Suriname: The fantastic lodges of the Upper Suriname River

The Suriname River is fascinating, and for tourists travelling to Suriname, the communities along its bank offer a spectacular experience. Surinamese jungle lodges are great, and really offer visitors a wide range of standards, accessibility and activity.

Upper Suriname River
Swimming at Dan Paati hoping the fish won’t bite

Some time ago I wrote about Kabalebo, a lodge deep in the rain forest, and accessible only by air; it is a rather odd place, and worth considering on any trip to the country. The Surinamese government built some decades ago, several air strips in the jungle to assist the development of minerals, hydro power and other economic opportunities. Some worked out, and others failed; one such failure was Kabalebo, but the idea of a runway in the pristine rain forest was too much for some developers to ignore, and they took advantage of the strip to build the lodge.

The Upper Suriname River Lodges
The Upper Suriname River Lodges

The Suriname River, though, is quite different. There are twenty-two lodges, each associated to some degree or another with a local village, and developed as a part of an economic development project. One may think that 22 might be a touch over the top, but there they are, and they are waiting.

They range in standards from moderate, offering fairly basic but clean, en-suite accommodation, to “back to basic” huts, offering a roof to keep the rain away and a hammock. One can mix and match, and indeed one of the most interesting packages that exists is a five-night program that offers three nights in one of the better resorts, Dan Paati, and one each in a primitive resort and a Back-to-Basic camp.

Upper Suriname River
Dan Paati Lodge

Travelling upstream is fun; once one leaves the bus, agility is required to get into the canoe for the three-hour journey, but once is the route is sound and the boatmen steady. It is truly eye-opening to see the amount of traffic on the river; freight canoes carrying anything and everything to the villages, passenger “buses”, school buses, family outings, some tourist traffic, but little compared to the constant stream of canoes that were making their way up and down the river. Ponchos are provided in case the rain comes down, and away one goes, past quintessentially African communities until we reach Dan Paati.

Upper Suriname River
Waiting for the canoes at Atjoni

Originally built by a Dutch insurance company as a part of an aid project, a year or so ago they donated the resort to a tour company who work closely with the village of Dan. It has a significant economic impact on the community, as over thirty villagers are employed by Dan Paati in the operation of the resort. It was great; a place to relax (no wifi), to swim in either their pool or in the river, and a great place to meet fellow travellers in the evening in the open lounge area.

 

 

 

Waiting for the canoes in Atjuna

Travelling upstream is fun; once one leaves the bus, agility is required to get into the canoe for the three-hour journey, but once is the route is sound and the boatmen steady. It is truly eye-opening to see the amount of traffic on the river; freight canoes carrying anything and everything to the villages, passenger “buses”, school buses, family outings, some tourist traffic, but little compared to the constant stream of canoes that were making their way up and down the river. Ponchos are provided in case the rain comes down, and away one goes, past quintessentially African communities until we reach Dan Paati.

Originally built by a Dutch insurance company as a part of an aid project, a year or so ago they donated the resort to a tour company who work closely with the village of Dan. It has a significant economic impact on the community, as over thirty villagers are employed by Dan Paati in the operation of the resort. It was great; a place to relax (no wi-fi), to swim in either their pool or in the river, and a great place to meet fellow travellers in the evening in the open lounge area.

I then headed further upstream and downmarket to the village of Pingpe, and their jungle lodge. This was a treat on many fronts, and although the accommodation was basic, it was absolutely fine, and the couple who ran the resort, Chapeau and his sister, were both from the local village, and fantastic hosts. Descended from escaped slaves in the 1760s, their family had lived in Pingpe for hundreds of years.

They explained the basic history of the river, and noted that periodic visitors from Africa, particularly those from Benin, recognise the village life, their customs and beliefs, and indeed one river-community is called Diumi, a variant on ”Dahomey”, the capital of Benin. Diumi is a special village, and the only one that white visitors are prohibited from entering, as it houses the tribe’s sacred place for the spirit that protects the community from any further slavery.

Chapeau Siesa

And slavery is an open subject; minimised somewhat by Chapeau saying “It was all about money; it is what they did in those days”, and seemingly a part of history that has been successfully shrugged away as the Maroons developed their social structures and lives in the forest, reflecting the African lives that they had left behind.

It was a fascinating stay; Chapeau was an excellent companion, and as we walked through the forest explained so many elements of life away from “civilisation” that I was left bewildered and quite astonished by their prowess. “We were river people”, he said, “The Amerindians were the people of the forest”; it is a distinction that I would like to find out for myself, and I am already planning a trip to the very south of the country in 2016.

A Tarantula Spider’s nest

Within the past ten years, archaeologists have discoveredhundreds of petroglyphs in caves near the Brazilian border, and beautifully carved obelisks; these finds, added to linguists bewilderment as to why the local Amerindian tribes have a language with the grammatical and structural complexity of modern-day languages all hint to the existence of a massive and powerful nation dating back millennia. The petroglyphs have already been dated to before 3,000BC, predating the Aztec and Inca societies by many years.

To travel south, stay in the Amerindian villages and have the opportunity to visit these extraordinary places will have to wait for a year!

And so, the river behind me, the resorts of Pingpe and Dan Paati sliding away, I headed west to one of the more peculiar places that it has ever been my privilege to visit.

Bigi Pan.