Travel to Suriname and venture deep into the Suriname jungle. Meet snakes, spiders, piranhas and learn about the Suriname indigenous communities. Visiting Palumeu was a highlight of our travel in Suriname. Here’s what happened on our jungle adventure and how you can do it yourself if you are thinking of travelling to the far flung country that is Suriname.
Suriname Travel: Where on Earth is Suriname?
Well, surprisingly not many non-Surinamese or non-Dutch people actually know where it is! Suriname is a South American country and as an ex-Dutch colony they largely speak Dutch.
A melting pot of cultures
It’s a delightful melting pot of cultures. With multiple indigenous populations, the Afro-Surinamese, the Indian Surinamese, Dutch influence, Chinese Surinamese, Lebanese, Brazilian and also a Javanese population too, all combining to create a pretty unique place! Visiting this diverse country makes for the most exciting super market experience you could possibly imagine, you can get anything and everything.
In Paramaribo, the capital, there’s also a fort built by the French, then owned by the British and subsequently taken over by the Dutch.
During our travels in Suriname, we spent a few days in Brownsberg National Park:
Our Suriname travels also took us to Palumeu, an indigenous village within the Amazon basin.
Suriname Travel: Where is Palumeu?
Palumeu is literally in the middle of nowhere. It takes 12 days to get there by boat or you have to fly. We hopped on a teeny weeny plane and flew over miles and miles of rainforest.
With deforestation happening at such a high rate this side of world (20% of the Amazon has already been lost and it is the biggest deforestation front in the world), it was emotional just to see this much rainforest stretching out to the horizon. It was beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like it.
We landed on the ‘runway’ in Palumeu and our Suriname travel adventure began! I use speech marks, as it was barely a runway. It was a bumpy grass field in the middle of the jungle, mostly created by hand in the 1950s.
Parrot island and piranhas
On our first day we headed to parrot island for a picnic and a swim in the river. Unfortunately there wasn’t a parrot in sight (boo) and I couldn’t swim in the river as my body loves me and my period had started. But why would this stop me swimming I hear you ask! Because the river is full of blood loving piranhas. And yes they do love menstrual blood!
There is nothing like letting a whole group of new people guess you are on your period by sitting on the shore while they swim in piranha-infested waters.
I probably could have used a tampon or my menstrual cup, but that potential leak which would normally just ruin some underwear could lead to something else in the rivers in the amazon basin…
We headed to the indigenous village afterwards. Three Amerindian tribes live in the Palumeu area – the Trio, the Wajana and the Akurio. The Amerindians largely live in peace with nature and are taught to care about it in school and by the older generations.
This was very apparent by the level of primary forest we saw and how the rivers in the area are clean and unspoilt. We’ve travelled extensively now and I find seeing environmental damage frustrating and upsetting. It’s also pretty common, so the Palumeu river and the surrounding rainforest were glorious and refreshing to see.
Meeting the locals
In the village we met some locals, who showed us how they made jewelry, arrows and worked with cotton. The lady who worked with the cotton took three months to spin the cotton and make a hammock. Such a long time, but many of the locals who live in the village sleep in hammocks so it’s a necessity there!
Exploring the jungle
That night it rained, the next day it rained and the following night it rained. During a gap in the rain, we managed to jump in the boat (which needed a lot of bailing out) and have breakfast on the river bank with toucans and red and blue macaws flying overhead, and the eerie sound of the howler monkeys in the distance.
We embarked on a jungle trek that turned into a very soggy adventure. It tipped it down. How dare it rain in the rainforest?! We still managed to spot beasty grasshoppers, frogs and a feather lance snake (very venomous). We hiked up to a viewpoint, where we could see the expanse of the rainforest spreading out around us, which was breathtakingly beautiful and a few hummingbirds paid us a visit too.
My anaconda don’t
That evening a local boy found a yellow anaconda in the smoking hut. It was a 40cm ‘baby’ (they can grow up to 4.5m big!) so he caught it, wrapped it around his arm and came to show us (because why not?!).
At this point the anaconda isn’t deadly, but a little bigger and it can wrap itself around a person’s throat. After meeting an anaconda, James and I extensively checked our cabin for anacondas and snakes in general. Suriname has a lot of really dangerous ones!
After a night of listening to the endless croaking of local frogs (they can only croak when it has rained – if it is too dry the pressure in their lungs can rip them apart!), we jumped back into the boat and headed to a more faraway location by some beautiful rapids. Here we had a BBQ and did another jungle walk. We met kingfishers, spiders, a bright metallic blue-tailed lizard and bullet ants whose stings are said to be as painful as being shot, hence the name.
The worst fisher folks
James and I did a spot of fishing, and thankfully had no success. I loved fishing as a kid, but as a vegetarian I’m not sure it fits into that philosophical position. Plus, I was worried if I did catch something the group would judge me for throwing the fish back in the river. I did liberate one fish that had been caught from the bucket when no one was looking (sshhh don’t tell anyone).
Our boatman had more luck fishing than us and caught four large piranhas for his family. I was relieved, that’s four less in the river to eat me when I fall in…
Everything could kill or hurt me
On the boat back, we sipped beers and spotted a very venomous red snake swimming in the river. I was beginning to come to the conclusion that everything in the rainforest could kill or hurt me.
This conclusion was further confirmed that evening on the night boat trip where we met the slender tree boa and the next day when we met three very poisonous spiders, one being the famous black widow. I didn’t get to see it, as it scuttled back into its spidey-hole. Nothing like knowing you are existing near one of the world’s most deadly spiders. Luckily it seemed equally as scared of us!
We saw these killer spiders on our walk where our awesome guide Nootje told us lots about the medical uses of plants in the rainforest. He also showed us a fruit that if eaten could kill you in 6 hours. This confirmed my suspicion that if I was lost in the jungle I would be dead within a matter of hours as the fruit looked pretty tasty.
The jungle can also be a life saver
He also showed us the tree that can be used to treat malaria. Quinine, is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree. Nootje showed us plants that treat fevers and ones that are antiseptic. We were also shown how different plants could be used to make shelters.
So, the jungle might want to kill us, but it also offers tools to save us, if it’s properly understood. It really made me realise the deep knowledge local indigenous communities have about the rainforest and how necessary this knowledge is to survive here. I also think the knowledge of how deadly the jungle can be, whilst also providing them with most of what they need to live, gives these communities a unique respect of the jungle.
Becoming bird watchers
On our final afternoon in Palumeu, James and I became expert bird watchers from our cabin balcony. We spotted these beauties:
Which makes me think, why are bird spotters considered sad? Birds are awesome and the ones over here are mindbogglingly beautiful.
Singing camp fire songs
A camp fire was lit that evening, we sung Dutch versions of English camp songs and admired the night sky when the stars showed themselves to us in a cloudy sky.
The next day was an early 6:30am start for coffee in a thermos flask and oreos on the boat to watch all the birds waking up as the sun rose. We spotted amazon parrots chilling in their tree and more toucans flying overhead with their big protruding beaks.
Final visit to the indigenous village
Our adventure in the Suriname jungle was almost over. We visited the village one last time and saw the school buildings and the toilet block a Dutch person had bought for the school, which had to be flown from the Suriname capital piece by piece. One of the classrooms is split into 2 by a partition down the middle, with the teacher’s desk at the front covering both halves. The teacher has to teach 2 separate classes at the same time! Nootje showed us the medical centre and we visited the village hall.
Suriname Travel: Eco tourism with a focus on the local community
What I liked a lot about this rainforest trip as a whole was the eco and community welfare aspect of it. Our cabins were powered by solar panels. Money from our tour price is given to the village fund to spend on what they need. The tour company has been working in the area since the 80s and it built a school in the village in the 90s. The tour company co-funded a health centre in the village. It offers subsidised flights for locals in the village, meaning this community is more connected to the outside world.
Our guide asked our group not to take photos of the locals without their permission and to be respectful that this is their home when we were walking around the village. We learnt about the history of the village, the cultural practices of the people and the crops they cultivate (lots of cassava), so we could understand a bit about how they live their lives.
I would love to see more tourism that so in tune with the local community and so positive, around the world.
Help! Is the plane about to crash?
Our journey back on the tiny plane was bumpy but offered stunning views. When the plane started heading downwards towards the jungle I started to panic. I tried to remember what plants I should and shouldn’t eat in the jungle if I were to survive the crash. I wondered how the rescue team would find us in the jungle and who I should eat first while we waited for them. Luckily the plane landed on another bumpy grass runway. The pilot had told those on the plane in Dutch that we were doing a stop in another village to pick a few other people up, but I had no idea.
On hopped a very cute little girl from the village and I think it was her first flight ever. Her eyes widened as we took off, she grinned cheek to cheek the whole flight and she was amazed at the views of the village and the jungle. It was heartwarming to see.
I wondered if she had ever been anywhere as big as Paramaribo (the capital of Suriname) and if she hadn’t how amazing she will also find the city.
We all should be more like this little girl and not lose our appreciation of things we take for granted as adults.
We landed in Paramaribo and said our goodbyes. It was sad as our group for the week were awesome and a mix of Surinamese, Dutch, Belgian and a person from Curaçao in the Caribbean. Within the two families were a number of young people. They were very impressive young people – incredibly smart, multi-lingual, knowledgeable and interested in the world around them.
I always like the reminder that the next generation are a pretty cool bunch and often express much more interest in politics and current issues than I ever did at their age. Go them!
Our wonderful guides – Ronnie, Nootje and Roy
Suriname Travel: Who we booked our tour with
If you are travelling to Suriname and would like to do this jungle trip we booked it through Orange Tours Suriname. You can book it through Mets too who actually run the tour. Like many tours in Suriname, you gotta wait until they get some other people to do it, unless you have a group of 4 or more people.
Similar to many of the organised trips in Suriname, it’s pricey. Suriname rural communities are often very isolated and hard to get to. You’ve normally got to fly or jeep for days to get into the interior. It cost us €570 (£490) per person, but I would highly recommend it and found it to be worth the money.
If you can’t afford a tour like this, you can always do Brownsberg National Park on the cheap. We did both during our Suriname travels and have no regrets!
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