December 25, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Being an American Peace Corps Volunteer based in Suriname I have to admit straight off that my appreciation for French Guiana is a bit warped by Edith McClintock

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Suriname: Peace Corps Suriname: The Peace Corps in Suriname: December 25, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Being an American Peace Corps Volunteer based in Suriname I have to admit straight off that my appreciation for French Guiana is a bit warped by Edith McClintock

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Being an American Peace Corps Volunteer based in Suriname I have to admit straight off that my appreciation for French Guiana is a bit warped by Edith McClintock

Being an American Peace Corps Volunteer based in Suriname I have to admit straight off that my appreciation for French Guiana is a bit warped by Edith McClintock

Day 1: Amana Nature Reserve, French Guiana

by Edith McClintock, WWF Guianas

Being an American Peace Corps Volunteer based in Suriname I have to admit straight off that my appreciation for French Guiana is a bit warped.

It revolves around hot water, soft goat cheese, baguettes hot out of the oven, cheap – in price, not quality - red wines and the lovely roll of the French language – as opposed to Dutch, mind you. But most tourists, predominantly mainland French tourists, can get that at home. They come for the rivers, rainforest, Carnival and, of course, the sea turtles. We are traveling to French Guiana for the sea turtles, but I figure I can sneak in some goat cheese and baguettes along the way.

We set out early Sunday morning from Paramaribo, Suriname, where the WWF-Guianas regional office is based. We are heading first for Albina, where we will cross over to St. Laurent on the French Guiana side.

The bumpy 2½ hr drive from Paramaribo is not so bad if you are lucky enough to be traveling in a four-wheel drive truck with excellent shocks. It is a picturesque drive with jungle on both sides interspersed with Indonesian (known locally as Javanese) communities and, as we get farther out of town, small palm thatch-roofed Maroon settlements.

We arrive in Albina and are immediately swarmed by boatmen fighting each other to transport us across the river. We randomly pick a boatman, tell him our rate and within seconds our luggage is down the sloping riverbank and loaded on a small a long, thin, dugout canoe with a small outboard motor at the rear.

It only takes about ten minutes to cross the river and we glide into the pretty, and today quiet, town of St. Laurent. No one is waiting to pick us up so we sit down to wait, hoping the gathering storm clouds will hold off just a bit longer.

A young French woman named Clementine finally comes along in the battered WWF-Guyane truck, decorated with a scarlet ibis on the door and a giant panda on the front hood. She tells us that due to the heavy rains we can’t travel to the WWF sea turtle monitoring site by land as planned. The overland route is through a rice paddy, but is inaccessible due to heavy rains. And since there is a first communion celebration today in Awala-Yalimapo there are no boatmen to take us by ocean – we will have to wait until tomorrow.

From St. Laurent we head north to Awala-Yalimapo, two Carib Amerindian villages on the western edge of the Amana Nature Reserve, where we will now be spending the night. We had planned on coming back to Awala-Yalimapo tomorrow night anyway so we take the news in stride.

We finally arrive at the “new” WWF office in Awala-Yalimapo -- located off a dirt path just across the road from the beach. It is sparsely furnished with three old battered desks, laptops and a phone. You can tell these are field people – just the essentials. Laurent Kelle, the WWF Marine Turtle Program Coordinator in French Guiana, and his girlfriend Cristelle are there to welcome us.

Laurent and Cristelle take us back to the house they are taking care of for the summer. The house is open on three sides, with a thatch roof and a view of the palm scattered beach. In the distance across the mouth of the river you can see the Galibi Nature Reserve, on the Suriname side. It is fantastic. We set up our hammocks and mosquito nets in the back and head out for the first communion party, where it seems we can meet everyone involved with sea turtles in one concentrated spot.

We walk over to the party and are first introduced to Chief Daniel William of Yalimapo, a pioneer of sea turtle conservation in the area. He is the only local person who has been involved in sea turtle conservation in French Guiana since it started in the 1970s and currently sits on the board of Kululasi, a local Amerindian sea turtle conservation organization. He welcomes us, we settle in, and are immediately offered an assortment of food and drinks.

We finally climb into our hammocks around 11:00 pm and as I toss and turn to get comfortable I can still hear the blaring pop music from the endless party we left around 5:00 pm. Mosquitoes are buzzing in my ears and biting through the underside of my hammock, despite my net. Eventually I fall asleep knowing that in the distance is the soothing sound of the surf, which I am sure I will be able to hear as soon as the party ends.

Maartje, who later that night regales us with her many boat disaster stories, including actually losing a boat to a huge wave in Indonesia and having to swim ashore, shouts from the front of the boat not to take any risks. We are all concerned about the approaching darkness, but Raymond swears he can make it back to Awala-Yalimapo in the dark. He tells us he used to navigate boats along the ocean from Paramaribo to Galibi and French Guiana during the war, when the road to Albina wasn’t safe.

We make better time on the way back, but as we move into the inlet the waves loom up again. Or at least I can feel that they are there, I can’t actually see anything. It is completely dark with no moon, and clouds blanket the stars.

Once in the river, at Raymond’s request, I climb up on the front of the boat with a pathetic little headlight to watch for fishing nets and driftwood. A pretty hopeless task as I can only see a few feet ahead of me and will probably go plunging head first into the water before I can even yell a warning.

We finally make it back to shore, tired, wet and cold and hike to Neomi’s house to call Laurent. Well, at least I have a warm hammock, a shower and a cold beer to look forward to instead of a night hiking the beaches with a short break for sleep in a hard tent; although the chance to see a jaguar would have been exciting. I do offer to make another attempt the next day, but Maartje and Arnoud both have obligations in Galibi so we have to move on.

Day 3: Galibi Nature Reserve

by Edith McClintock, WWF Guianas

We cross directly over from Awala-Yalimapo to the Baboensanti Beach in the Galibi Nature Reserve, on the Suriname side of the Marowijne River. The Galibi Nature Reserve is more isolated than the French side -- you can’t drive your car up to the beach -- but it is still a popular tourist destination during the nesting season and has several buildings for Stinasu employees, volunteers and tourists.

Later that afternoon I hike up the beach to meet two Dutch volunteers, Barbara Boompaal and Lisette De Koning, who have come from Holland to work for a month on the beach with Stinasu. They are friends of a friend and I am interested to see how they are managing after two weeks on the beach. It is an hour hike from Baboensanti to their brand new one room outpost, which they share with a Stinasu Ranger.

Barbara tells me she used to work at WWF-NL and received an e-mail one day from Stinasu asking for volunteers to help count turtles during the season. She sent it off to two friends and Lisette e-mailed back, “Well, I am going, how about you?” Although they say they are having a good time, they thought it would be a bit more like “Expedition Robinson,” a TV show where 10 people are dropped on an island and have to learn to survive.

Instead, tourist boats from the village of Galibi come by every few nights and land right in front of their house and Barbara and Lisette are now acting as tour guides. Although it may not be as isolated as they thought, they have survived a run in with a rattlesnake and Lisette stepped on an anaconda, while walking the beach one night. But for the most part it is easy work, they tell me. They just walk the beaches each morning and count turtle tracks.

Yesterday they sat alone on the beach and watched a leatherback come out of the water, nest, and then head back to the ocean undisturbed. “It was amazing,” Lisette says, “like watching a birth.”

On the long walk back I come across a nesting leatherback with a huge hook in her flipper. I unsuccessfully try to pull the hook and look around wondering what to do. A Ranger walks towards me and offers to go get Maartje and Edo Groverse, from Biotopic, to pull the hook out. About twenty minutes later they come running up the beach and Edo quickly pulls out the hook with pliers, just as she is heading into the waves.

Walking back, Edo tells me about drifting longline fishing, which I have heard of but don’t really understand. He tells me the boats use up to 700 hooks with bait per long line to catch fish. Unfortunately, the hooks also attract and catch lots of turtles, many of which then drown.

Just after dinner, Andre Anuwaritja, the Stinasu tourism coordinator on the beach, calls us out to see a nest of green hatchlings emerging from the sand in the hatchery. The hatchery is used to relocate confiscated eggs from poachers. We run out and catch the last little heads emerging from the sand. They are half the size of my hand and look like plastic toys. But they have already overcome a major feat. It often takes three days for hatchlings to break open their shells and dig upwards.

Andre has already put most of the hatchlings in a bucket to take down to the ocean. We walk down and place them on the sand just out of the water and watch them crawl towards the surf. Several crawl away from the waves. Since baby turtles orient themselves towards the brightest light on the horizon, we shine a light closer to shore to help them on their way. A wave comes crashing in and they are gone.

Once in the water, they typically swim for several miles and then are caught up in seaweed or currents, which carry them for years. But even in the water there are a lot of dangers. Fish and sharks often hang around just off shore waiting for the tiny babies and only about one in a thousand will survive to adulthood.

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Suriname; Wildlife; Turtles



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