Vacances de Noël: Suriname, Trinidad et Tobago

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

About two months ago, I embarked on two weeks of travel for the winter holidays. I was not alone, but with several other teaching assistants who I met up with along the way. In those two weeks, I experienced an overwhelming range of circumstances, from absolute poverty in the Suriname jungle to ostentatious wealth showcased on yachts and resort beaches, from relentless downpours in the forest to stunning blue skies on the sand, from casinos and karaoke to glass-bottomed boats and beach bonfires, from wizened locals to arrogant tourists—I saw it all. Those two weeks abroad felt like a year.

Au Revoir, Saint-Georges

Before the journey, I had to do something I absolutely dreaded: leave Saint-Georges and the Brazilian frontier. From the beginning of my experience in Guyane, I knew my seven-month contract specified that I would work three months from October to December at the collège (middle school) in Saint-Georges and four months from January to April at an école (elementary school) in Roura. As they are roughly two-and-a-half hours apart by car, there was no way I could split my time between the two for the duration of the school year. So I had to move. I left behind the beautiful wooden bungalow on the forested shore of the Brazilian border, my daily pirogue commute across the Oyapock River, the croissants and pains au chocolat at the little boulangerie, the daily afternoon Wi-Fi sessions and Coca-Colas at Chez Modestine with my fellow teachers, the American Culture Club, the weekend trips to Oiapoque for cheap fresh fruits and vegetables, and worst, my friends and students.

In only three months I had grown so comfortable and accustomed to the daily ebb and flow of life on the river. I cherished the sight of familiar faces everywhere I went in that small town. I relished the fact that I would hear no less than three languages every day: French, Portuguese, and English (though this one only with my fellow teachers). I embraced the roughness around the edges, the wildness of that place. And also the innocence. The people who go about their daily lives, scraping a living by selling their coconuts and watermelons at the market or shuttling people on pirogues under the hot sun each day. The children scrubbing their clothes in the muddy Oyapock, smiling as they recognized me from the boat. All untouched by the life that I know. Or rather, knew. Hours of blaring horns in rush hour traffic on the D.C. beltway. The furrowed brows of flustered New Yorkers as they squeeze through the throngs of tourists on the way to their slate gray palaces, gazing down at the world as their empire. Grumpy Londoners jostling their way into a stuffy carriage on the Tube. When I return to that world, which I eventually will, I will never forget their faces, carved by time, wind-burnt, and ruddy from the sun; the children’s slow, shy smiles, their softly braided hair, walking to school, umbrellas in hand.

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The night before I left Saint-Georges, the other teachers and I gathered at a friend’s house for a barbecue. Then, we danced. We danced, and we did not stop until 6:00 am, just before dawn touches the horizon. I slept on the pull-out couch of my fellow Brazilian teaching assistant, and woke at 8:00 am to get fresh croissants and baguettes from the boulangerie. I said good-bye, hailed a pirogue, and crossed over to Brazil one last time to collect my things. I quickly threw the remainder of my clothes into the suitcase, took a cold shower to wash off the morning’s humidity, left a goodbye note for my colocatrice (roommate)—who was still sleeping due to the previous night’s festivities—and crossed back to Saint-Georges. I met with my professeur référent for an omlette and fries, said a too-hurried good-bye, loaded my things into a fellow teacher’s car, and drove the three hours on the road through the jungle to Cayenne.

After spending a few days recovering from the lack of sleep at my friend’s place in Rémire-Montjoly, we organized a covoiturage, packed our bags, grabbed some Chinese food, and made our way to the uncharted (well, at least by us) territory to the northwest.

Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni

When we arrived in Saint-Laurent, the large border town on the Maroni River, effectively the foil character of Saint-Georges, the sun was just beginning to set. The drive had been longer than the drive between Saint-Georges and Cayenne, over three hours, but refreshingly different. The landscape is like the savannah (though much greener): lighter, flatter fields with sparse brush and dotted with houses and towns along the way, unlike the isolation of the sinewy road through the jungle to Saint-Georges.

We met up with another teaching assistant and walked along the river to his host family’s house. The light was breathtaking—all yellow sky and stark brown silhouettes. We made our way past a Bushenengue community, made up of stout, cottage-like houses with pitched roofs and clotheslines strung between them. As we walked along the river, I noticed that the pirogues were made of thick planks of wood—much heavier and sturdier than the aluminum boats in Saint-Georges. We arrived at the house just before dark, watching the sun slip below the horizon as we walked down a muddy road to the riverbank.

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The host family was lovely—a Creole mother and Brazilian father with a three-year-old girl and little baby. The host father offered to take us for pizza and while we waited for the pies to finish baking, he ended up giving us a nighttime tour of Guyane’s second-largest city—including the ancien bagne, the old brick building known as the “transportation camp”—where they used to keep prisoners in transit before transferring them to the Îles du Salut, France’s penal colony. While we sat at the river’s edge, gazing at the lights in Suriname, we had a great conversation about the big scheme of things. Our friend’s host father had studied economics and was awarded a high-paying job in the government after university, but after a few years of enduring the pressure of the Sao Paolo lifestyle, quit in favor of a teaching position in Guyane. It made me realize how important it is to love what you do, no matter how much (or how little) money you make doing it. We agreed that we are responsible for the creation of our own purpose in this life, and it is important to resist the grind in favor of more authentic human experiences. He told me how pleased he was to see the work that we teaching assistants were doing—leaving our home countries (and extravagant lifestyles) to spend several months sharing and learning in a different environment. It was reassuring to hear that we were welcome here as strangers. As an American, I tend to be especially cautious of my presence in foreign countries—after so many historical (and current day) foreign policy blunders, I am careful to represent myself as an individual, and not an agent of American imperialism.

Once home, we dug into the pizza—once again, a disappointment, as pizza always tends to be here. French cheese just cannot do the job. Then we climbed under our mosquito nets into bed.

The next morning, I woke up with a not-so-pleasant feeling in my stomach—not a good omen for the second day of a two-week journey. And that was it: my first case of traveler’s diarrhea. I took it with a grain of salt—such are the realities of traveling anywhere in South America. Better diarrhea than any mosquito-borne illness (which I am certain I am still bound to experience, given the no less than two hundred mosquito bites I have gotten since I arrived here—this is no joke). And with that, we packed our things and headed to centre-ville (center city, downtown) to run some last-minute errands before embarking.

During the day on Christmas Eve, we went to the market in Saint-Laurent to eat lunch—we had soup, roti, and egg rolls—and then headed to the Surinamese consulate to purchase our tourist cards—no small price at €25 for each entry (multiple entries are not permitted). We made a quick stop at an internet café to check e-mail and confirm our guest house reservations in Paramaribo, and I called my family to wish them a merry Christmas. It was strange—it did not feel at all like Christmas, being both far from home and in transit. Then we hailed a pirogue, made a quick stop at our friend’s house downriver to make one last toilet stop, and left Guyane to the west.

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Suriname

After making the ten-minute crossing over the choppy Maroni River from Saint-Laurent in French Guiana to Albina in Suriname, we got our passports stamped and waited outside the customs building for a bus to take us to Paramaribo—the cheapest mode of transportation at just €8 for the three-hour ride.

The journey from Albina to Paramaribo was an experience in itself. The bus, a Volkswagen which looked like a tour bus out of the 1970s, was jam-packed with the maximum number of occupants. I found myself on a folding seat with my backpack in my lap, squished between two very large women with small children attempting to climb all over the interior of the vehicle. Everyone’s bags were stacked behind the driver’s seat, in a pile of comic proportions, completely blocking any view of the rear of the bus.

For the first part of the journey, the air conditioning was on full-blast, blowing cold, dry air into my face. Now, many people would not be bothered by the rarity of cool air in this climate, but since I have adapted to the temperature near the Equator, I cannot withstand even the slightest wind, let alone air conditioning. I would rather sweat it out in the humidity, even on that crowded bus. Luckily it let up after a while.

The landscape in Paramaribo was vastly different from that of Guyane. It felt much more like being in the interior of the jungle, rather than on its edge. The roads were paved, for the most part, except for one detour we had to take down a muddy clay path riddled with potholes. I remember wondering how we made it though without getting a tire stuck—a very real possibility that could have left us stranded on the side of the road in the forest during the rainy season for hours waiting for backup.

Just driving through the country, you could sense that it was inherently different from Guyane, largely in part because it is no longer administered by a European power: Holland granted Suriname independence in 1975. I felt that poverty was a lot more tangible here. There were no passport checks along the rode, mostly because illegal immigration to Suriname is not a huge problem. Everyone in the region who wants to leave their country is drawn to Guyane for its education system, work opportunities, and health benefits.

When we were about an hour outside of Paramaribo, there was some sort of commotion on the side of the road that caused the bus driver to slow down. Suddenly everyone was peeking out the windows and gesturing—there were three men slaughtering a cow on a wooden table with a machete. The bus came to a complete stop, and a few men got out…to buy some meat. They returned with plastic bags filled with pink, juicy hinds, probably teeming with bacteria from being out in the heat. We made one more pit stop along the way to let a few women buy some ginger, which was infinitely less disgusting. I can only imagine if the same scene had happened on a public bus in the U.S.—there might have been another revolution.

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We finally made it to Paramaribo after four hours, walked straight to our hostel, showered, and headed out in search of some Christmas Eve cheer. We stopped at a few stores, popped our heads into a casino, ate roti (one of the only restaurants that was open that evening), and wandered into a karaoke bar with a welcoming fiber optic Christmas tree, where we were the only patrons. We stayed there until midnight, sharing the microphone with the staff, belting out comfortingly familiar Christmas songs that we would have already been sick of had we been at home listening to the radio on a daily basis.

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Paramaribo

My experience in Paramaribo can be captured by three things: shopping, casinos, and karaoke. Coming from French Guiana, downtown Paramaribo was all kinds of magical. It was like a combination of a knock-off version of Las Vegas (due to all the stores and casinos—none of which live up to their names, parodies of internationally recognized brands) and a New England coastal town (thanks to the colonial, Victorian building architecture and its placement on a river). It was only after a few days that we discovered how outrageously expensive and cheap quality everything was, compared to the U.S. We noticed how run-down the beautiful buildings were—they probably had not been repaired or maintained since Suriname’s last colonial days of the early 1970s. But for those of us coming out of the jungle in Guyane, it was a kind of oasis.

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There were several glitzy casinos we frequented, all named “Princess.” I asked someone if they were all owned by the same person, but apparently they are just all owned by different members of the same family, all Turkish. When people asked where we were from, and we said America, their next question was always: “Peace Corps?” I learned that this is actually Peace Corps’ last year in Suriname, supposedly because the country had gotten its own development under control, but most likely because U.S.-Suriname relations had seriously deteriorated after the arrest of the President’s son in New York for providing material support to a foreign terrorist group. But in general, I got the impression that the people of Suriname have a good impression of the U.S. and Peace Corps volunteers, though not the government.

Walking around the city, we tended to notice all of the things that Paramaribo and Cayenne had in common, that Paramaribo did better. For example, the central park—the equivalent of Cayenne’s Place des Palmistes—was twice as large, filled with five times as many palm trees, and equipped a carbet, playground, and little river. There were also a number of cute, cheap guesthouses, making for a much younger, more vibrant atmosphere. The diversity of the cuisine was also refreshing—we sampled Dutch, Indian, and Indonesian, just to name a few.

Atjoni

The day after Christmas, we took advantage of the reignited transportation to hop on a bus three hours south to Atjoni, a tiny river town where pirogues shuttle tourists to jungle island lodgings like the Anaula Nature Resort.

I was relieved that my diarrhea was not so crippling after the first few days, but there were sudden moments of shooting pain and needing to find a toilet—which is not easy, and certainly not free, in the jungle. Within the first ten minutes of arriving in Atjoni, I desperately needed to find a bathroom, and when I did, it was 1 SRD. Not bad, but—the woman managing the toilets only handed me a small wad of toilet paper. Ugh. Certainly not enough. But somehow I managed.

When my episode had ended, I was able to concentrate better and observe my surroundings. What I saw was striking—I have never seen anything like it. It was not what people in America would consider “absolute” poverty—skinny children with big bellies walking half-naked down a dirt road. But this was poverty by any definition of the word. The town was filled with trash. When it began to rain, we took shelter under a ramp leading to the pirogues, and the pathway was cluttered with garbage. It was blowing everywhere and washing into the river. The inhabitants of the town were crowded around the general store, beers in hand at 11:00 in the morning. We were not the first tourists they had seen, but they stared longingly at our Jansport backpacks, Nike sneakers, Levi jeans. These were people who were trapped between absolute poverty and lower middle class status. They had all the trappings of capitalism: graphic image t-shirts, sneakers, jeans, cell phones, watches—all dated knock-offs in poor condition. You could tell they had a taste of the outside world, yet it was something that remained perpetually unattainable as they inhabited the wasteful cycles of supply and demand, their desire unable to satisfied by their lack of income.

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We found a trustworthy-looking boat driver who we commissioned to take us to the island where we would be spending the night. At the beginning of the 20-minute journey, the sky was slate gray and trickling rain. By the time we reached the campground, the sun had emerged and blue sky beckoned in the distance. Such is the joy of the rainy season.

The little “resort” was on a small outcropping of land in the middle of the river, surrounded by fat, smooth rocks creating little waterfalls. There were bungalows and carbets for slinging hammocks, as well as kitchen and toilet facilities. It was very well maintained. Just across the water was an Amerindian village—I wondered how they felt about tourists penetrating their corner of the jungle. The proprietor showed us to a cluster of bungalows where we were each afforded a bed with linen and a mosquito net. There was a communal shower and toilet, both in surprisingly good condition for their isolated surroundings.

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The first thing we did was attempt to navigate the rocks to cross over into the Amerindian village, where we were told by another teaching assistant who had already been there that we would receive a warm welcome. Unfortunately, the tide was much too high and the current too violent and we had to turn back. We laid on the rocks for about an hour, and returned to our bungalows just as the sun was beginning to slip below the horizon. After a nap—which we resorted to simply because there was nothing else to do after dark—we poured kettles of hot water over the ramen noodles we had packed and dug in.

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That night, after we had eaten and were lounging on plastic deck chairs outside the bungalow, we saw two young women and a middle-aged man sitting not too far from us, so we decided to say hello. They turned out to be two Dutch girls on holiday—both from Holland, but one currently living and working in Paramaribo—and their native guide from nearby. The girls spoke fluent English, so they had to translate our conversation for the guide, but we spoke for hours—about life in Suriname, mosquito-borne diseases, socialism—everything. The guide told us that all of his family members, including his 12 children, had gotten malaria at one point. Dengue fever, he said, is not a problem in the interior of the Suriname jungle, but there are frequent outbreaks in Paramaribo—the mosquitoes are attracted to polluted standing water. Needless to say, I was still thankful that we were provided with mosquito nets in the bungalows.

The next day, we rose at our leisure and ate some kiwi for breakfast before boarding the pirogue for the journey back upriver to Albina. On the way, we passed several little villages, and because the sun was out and the sky was a glorious shade of azure, people were out bathing and washing their clothes and dishes in the river. Children jumped off of rocks stark naked, holding hands and giggling. They took little notice of us. It was idyllic. And yet these are the villages in Suriname where the United Nations sends aid workers. Not to the dirty, seedy, up-and-coming towns like Albina, which was full of desire for the world of endless waste and capitalist greed we inhabit. I mentioned it to one other teaching assistant, who had done Peace Corps, and we agreed that we would rather be dirt poor in one of those riverside villages than have the slightest bit of money and live in a more accessible town like Albina. Refreshed from our brief sojourn in the jungle, we boarded a minibus back to the capital.

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When we returned to Paramaribo, having been dropped off in a busy corner of town with lines of buses and vendors hawking their merchandise, I noticed again the familiar twinge of intestinal cramps. I finally relented and strode into the nearest pharmacy, asking for anti-diarrheal meds. I was with another teaching assistant, and even though it was me who asked, she demanded, “Who has diarrhea? You, or you?” As if asking the meds was not embarrassing enough. I said, “Uhh, me.” She handed me a small packet of green capsules and instructed me to take two each day, one in the morning and one at night. I thanked her and, in a moment of sudden urgency, asked if I could use the toilet. She frowned and said, “Oh no…you’ll have to go to the casino.” Great. I haven’t showered in two days, just arrived fresh from the jungle, and need to ask a casino if I can use their toilet…in an urgent manner. Luckily, the casinos in Paramaribo really appreciate the business of their customers, and they let me in right away, muddy sneakers and all. That evening, I popped one of the capsules, and thus was the end of my torment. If only I had acted sooner.

Before we left Paramaribo, we made a trip to a shopping mall, which would have been much more productive if it had been cheaper. I was astounded at the prices—clothes and other merchandise cost twice as much as they would for the same cheap quality in the U.S. Instead, I settled on a much more reasonable purchase—a movie ticket to see “The Hobbit” in 3D, and in English, no less! Despite the fact that we returned to the hostel at midnight with a 4:00 am wake-up call to leave for the airport awaiting us, I rolled into bed, sleepy and content.

Tobago

Who would have known that an hour-long flight out of the South American jungle would land you in such paradise. Unfortunately, as always in life, paradise comes with a price. For us, that price was a day wasted in the airport waiting for a standby flight from Trinidad to Tobago. Had we known, we would have booked the 15-minute journey in advance. It was also just before New Year’s, which meant that many families were traveling between the two islands to visit their relatives. The bright side of waiting an entire day for a plane was that we boarded just before sunset and were treating to stunning views of the last light of day dazzling the turquoise waters of the Caribbean—a lovely contrast to the muddy coastal waters of Guyane.

When we arrived at our guesthouse, Candles in the Wind, the proprietor instantly welcomed us and suggested that we check out Sunday School, a weekly steel pan music performance in Buccoo Village, a beachfront town a short distance away whose bay is home to one of the best coral reefs in the world. We quickly showered—enjoying the warm water that was lacking in our guest house in Suriname—and dressed, ravenous for food. The proprietor drove us to Buccoo and showed us a shack with deliciously crispy fish and chips—there is no mistaking the British influence on the islands. We walked down the road, which was lined with cars and people, all there for the same reason we were: the music. Steel pan music has its roots in Trinidad and Tobago, the islands that are also home to the best carnival in the Caribbean. There were two main bands playing down the street from one another. We stopped at the bar where one of the bands was playing and jived to the music. The locals would call this “liming,” casually hanging out with a group of friends. The band was incredible, as were their dancers. Suddenly, just as we had finished ordering our drinks, everything went black. Power outage. The band didn’t miss a beat. We wandered down the road to the other music venue, where the band continued to play louder and faster in spite of the darkness. There we joined a crowd of dancers and let loose, absorbing the music and island breeze from the bay. Just as the performance was ending, the power came back on and the crowd went wild, applauding the band for their valiant efforts drumming through an hour of total blackness.

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As we made our way back up the road, there appeared to be a massive traffic jam, caused by some men having a disagreement about which way to navigate the parked cars. Profanities were spewed, but altogether the spectacle was hilarious. A British tourist marched up to them and tried to get them to see the hold-up they had caused, but they just didn’t care. Both of them wanted to be right—it wasn’t about the other cars. Quite a lesson in culture, and perhaps a lesson in foreign intervention.

The next day, despite the fun night, we rose early in search of breakfast and tickets for a snorkeling excursion. Just a 10-minute walk away, we discovered Store Bay, a gorgeous crescent of pristine white sand and turquoise waters so bright we had to shield our eyes to gaze at them. There were several boat men competing for our attention, and we selected one at random to purchase tickets from. After we had gotten our tickets, we made our way to some food stands and order bacon, eggs, and pancakes—the likes of which we had not seen since the States! Again, thanks in large part to the British influence.

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When we embarked on the boat, we were greeted with miles of blue water, so shallow you could see easily to the bottom hundreds of yards out. The boats, which were sturdy little wooden crafts with a flat roof perfect for sunning, had glass panels inserted on the main deck, which made for clear, magnified views of the coral below. Buccoo Reef is hundreds of acres in area, just a short distance off of Pigeon Point, Tobago’s prime beach destination. It is a protected natural park, meaning it is beautifully preserved. I have been snorkeling several times in the Caribbean before (in Aruba and St. Thomas), but I have to say, this was the best. And—it was only $15. We snorkeled at Buccoo Bay and swam in the nearby Nylon Pool, a stretch of shallow sand bank in the middle of the open ocean. Legend has it that if you rub the sand there on your skin, you will emerge more youthful. If lovers bathe there, they will be together for a lifetime. And other touristy myths like that.

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On the way back, the boat cruised past a massive beach party with loud music and several barbeques on a strip of land called “No Man’s Land.” Trinidad and Tobago really have the pirate thing going. We got dropped off at Pigeon Point, which was packed with vacationers, and ordered some crab ‘n’ dumplin’, a local specialty. Unfortunately, the crab ‘n’ dumplin’ didn’t live up to its hype, as it was light on the crab and heavy on the dumpling.

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The next day, we set out early on a full-day island tour. Our guide was very accommodating and suggested the best places to stop for photo-ops. After making our way through the town of Scarborough, we climbed up to Fort King George for stunning views of ocean from high in the battlements. An array of old canons made for a very authentic “Pirates of the Caribbean” feel. On the way back down the hill, our taxi driver stopped to give a crippled homeless man some money—poverty is far from invisible in Trinidad and Tobago. After winding our way around the lush green mountains and pausing briefly at certain vistas for several hours, we stopped at Englishman’s Bay, a popular tourist destination, to take a swim. The scene was very “Swiss Family Robinson”: a narrow strip of white beach lined by palm trees with an inviting turquoise bay nestled between two rocky outcroppings.

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When our taxi driver dropped us back off at the guesthouse, he invited us to spend New Year’s Day with him and his wife. “She makes an excellent curry,” he said. But we already had plans to spend the day relaxing on the beach—it was our only chance to do so before we left.

As it was New Year’s Eve, we enjoyed a quick nap and shower before heading out for a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant—the cuisine was much welcome. While we were waiting to go out in the guesthouse lobby, a guy came over and started talking to us. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him “Adam.” Let’s just say, he is the “arrogant tourist” I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Evidently, he was a 30-year-old business entrepreneur who had gone to college in Colorado and dipped his toes in several industries, including a stint on Capitol Hill. He tried to convince us to attend a massive beach party at Pigeon Point that night, but tickets were the equivalent of $50, much more than we would have even paid to get into a club in the U.S. We politely turned him down, but he was very persistent. It was a relief when he caught up with some friends to head out for drinks before the party. But that was not the last we saw of him.

Despite our exhaustion from the day’s adventures, we continued on to a beachside bar that promised a midnight bonfire and fireworks. It turned out to be a lovely, relatively quiet beach party with some tourists and locals mingling outside. There were children lighting firecrackers at the water’s edge, old couples dancing to 80s hits, and some men gathering wood scraps for the bonfire. We plunked ourselves down on the beach, beers in hand, and waited for midnight. It seemed like forever—just like when we were kids and staying up that late seemed like an impossible feat—we were that tired. A middle-aged man struck up a conversation with me, asking what we were doing here, what our life plans were, etc. (he was a bit high). I told him my story, briefly, and he suddenly got very excited. “Ah, New York! You from New York! I used to live there, man, but it was too hard. Life too fast.” Hmm, I thought. There seems to be a pattern emerging—people leaving places like Sao Paolo and New York for the simple life, in the islands or the Amazon. He proceeded to tell me his life story, spending a lot of time on his son’s upcoming wedding. I congratulated him.

When midnight finally came, there was some obligatory hooting and hollering, then the fireworks began over the bay. It was beautiful—all the ships in the harbor lit up like ghosts, and the lights doubled when they were reflected in the water.

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On our last day in Tobago, we decided to take the glass-bottomed boat out again because we loved it so much, and because it was so cheap. This time, as we were getting ready to leave the guesthouse in the morning, we ran into Adam, fresh from the party the night before. Apparently it had been incredible—hundreds of people had turned out. Well. At least we were well-rested from our early night. He got really excited when we mentioned we were about to take the glass-bottomed boats and asked to tag along. We saw no harm in it, except that he was sure to be exhausted and completely hung over by the time we got back, so we said yes.

On our walk to Store Bay, we ran into a boat man who tried to sell us tickets for his glass-bottomed boat. The man followed us as we made our way to the beach, even waiting for us as we emerged from the ATM. Adam decided to capitalize on his motivation by negotiating a lower price for a private boat ride, including drinks and music. He seemed eager to please and so went along with everything Adam said. We didn’t object—who were we to turn down such an easily negotiated deal? Unfortunately, it was too good to be true—he had no intention of taking us out on the boat by ourselves, and when he didn’t have enough customers lined up by the 11:00 am boarding time, he transferred us to another boat that was already full of people. The only room for us was on the upper deck, which I was not opposed to, as I love the sun. It was too bad for Adam, who had tried fruitlessly to help the other boat man ready the craft, only looking like an ignorant American next to the supple, young captain. They had made quite the comedic duo.

Despite several attempts to brush him off, Adam consistently kept flirting with the other girls and I. It was actually quite pathetic—there were looks from the other passengers on the boat, mostly parents probably fretting that their children might notice the spectacle. In an effort to maintain a low profile, we mostly stayed on the upper deck, and profited from the sun in the meantime. The snorkeling was even better than the first time. The water was calmer and we were able to comfortably float on the current for a panoramic view of the reef below. We even saw a small sea turtle among the hundreds of coral formations and colorful fish.

When we disembarked at Pigeon Point, we thought we had finally lost Adam, but he appeared shortly and asked us where we were headed. We said we planned to spend the day relaxing on the beach. He finally got the message. We spread out our towels on the sand and watched the jet skis, boats, and swimmers under the Caribbean sun. I bought a hand-dyed turquoise sarong from a wizened old Rasta man, who hand-sewed the unfinished edge for me. Finally, as the sun began to set and rainclouds moved in, we made our way back to Candles in the Wind for our last night in Tobago.

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Port of Spain, Trinidad

Yet again, thanks to our lack of planning, we spent nearly all day waiting for a standby flight from Tobago back to Trinidad. Luckily it wasn’t a total waste, as we were able to secure tickets for an evening flight at noon and walked ten minutes from the airport to the beach to wait it out. After an hour-long delay and a long ride from the airport to our guesthouse just outside of downtown Port of Spain, we rolled into bed without much protest.

On our first full day in Trinidad, we decided to treat ourselves to some girly shopping downtown, hitting up stores with familiar brands—like Payless. It felt a bit like being home. Who would have thought—even the Caribbean is arguably more developed than Guyane. That afternoon, we spent a few hours touring the local history museum, which described, in artifacts and artwork, tales of gold and conquest, pirates and explorers, slavery and modernity, and a society rich in culture—especially music. For lunch we enjoyed some roti, an Indian specialty popular on both islands (and in Suriname). We stayed downtown until sunset, and watched the great golden orb slip below the horizon on the waterfront, then sought desperately for a maxi taxi—Trinidad’s version of a taxi collectif. It was no easy feat—I suppose public transportation is really something we take for granted in the U.S.

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The next day we had a full-day island tour. Our guide made some pretty terrible jokes, but by the end of the day he had us laughing and playing along. Since the main attractions we wanted to see were spread throughout the island, and one day would not have been enough to do them all justice, we decided to settle for a tour of the northwest coast. We first made our way to a small mountaintop village overlooking Port of Spain. The views were incredible, especially with the mist and fog that looped around the green peaks. The roads, however, were quite scary. I’m not one to have irrational fears, but going up steep hills in vehicles—especially slowly—terrifies me. Our guide made a quick stop on a farm to show us a massive cave carved into the side of an enormously steep hill. Then we made our way over the mountain’s spine and headed down toward the beaches and coves of Trinidad’s north shore. It was essentially a beach-hopping day, though our plans were impeded by the weather—we had come just at the tail-end of the islands’ rainy season. We feasted on shark sandwiches, bought some touristy shell earrings, and laid on the beach until we were too cold and had to move on. By the end of the day, we were exhausted from the constant movement of the van around the bends in the road. But it was worth it—the sights were extraordinary.

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On the way back to the guesthouse, we stopped at a pharmacy to pick up a few necessities. My friend took a picture of me, my arms full of an assortment of familiar brands and products from home, my eyes lit up like it was Christmas. I won’t be posting that picture—too embarrassing. Though I will admit the first couple of days back in Guyane took some readjustment.

The Way Back

We left Trinidad for Paramaribo, exhausted from our whirlwind tour around the islands, piled into a guesthouse for the night, and made our way on the long reddish brown road through the jungle to Albina for the crossing to Guyane.

When we arrived back in Saint-Laurent, we had our passports stamped for re-entry, and, seeing no possibility of finding a cheap ride back to Cayenne, hopped in a taxi collectif, waited for it to fill with other passengers, reluctantly handed over the €40 each for the ride back, and took the long, flat road back to the capital, our journey ending full-circle.

Shortly after, I moved in with a host family in Roura, the quiet little Creole village where I now work, my head full of what I had seen.

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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. –Martin Buber

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2 thoughts on “Vacances de Noël: Suriname, Trinidad et Tobago

  1. Andi,

    I was thrilled to receive your latest blog. I have been wondering how you are doing. What a wonderful post and such a fabulous experience you are having! Your photographs are so vivid – I am especially in love with the water views, the many shades of blue are so beautiful.

    Things back home can be summed up in one word, SNOW. We missed the worst of it last month when we were on the west coast. Thankfully, our neighbor kept the driveway cleared. At the moment, the sun is shinning but we’re also experiencing flurries (something like a sunshower, but colder).

    We are leaving for Israel on Sunday. It is our first trip and we are very much looking forward to the experience. Marc was invited to speak at a conference so we felt it was “meant to be” and booked a tour as well. I’m meeting a cousin whose sister I see when I’m in LA. He had been one of Moshe Dayan’s generals! I’m also going to see another cousin (other side of the family) who I haven’t seen in 35 years! She’s 84 but when I spoke to her the other day, sounds just as I remember. She lives I an Orthodox neighborhood but thankfully not as Strict as some others. Should be interesting. We’ll be gone for two weeks.

    Wishing you all good things in your new location with your new students and sending you much love,

    Harlene

  2. So good to hear from you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post–I have been writing it forever!

    I hear the weather back home is horrendous; I’m so glad I missed out on this winter. I have to admit, I often get cold here at night now that it’s the rainy season. Though my “cold” threshold is something akin to 75 degrees…

    Have a fantastic time in Israel! I would love to go there someday, so let me know how it is.

    Love,
    Andi

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