Our roughly 600nm sail from Petite Martinique was awful. We hit current against us almost immediately and only just managed to sail as the winds shifted from ENE to ESE giving us only a small sail angle. We motored into horrible seas which made for a really uncomfortable journey and also a slow one. We passed only one ship though saw more on the AIS. The one bright moment was when we got a call on the radio from Brickhouse – Rebecca was coming up from Brazil and we were going to pass! That kind of close encounter with friends is very rare and so we passed within about 50m of each other frantically waving and yelling. It was so good to see her after 2.5 years – we may catch up in Trinidad later.
Eventually we came to the mouth of the Suriname river where we had booked a mooring for the month 20nm up river.
The three Guianas are three small South American countries that lie between Venezuela and Brazil on the east coast. English Guiana is now independent and is now called Guyana. Dutch Guiana is also now independent and is now called Suriname and French Guiana – the furthest south is still French. All three speak a different language- Guyana speak English, Suriname speak Dutch and French Guiana obviously speak French.
We chose to stay here because it is a stop over for yachts heading north from South Africa and Brazil on their way to the Caribbean and therefore has some – albeit limited – yachting facilities. There are two main places for yachts, a jetty with a bar/restaurant, wifi and power and water further up river and a smaller place which offers moorings only but has a bar/restaurant, pool, laundry, wifi and water. We had friends at Waterland – the one further upstream but due to COVID there were no places on the jetty as some yachts had got stranded here so we opted to go on the mooring and enjoy the pool.
We were really pleased with our choice- the staff were fabulous, the manager Nettie was so helpful and it had a petrol station and shops all within a 5 minute walk. The meals were tasty and cheap, Ian loved the cheap rum and the pool….. being in the tropics only 5° off the equator was a godsend.
Our friends Brett and Mandy from Leventeia came down to meet us and Frik and Petro from Sisu sailed down later in the day bringing with them Paul and Kirsten from Ikigai. We had not seen Brett and Mandy since Lamu in Kenya so it was a lovely reunion. Ikigai & Sisu we had both seen within the last year. They all rocked up and we had some drinks on Indian Summer – a fabulous welcoming committee.
We ended up in the bar for pizzas and discovered that because we had both been vaccinated and had had a 5 day journey we didn’t need COVID tests or quarantine. A major bonus – and a welcome change.
The next night we had dinner on board Sisu and had a late night so the next day was spent doing boring jobs like laundry and cooling off in the pool. We had a music night on Laventeia the following night which ended in another late one… Suriname was turning out to be a fun place!
Checking in was a doddle one stop at the military police and passports stamped. All done in minutes and completely free. We hired a taxi with Brett and Mandy and did all the obligatory things like internet, food, and paper work and were back at River Breeze by 5. The traffic was horrendous and made the day very long but once we were legal, we could relax and enjoy ourselves.
After a few days Sisu headed up to Grenada as Frik had to fly to Iraq. Ikigai came down from the other marina and so the three of us were the sole occupants of River Breeze other than Marcus – a Hawaiin guy on a big power boat. There were a couple of boats in the distance on anchor but we never saw the owners in the bar. There was also a blue yacht that had a couple minding it – but they didn’t frequent the bar either so we kind of had our own personal bar…. wonderful.
We were worried about water as the river was so muddy we couldn’t make any water but it rained enough to catch some large amounts –
We decided to take the big boats up the Commewijne River to explore and visit a village or two. Laventeia and us set off – fully provisioned for the week, and motored down the Suriname river to join the Commewijne river that runs parallel with the Atlantic Ocean. In fact there are tributaries that you can take that go right to the ocean but they were too overgrown with rain forest and too long for us to attempt that feat. Everyday we had to find somewhere in the river to ‘med moor’. Because the currents are so strong and the river so thick with mud that visibility is practically zero, we didn’t want the boat to swing around and get caught in some sunken tree that we couldn’t dive on to clear. Now ‘med mooring’ is no one’s favourite type of anchoring but in this river it was nearly impossible! You anchor the big boat mid river in about 20m – which was it’s lowest depth – and then theoretically take a long line to the shore, tie onto a tree and shorten your anchor chain until you are tight. Sounds easy right? It’s hard in the Med where you have lots of boats but here in the river the currents were so strong that as soon as we had anchored and Ian had jumped in the dinghy with the line, the big boat was being held tight against the current at least 50m away – as a result he couldn’t tie on! It took us both hours to anchor each night until Ian decided enough was enough and after a few days he anchored, risked the boat swing, waited till slack tide and then quickly before it started running the other way, jumped in the dinghy and tied the line to a tree. It worked really well even though one night he had to do it in the dark!
As we ventured further down the Commewijne river, we found ourselves completely alone. We saw no houses, no other boats and no form of human habitation at all. The only noises were the birds and sometimes the monkeys – it was one of the most peaceful places we had ever visited. We took the dinghys down some of the smaller creeks and tried to ‘go with the flow’ as much as possible which meant no engine – just the current pulling us along. There were times when the trees were overhanging close enough on either side of the creek to enable the monkeys to fly across – amazing.
We went up some creeks until we could go no further and then had to back out very slowly avoiding rocks and fallen branches. All the time we had our eyes peeled in the hopes of seeing some sloths but we never did. One night a large sea snake crossed our sugar scoops but we didn’t manage to get a photo.
We slowly meandered up the river, branching off into the smaller Cottica river. We arrived at a small village called Wanhatti and dropped the dinghys in to go ashore and visit. The first person we met spoke very good English and said we were welcome to wander around – so we headed off along the riverbank until we got to the end of the houses where we met a lovely lady called Marika. We asked her if we could buy a beer and co-incidentally we were right beside the shop which doubled up as the bar! We bought some beers, were given some chairs to sit in the middle of the dirt road and spent a lovely afternoon discovering about Marika’s life and the village history. We were opposite a very grand bright pink house that belonged to Marika’s Aunt Lucia – who was shredding greens for dinner on the verandah.
Marika told us there were only 500 residents of the village and that even though she had been born there, she left at 12 years to go and live in Paramaribo. She had since retired and come back aged 60 to live in her village again. She explained that the village was derived from slaves who had been brought in to work on the plantations.
We spent a couple more days on the river before heading back to Domburg. It had been the most relaxing week but we were ready to discover more of Suriname.
We had been given the contact details of a guy whose father was a friend of our good friend Mike in Australia – they were keen to catch up and show us around so we met up at the bar for a drink. His name was Dwayne and he spoke fluent English. He had a wife a small daughter and asked if we would like to go out for the day the following Saturday. Plans duly put in place for the following weekend, we decided to hire a car for the week to sort out some other business we needed to do. The first day we went into Paramaribo and tried to get some money out of the atm but it was empty. So were the next three including the main branch in the city. We desperately needed some cash- everything in Suriname is cash only- even the petrol stations and car hire so we were down to about $20. I spent the next hour in the queue of the bank to see if the cashier could get some cash for us. Fully masked up and hot and sticky I approached the teller and gave her my Australian passport.
“Oh, you are Australian”
“Your name is Melian”
“Do you know Dwayne?”
“He is my husband – hello I am Clare!”
Of all the banks and all the tellers in Suriname I find myself talking to Clare who I was going to be spending Saturday with. Such a coincidence but unfortunately she couldn’t help because my card had just expired that afternoon. We had to get our daughter to DHL our new card to us but in the meantime we had no funds. Clare arranged for us to meet up an hour later when the bank was closed with Dwayne in the bank car park. In the car we deposited some funds from our Australian bank into Dwaynes father’s account in Sydney, Dwayne gave us a few hundred dollars and his father transferred my funds into Dwaynes account in Suriname. All this took only half an hour to complete. Incredible.
The next few days were spent exploring Paramaribo. An old Dutch colonial city, it is constructed of wood and would have once been a beautiful place, but lack of maintenance and hot tropical humid weather have taken their toll and many of the buildings were in a terrible state. The main market down by the waterfront sold an array of things I had never seen before and we saw many beggars in the streets.
We spent a day with Brett and Mandy doing boat stuff – searching for that elusive part in various backstreets – Mandy and I found a great shop and bought some lovely cotton fabric for only $1 a metre. We want to make some light cotton dresses as this heat and humidity is hard to handle. The boys found a few parts but most of the day was spent in traffic. We did manage to get to the fish market which was excellent with huge prawns and big pink snappers for about $3 each.
On the Saturday Dwayne and Clare and their daughter picked us up and we headed inland. We went to Brokopondo which is huge dam where the locals come at the weekends. The village sells food to the locals but there’s little work and they are miles from any town. We wondered how they manage in times like these when their sole income source has dried up and there’s no welfare to help.
Next they took us to their holiday house deep in the jungle. It had been raining hard and luckily they had a 4 wheel drive or we would never have made it. The last few miles were mud tracks and some of the puddles were so deep I thought we might disappear. Many of their family were there, they tend to all gather at weekends and enjoy the quiet after the hussle and bustle of Paramaribo. Dwayne’s Aunt made us a wonderful chicken noodle meal and we spent the afternoon on the verandah watching the rain come down – which was fabulous as it cooled everything down. It was so relaxing but all too soon it was time to head back.
With a hire car we thought we would try and get over to French Guiana. This involved a 2.5 hour drive and then to find a boat to take us across the river. So early one morning we set off with Brett and Mandy to go and visit another country. We drove over lots of speed humps called drempels- each time scraping the bottom of the car. We were convinced it would fall apart before we got back but somehow we did manage to get all 4 of us and our tiny baked bean size car to Albina – a small dusty little town on the river that caters for the gold mines up the river and to take people over to French Guiana in their brightly coloured Baroques. It was a busy little town and we were accosted as soon as we got out of the car. We were a bit wary of the police as we were leaving the country effectively and sneaking into another but they either turned a blind eye or never saw us – either way we paid the grand sum of 5€ each and joined some locals and climbed into the baroque. In 15 minutes we were getting off in another equally busy place but they were all talking French!
We headed straight for the post office as we had heard this was the best exchange rate and got €600 each. It’s always useful to have some cash in the two main currencies- US$ and Euros – as its often way cheaper to change cash on the streets for local.currency.
We then went to the Camp de Transportation. The notorious penal colony of Saint Laurent de Moroni, where about 70,000 French convicts were sent to over a hundred year period ending in 1946. The most famous inmate was a man called Henri Charriere, who though claimed innocence, was convicted of murder. Known as Papillon, He eventually escaped to Venezuela. Unfortunately we had missed the tour so we could see Papillon’s cell no 47 where he had engraved his name, but I did manage to look through the bars and saw the tiniest cells – 1.8m x 2m where they slept. I have visited a few prisons but never seen such a small cell before.
They have renovated much of the prison and now rent sections out for workshops. It was only a hundred yards back from the river but with such high walls the prisoners would not see the water. An eerie place.
We walked slowly back to the centre of town – it’s a lovely place and we wished we could have spent longer there but we needed to get back before the 6pm curfew.
We then hit the supermarket! That is not on most tourists agenda but we had been starved of a good choice of food for a while and they took credit cards AND they had lots of french cheese and cheap wine. Laden with goodies we emerged from the SuperU supermarket and wondered how on earth we were going to get all this produce back to the boat. Mandy suggested we just take the trolleys- so we set off and walked the trolleys all the way down to the dock. We weren’t stopped by anyone but did get a few stares. When we got there – there was a group of boat owners all yelling at us to take their boat – we eventually settled on one and whoosh…. all our shopping was taken from the trolleys and whisked into the boat. Two local lads ran the trolleys back to the shop and pocketed the euro (good for them) and we climbed into the boat for the journey back to Suriname.
We managed to get back home before the curfew, though doubt we would have been in trouble. They are quite laid back and don’t seem to stop people after dark.
A couple days later we went up to Waterland, the only other marina in Suriname. This one had a jetty and we had been told that sloths come into the dining area. We had a meal with friends and during lunch the waiter came up and told us there was a sloth coming down. We were so pleased- it’s rare to see a sloth as they only come down from the top of the trees for one reason……… to have a crap once a week. They are born, raised, reproduce and die up in the trees but don’t like to soil their home. This means that the most dangerous time in their life is while they are doing their weekly constitutional due to predators. The ones at Waterland are safe though so they allow people to get really close. Ours only came half way down but it was still thrilling to see one in its natural habitat.
We spent the next few days organising COVID tests, filling diesel cans, checking out and enjoying the last days in the pool. Our friends Dwayne and Clare came over for a final drink and gave us a beautiful carved wooden clock from Suriname – a treasured gift from some of the loveliest people we have met. We have really enjoyed Suriname but it was time to move on – and Guyana is only just up the road….