Saturday, 11 January 2014

Kurungwai

Written on the 15th of September, this is an account of a weekend which was spent, like many others, simply exploring the boundaries of Chenapou, and finding that in almost every direction, those boundaries were much further away than we had imagined.

It's hard to know where to go in Chenapou. There are no signposts, no markers, to obvious paths. The trails through the forest are narrow and muddy, all very similar to each other, regardless of whether they lead to a big landing or just somebody's backyard. Ben and I followed a particularly muddy path yesterday afternoon, full of puddles following the morning's rain. It took us under towering trees with vines looping from their canopies, over trails of ants, past dense shrubs,  exotic looking flowers and alien looking insects. Only now and again did we pass any sign of human life; an abandoned farm, a small wooden house in a clearing, a man walking the trail with an axe in his hand. Most people we met were quiet, just giving a shy nod. But the odd one or two would stop for a chat, introduce themselves and crack a couple of jokes.

One such man was John. He had been working on his farm and was heading the opposite way to us, but he gave us directions a little further to the landing where we could cross to the other side of the Potaro. At the landing the river took a wide bend. We stood on the inside of that bend, looking across to the sandy beach and confluence with 'Chenapou Creek' on the other side. A few kids were playing at the beach. The sand on these beaches can be deadly soft, sucking your feet under and trying to steal your slippers (flip-flops).

After about five minutes the sounds of a motor began to grow louder, then all of a sudden a speedboat veered around the corner and collided into the bank. It was a 16 year boy we had met earlier in the day. He barely said a word as he ferried us across the river. It felt bizarre going so fast after a couple of weeks at walking pace.

Looking across to the creek mouth.
By the creek we explored the scattering of houses, waving hello to a few families who watched on curiously as we discovered the steep trails through the forest. Back at the beach an old man told us that we could cross the creek and walk along the trail- the same trail that eventually leads to Paramakatoi where two other volunteers live- and find some rapids. By the time we had ungracefully paddled across the creek and walked for ten minutes, we had acquired a young man named Joseph as our guide. He took us for an exciting round trip to the top of the rapids and back along the river bank, pointing out various plants and animals on the way.
Waiting for a boat.

At the top of the rapids the creek rejoined itself at the back of an island and ran over a series of smooth shapes of rock. Some protruded from the water, or were shallow enough for us to walk on without being swept away, so long as we stepped carefully in Joseph's footsteps to avoid the deep potholes in the rock. I was reminded of 'The Punch Bowl' at the Linn of Quoich in Scotland.


We scrambled, waded, fought our way through thick vegetation. Joseph explained that the rapids were named Kurungwai, after a boulder in the middle of the white water with white marks down the side of it. It is said that the marks came from the faeces of the Kurung, an eagle that sat atop the rock.

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