April 17, 2016


The streets of Nieuw Nickerie on a Saturday afternoon

A few years ago I lived and worked in the country of Suriname on the northeast corner of South America.  Suriname used to be called Dutch Guyana.  I was in the capitol of Paramaribo but I was always curious about its second largest city Nieuw Nickerie on its western border with Guyana (formerly called British Guyana).    Suriname’s eastern border is still called French Guyana.

I suspected there was something unusual about Nieuw Nickerie.  Most Surinamese friends of mine did not want to go to Nieuw Nickerie.  They said there was nothing to do there.  I wondered why and set out on my first trip, alone.


About 240 km from Paramaribo, my adventure started at the Nickerie-bound mini-bus depot at Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat.  It was almost 9 a.m. and after paying the 13.10 Suriname Dollar (SRD) one-way fare, the bus began its journey through Kwattaweg in an almost direct westerly route towards Guyana.

Once we passed Paramaribo’s outerskirts, we entered a tropical forest, hopping over wide rivers including the impressive Coppename River - broad, picturesque and thick with red-green mangroves along its banks.  It took us quite a while to cross the river.  At the other side we stopped for snacks at the very Dutch town of Totness.  A slice of a heavy cassava cake called Bojo satisfied my hunger after being on the mini-bus for two hours.  Soon the tropical jungle cleared and we were surrounded by rice fields.  By then I knew we were in the district of Nickerie.  It will be another two hours later when we would finally reached Nieuw Nickerie’s city center.

Nickerie comes from a local Indian word for the oily awara nut.  Nieuw, new in Dutch, is in reference to the fact that Nickerie has been running away from the sea.  Its first two locations were claimed by the Atlantic Ocean.  An 8 kilometer sea wall since the 1940s have protected the “newest” location.

Hardly a city in appearance, and more like a town, the tallest structures never go higher than the Royal Palm trees lining its main boulevard.  Unlike Paramaribo, Nickerie is divided into square blocks and neat – which makes walking less stressful.

The bus let me off at a local hostel.  As I sauntered in the yard, I heard the voice of Mafrau Fraser on the phone,  who informed me the night before of room available for 35 SRD a night.  My room was pleasantly cool with wooden floors and a window overlooking a creek and star apple trees.  Right there and then I knew I would enjoy staying in the quiet, clean and simple hostel.

With my legs itching to walk for discovery, off I went the minute I set my bags on the floor and finished the usual payment pleasantries.

The Brasaplein town park was crowded and filled with stalls.  The locals were celebrating the 30th Year of Suriname’s Independence.  At the stage in front of the Commissariaat, Javanese women in their sixties were wiggling their waists, Hindustanis chanting and singing, and Chinese teens mimicking the movement of a bird.   

Later there were some impromptu breakdancing by young men who were “drunke, drunke” according to Wilma Gadun, a Creole and a local nurse kind enough to translate the proceedings from Dutch to English.  The program showcased Suriname’s multicultural society. 
Nurse Wilma Gadun
Drunke Drunke or just Rap Dancin?

At dusk, I lolled around Nieuw Nickerie’s dramatic West and Oost Kanaalstraats divided by a 15 feet-wide lily canal lined with tall Royal Palm trees.  At one end was the park and market.  At the other end were more bazaars and shops including a number of Roti restaurants and Javanese warungs.  Soon I headed home to avoid the district’s famed mosquito and sandfly population.


It was market day.

At the parking lot, I had a superb Hindustani meal - roti kip (chicken and Indian flat bread) at 4 SRD.  Vendors were selling meat and fish items I have not seen in Paramaribo’s much larger Centraal market.  Mafrau Fraser advised that I buy some fresh snapper for lunch.  She braised the fish and it was wonderful.   

My Hostel Room

The midday sun was just too hot and my cool room was very inviting for an afternoon nap.  Mafrau Fraser asked whether I would like to bike with her later that day.  Of course.

At 4 pm, it looked like it was going to rain but as we biked outside the gates, we saw the sun peeking out.  It was breezy as well and there were few cars on the road.  We passed the market, now empty, the silent rice mills, and just right before entering the dike road walled in by the ten feet high green hill, we saw a lovely garden with a tall blossoming plant called Bonanza Rose.
Bonanza Rose

The dike road was hard dry mud and flat.  On one side was the grassy green slope and on the other was the much smaller Nickerie river profused with ferns and islets of  trees.  It was very lovely and serene, the perfect place to bike at leisure and talk about life, silly and serious.  

At some point, Mafrau Fraser stopped and asked whether I would like to go up the steps of the dyke.  In her dignified operatic voice, “Would you like to take a look?”

I climbed up the 20 steps or so and landed on the top – a pathway stretching the whole eight kilometers.  I was stufipied by the vista before me – the grand and magnificent Corantyn River.    The mouth of the Corantyn River was so wide, about 20 kilometers. 

Mafrau Fraser and Me with a belly - Guyana across

 What was grassy earth clay on the road side of the dike turned out to be a bed of rocks on the river side.  A flock of goats were grazing on top of the dike giving the whole scene a pastoral ambience. 

Across the distance, 13 kilometers away was Guyana.  The panorama made me giddy with delight.

We walked further down, bought some sodas, sat and enjoyed the spell of a dramatic sunset.


Buses leave for the capital throughout the morning.  I was sad to leave Nieuw Nickerie.  Back in Paramaribo, I felt like arriving in New York City after spending a week in the Florida Keys.  And I wondered again why my Surinamese friends were not interested in a weekend in Nieuw Nickerie.  I will be going back.

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