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Friday, August 22, 2014

Back on the Banana Boat or Mykel's Caribbean Blog Chapter 18

by Mykel Board

Nov, 2013

[Recap: From the start, it doesn't look good for this trip. Everything goes 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”... $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news early, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) Miami goes so smoothly you could cry. The only problem is a lot of rain-- heavy rain. The streets are rivers... waves in the pool. I get wet. Very wet.

Then to Trinidad, where my friends pick me up at the airport and take me drinkin'-- and more drinking. It doesn't rain so much in Trinidad.

Then to Guyana.

In Guyana, my facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! meet me at the airport. The two weeks of my stay in Guyana are adventure-filled, and beer-dulled. Most days, it rains. Sometimes for just an hour or two in the afternoon. Sometimes all day.

I don't get it Mykel,” says my pal Jamal. “This isn't the rainy season.”

Rainman,” I say.

He still doesn't get it.

The plan is to travel to Suriname with Keep Your Day Job! But, uh oh... a drummer problem. Two drummers agreed to tour with us. One, a close friend, the other, more PUNKROCK. They ditch the friend for the punkrocker. He bails at the last minute. The now former-friend doesn't answer emails. This cannot work out. We go to Suriname anyway-- drummerless. It works out.

In Suriname, I stay with Jose, a punkrock student and his super-generous parents. They cook for me every day. I'm the guest of honor. It rains a lot.

Then it's on to French Guyana, where 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 French Guiana from Suriname. The captain lets me choose my port of entry: “legal or backtrack?” I choose legal. At customs, I annoy the white immigration officers by asking for a passport stamp. It's raining.

My first days in French Guyana are distress free... unless you count the bottom paddling I get from my friends' spare bicycle. I have one of the best days of the entire trip: canoeing through the Amazon with Florian as my French guide. Chased by dogs, paddle-blistered hands, bitten by mosquitoes, stuck in the roots of swamp trees... it's wonderful.

The only thing better, I'm told, will be THE CARNIVAL... an all night festival my hosts and their friends have been working on for months.

It's the night of the big carnival... the party... the festival... what everyone's been waiting for. And it rains... pours... torrents of rain... non-stop. A field of dreams turned into mud. Ankle deep.... calf deep... knee deep... gooey... drenching mud. Soul destroying... depressing mud. My fine hosts have their plans dashed... and they've got a grumpy guest on top of it. It's embarrassing how bad I act after being treated so well. And it's coming to an end right now.]

Lucky thing too. I'm not often grumpy, but when I am.... loogout! The weather improves for my early morning trip to the ferry to Suriname. I check the guidebook to make sure I've got everything.

WARNING: All visitors to Suriname from French Guiana must have a ticket OUT of the country. A return ticket from another country is not valid.

SHIT! The only return ticket I have is my plane ticket from Guyana to Trinidad. That won't do at all. Ok, I have a plan: If I take the regularly scheduled ferry, I can buy a round-trip ticket and throw away the other half. It'll cramp my style a bit, because I can't take one of those cool banana boats... and it'll cost me some extra money. But it's a plan!

I arrive at the ferry terminal at 9AM. The ferry leaves at 12:30. Florian and Marie have to go to work... they drop me off early, and I wait. The terminal office isn't open yet. Outside is a wood booth-- sort of like a big police box... hexagonal... the inside about the size of my NYC apartment. Benches line the inside. On one of them lies a middle-aged man with very bad skin. On another, two men, both white... both jowly... sit, engaged in deep conversation... something about the nature of women. Most of their French I can't understand.

I take another bench, my bags on either side of me. I'm tired, worried about my offended hosts, worried about my lack of ticket out of Suriname, my clothes still wet from last night's fiasco at the carnival.

I slowly nod off... there is the sound of chains... a nightmare... cue the rotting corpses... rivers of blood... cue the vagina dentata ... no... It's not a dream. Eyes now open, a short white guy in green pants and a matching t-shirt (the Nigerian flag!) is pulling off the chains locking the ferry terminal. The others in my little wooden booth are gone. Picking up my pack and computer case, I climb down the few steps to the ground and walk into the ferry terminal.

A guard stands at the door between the concrete pier and the concrete immigration building. I flash my passport at him. He waves me past... into the ferry terminal. Through an outer yard into a waiting room. My fellow passenger on the banana boat sits next to me one on of the hard wood benches.

Before long, there are a few others: some women with a lot of packages, one turban-not-feather Indian man, who looks as tired as I am. There's also a very big, very black guy with a holstered gun. He is not sitting, but pacing up and down the room, like an expectant father.

Half of one wall of the room is a window into some kind of office. There are two desks with computer screens and lots of wooden in-boxes... most of them a filled with papers.

I check my watch. It's 10:00. Three and a half hours until the boat leaves. I read a Dutch novel about a guy whose son barbecued a homeless lady in a phone booth. Think about writing something. Look at my cellphone. (I don't have a watch.) Read some more. Think about writing some more. Read some. It's noon.

There is some new movement. In the office with the long window, a man enters. He wears what looks like an official uniform... all white with a black-brimmed red cap. I walk over to him.

C'est que vous parle Anglais?” I ask.

Yes,” he answers.

Can I buy ferry tickets from you?” I ask.

You can buy ferry tickets on the ferry,” he says. “You pay on the ferry. There are no tickets.”

No tickets on the ferry? That means no return tickets. That means no entry to Suriname. That means I can't get to Guyana. There are no direct flights from French Guyana to any of the other Guyanas. I'm stranded... fucked!

Ok, when the going gets tough, the wimps look for another way out.

I pick up my bags and head for the dock, leaving the ferry terminal. It's hot outside. Fucking hot. Hot like those days where the sweat collects along your back... forming little tributaries, rivulets that collect in a torrent... down your spine, over the coccyx, sliding through the gluteal crease to bathe in saltwater, that errant hemorrhoid.

International Trans-River Transportation
There! Next to the pier are a few of those banana boats... like the one I took here in the first place. Only one seems to be manned. A black guy in bright green shorts, wearing a yellow t-shirt (the colors of the Jamaican flag!)sits by the engine.

Vous voulez aller au Suriname?” I ask him.

Legal or backtrack?” he asks.

I consider. If I go the legal way, I may be denied entry, as I don't have a ticket out of the country. If I go the illegal way (backtrack), then I may have trouble LEAVING Suriname, because I won't have an entrance stamp. There are no banana boats to Guyana.

I make my decision.

Legal,” I say, figuring if they don't let me in, I can go back out and take the boat to some illegal port of entry.

Fifteen Euros,” he says. “Okay?”

Pourquoi parlez-vous avec moi en anglais?” I ask.

Because your French sucks,” he says.

I put my bags into the boat and climb over the freeboard... into the boat. The captain pulls a cord... like on a lawnmower motor... the engine starts. I can barely make out the Suriname entrance port on the other side of the Maroni River. That, however, is not where the captain heads his vessel.

We're off in the completely wrong direction. Right angles to the other shore... headed South when we should be headed West. This is a kidnapping... a ritual slaughter... a thrill kill. My floating body will wash up in on the Brazilian coast... my testicles will never be recovered.

I fall silent as the boat moves southward.

Moving closer to land... ahead is a bare rocky coast... looking like god piled up a bunch of boulders and let 'em slide... tumble one after the other... into the river. A man comes into view... climbing over the boulders toward the river... in one hand he has a briefcase. He's black... wears a blue suit and a white shirt with a bright red tie. (the colors of the Korean flag!) As the boat approaches, he waves to it with both hands over his head... a passenger in a sinking ship waving to a rescue plane... er... bad analogy.

The boat pulls up to the shore and the man climbs in with considerably more aplomb than I had. We're off again... this time in the right direction.

Before long, we've crossed the river and gotten out on the wide dock near Suriname customs. My new friend and I pay the captain, climb up the concrete pier and enter the customs and immigration area.

It's like a greenhouse surrounded by a small courtyard. There are benches in the courtyard, and an electric glass door that leads to the inner waiting room. We go through the glass door.

The room is freezing. The air conditioning is on with such force, I can see my breath. The sweat on my spine freezes to an icy sheen.

Next to me sits my friend from the boat. In a corner, a young woman presses an icepack to her jaw. Her face is bruised... swollen out of shape... There are welts on her arms. Somewhere, I bet, there's a man to report she “fell down the stairs.”

Slowly, she rocks back and forth, groaning. I try to concentrate on my book. It's hard to concentrate on burning homeless people with the blasting air conditioning and the bruised moaning woman.

I go outside. A man lies on a large metal container, sitting next to him... one arm over his body, a woman looks down at him. There is love in their eyes. When they hear me, they both turn and look at me. The love has left their eyes.

Too cold for you?” I ask.

The man nods and the couple return to their man-to-woman-to-man gazing.

Okay, it's getting too hot outside. I return to the refrigerated waiting room.

There is nobody new inside, except for a man in uniform speaking to the walloped woman.

Now, let me understand,” he says. “You entered French Guiana backtrack.”

She nods.

Then you were attacked in French Guiana, raped and beaten, your passport and money were stolen, and someone was nice enough to bring you back home by boat.”

She nods again.

Come with me,” he says.

The woman struggles trying to stand up. The uniformed man helps her to her feet. She stands and the two of them leave the refrigeration unit.

The man with the briefcase and I glance at each other. Both of us with raised eyebrows and a shrug.

Another uniformed man comes out and looks at our passports. He sends us to a window where a clerk stamps them ADMITTED TO SURINAME and the date. Yes! Back in the land of square coins!

Then, it's out the other side to figure out how to get from the terminal back to my friends in Paramaribo. It's not that difficult.

The rain starts.


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BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! In an ultimately useless effort to rid myself of apartment junk, I'm giving away CDs, cassettes, VHS videos and more. Just pay separate shipping and handling. (sorry US addresses only). The details are here. ]