Parramatta To Paramaribo

Seriously ask me 3 years ago if I had heard of either Parramatta or Paramaribo, and I would probably have said “no”. Life is a journey and I ended up in both, becoming quite attached to the former and inspired by the latter. So where are they and what are they?

Cities is the obvious answer. Parramatta, itself a city in it’s own right (possessing it’s own CBD), is a western suburb of Sydney in Australia. By virtue of my job in the only Irish Pub in town, PJ Gallagher’s, I ended up living there from October 2009 until June 2011 (give or take a jaunt round the world and a few months working on farms in Tasmania). So that’s Parramatta (the city centre of which appears in that photo).

Paramaribo on the other hand is much smaller than Parramatta, both in terms of population and of area. However it is a capital city. The capital of the obscure country of Suriname.

My reasons for wanting to visit Paramaribo (and Suriname) were basically:
1. Nobody I had ever met who had been to South America had gone there.
2. Nobody I even met during my South America trip had been there or expressed an interest to go there.
3. It’s the only country in South America that I need a Visa to visit. (thus making it more unique and definitely worth seeing while I’m in the continent.)

My quest to visit Paramaribo began in Uruguay. I was staying in Montevideo for a few weeks and gathered I had the time to hand in my passport to the Suriname Embassy to get my visa in advance. However, after research I soon found out that there is no Suriname Embassy in Montevideo, or in Buenos Aires, or in Asuncion, or in La Paz, or in Lima. And those 5 capital cities were on my list to visit. However Caracas, Bogota and Georgetown all have a Suriname Embassy, as does Brasilia, but Brazil’s capital city happens to be in the countryside and was not really on my agenda for the moment. Therefore I had to give up on getting the visa in Uruguay, and leave it until my later visit to either Colombia (or more likely Venezuela).

In the end I only got my Visa for Suriname with a day to spare. A topsy, turvy, crazy trip led me to Caracas, my last chance to get the Suriname Visa and they at first rejected my application, then rejected my currency – they would not accept Colombian Pesos or Venezuelan Bolivares. A crazy fact given that the embassy was in Caracas – the corrupt capital of Venezuela. I will definitely report on that Visa struggle in detail at some point. It was the most frustrating Visa I ever had to get.

But I got it and early morning, at 2am I landed in the tropical extreme climate of Zanderij, the countryside village where Suriname’s international airport (Johan Adolf Pengel Airport) sits.

A pre-arranged “minibus” by local company Garage Ashruf – very efficient and friendly I must add, take you to and from your hotel or hostel and Zanderij Airport. I was slightly worried that the hostel (rather Guesthouse) I had booked wouldn’t be open at 2am ish – when my “minibus” (see “people carrier”) pulled up outside in the tropical heat of Para. 

However not only was it open, but I was given a free welcome drink (a Parbo Bier)

Paramaribo is very unknown. Hardly anyone bothers to get a Visa and visit it, but I must say I was mightily impressed and would definitely want to go back. This laid back, ex- Dutch colony has a history and heritage that continues into its’ modern day state. My brother Danny will have a nice souvenir – a postcard I bought, wrote and posted in the city centre of Paramaribo.

The Dutch colonised it, they brought a lot of slaves from Africa to work on sugar cane planting and growing. It’s the perfect climate for that type of thing. The history runs deep and goes as far as saying that The United States also colonised Suriname. However the Dutch and the Americans didn’t want to argue over it, so they agreed to do a swap deal. At the time, the current New York was known as New Amsterdam, and was Dutch owned. The swap meant that New Amsterdam was handed over and became New York. The Dutch were left with this fertile, tropical land for sugar cane growing. At the time you’d have thought the Dutch got it spot on. The rest of course is history…

Suriname remained an official part of The Netherlands right up until the 1970s when it was finally granted independence. Suriname was a new country. Dutch is the main language, Suriname dollars are the currency and the Dutch style buildings remain, especially downtown Para, where the street Waterkaant is listed as a UNESCO heritage site (aren’t they all?). The Dutch links didn’t end with Suriname’s independence however, evident on the football pitch.

If a black player is playing for the Netherlands, it is likely they have Surinamese heritage. In fact Suriname could have qualified for the 1990 or 1994 World Cup, had they been the country of choice for the likes of Frank Riijkaard or Ruud Gullit, all eligible to play for Suriname, but all choosing the glory of Netherlands and the money they can earn plying their trade in Europe (the pair were both at AC Milan). I visited the Andre Kamperveen Stadion, pictured above. 

An odd thing is that a hat trick of South American countries don’t actually play their World Cup qualifiers in the South America section. Suriname, French Guyana and Guyana all try to qualify with the Caribbean section. None of them ever get very far. But Suriname’s football history is clear to see, it has been tarnished and forever will be by the link to the Netherlands, I found this while trawling online: “One of the major sports in Suriname is football. Some of the greatest football players to represent the Netherlands, such as Fabian de Freitas, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Aron Winter, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Stanley Menzo, Ryan Babel, Ken Monkou, Edson Braafheid, Boy Waterman, Regi Blinker, Fabian Wilnis and Eljero Elia are of Surinamese descent. Davids in particular has written of his passionate pride in his Surinamese heritage and his love of attending football matches there.” It’s crazy what they could have had…

Onto “tweetyfest” one of many recommended events to do while in Paramaribo. A bit of an anti climax if truth be told. But every Sunday morning around 9-10 am (I think), locals with birds meet together in the main square and display their birds in cages seeing who can sing the best tune. It was nice to see it and again a different and new experience for me, but not mind blowing if truth be told.

The nationalities I met there were mostly Dutch or Surinamese. At the Guesthouse, it was mostly Dutch. This lovely couple, Rene and Raschida spent time out on their trip to see the city with me.

We visited Waterkaant, which is a UNESCO heritage site and contains all those old Dutch colonial buildings. This was a really different experience to the rest of South America.

Flying the Northern Ireland flag in front of the parliament.

The dodgy area, ironically also by the parliament, known as the Palmentuin.

Some sad reminders of the slavery. In Dutch colonial times, Slaves were weighed in this very location, those that weighed more would be given hard work to do,  food and better treatment. God knows what happened to the rest…

The harbour is the least busy of any capital city I have been in. Rarely does a boat come and go, and nothing really happens there. Though a nice bridge stretches across the river and some small boats are lurking around for fishing and taking people around. I didn’t do a boat trip in Suriname as I was travelling alone and they wanted to charge per boat rather than per person although the options were great – a day out to Brownsberg Nature Reserve and turtle reserves are easily do-able and the locals are grateful of the tourism. One thing to really note is – Suriname is very uncommon for travellers. Even those who love to travel, my girlfriend included always miss this place out when “doing South America”, and it often baffles me as to why. I got much more joy out of Paramaribo than I ever could from places like Buenos Aires or Caracas.

Even the city centre of Paramaribo is not busy. A real culture shock. This is a country’s capital, but strangely less busy than my home town of Bangor. 220,000 live in and around Paramaribo however the country of Suriname has a total population of less than half a million people (475,000).

I often take photos of McDonalds when I travel. It, and Coca Cola are the two multi million pound global phenomenons that are uniform. I didn’t eat at McDonalds at all in South America, and saw less than 10 of them which was a good thing. I could probably do a post on McDonalds architecture sometime. I stuck to the gorgeous breakfasts at Guesthouse Amice, the Chinese restaurant round the corner, and the cheap options at the hostel including cheese and ham toasties. Incidentally this McDonalds was also not busy.

I found my own hotel while walking round the city centre. I should have booked to stay there really! But no, it was nice where I was and was just an extra gimmick to get my photo taken with the security guy from Johnny’s Hotel!

Have a look at the photo. You couldn’t believe it could happen in most countries. But this is the spirit of Paramaribo. A large Muslim Mosque sits actually side by side with the Jewish Synagogue. Inspiring and a note to all that cause wars around the world. Paramaribo and Suriname is a poor country, yet cultures mix and match here. People speak Dutch, English, Cantonese, Maroon and even Sranan Tongo (a local dialect!). You don’t see wars. Religion here is private and respected. The cleanliness of all the religious buildings I visited was exceptional. A real sense of morality and humanity is evident in this unventured capital.

The Jewish Synagogue, and what appears to be graves or some kind of Holocaust Memorial.

Right next to it is the Islam Headquarters of Suriname and the very pretty Mosque.

It was inspiring to stand in between the 2 buildings. “Sitting on the fence”.

One of the busy main streets near the Mosque.

Rush hour in downtown Paramaribo. A newspaper was sold and a car went through the green light. Inspiring.

A reminders of the Orange and Dutch influence on this statue in Onafhankeliijkheidsplein (Independence Square).

A nice mural in downtown Parbo (short for Paramaribo), I love the Suriname flag and the history of this place. Definitely a cultured land.

My bedroom in Parbo – I stayed in Guesthouse Amice – one of the best places I have ever stayed in.

Guesthouse Amice is luxurious – here I’m out at the front enjoying a Parbo bier on the reclining seats. I also had a balcony, a swimming pool, breakfast included and all day food and drink available at a supplement. Tea, coffee, water was free.

Just the view from my balcony in Parbo. Life was fucking good.

The local paper, which was ironically all Double Dutch to me…

The front of Guesthouse Amice. There are gates and a big dog, which was actually friendly and didn’t bother me most of the time. I’ll report properly on Guesthouse Amice on its own in another report.

The Street I stayed on – Gravenberchstraat. I had my Lonely Planet Book “South America on a shoestring” with me on this trip, and it didn’t even have a separate section for Suriname, instead they had put Suriname, French Guyana and Guyana in their own section called The Guianas! The Paramaribo section had 6 accomodation places in it, and I chose none of them, instead I found Guesthouse Amice on line and it was quite excellent!

In the pool.

On the hammock.

Tropical wildlife all around.

Another nice Hindu Temple near the Guesthouse. The streets nearby were quiet, local and untouristy.

Everywhere I travel I keep a plastic pocket (flimsy/poly pocket/clear plastic folder) for each location. I have just opened my Suriname one and have just so many happy and good memories of Paramaribo.

One tourist booklet I kept saying “Suriname – the beating heart of the amazon”, I loved that. Next time it will have to be the jungle tours and visiting the countries on either side – Guyana and French Guyana.

There’s a couple of maps of Suriname, which I felt were needed as Suriname is obscure, unventured and unknown. In many ways I could easily see my 4 days in Paramaribo as the most inspiring part of my South American adventure. It’s a place I would like to return to, this time crossing the borders on either side, doing the boat trip and going to the Amazon part in south Suriname. Suriname also borders Brazil, and that’s where I was headed next.

The largest wooden Cathedral in the world.

The local pub – Bar Rock and Soul. Not busy, but relaxing as hell and tried their Parbo Black Stout in there. The bar lady liked wearing my hat and talking football. Great stuff.

These football tops are a great seller. Didn’t have the money for it sadly but would hope to get one sometime. They support the Dutch in the World Cup. And why not eh?

I just checked my archive and I have over 20 videos and 400 photos of Suriname, so I’ve merely condensed into this one report. All in all a great country, a welcoming place and somewhere to really relax without a care in the world. It reminds me of Menorca in Spain, Taiwan’s Chiayi Tower and Indonesia’s Lovina.

My flight from Paramaribo to Belem in Brazil would see me sit in Business Class for the first time ever!! I hadn’t been able to book the flights myself while travelling around so I had managed to e-mail my family who booked it online for me (had connection and card issues!) and emailed me the flights, and the only seats left were Business Class!! For the same price as normal class. Not normally a fan, but hey this was a fitting end to my time in Suriname – the poshness of the meal was immense. Thanks to all at Guesthouse Amice, the bar staff in Bar Rock and Soul and the wonderful locals of Parbo for a relaxing time in their underestimated country. Love it. Parramatta to Paramaribo, the memories!


Transport Used – Car, taxi, aeroplane, Garage Ashruf Mini-bus


Strange Currencies – Suriname Dollars (some places accept US dollars)

Country – Suriname



Capital City – Paramaribo


Languages – Dutch mainly but a host of others


Local Pub – Bar Rock and Soul, Van Idsingastraat


Beers Tried – Parbo Bier, Parbo Stout, Parbo Chiller Lime (which has lime and passionfruit in it)


Where I Stayed – Guesthouse Amice, 5 Gravenberchstraat, Paramaribo, Suriname
(website – www.guesthouse-amice.sr )


Nationalities Met – Surinamese, Dutch, Canadian, English.


Previous Destination – Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean


Next Destination – Belem, Brazil

MY VIDEOS:

FAMOUS SUNDAY MORNING TWEETYFEST IN ONAFHANKELIJKHEIDSPLEIN:



DOWNTOWN PARBO – A MOSQUE AND SYNAGOGUE SIT SIDE BY SIDE!!:

 
A HOT DAY AT INDEPENDENCE SQUARE:

DOWN THE LOCAL, BAR ROCK AND SOUL:

WATERKAANT, UNESCO LISTED DUTCH COLONIAL STREET IN PARBO:

RELAXING BY THE POOL AT GUESTHOUSE AMICE:

ANDRE KAMPERVEEN STADION, PARBO:

 
THE DUTCH CHURCH IN CENTRAL PARAMARIBO:

HINDU TEMPLE IN VERL ZINNIASTRAAT:


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2 thoughts on “Parramatta To Paramaribo

  • Brilliant! Loved this. We’re heading to Suriname and Guyana soon and we’re going precisely for the same reason as you did — we travel, we know tons of travelers and yet, we have never met anyone who has been there or even expressed an interest in going there. Pretty wild. I’ve done the big city thing, hell I live in a big city, what I DON’T need more of is big cities that are, honestly, pretty much the same everywhere. What I do need is something totally different and that’s what I think we’ll find in Paramaribo! Thanks for all the pictures/information.

  • Hi Susan – thanks for your comments – I was on a tight budget when I was there and didnt do the sugar cane trails or the river cruise but if you can afford it, it’s recommended. I havent actually written fully about Suriname yet but Paramaribo was a fab city and the local beer Parbo is top notch. I stayed at Guesthouse Amice in Para – good place but a bit out from the city centre. do you have a travel blog??

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