Richard Bangs: Journey through Suriname
Why did you choose Suriname as the destination for your journey?
I read a piece recently about how bucket list destinations don’t live up to the hype (or the seductive brochure images) because they are so over-visited as to kill the goose that laid the golden egg of unique attraction in the first place. Suriname is a sort of anti-bucket list…it’s on nobody’s list, and that’s why I’m enticed.
There are no pyramids, ancient temples, epic canyons, iconic mountains, or even Copacabana-style beaches. But, it has some of the most remote, ancient, and pristine wilderness on Earth, a rainforest that is furiously rich, diverse and protected in perpetuity.
The smallest independent country on the South American continent is a hot pot of cultures and religions, with Hindustani, Creole, Javanese, Chinese, Lebanese, Colombians, Brazilians, Dutch, Amerindians, and tribes of Maroons.
No cruise ships on the inland waters here. The rivers, which host piranhas and anacondas, are explored in handmade canoes. Above, several species of monkey scuttle through the branches, shared with toucans, macaws, parrots and 400 other species.
The artists and weavers in the West African style-villages make art for themselves, not for the mobile rich. The word “authentic” is bandied about in tourist collateral, but rarely has meaning….it does here.
Best of all, there are few tourists, and the place seems far from the rest of the world, a land that feels like earth’s first morning. That’s why I want to wake-up in Suriname, and smell the orchids, eat a wild banana, and bathe in the pure, pure mist of an untouched tropic waterfall.
What do you hope that people who travel with you, gain
I hope friends and others who travel with me find the same joy and purpose that I do, no matter the destination. The underlying mission remains the same….a quest to understand and celebrate the assets of a place or culture, and extract what lessons might be learned and applied elsewhere, from pioneering environmental practices to progressive policies to the unsung heroes who make a difference. I believe, and decades of challenges have borne me out, that the best way to preserve a wilderness or threatened culture is through visitation, as then the place and its issues become personal, an emotional attachment is knotted, and a constituency is formed that will then invest time, monies and resources to save that which is meaningful. Mindful, open-hearted travel can make all the difference.
What does it mean to you, to be an 'adventure entrepreneur' and did you set out with that descriptor, or has the aim of the game evolved since you began?
Richard Bangs, Colorado River Guide, kneeling
I would not use that descriptor, as I never set out to be an entrepreneur, but as with so many who follow passions and find rewarding careers, I pursued a love of exploration and discovery, a curiosity for the uncharted, and things somehow fell into place. There were many antecedents, including the likes of Edmund Hillary, Tensing Norgay, Jacques Cousteau, Thor Heyerdahl and others who blazed trails and proved what they did possible and accessible.
I was a beneficiary of these pioneers, and enjoyed the confluence of airline deregulation, political borders smoking away, and a period of relative affluence which allowed a new generation to seek and delight in adventure travel. I started Sobek at this magical intersection, and, with alacrity, began to chronicle our explorations. What a magnificent ride it has been.