19 May 2007

Excursion to Tapuripa and Stondansisula: 2 – 5 May 2007

With two boats to Stondansi

Just before dawn Boudewijn woke me up: we listened. Far away we could hear the howling baboons! The Nickeri river streamed quietly, perhaps 2 km/h. We listened how more and more birds started their songs and screams, while a cloudy sky became more and more red. This night-of-the-full-moon Jeronimo, Hilbert-Jan and Hilbert had joined a hunting party in the boat of Dennis. Luckily, no eyes had lit up while they were searching the river bank with a strong flashlight....
Yesterday, the eight of us had embarked at the ghosttown Wageningen on the boat of Paul de Boer. We know this fisherman and hunter, born in Paramaribo, from our previous trip to Wonotobo in November 2005. This time he had two helpers: “Shorty” (a guayanese from Georgetown named Makres Renne) and Muna Rampersad (a hindustan from Nieuw Nickerie).
In the afternoon we reached the indian village Tapuripa (64 people). The “kapitein”, Petrus Sabajo, welcomed us. During the internal war (1986-1992), many of the Arowak inhabitants had fled from the village. Slowly, they were coming back now; also the teacher, so school will probably start again after the big holiday.

Blackboard in school with an announcement for celebrating May 1st

3-5-2007. A guayanese, who is living here with his indian wife and son, brings us in the boat of Dennis to a Hevea tree, here called “balatabon” or “bolletrieboom”. There are apparently not many of these trees anymore. La Condamine already reported about the milky sap or latex that could be obtained by cutting the bark of the “Hevea”, a name taken from the Equadorian indians. The name for the rubber substance, “caoutchouc”, is probably derived from the kechuan language of the Peruvian Incas. The tree I saw was most likely the same as La Condamine sent to France: Castilla elastica, which differs from the Hevea brasiliensis occurring south of the Amazon (see http://www.bouncing-balls.com/timeline/naturalname.htm).

Around 9 o’clock we continue upstream the Nickerie river. We are escorted by two Green kingfishers and groups of Water tyrants, flying low over the water. On both sides of the bending river the ever-changing pattern and colour of leaves and the many shapes of trees fallen from the river banks keep our attention. The Nickerie relates to the Amazon as Zion Canyon to the Grand Canyon: the bamboo bushes, the butterflies, the beautiful flowers, the Scarlet macaws (Ara’s) flying over, are all so close to the naked eye!

In the boat: always something to see

Except for the two motors on our “korjaal”, the wooden boats that took La Condamine down the Amazon, 14 m long (44 “pieds”), 1 m broad, may not have been much different. During the ride we are served rice with some meat and salad by Shorty, the guyanese cook. What food would have been served to La Condamine? Would the indian rowers have had the opportunity to fish or hunt like our guides? In any case, La Condamine will have heard better the sounds of the many birds in the wood. We could only hear the loud and typical scream of the Piha above the noise of the motor.

Our camp at Stondansisula: Hilbert, Dennis, Chris, Conrad, Lidie, Lous

"Shorty's" kitchen

Taking a bath, called "baden" in Surinam

This time the hunters went out before the full moon came up! Now, in the dark they shot two "hares" ("hazen"). Muna cleaned them skilfully. On our way back we made again a stop at the indian village Tapuripa. There, Dennis bought a young "hare" from an indian for 100 SRD (~30€). The young animal, probably an agouti, walked free from care around in our boat. It will be a pet for his son Denny.

Jeronimo observes how Muna cleans the two agouti's shot the previous night

The "sula" of Stondansi

18 May 2007

Excursion with Otte Ottema of STINASU – 1-5-2007

Krisna, Otte, Doleh and Lidie at "Peperpot"

See: http://www.tem.nhl.nl/~ribot/english/list_eng.htm

On this day we saw with Otte Ottema of STINASU 55 different birds; about as many as during my 3-week trip in 2005.
At the old plantation “Peperpot” we saw the Great potoo, fast asleep in a tree, resembling a branch (dutch: Grijze reuzennachtzwaluw). We saw the Silvered antbird (Sclateria naevia), coming very close on branches just above the water, the White-winged becard (male), the Palm tanager, the Squirrel cuckoo as well as the Little cuckoo; the Black-crested antshrike with its tail going up-and-down, and the beautiful Turquoise tanager. We saw very clearly the Spotted puffbird (Gevlekte baardkoekoek) and also the probably endemic Arrowhead piculet (dwergspecht). With his sound-recorder Otte also tried to allure the Black-headed antbird, but he didn’t show up.
In the “Cultuurtuin” we saw the Blood-coloured woodpecker (Bloedrugspecht), and how beautiful, several Crimson-hooded manakins! In another part of the “Cultuurtuin” we saw the Green kingfisher, the Straight-billed woodcreeper (muisspecht) and in the crown of a fallen tree, a pair of Tropical gnatcatchers.

At "Weg-naar-Zee"

At the “Weg-naar-Zee” we saw the beautiful Scarlet ibis (finally!) and on a nearby post the Rufous crab-hawk.

Otte Ottema in his studio

Manaus – Boa Vista – Bonfim/Lethem – Paramaribo, 23/28-4-2007

Port and market in Manaus

In Manaus you can buy watches or telephones “per cubic meter”. All historic museums appeared closed or were in a process of reconstruction (e.g. the Instituto Geografico e Historico do Amazonas). We stayed in the run-down hotel “Premium”. After a luxurious dinner in the italian restaurant “Fiorentina” we went to the bus that would bring us through the night to Boa Vista (some 900 km). The comfortable bus hardly stopped; walking in it was almost impossible due to the bumpy road. When it became light we saw a depressing landscape of burned fields with solitary, dead trees and some cows (near Novo Parais?). In the distance cone-shaped mountains.

Bryan's house in Boa Vista, where the goldseekers gathered

In Boa Vista (25-4-2007) Bryan C., the brother of our host in Surinam, came to fetch us in a taxi. He had not been allowed to enter Brazil with his minibus. We had a shower and breakfast in his house in the outskirts of town, where some passengers-without-passport were already waiting. For $250 (?) Bryan will bring them to Paramaribo. It took a while before we understood that they were already waiting a few days: Marinaldo Asousa Silva (from Maranhao, Brazil; 40 years), two young boys, Weskley (from Lago da Pedra) and Marcus (also from Maranhao); then there were two women, Sandra (from Colombia; 35 years) and Rossi (from Brazil; 40 years) who were running shops in goldmining camps.
On the 26th more people came: Edneia, with two girls Rosangela and Roseane (not her own children), all from Para and Socorro from Boa Vista. In total (the four of us included) we would be 19 adults and two small kids packed in two minibuses together with the two drivers, Bryan and a Guayanese chauffeur.

La Condamine travelled in a time when the spaniards were still seeking gold in the Andes. Presently, the exploitation of gold has become very restricted in Brazil. As a result, many brazilians migrate to Venezuela, Guyana or Surinam to find their luck. That is also the reason why our group consists of some 6 men and 3 women that want to search gold in Surinam. All seem to know about the danger of the mercury that they will use to separate the gold particles from the water-sand slurry. But do they realize the long-term health consequences of inhaling evaporated mercury when they heat the gathered “black gold” (gold-mercury amalgamate) with a flame?

Collection of "black gold" - the evaporation of mercury with a flame
(from http://www.ehponline.org/docs/2001/109-10/focus.html)

After waiting the whole morning we went by taxi and bus through a savannah landscape to Bon Fim, the brazilian frontier town at the Tacutu river. A small boat brought us to hotel Torquato on the Guyanan side of the border. Bryan had told us that we would go the next day to the police station of Lethem. When we arrived, Bryan and his goldseeker-passengers were already there. More travellers came through, but did not stay. Our group seemed happy: together with Sandra, a colombian “rola”, we had dinner, played cards and drank beer. Everybody was tired and we went to sleep.

Sandra and Hilbert going to sleep: a few hours later nobody woke up

27-4-2007. At half past 3 I woke up: a man was standing beside my hammock. He spoke well english and asked for money to bring him across the river. He said he was one of the boatsmen, his name was “Rocky”, and he showed me where his boat-motor was. Apparently, this young man knew the way in the hotel. He convinced me and I decided to look for the 10 reals he was asking (3 €). When I tried to sit on my hammock in the dark I fell backwards on the floor making a lot of noise. Nobody woke up, not the guard, not Hilbert lying beside me, not a dog! I brought him to the open gate and he advised me to close it. Then he disappeared on his bicycle in the dark. I looked with satisfaction to the bright stars and the fireflies and went to sleep..... The next day the hotel owner said that “Rocky” was indeed a boatsman, an old man. Bryan said he must have been a robber.

At Lethem police station

Bryan (right) and some goldseekers

The whole morning Bryan was occupied with “organizing” the necessary stamps and documents for his passengers. We finally left at 2 pm going north full speed through a beautiful landscape, the Rupununi savannah. We were amazed seeing the many ant-hills. We had to traverse many small bridges and after the 14th we got a flat tire.

A flat tire after the 14th bridge

One of the 36 bridges we had to cross

Jeronimo and "Junior", one of the goldseekers

The group of moslims from Durban; Mahomed Khan stands next to me

Towards the end of the afternoon we reach just in time the ferry at the Essequibo river. There another bus with bearded moslims from Durban (South Africa) is also waiting. I approach them and realize that for the first time in my life I can speak with moslims from about my age! They are religious people, but one of them, Mahomed Khan, believes in the separation between religion and state and agrees that the story of creation should be told as a myth and not as a truth.
We have dinner in a restaurant at Kurupukari and Bryan has a short sleep. A truck driver, transporting wood and a hindustan family camping on the truncs, tells me that a few years ago the distance Lethem – Georgetown (500 km) took him 10 days!

In the middle of the night, at a “chineese village” owned by a wood company, we were halted. This time, the policemen, who had specially come down from Georgetown, didn’t want to accept money. The local police “allowed” them to check all luggage for weapons, but not the passports or other papers (“manifests”) of the passengers. There was a lot of scolding between them.

We had lost time at the police check and raced to Georgetown, where we made a short stop at a run-down hotel. There were a lot of junks around. But we drove further, faster than ever. On a street, sided by beautiful lotus flowers, and full with cars, bicycles, dogs and people carrying babies, boxes and baskets, we could reach a velocity of 100 km/h on the meter. But we were in time for the two ferries, first over the Berbice, then over the Corantijn: We, that is those in the “legal bus” carrying passports, were in Surinam. The others were taken in little boats over the Corantijn, where a Surinam bus would take them over and bring them to Paramaribo. Due to formalities on both sides of the borther, we arrived 4 h later at hotel Perola in Paramaribo, where the others had arrived safely.

At Springland ferry (Corantijn): Bryan at the desk of a policeman doing a quicker job...

For some 30 h we had experienced “another world”, that of kind, smiling people, who took the risk of travelling this way and who never complained, knowing that that wouldn’t help them. We wish that they all find their “el dorado”.

Waiting for the ferry over the Essequibo river: no complaints!

On his next trip, Bryan was arrested by the Surinam police and had to stay 3 days in the prison of New Nickerie. He had told us about the accomodation: 30 people in a room with one hole in the corner as toilet.....

17 May 2007

From Leticia/Tabatinga to Manaus: 20-23 April 2007

For our trip we could use a detailed map (ITMB 2000; http://www.itmb.com) of the Amazon Basin (scale 1:4000000). In Quito, La Condamine obtained permission from the jesuites to see (and copy?) the first map of the Amazone, made by father Samuel Fritz in 1690. La Condamine remarks that the map is rather inaccurate, especially the downstream parts; later, he will improve the map considerably.

We embarked on the Manuel Monteiro II (inspected yesterday) and departed at 4.30 p.m. from Tabatinga. After 3.5 h we came to Benjamin Constant. It was already dark. I had to get out of my hammock because the furniture of an indian family had to be put on board, tables, chairs, boxes, even a cupboard with little glass windows.
La Condamine had a remarkably negative view of the indians he encountered. He acknowledges that there were great differences between them and that his observations were just from a passer-by, but in general, he found them to be rather apathic, indifferent and childish. But also, he seemed to realize that they might have degenerated from an ancestral culture (“...il faut convenir que ses peuples on bien dégénéré de leurs ancêtres.”)
Well, when I observed how they helped each other, putting things on and off board quietly without shouting or scolding, I was amazed and impressed. Did they know each other? It didn’t appear so. In a hammock to my left was a short, strong man with a (gauze) bandage around his head. He helped putting in a full household-furniture. When this family left the next day he helped again. Later, I saw him still in his hammock; he had stayed with his own family. In the hammock to my right was a woman from Tabatinga who spoke spanish. She was going to purchase cloths in Manaus for her shop. They were all so very kind and seemed to accept that Hilbert and I were lying amongst them. I think our sons lying on the upper deck had the same experience. What a pity we couldn’t speak their language or portuguese.
(Here, it is fair to say that for 600 reals (200 €) we rented a cabin where we could put away safely our 4 backpacks and where we had our own shower and toilet!)

Hilbert in his hammock

At midnight the lights went on again and the “Policia Federal” came on board: young, well-trained policemen, very different from those we would meet later in Guyana or Surinam. They searched every corner of the boat for gold, weapons or drugs. One traveller was handcuffed and taken off-board.

At 5 o’clock in the morning we made a stop at Sao Paulo. The captain, a young woman, seemed to know all her passengers. She gave short orders that were executed promptly.
For La Condamine Sao Paulo was the first portugese mission. From here on he would travel in larger and more comfortable canoe’s. It would take him 5 days and nights to reach Coari. It would take us one and a half day. See map in the posting of 9 April 2007: “In preparation of following La Condamine’s footsteps”.

At 5 o'clock in the afternoon we made a stop at San José, where an old mission was standing on the high river bank (not mentioned by La Condamine). Now, the river starts to live: we hear birds in the woods, see herrons and oropendula's flying over and see dolphins. Between a quarter to and a quarter past 6 it became dark. Time to enjoy a beer on the upper deck with our sons (Hilbert-Jan and Jeronimo) and the few tourists on board: 4 argentines, 2 swiss girls, a couple from Madrid and a brazilian student from Florianopolis, who had studied agro-culture for a year in Berkeley. Asked about deforestation in the Amazon basin, he said he was more concerned about the loss of forests and biodiversity along the Brazilian atlantic coast, where only 10 % of a unique biotope was left.....

A Samauma tree

One day on the Amazon: 22 April 2007
3.30 am. We stopped at Fonte Boa. A lot of fish was taken on board. I am sleeping in my hammock in my jacket and long trousers and with socks and I am still feeling cold. Next to me sleeps an indian in his T-shirt, a short and with bare feet.....
5.30 am. It is raining lightly. Everybody is still asleep. The surface of the Amazon is clean, no floating truncs and branches; no bird to be seen.
6.00 am. Every now and then we pass a little cabin on the river bank. From the wash hanging out it is clear that people are living there. No boats to be seen. We are going south. We pass some side creeks and suddenly the water is covered with small, floating islands of water hyacinths. We pass a rather large village, Tamaniqua (not on my map), where a boat as large as ours is just leaving, going upstream; not many people to be seen.

The water hyacinth

6.45 am. Breakfast with papaja, sweet coffee, rice porridge and a sandwich with cheese.
7.30 am. We pass close to the river bank and see many birds: herrons, cormorants, kingfishers and oropendula’s.
8.00 am. The boat slows down allowing a small boat to bring people and a load of fish. We pass a large, floating oil-platform.
10.00 am. We pass a large boat with many people on board. For the first time since Leticia we see a big house, a villa with a large, red roof surrounded by fields with cows and banana plantations.
11.00 am. We overtake a cargo boat with gas containers. We pass Uarini from where a similar ship as ours departed, going downstream in front of us. The southern river banks are rather high and red, the northern are low and brown-coloured.
12.30 pm. We pass the mouth of the Rio Japura.
12.45 pm. Our boat and the one in front of us make a stop at Alvaraes. A third passenger ship is coming towards us. We have not seen so much activity since Leticia.
13.00 pm. Our boat slows down. A small, aluminum boat with one man comes alongside. From where? An automatic rifle is handed over to him and he starts to follow our boat on short distance.
13.45 pm. In front of us another small boat is coming towards us with some passengers; suddenly they change direction and go to the riverside.
14.00 pm. The aluminum boat comes alongside, a handcuffed man is taken off-board; together with two other police men they depart. Where to? Our boat is going full speed again.

Policemen taking a handcuffed man off-board

14.30 pm. We pass Tefe but cannot see the town. The southern river bank is here at least 50 m high.
16.00 pm. The river is now very broad (2 km?). We are going south-east. Far away we see a thin-lined horizon as we are nearing the Atlantic Ocean.
17.15 pm. Beautiful sunset. A large cargo boat again loaded with gas containers comes slowly upstream.

Not once have we seen cargo boats transporting wood or have we seen sites on the riverside where tree truncs are being accumulated, as we will later see in Surinam.

15 May 2007

Inspection of the boat and a feast-dinner with fish

The Amacayacu National Parc: 19-4-2007

La Condamine had a list with indian words in the language of several of the tribes he thought he would meet. He remarks that the words “mama” and “papa” in the Omagua-language have the same meaning as in european languages. Now, "the indigenes" of the tribes we met, the Jagua, Tucuma, Cocama, all spoke spanish. La Condamine was guided by people sent by the missions he passed. Thanks to my colleague Antoine Cleef, we were guided by his friend Alejandro Jaramillo and his chauffeur Jose Rodriguez; they seemed to know everybody in both Leticia and Tabatinga. Jeronimo was our spanish translator!

The Common woolly monkey

On April 19, Alejandro brought us in a small boat to the Amacayacu National Parc. There we met Dr. Sara Bennett, an american biologist, who is living already for some 15 years with her monkeys and other animals, treating them as human babies (...). We stayed for the night in the indian village Puerto Nariño, in hotel "Casa Selva”, 80 km west of Leticia. Policemen showed us a captured anaconda of about 10 m. The snake was not hungry, because the hen, given for food, was sitting on top of the curled-up snake, seemingly unaware of the future danger.
La Condamine observed dolphins ("le dauphin d'eau douce") and lamantins. We saw about 10 dolphins, sometimes clearly showing their pink color, and many kingfishers (Ringed kingfisher, Ceryle torquata). In the evening we saw the bright stars La Condamine used for his position measurements and always Orion. He also measured the flow rate of the river and the depth. He found the river to be 28 “brasses” deep which conforms to about 45 m (1 brasse = 5 pieds; 1 pied + 0.32 m). According to Archimedes, the captain of our little boat, the depth of the Amazon near Leticia was 42 m and the flow rate 8 km/h. Downstream his boat would reach a velocity of 45 km/h!
One thing La Condamine will not have seen is the transport of tree-trunks from the rainforest. This was the first one we saw; until Manaus we didn't see any others.

Colombian jungle experience: Tanimboca reservation – 18-4-2007

On our way to Tanimboca we passed a site where “terra preta” had been found. I even looked with the microscope at samples from this site (obtained from Juan Carlos Berrio, University of Leicester, UK) ! But what could I do here now? The site was a 100 m from the road into the jungle and the others were waiting in the car at a temperature well above 30 degrees..... With admiration for those who had discovered this site I joined the others. For the rest of the trip I forgot about terra preta, about which I had been reading a lot. After all, La Condamine didn’t know what it was. It was he who remarked that places where Orellana had found large populations of indians, were now deserted.

At Tanimboca, 8 km NW of Leticia, we were hoisted up to a platform some 35 m high, overviewing the canopy. Then we had to slide to another tree with a pulley. I now admired the indian instructors who skilfully played with our lives (I still weighed 93 kg!). At this time of the day few animals defied the heat, but it was a great experience anyway, especially the canoe trip through a black-water creek, where we saw the Mariposa diurna and where we heard for the first time the call of the "piha", heard so often in the jungle of Surinam.

Flight to Leticia on17 April 2007

On April 17 the four of us (Hilbert, his son Hilbert-Jan, Boudewijn and myself) departed for Leticia. From the airplane we had a beautiful view on the rivers and forests below us. We saw the large Rio Caqueta paralleled by the much smaller and stronger meandering Rio Canuinari. From the shadows the clouds casted on the forest surface it was clear that the mid-day sun was standing in the north! Nearing Leticia we saw signs of deforestation.

Visit to the Embajada Real de los Paises Bajos on 16 April 2007

Octavio Martinez, the chauffeur of the then ambassador Frits Regtdoorzee Greup, still recognized me over the telephone! He came immediately to the Embajada to fetch us. The present-day ambassador, Frans van Haren, was not interested to hear some history about his house “Klein Soestdijk”, where we stayed 32 and 29 years ago (perhaps because the house was now surrounded by a bullet-free wall and could not be seen from the street anymore...). Octavio took us to his house in the north of Bogotá (BoliviaX), filled with dutch souvenirs and served us colombian drinks and fruits. What a warm reception!

14 May 2007

Visit to “La Casa de la Madre y el Niño” on 16 April 2007

As a younger member of the french expedition (he was 30 years) La Condamine had a mission to fulfil in Quito. By chance, he ended up in Paramaribo where he could get a boat to Holland.
After our visit to Paramaribo in 2005 we wanted to come back to Suriname. But what brought us to Bogotá in the Andes?
We wanted to visit again “La Casa de la Madre y el Niño”, for a third time after 29 and 32 years, together with Marius and Boudewijn. For the third time we were sitting in the waiting-room, but this time together with our two sons. And it was still Ines Elvira de Fajardo that came to inform us, showing us all the adoption documents they had in the archive, the only connection to the roots of Antonio Fernando and Jeronimo Pico.....She also showed us the whole Casa, which had extended considerably.
With her 40 years of adoption-experience she examined the two young men asking them how they felt and what they were doing. They were asked to write their feelings in the special guestbook. Then she made a picture of the four of us, which ended the “ceremony”.

13 May 2007

Bogotan experience 15-4-2007

If La Condamine received hospitality and friendship from the Maldonado-brothers in Quito, so did we experience a cordial reception by the Lopez-family in Bogotá. Jose Lopez, the uncle of Eulalia whom Hilberto had met in Naarden, guided us to Zipaquira where we visited the ´Catedral de Sal´. 
The Muisca indians there had traded salt for gold for many centuries, until they were wiped out.
In the afternoon we visited the ´Museo de Oro´, where we saw the famous objects the indians had made of gold.
In the evening we were brought to Jose´s house in the north of this 8 million people-town. The small house was filled by the six of us, by the family of the two daughters of Jose and Martha, and by their two sons, Camilo and Mauricio. To our embarassment we were seated at a table of 8 to eat the "ajiaco bogotano". The others came by to get their share.
The guitar was played, we laughed, drank wine, exchanged presents, told our life histories and thanked for this wonderful day. Seldom we had experienced such hospitality from people we we had never met before!