The adventures in the Guiana’s are now a memory gone by, as I’m on the flight from Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago, heading for London Gatwick, where I will arrive in the morning. I’m absolutely exhausted after the two weeks spent in the Guiana’s and what an adventure it has been!
I stayed on for an additional two days after the main group left early on Wednesday morning. I took some time to get to know Georgetown a bit better, while also visiting the Demerara Destillery, where the world famous rum El Dorado is brought into this world and nursed to the exquisite and splendid rum it is. It was an interesting visit and fun to see the very basic distillery. Apparently, the distillery has the only wooden still in the world and this could possibly be the success of the rum? A nice visit but nothing to rant and rave about to be honest unless you’re very dedicated to rum. Which I am…
The last day of my stay in Georgetown was spent with the Wilderness Explorer’s team, in a company workshop, where I did a shorter lecture on responsible tourism and an introduction to the Nordic region and the tourism industry there.
Bound for Trinidad & Tobago
As I got on the BW662 flight, bound for Port of Spain at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown this morning, I sat back and just started to think back at what I’d experienced since that arrival in the middle of the night, in Paramaribo exactly two weeks ago. With the amount of experiences that we had during our trip, I can honestly say that it feels as if we’ve been away for much longer than two weeks. Yes, the pace has been high, but I must admit now afterwards that it is based purely on what we’ve seen, the activities we did and the nature and culture we’ve experienced with all the history attached to it.
I fell quickly into a light slumber on the flight, immediately as we took off and surprisingly I snapped out of it just minutes before we were to touch down at Piarco International Airport in Port of Spain about an hour later.
10 hours in Port of Spain
Due to a schedule change by Caribbean Airlines, my stopover in Port of Spain, went from only 2,5 hours to almost 10 hours and I wasn’t to thrilled about this fact after our stopover there on our way to Paramaribo. The airport hasn’t got much to offer and therefore I opted to head out to a nearby shopping mall to kill some time.
Traffic in Port of Spain can apparently be very heavy and I was told not to head into the city, as I would probably just get stuck in traffic jams and possibly miss my flight. Therefore I chose the un-cultural activity of walking up and down the hallways of a gigantic shopping mall, which provided me with no real excitement. It just keep on surprising me that shopping malls throughout the world are all more or less the same, except for different stores and a few different food stands in the food court area…
I grabbed a late lunch and watched a cinema in the world’s coldest movie theatre. I kid you not when I estimate it to have been close to 15 degrees in there!? Why oh why would you keep the temperature at that level? What’s the point? In order to keep people from falling a sleep? Avoiding people to get undressed? Increase sales of hot drinks? It was ridiculous and I can’t even remember the name of the movie that I saw…
Reflections at 37,000 feet
After that freezing movie experience and a few hours of waiting a the airport, I’m now back up in the air, bound for London at 37,000 feet, somewhere above the Atlantic ocean and it’s time to reflect back on the trip and the countries visited.
Coming on this trip, I knew very little about the region and the countries here. I had no real expectations apart from a very rich and untouched nature, which would provide us with true wildlife experiences and witnessing dense primary rainforest. That was about it, and apart from the countries being former colonies of France, Netherlands and England, I knew very little.
What have I learned?
So what do I know now after two weeks in the region? Well…It’s hard to know where to start, but I’ve learned a lot during the trip and I’ve realized how much interesting, eventful and tragic history that exists there. Since the first explorers came upon ‘The Wild Coast’ in the 16th century to where they are today, with the uncomfortable past of slavery (only abolished in Suriname by the Dutch in 1863) and the mix of different cultures that today make up the countries and the untouched nature of the interior with its wildlife and spectacular landscape…I’m blown away and I really question how the region only have so little visitors given what is on offer.
I expected a real nature experience from the trip, but got double fold (at least) of that in return, together with the addition of a melting pot of cultures, an intriguing history and remarkable food. The blend of different ethnic influences – Indian, African, Chinese, Creole, English, Portuguese, Amerindian, North American – gives a distinctive flavor to everything in the region, not to forget to mention the fact of all the different religions living side by side without much issues.
Did my expectations live up to the experience? Many times over and these are my true words as an experienced traveller, having visited quite a few places around the world. Yes, one must admit that the tourism related products that are on offer, sometimes aren’t of the highest quality and some are quite undeveloped, but this is what you can expect from such a young tourism destination as the region is.
I think I wrote in one of my first posts that Guyana attracts about 2,500 tourists a year while Suriname gets approximately 60,000 Dutch visitors. That’s not a lot and though success of tourism mustn’t be measured by volumes, it becomes very evident that destinations with this raw and authentic potential, needs more tourists in order to develop the tourism related products and provide important income and much needed access to foreign currency for the countries.
Invest and lead the way
On Tuesday night we attended a debriefing and media event at the home of the British High Commissioner where the Director of Tourism in Guyana also attended. I listened carefully to the presentation held, where Guyana’s tourism development plans were introduced. I’ve attended and listened to way too many presentations in the past, to become enthused, but all the right things were said and Guyana wants to develop into a definite ecotourism destination with community owned products and projects in order to secure a sustainable future of the tourism industry. It sounds promising, but so far the words are only words in a presentation and in order for them to become reality it means investments and strong leadership.
I believe that the potential is already there but a decision needs to be made if tourism is something to invest into, and if so, which way should it go? Small-scale tourism products that sustain what is there, with local ownership and development based on what is present and manageable, or an easier way out, to rely on foreign investment and a quick fix solution? There is only one way to go and I hope that the Ministry of Tourism soaked up the feedback given from our trip, to cooperate within the region and to develop a united Guiana development plan with joint marketing efforts. Each country is too small to make it all on its own and the whole region would benefit from cooperation.
Waiting for you!
This region has nothing artificial about it and nothing is laid out for tourism. It is real and it is truly genuine. I will do my part to spread the word and message of the Guianas to everyone I know and beyond. Guiana has affected me and influenced me in a positive way and it will forever be a part of me. I will be back soon and I’m already looking forward to it! Question left to be answered is…When will you go?
A really long day that took us from Paramaribo in the early hours of the morning, across the Corentyne River by ferry to Moleson Creek and on to Georgetown where we quickly checked into the Cara Lodge. We then headed out for a city tour before finishing of the long day with a visit at Steel Pan legend, Roy Geddes house, for dinner.
The Garden City of the Caribbean
Georgetown is the chief port, capital and largest city of Guyana, and is situated on the right Bank of the Demerara River. It was chosen as a site for a fort to guard the early Dutch settlements of the Demerara River. It was designed largely by the Dutch and is laid out in a rectangular pattern with wide tree lined avenues and irrigation canals that criss cross the city. It is nicknamed ‘Garden City of the Caribbean’.
Dutch, British, French…
Though the Dutch founded the city, the British captured the small town in 1781, only to become French in 1782, as they captured the colony. It was during the French colonization that development was taking place, making it the capital, calling it La Nouvelle Ville.
I’m sure the poor city was suffering from an identity crisis by then, only to make things worse, by ending up with the Dutch again in 1784, with the new name of Stabroek…That wasn’t the end as it changed name and hands again in 1812, as it was renamed Georgetown by the British.
Georgetown was always burning down
Most of the buildings in the city are wooden with unique architecture dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Main Street Georgetown provides several excellent examples of old colonial homes. As John Gimlette tells it in The Wild Coast:
“Naturally, with so much kindling, Georgetown was always burning down. It was devastated five times by fire during the nineteenth century and then another four times in the century that followed. There’s always a good reason for these fires – riots or an eruption at the Chinese fireworks plant. The latest victims, in 2004, were a cinema – the last in the city – and the Roman Catholic cathedral. Faced with these disasters, the ‘Townies’ would simply cut some more sticks and start all over again.
Nature reclaiming its inheritance
The history of the Dutch and their influence on Georgetown is quite evident as it does bear a certain resemblance with Amsterdam. I guess 200 years of Dutch ruling must do something to a place. Georgetown is interlaced with canals protected by kokers, or sluices, which was built by the Dutch. Like Amsterdam the city lies below high-tide level and a long sea wall helps prevent flooding. At times it is about a meter below the sea level. Gimlette goes on:
“The moisture is as vigorous as ever. People often told me how, a few years earlier, their city had all but vanished under several feet of water. Most of the time, however, it was just a low-grade skirmish with the damp. The forest was constantly trying to creep back into this city, along with mildew. Even concrete rotted here, and cars seemed to moulder. By day the canals were silky and green, and by night they were operatic with frogs. ‘Why? Why?’ they’d sing, which made the dogs all howl. Nature it seemed was gradually reclaiming its inheritance.”
The world’s tallest free standing wooden building
This was the city that we’ve set foot in and which we quickly move through, as our time was limited due to the delays earlier in the day.
The most famous building must be the St. George’s Cathedral, which is one of the world’s tallest free standing wooden buildings and was consecrated on 1892. The foundation stone was laid on November 23, 1890 and Sir Arthur Bloomfield designed the building. Another church visited was the St. Andrews Kirk, which is the oldest surviving structure of any church in Guyana.
We stopped by at the National Museum for a quick look around, which supposedly contains a broad selection of the country’s animal life and heritage. Personally I’m not too sure what I felt about the place, whether I liked it because of the “kitschy” appearance or if it was just really bad…Upstairs in the section that describe the wildlife and cultural history it felt like time had been at a standstill and it was still 1940. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such badly stuffed animals. But then again, it has its vintage charm and is indeed worth the visit as long as you limit the expectations a bit.
We continued by road, passing the famous Stabroek Market, once described as a “bizarre bazaar”, where you can get hold of every conceivable item from house hold goods and gold jewelry to fresh meat and vegetables. The clock tower can be seen for miles around and is a famous landmark. The market was closed as we arrived and I’m quite disappointed that I never got the opportunity to experience the every day life of the traders and commercial side of Georgetown. It’ll have to wait till next time I suppose.
Cuffy – The National Hero
We did a brief stop at the Square of the Revolution, where the 1763 Monument stands tall. The monument commemorates Cuffy, the leader of the 1763 slave uprising against the colony regime. Cuffy led 2,500 slaves in their revolt against the tyranny of the colonizers and he’s regarded as a national hero in Guyana. The anniversary of the Cuffy slave rebellion is celebrated on the 23rd February and has been the Republic Day in Guyana since 1970.
So much waste!
We drove through the Botanical Gardens and it was such a disappointment to see all the waste that has just been thrown around. Waste is an issue in these countries and to even see the Botanical Gardens being filled with it makes you understand the severity of the problem. We continued along the 280 mile long Georgetown Seawall at the Atlantic coast. We passed the classic Pegasus Hotel and Umana Yama monument on our way to the Roxanne Burnham Gardens area to the Roy Geddes Steel Pan Museum.
The Steel Pan Legend
Roy Geddes is one of the pioneers of steel pan music, having playing them for more than 50 years. He’s a player, a teacher and creator of steel pans and his home is a museum to share the history and passion of the music. Upon arrival at his home a beautiful array of flowering plants in full bloom plus a myriad of different lights in all colors, and sounds of crickets and frogs greet you. Whether the sounds are real or not can be debated! As you enter the museum you are greeted by the many photographs and paintings that chronicles Mr. Geddes’ life as a pan master and the history and development of pan as an art form both here in Guyana and neighbors Trinidad and Tobago.
Struck by the beard
“Given the long and intricate process that is involved with the converting of the Steel drum into a steel pan Mr. Geddes gives a brief but concise synopsis of the process of steel pan making from the sinking process which can take up to five hours of pounding to get it into shape then the tempering process which prepares the steel for the rigors of the tuning and the grooving process.“
Throughout the explanation held my the legend himself, for some reason he got locked at me and at times it seemed as if it was a private session and it almost became uncomfortable as he all of a sudden, after having looked in another direction, turned back to me and continued to talk with a big laughter! Was he laughing at me or with me? Has he never seen a bearded Pagan Norseman from the far lands of Scandinavia!?
Mixed musical talent in the group
After the explanation Mr. Geddes played us a few tunes together with his apprentices after which we all had a go at the pan with mixed results. By the end of the session most of us were able to play a few simple notes on the pans, but to my ear not everyone passed…
Kaieteur Falls coming up!
A long day has come to an end and it’s time to get a few hours of sleep after some serious repacking for the coming six days in the interior of Guyana. It’ll be sticky, hot, sweaty and as a result probably smelly and dirty, but I’m ready for it! Tomorrow it’s time for the mighty Kaieteur Falls!
Our time in Suriname has come to an end and it is time to head for the border, cross the Corentyne River and enter into Guyana at Moleson Creek. I picked up a copy of the book Wild Coast by John Gimlette for the journey. The book tells the story of the authors travel through the Guianas – Travels on South America’s untamed edge. Should provide some interesting tales from the area that we venture! The day started early with a pick up at 0400 hours…
A scene from the Walking Dead
It was an early start of the day for sure as we pulled out of the front of Hotel Krasnapolsky in the early hours of the Paramaribo darkness. Traffic was well beyond light and we quickly made our way out of town in a western direction towards the border facing Guyana. Not even the frogs were awake at this hour and I’m not too sure that I was awake myself as I made my way into the bus. The same goes for my fellow travellers that all stumbled into the bus as walkers out of the Walking Dead.
We had a lot of ground to cover today, making it all the way to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, with a few stops along the way. We also wanted to catch the early ferry across at the border hence the early start.
Not the best start
It’s good to get an early start, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you hope and plan. It’s part of the journey and a basic ingredient of an adventure, but when you end up with a flat tire after less than an hour out of Parbo at 4:30 am, in the middle of nowhere…Well, it’s hard to grasp the beauty of the situation. Even so when it turns out that the wheel can’t be removed, as the bolts are to tightly secured to be loosened with human force.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that we were parked in a haven of blood-thirsty mozzies. It was a blood-fest for those annoying godforsaken creatures! I’m sure we all collected quite a few itchy souvenirs to bring back home…
On a flat tire, we rode along
The poor driver really did what he could and I felt sorry for him as he struggled to sort out the situation while the rest of us were trying our best to desimate the mozzie population of Suriname. It became evident that we just wouldn’t be able to continue in this state and had to call for a new bus to catch up with us along the way as we slowly drove along with one flat tire in the direction of Guyana.
Suriname at 100 km/h
Broken by the determined and persistent mozzies we climbed back on board the limping bus and continued the journey with the new bus catching up with us about two hours later. After a quick reloading of the luggage we were back on the roads as the sun made its way over the horizon at our back. With the sun at our back and with a determined driver to take us to the ferry in time, we had to hold tight as the Suriname landscape swooshed by outside.
The wrong thing for the right reason
The ferry was set to depart at 09:00 am and we were surely to miss it, which meant that we would have to wait for a few hours until the next departure, which would certainly mess up the schedule for the rest of the day…Sometimes we just need to do the wrong things for the right reasons and today was one of those days when a small white lie was justified. A phone call away laid our savior, as the border control was made aware that we were late due to a puncture and if we didn’t catch the ferry we would miss our flight!
A beer welcome to Guyana!
The ferry was held only for us and never before has a border passing via land been so smooth and quick! We ran through passport control, with a quick exit BANG in our passports and probably missed customs, as I don’t recall having seen it and onto the ferry. Suddenly we were on the ferry with our luggage, with sweat sipping from pores as the sun welcomed us with its scorching warm rays, as we were out in the open. Good bye Suriname and a warm welcome from Guyana as Banks beer commercial welcomed us in the distance!
If only the entry procedure would match the exit, but I guess we had to be grateful to be on this side of the border and not stuck on the shores of Suriname waiting on a ferry…
The Wild Coast
I read a bit in the new book I picked up and found the introduction of the Guianas quite amuzing.
As far as the Amerindians are concerned, the land between the Orinoco and the Amazon has always been Guiana, the ‘Land ot Many Waters’. European explorers, however, took a while to appreciate this name…they all had other more suitable names in mind. In the end they thought of a name which expressed what they felt. It had about it the promise of danger, risk, wealth and perhaps even desire. It was de Wilde Kust, ‘The Wild Coast’.
…900 miles of muddy coastline give way to swamps, thick forest and then – deep inland – ancient flat-topped peaks. It’s never been truly possessed. Along the entire shore, there’s no natural harbor, and beyond the mud the forest begins. It covers over 80% of Guiana, and even now there’s no way through it. Such roads as there are, stick mainly to the coast. Without an airplane, it takes up to four weeks to get into the interior, and there the problem begin…
What a sales pitch!
How about that sales pitch to promote and introduce a destination!? It actually works very well on me and though we’ve already experienced parts of it in Suriname I’m thrilled about to see what Guyana has to offer. We’ve been told that it’s about to get a bit more adventurous now and I guess we’ll be facing the problems soon, that John Gimlette write about…Whatever they might be, I’m more than happy to face them!
Stockholm in Guyana!?
We were picked up at the border in Guyana, at Moleson Creek and continued along the coast through small villages and across the Berbice River. Little did I know that you can actually find a Stockholm in Guyana! All of a sudden a sign told me ‘Welcome to 75 Stockholm’. Weird stuff man…Very weird.
I don’t know if it was just that we’ve missed out a bit on the pace of Suriname, but I almost immediately got a feeling that Guyana is a bit wilder and rougher with more pace. I might be wrong about this and it could also be the fact that not long after Stockholm, as we pulled into New Amsterdam, we had to seriously dodge an approaching van that came on us at full speed sending other cars and people out of the road, in order to avoid a head on collision, with a pickup following it close behind, with two guys in the back waving an AK-47…Was this where the problem begins?
We did a quick tour around New Amsterdam, the second largest city in Guyana, located upriver from the Atlantic Ocean mouth of the Berbice River. During the 1763 slave uprising, the rebel leader Cuffy, made New Amsterdam his headquarters. When the revolutionaries were forced to retreat in 1764, the town was almost completely torched but was rebuilt in the 1770s.
Mangrove Heritage Trail
We continued onwards for our lunch and visit at the Mangrove Heritage Trail, a project that aims to protect and replant lost mangrove forest while also informing about the importance of the mangrove forest in Guyana.
After lunch at the 150 year old colonial visitors center, we were told about the mangrove conservation and management project, before setting off on traditional horse cart. We did a brief stop at Victoria Village, the first village purchased by former slaves who pooled their money to do so following Emancipation in 1839. This was the birthplace of the cooperative concept and where the first agricultural fair was held in Guyana.
Turning towards the Atlantic Ocean, we continued to the sea wall for the educational mangrove tour, the heart of Guyana’s first mangrove reserve, owned and managed by the community.
Inspiring ambition and enthusiasm
As the tour came to a close, local drummers from Victoria Village joined us with traditional folk songs. Such enthusiasm and positive energy from these guys! The project is beautiful and important and though the actual tourism product needs a bit of development, the experience was really nice and it was very much to these young volunteers and guides that are doing one hell of a job with such inspiring ambition!
Long day but only halfway through
The last leg of the journey back to Georgetown took longer than expected as we were already late and got caught in the jam-packed rush hour traffic. Georgetown is certainly bigger and more chaotic compared to Parbo in Suriname. We checked into the Cara Lodge in central Georgetown, one of the oldest and grandest structures in Georgetown, and is apparently the best known and most popular hotel in Guyana. It was built in the 1840s and originally consisted of two houses. It has a long and romantic history and was the home of the first Lord Mayor of Georgetown.
Time to quickly freshen up before we are to take a quick Georgetown city tour before it’s time to travel to the Roxanne Burnham Gardens area and visit the Roy Geddes Steel Pan Museum. More on this later! Looking back at the day I just wonder if this very long day will ever end…
We set out by boat this morning to visit Nieuw Amsterdam, the capital of the Commewijne District. It is a small coastal town situated at the confluence of the Suriname River and Commewijne River. We took a walk around the fortress which was built to protect the area during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
Most of the population here are of Javanese and Hindustani origin. Unfortunately due to limitations in time we didn’t get to spend that long time at the outdoor museum Fort Nieuw Amsterdam where you find an old jail and information about the hard life of the slaves at the plantations as well as the history of the fortress.
So much that needs to be told
It’s somewhat confusing to me to see how undeveloped these cultural and historical places are in terms of interpretation to tourists. There’s so much to be done on this, since there’s so much to be told that at least I know very little about. I almost get a feeling that the history is something that one don’t want to promote. I can understand that it isn’t a part that people are too proud of, but still…There’s much in our past that we shouldn’t be proud of, but the story still needs to be told.
Slavery abolished in 1863
The Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863, although the British had already abolished it during their short rule in Suriname. The slaves were, however, not released until 1873. Up to that date they conducted obligatory but paid work at the plantations.
We continued on the river along the former colonial plantations, most of which are now abandoned. The next stop was the old Peperpot plantation that is still in use, however in another shape and form. The old coffee and cocoa factory, deputy-director’s house and the old office are still located here and it is one of the oldest plantations in Surinamese history. It was established by the English and already existed before Suriname was conquered by the natives from Zeeland under command of Abraham Crijnssen in 1667.
One of the last plantations
This is one of the last plantations still in its former original state. On the plantation you can still see coffee and cocoa plants as well as an ancient shed and factory, the manager’s residence and the workers’ living area.’
We took a tour of the huge plantation on a somewhat funky looking viewcart, that was pulled along the dirtroads by a tractor. Peperpot is renowned for the many birds which became very evidient straight away as we travelled through the area with information being passed on to us from the Dutch foreman, telling us about the livestock farm that they now run here together with shrimp farming.
We stopped for lunch at the mini-museum of Marienburg, a former sugar plantation enjoying a delicious Javanese lunch in Tamanredj before we got back onto the boat for a tour on the river and for some Dolphin watching. The weather wasn’t the best with cloudy skies that provided rain on and off throughout the afternoon which apparently didn’t please the dolphins, as they didn’t present themselves even once. Normally we would see them swim by in groups of up to 20 dolphins, but today just wasn’t the day.
The River Dolphins are found in the mouths of the Suriname Rivers. Profosu or Sotalia dophin resembles the bottlenose dolphin physically and is threatened by incidental net entanglement and habitat degradation due to on-going dredging. Preliminary observations estimate 100 dolphins that frequent the area.
Stuffed like a pig
We finished off the day with a huge dinner at Sarina, a Javanese restaurant. The amount of food and different delicious dishes that was served was simply overwhelming. I doubt that I’ve ever seen so much food on one single table ever. Stuffed like a pig it was time to get back to Hotel Krasnapolsky to pack up the bags and get a few hours of sleep before it’s time for the 4:00 am transfer that will take us to Moleson Creek in Guyana via the ferry service at Corentyne River. Good night!
Paramaribo is located on the banks of the Suriname River and is famed for its diverse ethnic makeup. Here you’ll find a mix of Creoles, Indians, East Indians, Maroons, Javanese, Portuguese, Native Americans, Chinese, and other European descendants.
The city is quite small with around 250,000 inhabitants (half of Suriname’s total population) and has quite a funny story to it. In the 16th century as both British and Dutch ventured in the area, setting up colonies, disputes arose which led to ever-changing “ownership”.
Traded for New York
In 1667, the Dutch decided to take back Suriname, from the English. In return the English were left with New Amsterdam, a small trading post in North America, where you today will find New York!
City tour of Paramaribo
We did a very interesting city tour of Paramaribo in the afternoon with a great guide. I can honestly admit that I didn’t expect much from the city, but it provides some excellent architecture and some beautiful sights with fascinating buildings built out of wood.
Parbo, as it is nicknamed (which is also the name of the local beer), is an old trading post founded by the Dutch. It was taken by the English in 1630, and soon became the capital of the colony. As mentioned in an earlier post, the colony changed hands often between the English and Dutch. It’s been under Dutch rule from 1815 until the independence of Suriname in 1975.
The city of Paramaribo was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List of historical monuments in 2002 due to the unique architecture. Paramaribo is filled with historical buildings built in colonial style, alternated with modern hotels and office buildings.
We started our tour with a visit to the ancient building complex in Paramaribo, Fort Zeelandia, which is a fortress built by the British in 1651, and walked over to Independence Square surrounded by its historical buildings, and then continued on to Waterkant along the Suriname River, which is currently under redevelopment.
Two major fires in the 19th century, in the city center destroyed more than 440 houses and other buildings. Since most houses are still made out of wood, I can imagine that it spread quickly and was hard to stop.
Synagogue and Mosque, side by side!?
We continued via bus to other parts of the city, visiting the Neve Shalom Synagogue, which is adjacent to the Mosque Keizerstraat. This is one of very few places in the world where you can see a mosque and a synagogue right next to each other.
The biggest wooden structure
We also stopped at the impressive 114-year-old Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul with its 44 m high tower, which is the biggest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere, and the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo. It was initially built as a Jewish theatre but was turned into a church in 1826.
A nice finish
We stopped by the colorful Hindu Arya Dewaker Temple, which is the biggest in Suriname, before finishing off a long day with a tasty and plentiful dinner at Baka Foto at Old Fort Zeelandia. A wonderful and plentiful meal of mixed dishes originating in various parts of the world (which in a nutshell symbolizes what Suriname is) was enjoyed in the humid and hot night, overlooking the Suriname River and the lights of the famous Jules Wijdenbosch Bridge in the distance.
We flew back to Paramaribo and continued via road to Bergendal Resort about an hour outside of the city. We were all very tired after our days in the jungle and it didn’t take long before one passed out in a short slumber as the rain fell hard on the landscape around us.
Bergendal Resort, right on the Suriname River, was a somewhat confusing experience. I still can’t get my head around what sort of product and experience that they aim to provide, as it just doesn’t add up to me, based on the experience and expectations.
The resort has some really nice rooms and cabins, especially the ones at the back, that towers on wooden poles, with beautiful balconies set right amongst the trees. They’ve probably provided me with the best beds on this trip and the same goes for the room itself, but the rest of the resort is hard to grasp.
Due to the heavy rain upon our arrival, we didn’t get to explore the forest surrounding the resort and nor was the weather providing opportunities to chill out by the pool. Instead we got to experience a Saturday night at the resort with some heavy karaoke sessions going on with a local audience, which proved to be a fun experience!
Ecotourism and culture tourism!?
Given the fact that the resort is called Bergendal Eco & Cultural River Resort I was hoping for some exciting ecotourism products and cultural experiences, but it found it misleading and I’m afraid that we once again might have an example where these words are being used without much credibility.
The resort provides a Historical Trail that is supposed to treat visitors to a wealth of information of the fascinating history and heritage of the old Berg en Dal plantation, but I seem to have missed out on this?
Zip Lines and Maroons
The first activity of the day the morning after was the Canopy Zip Line, which would be followed by a visit to the Maroon village of Nyun Lombe.
“The canopy is the uppermost level of the forest. Sailing down zip lines on a system of elevated cables and platforms, you’ll whoosh through the treetops and feel like the king or queen of the jungle. Slide from tree to tree, feel alive and treat yourself to views that no one has ever seen before.”
Fight the vertigo demons!
The zip line was good fun and all, as I’ve never tried something similar before, but it provided little in terms of a nature experience. We sailed along a circuit that took us across the forest and high above the Suriname River. It did get the adrenaline pumping and the sweat running, while also providing slight sunburn…Great fun and something that isn’t for those suffering from vertigo! Or maybe it is a good opportunity to fight vertigo demons!?
English and Dutch colonization
In the 16th century explorers visited the area where we today find the Guianas, and the Dutch and English established plantation colonies along the rivers, as the soil is very fertile here.
Although the Dutch acquired the area of Suriname from the English in 1667, and founded Suriname in 1683, it was not until 1686 that they effectively controlled the coastal area, driving the indigenous Amerindians deep into the interior.
The Dutch then imported African slaves to work the plantations, with sugar, cocoa and coffee. From the late 17th century over 300,000 Africans were captured and transported to Suriname to a form of slavery, which was extremely harsh.
Large numbers of slaves managed to escape to the jungles where they joined earlier escapees. Here they built a unique Afro-American culture and society with its social and political systems based on their original homelands of West Africa and which was self-sufficient through hunting and agriculture.
These runaway slaves formed independent settlements and established a new and unique culture that is known as the Maroons.
Maroon guerrilla warfare
The Maroons used the jungles as a base in their continuing guerrilla war for freedom and in 1760, after several unsuccessful military campaigns by the Dutch, they signed a treaty with the plantation owners of the coast, which guaranteed their autonomy. This made them the first people of the Americas to gain independence from colonial control.
Displaced due to the hydroelectric dam
The visit to the Maroon village of Nyun Lombe, didn’t live up to my expectations as it was just a walk through a dirty little village that seem to have lost all its soul and culture.
This village is one of many villages that were formed after the Surinamese government forced them to move from the territories that they traditionally occupied and used, in order to make way for the hydroelectric Afobaka dam. Such a shame that the visit didn’t provide more info for the visitors about the tragic story and history, while also not properly invite the villagers to interaction and ownership of the product.
Who does this benefit?
I hate to walk around and look into peoples home as if they are some sort of objects in a museum and this experience made me very uncomfortable. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected and much product development needs to be done to appeal to tourists and for the Maroon people.
I just don’t see any evidence that either part is benefitting from this experience and it also became very apparent to me that the people of the village didn’t want us there.
Hopefully, the feedback that we left will lead to a mutual development with all stakeholders involved.
We got back on the road after lunch, heading back to Paramaribo.
We arrived into Paramaribo just after midnight and made our way into the city in the darkness of the night. The trip normally takes about 45 min, but with our luck, one of the power line poles had fallen over and blocked the whole road, making it impossible to pass through. After having spent over an hour waiting to see what could be done, the driver took charge and diverted onto another road that isn’t “good enough” to be used and took us into town. A bit of a detour, but we came to our hotel at four in the morning…Can’t really say that it gave me any kind of idea what Paramaribo is like.
Kabalebo Nature Resort
We spent the night at Hotel Krasnapolsky, getting a good and much needed four hour sleep before it was time for an early breakfast and our transfer to the Zorg & Hoop Domestic Airport for a flight to Kabalebo Nature Resort, a 1 hour flight, west of Paramaribo. Kabalebo is situated in the pristine uninhabited Amazon jungle in the western part of Suriname and the only way to travel to the resort is by aircraft. The airstrip is situated next to the resort and was built in the 1960’s during Operation Grasshopper with the purpose to open the doors to the interior in order to survey the natural resources and lay the foundation for further development.
We spent the following two days, doing tours on the river and in the rainforest. Kayaks and canoes was our means of transport on the river and on land our feet and willpower took us on a seven hour adventurous walk, climbing the ’Misty Mountain’, experiencing the breathtaking pristine rainforest with a much needed stop at the Charlie Falls, for a dip to cool off.
Monkeys and birds
The area has showed us the abundance of birdlife that you can experience here together with a variety of monkeys. We were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of the Squirrel Monkeys and the Bearded Saki Monkeys. We crossed path with a passive Velvet Lancehead snake and of course, listening to the beautiful song of the Musician Wren and the Screaming Piha. I also managed to spot a group of South American Coaties, which are very rare in the area.
After three days in Kabalebo we’re returning to Paramaribo with sore bodies from the adventures in the jungle. It’s a firm reminder that the office job, sitting in front of the computer isn’t doing your physique much good!
The rainforest is wet!
Soon will you forget that the Rainforest does provide you with some heavy rains, and many times they seem to come from out of nowhere without much warning. Be prepared and always expect rain to be just around the corner. That way you don’t have to get stuck in the rain with cameras and everything, without any kind of protection from the water…
Currently on the final flight that will take us from the Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad & Tobago, to our final stop – Paramaribo, Suriname. It’s been a very long day and quite a bit of travelling lately, considering the fact that I can account for five meals in five different countries during the past 48 hrs. Lunch in Prague and dinner in Stockholm yesterday, breakfast in London, lunch somewhere between London and Port of Spain before dinner in Port of Spain. If I manage to squeeze in a nightcap in Paramaribo after midnight that should make it five…
The whole idea of being on a flight towards Suriname feels very surreal considering things have moved quite quickly and it was only just decided about a month ago. Fair Travel is the new Nordic representative for Wilderness Explorers, a company that opens the door to the last, least-visited corners of Latin America and the Caribbean, and which is presented in the Bradt Guide, to be one of the best, well-established and knowledgeable operator in the area.
Where is it?
I’m sure that quite a few of you readers think more than once when you try to place Suriname and Guyana on your map. In the past weeks, as I’ve told people I’ve met about this trip and the new cooperation with Wilderness, a majority has placed the countries in Africa, and a few has placed them in Asia. Not many know that they are in fact located in South America, in the north, with Venezuela in the west and Brazil in the south, with the Atlantic running along the coast in the north.
Despite having geographical features shared by other South American countries, Suriname and Guyana are classed as Caribbean states. I knew very little about these countries myself, besides the swift reading up I did on it back in 2001 when I planned for a backpacking trip to South America that never materialized. I remember that I first heard of Suriname back in 1988 as I collected Panini stickers from the Euro 88 and the profile of the Dutch midfielder Aaron Winter, said that he was born in Paramaribo, Suriname. Guyana to me is known for its rum El Dorado (the El Dorado 15 yrs is a personal favorite). There’s certainly more to the country than this!
Tourism makes a difference
Compared to most of South America, Guyana and Suriname are under-developed. The countries are pristine with over 80% of the land mass still virgin rainforest with healthy populations of wildlife that are endangered in other countries. Tourism makes a real difference to these countries and their economies, as it is a large employer of people especially in remote indigenous communities.
More than a holiday!
“Instead of mass tourism and consumerism, you will find countries of intimate and simple lodges, ranches, rainforest resorts and camps where the wildlife is still undisturbed, the forest intact, and the major highways are the rivers. These are destinations for travelers rather than tourists, for those seeking the raw and untouched. This region is not so much a holiday, but an experience of how the world once was and what the developed world has largely lost.”
A melting pot!
The countries boast a melting pot of different cultures from Dutch, English, African and Asian past that all come together with the mixture of Calypso music, untouched rainforest jungles and Amerindian villages.
The former Dutch colony of Suriname and British colony of Guyana will be explored for just over two weeks, and I’m really looking forward to experience all that they have to offer. With the Kaieteur Falls, Iwokrama rainforest, the Amerindian community of Surama, the Kabalebo jungle, the history, the wildlife and of course the rum…I’m sure it’ll be a very interesting trip that will really thrill the explorer within! Stay tuned for more posts to come as the adventures unfold…