We are deeply immersed in the rainforest, enclosed in an intricate labyrinth of meandering sinuous rivulets. Wilderness stretches in all directions, seemingly endless. Our surroundings reduced in their expanse and visual variety, and yet abounding and teeming with life. Seemingly endless on the one hand and closed in and private on the other: our vista is bounded by the thick forest of the river banks and by the silty water, but our eyes are free to travel along the waterway and up into the sky. Clouds emerging over the trees and disappearing from our view again hold promise of an entire world out there. Nature’s encompassing sound, scent and vision envelope our sail boat, our home taken right into the middle of the rainforest and out of its ordinary domain, the ocean.
What a place to pause, to be still and quiet, take a breath, and another one, regain our balance. Although the atmosphere is dense with rainforest sounds, there is a soothing serenity and tranquility to it that only nature offers. My mind slows down, stops bouncing perpetually from one thought to another. The unceasing chatter inside subsides and gives way to silence.
A gentle breeze wafts through the rigging, the loose ends of the furled headsail’s foot and leech lines flutter in the airflow, the mainsail bag is softly shivering. The forest is breathing in the breeze. The tall crowns of the trees sway back and forth, their branches with their heavy load of leaves swing, their foliage rustles in response to being fondled by the tender wind’s touch. The breeze kisses our faces, gently strokes our skin, brings a welcome cool on a humid warm morning.
Twoflower sways gently to her anchor from side to side in the ever-weakening ebb stream, now subject to the wind’s play rather than the stream’s strict command. We are anchored in a narrow creek of the Amazonian river system, where we spent the night amidst a dark forest bristling with life after passing a day exploring side arms of the Maroni river.
Slowly navigating those narrow streams by boat is spectacular — in a placid and peaceful sense. The rainforest is a secretive place that does not give away all its wonders in an obvious and spectacular way, but needs paying attention, slowing down, being still and quiet, looking, hearing, smelling. Simply being there. It pays to stay concentrated while looking around, to watch closely, be full of wonder and prospective excitement, open for what there might be. There is not a spectacle and prismatic kaleidoscope of colours, mightily impressive big game, flocks of polychrome macaws and toucans flying across or groups of caiman chasing and killing big prey. No, it’s a unpretentious adventure, needing attention to detail and appreciation of the small wonders.
We entered the river just after low tide yesterday and cruised the narrow jungle rivers with only a boat length or less on each side. Within the rivers, the stream has often carved channels that carry deeper water along one of the banks, allowing us to get very close to the foliage, to take a peek into the world under the forest’s lifted skirts, that world in-between the tides, half water, half land. Illuminated by the sun here, in deep shadows over there. Herons, blue ibis, and white egrets stalk in the muddy sediment underneath the maze of roots searching for their prey, looking attentive and thoughtful as if considering their life and the meaning of it all while going about their daily business.
Both the rainforest and the waterways lead secretive and private lives; we only see the first layer of foliage, and the surface of the river. The water takes on a brownish-green colouring from the Amazonian soil and clay suspended in the water, opaque, not unlike cafe latte. We heard tales of caimans lying in wait and piranhas hunting in the murky water for their prey, electric eels going about their business below the surface. We cannot see beyond the surface, penetrate into their world. Our gazes reside on the boundary, we stay on the periphery, at the frontier between air and water, between the open space of the river and the thicket of the forest. An entire universe under our keel, another one beyond the green façade of vegetation.
The surface of these little creeks away from the wide rivers are so calm that even the smallest turbulences become apparent. Back-eddies curl around the river bank, dotted with differently tinted leaves, pollen, and little blossoms that swirl in those vortices. The flow is disturbed by a mangrove root, a branch hanging down and touching the surface, causing long v-shaped pattern swirling downstream. Large granite boulders litter the ground of the river, force the water out of its path. Given away by turbulent upwellings, eddies and underwater obstacles we see traces of their existence, can fathom and imagine the underwater landscape. Petals and dust are blown in streaks in wider parts of the river where a gentle breeze blows midstream.
A multicoloured flock of white egrets and blue ibis, seemingly engaged in a game of scare and dare with us, guided us along the river yesterday. Whenever we came close they would set off, onwards, onwards. One by one, some more daring than others and waiting for the last moment, would glide gracefully ahead of us to the next dry tree protruding from the forest’s dense foliage, offering a panoramic perch suspended over the water. They did not seem to tire of their play until we settled down for the evening.
There is a slight pervasive mist and dampness hanging over the place. Shadows of cumulus clouds, the trade wind’s companions, race over the water as the wind drives them along like an inexhaustible flock of sheep. Bright sunlight alternates with deep shadows and paints a lively picture on the muddy coffee-coloured water. It’s getting towards low tide again and the mangroves’ roots are showing under the dense thicket of the leaves above them. As if the forest has lifted its skirts once more and allows a glimpse into a world that is submerged half the time.
A large black butterfly, its wings’ veins marbled in turquoise and white, crosses our boat, followed by a second one in its wake further down the river. They play the wind, ferry-glide across the current. Another butterfly of a yellow reminiscent of a ripe mango is making across the bows and I watch it as it traverses the river. Just above the water surface, fluttering like an ‘epileptic handkerchief’ (Duncan) in the breeze. Such majestic wings for their petite body, one would think they are at the wind’s mercy, but no. Despite their diminutive weight they play and ride the wind’s current.
To our starboard the jungle’s cloak shows dark green and silver with the sun behind it. The forest looks more forbidding — almost sinister, less inviting and enticing than on the other side where the sun brightly illuminates the abundant growth, makes it glow in a thousand hues of dazzling green as far as the eye can reach.
Sounds echo through the forest, and dripping noises turn into reverberating and unlikely effects. Stunning, captivating, not seeming quite real. Bird song, insect sounds, and animal cries carry across the river from either side. A cacophony of sounds, particularly after dark. We haven’t heard any howler monkeys so far, but hope to do so in Suriname. Their calls are meant to carry as far as 3 miles, and having had fun with the echos here in the river and the rainforest I believe it right way.
We turned out a large mosquito net last night to cover the cockpit, and lay listening to the surreal soundscape. With a little camping light illuminating the cockpit during dinner we found it hard to tell where we were — the world beyond the mosquito net was utterly dark. The telltales of the jungle were sounds and a little breeze bringing scents of the close woodlands. Ambassadors of the jungle, reminding us of the unlikely surroundings we were in, came in the form of a multitude of insects. Amongst those drawn to the lit-up net tent were flying ants crawling along the folds of the fabric, trying to find a way to that mesmerising light. A firefly twinkling its green light while climbing the bimini frames. It was impressively big, its body probably about as long as the first section of an adult’s finger and rather chunky. It lost interest as soon as we extinguished the light.
Once we stop and focus, pay our full attention, we can see the passing of time so clearly in nature’s play of elements. We see it in the clouds that now race across the sky, now linger a bit. The ocean’s breath — the inhaling and exhaling of the tides flowing in and out of the estuary. Old leaves with golden hues gently falling, circling, touching the water surface, carried away by the stream, while new leaves are showing in bright green colours on the branches. The light changing from a soft, warm, yellowish glow to a cold sharp midday brilliance.
After times of intense focus, preparing the boat to cross the Atlantic for the past two years, being at sea for extended periods, sometimes weeks at a time, always caring for the boat, such times of intermittent renewal feel particularly precious.