Where is Suriname? Wrong! It isn’t in Asia, though the name sounds Asian.
Many years ago, three small countries on the northern rim of the South American continent were colonized by the French, Dutch and British, and appropriately named French Guiana, Dutch Guiana and British Guiana. Over time, the British and the Dutch gave up their claim on these colonies, which reclaimed their original names: Guyana and Suriname. The French kept a titular government of the third colony.
Most readers know about the erstwhile British colony, now called Guyana. That’s where an American nut named Jim Smith immigrated, set up a religious commune, preached the imminent end of the world, and convinced his followers to drink some arsenic-laced Kool-Aid.
Now about Suriname: This strange little country is sandwiched in between French Guiana and Guyana. As a tourist destination, it ranks close to Burma (sorry Myanmar). It is hot and humid. Some years ago, a malcontent Army sergeant convinced a bunch of his drinking buddies to take control of the more or less democratic government.
The country is mostly forest–some of the world’s finest hardwood sources. The most striking thing about Paramaribo, the capital city–where you will stay if you go, is that all the buildings are made of wood, including three and four-story structures like the city hall, a really good-looking hotel, the post office, etc. The people live in wooden houses set up on poles about ten feet high to keep the water out when it rains, which is every day, and to keep the wild animals from feeding on them while they slumber. They do have some interesting animals, including giant snakes, crocodiles, jaguars, and a more than ample supply of insects to boot.
The lingua franca of the country is called taki-taki a calypso version of English and Dutch. The people can understand both Dutch and English, if they want to, and they usually do unless you want them to do something without compensation, then suddenly Dutch and English are forgotten. Taki-taki is spoken, with minor differences, throughout the Caribbean Islands. A careful listener can understand some of the dialogue using a bit of imagination.
Why would you consider going to Suriname? Well, not many tourists do, but it is an interesting place nonetheless. The gigantic hardwood forests are awesome. Braver visitors can even arrange a trek therein–with a guide of course. As mentioned before, the all-wood buildings are beautiful; all colorfully painted and decorated with ornate woodcarvings. The people are friendly and courteous. Western-style accommodations are available and the local cuisine is a delightful blend of local Indian and Dutch dishes that feature lots of wild game from the jungle. Gift shopping is extraordinarily good if interested in wood products made from teak, ebony, zebrawood, and other exotic trees from the famed forests. And finally, there is the bragging right of having visited a place most people don’t even know exists.
A few words of wisdom are appropriate:
1. Don’t swim in the rivers or wander about in the jungle, especially at night. That’s when the jaguars hunt.
2. Tip generously for services. Remember, all Norte-Americanos are rich.
3. Take lots of photos or nobody will believe you visited there.
4. Buy some very unusual souvenirs, but no live ones.
5. Keep your political views to yourself: don’t mess with Army Sergeants (or whoever is in charge these days)
6. U.S. Immigration frowns on bringing back juvenile anacondas, crocs, and jaguars.
Do I recommend a trip to Suriname? Well yes, if you’ve visited other really exotic places and have the feel for such ventures. Let me know how you fare, should you decide to go.