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Spirit of the Jungle

As part of the Brink Expeditions support for the "Spirit of Cricket", during December of 2005 a brand new cricket kit was sent off to the San Flaviano village located in the jungle of Venezuela! The Brink Organisation would like to thank all those involved for their genoristy.

This is the story of how Kendon and Ben came to learn about the San Flaviano community.

We are cycling through one of the least accesible parts of Venezuela. It is remote and we are alone. Then....

Only metres away a machete cracked through the thick cover of the prehistoric jungle. It was a perfect Field of Dreams entry onto the tarmac as the stranger materialised out of the seemingly impenetrable forest wall.

I was already stationary, resting under the shade of sun-speckled overhang that towered high up in the forest canopy. As I paused in thought a gentle breeze flirted with the sweat beads rolling down the curvature of my spine. I proceeded to wipe down the perspiration dripping from my forearms and thought, Where in the world did he just come from?

As he made his way onto the roads shoulder it was very likely that he was asking the same question about Ben and I. Venezuela was a country on edge and every kilometre we had cycled through it was touched with uncertainty and fear. Military police fashioning full body armour had questioned our sensibilities before bothering to question us for our papers. We were an anomaly along this stretch and the willow slung over my shoulder represented our lunacy perfectly.

The stranger was a strongly built middle aged Arawak Indian with shoulder length dark hair. He crossed the road motioning to the cricket bat with his blade. He paused for a moment, shaking his head in amazement and holding a wide smile. Finally he announced, I havent seen one of those in a long time.

He was the first person in 1600km to speak English to us and the first person in South America to know what a cricket bat was. This enigma left us somewhat bewildered and before we could reply he turned his back, waving us on with his machete to the village of San Flaviano.

We decided that the strangers invitation was more alluring than clicking through the gears in the tropical midday heat. We hadnt had a good tonk since being dispatched mercilessly from the beaches of Barbados and further investigation was definitely warranted here.

Having a feed at KM46

Photo: Ben eating an Aripa as Daniel looks on

In San Flaviano we were the willing beneficiaries of the jungle's ambience, which could easily be interpreted as Mother Nature's personal invitation for us to relax. We did interpret it as such and we did oblige with hammock-swaying pleasure.

That night representatives from several families filled out Daniels modest veranda as he shared the story of the Arawak nation. Under the fading moon I looked onto the plots of subsistence crops terracing down the valley and Daniel explained how the Arawaks where the first people to welcome Christopher Columbus onto the shores of the New World.

Ironically, 500 years later and a group of marginalised Arawak Indians where fleeing the highland mountain ranges of Guyana due to severe cultural and political persecution. The catalyst for this was the handover of power by the British Empire to the Guanase nationals in 1966, sending ripples of corruption and lawlessness through that country. History has not been kind to the Arawak people.

By the early 1980's many of San Flaviano's elders were desperate to protect their families and sought haven in the neighbouring Venezuelan jungle. The Arawaks walked along traditional routes that held their line long before the 'white man' staked out their frontiers. Recognized as refugees, the Arawak Nation were given a new beginning by the Venezuelan Government. There was a renewed hope among their people. In Venezuela they would have a safe place to make roots for their children and their childrens children.

In Guyana cricket had become an indelible part of the Arawak existence. Daniel proudly explained to the children how the elders did not forget to assemble a cricket kit in their haste to flee Guyana. When we came from the mountains the whole community cleared a cricket oval in the jungle, he said proudly offering a broad smile. Lost in reminiscence he added, Our cricket brought people from as far South as the Gran Sabana Plateau.

Cricket pitch etched out of the jungle

Photo: 'Field of Dreams' during the 80's

However Daniel knew as well as anybody there, the relentless jungle had long since reclaimed its ground. To say that the old pitch still had plenty of life left in it was indeed an understatement. Asylum it seems, also comes at a price. Today San Flavianos only connection to the cricketing world is a tinny short wave radio with a reconstructed areal tuned into the BBC World Service. The communitys last cricket kit had been laid to waste long ago and all that remained atop a modest trophy cabinet was a shiny six stitcher that mirrored the hopes of the tiny village. It had been waiting for a special day and that day had well and truly come.

Growing up in Australia, our set of cricket stumps would slowly get whittled away over the extended season. The dog would often mistake a wicket for a bone or the Fraser Gang would mistake our wickets for theirs. Ben and I would end up grabbing the nearest rubbish can and set about sculpturing its dimensions in honour of the Three Pace Gods - Thommo, DK and Lenny Pascoe.

Today the Arawak children were confronted with a similar dilemma. Enthusiastic for an authentic demonstration of the game of their forefathers the children did the most obvious thing. I was in full admiration of their pragmatism as the team disappeared into the jungle with machetes in hand. Minutes later I was measuring the crease in the morning shadow of the finest set of jungle wickets that I am ever likely to see. With eager onlookers, I then marked the batsmans ground with the base of the bat, furrowing a smooth half pipe through the moist clay.

Then as the prophecy had foretold, all rejoiced as the crack of leather on willow echoed down the snarl of jungle tracks. For the first time in a generation, bat met ball in a long awaited reunion. Hours passed and the primates jeered the fledgling batsmen from high up in the stands. The blistering San Flaviano pace attack had developed the knack of skittling the stumps of their own creation.

Some of the KM46 new recruits

Photo: Kendon with some of the San Flaviano recruits

There was a little Hercules in the outfield who had an arm that kept me honest between the wickets. Then there was young Fabi who required some coercion before he would make it to the centre to face the 'hard ball'. A quiet chap, with powerful forearms for his age, held a stance at the crease remeniscent of D C Boon. He demonstrated a nefarious delight at punishing anything short of a length, and repeatedly lifted the match ball over the first row of saplings and into the jungle green.

As children of Venezuela, the youngsters were more accustomed to a Venezuelan baseball swing and I was amazed at how quick they took up the lost game. There's was a skill base far beyond beginners. More importantantly, the children exhibited a strong desire to learn a game that they had only ever heard their fathers talk about. It is no broad stroke of the bat to say these kids had it all. Standing on the fringe I pondered over this lost potential. My focus shifted as a flock of parrots took flight from a far canopy, screeching overhead in front of an advancing mist.

A storm was brewing and play stopped momentarily as all and sundry gazed above, acknowledging the imminent downpour. After hours in the tropical heat we welcomed the shift. The children danced in the cleansing rain and then they got dirty again. Over enthusiasm on the chase claimed everybody but the most nimble and breaking distances were exploited to their fullest slippiest potential. The kids whacked that six stitcher out of shape, replacing its shine with an inch of sticky red clay from the old forest floor.

Tropical rains at San Flaviano

Photo: Tropical downpour

Coffee warmed the insides to the sound of heavy raindrops on a tin roof. The distant drone of Howler Monkeys made me feel good knowing that unlike the spectators I was back in the pavilion warm and dry. The ambience put me in a reflective mood.

Children are usually the best measure of how well a community or society is functioning, and if you were to observe the kids at San Flaviano you'd come to the conclusion that the elder decision-makers here are nurturing their community with much thought and dedication. The children here always, and I mean ALWAYS have smiles on their faces and today was no different. Their contentment and positive well-being was obvious, even infectious. They have displayed towards Ben and I a totally respectful, somewhat selfless behaviour that was well in advance of their years. As I looked around verandah, the team was abuzz and I was proud to be associated with them. It was at this very moment, for the first time on my travels, that I understood what the words Spirit of Cricket really meant.

Good fun at KM46 sing alongs

Photo: Ben jammin with the San Flaviano community

On two nights of our stay the children willed us down to the community shelter to partake in the planned sing a longs. It was here that we were entertained with much singing, pipe playing and guitar strumming. Everybody sang whilst the two Australianos hummed, mumbled and tapped their feet like rhythm-less hillbillies.

Staying with Daniel, his wife Dawn and son Dexter, we were willing victims of much generosity and kindness. It was a great learning experience to spend a few days living in a community that subsists mostly off the surrounding land.

Daniel has made it his personal mission to maintain San Flaviano (Km 46) as a truly bilingual community. The children learn Spanish at school and English is taught in the village. To ensure the children engage in English it is an unwritten law that it is the preferred language within the community itself. To compliment the mission Daniel has been slowly building his library of books in both English and Spanish for all the children to access if they wish. It is no easy task finding and collecting books written in English in these parts, but somehow he finds a way.

In a region of gold mining that manifests a legacy of social problems typically associated with the 'get-rich-quick' endeavour, it really was inspiring to see the total love and dedication that this man has for all the children of his village. Daniel is the absolute king of encouragement and positive reinforcement, and this is reflected in the confidence and level-headedness of the children that frequent his and Dawn's home. San Flaviano is a humble community village with a simple recipe for happiness.

San Flaviano girls making the recorders sing

Photo: San Flaviano girls making the recorders sing

It was time to leave. The sun was already high in the sky and I wandered down to the fresh water spring and doused myself from a 44-gallon drum. On my way back up the valley to participate in the sad goodbyes I noticed something in the bush that struck me with a pang of nostalgia. It was a back yard cricket bat cut from an old piece of 2 x 4. This was a replica of a bat that Dad had made for Ben and I many moons ago. It was a fine piece of appeasing craftsmanship, the type that splintered freely in the palms of your hands and passed jarring vibrations up to your elbows should you miss the sweet spot for the toe of the bat. Ben and I were amazed at what we had witnessed during our stay here at San Flaviano and now this old bat had reminded me of what being a kid was all about. Subsequently I made a mental note on our departure. Making no promises, we would do our best to get these children some kit....

The ambient surroundings induced an explorative thirst on the summit of every horizon that periodic downpours could not quench. Our legs pumped furiously in our heightened state, the forest wall was a blur and I drifted off in wonderment. If we turned around and went back to San Flaviano, would it still be there? Did we really meet the cricket loving Arawak Indians at the foothills of the Gran Sabana? Had they really cleared impenetrable jungle to make way for a cricket pitch all those years ago? Did Warney's fan club really extend to politicly volatile Venezuela courtesy of a rusty short wave radio tuned into the BBC? It was all very surreal, like no other circumstance I had ever encountered.

Was it co-incidence that two Aussie brothers cycling the planet and packing a cricket bat simply stumbled across the displaced Arawak's and their Field of Dreams or was it always meant to be? Either way I felt like San Flaviano was my home. The strangers weren't strangers, the smiles they wore on their hearts told us that much.

Daniel's Challenge

"But most of all we brought cricket to this jungle, we made cricket bat out of corkwood tree, pads out of cardboards boxes and we used baseballs. Huge crowds came to see us play and once an English tourist came to us, he was so impressed that he sent a complete set of cricket gears a month later. We really played cricket then, spectators used coconut leaves to score..."

Read the rest of Daniels Challenge...Show Oxfam 

December 2005 - Daniel's Challenge Answered

The Brink Organisation would like to thank all those involved for their genoristy. Brand new cricket kit is on its way to the San Flaviano community in Venezuela!

Read more...Show Oxfam 

Who is Brink?

Brink is a non-profit legal entity incorporated in the State of QLD, Australia.

ABN 76 345 606 533
Legal Name Brink

* Conduct a simple ABR Public Search to verify the legitimacy of this incorparation.

Fundraising - Field of Dreams

Click Here to see how Mrs. Mc & her grade 6'rs at St Ignatius, Toowong have been raising funds to help purchase the KM46 community some cricket kit!

Make a donation today so that the "Field of Dreams" can become a reality!

Name of Banking Institution Westpac
Branch Location West End, Queensland
Account Name Brink Organisation
Branch BSB Number 034013
Brink Org Account Number 170017

Relevant Links

San Flaviano KM46 Pen Pals

If you are of a school-attending age and want to converse with an English-speaking Venezuelan pen pal, here is your chance. The village of San Flaviano has about twenty children of mixed age who are interested in writing to other children around the world. If you are interested too, get your teacher to register on the Pen pal section of the website's schoolroom. There he or she can sign you up!.

Write to a friend in San Flaviano...Show Oxfam 

Up Close & Personal with Daniel

"For a bit of history we were the first people to bid welcome to Christopher Colombus into this new hemisphere. We treated him well... and in return we are where we are today, moving from place to place...."

Read the full video transcript of Daniels interview...Show Oxfam 

ICC Spirit of Cricket Development Program

The Brink Boys are supporting the ICC Development Program Spirit of Cricket initiative during their global traverse by bicycle and sail.

ICC Spirit of Cricket Website...Show Oxfam 

Words of support from the ICC Development Manager...Show Oxfam 

Check out the Brink Expedition Spirit of Cricket web page...Show Oxfam 

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