Jungley Bits

19 02 2009

suriname-10-mw

          “So why’s it called a rainforest?”  (Tapanahoni River, Suriname)

 

The jungles of Suriname are about as jungley as jungles get. Nearly 80% of the South American country is still rainforest covered, stretching from the mangroves of the Caribbean all the way to Brazil. This is serious Amazonian jungle interrupted by only the odd winding river and the occasional village. From above, it is a rolling carpet of green as far as the eye can see, but from ground level it is a dark and verdant world that prevents the eye from seeing very far at all.

 

To the uninitiated, it’s a hostile place of deadly snakes, poisonous insects and piranha-filled rivers where jaguars lurk behind every bush. Step in and you are completely disoriented and lost forever…unless you have a local guide and a little timeless knowledge.

 

We were staying in thatched huts along the Tapanahoni River deep in the interior. From the clearing around the huts, the jungle looked magical but intimidating. Certainly not the sort of place you would venture alone. For the local villagers, the jungle was everything from garden to hunting ground. One morning the men headed off armed with bows, arrows, spears and hunting dogs no larger than Jack Russells. They returned with a string of monkeys, wild pigs and satisfied smiles.

 

Leading us through the green curtain and into the rainforest beyond, one of the Arowak men led us down almost indistinguishable paths. Barefooted, he walked effortlessly while the rest of us struggled with fallen branches and clinging vines. Monkeys screamed overhead while our guide eyed them eagerly, clearly disappointed that he’d left his arrows at home.

 

We stopped at a small plant and were each handed a green leaf to chew. The extreme bitterness turned our mouths inside out and puckered our faces as though we’d swallowed working vacuum cleaners.

 

“For diarrhoea.” the guide explained while the rest of us wondered if the cure was worse than the ailment. Further along we tried cures for sore throats and fever, an antiseptic the colour of iodine and a clear fruit that became a dark ink when applied to our skin. It seemed that everything could be eaten or used and that the jungle was not only a grocery store but also a drug store…only without the loyalty points and express checkouts.

 

In a sun-dappled clearing created by a fallen tree, we sat on tree stumps and ate manioc and cold catfish using large green leaves as plates. Our guide grabbed a large vine perhaps two inches thick and withdrew his machete. Holding the bottom of the green cylinder, he gave it a mighty whack and removed a section with a diagonal cut. He held it up, tilted back his head and opened his mouth. Water began to trickle from the vine and into his mouth. He passed it around. The water was cool, fresh and sweet and certainly enough to relieve a thirst. With lunch over, our trek continued.

 

Our guide picked up a thick stick and banged the gigantic buttresses of an enormous tree, explaining that if ever we were lost in the rainforest, this was the best way to attract attention. The sound reverberated through the jungle.

 

Finally, we emerged back into the clearing by our huts. We stopped and squinted in the harsh light before gazing at the clear blue sky that we’d barely seen all day. We turned and looked back at the jungle. It was no longer intimidating or frightening: it was a wonderland of greens laced with shafts of light and colourful birds and stocked better than any corner store. Our guide waved farewell as he headed back to his village to collect his bow and arrow and return to try and find the monkeys.

 

 

Photograph and post by: Simon Vaughan

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