The trip overall was nice, but sadly came at the expense of two full days just in transit from/to Paramaibo. 🎢🚌🏞️
Tasting transport in Suriname
Our first tour deeper into the jungle left pretty early at around 7am from Paramaibo. First up a pretty bumpy 5h bus ride to Witagron (180km). The route is really made for jeeps and not a bus, but heh. Our driver didnt care much and blasted through it with an astonishing 35km/h average.
From there we jumped into long boats for another 4h or 60km up the Coppename river. Going by boat is a little slow in dry season, as the skipper maneuvers zick zag like to avoid sandbanks and rocks. Do expect to get stuck and push the boat – happened twice to us and is fun.
We arrived at the Raleigh falls nature reserve late afternoon. Three nights in hammocks in a simple yet amazing jungle lodge on FUNGU island lied ahead.
My journey to the lodge got progressively worse though, as a headache and a major sunburn plagued me. Straight to the hammock for me and into the caring hands of Laurita 🤗
Laura’s comment: Our time on Fungu island was magical especially at nights all the jungle sounds, the moon and stars and an incredible group of people that made for a memorable time.
Volksberg – Steep climb, amazing views
On our first full day on the jungle island we hiked for about 8h / 19km and visited the Volksberg – at 220m the highest point in the area. On the way through the jungle we spotted few animals, mainly ants though 🐜 🐜 🐜, and learned a few things from our guide Wilfried – a Parbo beer & marihuana fueled amerindian surinamese.
The hike up the hills is pretty steep and best done in dry conditions for safety reasons (really not much to hold on to if you slip, rope not reliable). From the top you get a 360 degree view of the surrounding amazon forest. Quite breathtaking 🏞️🏞️🏞️
After about 19km we were done hiking for the day, refreshed ourselves in the river and got a lift to camp by boat just as it started to rain ☔. Who cares!
Raleigh falls – Uninspiring in dry season
The Raleigh falls were a 5min boat trip followed by 2km hike away from our camp. The trailhead is in another lodge that apparently belongs to the president and is run by his younger brother. If it was him, thanks again for the fish meal.
The waterfalls were nothing out of the ordinary and look more like strong currents especially during dry season, as we have right now. But then its less about the falls anyway and more about the time spent in the jungle. Swimming is not advised near the waterfalls, as electric eels are hiding beneath the rocks and could easily immobilise you with a 500 volts kiss 😘 🐠 ⚡
Laura wasn’t feeling great and skipped the hiking part, but in return we enjoyed the river beach near the trail head. The warm and sweet river water is just amazing to swim in. You just need to watch for currents, sometimes sharp rocks and avoid swimming with any open wounds as piranha’s live too.
We met Lisette and Sergio at E’ Tembe restaurant. Lisette is Dutch born, Sergio a Rasta maroon Surinamese. They are a couple for 7y and run a small travel business. They also work at the restaurant certain days where Sergio puts his cooking skills to work. If you, like us, don’t mind improvisation at times, do go with them for a very local and affordable Suriname experience (our 4 day / 3 night tour was €150 pP ex alcohol) – Optimission on tour (no website yet). Just beware that if you are a single woman (or even with partner) expect harassment from some men.
Laura’s comment: The time on the island allowed us to think and reflect about many things in our life, family, personal etc. The company wasn’t too great at times as our host couple had frequent arguments and some guys were at times a little disrespectful. However, our time as a couple was amazing with music, food and thousand stars lighting up the sky at night. ✨
After a stop to resupply a few things for our time on the island, we headed for Sergio’s home village of Marchallkreek. Some 500 people live there in a mix of old and new houses. Sergio mentioned that there is some structure to the village such as all the sister living in one row. Well, i hope they all get on well with each other 😉
Transmigration: Most of the housing are the result of transmigration (here a little youtube clip). This is essentially the relocation of some 25 villages and 6000 people in 1965-68 to make space for an artificial reservoir now known as Brokopondo. The people from Marchallkreek are some of these resettled people. Brokopondo dams the Suriname river to generate hydropower used for bauxite processing generating about 2/3rd of export revenues though gold has risen in importance.
Village governance: Each village has a certain governance structure. The captain is the ultimate person in charge and has up to four basha’s reporting to him. Further up, each tribe has a major as the ultimate leader. Noteworthy different to normal politicians is that the tribal leader are also spiritual leaders. For some time now, tribal rulers and government work together.
After a brief glance around we continued to Brownsberg for the hiking part of the day. Anne, a french girl from Britanny that lives in French Guiana growing fruit and veggies, joined us for the tour. We will, however, return to the village in two days to join their annual thanksgiving celebration.
Brownsberg Nature Reserve
Brownsberg nature reserve is located some 100km from Paramaibo with a plateau some 500m above sea level. Around 10000 animals were moved here as part of the transmigration in the 60’s.
After an adventurous ride to the plateau, which is best done in a 4×4 especially in rain season, we stopped for lunch amidst amazing views of Brokopondo lake.
Then it was hiking time as we explored the jungle and headed for the Ireen waterfall. About 6.5km hike with 300m altitude gain and 2h net walking time.
The waterfall is a nice stop to refresh oneself though its didnt carry much water owing to dry season.
We spotted some monkeys in the trees and some birds and learned about trees and their fruit from Anne and Lisette.
Island life on Brokopondo lake
We left Brownsberg for our home island a little whike before sunset (sun is out 6.30am to 6.30pm here). In a village Affobakka, close to the dam carrying the same name, we stopped at a bar whike waiting for the boat and enjoyed a Parba djogo together. Eventually we ferried across.
The first night was much about a late dinner (tasty lentils & potato made in the local fashion). We all were tired.
Our only full day on the isalnd started with sunrise for me at 6.30am. Anne was there too to watch.
I was still pretty tired after a mosquito kept me awake at night. I brewed a coffee for Laura and myself and we went for an early morning swim. The lake ia very warm and the sweet water right up my street. We fell asleep again right after – you know, one of these really nice sleeps 😴😴😴
After lunch (red beans, chicken and rice) we tried our luck fishing. The lake is full of piranha’s, which as we found out later, taste supernice in particular when BBQed Caribbean style (like jerk chicken in Jamaica – grilled and smoked in a closed up BBQ set) or simpky fried. I got lucky once to catch one (sadly the only one). Great opportunity to inpect the razor sharp teeth of these predators although we learned from Sergio later that these are not the hyper-agressive little Piranha’s that hunt in schools (groups) and dismantle prey in a heartbeat.
Later we briefly popped over to the mainland for some shopping and returned to an amazing sunset – colours galore 🌈🌇
For dinner we had BBQ chicken, spinach from the forest (thanks Anne), bami (indonesian style noodles) and green beans called kouseband. Lekker 😋
That night, laura and i enjoyed watching the stars and listening to music near our house. Admittedly it was very romantic and bonding and chevere 😉 Plus, she is a great dancer after all. 💏 💃💞 🏝 ✨
Seems like i wasnt the only one though keen on spending time with laura, as one of the workers on the island kept on asking her for her facebook details (naturally behind my back) and walking about in her bikini seemed also like free a public peep show for these guys. Seems where they respect mother nature, they don’t embrace the same reapect for couples nor women. Sad, but i guess had to be expected.
Village life in Marchallkreek
And then the island time was up… Back to Marchallkreek to spend a bit more there. The big party for thanksgiving happened last night and we arrived too late for church (protestant), but enjoyed some manjok soup the women were still selling.
Once we had put up hammocks, Quaraisa and her sister picked us up for a bath in the creek. Refreshing. By the river was a lot of action as well. Women cleaned the pots and dishes, presumably from last nights celebrations. Others came to wash themselves. Loads of kids about also enjoying a play in the cool water.
Laura enjoyed her time with the kids and seemingly made a new friend with Quaraisa. We also met Tim – a french man who has been travelling the world for years seemingly getting by with his juggling, music and dance skills. Seems like the perfect companion for Anne.
The evening was mixed. On the one hand another example of zero respect towards women among the maroon men, as two guys basically popped by our camp and before exchanging any other word told (not asked) laura ‘you like me, right?’ and ignoring completely her case to be in a relationship. As i returned i overheard Lisette following up in dutch explaining respect for women – uphill struggle! Anyway, this farce ruined Laura’s mood.
On the other hand, laura’s new friend made a nice scrarf for her and a bracelet for both of us. Very sweet. Thanks a million!
Back to Paramaibo
Our first full night in the hammocks was far from relaxing. Mosquitos were a constant plague (Lisette and Sergio moved into their car having mosquito net). I also had some say technical issues and my constant movement during sleep made some noise. Need to practice this a bit more and there will be plenty opportunities i think
But it was nice to jump back into the creek for a morning swim and then explore the village a little more like the primary school and the agriforesting project of Sergio’s cousin nearby.
After almost 4 days out, we headed back to town. Anne and Tim will catch a lift on the theatre boat to Trinidad while Laura and I look forward to a night in an A/C room 🚿 🛏 🍻 1before the next trip begins.
The dolphin trip made us hungry to see more of the Suriname outside paramaibo. There were several one day tours on offer, but instead of paying up for what generally seem high prices over here, we rented bikes ourselves and headed for Peperpot reserve and afterwards Nieuw Amsterdam.
At 164000 sqkm it is the smallest sovereign state in South America. French Guiana is smaller (91000sqkm), but belongs to France. Some 500000 people live here made up of 27% east indians, 22% maroons, 16% creole, 14% javanese, 4% amerindians and a lot of mixed and other smaller ethic groups. Religion reflects the mixed population with 40% christian, 26% hindu and 19% muslim. Tribal spirituality also plays a major role for maroons.
The country was the last outpost of dutch colonial history until 1954 (originally swapped for manhatten /new york with the english – driving is still on the left hand side). This was followed by a 21y period of self governance before suriname became independent in 1975 – a moment many 50y+ aged surinamese used to resettle to holland.
Total population (‘000)
The president is pretty much a criminal with outstanding warrants for drug dealing in holland and for killing 15 regime critics in the December murders in 1980 – but law was changed in time for his renewed presidency to escape sentence.
The route led us out of town until a steep bridge crosses the Suriname river. Definately not made for walking nor cycling, but with great views of the city, river. And harbour from its top. Laura was sweating. From there you quickly turn left into a more rural street and suddenly cycling was a pleasure.
Peperpot is an old coffee plantation and now a nature reserve. We arrived one of the alternative park gates and cycled the c3km hiking trail through the forest. Nice ride though the only animals we saw were sadly on signposts on the wayside barring a few birds 😐
By the main entrance you then find a little info center (if you speak Dutch, otherwise pictures only) and, more importantly, cold refreshments 😊. Those were well deserved after some 12km in dead hot conditions.
The city is located on the riverbank opposite of paramaibo and a 12km cycle trip from pepperpot. To be frank we actually didnt see much here. The hot conditions called for immediate refreshments and later on a riverside lunch at Het Bastion.
The pricing was more or less Europe like and in USD with 10% mandatory service charge. But a very nice setting as we had the place to ourselves. Further, much to Laura’s liking there was an option to cross the river by boat and thus avoid the bridge we had to cross in the morning.
So all good until we had to pay. While we had checked that visa is fine, it didnt work with their card machine. I left my email and accommodation details and sorted the bill later – giving the cash to my guesthouse who had it taxi’d over to the restaurant. Hopefully the waiter didn’t get into too much trouble for his incorrect information 😬 (he would not remain the last one to make that mistake…).
By 5pm the water taxi arrived and we crossed the river (SRD40) to head back to the guesthouse. Time for a shower and dinner at yet another upmarket place – Bodega & Grill de Waag. Nite, nite…
Our tour of the Guyana’s started in Surinam after a brief stopover in Aruba. Hot, different but a lot of fun looking back at the initial week.
Half a night in the hammock
We arrived shortly after midnight at Paramaribo. To get into the country you need to purchase a tourist pass for EUR35 (single entry). First curiosity was the cash machine. I never had to put my card in horizontally… First signs of a crazy journey?
We opted to sleep in a B&B near the airport, but the reception was closed. So we jumped into the hammocks hanging in the backyard.
Sometime around 3am and just when i fell asleep the owner swung by. A little confused as to his new guests. He put us into a spare room and soon we dozed off.
Laura’s comment: On the first day Ronny decided to sleep in hammocks in the middle of nowhere. I was very nervous and only after some time I could relax a little. Suddenly a guy arrived, asked us what we are doing here and after a conversation showed us our accommodation for the night. (This was a very tense moment for me.) Next day we missed our satellite launch in French Guiana and decided to stay in Surinam. Since this moment I can say that Surinam is a country with incredible places and people. 😎 🇸🇷
Fyrelion 🦁 on the bus
Next morning we had to wait for an hour for a bus into town. Pretty packed stuff! The choice of music in the radio pretty accurately reflected the cultural diversity of Suriname… During one hour we got something of a global music crash course with everything on offer – indian, Espanola, afro, Italian (Pavarotti no less!), tango, portuguese – until the news flash in dutch reminded that we are not lost in Spotify, but in this packed Surinamese bus 🚌 headed for Paramaribo city.
The trip was entertaining beyond the radio for we met no other than Mr. ‘Fyrelion’ – a say 60y ish old rastaman from British Guyana on a five-day business trip for his food export / import business. We had a little icy start for i ‘forgot’ to put down the folding chair for the aisle (how could I!? 🤔), but soon started chatting away… Well he did.
He is clearly into conspiracy stuff (no doubt, me too in many ways) and despises the whole G8 illuminati that suppress developing nations. In his views, they instigated the whole refugee drama – both in Syria and Venezuela. He also believes that refugees get ‘poisoned’ food as food rations include melamine. Being from one the Guyana’s we wanted to visit, we discussed the safety aspect. He said its pretty dangerous right now with the number of Venezuelan refugees almost matching the incumbent population (c800k). Second caution this morning after a Brazilian couple in our B&B. Good luck Fyrelion!
Looking out of the window, while driving on the left like in 🇬🇧, opened up a weird world. Carribean weather, dutch language signs everywhere (bakkerij anyone? Or bushalte?), many hindu temples and blended in a few Chinese supermarkets. Unique!
Paramaibo: Some 250000 or almost half of Surinamese people live in the capital. They are also known as Parbo’s as is the local beer that comes in large 1l bottles called Djogo.
Hunting for cash 💵💶
Our initial plan was to connect the same day to French Guiana to witness a Soyuz satellite launch from the European Space Agency. Well, we missed the bus and would not have had enough SRD to pay the ticket anyway.
We must have tried 5 different banks before we finally got cash from republic bank – the only one that accepts international cards. By the way, visa cards also utterly useless here other than af select tour agencies (that charge 5%). Sorted. Time for lunch, accommodation and a little city tour.
Celebrating Divali – the festival of lights
After a quick stroll through town with its unesco world heritage listed city center, we headed for a bar by the Suriname River called E’ Tembe. Here we met Lisette and Sergio who work here part time while living on a nearby theatre ship ‘ship of fools‘.
The latter has an interesting story. It is owned by two guys that have been on tour with the ship for 30y. They usually stop in a place for 6 month before moving on and entertain their host nation with their own theatre creations. Naturally, the boat is a hotspot for all sorts of artistic and at times a little crazy people. We will try to catch the boat in Frederiksdorp next week before it sails to Trinidad & Tobago 🇹🇹 🛳
While having parbo beer (well, mango juice for Laura) and a soup made by Sergio from wild black chicken, we had an entertaining conversation with Lisette. Both run a tour company (Optimission on tour) and offered a visit to Brownsberg nature reserve and stay on an island on Brokopondo lake for the coming weekend. We are in!
By now it was dark and we headed over to a central park near the presidential palace and the national assembly. The c30% Indian population of Paramaribo was celebrating Divali – the festival of lights. There were many stands with mainly sweet food in all sorts of colours, live musical performances and several places to get a henna… Laura didn’t wait long to get one.
Bank holiday… Taking it easy
For our second day we took it easy – partly by force as the bank holiday (Divali) that meant everything was shut (sadly including all museums), transport very limited and it was hot. We used the time to inform ourselves about tours and booked the Dolphin and sunset river cruise (see here for details).
If have to add here that surinamese general dont have the most liberal working hours with shops usually open 8am to 4pm. Usually the chinese run supermarkets are most reliable.
Other than that… Time to relax in the albergo alberga guesthouse (more specifically its pool), lunch with dutch style pancakes and dinner over some european football.
On our second afternoon in Paramaibo we decided to see some dolphin’s and booked a boat tour (€27,50 including 3 free drinks 🍻 🍷🥤). The tour leaves from Pier van Leonberg (15min, SRD30 from city center) and takes about 3h.
We first followed the Suriname river, which is probably the widest i have been on and an adventure in itself with nice views of marina’s, water front properties and Fort Nieuw Amsterdam. It is the delta close to the sea and hence carries salt water. Later on we turned into the Commewijne river, which carries sweet water. Where both rivers meet is the place where the delpin’s like to hunt their prey.
Laura’s comment: I have never seen delphins in a river. Very memorable! 🐬 🐬 🐬
In this area live the grey river delphins or Guiana delphins (wikipedia). They grow up to 2.2m long and weigh up to 240kg. Each day a dolphin consumes between 4-9% of their body weight in food… So 11 to 23kg each day. If i had to eat the same i’d be 3-7kg a day!
Very playful animals these little dolphins. They are attracted by clapping and apparently singing. However, it appears the boat of another tour had the better artists on board getting a lot more close up attention from the 🐬 than we did. 🤨
Half way through the tour we stopped for some surinamese snacks at the local village of Johan & Magaretha – a former plantation. It was predominantly populated by indian people ans as so many other places pretty poor. I ended up talking mostly with fellow travellers from holland about their time in Suriname and got some valuable tips.
We headed back around sunset taking in the vivid colours until it was pitchblack and time for dinner. Nice trip.