• close family • small boat • big world •

Riding the Suriname River

February 8, 2016

by Cash
At anchor, the Lagoon, St. Martin

Living on a boat, the only way we have to get to shore or to another boat is by dinghy. We have gotten used to this by now, and so it's not big deal for any one of us to drive the dinghy. But if we thought we had dinghy-handling skills, we were completely outdone by the boatmen of the Suriname River.

We stayed for a couple of days at a "resort" on the Suriname River in the depths of the Surinamese jungle. All along the river are villages. To get to the resort, we had to drive to a town on the Suriname River called Atjoni, which is very remote in itself. This town is three hours away from Domburg by car, driving down a long, empty highway.(Before they paved the road, this trip took eight hours.) From there, we took a local boat two and half hours up the river.

The pilots of these boats have to be very skilled to navigate the river. The river is generally very shallow in spots, and so they have to memorize an exact route through the river. In our case, they had to know the route through the river for the entire two and half hours. And the farthest villages are six hours away!

The driver knew how to wind through this minefield of
rocks without a scratch on the boat

The bowman's job was to use a pole to rotate the boat
in tight spots

We often came literally inches from  rocks as we sped past. In many cases, the river was so shallow that we couldn't
pass it with the engine down, but we couldn't drift through because we were going up-river. With perfect timing, the driver would gun the motor, lift it at the last second (rotate it on it's mount to pull the propeller out of the water) until the shallow spot had passed, put the engine back down, and keep driving as if nothing had happened.

Gun it...

...and then pull up the engine.

It was amazing how close we came to the rocks.

At times, the river was so shallow that the boat loaded with people couldn't make it past. In this case, we had to make a "portage", where the drivers would offload the passengers and some cargo and move the heavy items like propane tanks to the back of the boat. The drivers would move the lighter boat past the shallow spots and the passengers would walk along the river until it was deep enough for them to get back in.

Here's a video of our ride up the Suriname River:

The loading station at Atjoni
Our driver, Blanki. He lived in one of the villages and drove up and down the
river every day.

These boats are so long we couldn't get the entire thing to fit in the frame of the photo.

People loading into one of the boats at Atjoni
Makeshift anchor.
This boat was carrying a whole lot of beer. They kept getting stuck because they didn't want to offload the beer.
Dropping passengers off at a village
It was a looooong ride.
Back again in Atjoni. The return trip took less time because the tide was high and we did not need to portage.
No docks in Atjoni, so we had to walk across another boat to get to shore.