Suriname: 21st Century Jungle

Suriname has rather a lot of jungle. In fact, it’s pretty much all they’ve got here. Best we take a peek then. Last blog we had the thrill of a live rocket launch in French Guiana, now we see the jungle kids’ thrill of seeing their first drone! We’re heading far in-land, well beyond where Cuthbert our camp-truck can take us. Here’s the story in our Suriname jungle blog …

Suriname jungle blog - critters you find on the ground

Winching and Falls  

Suriname jungle blog - winching a fallen treeThe road ends some 200km inland from Paramaribo at the tiny village of Pokigron, but on the way we do a de-tour for a couple of days into the Brownsberg Reserve. Here we plan to do some short hikes to waterfalls, but we hadn’t banked on having to winch a huge fallen tree out of the track  to get to the trail! Overlanders often question the necessity of fitting a winch to their vehicle… well, we’ve found ours handy not only for vehicle recovery.

suriname jungle blog - brownsberg fallsAnyway… when we get to Pokigron we join-up with Erick, a friendly Costa Rican traveller who we’ve happily been bumping into a lot over the last few weeks. Pokigron is teeny, a real ‘one horse town’, but it’s a bustling little place. From here, many dug-out long-boats ply up and down to the riverside settlements and we’ll need to seek-out one of these to get further into the jungle. The nice surprise when we arrive is that Erick has already done the hard work and secured a boatman to take us all up-stream. What a nice chap!

Heading deep into the rainforest (as you do!) one might be forgiven for expecting to find settlements populated by native Amerindians. But the guys here have a very different heritage. They’re known as Maroons, and they’re African. How so?

African Heritage

suriname jungle blogWell… around 300 years ago, a brave band of slaves rightly took umbrage at their unimaginably despicable conditions and escaped into the jungle. They moved east until they came to the river, which seemed a good place to stop. South America was a new continent for them, but ‘jungle survival’ is what today’s business gurus might term a ‘transferrable skill’. The slaves chummed-up with the native Amerindians, learned about the particular nature of the Amazon, and here they are today… small but thriving Maroon communities dotted all along the banks of the Suriname River. Don’t say we don’t teach you a bit of culture and history here folks 🙂

Numbers now visiting the area are still very small, but the Maroons are understandably keen to capitalise on an increasing curiosity about their lifestyle. A handful of Maroons are now making a living as guides/cooks, and cabins are popping up along the river to host tourists. We’re spending four days at one called Menimi, spending time on jungle walks and visits to the local villages with a guide.

suriname jungle blog - subsistence living

Subsistence living – pounding the rice

So what is the Maroon lifestyle? Well… to start with, it’s subsistence-living. Although they have frequent boat connectivity with the ‘real world’, very little is brought in from outside. They grow all their own vegetables, pound their own rice, hunt their own meat. There are no shops and almost no trade amongst them, although we did spot one barbers and one bar (who doesn’t like to look good when they pop out for a beer, eh? ).

Inevitably we find ourselves comparing the Maroon communities to similar places we visited in Africa. The big contrast is that in the African villages, with the rare exception of the Himba village in northern Namibia, we found packaged commercialism to be well established. The imported supplies bring associated packaging: tins, plastic bottles and bags. Of course, the suppliers bring with them no means of, or education regarding, waste disposal. Consequently, the communities suffer badly from street litter and large festering mounds of refuse. Attempts at burning the piles of waste-plastics serve only to bathe the villages in dense clouds of black, toxic-looking smoke, which small children inhale as they play around the fires. The Maroons of Suriname suffer from none of this. They live free of litter and enjoy a diet of locally sourced produce – some of it cultivated and some naturally occurring in the jungle – with minimal waste.

21st Century Droning

suriname jungle blog

Every little boy was a little poser! The girls not so much!

So it’s an eco-friendly place. So far so good. But another admirable thing about the Maroon subsistence lifestyle is that it doesn’t prevent them from moving into the 21st Century in other ways. They have solar-power (topped-up by generators when necessary). Cell-masts are installed periodically down the river and they have 3G connectivity. Although they can’t all afford smart-phones, the children are all familiar with these. Posing enthusiastically for photos, they eagerly want to know whether they will be famous on the ‘eeen-terrr-nehhht’ 🙂

Despite all the connectivity however, they’re really not prepared for the next 21st Century gadget we are about to unleash upon them. Maroon people of Suriname… we present to you… THE DRONE!!!

suriname jungle blog

We are travelling with a first-generation DJI Phantom drone which we love and use when conditions permit. But Erick has invested in one of the latest ‘all-singing-dancing’ models. It has super-easy touch-screen controls and a real-time feed from the camera down to the controlling iPad screen. Our guide isn’t sure what the villagers will make of this and first seeks permission from the village elder. His explanation that Erick has brought a flying machine to take pictures from the air is met with looks of humorous disbelief, but a small contribution to local funds gains permission to fly the drone in the village.

Word of a ‘flying machine’ spreads quickly around the houses. In the two minutes that it takes Erick to un-pack the whirly-bird from its case, a curious crowd gathers around him. As the drone buzzes, beeps and takes to the sky, the villagers gasp upwards in awe. The drone disappears from view and they jostle around Erick to see the live-feed pictures on his screen. They’ve obviously never seen their village from the air before. After a few minutes they seem to be wondering whether the flying machine will be coming back. There is a rabble cheer from the children when it finally comes back into view.

Erick brings the drone down and hovers it a meter or so out of reach above the tallest children. They leap around excitedly, shouting, jostling each other, jumping up trying to grasp the under-carriage. When they realise that they’re being filmed from above, they start dancing and posing in front of the tiny, suspended camera. The whole event is a marvellous scene. It’s a real privilege to witness a new step in these people’s awareness of our world.

So, after four days with the Maroons we’ve learned much about their way of life, their culture and beliefs, their foods. Oh, and their boat-building too! It’s been fascinating. Our boatman takes us back home to Cuthbert. Now the task of sorting the many (many) photos and writing up the Suriname jungle blog.

One teeeny detail that we hadn’t realised when we left Cuthbert in Pokigron is quite how soft the ground is around there! We return to find Cuthbert sitting at a rather unusual angle. The locals, having witnessed the gradually decline were fearing for the worst and thought we might be stuck! Time for the winch again? Noooo… it’s amazing what low-range gears and a few diff-locks can do! Cuthbert is straight out… no problem… off to the next adventure.

Suriname Jungle Blog Gallery

Suriname time-out

Suriname RiverTeeeny update… So we’ve been parked up for a while, doing not a lot, chilling-out by the river in Suriname with a different type of traveller! These guys are taking some time out from sailing around the world. Yup… across the high seas in those little boats. Makes overlanding look a bit tame by comparison! If you want to see some awesome video diaries of their life on the ocean waves, see www.seachangelog.com.

Arduino Due projectMarcus has been doing a bit of geekery… building and programming a computer system to replace the Iveco computer controlling  Cuthbert’s diff-locks (Afam computer  replacement). Any brain-boxes out there who can work out the square-root of a jar of pickles might find the write-up interesting 🙂

Click on the picture for link to page.

Heading off for a week of jungle-exploring. If we don’t get eaten by a caiman, there might be an  interesting update soon 🙂

Link to next blog: Suriname: 21st Century Jungle    Link to full South America Blog

 

Monster Turtles and Rockets

There are turtles and there are giant leather-back turtles. And then there are space rockets. An odd combination, but in French Guiana we’re lucky enough see both in the same week. The end of our last blog featured a cliff-hanger, waiting to see whether our application for tickets to the next Ariane 5 rocket launch will be successful. Well… we got them! And whilst we contain our excitement before the big launch day, we head off to see the giant leather-back turtles on the beaches of the far north corner.

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Protests and Papillon

Damn tedious all this protesting and road-blockade malarkey, but hey… ‘C’est la vie’, as they say here in French Guiana. In our last blog we arrived in a charming but blockade-ridden, far-flung part of the EU. Now, after a month of disruption, the protesters toddle home and things gradually get back to normal. For us this means freedom to move around the country, the re-start of the Space Race (officially exciting!) and some first-hand proof of Hollywood’s tish, tosh and piffle!

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French Guiana… bonjour!

Just over the bridge from Brazil and… politics! Overlanders are always best advised to avoid national politics as they travel, but sometimes things just jump in your face. French Guiana is an overseas department of mainland France. It’s officially part of the EU, it has the Euro currency and, we find out to our cost, the people have the same French propensity for road blockades and labour strikes when they feel hard done-by! Continue reading

Amazon Delta

You can’t just drive across the Amazon Delta you know… you’d get a bit wet. Cuthbert earned his ‘Water-fording Proficiency’ badge reaching the Lençóis Maranhenses but this time we need to put him on a barge which zig-zags over 38 hours between the mangroves and islands, crossing the Amazon Delta. Compared to the much travelled western side of the continent, this north-eastern route of South America is, even in the dry season, relatively little trodden by the ‘overlanding community’. In the currently prevailing rainy season, even fewer travellers venture up here. Hmmm… maybe there’s a good reason for that!! crossing the amazon delta Continue reading

Lençóis Maranhenses – Dunes and Lagoons

It’s challenging driving to Lençóis Maranhenses, but is it worth the schlepp?  “A spectacularly unique place… thousands of crystal-clear lagoons between dunes”… so they say. Our faith in travel journalists has been tempered slightly by our recent experience in Jericoacoara (see last blog), but we’ve not lost hope.  Actually, Lençóis Maranhenses manages to exceed our high expectations, there’s just the small matter of getting there, testing Cuthbert’s off-road capabilities and our nerves!

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Brazil: Tudo Bom!

Tudo bom… All good! The most common phrase we’ve heard all over Brazil. It’s a statement, it’s a question, it’s a greeting, it’s said with a smile and it’s a reflection of the consistently chirpy Brazilian nature which continues as we head into the far north. On this latest stretch we hit the coast at Salvador then head north: dodging coconuts, reaching the far east, dining with Iveco, and testing our nerves with Cuthbert’s capacity on dunes and deep-sand tracks.
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Mission: Middle Brazil

A brewery, a palace, a gold mine, a football stadium, a police selfie, a floating angel, broken glow-plug, a desert lagoon and a foot swallowing sand-bubble. Our last post saw Rio and fab beaches, now we’re on a mission to see the great mix of middle Brazil, with the added dilemma of so much to see, so little time!
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It’s Brazil, Baby!

You like beaches? Brazil’s got trillions. You like jungle? They’ve got the world’s biggest. You like mountains and caves? Yup, they’ve got those. Waterfalls? Tick. Deserts and dunes? Err… yes. Wildlife? Yah, plenty dat too. And of course, the football… many shed-loads of that! They do sport, they do fashion, they do science, they do arts, they build things, they party-hard and they’re the economic power-house of the region. Sure, they have few teeny political snags on the agenda at the moment (who hasn’t? 🙂 ) but overall, we’re looking forward to seeing Brazil (and those beaches!)

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Little Falls, Big Falls

Argentina has its finger stuck between Paraguay and Brazil. Yes, really! Look on the map… there’s long, narrow, finger-like, sticky-up bit in the far north-east of Argentina: Misiones province. We crossed into Argentina from Paraguay at the bottom of the finger and set a new northerly course through Misiones, up to Brazil.

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Paraguay

The Chaco… a chuffing big, flat plain stretching east from the Andes. Covering eastern Bolivia, north-east Argentina, a bit of south-west Brazil and much of Paraguay… it’s big. After the descent from the Bolivian altiplano, it’s a long, long, straight road reaching over 800km to Asuncion. We expect the Chaco to be hot. Turns out… our introduction to Paraguay is not just hot, but damned hot! And what’s Paraguay all about beyond the Chaco? Read on in the Paraguay blog…
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Bolivia: Celebrities and Wine

In the Andes at over 4,000m again… a bit of re-acclimatisation is required. We interrupted the sequence of our blogs slightly for our ‘Dakar Special’ when we had a tougher than expected challenge to catch the Rally in Bolivia. So now please humour our ‘time-warp’ as we step back in time to a few days before the Dakar: we’re leaving the beaches of Arica on New Year’s Day for a last bit of exploring in the Andes of northern Chile before crossing into Bolivia.

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The Dakar

No, we haven’t just upped-sticks and shipped to Africa, we’re in Bolivia for the world famous Dakar Rally 2017. After a load of security shenanigans in West Africa, the rally formerly known as ‘Paris-Dakar’ was shifted to South America where it’s affectionately known by locals as ‘El Dakar’. Here’s our attempt at finding over 400 bikes, quads, cars and trucks charging across the altiplano in 2017, together with our Top Tips if you’re contemplating a trip to see Dakar 2018.

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Not-so-silent night

It’s not every Christmas that we open our presents to the booming sound of Chile’s answer to Snoop-Doggy-Dog (or whatever the latest hip-hop chap is called these days) and to be honest, it wouldn’t be our first choice for 2016 either! Nevertheless, that’s what we get 🙂  But before we launch into the Christmas Story, there is the final instalment of the Tyre Story. Continue reading

Colca and Coast

It’s little visited, the south coast of Peru, which is a real shame. Back in September when we travelled up through southern Peru we took, like most travellers, the mountain route via Lake Titicaca and Cusco. Now south-bound, we’re loving the coastal route south of Nazca and on to Chile. Continue reading

Peru Two

Heading to the Dakar Rally?” we asked the friendly Brit biker at the Peruvian border, “Yeah… I’m competing” came the reply. Blimey. Impressed.com. We’re not quite, or even anywhere near, as brave as Lyndon, but we are keen to go and see what antics the competitors get up to on their way around the route. Our new claim to fame: we now know one of the Dakar riders who we can go to cheer on!

Peru by the back door

We’re now in Peru for the second time. This time we’re far inland from the coastal route that we took north-bound. Now we’re taking a small rough back-road through the mountains to a relatively little used border post at La Balsa. On this whole trip we have met very few Brits Continue reading

Exit Ecuador

A ‘rainy season’ usually brings ummm… rain. Except for Ecuador in 2016, that is. The 2016 ‘rainy season’ has so far not really materialised in these parts and it’s been conspicuously dry in the north-western Andes. Locals tell us that they have seen not a single drop throughout November. Regular Cuthbert readers may recall that we have just returned to Quito from an impromptu trip back to UK due to a family illness. During those three weeks we had the traditional British ration of copious precipitation, but now we are back in sunny Ecuador ready to hit the road with a fresh supply of Twiglets and Yorkshire Tea bags!

 

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The Big Turn Around

Flexibility… the key to overlanding! Way back in May we left Chile into Bolivia, then on to Brazil, back to Bolivia, then to Peru. Now here we are in Ecuador and we’re making a big turn-around, heading some 3,000 km back southwards. It’s not the most logical of routes, and if we ever had an approximate route in mind when we set off in South America this certainly wasn’t it! But we have a date with a tyre supplier… in Chile!
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Galapagos

I’ve seen enough boobies for today” Things you thought you’d never hear your husband say 🙂  But fair cop… these are the red and blue footed avian varieties of boobies, indigenous to the Galapagos Islands and we had indeed seen rather a lot of them on that particular day. By far the best way to see the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands is on a cruise and our friends Mark and Lindsey have flown out from UK to join us for one of the most exciting legs of our South American trip. It’s more than just a wee bit exciting, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here . For our flights to Galapagos we need to get to Quito. Let’s first pick-up in the Galapagos blog, where regular Cuthbert followers last saw us: leaving Peru and crossing into Ecuador…

Galapagos blog - Iguana

 

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