by Mykel Board
Nov 15, 2013- Nov. 23, 2013
[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... always a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster like everything going right.
Easy subletter in New York, smooth flight to Miami, promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport” for the whole trip. $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.
Uh oh! Too good. The better the news before, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem was a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets were rivers. There were waves in the pool. I got wet. Very wet.
Then on to North Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me around drinkin'. Then, I move South to San Fernando T'dad... have some fun adventures, meet a Goddess... er... Empress... of a girl. Go back to the airport and fly to Guyana.
In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's. This is the only time I have to pay for a place to sleep: 15 days for $150US. Not bad. No, it doesn't go perfectly. But it goes, and I meet some great people in the country. My trip to Kaiteur Falls in the jungle is literally (741 feet) a high point.
The two weeks of my stay in Guyana were adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rained. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.
“I don't get it Mykel,” Jamal tells me. “This isn't the rainy season.”
The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! I'll be a roadie! Mykel tours with a band... again. Yowsah! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. (A drummer problem? Hard to imagine, huh?) Two drummers had agreed to tour with them. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. (A punkrocker bailing? Hard to imagine, huh?) The now former-friend does not answer emails. I cannot play drums. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway. It works out.
In Suriname, I stay with a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I mention a local synagogue; they arrange a tour. I mention a trip to “the interior,” bang, we're there... surveying monkey meat. When dad can't do it, they get the poor son, Jose, to chauffeur me around; as if he doesn't have enough with schoolwork and his own band, ADHD. I can see he hopes for rain... It's an excuse to stay home. Often, there is rain.
Then it's on to French Guyana. There, the brother of one of my top ten pals, Simon, lives with his girlfriend Marie. His name is Florian
I take a small boat across the river that separates F.G. from Suriname. The captain lets me choose “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. Once landed at immigration, I annoy the white immigration officer by asking for a passport stamp. They give it to me and hustle me away. I'm as hungry as shit and don't know where I am.
What happens? My hostess Marie meets me on the road, helps me negotiate a ride with a French Guianan truck driver, and gets me to her place. Smooth as a baby's ass. The first morning is a crepe breakfast. Then a dip in the pool, then I donno. Everything is spot on... except that it's raining.
My first days in French Guyana are fun-filled, and distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I got from my friends' spare bicycle. It's now the eve of the big canoe trip. Through the Amazon swamp... just me and Florian.]
Here's a map of our canoe trip through the most dangerous swamp in South America? Check this out:
The night before the trip, I peruse the internet.
Ah, here's a story about The Toothpick Fish found in the freshwater areas around the Amazon. It's not really a fish, but an... er... interesting parasite.
|The Toothpick Fish|
It likes to swim up human urethras and lodge itself inside. Using the tooth-like suckers, it fixes itself deep in the flesh tube. Getting rid of it requires a delicate and painful operation. I don't think I'll be going into the water, thanks.
That night, I try to fall asleep. Thoughts of the Toothpick Fish keep me awake... as does the reality of continually barking dogs. They're a fixture in the Caribbean. Night is when the dogs bark. Vicious sounding to me, to the natives, I guess, it's the smooth hum of protection. Like police sirens in Manhattan.
Somehow it becomes morning.
A rooster does not crow. If it did, that's when we'd be getting up. Dawn has not cracked... but only slivered over the horizon.
“Are you ready for the trip?” calls Florian from downstairs.
“Msasdfsdta,” I answer.
“Don't forget your bathing suit,” he yells up at me. “Unless you want to go naked.”
“I don't think I'll be getting into the water,” I yell back at him.
Quickly, I dress and head downstairs to the garage where the boat awaits. Florian is preparing for the trip. He has a large plastic jar... like a giant pickle jar-- except it's white.
“We can keep clothes in here... when we go swimming,” he says.
“I don't think I'll be going in the water,” I tell him again. “It's not that my urethra is so special. But it's the only one I have.”
He doesn't get it.
“Well,” he continues, “we'll need the bucket to keep shoes in... and it'll float in case the boat tips over.”
“The boat might tip over?” I ask, feeling a sudden tightness between my legs.
Reaching upwards to a shelf I haven't seen, he grabs something about as big as my forearm. It's a machete.
Why didn't I think of that? Bring a machete on a trip in an inflatable boat. Of course. Go into the jungle... bring a machete... it's an axiom.
AND... the boat is not ALL inflatable. The bottom is some plastic material, heavy as steel. Can this thing float? And how far do we have to skid it to get it to the swamp?
“We don't skid it, Mykel,” says Florian. “We carry it.”
“Carry it?” I ask. “It's like... like... like a boat. How do you carry a boat?”
“You just lift it over your head, and walk,” answers Florian. “No problem. Maybe I should take the front.”
Being more of a pitcher than a catcher, I nod in my assent to bring up the rear.
The sun is just rising over the horizon.
With the boat resting on 4 hands and two heads, we head to where the swamp meets the land. It is not close.
In fact, to get there, we have to pass a fenced-in yard-- home to the dogs of last night. There they are, half climbing the fence, snarling, barking, drooling saliva. I've never been so grateful for a padlock. I just hope it holds.
One of the dogs wears a plastic medical collar. It looks like a lampshade. The collar-- not the dog. Dogs wear them around their necks, so they don't bite at stitched-up wounds. From the looks of this mean German Shepard, I'd hate to see the other dog.
“Can we rest?” I ask, as soon as the dogs are safely behind us. “My head hurts and my pants are slipping down.
“Mykel,” says Florian, “we haven't been gone five minutes. If we rest every five minutes we'll never reach the water.”
We rest.... then pick up the boat again.
Days pass. Weeks. Months. By now the sun is almost a complete disk... low in the sky.
“Around that bend,” says Florian. “We're almost there... but wait! Stop!”
He nearly drops his end of the boat. I put mine down.
“Look,” he shouts, pointing among the trees.
“What is it?” I ask. “An anaconda?”
He runs into the jungle and comes back holding... a coconut.
He brings it to our path, jumps into the boat and retrieves the machete.
BLAO! He smashes the machete into the coconut. Not much of a dent there. BLAO again. Still nothing. BLAO! BLAO! BLAO! The coconut gives... like a head in a horror movie. We share the sweet whiteness.
“Is that what you brought the machete for?” I ask.
“Sure,” he says. “That and... well...”
He keeps me hanging.
“To take care of any... unforeseen problems.” Even with his cute French accent unforeseen problems does not sound sexy.
But we've reached the shore. The time has come. We need to take off our shoes (my boots, of course), stow them in the plastic pickle jar, and shove off to adventures in the swamp.
“We'll push the boat to the edge of the water,” he explains. “Then I'll get in front. You can enter the rear.”
Usually that's a phrase I love to hear, but now I'm not so sure.
Here is the boat at the edge of the swamp. Ready to be launched... with us... into the jungle.
And we're off.... one oar each... into the swamp, twisting around the trees. It's another world... silent... neither barking dogs nor copcar sirens... just the sound of the two paddles...SPLASHSPLASH... SPLASHSPLASH...SPLASHSPLASH... Florian's in front and mine in back... slowly getting the rhythm... moving together... through trees... like a maze... dead end... moving again...
It's like nothing I've ever seen before. Just beautiful... in a scary jungle sort of way. It doesn't look like movie pictures of jungle swamps... it doesn't look real... or pretend real... or... well, take a look and then imagine this EVERYWHERE!
Suddenly, there's a tree directly across the route ahead... no way around it... we're blocked... trapped... we'll die here.
(Note: it does not occur to me that if we're blocked on three sides we can always go back the way we came. Ahead seems the only way to go.)
“What're we going to do now?” I whine.
“We get out of the boat, stand on that tree and lift it over,” he says.
“What if I... er... we... fall in the water while we're lifting?” I ask.
“We'll get wet,” he says.
Florian crawls out of the canoe, putting one bare foot on the visible part of a tree root. I put one foot on the canoe edge to join him. The boat tips dangerously.
“Mykel,” says Florian, “maybe you'd better stay in the boat. You can help by using an oar to push us over the log. I'll lift and pull from this side. You push.”
I kneel in the boat and push the oar down on the log, lifting us as much as possible. Florian grabs the front and pulls. We move forward an inch... another... a couple inches... and then SPLURSH! We're free and on the other side. Florian gets back in the boat.
More paddling... more trees... the squawk of birds I can't see... a few of those insects that dance on the surface of water... we've moved to a wider space. A dead tree branch pokes up through the scummy water, like a drowning man's hand. Florian stops the boat.
He begins to undress.
A joke flashes through my head:
Q. Why is Budweiser like sex in a canoe?
A. Because it's fucking close to water.
Now, I like Florian... and he's not bad looking... BUT! I didn't bring condoms... and it's a canoe! Don't rock the boat, baby. We'll end up in the water with BOTH our urethras exposed to the first toothpick fish that comes along!
“Look,” I tell him, “I'm not going to ask about you and your girlfriend. That's none of my business. But, this boat is just kind of rocky, and...”
SPLASH! He's over the side. In the water... under the water... swimming around like there's no tomorrow... or toothpick fish. His head appears... disappears... bobs like a duck decoy...
“Mykel!” he shouts, “Come on in. It's cool and nicer than the swimming pool.”
“Thanks,” I shout back. “You enjoy yourself. I'll just stay here with the oar and beat away the anacondas.”
His laugh fades as he dives under the water again. After some time, he hooks his hands around the edge of the boat and pulls himself back into it.
Shaking his head like a wet dog, he tsks me.
“Mykel,” he says. “That was great. You should have come in... enjoyed it a bit.”
I wait for him to grab his crotch in pain. He doesn't.
From the swim stop we paddle onward. Florian in front. Me in back. A blister nudges itself out on my paddle hand... between my thumb and forefinger. I keep going... enjoying the pain... like muscle pain after a day at the gym. It says: I DID SOMETHING.
After a half hour, I decide to be more adventurous.
“Let me lead,” I say. “You've been in front the whole time. Let me steer for once.”
Florian shrugs and crawls to the back of the boat. I crawl ahead and take the paddle to start off. It's at this point that it occurs to me I don't know where I'm going.
I start paddling, pretending like I know what I'm doing.
“Always right! Always right!” shouts Florian from behind me.
Now I have a problem. Does he mean:
A. I should always bear right to keep to the path that I hope he knows.
B. I'm doing a good job and I'm ALWAYS choosing the RIGHT path.
C. He's translating from the French where tout droit word-for-word means “always right” but actually means STRAIGHT AHEAD.
PLAUW! It doesn't matter. The boat is caught among tree roots. We can go neither right nor straight ahead, and my rowing is certainly NOT always right.
Florian, ever the hero, now plays Tarzan. He swings out of the boat on a low-hanging vine. Dropping onto the tangled roots, he uses his hands and feet to free us from the entanglement. I make a feeble gesture of help. Sure, I'll climb out of the boat too. Is there anything I can do... not that I'd know what I was doing... and besides you need me to keep the boat from running off... use my paddle, right?
“Mykel,” he says, reading my mind, “you can stay in the boat.”
Florian lowers his ass onto the tree roots, gripping the roots with his hands, he pushes both feet against the side of the boat and pushes. I put my oar between his feet and push against the tangle. The boat rocks, tips, budges... just budges. Florian brings his ass closer to his heels. Pushes again. I again press the oar against the tangled roots, shaking us slightly. An inch, another... we're free. Florian climbs back in the boat. He takes the front again. So much for my captainship.
As with most stories, the pain and the folly make for better reading. The silent scenery, the birds, the insects I've never seen before, the serenity, the escape from the swamp to the giant river that separates French Guyana from Suriname. These peak experiences... they are the joy of the trip. Good visuals, but bad copy.
Click on the small picture below for more trip photos.
By now you've guessed that the head-hunters and tchotchka salesmen are bogus. Anaconda, lost in the jungle, sold into slavery. Yep, that too. The blister is real.
In fact, that trip is the zenith of my stay in French Guiana. One of the peaks of the entire Guyanese adventure... a beautiful day under beautiful sky. It doesn't even rain!
If the sights of that trip were built into a human... and the joy of that adventure were transformed into the erotic... I'd have a 6 hour erection.
And Florian, in all this, manages to get us back where we started.
PROBLEM: how are we going to get the canoe home? I'm luxuriously tired. It's been one of the most beautiful days of my journey, but now the hand blister and the long march back to Florian's house... I'll die.
Up goes the canoe. On our heads, wobbly, pressing against my blistered... er... (I don't know what they call that space... that stretched skin area between thumb and forefinger... where you're supposed to press to get rid of a headache... medical comments are welcome.)
Florian walks. I stagger, barely holding up the rear. Through the path from the swamp to Florian's house. Past the cocoanut grove. Over the dusty path.
The evil dogs bark in the distance. Somehow they seem not so distant. There they are, on the path... ahead of us. Circling like bloodhounds closing in on Jack the Ripper. Snarling... woofing... yapping... stirring up the dust... getting closer.
There's the one with the plastic collar. The meanest of the bunch... headed right toward me... his teeth thigh level... upper thigh. He attacks... open mouthed... canines bared for action. Pounce! The plastic collar hit's my leg... I stumble under the weight of the boat. BUT, that collar saves my ass... or at least my leg. It's just enough to keep those teeth from grabbing. Just enough to keep me from being Purina for this Rin Tin Tin... I'm halfway to breathing relief, when another dog appears. This one without a plastic collar.
“A bas! A bas!” comes a voice. A pretty French woman walks behind the dog and grabs it by the neckfolds.
“Je suis désolé,” she says, pulling the dogs away from us and safely locking them behind the fence.
We set the canoe down. Florian and the woman talk a bit. He introduces me. The woman shakes my blister. She's got a macho grip.
After some conversation-- a welcome rest-- we bid her adieu and pick up the boat again, and somehow make it home.
I go to bed, sleep well, deep... unbothered by the sound of barking dogs.
Are we done with our trip to French Guiana? You bet your urethra we're not.
How 'bout a lesson in Nenge Tongo? A mudbath carnival? A jailcell where Papillion languished, carving his penname into the concrete? A Hmong village? A marketplace with fruit that looks like body parts?
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Finally, in an ultimately useless effort to rid myself of apartment junk, I'm giving away CDs, cassettes, VHS videos and more. Just pay postage (sorry US addresses only). The offer is here. ]