Paramaribo, Suriname – February 23, 2014
I had to leave Georgetown on Saturday because Trans Guyana Airlines does not fly on Sunday. The flight was full, 14 people including the pilot.
It was mostly cloudy the entire trip, so the views were not all that spectacular. As we descended through the clouds to land, it did get a little bumpy.
Upon arrival, a driver met me. He took me directly to the Courtyard by Marriott, my usual abode here.
Shortly after checking in, I made arrangements for a walking tour the following day. At about SRD 175 (US$55) I was a little nervous, wondering if the tour would be worth that much money.
Typically when I am here, I stay in the hotel for dinner. This time I decided to live on the edge and go into town.
I had the front desk hail a taxi. The car was at the hotel within a minute or two. A few minutes and SRD 20 (US$6) later, I was deposited at De Waag Italian Restaurant. It is downtown very near the Suriname River wall, on the edge of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The building was used initially to weigh cargo coming and going at the Paramaribo docks; thus the name, De Waag. At 18:05, I found I was the only customer.
The ambiance was nice. It is a 19th Century building of two stories is wood construction covered by white plaster. Breaking the roof-line on the riverside were three dormers, each no doubt providing a commanding view of the river.
I found it interesting that the music being played over their sound system was quite heavy with Rock and Roll selections from the 1950s; enjoyable, but somewhat out of place.
The sign for De Waag.
I opted for the shrimp in Creole sauce. The server brought it quickly. The vegetable served with it were thin, long slices of carrot and some skinny green beans. The Creole sauce bathed the vegetables and the shrimp. It had a pleasant, spicy taste, but it was not spicy hot. They served french fries on the side with mayonnaise, which immediately reminded me Suriname was a former Dutch colony. I had undoubtedly heard of mayonnaise and french fries before, but I had never tried it. I was shocked at how good that tasted.
The entire meal came to 110SRD (US$35), including two glasses of Merlot and an espresso. I thought it was very reasonably priced.
After dinner, I called for the same driver to come back to the restaurant. Once again, he was there within a few minutes.
When I returned to the hotel, I stopped at the bar for a nightcap. Since my tour of the El Dorado rum distillery in Georgetown, I have been drinking the 21-year-old El Dorado rum. So that night I decided to try a Surinamese rum. The oldest available was 15-year-old Borgoe rum. It was good, but I do not think it compared to the 21-year-old El Dorado. It was smooth, but there was a real distinct taste of oak. That taste seemed to me to verge on bitter. The 21-year-old El Dorado is milder with a little hint of sweetness.
After that, it was time for bed. I had to be rested for my hike the next day.
Finished with breakfast, I made my way to the Hotel Torarica. That was where I was to meet my guide for the walking city tour. Of course, I was there well before my appointed time. That provided me the opportunity to walk around the property and take some photos.
I was astonished by the size of the hotel property. Walking through the lobby to the rear of the hotel, one ends up at a huge swimming pool and patio complex. Beyond that is an extensive garden area. In addition to plenty of open space, there are two tennis courts. Continuing toward the Suriname River, one encounters a riverside building that houses a bar/snackette. There is plenty of seating on the expansive deck.
A riverside bar as seen from the pier.From the deck, there is a pier extending just past the bank of the Suriname River. At the end of the dock, there is a gazebo. The entire complex can be used to dock boats. When I was there, I saw a small “party” boat docked at the gazebo. A little farther out in the river was an anchored sailboat. I did not recognize the red, white, and blue striped flag at first. Then it dawned on me it was the Netherlands flag. That made sense. I don’t think I would have wanted to be on that tiny sailboat for the Atlantic crossing.
A little farther downriver was another pier. Docked there were several pilot boats and other small boats. I assume that pilot boats depart from that location to meet up with ships coming and going from the Atlantic to the docks at Paramaribo. The pilot boats meet up with ships, regardless of their direction of travel, to drop off a pilot or pick up a pilot. The pilot is in command of the vessel while he or she is on board. The pilots have the local knowledge necessary to navigate the shallow river to and from the Atlantic Ocean.
I ultimately met my guide, Boyky, in the lobby. That was around 09:00. He was born in the interior of Suriname into the Saramaka tribe of the Maroons. The Maroons are tribes that formed as escaped slaves intermixed with the indigenous peoples of Suriname, beginning in the 18th Century.
He ushered me outside and asked if I would like to start by walking to the Chinese Market. I said sure, although deep inside I don’t think I was too interested. We walked through a typical urban neighborhood on our way to the market. Old buildings that seem to have already enjoyed a long life are the norm. Many of the residents of the city do not have enough money to buy the necessary paint for their homes or businesses. It does lead to some interesting photo compositions.
As it turned out, I am delighted we went to the Chinese Market. It was unique and fascinating. The Chinese Market is open-air, under one giant roof. I estimate the covered area was something like 75 feet by 150 feet. As soon as I walked under the roof, I felt as though I had been transported directly to a small village in China.
We made our way to what I would call the back corner of the market. That is where some people were frying something that reminded me of the Mexican churros. The man working the dough rolled out long, flat pieces about four or five inches wide. He then made several crosscuts. That resulted in a flat piece of dough four or five inches long by one inch wide. He placed one on top of the other and creased them lengthwise down the middle with a small piece of bamboo. The final process was pulling them until they were 15 or 16 inches long. Once they were the right length, they were laid gently in a large pot of hot oil.
The finished products were retrieved from the pot when they were golden brown. I did not have one since I had just eaten breakfast. I was told they are not a sweet snack. That surprised me since I had likened them to a churro.
The market was reasonably crowded; however, I would not have called it packed. It appears one could get just about anything there; chicken feet, fish heads, squid and vegetables. In addition to those ingredients, one could also purchase any number of cooked delights; some fried, some steamed, while there were others that were packaged and ready for consumption. I could not bring myself to try anything. If I return, I will make sure to go hungry so that I can partake.
As we departed the market, we walked by a booth where the offering was roasted ducks and roasted chickens. We stood and watched for a moment as the booth worker took a Chinese cleaver to cut up a chicken for a client. It looked and smelled terrific. If I had had a place to keep them and then heat them, I would have bought one of the chickens.
The next stop was the Palmentuin, Palm Garden, about two blocks away. It is directly behind the Presidential Palace, which was at one time the Governor’s home. When the garden was initially planned, there were about 1,100 palm trees planted, thus the name. It is a pretty and serene setting.
Walking through the Palmentuin, we ended up at the Fort Zeelandia complex. There is one impressive “skeleton” of a building in the area that used to be the storehouse. It was nearly 200 years old when it burned down in the 1990s. I thought it was just an interesting looking hulk of a building. Unfortunately, since it is directly beside the President’s office building, I was not able to take a photograph.
The actual fort itself dates from the mid-17th Century, comprised of five brick buildings connected by some bastions. The buildings, by their placement, form a five-pointed star. The fort was critical in protecting a young Paramaribo from marauders, including Caribbean pirates. Boyky let me wander around on my own for a while.
Virtually all of the buildings house various exhibits detailing the history of the fort and Paramaribo. One of the buildings houses the pharmacy. There is a relatively extensive collection of pharmaceutical containers. That makes it easy to “transport” oneself to the 17th and 18th Centuries and imagine what life must have been like then. In that same building, there are also a couple of old surgical tables on display. Quite frankly, I found them to be a little gruesome.
Baka Foto is a good restaurant on the ground floor of one of the buildings. From the outdoor dining area, one has a splendid view of the Suriname River. During a past trip, I ate at the restaurant. I thought it was excellent. It is one of the highest-rated restaurants in Paramaribo.
The smallest building houses a museum gift shop on the ground floor. A couple of items caught my eye. Both were made from seeds native to Suriname. One seed is red, about the size of a pomegranate seed. Holes were drilled into the seeds by which they are strung onto a bracelet. The other item was made with much smaller, flatter seeds. These were woven into an intricate necklace.
When I met up with Boyky again, he surprised me with a cold bottle of water, quite thoughtful.
We continued our walk along the river to the area of town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Much of that area in the city has the preserved architecture of the early Dutch colony. The look is very European, with some portions reminding me somewhat of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The area is very picturesque.
Most of the homes and buildings have red brick foundations. The expensive bricks initially imported from Holland, showing one’s wealth based on the finished height of the foundation. There is one building in the row facing the river whose entire front facade is of the red bricks. That original builder must have been quite wealthy.
What remains today are structures that were rebuilt after the devastating fires in Paramaribo in 1821 and 1834. Since wood was the primary building material in use, it is easy to see why both fires were so destructive. According to a January 2014 report by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), “…to date, the property maintains the attributes for which it was inscribed on the World Heritage List. However, if urgent measurements are not taken the Inner City will fall into an irreversible decay or suffer significant transformations, which will lead to the progressive erosion of the attributes that warranted inscription of the property on the World Heritage List”. That would be every bit as devastating as the fires mentioned above.
The structures in the “Fixer-Uppers” photograph document three stages of the buildings; the building on the right is in apparently excellent shape, the building in the middle is a government ministry building. I believe Boyky said it was the Ministry of Housing. That was a little ironic. Harder to see and in much worse shape is the building on the left. That one is decaying because of family problems.
Boyky explained that part of the problem leading to the decay of the area is the prevalence of multiple family owners scattered around the world. Over time, many properties have been passed down through wills. The family heirs have become far-flung; with members of a typical family residing in Suriname, Canada, The Netherlands, etc. That makes it difficult for everyone to come to terms on what to do with a property. As a result, some properties continue their decay with no mediation on the part of the family.
Across from the river-facing buildings, one can see the hulk of a sunken ship in the middle of the Suriname River. Boyky said this was a German boat that was sunk by its captain during World War II.
We wound our way to the Catholic cathedral. Mass was in process when we arrived so we were not able to enter. Regardless, I was able to take a photo during communion from the door at the rear of the cathedral. Please see more pictures of the cathedral in the post, Suriname on TDY. It is worth taking a look back at that blog entry. The interior shots of the wooden church show just how amazing the structure is, especially after the recent renovations.
Ultimately we wandered back through the Palmentuin to end up at the Torarica, our starting point. The total distance of the walk was 2.11 miles or nearly 3.5 kilometers. It was 11:40 when we finished.
Since I was a bit worn out, I decided to sit by the Torarica poolside cafe to have a Merlot and lunch. A DJ was providing the music. It was loud but strangely relaxing. Maybe I was just unconscious after my hike!
For lunch, I chose the Honey Mustard Chicken Club sandwich. Once again, it was served with french fries and mayonnaise; wonderful! The entire lunch ran $22.
After lunch, I called for my taxi and went back to the hotel.