Friday, September 10, 2010

City of Brudderly Love?

Crossing from French Guiana to Suriname took no more than 10 minutes.  We got entry and exit stamps from little huts on either side of the river and paid 7 euros for a pirogue (a flat-bottomed wooden boat) to take us across.  Once on the other side, we were assailed by taxi drivers speaking a barely intelligible mix of Dutch, English, and French, peppered with some local dialect we didn't recognize.  Determined not to pay the full fare for a private taxi to Paramaribo, we waited for nearly two hours until our driver could find other passengers.

Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, was a melting pot of European, Indian, African, and Javanese cultures and the billboards and signs were kaledioscopic in their use of the various languages.  The sun beat down upon us as we meandered through the streets, past a cathedral that the Surinamese claim is the largest wooden building in the world and, as an homage to Dutch tolerance, the biggest mosque in the Caribbean sat next to an equally impressive synagogue.  Arriving at the main city square, we felt transported to colonial Philadelphia and weren't surprised to learn later that an American architect designed much of the area.

The highlight of our stay in Paramaribo was the day tour we took of the nearby plantations.  We met our tour guide and boat driver, Wendell and Sateesh, around 9:30am for a morning of dolphin spotting at the confluence of the Commewijne and Suriname rivers.  For lunch, they dropped us off at a dockside restaurant, where Sateesh's family prepared us a delicious roti spread and we met his pet, a golden-pawed monkey that only drinks Coca-Cola.  Hopping back on the boat, we went to visit the New Amsterdam Fort and Wendell masterfully wove a narrative as we walked through the property, talking about the cruelty endured by the plantation slaves -- if a slave burnt a batch of sugar he was thrown into the boiling vat as punishment.  We finished off at Marienburg, an old sugarcane plantation.  We were given a first-hand account of how the plantation once looked by Soekardi, a Javanese man in his 70s who was born in the plantation hospital and spent more than 40 years working there.

To think we found Wendell chilling out in the post office, charging less than our hostel for what was undoubtedly a much more authentic tour, was pretty satisfying.

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