Somewhere in South America there is a small country which you probably never heard of or never thought about.
Just imagine a place where people from West Africa, Indonesia, India, China and Europe were brought together (often as slaves), mixed with local people (known as Amerindians) and forced to speak Dutch. Not Spanish nor Portuguese as you might expect, not even English - but Dutch! Dutch!!
Imagine a place where a wooden synagogue stands next to a concrete mosque and these two sit next to a wooden catholic church. Somewhere nearby is Chinatown. In the background, you can hear Latino music, see Indian couple walking nearby and a Brazilian taxi driver says ‘good morning’ to you in English. You want to escape and you find yourself among tourists from Russia and Denmark in a small Indonesian restaurant.
This place is not a projection of mad imagination. It exists and has a name - Suriname.
It is so multicultural and vibrant place that I am not surprised that British colonisers called this land "the Wild Coast".
Republic of Suriname is located in the north-eastern part of South America. It is one of only three countries on the continent where people do not speak neither Portuguese nor Spanish (the other two are Guyana and French Guyana (broadly known as Guianas).
Suriname is indeed a wonderful part of the Earth with its pristine rainforest, clean waters and vibrant culture. Nearly 80% of the land is covered by almost impenetrable rainforest. The country is inhabited by approximately 600 000 people and almost half of them live in Paramaribo - capital city of this tiny country.
This country has a lot to offer. Although I did not have much time to explore it, I was lucky to see a few fascinating places. In this and next few posts I will show you a few short trips which may be interesting to you. They are not purely geological, but more about nature in general.
The world is changing so fast and one of the saddest consequences of this is the global warming. It is harming the nature. It is unbelievable and sad to say but it may be the last call for all of us to see the wonders of the rainforest.
For those of you who like geology it may be peculiar a land to visit. It provides a real adventure but is not easy to explore.
In Suriname, you can see very old rocks (Precambrian) which outcrop in so-called Guyana Shield which is the northern part of a much wider geological unit known as Amazon Craton.
Amazonia, in general, seems to be a key piece of the puzzle for many supercontinent reconstructions and requires a lot of attention. It is one of the least known parts of the Earth due to its inaccessibility caused by a dense rainforest.
Looking at the geological map two distinct geological units can be seen in Amazonia region: Guyana Shield and Brazilian Shield. These are in fact the same geological entity (Amazon craton) cut by much younger Amazon basin.
The Amazon craton can be further divided into a few distinct parts based on the time of their formation. The oldest part of the Amazonia is known as Central Amazonian Province. Detailed geochronological analyses (The majority of the radiometric ages (about 3,000 age determinations) were mainly obtained by Rb-Sr, K-Ar, Sm-Nd (model ages) and zircon U-Pb methods and Pb-Pb) - don't worry at the moment, we will explain these methods in separate post).suggest that this old Archean protocraton consisted of many independent microcontinents that were amalgamated between 2.2 and 1.95 Ga. There are some indications that rocks from Central Amazon (Carajas region) were involved in building the oldest recognised palaeocontinent called Ur (approx. 3 billion years ago!).
Suriname is located within another important structural region, slightly younger than Central Amazonian Province known as Maroni-Itacaiunas Province (with ages 2.2-1.95 Billions years (Ga), with the oldest rocks in this unit located in Venezuela (Archean age, i.e. more than 2.5 billions years, Imataca Complex). Some authors also recognised a so-called Transamazonian greenstone belt, located in the north-eastern part of Suriname. This may be a crucial structure for reconstructing old supercontinents.
(By the way, the geological regionalization is a continuously discussed problem, therefore in the last few years several different models and subdivisions were proposed).
In general, the entire segment is dominated by metamorphosed volcanic and sedimentary rocks (metavolcanic and metasedimentary units). Based on mineral composition of the metamorphic rocks, it is believed that these were deformed and metamorphosed at greenschist to amphibolite facies. There is also evidence of some granulitic and gneissicmigmatitic terranes.
Currently, at least 6 stages of amalgamation are recognised. The oldest is dated to 3 billions years ago (old Archean orogeny of Carajas, Ampa and potentially Imataca). A Trans-Amazonian orogeny is dated of 2.2-2.1Ga (and potentially outcropping in Suriname).
About 1.8 billions years ago in NE part of the continent a tectonic event occurred and the northern part of the Amazon craton became a major sedimentary basin. Over 3,000 m of fluvial and lacustrine sediments were deposited (e.g. Roraima group). The last big orogenesis took place about 1 billion years ago and was associated with worldwide Grenvillian orogeny. Since then, the entire region was relatively stable and was subjected to slow tectonic movements. Another big step in geological history of the Suriname is related to opening of the Atlantic Ocean.
Currently oil and gas companies are actively searching for hydrocarbons in the Atlantic Margin. Suriname oceanic shelf is very interesting because it represents so-called passive margin. Passive margins are often targeted by oil and gas companies because most of the conventional oil and gas fields can be found in such geological settings.
The Atlantic margin developed when Gondwana supercontinent started to break-up; Africa started to separate from South America (Cretaceous). You can easily see on a world map that that the shapes of Africa and South America seem to be complementary suggesting that in the past they were amalgamated. Actually, this feature was once used as a proof of continental drift.
The eastern margin of the South America (and therefore Suriname coastline in general) developed during the Mesozoic after rifting phase which started in Late Jurassic when North Atlantic Rift system started to propagate southward to the Central Atlantic region. The rift system in Suriname is poorly recognised. Some of this grabens were subsequently inversed due to anticlockwise rotation of Africa in Early Cretaceous.
Since the central Atlantic Ocean had started to open between South America and Africa continents during the Cretaceous, a classical passive margin sequence started to develop. A few siliciclastic and carbonate sequences were recognised in offshore Suriname and Guyana. These are currently extensively investigated by Oil and Gas companies (Bihariesingh-Raghoenath & Griffith, 2013). Similar rock record (so-called facies) is also seen on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in western Africa passive margin basins e.g. Guinea Basin.
Suriname - When to go?
Suriname is located in the tropical belt therefore you may experience wet/dry seasonality in the weather. Generally speaking, the climate is very hot and wet. Temperature is relatively stable through the year. Two wet seasons last from April to August and from November to February. Rain seems to be patchy but thunderstorms may be sudden and strong. Fortunately, the sky clears up quite quickly. Note that due to high humidity, the perceived temperature may be higher.
Probably the best time to go is during the dry seasons (August-November, February-April).
Suriname - How to get there?
Because Suriname is an ex-Dutch colony there are regular flights between the Netherlands (Amsterdam Schiphol) and Suriname (Paramaribo-Zanderij by KLM & Suriname Airlines). You can also get to Suriname using Caribbean Airlines (flights are from Miami via Port of Spain in Trinidad, or from Brazil). Because Suriname is not a popular tourist destination, flight tickets may be quite expensive (over 600GBP, however if you are lucky you may find some deals, again it is worth checking skyscanner or similar websites for flight deals).
There are also land border checkpoints with Guyana and French Guyana. Please remember these are not open 24hrs and may be closed without any notice. They are a few hour drive from Paramaribo.
Suriname International Airport is located approximately 60 km south of Paramaribo (Zanderij). There are busses and taxis available. Hotels usually offer transport to the airport/hotel for c. 20USD. It takes approximately 1hr or more depending on the traffic (which may be enormous - also bus drivers tend to give a lift to all individuals separately so it may take a bit long to get to the hotel).
Visa and entry regulations
For citizens of many EU countries and USA there is a possibility to obtain visa-on-arrival (tourist card) at the International Airport in Zanderjii or at "Tourist Card Counter" at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. It costs 30EUR ($35).To obtain tourist card you need to have a valid passport (at least 6 months validity upon arrival in Suriname) and return flight ticket (eticket, not booking confirmation!). For those who must apply for visa, you need to go (or just send documents) to the consular points. In Europe, the biggest is located in Amsterdam. See here for more details.
If you have visa and you want to extend your stay in Suriname you will have to apply for extension in the Ministry of Justice & Police (Ministerie van Openbare Werken) Jaggernath Lachmonstraat 167, Tammenga, Paramaribo, Surinam. See here for the map (office is located on south west corner of the building). Your passport will be scanned and stamped. It may take a while over there. No taxi stop outside!
Hiring a car and driving:
Personally, I would not drive a car in Suriname. The road network is limited only to Paramaribo and coastal area. If you want to do some 4WD driving (which is possible) it is probably worth to use one of the tourist agencies (which are ubiquitous in Paramaribo). International driving licence, passport and credit card are required.
Left hand driving. Traffic jams are common. Speed humps are common.
Paramaribo has a few chain hotels such as Marriott, Ramada or Krasnapolsky. Also, there are a few cheap hostels (approx 25-30$ per night). Torarica is a really good hotel, with swimming pool, superb breakfast and friendly staff (from 100$ per night). For deals check booking.com.
Outside Paramaribo hotels and hostel are unfortunately rare. There a few eco-resorts located in the jungle (e.g. Danpaati River Lodge, Kabalebo Nature Resort, Anaula Nature Resort).
Travelling in Suriname
Taxis are everywhere and are relatively cheap. There are also a lot of small, colourful busses travelling between different places in Suriname (and within Paramaribo). A good starting point is next to the Paramaribo's market (Waterkant street, see here for map).
Paramaribo city centre is walking-distance from most of the hotels (except Marriott).
If you take part in an organised trip, the tour-operator will arrange transportation for you.
If you want to get to remote parts of the Suriname the most logical way to get there is by plane. There is a domestic airport in Paramaribo (Zorg en Hoop).
I did not experience any problems and people were very friendly. However I have been told to be extra vigilant near the market - Palmentuin, and some other doggy-looking places.
There is a serious problem with drugs and prostitution.
Outside Paramaribo be aware of local customs especially in Maroon villages.
Remember that in the 90’s there was a civil war in Suriname.
Nature is the main hazard - it may kill you, especially in the jungle. Please always follow your guide. Drink a lot of water because of high temperatures. Zika outbreak in Suriname continues, however (as I was told) is not common in Paramribo. Please follow WHO updates.
Malaria may be a serious problem especially outside the capital city. Make sure you have anti-malarial drugs.
Note that yellow fever vaccination is not obligatory however highly recommended. With the vaccination, you will get a "yellow book" and you should always have it ready to show to health officers. You may be not allowed to enter many countries if you have not had yellow fever vaccination and the yellow book proof.
Suriname is a multi-cultural country. So, you need to behave differently depends on whom do you deal with.
If you want to know more about cultural variety in Suriname, you should read a fantastic book by John Gimlette: "Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge"
Dutch is commonly spoken. People in Paramaribo speak English as well.
There is a great variety of food available in Paramaribo and outside. Because the country is so multicultural, there is Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, European and Caribbean food available everywhere (especially Indonesian Bami is great in Blauwgrond area!) Chicken is very popular and tasty. I would recommend fantastic chicken legs at the petrol station near Torrarica hotel (one large chicken leg for approximately 3-4$). For drinks: water, fresh juice, Parbo beer, light lager (big bottle is known as Djogo). Do not forget to try rum which is good and cheap in Suriname. You can go and do some rum tasting in a former rum factory near Torarica and Marriott hotel (see here for map).
Suriname dollar is an official currency in Suriname. Due to high inflation dollars/euros are widely accepted and sometimes even more welcomed. Credit cards are accepted however outside Paramaribo it may be difficult to use a card. There are only a few ATMs that accept VISA cards.
What to take?
Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen and raincoat/umbrella! Make sure you have photocopy of your passport/visa.
There are only a few guide books in English. The only one I had is Philip Briggs’ "Suriname" (Bradt Travel Guides, 2015) and Ben Box’s "Guyana, Suriname & Guyane" (Footprint Focus Guide 2012).
For history of Suriname I would strongly recommend book of John Gimlette: "Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge"
I would like to thank to my friends whom I had an opportunity to visit this magnificent land with. Lukasz Karda (instagram: h.0.0.d.y) was kind to allow me use some of his photographs. Thank you! Also, I spent some time travelling with Cory Moore. Thanks guys for your great companion!
Palaeoreconstruction figures were taken from Staatsoile website (access 03 Dec 2016): http://opportunities.staatsolie.com/en/geology-of-the-guyana-suriname-basin/