From Corriverton to the ferry to Suriname it was only 13km and I had until 9am to cover it. I’d read about how it can be very busy, but when I got to the terminal at 7am there were only 5 other passengers. The gate closed sometime around 8:30 maybe, at which time there were about 50 passengers, not too bad. We’d been let through the quick custom check, and I went to lie down on the bench waiting for the 9am launch, which ended up happening closer to 10. As is normal for me I fell asleep lying on the bench, and I was awoken by a lady asking me if everything was OK. She introduced herself as the port nurse and had figured I was sick. I reassured her that it was just me passing time waiting for the boat, and thanked her for her concern.
The boat ride took about 30 minutes from one bank to the other. When we got close to land, everyone started crowding by the exit and a fellow passenger explained to me that it was like a sport. The immigration line was really slow, and so when you get off the boat there’s a run to be as far up the line as possible. I’d seen it when the boat docked on our side, but just as we docked, a security officer came up to us and explained that this was Suriname, not Guyana, and there would be no running. It worked, and everyone fast marched staying just behind the officer. That included me, and I actually got there joint first, and even parking my bike and rejoining the line I entered in 11th place.
Although I was so high up the line, it took more than 30 minutes to get my entry stamp which gave me 6 months in the country – a shame the country’s road network is so small. There is a main road that runs close to the coast, and an alternate jungle road, that dead-ends into a river. Outside of that, there’s very little else. To get to the majority of the country (in the south) you need to fly or take a network of boats. It leads to rather mosquitoey swamps and jungles and, with the chance of malaria and dengue fever, about as appealing as a book called “Cows : How to best eat them” is to a vegan.
By the time I was finally pedalling again, the early afternoon sun was beating down through a cloudless sky as I rode the 40km to Nieuw Nickerie, the first settlement. The road, very smooth, was so straight and featureless that they had rumble strips before each time the road deviated at all to wake up any driver that had dozed off during the previous 10km. Being on a bike, it was like being in a large green sensory deprivation room where the only thing to distract me was the ridiculous heat and the ever-present headwind, which I might stop mentioning. You can just take it as read that it’s there, at least until mid-December. I used this time to read a book on my Kindle, something that could be dangerous on a busy road, but considering the only traffic going the same way, other passengers on the ferry, had long since passed me I was all good. By the time I got to the turn off for Nieuw Nickerie I had started, and finished, Lois Lowry’s book Messenger, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t miss seeing a single thing on the road.
The town was on the river, so about 5km off the main road, and I needed to go there to use a cash machine. On my way into town, I was waved over by an Indian guy called Anil, who was drinking outside a supermarket. When I stopped, he wanted to fist bump and shake hands a good few times but then he popped inside to get me a beer. We were standing round drinking when Nico, a tall Dutch man turned up, and joined in the conversation. Anil was rather drunk and very eager to talk about how glorious Suriname is, and how wonderful it was that three people like ourselves could be standing round drinking and chatting as friends with our different skin colours. Nico, who worked in finance at the local hospital, taught me a couple of essential Dutch words and said he’d email me with some contact information of people he knew so I could see the south of Suriname. He did warn me it’d be expensive, so I’ll see if that happens or not.
Then it was off to get money, which took a few times, and look around the town centre. There were a few canals, filled with water lilies and a bit of rubbish, and lots of patriotically painted trees and benches. There were a number of very large, expensive looking house, which I assume are owned by the Dutch that live here. On first glance, it seems a wealthier country, but it’s difficult to know how well spread that wealth is.
I could have stopped at the fire station, but decided to keep going and find another place. My plan was to ride, without my earphones in, and stop if someone waved at me to talk. The plan was less successful than I’d hoped, and part of that might have been the distance from the road to the houses. There was a canal running along the road, that acted like a moat, meaning that I was that bit further away. It also meant a rather substantial number of mosquitoes flying around. I saw the largest number of spandexed cyclists for a while, but they all sped past without much of a wave, too focused on their time.
I ended up making it to the next small community of Groot Henar, where there was a police station that pointed across the street, at a bit of grass in front of someone’s house and said I could camp there. It seemed a bit strange, but after sitting round reading my book for a while it’s where I ended up sleeping. The most awkward moment being when the lady came home in her car and wasn’t that far from hitting my tent (I was still setting up at the time) and gave me a rather confused look.
My second day was rather similar to the first. I rode along a flat road, in baking heat, with little to break up the monotony. I stopped when I saw shade, which was infrequent, and one of those was outside a restaurant that didn’t open until 11am. I arrived at 9:30. Thankfully I fell asleep on the bench outside and woke up just before it opened, so I could use my new Dutch skills to refill my water bottles. (pointing at the bottle and saying the word for water, which is the same but with a v)
My second break was at a police checkpoint where I got to show my passport and they looked through impressed with the stamps that I have, which are not only the ones from the trip, but also from my last year in Asia so China, Vietnam and Korea. I didn’t see it until I was leaving, but there was a police row-boat tied up next to the station. That bit of water headed to the sea and I’m intrigued to know when they really use it.
My third break was in the town of Totness, the capital of the area of Coronie, but not one of the largest 10 cities in Suriname even though that only involves having a population of more than 2,696 which goes to show you the size of settlements I’m riding through. While there I was waved over for the first time, this time by a group of youths who offered me a drink and something to smoke. I took the cold soft drink, but turned down the other option. They spoke some English and so I asked them about Totness. They said it was the best place to live, because you could do anything. They didn’t list much more than swimming and smoking, and I feel they’d been doing one of those quite a bit that morning.
I got lunch, and Suriname seems to have gone the way of countries like Honduras where the local food is either fried rice or chow mein. The owner of the place was very nice, and didn’t mind me charging my laptop, taking a nap or having my bottles refilled, but the language barrier got in the way of learning much more about the area.
My map showed some settlements along the way, but it had done a spectacular job of having dots for places along the road that were nowhere near, and so it proved with the others. The sun was about to set when, having gone past a few abandoned gated places I found a building site with a car outside. I explained myself to the driver, who spoke English but was going to leave, so he asked the caretaker. I had a place to camp! They were sleeping in one half of the divided shipping container, and said I could take the other. The windows were broken and I was almost inhaling mosquitoes so it was a tent night. I put it up on the sand outside so I could make the most of any breeze.
Camping in such a wet area meant that my tent was soaked even though it didn’t rain. Curtis had taught me the mosquito dance and so I’d had a good night’s rest with only one mosquito to kill. I spent the morning listening to more Michel Thomas Dutch lessons, they really are the greatest audio learning method I’ve found and highly recommend them. I’d been planning on listening to them riding through Guyana, but as I was with Curtis that didn’t happen. That put me in a situation where I’d be needing to learn two languages (Dutch and French) for countries where I’d be for 7-10 days each, and a good chunk of that would be with hosts who speak English. I got through the first two CDs of the Dutch Foundation course, but think that’s all I’ll listen to. It’s time to switch to French, which even if I don’t use it now is more useful in the longer term.
While riding along I was thinking of my plan for the ride, and if I wanted to spend another two years riding around South America, which is how long it’ll probably take at my current speed. I’m not sure if I do, and one option might be to break up some of the longer stretches of nothingness with actively hitching a ride, something I’ve not really done so far on the trip. Next time I get some free map time, I might look at the logistics of a 1 year loop of South America instead, getting me to the Caribbean at the end of next year’s hurricane season.
I stopped for lunch at a fried rice place. It’s not like I was looking for that, but I only saw 4 food options in the hour after I started feeling hungry and they all served the same thing. The one I stopped at had nice tables, meaning that I could take a nice nap while my laptop was charging. The small plate of rice, without chicken, cost 10SRD (about 3USD), but when I came to pay she said 20. I confusedly pointed out I’d got the small plate, and it hadn’t even got any cheaper without the chicken. Apparently she wanted to charge me another 10SRD for the electricity that I used charging my laptop, which I was not going to accept. She spoke some English and tried telling me that I hadn’t asked if it’d cost. I rejected that saying no-one had charged me for using their charger before, including a lady the day before. She tried a come back, but resigned herself to not getting it as she realised how stubborn I was going to be. It spoilt my enjoyment of the meal.
I was still about 55km from Paramaribo, but figured I could make it. I had a place lined up, but being in touch in Facebook I knew my host was quite flexible. 15km later, I was starting to feel light-headed and had completely run out of energy. If I’d seen a pick-up truck, I’d have waved it down, but as it was I got to ride a few km more until I saw the RO.G. Panday Superstore. I went in and bought a litre of milk, a packet of biscuits and a jar of peanut butter. While chomping it down on the bench outside, the owner, Mr Panday, came out and started talking to me. He asked the normal things, like where I was going and I mentioned that I wasn’t sure, but I might be looking for a place nearby to put up a hammock or tent. It turned out that as well as the supermarket, the Pandys own the lumber yard across the road, a hardware store next door and a bunch of the nearby buildings and I could have what used to be the restaurant for myself if I wanted. Perfect. His brother came out with a bag of oranges, a bottle of Gatorade, and a Dutch version of Gatorade too, as well as a little RO.G. Panday Superstore branded journal and pen to keep track of my trip in, and a business card. He then saw my Kindle and asked me if I wanted the WiFi password, and let me know that if I wanted to go and play football one of the workers would be going that evening. I didn’t end up doing that, but did go to get some chow mein (to finally settle my issue of chow mein v rice – rice is better) and a beer, which was also paid for. The ridiculous number of mosquitoes from the night before were there in force again, and so I was then given a pack of mosquito coils and a lighter.
People are glorious.
I’d been told that at 8am there would be roti, and at 7:59am there was a knock on the door and I was told that the roti was already there. It was a ridiculous amount of food, but that didn’t surprise me. They had been seemingly doing their best to make my stomach explode the day before, and it continued in the morning. Maybe they shared Curtis’ view that I don’t eat enough. After making my way through the breakfast (which I was told that I needed to grab a drink to go with), I started packing up.
I was going to the shop to say my goodbyes and hit the road just after 9, with Daniel, my CS host waiting for me in Paramaribo. It didn’t quite work like that. When I got to the shop, we started talking and there were more offers to help myself to any of the food or drinks in the shop. I tried to pick up just one drink, but then I was given a bunch of different Surinamese soft drinks to try. We then went behind the shop to the large garden where the fruits I’d been given the day before had been picked from. I got to try a bunch of different small fruits that I didn’t recognise, and was constantly offered more and more even when I couldn’t hold any more. I felt bad turning down more, but I had to carry all this stuff on my bike which is already feeling a bit heavy with this bulky hammock that I’m carrying.
After eventually saying my goodbyes, not until after I’d been offered the chance to stay for a few more days or longer, it was 10:15 before I started the ride to the capital. I was only 40km away, but I had originally hoped to get there for 11, and that wasn’t going to be happening. I got a bit slower when I crossed the bridge and the road, which had been perfectly smooth, started to resemble the face of an adolescent that’s starting to break out in spots. Not a smooth part in sight. It was also narrow and the traffic had picked up, including some lovely trucks carrying sand that I’m almost certain had a bet going on between themselves to see who could ride closest to me.
The greenery got broken up with the outskirts of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, and a traffic jam which I got to wiggle between, often going on to what would have been the pavement if it had been there. Thankfully it was raining hard enough that there were no pedestrians there, you have to be grateful for small mercies. I made it to Daniel’s place around 1, after less than 3 hours on the bike. I had even found the time to stop to avoid the heaviest of the rain on a couple of occasions.