We knew very little about Suriname, but after some reading find that it is the smallest sovereign state in South America with an estimated 2018 population of 568,301, half of whom live in the capital Paramaribo, and 90% live in the capital or the coast.
The first permanent European settlement in Suriname was established by the British at Paramaribo by Lord Francis Willoughby, the Governor of Barbados, in 1651. In 1667 the British ceded their part of Suriname to the Netherlands in exchange for New Amsterdam (later called New York City). Coffee and sugar plantations were established and worked by African slaves. In 1863 slavery was abolished and indentured labourers were brought in from India, Java and China to work on plantations.
In 1916 Alcoa began mining bauxite (the principal ore of aluminium) which gradually becomes Suriname’s main export.
In 1954 Suriname was given full autonomy, with the Netherlands retaining control over its defence and foreign affairs. In 1975 Suriname became independent, and more than a third of the population emigrated to the Netherlands. In 1980 the government was ousted in a military coup. Another coup in 1982 resulted in 15 opposition leaders being executed, Desi Bouterse seizing power, and Netherlands and US cutting off economic aid. In 1986 the Surinamese Liberation Army (SLA) composed mostly of escaped African slaves, began a guerilla war with the aim of restoring constitutional order; within months principal bauxite mines and refineries were forced to shut down. In 1992 a Peace accord was reached with the SLA. In 1999 a Dutch court convicts, in absentia, former President Desi Bouterse of smuggling two tonnes of cocaine into the Netherlands in 1989-97, but Suriname refuses to extradite him. In 2002 the State-owned banana company closes. In 2010 Desi Bouterse becomes President, and later Parliament passes amnesty law for him and 24 others on trial for the alleged execution of political opponents in 1982.
From 1959 through 1965, Alcoa built the Afobaka Dam, and in Paranam a refinery to turn bauxite into alumina, and a smelter to convert that to aluminum ingots. In 2015 Alcoa closed the mine and smelter, but still own the dam, and charge the government for the electricity, which has resulted in disputes as to whether the Government should be given the dam.
After reading all this, we can see the country has had plenty of problems, not dissimilar to a lot of other countries after independence, and can understand why we haven’t visited earlier.
Wednesday 28th March Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, French Guiana to Paramaribo, Suriname
Up before the alarm, breakfast on left-over pizza and drinking yoghurt, then bags downstairs for the 9AM van which takes us a couple of kms to the Customs and Immigration post and cross-river ferry wharf and vehicle ramp. The river is the border between French Guiana and Suriname. There is a vehicular ferry with a couple of army trucks just unloading as we arrive, but we are taking the passenger option, a long, skinny pirogue with a covered section and an outboard motor. We board down a fairly slippery concrete ramp, putting our bags in the open forward section, and sitting in the low covered section. There are many such pirogues plying across and along the river.The river is very wide, maybe a kilometre, with a fair flow of out-tide, and a sharp chop from the wind from the coast, but the bags stay tolerably dry. We land on the Suriname side on a broad concrete ramp, probably used for the vehicle ferry as well, draw our bags into the immigration building, which is hot and sweaty, but better than in the sun.
Formalities were variable, with our guy hardly looking at the complex form we had to fill in, the other bloke wanting the back side, which we hadn’t even looked at as the form was a two sheet carbon copy setup. There was no-one checking after we walked through to make sure we had been stamped in. This is very strange considering the formality of getting the visa, and us having to go back to Cayenne for it. There were some good posters of wildlife and export-banned species.
Outside our next vehicle, a Toyota Coaster bus was waiting with its engine running and the AC working nicely. The bus was a right-hand-drive, as in both Suriname and Guyana, their British heritage has them drive on the left side of the road. We loaded our bags and were set to go when Michael realised he had left his phone on the charger in the hotel. Duncan decided we had time for him and Michael to go back and get it, after Dianne suggested they ring the hotel and make sure it was still there. They hoped to be back in an hour, so we had an hour to bask in the delights of the port area of Albina. Fortunately there was a very flash duty-free liquor store, and Dianne bought a big bottle of Amarula and a six pack of Smirnoff Ice Lemon, paying in Euros, and later we bought insect spray at a supermarket with Euros, getting the change in Suriname Dollars. While we were paying, the owner noticed that Murray had a Panasonic camera, and showed him an earlier model, and a big Nikon long zoom lens, and asked how to combine the two. The Panasonic has no obvious connection, and isn’t designed for detachable lenses, and Murray attempted to tell him the Panasonic already had a long lens, but if he really wanted to, there may be an adaptor to screw into the filter thread. There was a strong feeling that the camera and lens were either stolen or left behind by a tourist, or maybe given as payment for something, but not bought. We walked the general area of the port, but town was a long way off in the heat, and didn’t look too interesting anyway.
Duncan and Michael returned on the hour, having been let through immigration on both sides of the river with a warning, so we loaded up and set off. The road was pretty good all the way, better than Duncan had been expecting, and the Toyota Coaster got us along pretty well. Photos taken along the way cover mainly the condition of roadside scrub, some glimpses of streams from bridges, and a major steel truss bridge.
Habitation along the road was mainly single properties, some with established trees and buildings, others just temporary shelters surrounded by the start of slash and burn agriculture. A lot of the land was very sandy, and established houses were surrounded by raked-sand landscaping. Notable along the way were large yards full of tropical timber logs stacked high. There were some small villages, generally unexceptional.
We did a loo stop at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere, with a large fenced-off car park in front. The roadhouse looked fairly new, the loos were immaculate, but there were no customers. The loo stop wasn’t very far out of the city, and from here it was pretty much all built-up. We stopped to change money, $US100 for us, at a halal Money Exchange, beside a store with dozens of very large aluminium woks hanging on the front wall.
A$1 = $5.80 Suriname dollars
Suriname $1 = 17c Australian
We proceeded to the high-arched concrete bridge over the Suriname River. The bridge was built high to accommodate alumina bulk ships going to the refinery up the river, and the very steep approaches lead up to the central arch rather than pass over the top of it, so traffic is very slow both ways on it. There is a very narrow pedestrian walkway on the seaward side. It is possible to take bikes on this walkway, but only pushing, not riding.
From the bridge we can see a large oil refinery upstream, and below the western approach is an extensive shipyard. The way to our hotel takes us through the heart of town, which has a lot of modern commercial buildings, but also lovely renovated timber colonial buildings, and a very large timber church with twin spires. Our hotel is on the far side of the city centre, but within walking distance, and we get a good look at the town on the way.
The “hotel”, Un Pied a Terre, is a cross between a hostel and a pension, in a quite elegant four-storey, white painted, black trimmed colonial timber house,of ten rooms, with the common area on the first floor, and a covered area in the back yard with provision for hanging hammocks. Our room is up an attractive but scary winding staircase which serves all floors, and is a bit of a battle with the big bags.
After settling in, a group of us head for a roti house for some Indian food, a few blocks away in the main commercial area. Dianne tries the roti, and Murray settles for kip-patas, fried chicken and chips. Prices are reasonable, and we don’t go hungry. After the meal we decide to leave the group and head for the waterfront, passing the elaborate mosque, reportedly financed by Mohammed Ali, and located right next to the Synagogue. We continue walking past a statue in a nearly empty fountain where a local man was filling a water bottle, past a statue of Simon Bolivar, and a number of impressive colonial buildings, mainly in peeling white-painted timber, and an immense, ornate four-storey building with verandas all around, a projecting curved roof, and semi-circular extensions of the verandah above the entrance. Further on, closer to the river, brick buildings make an appearance. We reach the waterfront at a craft market which looks like they are wrapping up for the day. Take photos up the river to the bridge, past what looks like a rock island in the centre of the river, but which turns out to be the hull of a capsized and broken ship, and down the river to where Fort Zeelandia projects into the river. We take a photo of a strange golden dragon boat in a park, walk past the arcaded white Palace of the President on Independence Square which has a forest of flag poles for the countries which have embassies or consulates in Suriname. There are plaques about the history of Fort Zeelandia by the street which leads down to the open archway of the fort. The museum is closed, but we take photos of the building and courtyard, walk upstream to the adjoining park which has a statue of Hilde von Suriname, take a photo of one of the common yellow-chested birds, and a photo through the grille of the gardens on the river bank inside the fort.
We walk past some very well-preserved colonials to the remnant brick walls of a very large building. Look at walking into the riverside park through an open gate, but read the sign hidden on the back of the gate and see that we are not welcome. We are just retiring when we are hailed by a soldier, who must have been sitting in a car, and summoned to explain ourselves. We ask if we can go around the end of the building, but he says no, so we cross the road to where the Place Des Palmiers butts onto the back of the Presidential Palace but find no entrance, so decide to play it safe and walk up the road to the other side of the park. As there was no footpath on the Palace side, and the gate to the driveway past the front of the palace was open, with no signs, we decided to walk through. We were almost to the end when we were accosted by another soldier, with another gun. We tried to explain that the gate was open and there was no warning sign, but this was not good enough, so we were escorted to the guard house at the entrance, where a plain-clothes superior talked to us and let us go with a warning.
We walked down the road past the Place Des Palmiers, saw a bike hire place across the road, and went across to get a card from them as we’re all planning on bike riding tomorrow. We went into the park for a rest on a bench in the shade of a palm tree. While we were there Charlene and Sarah arrived, and we talked for a while, then they carried on through the park, and we walked back toward our home, passing Zim resort with a large semi-public swimming pool which looked pretty good as we’re now pretty hot and bothered. They do a package of a meal and a swim for S$50, but we were not in the mood to have it now, and were due to go out later, so put it in the possibles basket. We walked past the hospital, noted an ATM near the gate, and walked another block to find our street, getting back at 4.15pm.
In the evening, Duncan arranged taxis to take us to a warung restaurant in the Indonesian district, a fair drive, costing S$50 shared three ways. The “modest little eating place in someone’s front yard” turned out to be a massive restaurant with outdoor and indoor AC seating, uniformed waiters, and overhead fairy lights. The prices were reasonable by Sydney standards, costing about $S110 for a main for Murray, banana fritters and ice cream for Dianne, plus a capiroska and a small Parbo beer, all pretty good. We returned to the hotel in a mini-van.
Thursday 29th March Paramaribo, Suriname – bike riding
Today the group (with the exception of Michael) is going on a biking expedition to the other side of the river, where there is a nature reserve called Peperpot, with a visitor centre and pathways through remnant jungle. We walk to the bike hire place we say yesterday, organise bikes for all. Take the middle range, 10 euros with three speed hub gears, back pedal brakes and a rack on the handlebars for backpacks. We paid an extra euro for a milk crate fixed to the frame with cable ties. This proved entirely useless as Dianne, to whose bike the crate was attached, couldn’t steer with the extra weight on the handle bars. After swapping bikes, Murray had not much better luck, so took the backpack out to put it on his back after crossing the road to start pedaling. During this operation, the bike fell over and two of the three cable ties broke. Murray used occy straps for a quick repair, and pedaled hard to catch up. The path took us along the front of the Presidential Palace, which has very sharp spikes on the hedge right at the edge of the tar road. There was a lot of traffic about, and we had no crash hats, but managed to get to the pirogue-ferry landing in one piece. With four bikes per ferry, we needed two, and crossed the river without incident close to the wreck in the middle of the river, landing at the end of what used to be the main road before the bridge was built upstream.
From the ferry, we had a hard 5km slog against the wind, along the main road with lots of traffic, past where we got change yesterday, before turning off upstream to the visitor centre, where we had to dismount. We locked up the bikes for the first time, bought tickets and walked into the visitor centre to look at exhibits about slavery, plantation development, and wild life. After the visitor centre, we were allowed to ride our bikes on the well-kept narrow paths through the dense jungle.
There was not a lot of bird or animal life obvious in the park, but we did manage to see two types of monkey, dense jungle, some brilliant red strelitzia type flowers, some very savage ants which bit Dianne and the girls. Emerging at the upstream end of the park, opposite the oil refinery, we looked at the remains of the plantation processing factory and the residence now converted into a cafe, but deserted, possibly because of Easter. After resting for a while, we headed back on a road closer to the river, getting some good photos of houses along a canal. Murray almost ended in a canal after a car stopped in front of him to let an oncoming car pass on the narrow road, started again then propped, leaving Murray with nowhere to go, and not enough time to use the infernal back-pedal-brake. He ditched the bike rather than end up in the canal, suffered no damage apart from to his dignity.
Just when we were feeling we could not carry on without a rest, we found a roti restaurant with air conditioning. We didn’t want roti again, but we DID want air-conditioning, as the temperature was well in the 30’s.The roti-kip with a Coke for $S26 was a pretty good deal, but while Dean was ordering the Roti3-kip, with three rotis, the woman serving kept trying to sell him three meals -needed a bystander with a long stick to point to the price list on the wall, and even then the order was in doubt till the money for only one was tendered.
Return by pirogue-ferry was straight forward, but the ride from the ferry to the bike hire was complicated by busy one-way streets and large trucks. We were pleased to get the bikes back with them and us intact. Dean kept his bike, and we didn’t see him again that night, so hoped that he survived.
In the evening we all had a very good Indonesian meal at the restaurant beside our bike-hire place, walking there and back en-masse.
Easter – Good Friday 30th March Paramaribo to Anaula Lodge
Today we’re heading inland, south to Atjoni, then having a 1-hour boat ride to Anaula Lodge, which is on an island in the jungle. We are up in time to see a colourful sunrise, pack our gear for storage, and have breakfast at the hotel before heading out to get some money at the ATM around the corner at the hospital, only to find it was a MasterCard ATM. It read our card, then took five minutes to decide there was a communication problem. With plenty of time, we decided to look further. Walk past the big wooden cathedral and up the Main Street. We found another ATM, with MasterCard, but no luck, so decided to walk further before turning right towards our street. The street we turned into seemed to be very short on cross streets, so we finally looked at maps.me. Found there may be a big park we can cross, so carried on, only to find the park was a cemetery with locked gates, so we had to walk a long way, zig-zagging to find our street with a T-intersection at the end. We arrive back hot and bothered with just enough time to get our light travelling kit out of our room (our main bags are being stored) before our 9.30am departure.
The bus is a bigger bus than the one which brought us from Albina, and with a different driver and Jurgen John (email: firstname.lastname@example.org web: http://www.exciting-tours.sr) our excellent, highly recommended English-speaking guide, who will be with us for the entire Anaula visit. We put the backpacks on the back seat, and find seats further forward with a view out the front window. We pick up a Dutch group from another, more upmarket hotel, then proceed through town, past the waterfront and market, and some interesting architecture, and exit the town proper, staying on the west side of the river, past numerous large, typically Chinese warehouses and large supermarkets and wholesalers and trade suppliers. There were a lot of market stalls along the road, selling mostly tropical fruit, but, in the season, the area is famous for its mud crabs.
We pass the oil refinery, which processes Surinamese crude and keeps the country just self-sufficient in fuel. We cross the large Saramacca canal which connects the Suriname River with the next river to the west, the Saramacca. Just beyond the outskirts of the metropolitan area, which is a different city to Paramaribo, we see the alumina refinery and aluminium smelter on the west side of the road, and the port for export shipping on the river to the east. From what we can gather, neither the refinery nor the smelter are currently operating, so Suriname has plenty of spare Hydro Electricity. The works look occupied, with security gates, lights on in the buildings and grounds, and no obvious deterioration apart from tropical decay and mould on everything. Photos taken through the windows on the other side of the bus are not particularly instructive, and Murray is hoping for a better look on the way back. The refinery and/or smelter, is, among reasons stated above, also a victim of the subsidised Chinese aluminium industry and aggressive trade policies.
The road follows the line of electricity pylons, which are spaced at 500-metres apart, and are numbered from the refinery. Our guide explains that the vegetation on the first section of the journey is savannah, not as tall as real rain forest, with fewer large trees, and denser undergrowth. Beside the road are mounds of various coloured sands, left over from the alumina industry, and now exported to China. Cuttings by the side of the road show sandy soil, and the yards of settlements show the cleared, swept white sand we have seen on the way from French Guiana.
Further on signs welcome to the “greenstone belt”, where the cuttings show red clay. This is the area where gold and other minerals are found. Murray notices areas off the road which have been excavated, and show patches of green gravel, probably from geological exploration. This is the area where the trees get taller and greener, and the real rainforest starts. We have seen large log yards near the city, and have seen a lot of loaded log trucks coming towards us. These trucks are probably illegal as local timber is supposed to be processed in the area it is cut, and not exported as logs. In this area, we can see logging roads off to the side and active logging operations with storage yards and truck loading machinery.
We also see a fair bit of slash-and-burn agriculture, and disturbed ground off the road from small scale gold mining operations. There is a large Canadian mine on a well-made road off to the west. We reach the settlement of Brownsweg, named after the American geologist who discovered gold here, with Browns Mountain the only high ground in the area, off to the south. We stopped at a servo and lunch spot for toilet and a cheese roll supplied by the tour company. After this we skirted the west side of the hydro lake without actually seeing it, still on a good road, put in with Chinese money to facilitate the rape of the rain forest. The extent of the logging operations, as indicated by the number and size of the log yards, is enormous, a bit like what was happening in Borneo a few years back. It is almost enough for one to turn green.
In this area we see a lot more Maroon settlements, both on the highway, and in villages relocated when the Hydro Dam was built. Our guide explained the difference between villages and settlements, which seemed to be related to having a cemetery, but it is pretty obscure. He also explained the difference between Maroons and Creoles. Maroons are descended from slaves who escaped from plantations hundreds of years ago, and hid in the jungle to escape capture. Creoles are descendants of slaves who remained on the plantations till slavery was abolished
We arrived at Atjoni, the village by the river, obviously not the upper reaches of the hydro lake, as the water level seemed to be pretty static, and there was a fair flow in the water, but it was very large, and probably close to the lake. For a group heading for the heart of darkness in the jungle, the river port was an unbelievable site, with dozens of buses and pirogues to take the hundreds of tourists (locals and visitors), as well as bars, shops, public toilets, and a village behind, and an indigenous settlement just upstream. It was definitely not what we were expecting on our “jungle trip”. We assume that this is busier than normal because of the Easter holiday.
We already had our resort room number clipped to our backpacks, and surrendered them to be packed in a separate canoe, with a fairly elderly tarpaulin tucked in around them. We had arrived about1pm, and were in our seats by 1.40pm having made the best of available shade in the meanwhile, as once again it was well in the 30’s. We were made to wear bulky and hot Mae-wests, but these actually helped to keep the spray and sun off us when we were under way.
Our group was in one boat, together with some of the Dutch group, and our guide, John up the bow to give a running description of our progress. The river started off a couple of hundred metres wide, gradually narrowing to 100 metres. Apart from occasional clearings for villages, the banks were covered with dense green jungle, with occasional giant trees poking through the canopy. There were signs of rapids in the river, and large granite boulders. After fifteen minutes we encountered the first real rapids, not big enough to have a class, but interesting in a 10-metre long, dugout canoe with plank extended sides, about 60 cm wide at the waterline, 120cm wide at the gunwales.
By the time we got to Anaula Lodge, we had passed a number of rapids, and settlements. To reach our island, we had to circle around a sandbank to enter a smaller, fast moving channel, with a good set of rapids just above the quiet pool with our landing. We disembarked, deposited our life jackets at a covered hanging storage area, and proceeded to the dining area for welcome fruit drinks and/or coffee, before sitting down to a meal of roti, rice, fried chicken, pumpkin and green beans.
The resort is much fancier than we expected, with nice common areas and a swimming pool. Our bags had been already taken to our rooms, so we took it easy in our room before going for a much-appreciated swim to cool down, as we’d spent an hour in the blazing sun doing the boat trip. We take general area and room photos and get organised for our late afternoon trip down the river, past the sandbank and up the other, larger arm to a landing just below a serious set of rapids. There were a lot of people already there, some swimming in the quiet area above the rapids, some being more daring in the rapids and holes between the boulders. The temperature was a bit cold for Murray, who went in, but didn’t bask in it unlike the others, then spent the time taking general photos of the area, and our group relaxing in the waters. He managed a discreet shot of a group of three local men in a small dugout setting a filament net below the next set of rapids.
After, before the evening meal, we took a photo of a remarkable seed pod from the tree above us. The pod starts as a sphere about 10 cm diameter, but opens out into twelve curved segments, with a centre cone about 4 cm diameter with twelve slots, presumably for seeds. The pod is quite woody, and would make an excellent decorative piece, if one was ambitious enough to get it cleared by Australian bio-security. Later information will tell us it is from a rubber tree.
The moon was quite full, so Murray took some moonlight shots of the jungle and the river in the middle of the night.
Saturday 31st March Anaula Resort, Suriname.
We are up at the dining area at 7am for our jungle walk around the (small) island. Get some early morning toucan photos in a palm tree beside the building, then walk through the grounds anticlockwise, looking at red cotton, which has a hibiscus-like flower and white bols; and brilliant purple fibrous petals on the ground below another tree. We look across the narrow waterway of the braided river which defines the 12 hectare island, to see a red macaw in a tree. The tree is right beside the kitchen of another resort, and we guess it is not a wild macaw, but take its photo anyway. The jungle walk is fairly typical of what you get in a jungle resort, with lianas explained as a regenerator of the forest, quinine trees, trees with fibrous bark suitable for string, the purple-heart timber, a large leaf-cutter nest with the ants not yet preparing for the wet season, the buttress root trees suitable for bush signaling, a strange iridescent bug resembling a star-wars fighter, a blaze on a tree where bark was removed for basket making, and trees with trunks that look like a collection of vines, and are quite often used for decoration (we saw some at the museum on our bike ride). Also see a squirrel-monkey; a type of strelitzia with recently discovered medical properties; and feel the sticky centre of a liana flower, which propagates seeds by birds scraping their sticky beaks against tree branches.
We are shown some fluffy white fungus, too fluffy to get a focused photo.
Back at breakfast, the small local birds are feeding on peeled bananas beside the dining room, and in the bush behind the camp the squirrel monkeys have arrived for their morning feed from the tourists, and on a dead branch high above the resort is a grey falcon.
After a rest we head out at 10am in the boat for the trip upstream to the Maroon villages, travelling a relatively narrow branch of the river through dense rainforest, and through rapids, stopping for a look at a woodpecker in action.
The villages are interesting enough (but nothing special) with a combination of traditional thatched timber buildings and masonry buildings with galvanised iron roofing. The inability to take photos is frustrating (we have been told not to take photos of people without asking, but in practice this seems to extend to not taking photos of a lot of the village as well), but the general structure of the villages is similar to the settlements we have passed and photographed on the highway. There is a full-sized soccer field covered with green grass, and an official building beside it. The soccer field doubles as a helicopter landing pad, as all officials travel by helicopter. The school is typical third world, with desks and blackboards, but not a lot of obvious educational aids, and no sign of any decoration whatsoever, which makes it look quite depressing.
At a store in one village, we buy a bottle of some local cola, regard the $S10 as a donation, as the drink is pretty bad. Down near the landing where our canoe was waiting, we looked at two dugouts under construction. Interestingly, they were cut out of logs a lot smaller than we were expecting, with the centres hollowed out with fire, and presumably stretched and wedged open with timber props while the log was still hot, steamy and pliable. This produced the dugout bottom, to which the sloping sides were added, fixed and sealed with thin metal angles. The structural connection between the sides and bottom remains mysterious. No sign of the home-made six-inch nails used on the Niger.
At the concrete boat ramp, two women and one man were fishing. True to what our guide told us, the women were much better at it, catching a variety of small fish, using rice as bait, and thin branches as rods. One of the villages was called Niew Aurora, another Tjaikonde.
We were back in the resort for a 1PM lunch, swam in the pool in the afternoon, then out later, taking photos of birds and the bush around the resort, doing our own nature walk on the upstream side of the island before dark.
After dinner we had a cultural evening with two male drummers and four women in traditional dress singing and dancing. The singing and harmonising with the men was very well done, typically African. The dancing involved some pretty vigorous south-sea hip gyration, and willing or reluctant tourists were pulled onto the dance floor. We were smart enough to avoid it, and called it a night at about 9PM, packing most of our gear before going to bed.
Sunday 1st April Anaula Resort to Paramaribo, Suriname.
We do an early walk right around the island in the morning, getting more photos of the tame macaw, but not seeing a lot that was new. Murray packed his gear and took some farewell photos before we left, getting some good shots of a collared kingfisher, native plants, a troop of monkeys not near the tourist traps, a very bright green lizard with iguana-like discs on his jaw.
Dianne had a farewell swim and we had our gear packed on the verandah for the 11am pickup, and went to lunch shortly after. Towards the end of lunch, Charlene spotted a small sloth high up on a bare branch at the edge of the clearing, and everyone started watching it. Murray took a lot of telephone shots of it, which turned out disappointing because of the camouflaged colour of the sloth, almost matching the tree, and the back-light from the sky. While Murray was watching through the viewfinder, and Dianne was watching through the binoculars, the sloth fell from the high tree – about 20-metres into bushes beside the tree. Everyone watching was shocked, and a camp employee, followed by the tourists, rushed across to have a look. He picked up the sloth, seemingly unharmed, with one leg still hanging onto a small sapling he had hit on the way down. We had to leave immediately, but last saw the sloth climbing up a small tree near the base of the big one. Certainly was the highlight (once we found he was OK) of the trip. We’d been told these sloths had been introduced to the island, but no-one has seen them for the last few days. We can’t believe how he could have survived such a long fall, but we later google and see that it is not that unusual, as they have a very strong exoskeleton, and on youtube there are a number of videos of them falling.
On the way back down the river, we were closer to the bow, getting better views, but also a lot of spray, particularly when the breeze was blowing towards us. The return trip seemed a lot quicker, possibly because of the additional speed of the current, but also because we hadn’t been sitting in a bus for three hours, in afternoon heat. There were two Anaula boats travelling together, giving an opportunity for some good photos on the river and in the rapids.
Disembarking was easier than when we arrived, with a lot less organised chaos, and we loaded our gear into a small van, ourselves and the Dutch group into another Toyota Coaster. On the way back, we got photos mainly of logging examples, stopped again in Brownsweg, without lunch this time.
We struck very heavy rain just before the Alumina Refinery , so got no more good photos.
The rain took up by the time we arrived at the Anaula office in town, where we ditched the Dutch, then continued on to our hotel, to find we have a different room, on the same second floor, but at the rear, and smaller.
In the afternoon we went down our street, looking for a meal, which wasn’t easy as everything was closed for Easter, but found a Chinese restaurant which was open, but only had one table occupied. We pointed at the menu, and ordered a sweet and sour chicken for $S50, which was all the money we had, paying before it arrived to make sure we were only getting one. We have US$’s, Euros, Australian dollars, Brazilian reaiis, and a Master card and a Visa card, but can’t change any of it into local currency during the Easter holiday!
The meal was good, with a lot of rice, and more than the two of us could eat. We continued our walk back on a different street, having to go as far as the hospital before we could find a cross street, but we are used to this by now.
The room had an interesting mosquito net arrangement (all rooms to date have had mosquito nets) but we managed to sort it, and with a liberal spray of insect killer, managed a pretty good night’s sleep.
Easter Monday 2nd April Paramaribo, Suriname.
It rained very heavily all night, and after we heard that the team who had the rooms on the ground floor had been flooded out, we went out to the front verandah to find that the street was flooded for a hundred metres in either direction, and the water was coming up through the ground floor. We took photos of the street, and the incredibly noisy and talkative parrot which lived on next-door’s verandah. The parrot’s repertoire included talking and very realistic baby crying, amusing at first, but wearing thin after a couple of hours. By 12.30pm almost the entire long street block had filled up. Even a cane toad had had enough and was drying out on our front entrance.
Charlene and Sarah kitted themselves out with plastic bags up to their knees, to walk into town, while the crew from the bottom room had to wade through knee deep water to the nearby sister hotel, Greenheart, for a more flash address. Another cane toad made an appearance.
By 3.30pm hunger had got the best of us, and we put on our adventure sandals, rolled up our pants and waded down the street, with the water just below our knees, moving to the footpaths and higher ground when intrepid cars passed, creating quite a wave. It was quite dangerous moving off the middle of the street, as there were some deep drains between the road and the footpath, but you couldn’t see them as they were beneath the water. Apparently a tourist had fallen into one during a previous flood, breaking their leg.
We went back to our Chinese restaurant around the corner, flush with funds this time as we’ve borrowed funds from Duncan. We walked on further, then cut back to pick up a cross street and a parallel road to take us back via the hospital and a shorter wade through floodwater back to the hotel. We are due for another early start tomorrow, as we head to Guyana, so pack our gear and set alarms.
Tuesday 3rd April Paramaribo, Suriname to Guyana
We are in the Toyota Coaster at 5AM, passing through the sleeping streets of Paramaribo, negotiating occasional flooded sections, encountering not a lot of traffic. The urban area goes on forever, with residential , commercial and industrial buildings. Everything is well lit and secured. By 6.40, we are out well of the city, and it is light enough for photographs. A lot of the houses are very small, wooden, with typically two storeys, and no paint. Apparently the local timber is durable enough to handle a hundred years without paint, but it doesn’t stop them falling down. Maybe the nails rot out before the wood, but they certainly don’t last forever. We see an interesting small wooden church with a high peaked roof and a steeple. The whole church is set on pillars a metre and a half high.
We start to see regularly spaced canals running at right angles to the coast. These are provided with gantrys and chain blocks or windlasses to raise sluices gates. Maps.me shows a whole grid of these. Towards the sea we can also see a raised earth berm running parallel to the coast. This may well be an irrigation canal for the rice industry which we discover later. The map also shows a large body of water between us and the sea, but a lot of it is covered in long reeds.
Later we come upon the rice growing. Water is raised from the canals by large screw pumps driven by tractor power-takeoffs.A lot of houses along the road have attached machinery sheds with tractors, harvesters, irrigation pumps and rice transport trailers with screw elevators. The farming practice seems to be similar to Europe, where the farmers commute to their fields.
There are major rice processing plants, some of which are derelict. We cross a strange lifting bridge, with four lattice towers to lift the central truss of the bridge, and pass a massive banana plantation, owned by FAI NV, a Belgian company. Stop for a loo break and a surprisingly good nasi kip. From where we stop, we look across bright green rice fields with hundreds of white egrets in a flock wheeling about then heading for a roosting area in trees along a canal.
Getting near to Nikerie town, we do a left turn parallel to the river, through flat land used for grazing, and not developed for rice. We arrive at the ferry terminal to find little more than a compound and the immigration building. We leave our trusty Coaster here, take all of our gear and pass through the ticket office before going to immigration. There are about 50 cars lined up in four rows, and people from them in the duty free area. It is quite a long wait, with the cars filling with passengers and driving onto the ferry in reverse before the pedestrians walk along a long approach ramp and then a bridge to the ferry. On the ferry, we haul our bags up steep steps to the elevated platform on the starboard side, with seating along it. Others opted for more shelter at deck level under the platform.
The ferry has its own Diesel engine, but also has tug boat tied onto it, at what becomes the stern as we do an about-turn. The river is very wide and brown, with a number of islands. The course is a lot further down the river than we had imagined, landing at a similar jetty with a bridge and ramp. On the way, Dianne sees a lot of beautiful green and black striped butterflies with a white lacy pattern at the back. Wants Murray to take photos, but he has very limited success, having better luck with a pair of macaws flying over. The docking takes a while, as there is a fair out-tide, and the tug we have been towing makes itself useful to line up the ferry with the ramp. The cars disembark first, then the passengers, and it is a long wait in the heat before our turn, as foreigners comes up.