Our Adventures in Suriname
Suriname is a great destination for adventure travel. We start our adventures in Suriname in Paramaribo, with its Dutch colonial wooden houses. And upstream on the Suriname river, we see many aspects of Suriname culture until, in the end, we reach the Amazon forest.
Early in the evening we land on Zanderij, the international airport of Suriname. From here it’s a one and a half hour drive to reach Paramaribo, where our holiday in Suriname will start. We check into a nice hotel with swimming pool. A little later we are instructed about our trip through Suriname for the coming two weeks. But we are tired and are glad when our heads hit our pillows.
ParamariboIn the morning, we go out to visit Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. Our hotel is located close to the city center, which merely consists of colonial wooden houses. There are some beautiful ones, but most of them need some maintenance. We walk along the main attractions of Paramaribo: the Palm garden, the Waterkant, the Governer’s palace, and the largest wooden structure in the world, the Cathedral of Peter and Paul.
We are lucky enough to join a guided tour through the cathedral, which was built on the foundations of a Jewish Synagogue annex theatre, which was bought and converted to a church in 1824. From 1883 to 1885 the new cathedral was built around the existing structure, which was used as support and scaffolding for the new structure. When the construction was finished, the old structure was removed. Currently, the building is in decay and needs a major renovation.
We spend the rest of the day shopping, and sitting on the Waterkant, the waterside along the Suriname river. This is one of the nicest places in Paramaribo, yet there are not many people here. We enjoy a roti, the local food, and the views over the river.
Moving up the Suriname riverThe following day it is time to move land inward, by boat on the Suriname river. After boarding, we pass the wreck of the German ship that lies here since the Second World War, and the large Wijdenbosch bridge. Then we continue along many old plantations, once the major source of income for Suriname and the Netherlands, but there is not much activity there nowadays. There are also a few beaches, but these are not very attractive because of the Piranha’s that linger in the river.
Our first stop is at the village of Domburg. This is a community of mainly Javanese (coming from another former Dutch colony: Java in Indonesia). And indeed, the market here reminds us of Indonesia. Our second stop is at a village of Maroons, descendants of escaped slaved. Many of them recently worked for the bauxite factory located nearby. But since the factory closed down, there is a lot of unemployment here.
The village looks a bit like a village in Africa. In fact it is a bit of a slum, but one located in the middle of the jungle. We feel a bit ashamed to walk here as a tourist, but we support the local economy by buying a Parbo beer. And it is always fun to play with the local children.
Back in the boat, we move on to Chatillion, a former colony for leprosy patients. It is now overgrown by the jungle, and we can only see some foundations of the buildings. But we enjoy the beautiful plants and flowers, including the national flower of Suriname. Then we move on the pass the largest wooden bridge in the world, the Carolina bridge. Unfortunately, like many other things in Suriname, it is broken and cannot be used. After the bridge, we go ashore to walk the last part to our destination for today.
Redi DotiIt is a hot walk, we are in savannah area now, the trees are interspersed by sand plains. After a quarter of an hour we arrive in the Indian village Redi Doti. Here we receive our hammocks for the night, which we need to install underneath a big shelter. It’s not very easy, but after a while everybody has a nice bed with mosquito net installed and it is time for a beer.
There are two female cooks joining us on our tour through the interior of Suriname. They serve us a nice dish of chicken and rice, although we have to urge them to use more pepper and spices. Most of the foreigners they cook for do not like the local use of many spices, but we do!!
Blaka WatraAfter an comfortable night in our hammocks, we wake up for a trip to Blaka Watra. The dirt road is red (hence the name of the village, Redi Doti means red road) and bumpy. We pass the remnants of a small plain, left here by smugglers. And a little later we arrive at Blaka Watra
Blaka Watra is a small resort including a stream with black water. It was the private resort of former president Pengel, but after his death it was opened to the public. We can have a nice swim in the cool water, relax on the waterside, and make a short walk in the jungle.
JodensavanneBack in Redi Doti we have lunch before we make another walk, this time to the Jew Savannah. In this part of Suriname Jewish colonists, mainly from Portugal, settled hundreds of years ago. Their synagogue was built on the highest hill. But after the area was slowly abandoned, the synagogue was overgrown by the jungle. In the second world war, however, the area was used to send Germans prisoners to, who had to work to clear the ruins from the vegetation.
Nowadays the ruins are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, although there is not much left. Yet, the quiet surroundings make a visit worthwhile. Most interesting are the Jewish cemetery, and a nearby cemetery for their slaves. And there is a source of ever running healing water, of which we take a sip. Our hike is complete when we see a humming bird on our way back.
We spend another night in our hammocks to move on the Brokopondo artificial lake the next day. Our van is two hours late, however, which is a common thing in Suriname. Apparently, they had to wait for the ferry at the broken Victoria bridge. We have to take that same ferry, which gives us the opportunity to see how much the bridge is in decay. On the other side of the river, our van has a little trouble to drive from the ferry onto the steep river bank, but after a lot of yelling, pushing, and pulling, we can get in to continue our trip.
Brokopondo lakeAfter continuing over the bumpy dirt road for another 15 minutes, we arrive at the main road from Paramaribo to the Brokopondo lake. This road is unpaved as well, but a lot wider and flat, and it is flanked by the electricity poles transporting the electricity generated by the dam to Paramaribo. After a few hours we arrive at the dam, where we have a look inside. It is an impressive sight, with the humming turbines inside and the swirling water on the outside.
We move on over the bridge along the dam to the landing place for the boats. It is mainly used by Brazilian gold diggers , and there are a few shops and cafes. Here we have lunch and prepare ourselves for a boat trip over the lake. It is dry but cloudy, so we wonder whether we will need out ponchos. But after two minutes in the boat we realize that most water will not come from above. The wind is blowing splashing water right into the boat. The ponchos are doing their work, but enjoying the ride is a bit difficult with having water splashing in your face all the time.
The views over the lake are a bit sinister anyway, with dead tree trunks rising from the water everywhere. The Brokopondo dam was built in the early sixties, after which the lake filled up. No trees were cut however, and apparently it takes a lot of time for the trunks to digest. The Maroon villages in the area were warned to move to higher places, but many didn’t believe it until they had to flee for the rising water.
After two hours the boat finally slows down, and through the dead tree trunks we see a lovely little island with nice huts. This is Tukunari, a holiday resort where we will stay for two nights. We are welcomed by the owner and choose a hut to sleep in. While diner is prepared we relax and enjoy the surroundings.
When it gets dark it is time for an excursion. Equipped with torches we are loaded into a dug-out canoe. The boatsman moves between the tree trunks while our guide is shining his torch on the banks. We have to keep our hands inside, since the canoe is often scratching along the trunks. Then we see what we came for: a pair of lit up eyes, belonging to an alligator. When we come closer, it disappears under water. This is repeated several times, unfortunately we didn’t see one on the banks. But it was an exciting trip anyway, and we have something to talk about before going to bed.
Aukaner Village Lebi DotiOn the banks of the lake, opposite to Tukunari island, lies Lebi Doti, one of the villages of the Aukaner Tribe. Many Aukaner people didn’t want to move to the villages built by the Suriname government after the lake was created. After the water started rising, they built a village here. They chose not to build it on the other side of the dam, since they are convinced that the dam will collapse sometime, flooding everything downriver from it.
At first sight, Lebi Doti seems like a relatively modern village. We pass a few buildings created by the government, and the large school buildings. Here we take a look inside, welcomed by the yelling and screaming children. Via the doctors’ clinic, simple but clean, we move on to the actual village. Here we see the wooden huts we would expect, and the local population performing their daily duties. An old woman shows us her kitchen, and apologizes for not having something to eat for us. We should have warned her we were coming, so she could have put on a pretty dress. But we are actually glad she didn’t.
One of the huts is inhabited by a white couple. They are volunteers who work here for half a year, and are pretty integrated in the community. They tell us that when our boat arrived yesterday the people came to tell them that “the white people” were coming.
We spend a lot of time looking around and making pictures, but not without asking. Many people don’t want to be photographed, but others do, especially the young boys. They want that so badly that it’s hard to make a picture of a hut without have one of the boys on it.
Passing the sacrificial area, we arrive at the local supermarket, annex pub. Here are the men of the village, including the captain (chief) of the village. We have to ask him permission to visit his village, and when we do he performs a ritual sprinkling rum on the floor to ask protection from the gods.
We walk a little further, before we say goodbye to the many children accompanying us. We are pretty impressed with our village to this still very traditional village.
PiranhasIn the afternoon it is time for a very different activity: fishing. First we take some mosquito nets and some rice into the water for a swim. Despite the big holes in the nets, we manage to catch a number of small fish with them. Then, we move into the canoes, and move through the trunks again to find a nice fishing spot. The fish are cut in pieces, and put on our hooks. A little later, one of us is pulling the first piranha on board. Funny little creatures with very sharp teeth. After admiring that first catch, more and more are caught, and we even have to sacrifice a few of them as bate for more.
Back on Tukunari the Piranha’s are baked, and appear on our plates a little later. The taste of them is good, but it is a bit difficult to eat with many fish bones. After eating them, we all clean up their sharp teeth to bring back as a souvenir.
Our trip back over the lake is as wet as before, and at the landing stage for the boats, we have to wait again for our bus. We get used to the delays, and take in some of the activities here, like the man putting gasoline in a large barrel in his minivan. Finally, our bus arrives, to bring us to Brownsberg.
On our way to Brownsberg nature park, we pass Brownsberg village. It was built by the Suriname government to house the Maroons who had to leave the Brokopondo lake area. The village looks a bit sad, with rows of standard simple plastic huts. The people here are poor, but moreover they loose their identity and traditions this way. A bit further in Nieuw Koffiekamp, people have found gold and are now trying to get rid of the Maroons living there. Seems like the Maroons are still a suppressed people.
BrownsbergThe bus has a little trouble moving uphill to Brownsberg. A couple of times it slips and slides on the wet, steep dirt road, but it manages to reach the top of the hill. There, on top is the tourist resort of Brownsberg nature park. We take our residence in a hut a little further into the jungle. After settling in, we make a hike to Leo Waterfall. Apart from insects, we don’t see any wildlife, but we do hear different species of monkeys, and we have a great shower under the waterfall.
After a good night rest, we are awakened by the Howler monkeys. They make a lot of noise, but when we hurry outside, we can barely catch a glimpse of them. We do see a Tayra though, an animal related to the weasel. And there is also a colorful toucan, but they’re gone before we can grab a camera. Yet, it’s a nice way to start the day.
The day continues with a walk to the Witi-creek. First it’s downhill through the jungle, where we see an agouti (large type of rodent) and a bush deer. After 2 hours we arrive at the Witi-creek where we have a bath among the fish. But then it’s back uphill, which is tough in the increasing heat. But while we are struggling, we manage to spot a whitefaced saki.
Exhausted, but satisfied we return and decide to spend the rest of the day spotting more rainforest animals. But apart from squirrels and a black and white toucan, we ran out of luck.
We have seen a lot of the Suriname culture on our way from Paramaribo to the Brokopondo lake. But this is not where our adventures in Suriname end. From Brownsberg, we move further inland, where we will see more wildlife, and more Maroon villages in the Amazon forest.
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