Visiting a wood concession in Upper-Suriname  Check Google Earth 05.22.259N and 54.69.866W

           

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 immediately.

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 regulations.

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 skidder) 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 enormous, 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 pontoon.

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 portions! 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.

              

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