Beau­ti­ful blend

A her­itage cap­i­tal with a lively mix of cul­tures

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - DIANA PLATER

THET WOODEN CITY: Paramaribo, the pretty cap­i­tal of Suri­name on the north­east At­lantic coast of South Amer­ica, is a UNESCO World Her­itage-listed gem that was un­der the rule of The Nether­lands from the late 17th cen­tury un­til 1975, and Dutch is still the of­fi­cial lan­guage. Paramaribo is widely known as the Wooden City; stroll along Waterkant (wa­ter­front) on the Suri­name River, where nearby streets are lined with white, tim­ber Dutch colo­nial build­ings. The 1730 Pres­i­den­tial Palace near Fort Zee­landia over­looks In­de­pen­dence Square where, on Sun­days, men bring their caged birds to sing for the pub­lic, and fes­ti­vals are held. The Catholic St Peter and Paul Cathe­dral is one of the big­gest wooden struc­tures in the Americas. More: suri­name­

NATUREN NUR­TURED: For 22 years ma­rine ex­pert Moen Moeli has been re­search­ing pink dol­phins ( So­talia guia­nen­sis) near Paramaribo, where the Suri­name and Com­mewi­jne rivers merge. He guar­an­tees that if you go out in his tra­di­tional tent-boat you’ll spot the pro­tected mam­mals. “They hear the sounds if we’re talk­ing and come over to check us out,” he says. He has lost three mo­bile phones when dol­phins have knocked them out of his hand as they jumped into his boat. With about 90 per cent of Suri­name cov­ered in rain­for­est, it’s an an­i­mal-spot­ting and bird­watch­ing par­adise. More than 720 species of birds have been iden­ti­fied here and man­grove swamps and mud­banks at­tract arc­tic and bo­real shore­birds, flamin­gos and black-col­lared hawks. A ca­noe trip through the swamps to the At­lantic Ocean from Mar­garita, about half an hour down river from Paramaribo, is a real ad­ven­ture as boats are lifted over dyke ramps, built to pre­vent flood­ing. More: suri­name­

PICK OF THE CROP: Fred­eriks­dorp is a nearby for­mer cof­fee and co­coa plan­ta­tion on the banks of the Com­mewi­jne. Ac­ces­si­ble only by bi­cy­cle or by boat, it’s up­stream from other for­mer plan­ta­tions and gives a feel of what life on these huge farms used to be like, with old build­ings and the for­mer co­coa dry­ing floor still in­tact. (In the 1650s, English colonists and Sephardi Jewish refugees from Brazil in­tro­duced su­gar cul­ti­va­tion. In 1667 the colony was ceded to the Dutch, who fi­nally abol­ished slav­ery in 1863, re­plac­ing Africans with Ja­vanese and In­dian con­tract labour­ers.) Dine next to the old prison cells in the 1873 po­lice sta­tion. New Am­s­ter­dam, with its two old gunpowder store­houses up the river to­wards Paramaribo, was built as a fort to pro­tect the plan­ta­tions from raids, of­ten by es­caped slaves, known as Ma­roons, and is now a mu­seum and art gallery.

IN HAR­MONY: About 250,000 peo­ple — half of Suri­name’s multi-eth­nic pop­u­la­tion — live in Paramaribo, where it’s com­mon to hear the Cre­ole ex­pres­sion “no span” (“keep cool” or “don’t worry”), re­flect­ing the city’s laid-back na­ture and re­li­gious har­mony. For­merly known as Dutch Guiana, Suri­name’s pop­u­la­tion is a blend of back­grounds: East In­dian, Indo-

Paramaribo’s in­ner city, top; his­toric houses near Fort Zee­landia, above; bird­watch­ing by mo­torised ca­noe near Fred­eriks­dorp, above right; nat­u­ral Jacuzzis at Dan­paati River Lodge, below

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