Bye Guyana’s, Bon Bini Aruba ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ผ

Four incredible weeks in Suriname and French Guiana are over (British Guyana has to wait). Sad in a way, but also time to move on. We take so many different memories home! We keep it dutch, however, and are off to Aruba’s wonderful beaches ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ– for some diving, kite surfing ๐Ÿ„ and probably the odd fiesta here or there ๐Ÿ˜‰

Screenshot_20181203_215601.jpg

The final two days in Paramaribo turned out rather well. We relaxed quite a bit at the wonderful Palaccio hotel, visited the zoo (finally a jaguar ๐Ÿฏ), did some work out (really keen on getting sweaty again), more sightseeing and enjoyed a rather lively saturday night… In particular the DJ at Zus & Zo’s.

Of course we couldn’t leave without a few more Saoto soups ๐Ÿต and a Dutch pancake ๐Ÿฅž… Too tasty.

Ah, before i forget… We also had our first ‘anniversary’ having met one year earlier in Santa Marta, Colombia. Cheers! Quite a journey since… 8 countries together, no less (and a few more each individually). ๐Ÿ˜˜

Advertisements

Suriname ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ท: Lazy sloths & busy monkeys in Groningen

Groningen is a small town (5,000 inhabitants) to the west of Paramaibo and home to many weekend houses of wealthy parbo’s. It has a really nice and relaxed feeling helped by its location right on the river, friendly people, hungry dogs and is pretty clean (weekly cleaning efforts make all the difference). We enjoyed a morning river tour and visited the local sloth rescue center.

Laura’s comment: The place is very quiet for a short vacation, a lot of silence and the people are very friendly. Without a doubt a nice experience ๐Ÿ˜Š

Wild life spotting with Harry ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆ…๐ŸŸ

We had heard from Carsten about the Bloemendal lodge and its morning river cruise. While we stayed elsewhere, the tour is open to non-guests at Eur25/head. Just give them a call beforehand.

 

 

Promptly at 6.30am we got picked up by Harry – a former dutch pig farmer that resettled to Suriname 14y ago with his wife. He was our capitain for the day.

 

During our 2.5h cruise we spotted many monkeys (all Capuchins) though not really visible in the jungle pics below, many birds (eg toucans) yet sadly no manatees. That the river is full of fish was already evident during our stroll the previous day – loads of very busy fishermen along the river.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Saoto soup – our favourite

I dont know how many times we had this originally Javanese soup. Be it with egg or chicken or bothย  … It was laura’s and my favorite dish by far.

saoto-soep

 

 

Sloth Wellness Center… Little cuties ๐Ÿค—

Harry mentioned a local sloth rescue center – something not even our guesthouse hosts had visited and they live here 20y already. Maybe because of that our host gave us a lift to this arguably a bit hidden place.

 

We were welcomed even though one usually requires a reservation and best visits in the afternoon, as the animals usually return to base that time.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are two kind of sloth in Suriname – the two-toed and the three-toed version. The latter is active during the day and moves very slow. This in turn relates to their low energy diet requiring 4 stomachs to digest (why is unclear given the abundance of fruit). The two toed sloth is in turn nocturnal and eats everything. It is by no means slow and can actually be aggressive.

We saw 2ย three toed sloth hanging out in the trees and, as a special treat, got to see the indoor raised 8mth two sloth baby… Adorable!

img_20181130_1350048667799440293265348.jpg

 

Suriname ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ท: Bigi Pan wild life experience

A visit to Bigi Pan national park has been recommended by several travellers we met and, now that we have done it, i can say it is really worth it. The wildlife, in particular birds, you can see here are amazing and staying a night on the lake is fun. Would have wished for a little higher water-level, so you could swim, but heh that is dry season for you.

Suriname Day & a bit more of Paramaribo

Every 25 November Suriname celebrates its independence from Holland. I am not sure it was such a smart decision given how much the country has fallen behind french guiana, but heh. Still a good party with plenty of live music in the palm garden putting Surinamese cultural diversity on full display. A welcome change from the hospital environment we enjoyed in the afternoon during Laura’s check up…

 

We also had more time to explore Paramaribo and finally made it to the fortress, which is a mere 5min walk through the Palm garden from Zus & Zo guesthouse. Has a distinctly different feel than most of the city … Nice.

 

Heading to Bigi Pan National Park

The park is located in the North West of Suriname and takes some 4/5h bus or shared taxi ride. We used the time to continue with Laura’s German lessons we had started for real at Zus & Zo while waiting for transport.

 

Bigi Pan covers 130,000 hectare – half of which is water (it name big pan comes from the pan like shape of the lake and the river) . Water levels are entirely regulated by rain fall and hence it was good to wait for a few days of rain, as the waterways are very shallow (50cm). To separate the canal leading to the lake from the salt water of the river, there is a barrier over which the boat needs to be pushed.

 

Birds, Birds, Birds …

Bigi pan is a bird watchers paradise with more than 100 species about, many staying here for winter. To name but a few, just on the way to our lodge we saw kingfishers, the black eagle, brown hawks, owls, the white ibis etc.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later in the afternoon and after a brief kayak tour we headed further out on the lake towards a sleeping place for birds with hundreds of pink flamingos that can be seen from afar, pelicans, the famous white ibis and the impressive red / scarlet ibis. Sadly, mobile pictures dont do the amazing scenery any justice ๐Ÿ“ธ

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

On our night tour we also saw caiman eyes ๐ŸŠ and a snake ๐Ÿ sleeping in the tree before heading back to our lodge on stilts right on the lake.

 

Amazing sunrise in Bigi Pan

The night was a decent one albeit a bit short to make it up in time for a beautiful sunrise over Bigi Pan. Pictures speak a thousand words …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mud fight

Before we headed back to Nickerie, we enjoyed a mud bath with the other (all Dutch) travellers… Fun and apparently good for you.

Nieuw Nickerie, skipping British Guyana ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡พ

We had a night in Nickerie as the locals call it on both ends of our Bigi pan tour. While it is the 2nd largest town in Suriname, there isn’t much to see here. However, it eases travel stress given 4/5h one way journeys to / from Paramaribo.

Nieuw Nickerie is the gateway to British Guyana – either through an official ferry (10am daily) about 1h south of Nickerie or by ‘backtracking’ in speedboats from Zeedijk (SRD70 one way). The latter is semi-legal, as the government wants to prop up the use of official ferry services, combat smuggling and prevent accidents that frequently cost lives.

We decided to skip Guyana. We had only 4 days left and would need two just for the commute. That would leave us with a little time in Georgetown, which is a pretty dangerous place these days.

Instead we headed for the city of Groningen… Very early on …

French Guiana: Space. Jungle. Back in Europe.

French Guiana (FG) is officially a part of france and different to Suriname or Guyana hasn’t opted for independence. We spent just under week there and came across a few unusual things …

2000px-flag_of_french_guiana6238978732209062045.png

Laura’s ๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿป comment: On this trip we had a new member with us – Carsten from Germany. On the first day we started our tour with a visit to the Kourou space center and after many hours finally managed to find a pretty house to stay in the capital Cayenne. We visited Kourou again to experience something incredible – a rocket launch. A unique moment together with new friends from Kourou. Other than that, we again visited the jungle and this time saw many animals.

Paramaribo to Albina & FG river border

Every tourย in Suriname begins or starts in Paramaribo. So we found ourselves once more in a by now familiar neighbourhood. We enjoyed mobile network, gambled a bit in one of the many casinos alongside chinese gamblers and Venezuelan staff (yep, we lost our EUR20 stake…) and by chance met a familiar face from our previous trip to the jungle (Suriname ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ท: Jungle life near Raleigh falls & Volksberg) – Carsten from Germany.

He had planned to visit FG too and so we teamed up to travel together. We took a 12.30 bus, the only one on sunday’s, to Moengo and from there a taxi on to albina – the main border town on the river. 3h in total. Not bad.

Our accommodation was basic yet sufficient. We had a snack in town (there was not much to do frankly) and played some strange card game carsten taught us. He won twice ๐Ÿ˜

French Guiana basics
FG is a French oversea territory (in fact, its second largest region) and since Belize’s independence in 1981 the only EU territory on mainland America. It has 280000 inhabitants and the highest GDP/capita in South America. Economically it remains very dependent on france and unemployment frequently sits at 20-25%. FG voted against autonomy in 2010.

Back in Europe without a flight …

We jumped straight into on of the many boats that go back and forth between Suriname and french guiana (EUR2,50 one way). There were zero passport checks (though there are checkpoints on the main road either side of the border) with the positive side effect that we would not need to purchase the EUR35 entry visa to suriname again.

On the other side we were officially back in europe. Mobile data and calls come out of your normal plan, you pay with euro’s, the infrastructure and cars looks immediately much better though their remains plenty of craziness.

The border town is called St Laurent du Maroni and is the second largest town in FG. There wasn’t much to see other than the transportation camp where prisoners passed through before ending up on a nearby prison island. Historically, sending prisoners here from france was pretty prevalent.

We jetted off to Kourou in our tiny rental car ๐Ÿš˜

Guiana Space Center (Centre Spatial Guyanaise – CSG)

Our first main stop was at the space centre that is situated here. It launches vega, soyuz and ariane type rockets and most commercial satellites nowadays are launched from here roughly once a month. Its location close the equator allows for lower fuel cost and more payload than at other stations. For the time being, no humans are propelled from here. It is operational since 1968 and was built as a result of the independence of Algeria in the 50’s and the subsequent loss of the (just finished) space station there.

๏ฟผp8490_26845358235da5dc2da4cffe2001f084p33712_hd-12621163709447690284.jpg

Different rocket types launched from CSG

Before visiting the interesting space museum we got some great news – the following day a vega rocket would propel a Moroccan satellite into orbit. Brilliant… Especially having missed out on the ariane launch right at the beginning of our time here.

Negative impact of rocket launches

Depending on rocket type, aluminium (ariane/vega) and carbon monoxide / dioxide (soyuz) are released at launch. The french space agency created an environmental measurement plan after the infamous first Ariane V launch of 1996. The launch ended in disaster when the launcher exploded 36.7 seconds after lift-off. Nobody was injured, but the explosion highlighted the possible impact of launches on the local environment. So far, studies (arguably commissioned by CSG) suggest just a limited impact on nature about 1km around launch sites.

Vega launch – live!

We returned to Kourou to meet a couch surfing contact of Carsten and had a BBQ at his place. He studies his master in tropical botanicsย in Kourou alongside many french students, interns, PhD researchers etc. Really fun evening with plenty of interesting conversations of a field i am hardly familiar with.

By 22:42 it was time to watch our first rocket launch – here the video. We watched from the beach rather than the official observation point (that requires a minimum of 2h advance check in). Quite an event as the rocket lit up the night as if it was daytime (well, kind of) and a few mins later the rumbling noise spread from the space center.

Vega program

Vega are a joint European and Italian program. Its rockets have been launched 13 times (100% success) from here since 2012. It is the smallest rocket of the three at 30m hight, 3m diameter, 137 tons and about 1.4t payload (ariane up to 10t) using a three stage propel its load 700km high into orbit. One launch costs about USD37m.

Shopping in FG – now that’s crazy!

We went shopping several times, for our airbnb and the BBQ in Kourou. The prices were shocking! One of the key issues is that most products are imported by plane from France – many of which were imported to France itself be it from asia or countries neighbouring Suriname like Brasil.

A lot of this has to do with EU agricultural regulation. The latter, as i know well, is often designed to protect EU producers from non-EU competition and FG is probably the biggest loser of this. I mean paying the equivalent of EUR25 for a water melon ๐Ÿ‰ when the same costs EUR2 in Colombia is simply insane. Another reason is not so fertile grounds and the many insects (the pesticides required are one reason why it cant be produced under EU law).

However, my conversation with the agronomist suggests it is possible and there are more local businesses coming to the market like the one of Anne we met in Suriname or as evidenced by roadside vendors of melons and other fruit / vegetables.

Cacao – a distant piece of Laos & self-guided jungle trek

On of the day trips led us to Cacao – 75km away from Cayenne. There lives a small Hmong community from Laos that arrived in the 70s/80s following displacement due to the Vietnam war and continues to live in their typical stilt houses. Best to be visited on sunday for market day.

We also went for a self guided jungle hike nearby though only 6km of 18km total for time reasons. The walk was refreshingly challenging yet animals largely elusive. Back home … Beach & party time. And sweet dreams carsten ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜‰

Cayenne – not that much to miss

Cayenne is official home to some 60,000 people and about of all FG population in the wider metropolitan area. You can cover the main sights in one afternoon like the fortress, botanical garden and historical center with colonial architecture, but you wont miss much if you don’t.

Carbets – late discovery of the real way to travel in FG

After Carsten had left us to travel back to Paramaribo to catch his flight home we weren’t quite clear what to do. I checked out a link our airbnb host had provided (http://escapadecarbet.com). It has loads of outdoor tips and a superb overview of carbets in FG – covered shelters where you can put up your hammock or even get a room. This significantly improved the accommodation options, which are otherwise pretty slim or expensive.

We picked a free carbet near Sinnamary (passing many rusty car wrecks roadside) right in the jungle and with a few basic food and beverage items moved in. We weren’t alone on the first night with two other world travellers also staying there, which made for interesting travel conversations around the fire.

The spot was great for animal spotting from the large ‘blondie’ spiders and their countless kids, jungle rats who came along to pick up dinner, a huge iguana, birds, butterflies and a frog. Additionally we frequently enjoyed the monkey concert.

Daytime was to relax now that we were alone. Bath. Talk. Eat. And… Some driving lessons for laurita. She did really well once she got a little feel for the clutch and succeeded in parking between two water bottles. Who can stop her now ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿš˜

Back to Paramaribo … Oh no, flat tyre… ๐Ÿ˜•

cof

Suriname ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ท: Two days in Paramaibo

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 passย forย 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. ๐Ÿ˜Ž ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ท

Fyrelion ๐Ÿฆ 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 ๐ŸšŒ headed for Paramaribo city.

img_20181106_1143271659727398143622815.jpg

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!? ๐Ÿค”), 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 ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง, 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 ๐Ÿ’ต๐Ÿ’ถ

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’ย 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 ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡น ๐Ÿ›ณ

 

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.

img_20181107_1240084219785851462970699.jpg