Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Past Adventures: The French Amazon

Photo © Remi Benali

Photo © Remi Benali

Journey in the land with no name

Heralded as the “King River of French Guiana”, the Maroni courses through a land of adventure. Secret African traditions, gold mining fever and the struggle to survive, all simmer underneath the canopy of the emerald Amazon and an illusory French flag. The law of the forest prevails in this unknown wilderness.

The widow is laughing. The brightly colored pom-poms of her traditional dress swing from side to side as she dances, hand in hand with the women of Galibi. Their faces are tattooed in cat-like lines for this occasion, a chagrin commemorating the one-year anniversary of the passing of her husband, a shaman. Groups of men gaze laconically at the dancers, immobilized by the stultifying heat and the force of the cashiri, a beer made from fermented manioc root. Two young men never stop rotating around the group, offering bowls of the brew, muddy-pink and smelling of vomit, and we are not allowed to refuse. The rhythm pounded on a row of jaguar skin drums bounces like a heartbeat. The dancers begin to call out to the Amerindian ancestors that their village is named after, "Come dance with us, be happy with us…" Their chant ripples through this hamlet in Suriname, down to the coast of the great Maroni River. Across its divide, a passing thunderstorm rages over French Guiana.

Photo © Remi Benali

Photo © Remi Benali

Remi has been encouraging me for awhile to occasionally open up beyond Provence and share some of our past adventures with you. Above is the opening of an article that I wrote for the French travel magazine Grands Reportages along with a few of Remi's amazing photographs--for more, please feel free to visit his website: www.remibenali.com. As I was working on re-editing it this morning, it seemed the time to jump in. I am including a few of my souvenir photos (that are glued into an album so my apologies for the quality) as well.

Our voyage in French Guiana was perhaps the most physically trying that we experienced. Our pirogue, or motorized canoe, was expertly manned by a captain and his assistant over deathly rapids and across shallow sands but we were left open to the elements, most especially a brutal Equatorial sun, for hours upon hours. We waded across a chest high creek while thoughts of pirañas made my heart race. At night we slept in hammocks to protect us from insects and yet one morning I nearly stepped on a mygale, one of the world's largest spiders, the size of a dinner plate. One afternoon Remi and I clung back to back, splitting the seat on a quad as it bumped through the jungle for an hour and a half to arrive at a land-scraped gold mine.

And yet I am so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the Amazon. There is a precious beauty there that is the breathing belly of the world. I remember one evening as we turned a corner on the river just as the sun was setting to see orange and red fireflies that were enormous, fire-working across the sky. Emerald parrots streaking and shrieking. Exceptional.

So from time to time I might talk of our previous stories. I miss travelling so. But life gave me a surprise in that it happened in the first place, so who knows? Perhaps it will bring our travelling back to us as well.


  1. Wow. The photos are stunning! Between the amazing shots and your description, I feel like I was right there. Well, minus the discomfort. :)

  2. WOW - sounds like an amazing adventure. I'm not sure I am hearty enough to undertake such an arduous journey. Remi's photos are amazing - I will have to pop over there later!

  3. love all of these photos :)great read
    nice blog:)

    hope you can come by and check out my blog on:

  4. Wow, what an amazing adventure! If they could just get rid of the bugs, I may even be tempted to visit one day!


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