I set the alarm for PM instead of AM but Kitty got us up on time. Down to a nice breakfast then pack for the day and meet our guide at 8:30. Day started off poorly as one of us had to stop at the ATM and I forgot my camera, so back to the hotel. Then to Independence square to watch the bird call contest, but it had been cancelled because it looked like rain.
In Suriname the most popular pastime for men is bird keeping. They keep small song birds (some costing as much as $1000 or more) and have competitions as to whose bird chirps the most in a set time interval. Winners can get all sorts of prizes, including cash – but mostly prestige. We never got to see the contests but did see quite a few men carrying around bird cages – even saw some that people had taken to enjoy the afternoon at the beach!
Then we stopped in a “Sunday market” – a farmer’s market of sorts as opposed to the city market. Lots of interesting foods and snacks and many people – even a couple men with their bird cages.
Then off through the city to the “Drive up” market. A series of stalls where there was room to pull in in your car to get what you wanted. It stretched for about five or six blocks. Mostly the same stuff but also hanging bundles of semi-aquatic crabs – still alive scrabbling against each other. Irwin stopped at one stall to talk to a couple of his cousins.
Then through the rest of the city with a break at a small shop to have a snack of fried plantains. Then back on the road through more and more rural areas. Fields of many crops including cassava, water melons, and sugar cane. We finally crossed a bridge over the Suriname River through Redi Doti (native village) to arrive at Joden Savanne – the Jewish savanah plantation.
The plantation was the location of a Jewish settlement that stretched back to the 1650s as Jews fled Portugal and other European countries. They built the first Synagogue in the new world here as well as ran sugar plantations, held slaves, and were active members of the community.
As we walked down the trail to the settlement area we came on a Freedman’s cemetery. It dated from the 1800s through the 1950s with many wooden markers – with round tops for women and pointed tops for men. There were some stone and marble ones again. They were much decayed but you could still make out the carvings on some of them.
We saw a bullet ant – one of the most painful stings in the Americas, as well as ant nests in trees, African bees, and lots of butterflies.
Then we arrived at the Jewish cemetery – several hundred grave stones – all horizontal. Most were not readable but some images could be made out – hands on one the we were told signified it was a Rabbi, and a tree being cut down, symbolizing cutting off the life of a member of the group. All were covered in moss as well as showing lots of wear, but some dated to the 1600s.
Then down the trail some more and we came to the ruins of the first Synagogue – Synagogue Beracha Ve Shalom, dating to the early 18oos (the third on the site). An interesting structure that still has some of the original sand on it’s floors – put there to be used in case of fire.
In the information center (a small shed) there were displays (in Dutch) explaining the history of the Jewish community in the country. By the late 1800s they had a number intermarry with the freed blacks in the community, and all were accepted into society. The plantation closed down in the mid-1800s. There are still descendants of the original settlers in Suriname today.
There were also rows of coffee trees – coffee plants that had been planted by the community over 150 years ago and now towering 30 or more feet – they s=were still producing coffee beans.
Going back over the Suriname River we came on a coton tree – the largest in the country. It was so important that they literally built the road around it – it sits in the middle of two one-way roads.
Next off to the Marron village (Berg en Dal) – a village that was originally started by escaped slaves. That village was relocated to this site when they built a huge lake to generate hydroelectric power. We could not take pictures of the people there, but the houses went from small shacks (mostly abandoned) to nice looking small homes, many with air conditioning (electricity is free to the village). We went out on a dock on the river and chatted for a while (and saw three birds in cages enjoying the beach) before we headed out for home.
On the way back we passed the aluminum plant built in the 1940s and still operating. It looked as old as it sounds! The ride back to the city was punctuated by the bickering of our two travel companions. Amazing women, and not in a good way.
Back at the hotel we got ready and headed off to dinner at a Chinese restaurant up the street a bit. Nice place and good food. While we were eating we heard people talking in Chinese, Hindi, and (too loud) Dutch. Then we headed back to the hotel just at dusk.
After a bit we packed up to get ready for our drive/boat trip tomorrow to French Guiana.