Thursday, July 18, 2013

Domburg, Suriname

We had a calm one day passage after a rocky start in Kourou.  When we tried to lift the dingy on the top deck, the winches again failed to work.  I had two spare solenoids aboard and replaced them only to find the other two (of four total) solenoids were also acting up.  Since I did not have two more, I did some re-wiring and we now need Emily to touch two high-amp cables to the back side of one of the winches to move the boom while the fixed hoist winch raises the dingy.  It is a little scary, but it will have to work until Tom can find two more of these special solenoids.

The people of Suriname are very friendly and make you feel at home. With some 10 nationalities living together, it is a special country to visit. They were multi-cultural before the term got invented. The population consists of Amerindians , Maroons, Indians, Creoles, Indonesians, Dutch, Lebanese, a Jewish community and Chinese.  

Dutch and Sranang Tongo (a mixed language of all) is mostly spoken next to their own respective native languages. English is well understood everywhere. You get overwhelmed by the locals' charm and hospitality! Several times we were helped while looking at a map or ordering food by locals explaining in English where to go or what was good to eat. They seemed proud that we liked Suriname.

It was a relief to be back in a country which didn’t cripple our budget and we made the most of it with some meals out, in between exploring the city. The selection of food on offer reflects the diverse population which includes Indian, Creole, Javanese, Maroon, Amerindian, Chinese, Portuguese, Jewish and Dutch! We couldn’t get enough of the roti, which we remembered fondly from Trinidad back in 2009 and the ice-cold 1 liter bottles of Parbo beer are pretty good too.

In theory one can anchor anywhere along the Suriname river, but it is handy to drop anchor close to a bit of civilization. Although it was possible to anchor off the city of Paramaribo, we had planned the tides correctly again and continued to ride the current up river to the village of Domberg. This little village has become the favored anchorage for visiting yachts, understandably so since it has a village square lined with little restaurants, a few veggie stalls, a supermarket, a petrol station and a direct bus link to the city center.  

Following the abolition of slavery, the colonial Dutch brought indentured labourers from Indonesia and India to farm Suriname's plantations. Domberg is an Indonesian village, where the little restaurants are called "warungs" and every menu features traditional "nasi" or "bami".  Reflecting the relaxed multi-cultural society in Suriname, the local Chinese mini-market sells ice cold beers, which the Moslem warung owners are happy for you to consume on their premises as you eat your dinner.

Having sailed 30 miles from the ocean, we are still in a tidal river, but the water is fresh. The best part of this is that the green growth which grew along our waterline, and barnacles which attach to our chain and undersides, have all been killed. 

The Dutch colonial settlers must have felt reasonably at home in this flat, low lying area and created an extensive network of drainage canals to bring a little of the Netherlands to the tropics. Around Domberg, the village roads are lined on each side by watery channels several feet wide, necessitating a small bridge from each home to the road. Many of these "channels" appear to be stagnant opaque mosquito breeding ponds, however some still flow very gently towards the river, with their tea colored water hosting the most fantastic displays of water lilies and massive lotus flowers.

In Domburg there are 3 vegetable and fruit shops, a Chinese supermarket, one warung is always open and in the evening a "fish and chips" serves fast food items. A petrol station and ATM machine are close by. Local transport to Paramaribo is available in the morning (approx SDR 2,50 which is under a US dollar). With the frequent short rains there was no need for us to fetch water from the local (Dutch) fisherman nearby.

The morning after our arrival a crowd of people showed up on shore before daybreak.  As we enjoyed our morning coffee, more and more people arrived.  Several groups were doing warm-up stretches for what we found out to be a swimming competition from right in front of our boat down the river 8 miles to Paramaribo.  They made one boat move and almost made us move until the tide switched and we swung 360 feet.  About 100 swimmers jumped off a barge only 100 feet from our home…quite a welcome for us!

Because of the complicated back and forth trips between the customs, police and immigration, we decided to take a taxi into Parimaribo.  It took several hours and much driving to get our tourist cards and check in and we were happy to pay the driver about $30 for his 3 hours of time.  He dropped us off right in front of an air conditioned restaurant serving roti.  The girls enjoyed the roti but declared that it was too hot here.

Two days later, Tom left the girls in the relative cool of the boat and took the bus into Parimaribo.  The bus was crowded, but everyone at least had a seat.  The bus comes by frequently for the 40 minute ride into Parimaribo.

Parimaribo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   My first stop was the red brick Fort Zeelandia, around which Paramaribo developed. The fort is a scaled down version of the Dutch built star-shaped fort in Cape Town. Fort Zeelandia was built by British colonists (originally called Fort Willoughby) in 1651 around a small trading post, created by the Dutch. It later was given its present name in 1667.

The museum housed in the fort provides information in Dutch only, but I had read a little history previously, and knew we should look for a small cell with a sad history.
After the Surinamese independence in 1975, during the military government of Dési Bouterse in the 1980s, it was the scene of the "December murders" of 1982 and was also used to hold and torture political prisoners.

December Murders refers to the murders on 7, 8, and 9 December 1982, of fifteen prominent young Surinamese men who had criticized the military dictatorship then ruling Suriname. These fifteen men were arrested on December 7 while sleeping in their homes. Soldiers of Dési Bouterse, the then dictator of Suriname, took them to Fort Zeelandia (the then headquarters of Bouterse), where they were heard as 'suspects in a trial' by Bouterse and other sergeants in a self-appointed court. After these 'hearings' they were tortured and shot dead.  A lamp burns in the cell in remembrance of these 15 men and was lit during my visit. Thankfully, Suriname is once again a democracy.

The majority of buildings in old Paramaribo were wooden, hence the current crop of historic buildings only date from the last big fire - in 1821. There is clearly a lot of work being invested to conserve the remaining large wooden merchant's homes and numerous colonial government buildings. Not a job I envy them, trying to protect wooden structures from the effects of sun, storms, and termites.  Below is the Presidential Palace.

By far the most spectacular building is St Petrus en Paulus Kathedral, claimed variously to be the biggest wooden structure in the Americas, or even the world. The exterior is painted, hence you don't truly appreciate that this soaring cathedral is made purely of wood until you step inside. The unpainted interior wood gleams with a golden glow, with the beauty of the wood grain accentuating the arches and curved roof panels. Lintels are carved with sheaves of grain and bunches of tropical flowers. 

Every statue is intricately carved in wood and even the stations of the Cross are carved in relief.  The tall windows, glazed with geometric patterns in plain white frosted glass, turn on a central pivot to allow a breeze to blow through the building. Truly unique.

During my short walk I saw a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a Jewish synagogue—testimony to the diverse and tolerant nature of Surinamese society.  The Central Market was big and full of fresh vegetables, meat, fish and even a few crabs.


We are enjoying Domburg.  The locals come by the waterfront each day.  Some bring their caged singing birds and its nice hearing them sing.  We have learned that the Picolets sing a melody while the Twa Twas have a more repetitive song. Apparently Champion birds sell for up to $3000 US.  There is a man shaving a big block of ice and pouring sugared fruit juices that help to break the 90 degree heat.

We found a local guy in Domburg renting air conditioned cars for about $15 US per day and got one for 2 days.  You will have to stay tuned, Dear reader to find out what we found…

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