Travel journal entry: musings on Guyana as we cross to Suriname

Written 21 January 2012 10:26AM, between Guyana & Suriname

I am on the ferry between Guyana & Suriname, a kind of no-man’s land where departure stamps have already been stamped but arrival stamps are yet to come. What happens if we sink in the middle?

So far the trip has been going well. [My high school friend] Toby & I seem to travel well together. We stayed in Wed night because Toby’s stomach was upset & we couldn’t figure out how we’d get a taxi from Kitty into town after dark, and Thursday we had an invitation to go out with [our couchsurfing host] Navin but we’d both gotten sunburned and Toby was tired and had giant blisters on the bottoms of her feet so didn’t feel up to it. But last night Navin invited us out for a beer with his American friend and we both felt up to it so went to a little hotel bistro/bar ([called] something like “176”) and had a Bank beer and Bank Shanty (0.9% alc. vol. and calls itself ‘champagne’ though it’s really watered-down beer with syrup). Navin’s friend was military working for the embassy doing development work which sounds really cool but I wouldn’t want to join the army. He had typical army-type personality so we didn’t really engage in philosophical discussion but had a nice evening, and still got home early enough to pack everything up and get to sleep a few hours before our 4 AM wake-up call for the bus to this ferry.

It ended up being not a bus at all but a taxi (3000 GYD or $15 US) which was more comfortable and he stopped a few towns before the ferry to let us change money at a better rate (7200 GYD=110 SRD… 36 USD=37 USD!) and bought us plantain chips on the way. He then left his nephew, who was crossing too, in charge of us to herd us along. Also I really had to go the bathroom at one point and he was dropping off another woman before the ferry and asked her if I could use her washroom. Had to wait for the grandpa to finish first, but then was much relieved. An all-around good experience so far.

And after waiting in line to buy our ferry tickets (2000 GYD = 10 USD) and waiting in line to get our departure stamps at customs, and waiting in the waiting room for the ferry to come and unload (atleast there was a TV playing Happy Feet 2), we are finally on our way (2 hrs later). We helped a Brazilian couple who didn’t know how to write fill out their arrival cards by communicating in Portuñol [a mix of Spanish and Portuguese]–makes me fell better about making our way in Brazil [despite neither of us speaking Portuguese]. And the nephew has arranged a minibus on the other side (through someone standing in [the customs] line) to take us the 3-hr ride to Paramaribo. We are certainly on our way!

My lasting impressions from Guyana will be of good, interesting culture-mixed food; US & Surinamese embassy bureaucracy; rhinocerous-like manatees; beautiful gardens in Promenade park; trash everywhere; kissy noises and calls of “while chicks!”; people giving generally good prices so haggling is not necessary; and mosquitoes that attack like a torrent in the night (if you don’t have a net), like the rain. It was a good start to this journey.

Categories: Guyana, South America, Suriname, Travel Journal Entries | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Land of OOs and AAs

Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana.  It was originally colonized by the British but then traded to Holland in exchange for New Amsterdam, which as we all know became New York.  What a different city NYC would be, had that transaction not taken place.  Instead Suriname became Dutch-speaking and New York English-speaking.  Immediately we could recognize the long words with multiple vowels–a language of OOs and AAs.  There are also big Indonesian and Chinese populations here, and we arrived just in time for Chinese New Year.  Our host and his brother said that the Chinese tend to keep to themselves, but we still managed to enjoy fireworks on Sunday night and go to a Chinese dragon dance at a casino on Monday night.  More ooh and aahs.  Paramaribo, the capital of Surniame, was much more to our liking than Georgetown had been.

Here´s what I wrote in my notebook about Suriname after the first day there:

-SO much less honking of cars

-Less developed, more rural along the road from the ferry and more plants in town

-Paramaribo downtown is more city-like, bigger buildings, more bustling feel but also less trash strewn around

-Everything just feels calmer

-Kevin and Genevieve (our Canadian friends who we´d met in Georgetown but who we met back up with in Parbo) say you can take a bus (taxi not needed) from our host even though he´s far from the center–more infrastructure

-Easily met up with our CS host and another CS couple for dinner, seems like a more active community

-Much more Chinese influence–every 3rd store coming into town had a Chinese name and many written in both English and Chinese characters

-Some Indian influence with temples, but less

-Indonesian food all over–very different from anything I´ve had, different spices, presentation, textures (e.g., beef with coconut shavings)

So that´s a few thoughts from Suriname.  I´ll try to post some pictures soon.

Categories: From The Road, South America, Suriname | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Useful Information For Those Traveling Overland/Ferry Through The Guianas

My friend and I have just gone from Georgetown, Guyana, to Paramaribo, Suriname, to Cayenne, French Guiana. Our guidebooks gave us some information on how to go place to place, but it involved a lot of flipping back and forth between country sections, and still didn`t quite cover everything, so I thought I would post what we learned from doing it ourselves for anyone else looking for information. Here is what I can tell you:

From Georgetown we took a minibus at 5AM to South Drain where the ferry is. This cost us G3000 each, and someone gave us a number to call in advance to arrange it (local call: 220-5365 or 220-1456). If you don`t have a phone, you can probably arrange it through a hostel, hotel, travel agency or maybe even the Tourist office in Georgetown, but they may quote you a different price. Or you can do what we did and ask at random hotel reception desks if you can make a local call.

You must arrive at South Drain by 8AM, then queue up to buy your ferry ticket (we went on a Saturday and it was G2000 per person, but our other friends went on a Thursday and it cost them G1500 per person). Then you queue up to pass through customs and get your passport stamped, then wait in a wainting area off the customs office. We had to wait over an hour, but luckily they had a TV playing Happy Feet 2 so we were entertained. The ferry should arrive at 9AM but when we took it, it didn`t come until 10. Once it unloads its passengers, you get on and take the ferry across. It took us around 1.5-2 hours to cross to Nieuw Nickerie. Then everyone had to go through Surinamese customs, which took a long time because there was only one customs officer checking passports. We arranged a minibus there to take us the 3 hours to Paramaribo, but we had to wait until everyone went through customs before we left, and then got stopped at a random police checkpoin, so we didn`t actually get into Paramaribo until 6PM. That minibus taxi cost us SRD60 each, and they dropped us off right at the address we gave them.

When going from Paramaribo to the French Guiana border, you can take a minibus taxi from Waterkant and Heiligenweg near the KFC. It should cost SRD60-70 per person and should take 1.5-2.5 hours to Albina, depending on the weather and condition of the roads. We went during the rainy season and the roads were in very poor condition with lots of construction going on. Ask them to drop you at the immigration office if you can, otherwise you can apparently get a taxi from downtown to the customs office.

When we got there, there was no one else trying to cross so we didn`t have to wait at customs at all. Once you have your passport stamped, you can either wait for the ferry (4 euros, not sure what times it leaves) or you can walk down to the pier behind the customs office and take a motorized dugout canoe or “pirogue” across to Saint Laurent (ask them to drop you at customs on the other side instead of at the beach) for 3-4 euros (we forgot to negotiate the price before getting in, so ended up paying 5 euros each, but the customs officer there told us we had been overcharged and that it should be 4 euros max). Walk up to the little customs kiosks and get your passport stamped.

From there it is a little tricky. The minibuses are not nearby and taxis only come when the ferry comes. The customs officer was very nice and drew us a map for where to walk to get to a taxi stand and gave us the number of two taxi companies (0694425968 or 0694262608), however since we didn`t have a phone we walked the 1.2 km to the taxi stand. If you too are walking, go out of the customs area and turn left. Walk about 1 km til you get to the church, then make a right and cross two small roads over to the taxi stand which looks like an abandoned gas station. If you are lucky, someone will have a taxi there. We were not so lucky, but asked the men standing around where we could get a taxi and one of them called his friend who charged us 10 euros total to take us the short distance to the minibuses, but we had heavy bags and wouldn`t have wanted to walk more, nor did we know the way.

Find a minibus going to Cayenne. It should take 2.5-3 hours once your bus is full (they wait to have 8 people before leaving) and they charged us 35 euros each to go to the bus station or 40 euros each to be taken to an address. We had to pay when we got on the bus rather than at the end of the journey, but were given ticket stubs showing we had paid. You will be stopped at a customs office near Iracoubo where you have to show your passports, then will stop in Iracoubo and transfer to another minibus for the second half of the ride (but the fare you paid in Saint Laurent covers both buses). First they bring people to the bus station, then ask for the address of everyone getting dropped off at addresses and take you around town dropping people off.

Hope this helps anyone else trying to do the same!



Categories: French Guiana, From The Road, Guyana, South America, Suriname, Travel Aids | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at