The Joys of Travel

Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 23, 2009

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Flag of Suriname  ,
Friday, January 15, 2010

Having been to the third world rodeo a few times before, I knew our ride to Suriname would not show at 4:30AM as promised and figured 5AM would be more like it.  At that hour of the morning time crawls and both 4:30 and 5:00 came and went with no sign of our transportation.  Though were strongly warned to stay in the room, I knew if we wanted to leave in the near future I would need to find a phone.  So I ventured downstairs to the bar that actually had patrons at that hour, and one of the girls working there told me to use her cellphone.  Whoever answered seemed put out that I questioned the whereabouts of our ride, but I did learn the minibus "is coming in your street soon soon." 

"Soon soon" in local speak translates roughly as 25 minutes, and by 5:30 we finally were on our way, albeit an hour later than promised.  Two more pickups followed and this Toyota minibus was soon overcapacity with bags, sardine packed adults, 6 kids taking a row of three seats, etc.  My friend looked a little dumbfounded and I had to carefully explain that yes, this is normal, and no, we weren't going to die.  Once he planted that seed in my head though, I started to worry if the tires were good or if this driver was going to leave us a mangled mess inside some compact car eating pothole.

By 9:30am we had reached the Albina ferry terminal in plenty of time for the 11am departure across the Courantyne River.  A little bit of a time cushion is needed to buy the ticket, go through immigration formalities out of Guyana and then to board the old rust bucket.  This ferry terminal is the perfect example of what happens when a banana republic paeon is given a uniform and some authority.  I guess this five foot tall dude of Indian descent is the ferry company equivalent of some airport gate agents back in the States.

For an hour no one had given a flying flip where we wandered off within the compound but all of a sudden this guy got a burr up his ass and decided to pack everyone in behind a sign hanging from the rafters that said "Wait Here."  You know what happens when you try to put 15 pounds of manure in a five pound bag.  Chaos and pushing broke out as no one wanted to be at the back of the crush, and besides, this space was big enough for maybe 25 people, not over 100.  This little Indian guy began yelling at everyone and threatening that the ferry wouldn't run if we didn't get behind that sign.

One woman of size had her her feet and boobs maybe five inches over this imaginary line under the sign and the agent became unglued.   He wildly pointed to the sign and drew an imaginary arc with his hand from it to the ground to signify our boundary.  He just kept screaming, "Get back!!!  I said get back.  Go back or ferry doesn't run.  GET BACK NOW NOW NOW NOW you blistering idiots!!!"  Whatever dude!!  Seriously, get a life you self agrandized prick.  He started to walk up to me since I was about an inch over the line but being much much bigger than he, all it took was one bowing of my chest and he thought better of it.  Who's the blistering idiot now?

Someone signaled for boarding and the mad stampede left the little Indian dude in its wake, but he was not done with us.  No, he had to keep yelling for everyone to come back and wait in an orderly fashion behind the sign. "Come back.  NOW NOW NOW.  Come back or ferry does not go!!!  Come back NOW, NOW, NOW!!!!!"   Seriously, he is the PERFECT example of what happens when you give a pissant moron some semblance of authority.  The ride across the river took about 25 minutes and we prayed the next van service arranged by Brian Taxi Service would be on the other side.  While docking a giant crush of sweaty humanity pushing and shoving to be first off formed at the ferry.  I was wondering what the hell was going on here and as soon as the gangway came down people were off running.  Watching old ladies with canes flying up the dock was disturbing and no way in hell was grandma beating me to the customs line so we picked up the pace, too. 

Turns out only one surly customs agent is available to handle over 100 people along with about a dozen cars so this bureaucratic inefficiency was the reason for the mad dash.  One family member would sprint to the line to hold a place for those too feeble and meek to run across the finish line.  The customs guy would yell and shout as the line would bob and edge up to him and those who didn't back away from his podium and wait behind the red line were stripped of their documents and put in the penalty box.  Interesting indeed.   One bridge across this not so wide river could end all this nonsense of having to wait for the once daily ferry and having to deal with the crowds, lines and foul mouthed Indian bureaucrats.

As promised back in Georgetown, a minibus driver found us right off as I assume picking two white dudes out of a crowd of Surinamese and Guyanans isn't that hard.  We once again packed into an unairconditioned minibus for the four hour journey to Paramaribo.  At first glance, Suriname is nicer than Guyana in so many ways.  The well kept streets don't look like a dumpster exploded and the rice and banana fields are orderly.  In Guyana street work was done with manual labor and simple tools, but in Suriname actual heavy equipment like tractors and dumptrucks was everywhere.  What a difference a 25 minute ferry passage makes. 

Somehow two older British guys wound up on this epic journey in our minivan since their flight home out of Guyana home had been cancelled for snow in London.  Now they were flying out of Suriname and this was their first attempt at third world overland travel.  They complained the whole time and got mad at the other passengers for this and that.  Sometimes going with the flow is just easier than swimming upstream.  One asked where we were from and I said Atlanta and his reaction was priceless...he connected there some time back and said the agents and airport staff are the most miserable human beings he has ever come across and that "their dialect of English is lacking."  I love it when Brits frown upon the New World!!  They are the ones that spawned America, right?

I am not sure if Suriname is considered the new world or the old but I can tell at first glance this is a place I am going to really enjoy getting to know.  So it took thirteen and half long arduous hours to go a few hundred kilometers to get here but I can tell the time spent will pay off big time.

And by the way, I have heard from multiple sources that Brian's Taxi Service is not reliable and frequently strands people.  So I truly did get lucky that my transport showed up,  Perhaps a more reliable way from Georgetown to Paramaribo is the local bus system to the ferry and then onto Paramaribo.
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