Showing posts with label Dan Paati. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dan Paati. Show all posts

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Suriname: Resorts of the Suriname River

The Suriname River is fascinating, and for tourists travelling to Suriname, the communities along its bank offer a spectacular experience. Surinamese jungle lodges are great, and really offer visitors a wide range of standards, accessibility and activity.

Some time ago I wrote about Kabalebo, a lodge deep in the rain forest, and accessible only by air; it is a rather odd place, and worth considering on any trip to the country. The Surinamese government built some decades ago, several air strips in the jungle to assist the development of minerals, hydro power and other economic opportunities. Some worked out, and others failed; one such failure was Kabalebo, but the idea of a runway in the pristine rain forest was too much for some developers to ignore, and they took advantage of the strip to build the lodge.

The Lodges
The Suriname River, though, is quite different. There are twenty-two lodges, each associated to some degree or another with a local village, and developed as a part of an economic development project. One may think that 22 might be a touch over the top, but there they are, and they are waiting.

They range in standards from moderate, offering fairly basic but clean, en-suite accommodation, to “back to basic” huts, offering a roof to keep the rain away and a hammock. One can mix and match, and indeed one of the most interesting packages that exists is a five-night program that offers three nights in one of the better resorts, Dan Paati, and one each in a primitive resort and a Back-to-Basic camp.

Dan Paati Resort

Waiting for the canoes in Atjuna
Travelling upstream is fun; once one leaves the bus, agility is required to get into the canoe for the three-hour journey, but once is the route is sound and the boatmen steady.  It is truly eye-opening to see the amount of traffic on the river; freight canoes carrying anything and everything to the villages, passenger “buses”, school buses, family outings, some tourist traffic, but little compared to the constant stream of canoes that were making their way up and down the river. Ponchos are provided in case the rain comes down, and away one goes, past quintessentially African communities until we reach Dan Paati.

Originally built by a Dutch insurance company as a part of an aid project, a year or so ago they donated the resort to a tour company who work closely with the village of Dan. It has a significant economic impact on the community, as over thirty villagers are employed by Dan Paati in the operation of the resort. It was great; a place to relax (no wi-fi), to swim in either their pool or in the river, and a great place to meet fellow travellers in the evening in the open lounge area.

I then headed further upstream and downmarket to the village of Pingpe, and their jungle lodge. This was a treat on many fronts, and although the accommodation was basic, it was absolutely fine, and the couple who ran the resort, Chapeau and his sister, were both from the local village, and fantastic hosts. Descended from escaped slaves in the 1760s, their family had lived in Pingpe for hundreds of years.

They explained the basic history of the river, and noted that periodic visitors from Africa, particularly those from Benin, recognise the village life, their customs and beliefs, and indeed one river-community is called Diumi, a variant on ”Dahomey”, the capital of Benin. Diumi is a special village, and the only one that white visitors are prohibited from entering, as it houses the tribe’s sacred place for the spirit that protects the community from any further slavery.

Chapeau Siesa

And slavery is an open subject; minimised somewhat by Chapeau saying “It was all about money; it is what they did in those days”, and seemingly a part of history that has been successfully shrugged away as the Maroons developed their social structures and lives in the forest, reflecting the African lives that they had left behind.

It was a fascinating stay; Chapeau was an excellent companion, and as we walked through the forest explained so many elements of life away from “civilisation” that I was left bewildered and quite astonished by their prowess. “We were river people”, he said, “The Amerindians were the people of the forest”; it is a distinction that I would like to find out for myself, and I am already planning a trip to the very south of the country in 2016.

A Tarantula Spider's nest

Within the past ten years, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of petroglyphs in caves near the Brazilian border, and beautifully carved obelisks; these finds, added to linguists bewilderment as to why the local Amerindian tribes have a language with the grammatical and structural complexity of modern-day languages all hint to the existence of a massive and powerful nation dating back millennia. The petroglyphs have already been dated to before 3,000BC, predating the Aztec and Inca societies by many years.

To travel south, stay in the Amerindian villages and have the opportunity to visit these extraordinary places will have to wait for a year!

And so, the river behind me, the resorts of Pingpe and Dan Paati sliding away, I headed west to one of the more peculiar places that it has ever been my privilege to visit.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Suriname: The Suriname River

Apart from geography geeks, stamp collectors and cartophiles, Suriname is a country that has escaped most peoples’ awareness. And this is a great pity, because as a destination, Suriname offers interest travellers a peak into any number of worlds.

It lies, along with Guyana and French Guyana on the north-est coast of South America, tucked in between Venezuela and Brazil. Access is patchy but straightforward; from North America, there are flights into the capital of Paramaribo directly from Miami, or with connections in Port of Spain or Curacao. From Europe, non-stop flights from Amsterdam, recognising the old historical connection between the Netherlands and this remote region, operate daily.

And so it was that I found myself boarding the KLM flight at Schipol, shivering because I had jettisoned my warm clothes in anticipation of two months or warmth, for the nine-hour flight south to Suriname.

It is my fourth visit to the region, and I have to say that I really enjoy coming down to the Guyanas. They offer travellers many options, from fabulous fly-in lodges in the rain forest, fascinating canoe trips, expeditions to see the recently-discovered 5000 year-old petroglyphs in the southern forest, and interesting glimpses into contemporary river life, a one travels the Suriname River.

Suriname’s history is bloody. It is a brutal tale of slavery, plantation, disease and constant bickering and fighting with the British and French. It is a history of injustice on an industrial scale, disease and deceit, purgatory and finally salvation.

In the late 1760s, slaves escaped from the plantations, and headed for the river, safe in the assumption that the wussy Dutch would not chase them there. Eventually, they settled into six tribes in different regions, and to this day, live lives in the upper reaches of the rivers that remain traditionally African.

Pingpe Village
Pingpe Village

There is, of course, contemporary turmoil; the transition from centuries of a cashless society to one that cash is needed is painful. The requirement for money (Digicel can’t be paid with local fruit), has forced many to leave their traditional villages to go to Paramaribo to seek work, leaving a social imbalance within the villages. The elderly, formerly looked after by the next generations are being left alone, and the young children are losing the traditional skills and their mentors are away in The City.

It is a familiar story.

What is less familiar is the way that they are working to try and stem the tide.

The Saramacca people, the tribe that live along the Saramacca and Suriname Rivers, have a strong and established social order. Led by an hereditary king who lived in Asidonhopo until his death a year ago, local government is kept by a council of ten “captains” representing five to ten communities, with each community having their own captain and assistant captain.

The role of the assistant captain is ultimately local; they ensure that their communities are kept clean and tidy, they assign village jobs and ensure that daily activities are completed; simple, but very effective.

The new king will be crowned in another year or so, the work of the pervious monarch must first be completed, and the hereditary role is drawn from the maternal line, as are all Saramaccan family structures.

Interestingly, one major movement within the communities is the development of tourism infrastructure to support the communities and create a source of cash; keen and fervent in their desire to welcome visitors and explain their unique history, the Maroon people have flung themselves headlong into the tourism business.

There are now twenty-two such community-owned resorts along this single 100 km stretch of river; this may, of course, prove to be a degree of overkill, but in the meantime that offer visitors a fabulous combination of options. From the primitive facilities that  offer “back to basics” camps, to the more sophisticated resorts like Dan Paati, there are many options and alternatives.

Atjuna, Suriname
They all start, however, in Atjuna, the freight hub of the river. Lying three-hours south of Paramaribo, it is the end of the road, and the place where people, freight and everything else is transferred to the 40’ river canoes that provide the heartbeat of the River.

From Atjuna, the journey heads south into the rain forest; the river, wide at the beginning gradually tapers over the next hundred kilometres  until it reaches the point that it splits into two smaller streams, the Gran Rio and the Pikin Rio that take you to the very centre of the country. Here the villages are simply traditional African communities, little changed in the past three hundred years; they are home to people from Benin, the Luongo and Ashanti and offer a glimpse of rural life, and all of the spiritual and social beliefs that were brought from Africa so many centuries ago at the height of the plantation era.

And so it was, that I headed upstream to the confluence of the rivers and found a simply wonderful village, Pingpe, and stayed at its cosy and welcoming Pingpe Jungle Resort.