BEYOND THE AMAZON
Diana Plater discovers a taste of the Caribbean in the little-known South American nations of Suriname and Guyana.
We’re floating in the moon’s reflection in the Upper Suriname River as the Milky Way streaks across the night sky, hoping a black caiman won’t nibble our toes.
Artist and tourism developer Sirano Zalman is regaling us with stories about what the Amerindian people thought were mischievous mermaids or river nymphs – perhaps mistaking the ancient reptiles for them.
Zalman, the CEO of Danpaati River Lodge, where we are staying, explains petroglyphs, arrows and axes show Amerindians once lived here, but in the 18th century the Maroons – escaped African slaves – worked their way 200 kilometres south from the capital, Paramaribo, and surrounding plantations. They gradually misplaced the Amerindians after learning how to survive here, including how to grow and harvest their staple crop, cassava, and the use of medicinal plants.
We are in “the interior” of little-known Suriname, a former Dutch colony, at the north of South America, which feels more like the Caribbean. It’s bordered to the west by Guyana and the east by French Guiana. The three countries lie on the geological zone known as the Guiana Shield, where one of the world’s four remaining large tracts of relatively undisturbed tropical rainforest meets the Amazon Basin. Because of this it’s one of the regions of highest biodiversity in the world.
A stroll along the Waterkant We’ve swum in natural Jacuzzis, shot the rapids and floated down the river in life jackets. One night the women wearing their traditional pangis – appliquéd cotton wrap skirts – dance and sing saucy songs for us. Here tourists can also fish, canoe, do yoga, laze in hammocks, have a traditional massage or visit the villages.
Back in UNESCO World Heritagelisted Paramaribo we stroll around the Waterkant (Waterfront) filled with stately, white, timber Dutch colonial buildings. I feel as if I’m on the set of