What a difference a single river crossing makes. If you ever wonder why every country is worth a visit, no matter how small or unknown, then the stark contrast between the two tiny young South American nations of Guyana and Suriname would be an exemplary answer.
The view from my mini-bus window on the post border-crossing part of the journey from Georgetown (Guyana) to Paramaribo (Suriname) has changed dramatically. The first real hint of what’s to come occurred when I was actually able to look out the window without fear that my face would go through the glass on the next major pot hole we hit or yet another terrifying near-miss traffic situation. Looking through the front windshield, I saw a paved road with actual signs and even paint demarkating the lanes! The country suddenly feels tropical but with a definite sense of purpose. All the land is being utilized for cultivation or has actual pens for the animals they rear. The donkeys are being cared for, not tied to the side of the road creating hazards. Bananas and coconuts bloom from the palms beckoning you to feel refreshed. The homes are all in more than livable condition. The style of the older colonial homes are not as elegant and elaborate as in Georgetown but they are cared for here. Fresh paint, no rotted wood or plastic covering to holes. Resident care for gardens.
Suriname is younger than Guyana, earning its emancipation from the Netherlands in 1975. The language is still Dutch and the European influence is very strong here. Politically, this country of 500,000 people has more connection to the Caribbean and Europe than to its neighbours directly South – it is not even possible to cross into Brazil from Suriname despite their shared border! It’s interesting to note that in addition to the Dutch being the last nation to abolish slavery in 1863, they also have a reputation for being the roughest and toughest masters. Here in Suriname, all emancipated slaves were still forced to labour for 10 more years – for free – following their liberation. Seems the only real difference that followed 1863 is that the African people were actually recognized as human beings, not just property. Of course the Dutch, like the British in Guyana, also brought indentured workers from around the world – mainly other Dutch colonies like Indonesia.
Read about my extraordinary experience staying in a Maroon village in Suriname.
My time here in Paramaribo is coincidentally punctuated by Carifest XI. It is supposed to be the Caribbean’s biggest cultural event bringing together arts and crafts, music, performances, culinary and writer word arts. It is the first time the festival has been held in 5 years despite its biennial schedule. While its opening ceremonies may have been a political success on TV, locals and tourists alike, who traveled here for the festival, were left feeling angry and unimportant. The entire bleachers filling Independence Square were composed of delegate representatives from every nation involved in the festival who were given special invitations.
The problem is that the people in charge seem to have neglected to inform the people who traveled from near and far that they would be locked out behind massive barriers without a chance of experiencing or watching anything. After the inaugural show ended we took to the street once more hoping to revel in festival atmosphere but the crowds of well dressed, calm and proper youth of every background seemed to just disperse into the night. I would call their behaviour an interesting phenomenon, but that only seems to be the norm. The festival will continue for 10 days, however, I am sorry report that I won’t be here to tell you all about it. My journey continues East into French Guiana, the only piece of European Union land in South America.
It’s cheaper for locals to fly from Paramaribo all the way to Amsterdam, Holland and then back to South America than to try flying directly to another country within the continent (outside of neighbours – British and French Guyanas). WOW!
For an easy evening trip in Paramaribo, try a dolphin tour. Boats take you out on the river in search of these beautiful pink bellied dolphins unique to the Amazon areas. They like attention so make some noise and they might just put on a show for you with aerials and acrobatics. Other activities to do in Suriname are similar to those of Guyana, specifically involving going into the interior to do trekking, wildlife or waterfall viewing. My personal opinion is that the Guyana jungle is more of a virgin forest, densely packed with wildlife, but that may not be the case for long. As international companies make their way into the Amazon of Guyana to mine for gold and export their ancient lumber, the situation will undoubtedly change.
Dolphins tour are offered by Waterproof Paramaribo for 27 Euros (At the time of writing)
- Pros: Excellent service by our guide Anna and delicious traditional snacks served during a short village visit up river. A beautiful sunset on the water doesn’t hurt either.
- Cons: You have make your own way to the docks. Taxi costs 20 Suriname Dollars each way. (That’s about $7US at current exchange.)
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~ A Wisdom Trails Guide By Karina ~
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