Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paramaribo, Suriname - Day 1 - Mixed Culture, Food, and Heritage

Feb 9, 2014

Most people would struggle to place Suriname on a map, often even placing it on the wrong continent.  This little gem, formerly Dutch Guiana, sits in the upper corner of South America, between Venezuela and Brazil and more specifically between its colonial brethren, Guyana and French Guiana.  The mix of culture, food, language and architecture makes for a very interesting city, reflecting influences from Dutch colonization, Indonesian workers, West African former slaves, Indian workers, Chinese laborers and many more.  The mix of races, religions and languages doesn't work for many cultures, but from the small glimpse that we saw, Paramaribo does a remarkable job in making it work.

Parbo, as it's called, pulls together influences from many different cultures, and it somehow seems so effortless.  Locals switch back and forth between 2 and 3 languages, mosques sit next to temples, synagogues and churches, streets are lined with Indian, Creole, Chinese and Javanese food, along with a McDonalds or fried chicken shop to round things out.

Wondering if we'd have any trouble getting by with English, our fears were immediately cast aside, as we encountered friendly, multi-lingual locals of all walks of life.  In fact, the pleasant people were some of the friendliest that we'd met in our travels and left quite an impression on us.  Paramaribo isn't often on the top of the list for most travellers, but the city quickly won us over and left us anxious to continue wandering around to see what else it had to offer.  We were also lucky to have a bit of clouds and a quick rain shower to cool things down, as it is hot and humid, sitting at sea level (or below) just a few degrees North of the Equator.

Suriname has also gained notoriety as being the area that the Dutch traded for in exchange for the UK acquiring some land in North America that eventually became New York.

(On Sundays, locals gather on Independence Square to face off in a bird chirping competition.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Wagers are placed and the birds face off in a chirping/singing competition.  Unfortunately, we missed the actual event, but we showed up just in time to see a few of the cages of small birds still set up in the plaza and being slowly loaded away for next week's match-up.)

(On the upper end of Independence Square, a statue and a clock tower...this big guy provides a nice bit of shade if you position yourself just right while standing behind him, so we became quick friends.  He's not much of a talker, but he's a great listener.)

(Saoena Market - a local Indonesian market full of fruits, vegetables and authentic dishes.  We sampled a few snacks and wandered the aisles.  Indonesians (mostly Javanese) make up a large portion of the population, hence the market.  I was excited to find someone selling one of my favorite dishes ever - rujak (a mix of sweet, sour, crunchy fruit and vegetable slices with a peanut or chili sauce topping), though I will admit that it wasn't the best version of it.)

(A typical street scene along Waterkant.  The inner city of Paramaribo is designated a Unesco World Heritage sight for it's mix of architecture and preserved history.)

(The famous shot of the mosque and synagogue sharing adjacent plots of land right in the center of Parbo.  While I'm sure it's not 100% perfect, the city seemed to find a way to blend so many different cultures, races and religions in a way that's not often seen these days.  The synagogue was built in 1723.)

(A close-up view of the mosque along Keizer Street.)

(Another fine example of classic architecture in the central downtown area.)

(St. Peter and Paul Cathedral - the biggest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere.)

(More interesting architecture, just down the street from the cathedral.)

(Another street scene with the stately verandas and support columns.)

(What would a former Dutch colony be without bicycles?  The Dutch also added to their legacy by building a large series of canals to help drain the city, part of which sits below sea level...not unlike another Dutch city that starts with an A and ends with msterdam.)

(The Palm Gardens (Palmentuin) just behind the Presidential Palace.  This used to be a spot for the leader to enjoy, but it has since been opened up to the general public and riff-raff such as myself.)

(Fort Zealandia - one of the original forts built by the English to help defend its colony and later used by the Dutch.)

(Love may be a strong word after only one day, but I will say that Kristina and I both really liked what we saw of the city.  For those that don't know, SU stands for Suriname, and the heart is colored like the country's flag.)

(Random corner, random building with lots and lots of railing.)

(Independence Square at night.  We heard some music and wandered over to watch a great capoeira group practice nearby with some impressive kicks and flips.)

(Dinner.  We ate at a small food stall by the river and got a huge plate of food.  The top left is pom, a sort of meaty casserole, along with some veggies, beans, rice and more.  Our meals were all very tasty, owing to the mix of Creole, Indian, Indonesian and other food.)


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