It was still stuffy when the 22 men stealthily set off for the swift-moving river, slinking among the shadows in single file and silence late one Monday night, as they sought to spot snatches of the water through the bushes in the sickly light of a slivered moon. With bare backs swollen and searing from the last set of beatings with the stinging strap, they stumbled and slipped along the shore, squeezing into the small boat tied at the side, while staring over spare shoulders, shrinking from the slightest sound that suggested sudden seizure.
They would peer for pinpoints of illumination, and pant and paddle uncertainly through the darkness with calloused, sweaty hands, trying to get as far away as they could from the place of pain that had been ironically named by its first French owners for the beautiful views near the mouth of the waterway.
With its source sliding high from twin tributaries along the soaring sandstone slopes of the Makari Mountain in central Guiana, the cold, transparent channel tinted tannin travelled north for over 200 miles, widening and gradually gathering mud and pushing into the Atlantic Ocean. The murky river had won early Spanish admirers who blessed it “Rio de Mirar” for the many pleasing sights along its green banks but the Dutch would immortalise it with their lyrical version, Demerara.
For these ….