Monday, November 28, 2011

Paramaribo, Suriname

Hello from Suriname, the nicest place you've never heard of. The capital of this former Dutch (and British on occasion) colony is a bit like Georgetown. Except cleaner. And safer. And the street lights work. And the drains are underground. Actually it's nothing like Georgetown. It is, however, awseome. It's also a non-presence on the tourist trail unless you are Dutch. That's a crying shame as this place is very, very pleasant.

I'm a happy and relaxed boy now but my entry into the "Land of Smiles" was a bit less joyful. I had to get up a stupid o'clcok in Guyana after going to bed very late courtesy of some night club near my guesthouse. It took 11 hours to get here, 4 of which were centered round crossing one river. The ferry takes 30 minutes but the Guayanese authorities have one person to do all the border stamping. The Surinamese had 2 but they compensated by having a customs check. I decided to sod waiting for my bags to be rifled and walked straight through. I might be missing a customs card but I am leaving this place on a canoe into French Guyana. No customs for me there.

Anyhoo I got here and saw very little open but shitloads of people milling about. I had arrived in Parbo the eve of the Surinamese Independence Day. This meant 2 things: My stay here would be interesting and I was absolutely fucked for lodgings. I resigned myself to a long time of trudging around with my gear getting bounced out into the heat and/or rain. Not so. The second place I tried told me they had no rooms but sat me down, sorted me out a Parbo beer and started to work the phones . For the few people who knw this place the Surinamese are known to be friendly and helpful. What could have become another traveller war story was reduced to getting a mild buzz while trying to understand Dutch. I was booked, directioned and settled an hour later.

The next day I had my morning coffee while watching the manager of this place hastily put on a police uniform with all the parade trimmings. Turns out he isn't filth but he is a very good trumpet player. I endeared myself to him by taking photos of him while marching. The pics are odd though as he was not allowed to smile or acknowledge me but at the same time he is Surinamese so his instincts go against that. the result is a picture where he looks a bit like a schoolboy with a smoking fag-end at his feet trying to look innocent.

After watching him march alongside his cop (or other drafted musicians) buddies, I loafed around the waterfront where people where eating, dancing and drinking. Boy were they drinking. Pretty soon, so was I. Suitably beered up, I made my way to the square in front of the presidential palace to see what was going on. The cops were there and laods of infantry types including a bunch of visiting French and Brazilian soldiers and a funky Surinamese unit all camoed up and armed with AK's. I was quizzical about this as the only purpose I could see of having a guerrilla type unit here would be in case of war with either France or Brazil.

My musings were halted by torrential rain. I tried to find shelter under a tree, realised it was pointless, wrapped my camera into a plastic bag and decided to stay wet and drunk. A wise move as I got to see the highlight of the parade which was their President review his people. He decided having an aide de camp with a brolly was for girls and marched out into the rain to do some looking and saluting. This was met with great approval by the crowd. Equally interesting to me and some of the gentry were the French female sailors in their white shirts after a good deluge.

The President himself is a bit of a quandary. He used to be the dictator of this place and has a standing Interpol arrest warrant on him for drug charges. He still managed to win a reasonably fair election and a lot of people I talked to like him. Oddly enough he doesn't object to a plaque commerating the 15 prominent opponents of his coup that were murdered in December 1982. This is unusual for a strongman as he must have had a hand in it especially as he used the bullshit "shot while trying to escape" line at the time. This plaque is in the old Dutch fort a few hundred yards from his residence. Then again he didn't mind a huge concert and piss-up in front of his place either. I can't imagine anyone holding a Sound System on Downing Street.

The next day after a suitable recovery period I went into town. Acording to locals Parbo is pretty dead on the weekend as everyone gets out. The weekend after ID day was even more so. Still it's a nice town. Say what you want about the Dutchies but they leave prettier burghs than the Brits. There are shedloads of churches including the Catholic one that also claims to be the biggest wooden house of JC. I'm starting to wonder how many of these I will see. I tried to find a cool gospel service with people dressed in their exotic Sunday best but all I could see through the doors was sagging heads. No thanks.

Of note is the Zeelandia Fort and museum refered to above. It was an unsettling experience to say the least. It's a small star shaped fort built by the Dutch after one of the rounds of pass-the-country they had with the Brits. It was the way I visited it that was unsettling. Let me recreate the experience. There was a huge group of Nederlanske folk getting a tour so I nipped up onto the battlements and started doing the visit in reverse. First I went through a room all about the native people. Lots of bows, stone axes and cassava root strainers. More battlements, a canon and another room. This time the theme was colonial times. It had pipes, more pipes, really long pipes, looms and other daily life stuff. Further battlements and a small room with a cobblers shop. Down the stairs to the ground level and then a right to the old apothecary. There was lots of ye olde jars, vials, instruments and HOLY FUCKING JESUS WTF IS THAT DOING HERE?

There was a plaster mock-up of a severed leg and foot from a black person. The way it was displayed it looked like it was amongst the wares. The info here was not translated into English but from what I could decipher mutilations were one of the ways of controlling the "negers" (sic). I appreciate the desire to reflect the horrors of the colonial past but a bit of warning would be in order. Next to the pharmacy of horrors there was more grim stuff. There is a small jail which is supposed to hold an eternal flame to all the people who died here including the 15 mentioned above. There was a hurricane lamp on the ground. It was out.

To be honest Parbo has not got many great sites per se. It's still an awesome place thanks to the atmosphere and the locals. The majority of tourists here are the Dutch and they are usually sound people. It's a bit weird when everybody at the table switches language on your account but then again they have the skills to do it. This is also the case for Surinamese people. They all speak Dutch but can switch to English effortlessly. I guess if you are Dutch you would force your sprogs to be good linguists as this place is about the only one where their tongue is spoken (I know the Flemish speak it but half a country doens't count). Also, unlike the Italians and the French they can't hope to meet a few dedicated people who studied Dutch for the beauty of the language. Dutch sounds like someone took German and tried to make it sound more evil

Parbo is a great place to see once everybody gets back to work. Here is a quick compendium of the little things I thought interesting and that you can't find on Wikipedia. The Israeli consulate shares a building with the admin of McDonalds. The Dutch colonist cemetery is completely overgrown, avoided by superstitious locals and amusingly nicknamed the Orange Garden. Children have birthdays parties in specially decorated roofless buses that cruise around town blasting fun music. Santa apparently likes Parbo beer if the posters are to be believed. A 50 year old woman groped my package in her street before striding off and laughing with her friend.

That's it for Suriname. I have been offered a ride to Cayenne tomorow from the border. French Guyana is basically written off as too expensive and with not much to see. My run to Rio is also being finalised and I have to be in Belem on the 9th at the latest. I have cooked up a plan to stay for cheap in French Guyana. It involves hiring a car and sleeping in the jungle, on the beach and maybe in a few decent campsites for washing purposes. European Space Centre (not in Europe), here I come. Not sure when I will be able to post again.

Take care,



Anonymous Serge said...

I think that kids would definitely enjoy a birthday party where they get to ride a bus which cruises around town as they get to have a great time!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013 6:14:00 AM  

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