Having arrived at the airport at 2.30 in the morning with no accommodation booked I fell into a taxi and asked the driver to take me to a cheap hotel in the centre. I just needed to sleep and didn’t really mind too much where, although I declined his offer of a casino hotel. I made it to breakfast (when food is included in the price, eat it, is my motto) with a vague plan to move somewhere more picturesque for the next two nights but realised it wasn’t too bad. A chat with two Americans who’d arrived on my flight and had booked this place helped convince me, so I gratefully went back to bed and slept for a few more hours, neatly missing the worst of a huge rain shower.
Paramaribo is a Dutch colonial city founded in the seventeenth century on the banks of a wide river, around 15km from the sea. Settlers cultivated sugar cane and tobacco in surrounding slave-worked plantations and in the eighteenth century began to leave their running to managers and move into grand new houses in town.
The buildings are generally wooden on brick bases, the houses almost all with multi-storey balconies and painted white. There were two disastrous fires in the early nineteenth century meaning that many of the old buildings are rebuilds rather than originals.
The whole historic area is peaceful and picturesque and includes a group of appealing government buildings fronting onto a green. For once we have no Baroque churches, but there is a late nineteenth century neo-gothic cathedral which is said to be the largest wooden structure in the western hemisphere.
The original settlement was never fortified as it was protected by both a small fort on the waterside and another downstream on the other bank, at the point where another river joins. I took a boat across to New Amsterdam, as it is called, and admired the earthworks and the few remaining buildings, including this rather medieval looking gunpowder store in the small open air museum.
When slavery was finally abolished, the government brought labourers from China, the West Indies, Java and India to work the plantations instead. As a result, the capital has an interesting cultural mix, including a huge number of Chinese jewellery shops and a chain of great fast food roti shops.
The biggest challenge in building a Lego model of a typical house was getting the veranda proportions about right. To do this I’ve had to build very small so apologies for the picture; my camera could not focus on it any closer.