Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pretty Poison & Watch out for the Slang!

Greetings All,
After our exciting expedition to Kasikasima, we returned to Palumeu.  We left early the following morning for a one-hour boat ride down the Tapanahony River to the trailhead for Poti Hill. Although not nearly as high as Kasikasima, the trek through primary forest was equally interesting.  We caught glimpses of Red Howler and Brown Capuchin monkeys and finally Marc was able to photograph a Screaming Piha!  They're not as impressive to look at as they are to listen to.


Screaming Piha

We reached the summit of Poti Hill and scanned the rainforest canopy below us for Crimson fruitcrows.  This scarlet-colored member of the Cotinga family has been sighted from Poti Hill but we were not fortunate to see it.  On the way back down, Henk spotted a tiny snake and we stopped to investigate.  It turned out to be a baby Fer-de-lance, one of the most venomous snakes in the neotropics!

Fer-de-lance

We photographed it from a safe distance before returning to our boat and Palumeu Jungle Lodge.  The following day we said goodbye to Henk, Michel and our expedition crew from Palumeu.  Without their hard work our climb up Kasikasima would not have been possible. A short 20-minute flight in the Caravan brought us to the Maroon Village of Kajana.  The Maroons are descendants from slaves that escaped from their cruel Dutch masters to the rainforest where they formed tribes and started a new life.  The Saramaccan Tribe lives in this area.  A 30-minute boat ride down the Gran Rio River brought us to Awarradam Jungle Lodge at the foot of Awarradam Rapids.

Capped Herons at Awarradam Rapids
 
The lodge employs Saramaccan Maroons and the wooden cabins with thatched roofs are built in the traditional Maroon style.  Our cooks were also Maroon and prepared our meals over a wood fire using mostly Surinamese ingredients.

One of the Cooks

The next morning we took a walk in the primary rainforest.  Much to my dismay it started to rain.  It's very difficult to find let alone photograph birds and animals in the forest when it's raining.  My mood brightened when we spotted many brilliantly colored Poison Dart Frogs on the jungle floor!  

Poison Dart Frog


Poison Dart Frog


The one good thing about the rain is that it does bring out these colorful frogs.  These amphibians are often called "dart frogs" due to the Amerindians' indigenous use of their toxic secretions to poison the tips of their blow-darts.  Many species are threatened and we were very happy to have finally encountered some.  We spent a relaxing afternoon at Peti Rapids just upriver from the lodge.


Peti Rapids

Another early morning walk in the rainforest yielded no birds or mammals but gave us the opportunity to observe some of the jungle's smaller inhabitants like this tortoise

Tortoise

and this Bird-eating Spider!

Bird-eating Spider

Considered to be one of the largest spiders in the world, the Goliath Bird-eater rarely preys on birds. They are nocturnal and this one had retreated to his burrow for the day.  Back at our cabin we could hear Hummingbirds across the river.  We went out to investigate and found a pair of beautiful male Crimson Topaz engaged in a squabble.   They are the second largest hummingbird in the world and the males are spectacular with iridescent crimson plumage and a sparkling green throat.

Male Crimson Topaz Hummingbirds

That afternoon we passed on the village visit in order to do another walk in the forest.  We were joined by Sedney, the lodge manager and Kaja, from the nearby village.  We walked through agrifields and secondary forest before entering the primary rainforest.  Suddenly, Kaja became very excited.  He didn't speak but used gestures and guttural noises to indicate the presence of monkeys. At first I thought he did this so as not to scare away the monkeys with human voices but when I saw Sedney using a form of sign language, I realized that Kaja was deaf.  He amazingly spotted three species of monkeys for us, the Guyanan Red Howler, Common Squirrel and Brown Capuchin.

Common Squirrel Monkey
 
We were told that most of the animals in this area had been hunted out so Sedney and Kaja were very excited to see them.  When Marc got a few good photos and showed them to Kaja he beamed with pride.  For us it was not about seeing the monkeys but in seeing Kaja and Sedney's reaction in finding them for us to photograph.  Maybe in some small way we were helping to convince the locals to spare a few animals for the tourists to enjoy.

Guyanan Red Howler Monkey

The next day we flew back to Paramaribo before transferring by mini van to the border town of Albina the next day.  Here is the map of Suriname again so you can get your bearings.

 
Suriname Map

At Albina we waited around for a couple of hours for a boat to take us down the Maroni River to the village of Christaankondre.  We were joined by a Dutch couple who were taking great care to waterproof their day packs.  Since we were not returning to Paramaribo we had ALL our belongings with us.  We asked the guide if our bags would be OK on the boat he replied "Yes, they will be under a tarp".  We waited for the previous occupants of the boat to disembark and for the crew to load the boat with more supplies apparently for a large group of Swedes that were going to the same lodge as us on a later boat.  Finally we were ready to board when our guide says "Wait a minute, let the schoolchildren get on first."  Schoolchildren, no one mentioned schoolchildren to us.  They piled into the boat along with all the supplies and left a front row seat for us.  The Dutch woman looked at me uncertainly and asked if the boat was safe with so many passengers.

Schoolchildren Boarding Our boat

We shrugged our shoulders and piled in.  A stiff wind was blowing and we were going against the waves.  Soon it became apparent why the kids jumped in the back and pulled the tarp covering our bags over their heads!  After just a few minutes, we were getting doused with every wave that hit the boat and our passports were in pouches around our necks!  We shouted "Stop, we want to go back!" "Back to Albina?" our guide replied.  "No, back in the boat." we answered.  We crawled over supplies and school kids to a bench in the middle of the boat and slipped under the tarp with the giggling school girls.  It was going to be a long hour and a half ride!  We couldn't see a thing as the boat rocked and rolled down the Maroni River towards its mouth with the Atlantic Ocean.  Somehow we made it and all our stuff remained relatively dry!

That night after dinner, we braved another boat ride to reach Galibi Nature Reserve to look for nesting Green Sea Turtles.  This time it only took 15 minutes, there were no school kids and we stayed dry.  No sooner had we arrived on the beach when our guide starting talking about a slang,  "Watch out for the slang!" he said.  It was dark (lights scare off nesting sea turtles) and we had to avoid a slang.  Our guide switched on my headlamp which he had borrowed and a water snake was lying on the beach.  "Oh, slang is Dutch for snake!" I exclaimed.  Out went the light and we quickly passed by the slang.

Watch out for the Slang!

Our boatman had found a Green Sea Turtle that was just covering up her eggs.  At this point in the nesting process, we could approach without disturbing her.

Nesting Green Sea Turtle

The second turtle we encountered was just coming ashore and unfortunately we did disturb her and she turned around and returned to the sea.  Tio, our guide said she would return in about 10 minutes. In the meantime, our boatman spotted a second snake.  This one looked like a baby anaconda to me.

Baby Anaconda

The green anaconda is the largest/heaviest and second longest snake in the world.  This baby has a lot of growing to do to reach up to 17 feet in length.  Our boatman had found a third Green Sea Turtle. She was still in the process of scooping out her nest chamber with her back flippers so we could not approach without disturbing her.  We waited about 20 minutes for her to start laying her eggs before going to the nest.  At this point the sea turtle goes into an "egg-laying trance" and you can approach her without interrupting the process.   She was in the process of laying around 85 ping-pong ball-sized eggs into a hole about 2 feet deep.  

Green Sea Turtle Laying Eggs

We watched in awe as she completed a process that has been going on for millions of years.  Today some species of sea turtles are threatened with extinction.  Poaching, getting trapped in fishing nets and loss of nesting beaches have taken a heavy toll.  It was good to see the villagers of Christaankondre protecting "their" sea turtles.  They realize there is money to be made from the tourists who come to see them nest.  What a fitting end to our fascinating visit to the tiny South American country of Suriname!

We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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