Saturday, 23 July 2016

Paramaribo, Suriname

Paramaribo Homes - Photo By Evan Gatehouse
Our two weeks on the Suriname River were punctuated by frequent trips "into town" - meaning the capital, Paramaribo. Suriname has a population of around 560,000 people, half of which live in Paramaribo.

Previously known as Dutch Guiana, the Dutch history is evident everywhere. It is the only country outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population.
Ley, In Trouble At The Fort

After dealing with the Portugese signage at our last port of call, we were back in learning mode here, trying to deal with Dutch words that seemed to have far too many syllables....that our Aussie language training had not prepared us for. Of course in the end we discovered that many of the locals also speak excellent English.

Historic buildings are everywhere in the downtown area, and along the river bank a complete historic village (world heritage listed) is preserved alongside the old Dutch fort.

Paramaribo is somewhat a frontier town - gold mining is the major export industry, having taken over from the (now defunct) bauxite mining industry, which in turn took over from the (now defunct) sugar cane industry.  Much of the gold mining is undertaken by small teams working in remote areas, and the infrastructure to support these enterprises is evident everywhere - this is a great place to buy compact rock crushers, six inch bore water pumps and four wheel drive trucks. Paramaribo also supports a reasonable marine industry, with two (small) floating docks and a larger slipway.

Celebrating Emancipation
The people are a mixture of African, Javanese, Dutch, Chinese and local Indian descent. As everywhere else in the developing world, the Chinese folk run the stores and supply chain...

However the unusual aspect of Suriname is the extent to which the cultural groups have intermingled, creating a cultural mix that seems settled and a shining example of tolerance.

One of our first experiences was a national public holiday that celebrated the anniversary of the end of slavery. Paramaribo was in carnival mode, with the usual processions plus music and dance on performance stages in the park. This was a day to be proud of, and the local ladies underlined that point with costume and hats that certainly drew attention.

Unfortunately the population is presently not well served by it's leaders, with the current president flaunting democratic process. So, whilst this is an extremely safe and welcoming nation, the economy is in disarray and the government is effectively broke. Business (and society in general) seems to have taken the failure of governance in it's stride, and life goes on, perhaps more dependent on cash transactions than in the past...

Despite the political and economic challenges, the local folk are happy and proud of their nation. The people are somewhat shy and reserved - as a visitor you need to initiate contact and develop your own experiences. Tourist activities are not always obvious in this place, but they are there for the finding. We were warmly welcomed wherever we traveled.

In a low-cost rental car we toured most of the city and surrounding areas, including frequent visits to the local private hospital when our friend Evan on the catamaran Ceilydh was hospitalised with heart attack symptoms - he's fine now, but we did have a few stressful days while the problem was sorted. The largely European trained hospital staff were competent and supportive, and Evan now knows that his arteries are in great shape!

The Stunning Timber Cathedral In Paramaribo

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