01 Suriname Here I Come

Suriname Journal

12/31/2011
Pipe Creek, TX
This is on one of our wine and pastatio afternoons. We are listening to music. Kim is quietly reading her Kindle on the couch. Each day around 4:00 pm. we do our little ritual.

I am trying to get a handle on just where I am going to go once I leave on my trip, so I have been reading the Lonely Planets Guide to Suriname. There aren’t many pages, just about 10, so although it is an easy read, it is also frustrating tha there is not too much information. I kind of have to read between the pages.

01/02/2012
Pipe Creek, TX
Well it is the first of the year and I leave in 2 weeks. Time to get serious! I took my first big step toward my trip today. I got a haircut. Oh, not just any haircut. A buzz cut. Military style. After all I am going off to the South American jungles. I ask you, does anyone really need hair on the equatorial border? It seems like it is just a place for sweat to gather. For bugs to crawl around in. Or even for natives to quizzically tug on when they first meet you. No sir! Not me. You can see my shinny scalp. I am ready for the unknown. I am ready to tussle with the gators, with the boas… Mumm, not really, but hopefully I will be more comfortable? At least it is one less part of my body that I will have to wash. That IS something, isn’t it?

01/06/2012
Pipe Creek, Tx
Well this just goes to show that things can change in just a moment in time. First I was burning this huge pile of trees that had accumulated on our property. That was because for the last almost year we have had drought conditions with a perpetual burn ban ineffective. Anywho, I hurt my back pushing and pulling on the top of the gigantic pile. Hey, that will slow you down. By the next day it had worsened so that I was taking multiple tablets of aspirin and now i was was really slowed down. Today, I feel a little better, but still not 100%. Guess I’ll just have to be a couch potato for one more day!

01/07/2012
Pipe Creek, TX
I had wanted to lose some weight before my trip, but I now see the error of my ways. I am now down to 195, that’s down from a full 200 almost a month ago. I wanted to get to my jungle fighting weight on a cool 190, but with a little over a week to go it doesn’t look like it is going to happen. I am in pretty good shape despite the extra weight, so that is something, and my haircut makes me look like I am in even better shape than I am. Nice illusion!

01/11/2012
Pipe Creek, TX
I have been on a hunt for the perfect day pack. I have one that I have been using for years. I bought it at Walmart for $16.00. Hardly the quality that one should take on a Suriname jungle expedition. I have been in every outdoor shop in San Antonio. I have scoured the travel sites looking for just the perfect pack. Finally, with just a week to go, I had to let it go. There seemed to be something wrong with every pack when I compared it to my Walmart pack. So I just had to say to myself, why not just talk what you already have?

So yesterday I spent the morning stitching on “D” rings to the bottom of my $16 Walmart bag so I could secure my sleeping bag to the bottom of the pack. Fortunately, since it doesn’t actually say Walmart anywhere I the pack, I think my secret will be safe from the Surinese natives.

01/13/2012
Pipe Creek, TX
Well, what a difference a day makes. I got in the car yesterday to go to the city to work out at Gold’s Gym and then to return some X-mas presents at Target. I put my Suriname/Walmart, recently modified pack, next to me. There it was. Aw, shit! The zipper was split! Now what was I going to do? And after all that work.

There is some good new in this. I weighed myself at the gym and there it was. 192.5 lbs. Not bad! What was even better, was when I finished swimming and weighed myself naked. I know, I know that that is cheating, but still it said, 188. Can you believe it? I didn’t, but as I made my way though traffic to Target I had just a little hint of a smile on my face. Enough gloating, if i had had any disipline, I thought, I really should be down to 180 by now.

At Target I found the PERFECT daypack. A SwissGear pack with huge zippers. These bad boy are never going to break! Of couse now I needed to remove the “D” rings from my other pack and sew them on my new one, but I reasoned that this was a pack that would last me years and years.

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01/14/2012
Pipe Creek, TX
I am making the final plans to leave. I’ve got my clothes all picked out and I have a ton of little plastic clear baggies filled with everything I could possibly need while I’m gone. I have yet to try to put everything actually in my pack. I’m going to save that little surprise until tomorrow. Wish me luck.

01/16/2012
Pipe Creek, TX
I am up very early this morning. Woke up at 3:30 am and just started thinking about all of the things that I have to do before I leave tomorrow morning. My head was spinning with nonsense, so in the end the mind won and I got up to have a cup of coffee. I guess I am more excited about my adventure than I had thought.

01/17/2012
San Antonio Airport
Sitting here waiting to take off on my first leg of the journey I have time to reflect on some words of wisdom given to me by family. The first bit of advise was given to me by my sister, Mary Ellen. When I told her where I was going her first comment was, “Why the hell do you want to do THAT?” But, later, in a much more lengthy email, after she had done some research on Suriname, she said that, “I suggest you pass up the Galabi Nature Reserve as I think you have probably seen enough turtles. Also pass up Mt. Kastikasima. It is WAY too much work. And for a treat for yourself. I would defiantly not pass up the De Waag Restaurant.” Seems to me like all very sound advice and I thank you for it.

Next came my bother Wayne. He called me last night to wish me a bonvoyage, and as we were hanging up, he imparted this little bit of wisdom. “You know that little voice in the back of your head that says, right before you are getting ready to do something, that it might be a really stupid and dangerous thing to do. I hope you listen to it!” As I get older, that little bit of knowledge has become one that I probably should pay more attention to. Thanks Big Brother.

The final words of wisdom came from my lovely wife, who as we were driving into the airport at o’dark thirty this morning suddenly broke the lack of sleep induced hypnotic stare to say, “When ever a dicey situation arises I want you to ask yourself, ‘Is this an OPPURTUNITY or a SIGN?'” I wish you were with me to help give me perspective when such an occurrence happens, but at least I will always have that mantra playing in the back of my mind. I love you dearly

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I am on my way to my fourth stop, Trinadad. We got off to a late start. The plane now will get in at about midnight. There, hopefully, a guy named Lionel will meet me. He says he will have a sign with my name on it. I’ll believe it when I see it.

He was supposed to be my taxi driver and proprietor of the hotel where I am going to stay. Yesterday he emailed me to let me know that his establishment was all full up and he would be taking me to another one somewhere else. Again, we shall see what transpires.

01/17/2012
Trinadad
I finally got to the hotel of Miss Denise’s around 12:30am last night. It was a much longer trip from the airport to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinadad. I think that was in large part because my taxi driver an Miss Liesel took me on the scenic tour. I thought about asking, but in the end I just went along for the ride as she pointed out all of the cities highlights along the way. ” Oh, look mon, der be da most butipul view ob our city.” I looked out the window to see that we were high up on a winding hillside road with a magnificent view of the city below with all of the lights you could ever want.

When we finally arrived at my new hotel it looked like really nothing more than a home in a residential part of town. The electic gates whirled open and Miss Denise was waiting for us in the short overcrowded driveway even though it was after 1 am. My driver promised to pick me up again tomorrow at 5:30pm. I wanted to know why we needed to leave that early if my flight didn’t leave until 9:30pm, but the only answer I got was, “traffic!”

We walked straight through the front door and into Miss Denise’s dining room where I filled out the card and paid her the $50 US. I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that my room looked exactly like a hotel room, complete with motel style pictures on the wall. It was actually a step up from the Motel 6ish that I have grown accustomed to.

The main bummer is that I need to be out of the room by 11 am and Miss Liesel will pick me up at 5:30.

It’s 10 am and I can already feel the morning heat. I just finished my shower, but feel like I should take another one before I take my walk to explore Port of Spain.

Later this day in the same place,
Well, I have walked just about everywhere there is to go in Port of Spain. At least everywhere that was safe to go. Now, I did not travel outside of the city, where I here there is some awesome beachs. I kinda wanted to do a walking tour. Boy am I tired. Probably sunburned too! It’s interesting, in almost 6 hours of walking around I only saw a handful of light skinned people, and I suspect that most of those were Latinos. Yet I drew almost no attention. Not even a sidewise glance.

Port of Spain is really pretty nice. It seems to be caught somewhere between a first and a third world country. A little too sufisticated for my taste. Like a grungy medium sized town the USA, or a really nice Mexican town. Everyone speaks English, and I had no trouble cashing American dollars.

There was one interesting story. I was all of the way downtown with still a few hours to go before I had to return. So I thought that I would go to the zoo. I had read in the Lonely Planet guide book that it was small, but nice. Well, apparently there is only one taxi that went in that direction. All of the others just wanted to take me on an expensive tour? When I found the one taxi, I asked him how much it would be to go to the zoo. He said I could pay him what ever I wanted. When I told him I wouldn’t get in unless he gave me a price, he said four dollars. I said how about two dollars in US. I knew that was more than double what he had asked, but hey, it was two dollars! He said OK, but when I got in the front seat the couple in the back seat started a huge commotion saying that he was a thief and that I should get out. The taxie driver told them to get out and they did. They kept yelling at him from the curb. As we drove off, I asked him what that was all about, and he replied that, “Those people were just trouble makers.”, he added, “What do you expect from Suriamese people.”

I quietly said, almost under my breath, that that was were I was headed later that day. I asked him if he had ever been to Suriname, and did he like it? He said he had and didn’t much care for it. There is really nothing there unless you are into nature. Mmm, maybe everything was going to be alright after all.

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On my way to Suriname,
Same day, almost the next
Kim, after reading the last story, said that it was not an omen, but rather it is a sign. A sign that good things are going to come. Boy, I hope that she is right?

There was an interesting mix of people waiting to board the plane for Suriname. Some were unlike any that I have seen in the world. One guy, kinda butted in front of me as we were waiting to board the plane. He had on a cowboy hat, and a yellow suit jacke with blue jeans. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You go ahead. Anybody that has the nerve to wear a yellow jacket on an international flight SHOULD go first.” he just smiled and moved ahead. I don’t think he got it? Wish I had taken his picture.

01/19/2012
Paramaribo, Suriname
I arrived last night. It was almost 1:30 am before my head actually hit the pillow in my motel. An interesting thing happened with my motel reservation. I know that I would be arriving on Thursday, because the plane landed at midnight and it was an hour ride to town. At the time it made sence to make a reservation for Thursday, but, and this is a big but that you probably already know the answer to, technically it is a reservation for WedsDAY. Duh!

When I discovered the mistake I was obsessing about what I would do for a room? What if they were already booked up? The room came with free transportation to town. What if there was nobody to meet me at the airport? Fortunately, we had bought one of those international phones. It literally works everywhere in the word. What it does is it automatically switches to whatever cellular network is available at the time. The service is cheap and expensive athe the same time. There is no monthly charge, no service charge, BUT the per minute charge is fairly pricey. I consider it a very convenient emergency phone, and boy did I have an emergency. When our Carribean Airlines plane landed at the outdated Zanderij International Airport I noticed that my phone, once I turned it on, had switched to Digitel Cellular service. I simply called the motel an made a reservation. Fortunately, the desk clerk even said that there was a van already waiting at the airport to pick up some other guests. Problem solved for only $4.00 per minute!

One more side note. I couldn’t believe how many people arrived on the two planes that landed around midnight. The line to go through customs was huge. After standing in line for fifteen minutes the young man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know there is a special line for seniors?” I looked at the signs above customs counters and one clearly said, airplane personnel and over 60, and there were on two people in that line. I guess it pays to be old in Suriname!

In the morning I got up around 8:00am. I lounged around in bed till 8:30, and them made myself down to the restaurant for my free breakfast. I wasn’t going to miss that free perk, that came with my $69.00US room. It was the standard fair of coffee, scrambled eggs, toast and fried fish cakes. I am not real found of fish cakes for breakfast so I left that one on plate. It was amazing just how many people I heard speeding Dutch. Suriname used to be a colony of the Netherlands, but ofcourse now they have their independence. Still the national language is Dutch, Amsterdam Airlines flies directly here which makes it attractive to Dutch speakers. Fotunetly for me, most people speak at least a little English.

My guess was that most of these people came for the nature tours. We’re these aging well dressed tourists going to be the people I would be going with? Something else to worry about? Back in my room, I washed clothes in the sink. It’s amazing how quickly you can sweat through a wardrobe in the tropics. I couldn’t wait to get out to explore my new world. I have been dreaming and obsessing about this day for a long time.

As soon as I opened the door the heat and humidity hit me like a with wet slap in the face. I thought that I would also be washing out this outfit when I returned. The street in front was a sea of fast moving mini-cars. Getting across the street required patience and care. Hey I wasn’t in a hurry after all it was just the start of my month long vacation. I didn’t want to spend part of it in the emergency room. I wondered if they even had an emergency room.

As luck would have almost directly next door were the offices of STINASU, the second most reputable tour company in the country. I had a hard time actually finding the office as the door wasn’t clearly marked, but once I did I was greeted by a lovely local young lady who spoke perfect English. She ran through all of the tours, slowly one at a time letting me know all of my options on each. She explained that there was a minimum of four people and none were leaving directly, but she said I could always take a self tour to the Brownsberg Nature Park. I would take a bus to the small village at the end of the road and then they would arrange a 4 wheel drive transport for the rest of the way with them. I could stay in my hammock as many days as I wanted to. There were a couple of waterfalls within hiking distance of the Campanella lots of birds and animals to be seen. It sounded perfect. I almost booked it on the spot, but I didn’t. I took all of the information, thanked her and walked out into the heat.

Parbo, as the locals referred to Paramaribo, was everything I had hoped. It’s gritty and rough yet it has enough sofistication to be able to get anything you need done. Change money, buy a pair of socks, or get an interesting local meal, and I did all three. The Suriname River runs right threw downtown. It is wide and muddy and slow moving. They haven’t really made much use of it as a tourist attraction. It is just there. It appears and disappears depending on wether the road runs in front of a buildings or the river does. There is a nice little collections of open air restaurants that are right on the river wall. It was a great spot to stop and sit in the shade and have a local beer aptly called –Parbo.

My next stop was the bank. This would be my first time traveling without travelers checks. Instead I brought my newly acquired ATM card. First I stopped in the bank to change American dollars into Suriname dollars. It’s amazing how many pieces of paper are required just to cash cash for cash. Next I was off to the ATM. It worked like a champ spitting out 400 Surinese dollars. I mentally tried to calculate just how much that was in REAL money, (lets see there are 3.25SD to 1.00US) but after I figured it was over a hundred I lost interest.

By now I had done so much walking the bottom of me feet were starting to burn. Then I saw the mineret from the islamic temple right in front of me, and directly next to it was a Jewish synagogue. I think it is the only place in the world where they sit side by side. “Can’t we all just get a long?” As my eyes followed the souring spires I saw the sign directly accross the street for METS. METS is the number one tour company. I couldn’t let it pass and I hypmatically walked up the stairs and into the office. They young dark skinned girl didn’t speak as good of English as the other lady, but it was good enough to find just the perfect tour for me. Before I knew it I was handing over my credit card for a 6 day all inclusive tour to a place I had never even read about. She said that this was the place for a guy like me who was more interested in nature than visiting and staying in native villages. A bush plane would fly me, along with four others into the jungle to a place called Kabalebo Nature Resort where I would visit waterfalls, hike through the jungle and canoe down the river. SOLD! I was leaving on the 28th of Jan.

The next thing I needed to do was find a cheaper place to live

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01/22/2012
Paramaribo, Suriname
Guest House Twenty4
Well I found one, and I have indeed moved. Pretty big change from my last place where I had free breakfasts, air conditioning, and my own bathroom. None of these things exist at the Guest House Twenty4 where I have an open window and a floor fan to use any time I want. Of course there is only one outlet in the room so I can either plug in the light or fan. I wonder which I will chose tonight?

This morning I left my hotel to go for a walk. On a whim I stopped by the STINASU (Stitching Naturebehoud Suriname) where I decided to book a self tour. That is where I take a public 3 hour bus ride, they pick me up there and take me to the lodge where I use my own hammock, and take my own walks when and where I want. Three nights, non inclusive of anything ( isn’t that a double negative?) tour to the Brownsburg and Brokopondo Reservoir. Lonely Planet guide book assures me that I will “…marvel at the strange contrast of primate filled forests surronding an endless artificial lake.” Norri my office helper also assured me that, “I would see lots and lots of monkeys.” That is just what I wanted to hear. I leave in just 2 nights.

The rest of the day I walked around town visiting the sites and taking photographs. I got much braver by taking out my camera even in what looked like some dicey situations. Little did I how that my camera card, newly purchased before I came on this trip (bad move), was about to loose some of my precious photos to the netherworld. Bummer, but on the positive side it was only about 25% of them. Probably the best!

After my walk I made it back to my room, packed up my things and took a $10.00 Suriname dollar ($3.00 US) taxi ride to what was going to be my new home, I hoped, for the rest of the month. Just as I got there, settled in on the veranda with a Parbo Bier the torrential rains started. It was quite lovely being protected by the large overhang while the river, which was right under the balconey began to fill up with water.

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Later this same day,
It’s really not too bad here, and at a third the price I am a happy camper. Besides I am only here for two nights and them I am in Browsburg for three nights, I return back here for just a few more days and then I leave again for another adventure. This time for eight day! However, tomorrow will be filled up with looking for provisions for this first trip. I have already started a list. A rope to hang the hammock and mosquito net is first, followed by a pocket knife, at gallon of water, and then some food to eat for four days. Do I see a lot of crackers in my future? I think that there is the possibility of some meals there, but I am not sure how expensive it will be, or how plentiful. I have stollen a role of toilet paper from the Eco Motel, so that is taken care of.

When I came back after my walk, I downloaded all of the pictures that I had taken so far to my iPad. I was worried about the 25% that I had lost because of the bad SD card for my camera. It was really closer to 75%! I changed the card and marked it bad. Maybe when I get home I can use some kind of rescue software to get them back? At least it’s early on.

So later on this evening I tried to revisit some of the places I had photographed early in the morning. The light was perfect for picture taking. Huge storm clouds dotted the horizen, but alas it looked like the bad element had hit the streets so that I didn’t feel very safe whenever I took out my large SLR camera. After a while I just left it in the bag and headed home. Tomorrow will be another day.

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01/21/2012
Still at the Guest House Twenty4
Shopping trip problem 2, 3 and 4 solved, but what happened to number 1? That was rope to hang my hammock. Looks like I will have to brave the central market again looking for rope.
This morning I was determined to try to finish my shopping trip for tomorrows adventure. I had an interesting breakfast at the Guest House, which is probably better if I don’t get into it, but let’s just say that there was fish AND coffee involved.

First I had to hit the ATM. By now, that’s my second visit, I was a champ. The machine just spit out 800 Suriname Dollars without saying a word.

With money burning a whole in my pocket I headed out to the central market, called Waterkant. Today is Saturday, so it was a sea of activity. It didn’t look like a place I should bring out my camera, so I didn’t. Carefully negotiating the cars, peoples, garbage and broken chunks of concrete, I made my way along asking anyone who looked intelligent if the knew where I might buy a pocket knife. Blank stares followed by a lot of pointing. No one spoke English, so that made communicating a little more difficult, but I got good at making a sawing motion with one of my fingers pretending to cut my other wrist. People seemed to understand, but still they were of no help, so I just kept walking in and out of booths and open stores making a sawing motion and asking for a “pocket knife”. Finally, one Indian looking elderly lading dressed in a sari, said, ” Uh, poki neefee!” she directed me to a counter where there were an assortment of cheap table knifes. So although I didn’t buy anything from her, I now knew the word “poki neefee!” i felt impowered! Twenty or so stores later I walked into a bakery, and low and behold there was my ” poki neefee.” It was cheaply made, and cheap. I pointed and told the proprietor what I wanted. Then, just as I was about to pay, out of the corner of my eye, right next to the fishy rolls was an electrical adaptor that would let me plug in my fan AND my iPad at the same time. No more difficult choices for me!

With the difficult purchases made from here on it was just a shopping trip. Except, shit, when I got home i found that I had forgoten the hammock ropes. Please don’t make me go back out there! What, an answer to my prayer. It’s a huge tropical downpour. Noone can go out in that! Think I’ll just try to Skype my wife.

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