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Published: August 11th 2007
[youtube=GPiebsOhDVo]We felt giddy. Kinda High
. And there seemed to be no escape. We had never smoked so much second-hand marijuana in our lives. Saramacca street at 7:00 a.m. was no place for non-smokers to be but it was the bus stop for public transportation to Brownsberg Nature Reserve. Tante 'Wee Nah' had, the night before insisted that we take a taxi to the stop. We were prepared to make the 35-minute early-morning walk with very heavy backpacks - the cheapskates we were. She paid for it too and we pretended to resist the 'luxury'.
We had, for two days, been putting this trip together with the good and helpful people at STINASU (Suriname's Nature Foundation). The reserve had cabins and hammock camps. Guess which we chose?😊 The price per person per night was USD 11 with your own hammock and USD 15 without. We made a plea to the supervisor, Ms. Djojo, and she gave us the price with hammocks although we didn't have. Thanks Ms. Djojo and the STINASU team. Just before closing time we visited the Rainville Supermarket and bought supplies for our three-day adventure. Instant noodles, gatorade, tuna, bread, peanut butter, toilet paper and water amounted to
SRD 67 and to serious poundage for our bags. We were good to go.
A serious Maroon herded us into the bus which would leave first. He had the demeanour of an arrogant, efficient young soldier and his full military attire matched his mood. And he could have been a real soldier, you know, except that the worn-out red Ferrari loafers didn't quite seem army stock, even for Suriname. We sat here for an hour waiting for the bus to fill up and then we got out to stretch. Bobbing-and-weaving between puffs of smoke, we watched in amazement as the bus was packed way beyond manufacturer's weight limit. A spritely fellow jumped on top of the bus and packed bottles of fuel and bags of ration and tied them down under a tarp. The driver, a big, black, sweaty Maroon with a mouthful of gold, worn-out flip-flops and an infectious high-pitched laugh, squeezed into the front seat next to Shanna and started the bus. We rolled around the first corner and blew out a tire right in front of the tire shop
. The tire change took 36 minutes as we swapped one bald tire for another. It was a
good time to watch our ride. It looked crappy and overworked. Red sand and mud had caked the sides and windows and told us much about what we'd expect on the way. And it was not long after, about 25 minutes, that the paved road gave way to the horridest looking red sand track just past SURALCO. SURALCO was Suriname's aluminum company - and a big one it is. A billboard broadcast the lofty vision of the company: "To be the best company in the world". The backdrop for the billboard were huge chimneys spewing endless streams of black, ozone-depleting smoke into the atmosphere. We settled in for the long haul. Here we use the word 'settled' in a relative context since Steven drove the bus just as he did on the paved highway. The driver was no respecter of potholes. Every organ in our bodies rattled
as he properly abused the bus with such aggression that would make Mazda proud in a twisted sort of way. Manhandling the bus, Steve crisscrossed the road choosing the best of the worse of the road to ride on. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Shanna fell asleep. Well, to be
honest, so too did Vibert and everyone else except for this one junkie who smoked a joint undercover. 😱
We covered 120 km in 2 ½ hours and pulled up in Brownsweg. SRD 90 paid our fare and we sat under a big tree waiting for STINASU's bus to come and take us the other 13 km up the mountain to the Reserve. It was 12:25 p.m. The village was highly rural. It must have had a serious unemployment problem as many young, strong men sat under trees and in the nearby bars. Thankfully, the STINASU bus showed up shortly after. The drive up was as scary as it was scenic and after 30 minutes of dense forests and steep drop-offs we pulled into the parking lot of the Brownsberg
Nature Reserve. The moment we set foot on the ground, a blood-curdling roar
ripped thru the forest sending a flock of birds screaming into the sky. It sounded like a mad lion and a mighty rushing wind, all in one. We eased back into the bus not knowing what it was but knowing full well that whatever it was, it was NOT happy. Oddly, though, everyone else seemed relaxed.
Some even stroll off in the direction of the 'monster'. "What's that?", Shanna whispered to the driver. "Oh, just a baboon. Something musta disturb he", was the reply. Some welcome that was. It warranted a urgent toilet visit.
The 13,000-hectare Brownsberg Nature Park is managed and protected by STINASU. The whole area consists of tropical rainforest of several types. 'Koeyake'
- named for a colorful bird - would be our shelter. First order of business was to string our hammocks and then prepare lunch. We had hot, delicious, noodle soup and water. We ate on the patio overlooking a jaw-dropping, ocean-like expanse of water
which used to be a lively forest and homesteads. But when the demand for Suriname's aluminium boomed, so too did the demand for power to run SURALCO's plants. In 1964 the decision was taken to divert part of the Suriname River and flood several thousand acres of forests (1560 sq km). Villagers, who had for generations, occupied the lands under threat were removed to 'transmigrational villages' like Brownsweg. Millions of gallons of water poured in creating the Brokopondo Stuwmeer with an average dept of 15 meters(Brokopondo hydro-lake) and instantly eliminating generations of history
and tens of thousands of animals, plants and insects. At the time a rescue project was instituted called operation Gwamba. Gwamba is short for 'Tjali oe de Gwamba' which means 'feel sorry for the animal' in one of the local dialects and the operation reportedly saved over 10,000 animals. The dam itself is 1913 meters long (6276 feet) and 54 meters high(177 feet).Today, the bleached trunks of tall, leafless trees could be seen protruding above the waterline. It was too late, after eating, to stray too far from base camp as the thick canopy blocked most of the sun's rays causing the trails to get dark by 4:30 p.m. We wandered around on a short orientation trail (called 'Rondwandeling') listening to the songbirds, spotting the red backsides of curious agouti and watching powis and 'kami kami' feed. A chilly fog started to creep into camp driving us inside. We toasted bread in a pan and dropped a few pieces of orange peel in hot water for tea (we had forgotten the teabags). 😊
We awoke stiff, cold and miserable. The thick, biting fog was still there. 'Koeyake' had puddles inside from overnight rain. We packed up and moved over
to the empty, bigger and seemingly better-positioned 'Baboen' hammock shed. Half-thawed with orange-peel tea, we set out early on the trail to 'Witti Kreek' (white creek). The write-up had said that chances of spotting wildlife, including jaguars, were better. The 2.8 km trail dipped sharply from the start and we groaned knowing that it would be all downhill. 'Downhill' was not really the issue but it meant that we'd have to climb 450 m straight up again😞. Our steps were cushioned by fallen leaves wet from dew and rain. We stepped cautiously, Vibert in front, watching for snakes and other creepy-crawlies that love to hide in stake out. All around us were giant trees, some of them 35 m/100 feet talls and some of them with the biggest buttress roots we had ever seen. After about 40 mnutes or so, we heard a rustling in the trees. A family of baboons were screaming at and frolicking with each other. We sneaked up on them, or so we thought because when we peered thru the bushes to get a better look, we saw one of them peering right back at us😊. Then they all, with a cute baby to boot, showed
off some acrobatics as the headed higher into the foliage. Another group further up was engaged in dizzying, impossible leaps. In a bit of 'Monkey Fear Factor'
, they'd fearless launch themselves from one tree and 'fly' before grabbing a skinny branch of the other tree. In total, we saw 5 monkey groups, a few agoutis, 2 worm-sized baby snakes and a few birds. Unfortunately (and fortunately, we did not see any jaguars. Witti Kreek flowed fast, cool and fresh at the foot of the mountain. It had taken us 2½ hours because of the many stops. We followed the fairly narrow stream a few hundred feet and then 'tight treed' across on a fallen tree (couldn't be 'tight roped' - there was no 'rope'). The water was cold and chest-high at Bronsweg- Surinameits deepest. Vibert took 'one-for-the-team' and after admiring the pleasant surroundings, we began the ascent. Gatorade, and the desire to see 'Baboen camp' fuelled us and we made it back in 2 hours. Lunch, noodles (chowmein-/bami-style) with canned vegetables, leftover bread and water, was had overlooking the still waters of the hydro lake. We'd take on the trails leading to Leoval and Ireneval (waterfalls) next
. Again, it
was an immediate, steep descent to the first - Leoval. 25 minutes later, the sound of water told us that we were close and when we peered thru the trees we saw a tiny stream of water flowing down the mountainside. Deciding not to descend any further, we tried to take a picture from that vantage point. The camera died😞. It couldn't focus, it seemed, and the images were blurry. Apparently, the constant use had worn out the mechanism that extended and retracted the lenses. We were bummed out because were unable to capture and share the experiences.
We really do need another camera - an Olympus Stylus 710 or 720 (to fit our underwater housing we use for scuba diving pictures). If someone could donate one to us, we'd highly
appreciate it. Our budget is really, really tight and this expense would set us back a bit. The camera was bought in St. Maarten over two years ago. If you like to help us, you could send us a comment. Choose the email option, if you want confidentiality. Thanks, in advance.
With the camera on our phone, we snapped a quick shot of Leo Falls and started
on the other path which descended even further to Ireneval. The 2km descent was punishing. The trail became so steep in places that we slowed to a crawl and also slid downwards on our behinds. Makeshift stairs were cut into the mud in other places. It took another hour before we heard rushing water. Again, to avoid further punishment, we stopped as soon as we could see the falls. Just a little bigger than Leo, Irene fell in three small stages. We were 'peeved' - to put it mildly. First, we were at the foot of the mountain with a tremendously difficult climb ahead of us. Second, we weren't impressed at all. Don't get us wrong - these falls were in nice, little picturesque settings and would provide some 'wow' to people who hadn't seen water running down a mountainside before. Let's put it like this: it wasn't about the falls. It was us! We had been recently prejudiced. Images of Kaieteur and Orinduik falls in Guyana (see blog: Guyana: Kaieteur and Orinduik Falls - The New Standards). We chalked the experience up to good exercise and painfully limped up the mountain in rapidly fading light to the drumbeat of
approaching thunder and the pitter-patter of raindrops.
Early on the morning of the final day, we strolled to an outcropping of rock called Mazaronitop. This plateau had excellent panoramas over the Brownsweg community and the Brokopondo Lake. And in the stillness of the morning with an agouti nibbling nearby and the sun burning away the morning fog, we sat in quiet reflection. Brownsberg was awesome. We recommend it. Suriname was amazingly beautiful. And we were truly blessed and thrilled to be able to experience the 'finer things of life'. 😊
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