On the road again… To Regina this time. I drive. For those who might be familiar with Maui’s road to Hana, this road is a close contender.
One hairpin turn after the other. But it’s going pretty well, except for my passenger who seems ready to faint. Nevertheless we make it, park the car in front of the Gendarmerie (police) and get on the pirogue to Saut Athanase. We have to cover 40 km to get to destination, that is nearly two hours of pirogue on the l’Approuague river. The river is mirror smooth and reflective, a black-billedCoumarou flower toucan flies over, but apart from that lonely apparition, not much fauna to be observed. Then suddenly, Alfonso, our Brazilian pirogue driver warns of rapidly moving waters. Rare phenomenon, the river suddenly ascends to a higher level, two meters higher as if we had to go up a water staircase, step by bumpy step. In fact, it’s as we were climbing a cascade in reverse, negotiating rocky moguls. Nothing too threatening but enough to send us carefully jumping and zigzagging between stones. The pirogue driver has to know every stone and the depth of water to safely wend his way between them. Then it’s dead calm again, alternating with more variations in levels. Some of the basaltic rocks are blooming with feather-shaped pink flowers.
The scenery is indeed wild, untouched, spectacular, but the installations at Saut Athanase have suffered with time and the change of owner and we find them rather dilapidated. You can either sleep in a “carbet”: a shelter with a roof but no walls where you’re provided with a hammock or in a bungalow.
Well, things do change and we’re back in squalor: a torrid bungalow with no A/C, holes in the mosquito screens, a furry, none too clean bedspread, with wool pillowcases, no sheets and a door that doesn’t lock. It’s very much like summer camp for underprivileged children. But, hey, we’re accustomed to that stuff. We’ve seen worse. On a positive note, lunch with three French couples and the son of one of them, is delicious: rum punch, salad, smoked peccary stew and sugary sweet pineapple. Apparently, if you take a male banana bud, take away the blossoms inside and chop the outer layer, it will flavor the sauce you cook it with a smoky taste. I’m not so sure about that but worth a try. The French just left and we now have the run of the place. The camp at Saut Athanase is basically run by a father and son team: Manuel and Nathan, from the Karipuna tribe in the Oiapoque region in Brazil.
At 4:30pm, Manuel asks if we want to go fishing. I say “¿Perdon?” As usual, I’m distracted and I try to decipher his French sentence as if it were Spanish. It takes me a few seconds to readjust my mind to the proper language. “Fishing? Why not?” Back on the pirogue. It bites. I catch a pirai, a small silver fish with a patch the size and color of a lemon slice behind its gills. I feel sorry for it. I don’t like watching him agonize in the bottom of the pirogue. I beg Manuel to hit its head somehow and put an end to its misery, but we have no gloves, no appropriate tool and catching the fish by the tail to hit its head against the boat is tantamount to catching a wet bar of soap. Manuel catches two cumarus, large flat-bodied fish and a few smaller ones. I don’t like that. I pull in my fishing rod and, sitting on a life-jacket in the bottom of the pirogue, try to meditate the fish away. It seems to work. No more biting. I’m quite pleased with myself. Everything is perfectly peaceful, except for bird cries, parrots cawing and the whistling of… ocelots. Manuel explains that ocelots have the ability to imitate various bird and animal cries to attract their prey. Never knew that, how clever of them? A flight of parrots quickly goes overhead.
On the shores, the jungle is as dense and vividly green as moss. Occasionally, the high purple top of a “bois-vache” (cow-tree that gives a sweet milky sap) peeks through the foliage. An immense rainbow, neatly painted on the sky, widely straddles the horizon. Several times, we approach the shores, duck under the low hanging branches, lianas brushing against our faces, as Manuel hangs the smaller fish we caught as bait for larger catches. We’ll find out tomorrow if he’s had any luck. The sun is setting and crossing the rapids at dusk is a risky enterprise as you can barely see the rocks hidden a few inches under water or barely touching the surface. Hitting a rock might be fatal as the shores offer no refuge and passing the night on a rock is none too appealing. …….. We meet Nathan in the kitchen, it’s only the two of us, Nathan and his father. Nathan is cooking and we chat around our rum punches. Nathan is 25, already has three children, the first one fathered when he was only 13. He’s extremely bright, mature, knowledgeable and his fish couscous is to die for. Tomorrow, we are leaving with him for a two-and-a-half hour uphill hike to Crique Angèle, a hard to reach destination in the middle of the jungle, five hours away from all civilization.