Showing posts with label Paramaribo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paramaribo. Show all posts

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Omalo to Paramaribo via Las Vegas

While my journey from Winnipeg to Omalo was an epic of endurance, the return journey, and its continuation into the next two business expeditions, was an epic of intellectual endurance,

Georgia is, as you know, a favourite country of mine; after spending a few delightful and fruitful days in Tusheti we clambered back over the pass and down to the lowlands. Sighanagi, a delightful little town, picturesque and adjacent to some wonderful wine country, was our stop for the next couple of days. Work was discussed, plans made and projects launched - all in the most agreeable surroundings possible.

Among other programs are a Food, Wine and Culture tour and a specialist Wine program to be operated next summer. We are just waiting for the final details to be set in place and then we will start taking reservations.

Then to Tbilisi, and a couple of days in the Big City, and a bizarre day out to Borjomi; Borjomi, the town that has given its name to Georgia’s most famous mineral water has seen better days. It is a remarkable confluence of Soviet kitsch, modern and somewhat opulent construction and some really rather elderly buildings slowly collapsing from decay. The town bustles, however, with apparently happy holidaymakers and others coming to the spa for A Cure.

Among others, we learned, were hundreds of folks from Atkau, a particularly horrible town in Turkmenistan; it is so polluted that the employers arrange for workers to be flown to Georgia to spend ten days having their bowels scoured by some sort of cleansing mud, their lungs puffed clear and their skins brightly polished before sending them back to the inferno for another year.  Very peculiar.

And so with a heavy heart I boarded the plane back to Canada, and a few days of debriefing before I headed to Las Vegas.

Now Las Vegas is about as distant from Tusheti as one can get, and I have to say that it is not my cup of tea. It was far drearier than I had imagined, less Dubai and more Branson, I felt; acres of slot machines with rather melancholy patrons pressing buttons, and empty card table waiting for a victim. I was there, curiously, at the behest of Visit Britain who held their annual North American beano there. There were, I must add, some very interesting UK products on display, and I will get around shortly to designing a comprehensive UK tour program that highlights some of the more obscure and charming parts of my home country.

And so, fortified with tales of Wales, images of the Outer Hebrides and some rather interesting day trips in and around London I flew home for a few days of debriefing; before I headed to Suriname.

Now the trip to Suriname was fascinating, and I headed south with Dick Griffith, our Chicago-based PR agent. The three Guyanas are most interesting and to our clients, who thrive on alternative destinations, the Guyanas match Georgia and the Hebrides in interest, product and hospitality.

Two days in Paramaribo, a day on a canoe in Warrappa Kreek  exploring the abandoned plantations and marvelling at the speed that the jungle can reclaim land were the opening gambit, and lead up to flying deep into the rainforest, and two nights at the Kabalebo resort.

One of the hardships of my work is the requirement to visit distant facilities to ensure that they do indeed match the “picture on the packet” and that clients who we send to them will not be disappointed. Kabalebo is not disappointing in any manner at all.

Thirty years ago or so, the Surinamese government built several airstrips in strategically located part of the jungle to aid exploration for minerals, the construction of dams and other such major infrastructural projects. Kabalebo is one such airstrip, and as no industrial development was warranted, the resort has been built adjacent to the convenient runway.

It is the most pleasant airport motel I have ever stayed in.
While the rooms in the main lodge are really a little small, subsequent developments have created some absolutely delightful accommodation in the jungle and adjacent to the river. Walks in the jungle are fine for a the first little while, but suddenly one realises that the walk is not in a botanical garden, and that there are real jaguars, ocelots, monkeys and other jungle-dwellers watching our every move. A rain forest is, it has to be said, natures answer to a teenager’s bedroom; it is a messy place, unfathomable to any but a resident yet full of absolutely fascinating creatures and stories. It seemed to me that the major scenario of the jungle was a long, slow-motion murder/suicide scenario. Massive trees grow; parasitic tubers gradually squeeze the life out of the trees that then die, soon to be followed by the demise of the parasite that has killed its source of refreshment. And so on, and so on …..

Two days at the resort were not enough, but needs must, and business beckoned from Georgetown, so we climbed on board the small Cessna aircraft dispatched to pick us up and we flew back to the Zorg & Hoop airport in Paramaribo, another fine dinner and then the short hop to Georgetown.

Of which more will follow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Paramaribo, Suriname's wonderful capital.

Well, needless to say, after such a good introduction to the region, I had no choice but to return, and look a little more deeply. So armed with two friends, strong-armed to head off for ten days, we flew to Paramaribo and started the expedition.

Paramaribo is a wonderful place; vibrant, unusual architecture, activity and a fine local beer called Parbo. We stayed not at one of the larger tourist hotels in town, but at the Guesthouse Amice, a twenty minute walk, or five-minute cab ride, from the centre, and a fine choice it was.

The property is small, with only ten or so rooms, friendly beyond belief, clean and most comfortable. It has a swimming pool that falls well short of Olympic proportion, but is ideal to cool off after exploring the town. And there is much to explore.

The centre of Paramaribo is delightful; dating back to the late 1700s, it is a mix of British and Dutch colonial imaginations, some of which were apparently quite fertile, contemporary adaptation, tons of colourful mini-buses, a huge river incorporating among other flotsam and jetsam a scuttled German naval ship, and beyond all, people.

The Surinamese, like their cousins in Guyana and French Guyana are of six or seven races; the indigenous Amerindians, Europeans (mostly British, Dutch, French and Portuguese), Africans brought as slaves, Indians and Javanese brought as indentured labour and the Chinese. In Paramaribo the central mosque lies adjacent to the main synagogue, a symbol of the regions astonishing lack of cultural friction. The communities live together, and offer the rest of the world an image of tolerance that seems to be in very short supply elsewhere.

Our hosts on the second morning, Oswald and Marjorie, are a delightful couple involved with the tourism board among other interests. They picked us up early and drove us first to their delightful house, tranquilly located by a river close to town, and then to two wonderful local markets.

Markets are terrific; colourful, bustling, wonderful smells and smiley people surround one, and the spirit of the local community becomes vividly evident. And so it was at the local affair where a myriad of food waited to be prodded, admired and finally taken home for food. We went next to a big central market, and there, in addition to hundreds of stalls were several small restaurants serving a variety of astonishing foods. From very peculiarly coloured pastries, of a particularly sticky demeanour to the most interesting bowls of Javanese soup, everything was available. And, it must be said, in conditions that can only be described as scrupulously clean. Not a fly to be seen, a great injector of confidence when buying any food at a market.

Then to explore this remarkable town; we drove to Fort Nieuwe Amsterdam, an eighteenth-century fort on the far side of the Suriname River; it is a fine place to wander, cogitate, ponder and generally imagine the life of both the settlers and their slaves. It would have been a very, very hard life, and in its way as unforgiving as life was in the Arctic for their contemporary explorers.

Heat, humidity, disease and hardship were rife; the jungle, a vast and untamed region to be hacked away with primitive instruments, and being Dutch, hundreds of kilometres of drainage ditches, polders, dykes and sluices to be designed and built. Lives by the thousands were lost in this extraordinary quest, and it is easy to wonder why.

Contemporary Suriname, after centuries of colonial life, a revolution, a massively destructive civil war has now settled into a most positive rhythm. Everywhere is construction and activity; the city is growing and concurrently the distant rainforests are beginning to surrender their trove of mineral riches. Money is flowing into the country, and positive investments, we are told, are starting in education and health.

It is a country of extreme natural beauty, and one that has a fine opportunity to develop along its own path. There is much to be positive about Suriname.