Cayenne French Guiana
Pointa A Pitre Guadaloupe
Back Home in California
Suriname: Beached boat along the riverbank.
Hello from Paramaribo Suriname,
A barking dog woke me at dawn in my Corriverton Guyana border-town hotel. With only two bananas, a couple cookies and the remainder of my large bottle of Pepsi for breakfast I left the hotel planning to walk the ten kilometers over to the ferry terminal. Once through the most developed part of town I had second thoughts and grabbed a collective taxi for the rest of the trip. Located at the end of a dirt road the compound looked deserted, but eventually spotted two night guards partially hidden by shadows. One spoke English and told me of recent excitement involving a particularly brazen attempt to smuggle a large quantity of drugs through his post. The long wait for several hours until the immigration and customs offices opened gave me a chance to look around the compound. A short distance down the road away from the buildings that hugged the river bank, thick vegetation closed in on the road hiding creatures that created an eerie wilderness serenade. When casually uniformed officials did finally arrive, perfunctory formalities took only minutes.
The once a day ferry finally left at 11:30 and arrived on the Surinamese side of the Corentyne River a half hour later. Formalities on that side took a few minutes longer because many passengers carried packages which the customs officials insisted on inspecting. In my case Immigration quickly stamped my passport and Customs waved me on through with hardly a glance at my small backpack contents. Several private vans and a single government mini-bus waited to transport people on to Paramaribo. Without other signs of civilization anywhere in the vicinity, it became instantly clear I'd better grab one of the offerings without a haggle!
Buses commonly require a full load before starting journeys anywhere in South America and our mini-bus not only waited until all of the 29 seats had been filled, including the flop-down seats obstructing the isle, but crammed passengers' baggage and cargo into nearly every remaining available cubic centimeter of space in front of and between passengers. Initially the graded red dirt road proved adequate for human transport as it cut through the virgin jungle growth. Soon however, potholes and uneven grading provided shocks and unpredictable undulations, noticeably adding to cramped passenger discomfort.
Periodically, clearings along the road would appear. Sometimes a single unpainted house on stilts filled the area freed of wild rain forest growth. At other times, small villages containing five to twenty rude shacks with weathered siding filled the otherwise empty space. Occasionally, clearings served as plots for vegetable gardens. Farmers worked them at a leisurely pace, seemingly content with their progress and oblivious to the passing traffic. No signs of electric power were visible in most of the communities near the border. Children, some naked played alone or in groups along the road and in the jungle tangle. Open windows in our bus provided the only air conditioning and allowed hot humid whiffs of exotic natural aromas to confirm our tropical location.
After the tailbone bumping six hour squeeze packed mini-bus ride from the ferry dock to the city, what a relief to discover a truly First World outpost here on the otherwise primitive northeastern corner of South America. Arriving in the outskirts of the city the bus meandered around the city taking each passenger right to his doorstep. It dropped me in the most touristy historical area of the city next to the river and the most expensive hotel, the $125 Torarica.
Directly across the street I found the quite good $75 Queens Hotel and Casino where I stayed my first three days in the city. I might have stayed longer, but worried about paying the bill with my MasterCharge debit card. "No problem" everyone assured me on check-in, but added caveats that left me wondering. Yep, on check-out their bank could not process the card nor the VISA credit-card I usually use to settle hotel bills... nor would they honor my travelers checks! Fortunately, there is an international ATM right around the corner which happily spit out several hundred dollars worth of Suriname Dollars, solving that immediate problem. The country uses some of the oddest currency I've ever seen. The usual paper bills start at five Dollars but, coins include 2.5 Dollars (a little less than $1 US) and 5 and 10 cent pieces that are square, copper and steel (One US dollar is worth about 2.7 Suriname dollars).
down the street is the $80
Eco Resort Inn. There, they are happy to be paid with international
plastic. Four nights in the Eco Resort gave me access to their excellent
business center with it's fast Internet connection and installed FrontPage
software. Before leaving the hotel I managed to get the Latin American
portion of my website
updated, adding postcards up through the most recent written. Internet
access is expensive compared to the rest of Latin America. In cyber cafes
it runs about $2.30 per hour and here in the Eco Resort Hotel they soak
Yesterday I visited the "largest and most modern shopping mall in the country." Ha! About the size of the Loretta Shopping Center in Santa Barbara and located on the periphery of the city, it features a partially covered "food court" with a grand total of five hot-dog stand like counters and open air seating. Expecting much more, my disappointment hurried me through a quick inspection of the anemic offerings and out to the street where I planned to catch the returning bus I used to get out to this remote part of the city.
Many buses dashed this way and that, but none carried signs I could decipher. Rarely visited by normal tourists, no one speaks much English and finding a way back turned out to be a challenge. I first tried two mom-and-pop grocery stores, called "super markets" here for information and discovered only Chinese clerks. All of the markets, most of the restaurants and many other kinds of stores are owned by Chinese in Paramaribo. Eventually, a gas station attendant understood my plight and pointed me in the right direction to a place where others were waiting for the city bus. The highlight of this visit has been the row of shops selling exotic floral arrangements. Not only are the displays delightfully artistic, but they incorporate extraordinarily unusual flowers and vegetable matter unique to the region, seeds and the like. I took many photos.
After reading of my exploits in Guyana one of my readers characterized such foolishness as being brave! "Brave" makes the necessity sound like a virtue, rather than the most effective and practical way to avoid inviting catastrophe. I am hardly "brave," more like fatalistic, but alert. Compared to dicey Venezuela, Suriname is heaven and not nearly as dangerous as either Trinidad or Guyana. The weather is generally good, but brief showers are a predictable feature of most afternoons. Tomorrow I'll head east to Cayenne in French Guyana. It is a ten hour hour road trip requiring two more river crossings and possibly a night in either the border town of Albina on the Surinamese side of the Maroni River or the town of Saint Laurent on the other side.
Fred L Bellomy
PS: The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right by Michael Lerner. Thinking people on both the left and right will find the synopsis inoffensive and thought provoking! F
PPS: The same friend, Timothy Conway who reminded me of Lerner's work also sent me a link to a Washington Post article about Global Warming: A Campaign Gore Can't Lose. Worth a read. F