For us, Suriname was simply a country that linked Guyana to French Guiana - we had no thoughts of the country and no detailed guidebook or maps. It was a blank canvas.
Our first impressions are good - clean water canals line the rice fields that lead to Nieuw Nickerie, the second biggest town in this tiny country, where we park on the first piece of open land we see. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming and we soon find ourselves sampling life here with it’s mixed culture of Indonesian, Indian and African descendants. Our noses lead us to the local food stalls and we are delighted to find many Indian foods served with volcanic hot spicy chutney and our favourite Malaysian meal of Nasi. Now we know that we are going to be very happy in this country!
Within 24 hours we are part of the community - locals regularly stop to say hello and to ask to see our truck and one street dog has decided to live with us and follows us as we walk around town, patiently waiting for us outside the shops. Three local ‘cool dudes’ who were cruising the streets on their bicycles stopped to say hello and were amazed to hear that we lived in our truck.
‘So you have a kitchen and a bed?’ they ask. ‘Yes’ I say. ‘So that means you can sleep in there and have sex?’ ‘Hey, if the truck’s rocking don’t come knocking!’ I answer as they set off giggling to complete their nightly cruise.
The next day the local television station appears and asks if they can film our truck - we watch as the camera man films the outside of our truck and when he asks to come inside we say yes. Naturally, we expected some questions, but instead he stood silently filming us as we stood looking like startled rabbits, then he switched the camera off, said thank you and left. That night we laughed like hyena’s at the thought of appearing on local TV looking more like wanted convicts than tourists!!
The next day we are in a local store and the girl looks at us strangely for several minutes before saying that she saw us on TV last night. ‘Did we look okay?’ I ask laughing.
Before we entered the Guiana’s Dave issued me very strict instructions - ‘ If anyone offers us anything we say yes thank you.’ The problem is that I usually say no to kind offers - I hate to feel that we are abusing some-one’s kindness by saying yes to offers of water, or showers or use of washing machines. So normally we only say yes to visiting people but no to anything extra.
A local rice farmer Ko and his wife Pauline invite us to their home where we enjoyed some wonderful food and company but when they tried to offer us 30 litres of diesel as a gift, Dave said no! The truth is that when it comes down to it, we just can’t take things like that from people - they understood when we explained that we still had cheap fuel from Venezuela.
Deby, another lovely local, was sad to see we had no souvenir for Suriname in our truck and she kindly brought us a beautifully wrapped Suriname key ring as a gift - a simple gift that meant a lot - so we said thank you for that. Many people come by to chat as we explore the town and neighbouring areas before, once again, the television company appear to film us - this time they actually interviewed us outside our truck. It was a ‘first’ for us and a rather exciting memory for us to treasure.
There are very few roads in Suriname making it a easy country to explore, so when we see a sign for a village, we simply turn off and go to look. Wageningen is a tiny village where there stands a decaying rice factory - the locals were devastated when the business shut and even the enterprising Chinese have come to look at options for re-opening this factory but have proclaimed it a ‘lost cause’.
For all the economical depression it’s another friendly and welcoming place to visit. We ask permission from the police to park for the night by a government shelter that has been built for the use of the Amerindian villagers who live on the other side of the river. We watch the Amerindians hide their canoe paddles in the hollowed jungle trees and tall grasses as a howler monkey calls out from a nearby tree.
Our toilet needs emptying and here in Suriname it is proving to be difficult to find suitable places to dispose of it. Dave wants to empty it in the river and I am horrified at the idea - ‘You can’t!’ But Dave insists that it’s a fast flowing, wide river, that we have no chemicals in our toilet and that it’s good food for the fish - ‘What do you think the locals do?’ he asks. But I am insistent and go in search of a toilet - the local garage has one but it is indoors and it would not be nice for us to empty our toilet there. The firemen have a outdoor toilet and I explain what I want to do - they are happy to oblige and as Dave is emptying our toilet the firemen ask why we didn’t just empty it into the river ‘It’s good food for the catfish. That’s where all the Amerindians empty their toilets!’ :-/
By the time we have reached Paramaribo we have been overwhelmed by the friendship of the people in Suriname - it has knocked Iran off our number one friendliest country in the world list!
Some overlanders share information with others and sometimes it is with GPS points, which are not always accurate, and it’s in this very round about and odd way that we think a great place was found in the city - the President’s Kabinet. It’s a private car park guarded by military and Presidential police that is not open to the public during the week, yet, thanks to the efforts of previous overlanders we are able to park there after asking permission from the deputy director of national security.
Not only did we meet the deputy director and the Presidents personal assistant but we were told we could stay as long as we wanted with free use of the Presidents riverside lodge gardens to fish or relax in. It was a typical Surinamese welcome - what a great country this is.
Paramaribo is full of lovely Unesco historical wooden buildings and many cruise ships now stop here to visit the city centre where a earth floored synagogue sits next to a mosque and a church shares a street with a colourful Hindu temple.
We wander the city streets admiring the old architecture and spend some time visiting Fort Zeelandia with it’s lovely brick buildings and courtyard. The riverfront market area is full of colourful people and sights where Dave stops to get a haircut in a small barbers shop hidden amongst the fruit and vegetable stalls - a funny event that left him unsure about having ‘perfumed intimate gel’ put on his hair afterward!
Paramaribo is a small place, half of the 500,000 Suriname population live within the city making it feel more like a friendly town than a capital city, so it doesn’t take long for you to get to know a lot of people and to be waving hello to familiar faces as you walk in the streets or around the supermarkets.
Weekends are family affairs and Saturday is always busy with wedding parties and families coming to be photographed by the hugely popular ‘ I love SU’. On Sunday mornings locals bring their singing birds to the park where they can socialise with the other caged birds while enjoying some wild grass seeds bought as a special treat for these prized pets.The amazing thing is that these birds are taken everywhere - bus drivers take them to work, cyclists take them out for a ride and even the city restaurants accept these feathered friends at their tables.
Late afternoon in the park brings people together to race toys cars or to practice the Brasilian dance of Capoceria to the beat of African drums. It’s a pleasant place to spend the day.
Old cannons, hot chutney and a smoking fish!
Ko, Pauline & friends plus Nickerie sights. Deby and some Indian fashions.
CLICK HERE to see our television interview.
Well fed cat fish, Amerindian canoe paddles, a noisy howler monkey and great fun with the firemen - Hello Benjamin.
Meeting some important people in Paramaribo and the hugely popular ‘I love SU’ Inside the Presidents private riverside gardens and some nearby historical buildings.
We are in the city one weekend when a anti racism concert is held nearby, everyone is given a free t-shirt and within minutes the entire area is like a fashion parade - every girl must have been carrying scissors in her bag ready to create a new design. There is clearly a strong creative feeling here as we regularly see models being photographed and art or photography workshop courses being held.
But there is tension in the country at the moment with some protesting outside the National Assembly - the President is facing some serious charges concerning an incident many years ago when 15 opposition members were executed in the nearby Fort Zeelandia.
Relationships with Holland are tense and the Dutch ambassador leaves the country in protest after the Suriname government rushes through a amnesty law in time for the courts decision on the case against the President. The new amnesty law allows clemency for all crimes committed prior to the date it was passed. But, for all the controversy, we are impressed to see the President living in the same modest house that for 30 years has been his home - all the foreign ambassadors live in palatial modern homes.
A colourful wedding, lunch out with a prized pet and some of the historical buildings in Paramaribo centre.
A fellow overland couple have been living here for almost one year now and it was nice to catch up with them to hear all about their year of working and promoting their photography and writing careers - it’s amazing how many overlanders recreate themselves on the road.
Karin and Coen very kindly invite us to a Hash meeting - a odd event started by a Malaysian guy whose idea was to encourage people to exercise after their weekend of socialising. The great thing about the hash is that you meet a real mix of people - not just expats - as everyone follows a paper trail around differing parts of the city each week. It’s rather like a grownup version of boarding school days where pupils would compete in paper chases except that the hashers re-hydrate at the end of each weeks walk with copious amounts of alcohol!! And it’s here that we meet Monica and Ludwig - a couple who soon become very special friends. But it’s not just the hashers who like to keep fit, every year the city has a four day walk - it’s an event that began as a simple promotion for fitness but over the years people have began to get dressed up for the daily SEVENTEEN kilometre walk.
Meeting up with Karin and Coen, dinner with Monica, Ludwig & Manouska and some of the children on the 4 day walk.
Brownsberg Nature Reserve area is in the interior of the country - it’s an area famous for it’s wildlife and scenery, but our weather has been unusually wet and the track into the reserve was impossible to complete, so we treated ourselves to a warm ‘bath’ in the Blommestein lake waters just before the torrential rains began yet again.
This area of Suriname is home to gold miners (legal and illegal) and Bush Negroes/Maroons - a term used for African slave descendants who live in the interior and follow a more traditional way of life. We see rasta men washing themselves and their dishes in the lake water, bare breasted women by thatched huts and village entrances guarded by hanging palm leaves - to brush off any evil spirits that may try to enter hidden above a visitor. It’s an interesting area and very different to the normal mixed culture of the rest of the country.
We crossed the river to visit Nieuw Amsterdam Fort with it’s lovely grounds, water lily ponds and buildings - a great place with cool river breezes where we spent some time. For several days we explored this area with it’s decaying plantation estates and friendly villages where we met Rosita and Cornelius who, with typical hospitality, insisted on cooking us a traditional meal.
Another great event was to meet a local Dutch family (Wim and Anya) who invited us to visit after reading our webpage. We really are having such a great time here meeting so many people and Wim later invited us to join them at a family day event with a family who live on a large water buffalo farm. It was such a treat to sit watching the buffalo cross the river like a scene from Africa as we sat eating yet more delicious food!
Nieuw Amsterdam Fort and meeting new & old friends.
It’s time to give something back - we make friends with another couple here - Koen and Jane tell us about a dog and cat rescue centre that needs volunteers, so we spend a week cuddling, feeding and cleaning the dogs and cats of the shelter. It was very hard work but really rewarding and we even introduced the cats to our ‘famous’ cornflakes box play station and toilet roll tubes - they loved them. By the end of our week we were professional poop cleaners!
I am also accepted as a volunteer for the zoo and, as Dave recovers from the hard work of scrubbing kennels, I help out there for two glorious weeks - it was a opportunity of a lifetime that allowed me to get close to all of my favourite animals as I helped to feed and clean their areas.
I learnt how to make smoothies for the giant anteaters - the female is pregnant and I kept my fingers crossed that she would give birth while I was there. The red faced black spider monkey’s here also enjoy armpit tickles, the giant otter enjoys to have his neck rubbed and the ocelot has a passion for biting nipples! (coming soon) To see video of me trapping a jaguar! CLICK HERE t
Helping to trap a adult jaguar for injections was an unexpected thrill, as was feeding the tigers. One morning the zoo keeper and I entered the tiger cage only to find some strange hair lying on the ground - we puzzled what it could be - we were the last people to feed the tigers yesterday and the first to return today. Later in the day we discovered a wild sloth had climbed onto the roof of the tiger compound during the night and had fallen in! The tigers ate the sloth, leaving only a pile of hair as evidence that he was every there - but I did wonder where the sloth’s claws had gone - maybe the tiger’s used them as toothpicks after their unexpected midnight snack?!
But aside from the thrills of my work there is a side to the zoo that was surprising for me - a baby spider monkey fell off it’s mother’s back and died - the staff built a coffin for the baby, filled it with flower petals and then respectfully took turns at filling in the grave.
The ‘low point’ of my visit was when I was asked to cross the invisible bridge to feed the spider monkey’s. Having just been told that a anaconda had escaped from the zoo and was somewhere in one of the many water areas, I involuntarily screamed like a big girl when something bit my toe as I stood in the green water. My humiliation was complete when the zoo keeper told me it was only a fish!!
Many thanks to Paramaribo Zoo for a wonderful experience.
Anteater enjoying a bath in her pool I’d just cleaned, a ocelot and a spectacled owl.
Our final few days are spend saying goodbye to friends - one friend gives us a Christmas brandy pudding as as part of a goodbye food parcel - I thought Dave was going to faint with delight!!
We dance the night away with other friends at a party to celebrate Labour Day and even the deputy director of national security comes over to say goodbye to us! We leave the country reluctantly and make a point of complaining when interviewed by a local paper of the short visa entry rules for the country - a three month visit would have been far better - but maybe it’s best to leave on a high and wanting more....
Crossing the invisible bridge and a jaguar.
Jane, Koen and a Xmas pudding. Milaisa- a very sexy stretch limo driver and some new friends at the Labour Day party.