I have a choice, I realized as I was swinging in midair. Either I freak out or let go and enjoy. While fear is an emotion, often used as an excuse – I can’t help it, I’m just too afraid to do it – I took a rational decision not to be afraid and relax. That in itself was an awkward if not an intriguing experience. Furthermore, it worked. I felt my muscles ease up and I took notice of the world around me. Seconds earlier I had only been staring in some sort of void without really seeing where I was. Continue reading
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
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
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
Thus far, thick traffic and having to watch my back had made me wary of the city but after a leisurely walk up the Sugar Loaf I took in the view and suddenly understood the spell that visitors as well as Cariocas (Rio de Janeiro’s residents) fall under. Even more so, I could now clearly see why the city’s earliest colonizers chose this spot to settle down Continue reading
I feel as if I’m swimming in my grandmother’s tropical fish aquarium; the fish have the same bright colors, the same vertical shapes. All around me are yellow-purple-striped king angelfish, ivory-colored barber fish, and black stripe and deep-blue surgeonfish. Continue reading
After 2,5 year of Amazon tropics Coen and I are happy to have returned to the colder and drier climate of the Andes Mountains. During these past 10 years I have never written, “Boy are we glad to be back in the tropics so we can wear shorts and bathing suits again,” yet I have expressed that, “It feels great to wear socks and sweaters again and to sleep under our down blanket.”
We’re cold-weather people. Continue reading
In wonder I stare at the gray-colored seahorse. I can’t remember ever having seen one before. No matter how I turn the bottle, the seahorse keeps its head turned from me. Later the opposite happens with another one and I figure that maybe they prefer facing` towards the sun. Continue reading
In the early morning we sailed through the Baia de Guaraqueçaba in an open motorboat: a world of sapphire-colored water surrounded by blue-grey mountain ranges outlined against a cobalt, slightly clouded sky. With dolphins accompanying us in the distance, the scenery couldn’t have been more peaceful. 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).