Suriname – Paramaribo & Isadou Island

Sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana, Suriname welcomes approximately 280,000 tourists annually. It is a former Dutch colony and is considered one of South America’s hidden treasures. We arrived to Suriname on the ferry from French Guiana, and our itinerary included several days in Paramaribo followed by several days at Isadou Island on the Suriname River, deep in Maroon village territory. Paramaribo is considered the most attractive city of the Guianas and we can definitely attest to the beauty of its colonial buildings. We spent a day here searching for the elusive sotalia river dolphin and another day commiserating with the sad animals at Paramaribo’s zoo. From Paramaribo, we drove south towards remote interior, getting picked up by boat at Atjoni. We were ferried along the Suriname River to Isadou Lodge, located near the Maroon village of Jaw Jaw. Here we were able to dip into several natural swimming holes, hike with a local guide to spot elusive animals (none seen, the hunters kill everything in sight for bush meat), and relax in our hammocks. After a few days of retreat in the jungle, we emerged from the interior and drove back up towards Paramaribo just in time to watch the Ariane 5 rocket lauch from River Breeze marina. Even though the rocket was over 200 km away, it still impressed! The last push westward from Paramaribo was to South Drain, the border crossing in western Suriname. We had to spin our wheels here waiting for the daily morning ferry to hit our next destination, Guyana. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that our truck was too tall for the ferry! So a new plan was hatched while we carried all necessary luggage and took local transport for a few weeks while our truck was left behind in the capable hands of our driver who had to figure out another way to get it across. Overland travel is always an exciting adventure as you can never predict what obstacles are thrown one’s way!


13 Feb – Apatou (Crique Societe) bush camp – Paramaribo, Suriname
Up at 5 am for a 5:30 departure…ugh! At least the drive to the ferry port was quick and we were the very first vehicle in line, which meant we could catch the 7 am ferry! However, first we had to get stamped out of French Guiana. It should have been straightforward and indeed was for everyone but the Brits. Half of them had passports that said “European Union” which technically wasn’t true anymore and the border official appeared flummoxed on how to proceed. So he read every regulation and rule and a nervous Rob started sweating bullets. But finally, the all clear was given and Rob was stamped out. We crowded onto the “ferry” (a tiny barge) and 10 minutes later, landed in Suriname. This was Rebeca’s 50th country and she was ready to party! But we still had to get stamped in. Even though everyone had tourist cards or visas, we still had to fill out another entry card (which the official didn’t even look at) and wait to get stamped in. Then a bit of duty free shopping at the border and we walked over to have breakfast at Spongebob at 8:30. Keith’s eyes were glazed over again and it appeared he was drunk from the night before. And he apparently acted inappropriately towards Amanda…we only caught the tail end of it but he did or said something upsetting and she let him know it was not acceptable and also reported him to Danny. He acts like such a loser sometimes that I wonder if this is his true personality and he has to dig deep to turn on the charm when he wants to. Whatever…I am so over him at this point. Go ahead and leave the truck already if you are so miserable! Seeing the Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde transformation that he goes through every few days is beyond pathetic. And when I overheard him denying doing anything wrong, it just filled me with disgust. Own up to your mistakes dude…you obviously got some major issues that you need some serious counseling to resolve! Anyway, the next drama of the day was salami-gate. We were told to make lunch sandwiches after breakfast and the 2 packages of salami were used up before everyone got a chance to make a sandwich. I watched a few people stuff salami in their sandwiches and there were only 2 slices left for mine. But then Cat and Futoshi ended up getting none. And this was on top of Keith and Alli not getting any so obviously a huge fail on making sure it was fair for everyone…at this point I was ready to get away from the truck and everyone on it and escape to Paramaribo for a few days. Once we got into town, we found out that the rooms weren’t ready yet. A very excited Will greeted us. He had been in town for a week already and was bored silly. We jumped on WiFi and it was painfully slow while we waited for our room. At 1 pm, Danny handed us a key to our room and we were surprised to learn it wasn’t a dorm room. A shower was the first priority and then sorting out all our stuff. A group was heading to the Riverside bar for sundowners but we wanted to relax in our comfy room so we decided to link up for ribs later. Just before sunset, we joined Alli and Bert for a walk to Riverside where we shared a huge beer and watched the end of sunset. By that point, we were hungry for dinner so all of us trudged over to Mighty Racks. Our group was way too large to sit at one table so we split up into groups of 4. We enjoyed dinner with Cat and Gary and ordered a rack of ribs with the extra spicy BBQ sauce. The place was crowded but service was slow. When our food eventually came out, we discovered that we’d been shortchanged a rib, which was obvious because we were expecting 4 each. And Cat was served a completely incorrect meal! Needless to say, we won’t be going back to Mighty Racks! The food itself was OK but definitely a touristy place and there must be better food in this city. Rebeca and Jeremy were keen on making this a night to remember so we were pressured into going dancing and drinking afterwards. Instead, we joined Cat and Gary and “ninja bombed” our way back to the hotel. Thankfully Jeremy was too drunk to notice and we managed to escape, ha ha. We’ll take his abuse tomorrow when he yells at us for sneaking out of there.

14 Feb – Paramaribo
Happy valentines day! We slept in until 8 when we heard a ruckus in the hallway. Jeremy was awake and wanted the whole world to know it, ha ha. He played “Baby Shark” loudly at our door and pounded to be let in. We of course pretended to not be in our room and eventually he gave up. Today was going to be all about seeing Paramaribo, reputedly the most handsome capital city of the Guianas. We started our tour at the St Peter and Paul Cathedral, a wooden Roman Catholic cathedral that is the biggest wooden structure in the western hemisphere. We couldn’t enter because we weren’t properly dressed with our tank tops and shorts (pants and t-shirts only) but we were able to check it out from the outside. Next up was Independence Square, where we checked out the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Finance, and a short walk over to Fort Zeelandia where we paid to enter the fort’s museum. A group of school kids were visiting but they were well behaved for the most part. From the fort, we walked over to the Garden of Palms and then down the waterfront street. The old wooden houses on this riverfront boulevard have been handsomely restored and we loved the architecture in this section of the city. After running into Jeremy and Rebeca, they joined us for a stroll over to the market area. We were on a quest for food and the first market looked like a voodoo market. Jeremy spotted a KFC across the street so we made a beeline for it and got the “Valentine’s Special”, 2 chicken sandwiches for the price of 1. Delicious and super cheap too. KFC hit the spot. We were still keen on more sightseeing so we left the two lovebirds for their own adventures and walked back over to the market. This time we found the proper market area, full of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. The meat section was interesting as some of the vendors were selling bush meet (agouti or “greater cane rat”) as well as peccary (wild boar or “bush pig” as the local described it). On our way back to the hostel, we passed by a large mosque and synagogue built right next to each other, which was a nice sight to see. We were still keen on the zoo but wanted a little siesta before our dolphin excursion this afternoon so we relaxed for a bit in the room until 3:30 pm. Then we went downstairs and caught a taxi with Jeremy and Rebeca to the ferry dock where we waited for a representative from Waterproof Tours Suriname to show up. Our guide, Ryan, showed up just after 4 and broke us into two groups. Robby and I, plus Gary and Allison were on one boat and everyone else was on another. After searching for dolphins for thirty minutes (with a free cocktail in hand), we finally spotted an elusive family of sotalia (Guianese dolphin capable of living in brackish water). The wind was kicking and the waves made it difficult to spot the fins but we did see them! On our way to a former coffee and cocoa plantation (Plantage Frederiksdorp), we spotted another school of dolphins, so we were quite lucky for spotting these elusive creatures. Too bad none of them were in a jumping mood as we just caught glimpses of their fins from time to time. The plantation stop was ok as we had time to take pictures of the largescale four-eyed fish (which allows them to see under and above water at the same time!). We also had free traditional Suriname snacks (fried plantain dipped in peanut sauce, potato samosas and a chicken and green beans roll) which were tasty and filling. Then a final cruise back to the starting point as sun set. Ryan gave us our 3rd cocktail on the ride back and we were feeling happy and full by 7 pm. Our taxi driver back into town was quite entertaining and we had a good conversation with him. Neither of us was feeling like dinner since the excursion snacks and drinks did the trick. We did want to do a load of laundry and combined ours with Cat and Gary’s, telling the hotel that we could pick it up tomorrow. After one episode of Yellowstone, we were tuckered out so it was an early night for us.

15 Feb – Paramaribo
Up early because I wanted to hop on the WiFi before it got congested with everyone else using it. Our plan was to hit the zoo right after it opened this morning and beat the Saturday crowd. First we had a little breakfast in the room (leftover salami and cheese) and then we picked up our laundry and gave Gary and Cat their clothes. Since the zoo was only 3 km away, we decided to walk. It was hot out but at least the path was flat! Entrance to the zoo was 20 Surinamese Dollars (about $2.50), which was very cheap. After entering, we could see why – about half of the exhibits have been shut down or are closed for renovations. The spider monkeys had an island with a moat around it and they had a lot of freedom. It was great to see them not in a caged enclosure and we enjoyed watching them monkeying around. However, once we explored further in the zoo, we became quite sad to see the state of some of the animals, especially the ocelots and jaguars. They were in tiny cages and looked completely miserable. One of the jaguars seemed really excited for our company as it immediately hopped down to be close to us, and kept making eye contact from a few feet away. Poor thing was probably bored out of its mind! It was noon by the time we walked back to town and we went directly to Zhi Cheng Snack Bar, a Chinese restaurant that Cat and Gary told us about yesterday. The dim sum here was excellent, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. With 4 dishes of food, 2 pots of tea, 1 soya milk and 1 beer, the bill came out to $17, bargain! Back at the hostel, we found out that Danny was able to find a flight to the Kaieteur Falls for $220, so we told him if there were slots for the 21st, we wanted to go. Our afternoon was spent relaxing in the room. Neither of us was keen on heading out to dinner since we were stuffed with Chinese from lunch. We did have to pack for the jungle lodge tomorrow and organized our bags to make it easier. Jeremy came barging into our room playing music and dancing half naked. He is getting excited for the upcoming truck party!

16 Feb – Paramaribo – Isadou Island
Sunday morning is bird singing competition day in Paramaribo so we set our alarm and got up at 6 am. It was raining but we hoped for the best as we walked to Independence Square with Allison, but not a soul was in sight. Either the venue changed or the rain canceled the event. So we had another hour to relax before loading up on Spongebob. First stop was an amazing supermarket that had a wide selection of items at decent prices. We filled a cart and were surprised at checkout when we were told no credit cards, cash only. This was a high end supermarket and they didn’t accept credit cards? Just baffling until we later realized that only Suriname credit cards are accepted! How crazy is that? From Paramaribo, we drove south to Atjoni village, the drop off point to lodges located on the Suriname River. It felt like we had been transported to Africa in the span of the 3 hour drive because everyone here was black, the women were dressed in colorful skirts and dresses and the only pale skin visible was from the tourists returning from their visit to the interior Maroon villages. Back in the slave trading days, a bunch of slaves revolted and escaped to the interior where their descendants now live. Our plan was to spend 2 nights here at Isadou Lodge in 4 person cabanas. The boat ride took over 30 minutes and we arrived to a very picturesque oasis in the middle of the jungle. There were natural swimming pools in the rapid flowing river because of massive rocks that slowed the flow. We grabbed the Koaki bungalow along with Jeremy and Rebeca and immediately slung up our hammocks. Then a cold drink followed by a 2 hour soak in the river. There was a natural massage section which felt great but we had to wedge our feet against the rocks to keep from getting pulled away downstream. At dusk, thousands of little gnats flew out and covered us from head to toe but luckily they didn’t bite! Cook group made chicken fajitas for dinner which were delicious. We stayed up drinking pina coladas and whiskey and listening to Disney tunes. It was a fun night and we tried to watch one episode of The Good Doctor but fell asleep 10 minutes into it. At first we thought we didn’t need to mosquito net but after a few bites, quickly changed our minds. It was a comfortable night’s sleep.

17 Feb – Isadou Island
Spanish omelette for breakfast was a treat thanks to Rebeca, Danny and Keith. They spent over 2 hours preparing it and it took us 15 minutes to eat it (with beans on the side). At 9, we joined Jeremy, Rebeca, Izzy, Brad, Lisa, Cat and Gary for a jungle tour nearby. Our guide was a funny guy named Mickey Smith and after a 5 minute boat ride, he led us on a 3 hour walk using a hunter’s path. We learned a lot about the trees but didn’t see any animals. The hunters did too good of a job ensuring they were wiped out. In fact, we saw a hunter appear with his massive rifle. The wildlife here doesn’t stand a chance. Mickey said that even if they spotted a rare animal like a jaguar, they would kill it to sell its teeth to the Chinese. By noon, we were at the pickup point waiting for a ride back to the island but the boat never appeared despite Mickey shouting at the top of his lungs. He eventually flagged down a passing boat and convinced them to give us a ride back to the lodge. Danny and Keith had prepared lunch of salad, boiled eggs and leftover Spanish omelette. The salad was tasty because of the feta cheese…yum! After lunch, Robby went fishing while I read a book in the hammock. It eventually got too hot out so we finally went for a dip in the river. Then back to fishing and hammock time. In the late afternoon, Rebeca and I went over her Galapagos itinerary which was great. An affordable way to experience some highlights of the islands. Cook group (Brad, Bert and Lisa) made chicken thai curry. No one really felt like staying up drinking so we retreated to the room and watched Yellowstone and Curb your Enthusiasm while Jeremy and Rebeca watched Free Solo.

18 Feb – Isadou Island – Domburg
Ham, cheese and tomato toasties for breakfast courtesy of Lisa, Bert and Brad. We didn’t have to leave until 11:30 so it was a relaxed morning. Robby fished while I worked on my laptop for a while. At 11, we carried all the kitchen stuff to the supply boat and then sat around waiting for the passenger boat to show up. It eventually did and we set off for Atjoni. After loading Spongebob, we hit the road toward Paramaribo, stopping for truck lunch (vegetarian pasta). When we reached the outskirts of Paramaribo, the next two cook groups had to go shopping. Robby’s cook group was tonight so he went shopping and I volunteered for truck guard. Our campsite tonight was supposed to be a bush camp but Danny booked us into the yacht club, Harbour Resort Domburg. A sign indicated that “Overlanders Welcome” and we set up our tents on one half of the parking lot. There was a pool, a puppy and a bar. Everyone was happy. WiFi was only at the bar for customers and since we spent all our Surinamese Dollars, we went without. But Rebeca managed to figure out how to let me scan the WiFi code from her phone so I was sorted. At 7:20 pm, we watched the Ariane 5 rocket launch take off from 280 km away. Magical and we were all imagining how much more spectacular it would have been if we were in Kourou! Robby, Rob and Gary made chicken nugget stir fry for dinner and we did a YMCA dance while flapping dishes afterwards.

19 Feb Domborg – South Drain (border)
Breakfast at 8:30 am meant a late start this morning. Robby did eggs to order accompanied with bread and choice of butter, peanut butter, or jelly. I fed the puppy my leftover scrambled eggs and she ravenously ate them. Poor thing is slowly being starved to death. We set off at 9:30 and drove towards the border, stopping for cook group to go shopping for dinner and breakfast tonight and tomorrow. Lunch was cup of noodles soup (tom yum shrimp, shrimp, chicken and vegetable). The afternoon drive was hot but uneventful. We drove past rice paddies and newly constructed houses. At 4 pm, we pulled up to the Canawima ferry port Westelijke Polders. Free WiFi kept us busy and quiet until Danny gave us the all clear to set up our tents. Cook group (Jeremy, Alli and Leo) made garlic chicken pasta for dinner which was tasty. There were two dogs hanging around cook group and they were rewarded with chicken skin and bones, which made for two very happy and full dogs. A representative from the ferry came over and asked to speak to our driver so we got Will. The height of Spongebob was apparently an issue, because the normal ferry broke down and the replacement one can only accommodate vehicles up to 3 meters tall. The measuring tape came out and sure enough, we are 3.40 meters tall. The only recourse is to drive back to Brazil and make our way to Manaus, or wait for the original ferry to be fixed, or bribe the ferry operator to cut the bars off the replacement ferry so that Spongebob can squeeze on. Will was hopeful for option number 3 to work out but we will wait and see what happens tomorrow. During dinner, Danny told us to pack our bags as if we wouldn’t be seeing Spongebob until Cartagena, Colombia. We decided to sort that out tomorrow instead of mess with our bags tonight.

20 Feb South Drain (border) – Moleson Creek, Guyana – Georgetown
It was a rude awakening at 6:30 am when we were told to take down our tents because the border was about to get busy. Poor Alison was not having a good morning…her sandals were nowhere to be found but I asked around and found out they were on the truck near her seat. After tearing down our tent, we had breakfast of french toast, fairy bread (white bread spread with butter and sprinkles), and scrambled eggs. Alli, Jeremy and Leo did a great job for their last ever cook group. There were 3 puppies to play with after breakfast and once dishes were washed up and put away, we were told to clear immigration and get stamped out of Suriname. All was going smoothly until the official wouldn’t accept a photo of Futoshi’s yellow fever card. So we all went from the front of the line to the end because Danny wanted us to travel as a group. We had to wait for a supervisor to call over to Guyana and see if they would allow him entry into the country without a yellow fever card in hand. Futoshi was very lucky that they said it would be OK, because he would have been left at the border to figure it out on his own otherwise. After getting stamped out, we all went on a duty free shopping frenzy. There were two duty free shops and alcohol was reasonably priced at both so we stocked up on our duty free allowance. Somehow, the two stores weren’t cross referencing what was being bought where so we actually doubled our allowance! Plus one of the stores was giving away free nuts and cashews for every purchase and we ended up getting about 3 KG of free snacks. Then came the moment of truth…would Spongebob be able to fit on the ferry. The guy in charge thought we were too tall but other workers thought it would be OK. So Will took the drive down to the ferry and we all watched with bated breath. And Spongebob was just 2 inches too tall! So Will had to reverse all the way back to the waiting area and we given time to offload all the luggage we could anticipate needing from now until Cartagena, Colombia. Then we join the throng of foot passengers waiting for the ferry. Once the gates opened, it was a mad dash to grab a seat and fill out Guyana’s entry form. The ferry ride took 20 minutes and then we were in English speaking Guyana.

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