The approach to Paramaribo, Suriname, is confusing (more so without any kind of guide). The estuary is enormous and shallow. Whereas Guyana and the Esquibo would be a nightmare to enter at night (unless one trusted the GPS waypoints implicitly), the Suriname would be easier at night: the channel buoys and lights would show up more clearly. Although we arrived with plenty of daylight to spare, we could not identify any of the facilities Captain Skip had pulled off the internet, which is how we ended up less than a mile upstream of the high-arching bridge in the center of town, at Marina Durga, another floating diesel tank which doubles as a dock. Our home for the night.
As I recall, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin were poorly treated in Suriname and it was here young Read lost his arm and almost his life. From time to time, on the streets, one might imagine that a fierce face retains some of the genetics of the warrior-pirates who went up against the finest of Nelson’s navy.
Happy Daze could not have been treated more courteously or helpfully.
Shortish, tubby-ish, jolly and super-efficient, ‘Mona’ introduced his boss, Walter, to do the heavy dollar/guilder lifting. An hour later, we’re in Walter’s new crew cab truck, headed for his house and a shower; then to a Chinese restaurant. With Guyana fresh in mind and stomach, the crew is apprehensive – Amerigo particularly. He’s only just recovered from the sea-sickness and anyway craves salad, but this restaurant serves up maybe the best noodles in life; plus a whole steamed fish, the unhappy set of whose mouth does nothing to deter us from the delights of its succulent white flesh.
All this on Walter’s guilders – on the arrangement that we would head to the bank the next day for the cash we’d need to fuel and provision the boat – and only repay Walter then. Another Mr. Silver. Cynics might say that both Mr. Silver and Walter had Happy Daze hostage, tied to their docks - but would a Guyanan or a Surinamese arriving at Marina del Rey, Nice or Chichester, with no local currency and ATM cards which don’t appear to work, be treated this sumptuously?
Like Mr. Silver, in Guyana, Walter is developing a facility: fuel, accommodations, showers, and so on, on riverfront property that he and various brothers and sisters own. Walter is obviously Indian (East Indian, as North Americans describe it) in origin, and many of the family live in Holland. He has a fuel concession, a dozen battered tanker trucks, and fingers in a lot of pies. ‘Mona’ has worked for the family for 28 years. Succeeding Durga generations will be in clover, assuming the world economy holds together and Suriname is rolled up neatly in the name of tourism and progress. It will all have been on the backs of Walter’s generation, and his father’s. (It’s Durga & Sons, and Walter is not old enough to have business-capable sons.) None of my business, but I hope they appreciate it.
A sad-eyed, exquisitely made-up lady sits on the rickety verandah of the building set back from Marina Durga’s fuel dock. She’s white and in her late fifties, rather heavy, and dressed for afternoon tea or a sundowner gin and tonic. Her wide-brimmed pink sunhat is on the table in front of her. Her legs are elegantly crossed and she’s reading a Dutch newspaper. She listens discreetly to the plethora of vehement exchanges between Walter, ‘Mona,’ and the crew of Happy Daze. Excitable and full throttle is the prime communication mode here, switching fast between Dutch, island Dutch, local patois and English. Chinese and Japanese are linguas francas here, too. The sad-eyed lady and I exchange smiles but say nothing and, as we leave for Walter’s house and the shower, he touches her gently on a bare shoulder. No words pass between them either and I wonder how this figure, who would be perfectly at home in a Conrad novel or a Tennessee Williams play, came to be here.
Perhaps she’s a member of the Netherlands Durgas. Or is there a more interesting story behind her? I hope the latter but, even though we’re delayed one more night by a botched bank transfer, I’ll never find out.