We were invited by our
friend Dennis Wortel
to join him on one of his trips into the jungle. Dennis lives in La
Rencontre (the former plantation next to Domburg), by the riverside and
with a view on Miep and we joined him during one of his monthly visits
to his wood concession in the interior.
Dennis is a true entrepeneur. Initially he was a fisherman with various
boats and some employees, now he exploits a wood concession by the
Suriname River. Beyond
Carolina, which is still accessible per 4WD, and the last part we
traveled by boat.
True love never dies eand when Dennis is upcountry, he uses every
opportunity to go fishing and comes home with 75 kg of pakoesi and
piranha. Fresh fish from upriver is
3x as expensive as (frozen) seafish, so he earns some nice pocket money.
The net is placed into the direction of a sandbank because that is where
the fish hide. A couple of slaps with the paddlel
and the fish flee to deeper water – ending up in Dennis’ net. It is
that simple. Or so it seems. Because if you fish for piranha you have to
know exactly what you are doing as these animals (the big ones weigh up
to one kg) are extremely agressive! This is common knowledge but now we
experienced it ourselves. Heavy fighting and once on board they try to
bite anything they meet: the toerail of the boat if they can't get a
grip on a person, while Dennis or Kenneth lift the club to kill them
You don't run a wood concession just like that. Dennis has to deal with various authorities who have to be paid off: the indigenous,
who are the “owners” of the wood and earn $6 per cubic metre of wood.
And the government, who gets another $20 per cubic. So the concession is
regularly visited by inspectors: authorized representatives from the
indigenous and surveyors from Forest Service. All carrying tape measure, labels
and staple guns so no tree leaves the wood unregistered. In Surinam forest
management is serious business. Forest Service supervises
the logging, which results in an endless list of rules and
Many wood concessions remove the logs in blocks, but sawing them on the
spot is much more economic as the residue remains in the forest.
And working this way, Dennis also pockets the margin from the sawing
machine. On the other hand it makes managing much more complicated
and requires more personnel and bigger investments.
Dennis' movable saw
is a smart machine that can take blocks up to 7 meters of length. Dennis
has seven employees on the spot. Three people manage the sawing: one of
them saws the blocks to the correct length, pulls them in
and places them under the saw (using a
and two men saw the log in
planks of different sizes.
The rest selects threes in the forest and saw them down.
This sounds easy but it is not and especially not in the rainy season,
as the open terrain changes into an awful mud mess in a jiffy.
Wandering around with a giant chain saw on your shoulder, measuring up
the trees (it is not allowed to saw down trees within a range of less
than 10 meters), bring them down, clean them from branches, mark the
trunks and the logs with matching labels, lay the trunks on one heap...
Heavy work for which heavy tools are needed. Not only the expensive
sawing machine but also two heavy duty skidders to push and
pull the logs through the mud.
The men can perform any job. They are strong as an ox, drag the heaviest
burdens and work all day in the blazing sun. They saw eight blocks per
day and lug with wood, but also do technical jobs such as repair and
maintenance (you can't bring a skidder to the city just like that for
servicing), change the skidders' tyres (diameter
one and a half meter), build a small bridge and boat maintenance: haul
out (using a skidder as a tractor), turn it ,
caulking, etc. And in between they grab one of the shotguns if a pingo
(swine) shows up, or an iguana.
Iguana is very popular among Javanesebij. When she (yes, she had eggs)
was shot she was stuck in the leaves but Stanley (Javanese) climbed in a
matter of seconds 20 meters into the tree and the poor animal ended up
in the pan.
Before the work can be done, the guys cleared a piece of land and made
paths along which the logs are removed. Everything according to the
rules and regulations of Forest Service. Yet deforestation still seems
although we were told that the damage is indiscernable after five years.
Furthermore a camp is built. A camp is a hut made of poles covered with
tarpaulin. This is where the men are living. For three weeks at a time,
after which they take a couple of days off and return to the city.
Obviously in the jungle is no public transport, so this is arranged by
Dennis as well. And not only the people have to be transported, also the
materials, parts, fuel (the sawing machine takes 20 liters of diesel per day
and what to think of those huge skidders), food etc. Fresh water would be
tons, so they drink river water. The planks are transported by a hired
We have seen other camps in the forest but Dennis' camp is top of the pops.
There is even a guests' camp, although we slept in the main camp as the
guests' camps floor was not yet completely dry. And a beautiful bathroom: a 2.5 m
deep hole in the ground with a fence around it and a throne on top; around Domburg
we sometimes see less nice toilets.
The men use lots of energy so they cook three times a day. And huge
Breakfast, lunch and dinner consist of rice and fish (caught by Dennis) or
chicken (of course) and vegetables, cooked in the Surinamese way with a lot
of pepper. Not JW's cup of tea: in the morning he preferred one of the
currant buns we brought along.
During work but also outside solidarity is big. Because we all lived in one
space, we were able to get a good taste of the atmosphere. The chatter
before and during breakfast (Surinamese men are real chatterboxes; they love
to “talk tori”), the fun during the work, singing, and the nicknames
they use among each other: Langa, Biga, Blaka, the last affectionately
shortened to Blak. Particularly Surinamese was the feeling they gave
us that we were really welcome.
Even in Suriname, wood is expensive (in general a wooden home is more
expensive than a concrete one) and we understand why, now that we have seen
what kind of investments and work is needed to saw a couple of planks and
deliver them at the consumer.
In short: if you are clever and skilful and have a large capital for
investment at your disposal, you can make a lot of money in wood and also
have lots of entertainment beyond reach of ordinary people.
Dennis for instance owns a football club; in Suriname this seems to be a
proper thing among big shots. He even has two teams: first class and
veterans... and JW was also invited...!!! So Dennis is not only a fisherman
and forester, but also chairman, sponsor and football coach of his own club: Arsenal.