Adventurous boattrip in Sipaliwini      Click for the chartlet
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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 limes.
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 the way.)
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 rhythmic sound.
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 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 waterplants.
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 right tactics 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 travelled.
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.

In Kwama 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)
 

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