Back in Paramaribo, we got up nice and early on the Sunday morning to go and see the songbird competition at Independence Square on Onafhankelijkheidsplein (don't ask us how to pronounce that!). This is a serious hobby in Suriname, and an expensive one. Grown men spend in the vicinity of $2,500 US on a bird (perhaps more), which they generally carry around in a little cage with them wherever they go, and they "train" the birds to sing.
On a Sunday morning, all the songbird enthusiasts gather at around 6.30/7 in this central grassy square, where they stake their songbird cage holding stick into the ground and hang the cage on it. Then, according to an assumingly pre-determined draw, each man pits his songbird against another man's songbird. They carry their bird cage to the central hanging poles, where two referees are waiting with chalk boards. The referees will tally up how many times each bird sings different 'songs' over a 10 minute period. The bird that sings the most wins.
This was all very exciting at first. We hoped we might see some high spirited heckling from the crowd, perhaps a few altercations between competitors, but they were all too civil for our liking. After watching 2 or 3 competitions taking 10 minutes a piece, it started to lose its appeal a little and we moved on.
Still being so early on a Sunday morning we couldn't even find anywhere open to get breakfast, but it was nice wandering the streets of Paramaribo as quiet as they were, admiring the white weatherboard buildings until we found some food. Eventually we were able to visit Fort Zeelandia which opened at 10am and included a museum.
The fort in some form or another dated back to the 1600's, and through a few variations was under the command of the Dutch, then the French, then the English and then the Dutch again. The museum included a few different exhibitions, such as artefacts from the old pharmacy and cobblers shop, Amerindian artefacts, military history and some still in-tact cells with burning lanterns in memory of people that were killed there during the Surinamese dictatorship.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the guesthouse pool, then went to Blaugrond (Blue Ground) for dinner. This is a quiet street a little out of town that has a bunch of Javanese restaurants and was recommended by a lot of people as the best place to eat in Paramaribo. We had a really enjoyable meal for our last night in Suriname.
Suriname was a really pleasant surprise. We were able to get around speaking English, as everyone spoke it. The old architecture is really nicely maintained (thanks to it being a UNESCO Heritage area), the streets are relatively clean, the people are lovely and the food is delicious with influences from Creole, Indian, African, Indonesian, Chinese and of course Dutch.
Having said that we would have absolutely loved to see much more of the interior to learn about the Amerindian and Maroon cultures, but the only way to get anywhere is via a tour, and the prices are absolute extortion on a mere backpackers budget. Perhaps we will visit again some day and bring with us a bucket full of money.