From the bridge I could see them for the first time: the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. This was the site that had been on my one-day-must-see list since childhood and finally I was going there. I was so excited! Continue reading
A rough road leads up into the mountains. Apart from a couple of houses the countryside is devoid of habitation. A low, wooden barrier marks the limits of a private property. Behind it, I see rows of small aviaries, a cluster of trees and a house. The place appears deserted. Continue reading
I was facedown in the water, mesmerized by schools of surgeonfish weaving their way among the rocks, yet the word registered loud and clear. I looked up and saw Coen waving frantically, pointing to something underneath his body. I swam towards him, careful not to make any sudden movements that might scare the fish away. Continue reading
A breeze carried the sound of squeaking hinges and creaking wooden panels. In the overwhelming silence of the desert the slamming of a metal roof plate echoed as if a gun had been fired. When listening carefully I heard voices from the past. Voices that told stories about promised fortunes and working yourself to death under the scorching sun of the Atacama Desert – one of the driest deserts on earth and, around 1900, home to Chile’s nitrate boom. Continue reading
I picked up the thermos and filled up the gourd with mate, a popular herbal tea in Uruguay. It’s a drink you share with others, so I handed the gourd to Coen, who took one last photograph before he sat down next to me. We were sitting on a low wall along the Río de la Plata, the river that divides Uruguay and Argentina. The sun slowly sank into the river and sets the sky aflame. Everything was perfect: my company, my drink, the sunset and Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay’s most scenic village. Continue reading
It all started with a photo: a beautiful photograph of an old wooden altar featuring an angel killing a devil, painted in blue tinges. Some of the paint had chipped off and the wood was damaged, and it was clearly a piece from colonial times. The accompanying text told me the photo was taken in the Church of San José in Valenzuela. I asked the caretaker of the museum for directions and my partner Coen and I were on our way. Continue reading
It was Sunday, late afternoon. The weekend vacationers from Manaus had returned home and peace reigned once more over the small tourist town of Novo Airão. I was the only one to go swimming with dolphins – what a stroke of luck. Continue reading
We stared at pieces of plastic strewn around our campsite. Chunks of bread lie here and there but we gathered two of our three loaves had gone. We were aghast.
Herons skim the water, their white bodies reflecting in the inky-black water smooth as glass. Green kingfishers nosedive from branches and resurface with a thrashing fish. Roseate spoonbills scratch around in shallow waters, and jacanas do what Jesus Birds do: they walk on the water. Continue reading
Living on an island of reeds, in a house of reeds, sleeping on a bed of reeds, cooking on the fuel of reeds, and fishing from a boat of reeds? How intriguing is that? Please meet the Uros People of Peru. Continue reading
Purple-Crowned Fairies, Green-Crowned Wood Nymphs and Violet-Tailed Sylphs were fluttering all around me. Had I just landed in an elf forest? It most certainly felt like it. Surrounded by a towering wilderness of forested mountains with gray clouds closing in or receding just as suddenly, the area felt mystical enough to be one. Continue reading
Two men with furrowed faces under wide sombreros enter the arena. Callused hands leisurely hold the reins of the horses and short ponchos striped in natural colors fall around the cowboys’ shoulders. A gate is opened, a young bull set loose. Let the game begin! Continue reading
For a moment I am caught off guard and almost fall overboard. Piranha jaws sharply tug at the chunk of fat I had fastened on the hook. Pablo, my host, guide and friend helps me pull in my line until the feisty creature plops on the bottom of the boat in fluttering spasms. Continue reading
A teenager holds a baby caiman in her hands, a young boy feels its rough skin. There is nothing to fear as the reptile’s jaws have been tied for the occasion. We admire sweet water turtles, decipher dilapidated gravestones and buy dried shrimp.
This eclectic combination of attractions is to be found at Rust and Werk, one of Suriname’s plantations near the capital of Paramaribo, during a daylong boat trip on the Sweet Merodia.
Suriname’s Plantation History
Suriname shares the ambiance and cultural diversity that characterizes the Caribbean but, in fact, is a nation on the north coast of South America. Like in many Caribbean islands, its jungles were transformed into plantations from the 17th to the 20th century.
In Suriname each narrow, elongated plantation bordered a waterway since roads in the countryside didn’t exist, and today this still typifies some of the former plantation regions. Under the Dutch, more than 700 plantations flourished (mostly sugarcane and a bit of coffee) thanks to slaves and, after the abolition, contract laborers from Java and India.
A Boat Trip with Cynthia McLeod
The Sweet Merodia belongs to Cynthia McLeod, a Surinamese author known for her historical novels on Suriname’s plantation history (e.g. The Cost of Sugar and The Free Negress Elisabeth). The boat measures 82 by 18 feet, slightly larger than was the size of slave ships.
Today there are about 40 visitors on the Sweet Merodia whereas the similar-sized slave ships carried 300-400 slaves, who were literally stacked in the holds of the ships, Cynthia points out. This is one of the typical details in her stories that help me visualize the reality of those days.
Not surprisingly, she has many of those details to share. To write her historical novels she researched the maritime archives in the Netherlands (town of Middelburg), where everything with regard to Suriname’s colonial history is kept.
The Plantations of Rust en Werk, and Frederiksdorp
As we sail up the Commewijne River Cynthia narrates her stories about the distinct differences between slavery in Suriname and other countries (among which the US), the good and the bad things done by Dutch governors, captivating stories about love, hatred and conspiracies among salt-water slaves (as newly arrived slaves were called), maroons (runaway slaves), plantation families and foreign powers.
Plantation Rust en Werk (Rest and Work) is one of Suriname’s handful of plantations still productive in the 21st century. It consists of a ranch with 7,000 cows and a shrimp farm. As we walk the grounds to take a look at the crumbled graves of the plantation founders, the Crommelin family, we pass noni bushes. The whose light green, bulgy fruits are popular their medicinal and nutritious values, and a growth market for Rust en Werk.
The Plantation of Frederiksdorp (1760) was known for its coffee and cacao production. The drying floor is still intact. After the abolition of slavery, the plantation was left to go to ruin until Ton and Marianne Hagemeijer bought it in the 1980s. They restored part of the buildings to their former glory, among which the police post, prison cells, the family doctor’s residence and the director’s home.
The red-roofed, white clapboard buildings with contrasting dark-green windowsills surrounded by tropical gardens now house a small, upscale guesthouse.
The Children’s Home of Sukh Dhaam
As the Sweet Merodia cleaves the chocolate brown river lined by a green wall of overgrown plantations reclaimed by nature, we enjoy a coffee and tea with cake, stroop (Surinamese lemonade), and a typical local lunch consisting of rice, kouseband (a type of vegetable) and chicken.
In 1918-1919, the Spanish Flue hit Suriname, killing thousands. The Community of Moravian Brethren founded an orphanage for Hindustani children: Sukh Dhaam (‘House of Happiness’) We stop to chat with the children, no longer limited to Hindustanis, who love to show visitors around. The boys’ quarters have recently been renovated, of which they are incredibly proud.
Orphanages no longer exist in Suriname, but there is still a need for children’s homes like Sukh Dhaam, which offers a home to children from socially deprived families.
The children’s home is “on” Alkmaar. In Suriname you don’t live in a village but “on” a village, which I find one of those fascinating reminders of Suriname’s history. In the early days, people lived “on the Alkmaar Plantation”. The word “plantation” is gone, but “on” Alkmaar – or any other village that replaced a plantation – has remained.
- Tours are in Dutch but on request Cynthia McLeod organizes tours in English for groups. Another option is to make friends with a Dutchman or Surinamese who’ll translate for you along the way).
- Departure is from the dock at Anton Dragtenweg 8 (across from the Residence Inn), north of Paramaribo. It can be reached by taxi.
- Tip: wear comfortable shoes to walk the plantations and bring sun lotion, a hat and, of course, your camera.
- Enjoy these stories about Suriname as well, or find Suriname stories on our Landcruising Adventure website.
- Bradt Travel Guides has a guidebook on Suriname (buy here).
I follow a winding trail along the slopes, which demands a bit of clambering over slippery rocks. I pick another handful of those juicy blackberries along the path, which constitute my breakfast. At a stream, I strip and lower myself into one of the shallow pools sheltered by rocks. Water of 100º degrees (40 degrees Celsius) flows down my shoulders, which is bliss in the crisp temperatures of dawn. Continue reading