city” Kwamalasamutu, where more than 800 people
live; with the accompanying problems such as
pollution, prostitution, drugs and aids.
If you make this trip as a guided tour, you don't have to worry about
anything, but now we had to arrange for food and drinks ourselves. On
the plane you are allowed to bring 100 kgs per person, including
yourself and the “social kilo’s” because when a flight is leaving, many
Indians want to send packages for their families. So there is not a lot
of room left for clothing, hammocks, food and especially: water.
Fortunately Ann arranged that we could send 200 kg of stuff in advance,
and now we could not only bring water, but also beer, rum, wine and even
a large cooler with ice! (During the boat trip this ballast sat a bit in
Ann had arranged a lot more: a ceremonial reception
in Sipaliwini by the captain and all the kids dressed in traditional costumes.
They served kassiri (a cassave drink of which we already knew that we
despised it; on the photo it sits waiting for us in the white barrel
with the red lid), sang and played music on flutes made out of deer bones.
The captain had a four bones flute, pkind of pan flute, and he played turtle as well, moving
his hand over the neck opening of the (empty) shell thus producing a
Reggy was for the time being appointed as captain's assistant and was
also dressed in a traditional Indian chief's costume
while he welcomed us with guess what... daiquiries. Quite practical,
those coolers and the ice.
There was a nice lodge where we could hang
our hammocks (Ann again), we were allowed to use one of the communal cooking
places (a hut where a wood fire is lit) and the shower. Later in Kwama
it was the same (thanks to Ann). The first night already JW
slept on his glasses so the following morning they were in two parts.
But P never goes into the jungle without super glue and a wooden stick
In the morning we were called into being at 6 AM by the announcer who
called the working list for that day through a megaphone. Luckily our
names were not on the list but the captain took us for a walk into the
jungle. By the end of the afternoon the men return from hunting and the
villagers prepare food together. The kids press cane sugar stems
while the elderly peel cassave
and grate and press the roots,
and clean the catch (we saw bloody turtles, a cayman and two apes,
a little bit too much for us so no pictures of these).
It takes a small plane two hours of flying to Sipa, but it took three
days by boat to Kwama.
In the rainy season it would have been only two days, but now, by the
end of the dry season, the water level was extremely low and we had to
go over at least 150 sula’s (small waterfalls). But the views on the
river are splendid in this period, very diversified with impressive rock
In the inland they sail with pirogues of 12 meters long and a beam of 1
meter (in the middle). The bottom of the boat is one broad plank, burned
round by a log fire, and on both sides a top strake is mounted. We
sailed with two boats
and this was very necessary as some waterfalls were quite heavy and the
more hands to help the boat, the better. Each boat is crewed by a bo'sun,
a kulaman (the man on the bow; actually the most important person as he
is the first to judge situations; and one mistake can lead to the boat
breaking in two pieces,
and a third man for bailing and pushing and pulling in general.
Sometimes we could remain sitting in the boat, but often we had to get
out and seek refuge, wading through the river over slippery rocks and
The indigenous guided the boats through hairraising situations, totally
calm and decisive. This is an important feature of the Trio-indian's
behaviour. And what a team, these men are not afraid of anything. In
some situations one would normally think:“this is impossible”. But as
our confidence in them was endless as of day one, we then thought: “we'll
see”; for example with waterfalls that were a meter high. In those
difficult circumstances they took the time to consider and chose the
and then they let the boats down backwards through the whirling water,
just like that.
We were in the best boat. The other one, which had to be bailed out
continuously and needed daily repairs with tin plate and carton (for
lack of tar or kit) , was
for the captain and his party plus two schoolteachers (also bo'sun and
kulaman) who needed to go to Kwama
for a training.
Carib-indians are hunters and they are the whole day
busy getting food. One moment we had a huge turtle (alive) in the boat, a
cayman (dead), two iguana's and a bunch of anjoemara's: big fish that taste
great. It is characteristic s for the hospitality of these people that they
gave us the biggest of them all. And it was deliciously prepared by chef
Reggy (just like all the others meals).
During the day we always stopped for a hunt and lunch break of an Indian
quater of an hour. This is something like the Surinamese half hour which is
equivalent to two hours European time. When sailing they were fishing as
well and when we hit the stones again we never knew if this was by accident
or on purpose: to be able to catch some fish in a relaxed way.
For two nights we had to make a camp in the jungle. Well, “we”?! As soon as
the boat was moored, the Indians jumped ashore to cut some trees to build in
an hour's time a camp where we could hang all hammocks.
In the meantime the women dug for eggs in turtle's nests and collected wood,
and within 10 minutes there was a fire for cooking. They were busy all day
and most of the night, and kept watch while we slept peacefully. It made us
realise that we would have been completely helpless, on our own in the
jungle, also because we didn't meet a soul in the three days that we
Every day before leaving they prayed and that was quite necessary, as some
situations were nervewrecking. A standard tour operator would never run a
trip like this. It was a real survival trip and if the boats were ours, we
never would have done this. It is exemplary for the kindness of the Indians
that they wanted to be helpful and make this boat trip with us. We thanked
them comprehensively and made them the biggest compliment we can think of:
that we would trust them with Miep.
our bo'sun showed us how they make medicin from leaves
and we had to try a drink of power medicin (never knew that we look this
weak). He also showed us the school
and we saw with our own eyes the result of lack of teachers in the interior:
a classroom full of children, waiting for their turn to get lessons from the
teacher whom they share with another class.
The market consisted of one market booth and the merchandise was not much
more than some bottles of oil, canned sardines, soap, washing-powder and two
pairs of jeans.
In all, it was a great trip and we never would have wanted to miss this!
Film boattrip (8.22 Mb)