December 2, 2006
I woke up to a lot of commotion today. Chris was putting the new wooden boat into the water and filling it with the fuel that had been transferred in his Bedford. However, last night's rain had caused such a muddy situation that the Bedford got stuck in the mud of the boat launch. The miners had some fun trying to dig the truck out, but eventually a bulldozer showed up and rescued us.
With all of the fuel loaded into the boat, we took off with three of the other miners, who are locally known as "porkknockers." Back in the early twentieth century, silver miners were predominately Afro-Guyanese. The only food they would take with them on mining expeditions were large barrels of pork, which they would knock to let others know that it was time to eat. This tradition seems to be gone, but the nickname has stuck, and today "porkknocking" is the biggest industry in the interior of Guyana.
It was a long day of driving the boat upstream. After about an hour, we encountered a set of rapids. We all got out of the boat and walked next to it in the shallow water. The locals have feet made of leather, but mine are a lot more sensitive, so I spent most of my time trying to keep the pain level to a minimum. In the process, I broke off the rest of my toenail, which had been slowly withering away.
The next set of rapids were bigger than the first so we had to unload everything from the boat and walk it to the top. The boat driver tried to power upstream, but the little engine just wasn't strong enough to make it. We ended up having to pull the boat by hand to the top. It took all five of us, but eventually it made it.
Several hours later we were at the last set of rapids. I thought we were going to get all the way to the mining camp today, but our late start forced us to stop early. An area had been cleared next to the rapids, and a few minutes later, the porkknockers had a big tarp set up for everyone to sleep under. One of the miners named Smokey took off with the boat, and a little while later, returned with a big fish for us all to eat. Actually, he claimed that the one he caught was only small and the big one got away.
We went to bed in the tent under the protection of the tarp so the rain didn't affect us this time. Everyone has been extremely nice to us so far, but I can already see the destruction the mining has caused. The majority of the trip was through beautiful, untouched jungle, but whenever we passed a former mining camp, the entire area was cleared, and nothing was growing. Sitting on and carrying jugs of fuel all day has made me feel filthy, and I'm sure it's not good for the environment when the diesel slowly seeps into the ground. It seems that nature's best defense against mining so far has been the rapids. Having to pass through them took a lot of effort, and most of the potential bigger mining operations won't bother going this far up the river.
The photo album for this entry is here.