Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Het binnenland: ‘the inner country’

Since I didn’t want to stay in the city constantly while Neirude and Romeo were both at work, I went on some trips.

I went to Brownsberg which is a national park. Great scenery, nice waterfall, but because the rest of the group couldn’t walk that much and 2 of them didn’t like the rain (hello, Amazone, rainforest?) we didn’t do as much hiking as I was hoping for. The views of the Brokopondo Stuwmeer were amazing though: it looks like the forest is ‘breathing’! And this green frog was ‘the catch of the day’!

Since Romeo works outside the city he knows heaps of people. One of his patients told him about Matapika where you can see endangered sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach sand and then swim away again. It’s difficult to get there because first you have to cross the Commewijne River, then go through an amazing swamp by tiny boat to finally get to the beach, so most tourists go to the more accessible Galibi.

But of course, Romeo, Neirude and I went to the less touristy Matapika where we camped next to the sea, we swam, we played like kids in the sand and best of all: we saw a Leatherback turtle lay her eggs on the beach during the day which is very rare, because normally they come during the night! The good thing of seeing a turtle during the day is that you can see everything very clear which is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. The approach of the turtle, the digging, the slimy eggs, the noise and the ‘tears’ of the turtles. And the turtle was a giant…

Raleigh Falls
Last week I went (again on my own) on a truly excellent trip to the Raleigh Falls, a national park as well. The trip to the remote area by plane was absolute terror. Only 3 weeks ago there was plane crash with a similar plane and our flight was filled with turbulence and bad weather…So when we got to the ground, there was group bonding straight away! My group existed out of 3 couples and me, but honestly, it was one of the nicest groups I ever been with. All 9 of us (7 tourists plus guide and the cook) got on really well and we had remarkably deep and interesting talks about work, life in general and happiness, both in Suriname as in the Netherlands.

And we all enjoyed the long walks in the rain, the great views and the lovely waterfalls. We saw tarantulas and cute monkeys (Doodshoofd aapjes: I don’t know the English name), we heard Brulapen (don’t know the English again…) and we met the most dangerous snake in Suriname: the bushmaster. The last one apparently kills humans within 5 minutes and it attacked me and another girl. Not funny and the local guide should have known better than to hit the snake with a stick…Even I know that that is not a smart idea…
And we had a great laugh the final night when the locals played music and we all danced and drank beer. And as ‘slagroom op het toetje’, the next day we had to fly back in a smaller plane than planned. Only 8 people could fit in, so since we were with 9, one person had to sit in front next to the pilot. I knew all 3 girls were terrified of the trip back and of course, good boyfriends as the lads were, they had to sit next to the girls, I was the lucky girl to sit next to the pilot! It was amazing and the pilot even gave me the opportunity to take over the plane. But I didn’t do that: not because of the 3 pair of very jealous eyes of the boys but because of the terrified eyes of the girls…Imagine being shit scared and than this ‘linguist’ takes over…Nah, not a good idea.

Babunhol and Bergendal
For my final weekend in Suriname Neirude arranged a trip with her good friends Bernadette and her son Brandon, Ame, Martin and Suzan. We organized the trip while drinking nice wine the week before, Martin and I did the shopping on Friday and we were off to Babunhol on Saturday. It’s a place next to the Suriname River, more inland. The trip to the place was shocking (literally flying up and down) but I managed to sleep the entire drive. When we got there we pitched up our tents and after Neirude and I wrestled a bit in the grass which gave us both an allergic reaction, we ran into the water. We chilled, we chatted, I slept again and we had a nice BBQ and yes more wine…

Early morning we got up to go to Bergendal which is an adventure eco park. Again, we did something I had never done before: we went into the canopy of the rainforest and we went ‘canopy gliding’ (‘kabelbaan’ ) from one tree top to the other and finally we even crossed the Suriname River. It was really cool, Neirude and Romeo even went up-side-down while I went with only one hand to make a video with the other hand…
Next was quite an interesting historical hike. Well, honestly, it wasn’t much of a hike but more talking, but it was really interesting, especially the part about the slaves, the abolishment of slavery and just how things were back then. Bad thing to be Dutch in that time. We also came across a slave cemetery, in the middle of the jungle. Pretty amazing.
And last we went kayaking on the Suriname River. It wasn’t really exciting, but I did enjoy it. We weren’t allowed to swim because of the strong current and perhaps the piranha’s (?) but we went anyway. Nice for the cooling down…

To finish off this brillant weekend Romeo, Neirude and I went for a nice dinner with Romeo's family.

Can it get any better than this? I wonder...

Passionate Suriname…

Now back to the good life. For those who are not Dutch and for those who don’t know Neirude, it’s time for a bit of theory.

Suriname is located in South America but I have noticed that most South Americans don’t know it, together with the rest of the world... It’s part of the Caribbean and it is situated in between British and French Guyana and it’s north from Brasil. It’s tropical, which basically means it’s too hot for me. So I have adjusted to Romeo’s and Neirude’s habits: I drink loads, I take showers almost 4 times a day, I sleep with the fan on, I use factor 45 to protect me from the sun and I just go with the flow.

Back to history. Suriname was colonized first by the English but the Dutch traded New York for Suriname. The Dutch stayed for quite a while and Suriname became independent in 1975. It is interesting to see how much influence the Dutch left behind. The historical buildings in Paramaribo still look very Dutch to me, the official language is Dutch but the more widely spoken language is Sranan Tongo which is, of course, very much influenced by English and Dutch as well. Linguist as I am, I try to understand bits and pieces. If Neirude speaks it slowly, I can understand it, if Romeo speaks it rapidly (which is just normal speed of course), I am lost. Suriname uses the school system they have used since 1975 which includes the Dutch HAVO and VWO, but also the MULO which doesn’t exist anymore in the Netherlands. Nowadays they use their own schoolbooks, but before they used Dutch ones. And how can one forget the massive amount of Dutch interns in Paramaribo…It comes down to ‘if you see a white person, it’s an Dutch intern, and if you see that person, they are mostly blond and on a bike’. How stereotypical, but it’s true. So I am not allowed to cycle, because I’m not an intern…;-)

So how do I know Neirude? Neirude is born in Suriname (she is part Dutch, part Surinaams), but her family moved to the Netherlands when she was 6 I think. Neirude and I were in the same class in secondary school and we became very close friends. We are very different though: Neirude loves pink, glitter, glamour, girly stuff and I don’t. Neirude loves shopping, and I don’t. Neirude always studied really hard, I didn’t (take note of the past tense here…!). Neirude always knew she wanted to become a paediatrician (kinderarts) like her dad, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But all this never stopped us from becoming good friends. We are both a bit nuts (no shocker there…), we like our sports, we love hugs and we both like giving them, we like being active and see and do stuff. And we love teasing each other and guess what, we are both good at it too!
So after secondary school Neirude went to study medicine in Maastricht and I went to Utrecht. When I was abroad, doing what I do best (travel!), Neirude was in the Netherlands. Whenever Neirude was at her second home Suriname, I was in the Netherlands. So we haven’t seen much of each other the last few years, but we always said I should come and visit her in Suriname since we were, well I guess 13. So here I am!
And who is Romeo? Well, Romeo is her lovely boyfriend who I met 2 years ago. But this time I really got to know him. And I think he is even more lovely now. He is a GP (huisarts) and he does great work. He has told me loads of stories about his work and the surroundings where his clinic is. Interesting I might say, so it was very impressive to go to his clinic outside the city. Less important, but definitely relevant: he is an excellent cook. So after these 3,5 weeks we all do what we do best. Neirude saves little children, Romeo saves grown-ups and cooks, and I do the dishes and laundry. Excellent agreement. Mind you, it does feel like I have done a course in ‘medical degree for dummies’ the last few weeks: I’ve learned a lot!

So Neirude and Romeo both had to work during the week, and sometimes evenings or weekends. So I was as free as a bird. Romeo gave me the house keys, I got a mobile so they could ‘check up’ on me and I had to learn how to switch on and off their house alarm…Freaky machines, but I managed…And I got to know Nero and Caesar, their guard dogs. Nero is a massive scary rottweiler, but my theory is that they haven’t been raised properly because both Nero and Caesar just want to play with me. Am I not suppose to be a stranger??? So it happened that only after 2 days I called their home, my home too.

I enjoyed myself by walking around Paramaribo, doing the usual sightseeing, going for coffees, go to the cinema and read my book. As soon as Neirude and Romeo got home we did loads of stuff. I met most of the family, from both sides, I met heaps of friends of Neirude who I knew by name, but now I know how they are: and they are a great laugh! Neirude loves going to the gym, so I went along where Neirude’s best friend Bernadette tortured us with aerobic lessons (seriously, one morning I woke up because of muscle pain…). We went bowling, swimming and of course we went shopping and we ate loads of nice food. So finally a country where I am not loosing weight, but gaining it!

Glorious Suriname!

I’m getting slack at the end, I’m sorry. So much to tell, so much to write, but where to start?

Shall I start with the only negative story of my trip? I prefer to tell only the lovely things, so if you see me next just ask me how my trip from Peru via Venezuela to Suriname was like and I will tell you about how I spend the night at the domestic airport in Caracas, alone, by my self, feeling truly unsafe, I will tell you how I solved it by talking to all the security guards in Spanish to make sure they would help me if needed. I will elaborate about the horrible Venezuelan airline Conviasa who ripped me off and moreover annoyed the hell out of me. I will tell you how it feels to be awake for 48 hours, how annoying airport taxes are and how my tired face helped me with the customs when I just didn’t have hat 50 US dollars anymore to pay the 5th airport tax. I will tell you how scary it is when that dodgy airline lets everyone disembark the plane due to technical reasons, 2 hours later they get everyone on again and then during take off (yes, take off) the plane makes an emergency stop and we go back to the airport to disembark again. After another 2 hours we get on the SAME plane to finally go to Porlamar, luckily without any problems, but with an huge delay so I’m afraid I will miss my connection to Trinidad…but of course that plane was delayed for several hours as well, so I could start worrying about missing my connection to Suriname…And did I say I didn’t sleep for 48 hours? And then on all the planes nobody spoke English, so I was doing everything in Spanish, but when we got to Trinidad where everyone speaks English, all the Spanish speaking people wanted me to help them translate everything. And when I finally arrived in Suriname, I could have spoken Dutch to the custom officer because in Suriname the official language is Dutch, but the officer looked at me and said although I had a Dutch passport that he could not understand me. ‘What language are you speaking?’ he asked. And then I realized I was still speaking Spanish with a mix of Dutch words…Being awake for 48 hours does not work for me…

So I was extremely happy, which is basically a huge understatement, I mean it was a glorious event to get to Suriname in one piece and getting the most lovely and warm hugs and kisses from my good friend Neirude and her boyfriend Romeo.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Something hot and something even hotter...

After my splendid graduation of Spanish classes I treated myself on a trip to the jungle: Manu National Park. At first I hesitated to go on the trip since I already went to the jungle in Laos and Papua New Guinea, but I can tell you now: each jungle is completely different again!

The biggest difference compaired with the first two trips was that we went by boat into the jungle to get to an even more remote area. That entire experience was unique on it´s own. I really felt like I was in a National Geografic documentary about the Amazone. Besides that we had a guide, Ryse, who grew up in that part of the jungle and he literally knew everything about the wildlife, the flora and fauna.

You could see us stare into the trees many times (like Beat and Martina are demonstrating nicely!). And if you are on a real expedition like we were, you might bump into unexpected things...Ever wondered where cocaine is made off...Behold, an illegal coca plantation!

Our group was a bit tame to my liking, but then again Ryse found a partner in crime to do the most challenging things. We went insect hunting so we could seduce the giant spiders to come out of their little holes. Mind you, spiders the size of my hand (even a tarantula!)...
Ryse discovered I love climbing trees, so I tried everything he suggested...the papaya tree, the tarzan swinging and the hollow tree. Too bad most of my climbing was not as succesfull as the monkey-like acts of the locals. But I had fun, that was the most important part!

Because it was very hot and humid (of course, it´s the jungle) and I was not used to the heath anymore, I wanted to go swimming. Nobody else wanted to come, so no worries, I go on my own. But Ryse didn´t let me: he figured the river was not what I was used to. And I am not ashamed to say: yes, the river compensated for the quiet group...We decided to cross the river, but the current dragged me along for half a mile...Little miss arrogant, thinking that she could easily cross it...Needless to say that I loved it! And lateron it turned out that one of the locals loved my bikini, because it got stolen while hanging outside to dry...

The last night we went for another walk and we did a miserable attempt in fishing. We found a turtle though and literally several dozens of baby crocodiles. Martina and I were allowed to hold some of them and you know what...If you squeeze them just a little too hard, they make the funniest sound like [ounk ounk]. Yes, the jungle is fabulous!

After that trip we headed back to Cusco and since the Peruvian family I stayed with before, liked me, they offered I could stay with them again. For free...The next day Martina and I took off to Huacachina to try something new (and hot, very hot): sandboarding!

It´s the same like snowboarding except that there is no snow but you board on massive sanddunes. Martina -being Swiss- went downhill flawless, I on the other hand have had only one week of snowboard experience. But I went surprisingly smooth and fast. Of course I fell a few times, but well, that´s what goggles are for!

After all that excitement it´s time for the big city. Lima is a massive city with more than 8 million people (did I mention before I prefer the countryside?). Martina and I have enjoyed good food: ceviche (raw fish mmmm) and cheap sangria. After a tearfull goodbye, Martina headed to Equador this morning I went into the city ´to sniff around´. I walked for ages and now I have seen enough of Lima. Too big for my liking...

So tomorrow morning I leave early, taking 5 planes (oh my God, what a pollution...) via Venezuela and Trinidad to hopefully get 2 days later to my final destination of my trip around the world: Suriname! My reward will be sweet though: I will see one of my best friends from secondairy school again whom I haven´t seen since 2 years.