22 April 2012 | Paramaribo, Suriname
Taking a shortcut across the Suriname River mouth, and not down the buoyed channel (an extra 8 miles sailing), we found ourselves enclosed in a giant fish trap. Being night, I wondered if we would make it out of the bamboo poles with nets strung across them that surrounded us, but Sergeant Sextant saved the day finding a 20 foot gap that we were able to squeeze through. With the tide slack we passed by a sleeping Roberto and entered the river making our way to New Amsterdam (Suriname is an old Dutch colony and the entire country was traded in 1667 to the Dutch from the British in exchange for a small island called Manhattan where another New Amsterdam was, which the British renamed New York). Carrying on to the capital, Paramaribo, we anchored next to a Dutch Navy ship before hitting the hay.
In the morning we found ourselves anchored in front of the posh Tororica Hotel, complete with swimming pool and tennis courts. The four us raggedy sailors made our way through the swanky tourist crowd and stumbled on the streets of Paramaribo described as ‘where Amsterdam meets the wild wild west.’ Colonial facades and palm trees provided a backdrop for a people as ethnically mixed as can be on this earth. Descendents of escaped slaves (known as Maroons), Indians (the kind from India), Indonesians, Chinese, Brazilian, Dutch all mixed with the native Amerindians to make for a melting pot of happy, friendly faces. Add in a little Dutch tolerance (a synagogue and a mosque stand next to each other sharing the same parking lot, only place on earth) and Reggae culture from the Caribbean and you have a place where everybody loves everybody (one rasta man told Diego and I that he loved our entire families). This also means good food with Chinese and Javanese dishes being served up next to Roti shops.
Nearly everyone seems to speak four languages; Dutch, English, Sranan Tongo ( Surinamese Creole), and their own ethnic language (mandarin, hindi, ect). We decided to learn some local talky talky (what the locals call Sranan Tongo) and our first greeting exchange went like this; “Fawaka” “Fawaka yeah, Boom Boom?” “Boom Boom!” Of course smiles appeared every time we tried more as we clearly were from out of town, but our attempts were noted and appreciated if not entertaining.
Trying to check in we had to each get different visas as we are three different nationalities. This was further complicated by holidays, obscure hours, being sent to the wrong place and having to go to one place to get stamps, return across town to a different location, only to return the previous place for another stamp. It was a full week before the four of us were officially stamped in.
Navigating our way through town Molly noticed the colorful street names of Watermolenstraat and Flamboyantstraat while other names such as Zwartehovenbrugsstraat and the Onafhankelijkheidsplein (Independence square) made us wonder if the the Dutch knew how to use spaces. The local currency is the Suriname Dollar with some cool coins including the ‘5 cent’ square coin, the ‘100 cent’ coin, and my personal favorite the ‘250 cent’ coin.
Over 80 percent of Suriname is jungle and we were reminded of its proximity despite being in the city. While walking along the waterkant a red and black snake crossed our paths. Unusual to see such a snake in a large city pedestrian area a maroon explained that local belief is such that if you were to kill a snake the next day your arm would turn into one, giving them protection. Just a few minutes later while enjoying a beer on a dilapidated dock and local hang out spot, we were surprised to see a black caiman (crocodile) swim into view. Even more surprising was the fisherman in his dugout canoe effortlessly killing the beast with a single blow from his spear before nonchalantly paddling away. This all happening in the downtown capital city of more than a quarter million people.
Every television set from the police station to the pubs broadcast American WWF wrestling so we were surprised to find that the main sport amongst the men here is bird singing called twa twa. Every man seems to have to have his own seed finch (a small singing bird found in the jungle) in cages that they carry with them through the week and on Sunday mornings at sunrise they gather at the Onafhankelijkheidsplein in front of the presidential palace for a singing competition. Even the president has his own bird which competes as well. They place two bird cages next to one another for a fifteen minute period and the bird that sings the most songs wins. Many sing at least 100 songs in the time period with the best singing 160 or more.
Carrying on up river we found a pleasant bend with a dozen other live aboard sailboats. Mostly Dutchies, some had been there for years and one couple had taken it upon themselves to clean up the small community, collecting thousands of plastic bottles, then using fishnet and river mud created an island of the collected trash that now supports several trees and is the island that their boat is now tied to.
For Steve and Molly’s going away party we built a small fire and made s’mores to share with yachtie crowd, many of which had never had the American specialty. One last group hug at the airport and our Amazon family was breaking up, but with a reunion in the near future.