My last two weeks in a little more detail… maybe too much detail. PHOTOS TO COME SOON!!!
I spent my last few days at the resort soaking up as much sun as possible. One day I walked the 4-5 minutes over to the restaurant where the girls, Anne and Lieke, were working hard. I went out to sit on the end of the dock to wait for them to finish up. Them and another co-worker came out to watch the sun go down. As it set behind our backs, we watched the orange rays bounce off the shipwreck in front of us across the river. And as it started to get darker, we watched the moon rise above the boat. I couldn’t believe it had taken me 3 weeks to realize what a great spot the end of the pier actually was.
Another night Gwen, one of the girls from the laundry, stopped by the house on her nightly run. We played a few games of Yahtzee with her, and then she started speaking in Dutch. I heard my name, and I asked Gwen what she said about me. She said she had asked the girls if someone would run her home because now it was dark. Lieke had said, “Well, I can’t run you home.” And Gwen told me she said to Lieke, “Well, if you can’t run me home, Katie can’t either.” EXCUSE ME? It’s about a kilometer (0.6 of a mile) to her place, and I could definitely run it. In Suriname and Guyana, I had come to realize that weight is discussed very openly. They believe that a bigger person has no muscle, and therefore cannot do any physical activity. People had even made comments to Lieke about her weight, and she’s tiny compared to me! I felt like it was a challenge to run Gwen home. I stood up and told her I damn well could run her home, and after about 10 minutes I got my running gear on. Of course, Anne and Lieke didn’t want to miss it, so they decided to come along too. We started running and at the half-way point, Gwen told me she didn’t think I’d make it that far. By the time we ran into the yard at the staff housing where Gwen lived, she really had to eat her words. She told me she took it back, that I really proved her wrong, and that she was impressed. HA! The girls and I walked back to the house, and we were all so excited that I proved I could do it. It was such a great feeling to make one person realize they can’t label someone because of their size. Now if only they’d stop making comments about Lieke, I’d really feel like something was accomplished.
Anne and I were delivered breakfast on Valentine’s morning, and Lieke wasn’t included since she was off working or something That night was my last night at the resort, and since we had finally tracked down the volleyball (we had bought it in the city a few weeks before but left it at the leather guy’s house by accident) I wanted to play! Kleine and Pato came to play with Anne, Lieke, and I and we had a blast. After an hour and a half of volleyball, we jumped in the river right next to us to cool down. We swam as the night got darker, and then the boys walked us home.
On the 15th, I packed up my stuff, and the girls and I went to the restaurant so I could say goodbye to everyone and they could tell the manager we were leaving. A few of their co-workers came to tell me goodbye, and I went up to Silent, their 70-some-yr-old deaf/mute co-worker to tell him I was leaving. I pointed to myself and made a motion of a plane taking off and flying away. Silent looked shocked and pointed at me with a questioning look on his face. Then he gave me a big hug! I always looked forward to getting a wave from Silent every day when I would walk to the restaurant. The girls and I packed into the front of the truck and drove the hour and a half to town. We stopped at the leather guy’s place as he was supposed to have my things finished. Of course, he said they would be finished tomorrow and we should stop back. That night we went out to a few different drinking establishments. Our last stop was Broki, my favorite watering hole, because there are hammock chairs and hammocks hanging all around inside for customers to get comfy! We actually sat outside on the patio along the water and chatted.
The next morning, Anne headed one direction do a bunch of research on the internet for her dissertation she has to write to finish her bachelor’s degree. And Lieke and I took the truck to be repaired at some guy’s house. We got his name from the guy who ran our guesthouse. The guy told us everything would be done in 2-3 hours, so Lieke called Brian, our favorite taxi driver, to see if he could take us to run some errands. I needed to go to some office on the edge of the city to get a stamp in my passport because even though my visa was issued for 2 months, after one month you need to get your passport stamped. We went to this office, but I didn’t have my airline ticket saying I was leaving Guyana in a few days. So the woman wouldn’t stamp my passport. Instead of going back into town and getting my ticket and coming back to the office, we asked if I would need it or not because we didn’t know if I had 28 days or from the 18th of Jan until the 18th of Feb. She said if I was leaving on the 18th (which I was planning on) I wouldn’t need the stamp, but if I left any later than that I would need it. Good deal. Brian drove us back into town, and on the way we passed Evelyn, the other student from CHN doing her internship in Suriname, standing on the street. Lieke had just been teasing me that morning about how we should call Evelyn so I could say goodbye. I didn’t really care for the girl much. Brian, however, stopped because he thought we were happy to see her – lucky us. She rode with us into town, so I got to spend a few minutes of quality time with her. We met up with Anne and went to pick up the truck. Then we stopped over to Mickey’s house to see if my wallets and things were finished. Surprise, surprise… they were still not finished, but Mickey promised to deliver them to me the next day in the city. Anne and Lieke took me back to the guesthouse, and we said our goodbyes. It really didn’t feel like we were separating since I’d been with them for over a month. It didn’t sink in until they were driving away, and I was crying at the front gate of the guesthouse.
Later that night I met up with Kleine, a co-worker of the girls at the resort. We shot pool at one of the local pool halls. After our second game, I looked around and realized I was the only girl playing pool. There were 2 female bartenders, but no girls were there to play pool. It was a little strange. I started to wonder if it’s just not accepted for a girl to go out and play pool with the boys. I still don’t really know.
The next day was my last day in Paramaribo. I did some emailing and last minute planning for the European leg of my trip, and Mickey delivered my leather goods at the internet café. In the late afternoon, Kleine had to get his laundry from his mother’s place in Paranam, and he invited me to come along. He warned me before we arrived there, that his mom lives in a ghetto. A real ghetto. We first had to cross the trench in front of the neighborhood by balancing across some wooden planks. I was introduced to aunts and a sister and his mother, and none of them spoke English. I greeted them all with, “Fa waka” which Kleine had told me meant “Nice to meet you.” I wanted to say one thing in Sranan Tongo to them. All I knew before that was how to count to ten and how to say goodnight – nothing useful. Kleine went to get his laundry and left me to sit in his mother’s house (more like a 3-room shack). Luckily a group of 8-10 kids had gathered on the floor of the room (not to mention the 6-7 adults outside). Someone like me must be a rare site in their neighborhood. I tried to think of something I could do to entertain the kids. “High 5” seemed to be the easiest thing to teach them. I started giving rounds of High 5’s and even the littlest girl who couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 figured it out. Then I taught them “Give me 5, on the side, up high, down low – too slow!” which they thought was a riot! Soon Kleine came back and we went to leave. He told me to look back, and I turned to see most, if not all, of the kids coming out to say goodbye to us at the waiting taxi. One last round of high fives, and we were off. It was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.
On the morning of the 18th, I took a bus to South Drain. Luckily, Mickey the Leatherman, knew a guy who did this 6 days a week. For 45 SRD (about $15 US) the bus picks you up wherever you’re staying in Paramaribo and drives you the 4 or so hours to the Nieuw Nickerie/South Drain intersection. At the intersection, there is a bus waiting to take you to South Drain and it doesn’t cost any extra. Another hour or so on the bumpy dirt road, and you finally arrive at South Drain (aka the ferry terminal). Purchased my $10 US ticket to cross and went through immigration without a hassle. Started talking with the 3 women who had been in my bus since we left Paramaribo. They were Jehovah’s witnesses traveling to Guyana to meet up with some colleagues. I had a great conversation with one of them named Loretta. She’s lived in Miami for 30 years but had 6 months time in Suriname and Guyana. When we arrived in Guyana, I found the guy who’d been on the ferry drumming up business for his buddy who was waiting with a minibus. The guy had told me $2000 Guyana dollars for the trip from Moleson Creek to Georgetown – that’s about $10 – and they’d drop you off wherever you’re staying too. I spotted Shanna’s house as we passed through Crabwood Creek, and I told the two Argentinean backpackers about the tapirs – the weird vehicles made only in eastern Guyana.. I got to chatting with one of the guys from Argentina, and he told me they’d been traveling since October and should be home in another 2 weeks. They’d been planning their trip for 6 years, and both of the guys had studied literature at university. They were hoping to catch a night bus towards Brazil that night… good luck getting any sleep. At the ferry crossing in New Amsterdam, we unloaded out of the minibus to get some food. The older woman sitting next to me went to the first Chinese shop she found and ordered us both a half order of chicken and chow mein for $2 US a piece. We got back on the minibus, and after eating only half of my order, I was stuffed. I ended up giving it to the girl in front of me, who the older women in the minibus decided must be really poor. She seemed a little off mentally and her hair was very messy. I didn’t mind giving her my food, and she must have been really hungry because she polished if off in about 2 minutes. She looked so happy after that. The minibus was loaded onto the ferry and as we sat with the windows open, people came around trying to sell us things. There were older men, teenage boys, and even an 8 or 9 year old boy selling everything from “cold drink” to posters to candy. I bought a “snowball” from one guy which is similar to a snowcone, but then they pour sweetened condensed milk on it. I skipped the s.c.m. as I had already tried it when I was with the Canadians in Bushlot. I was also able to exchange money with one of the “salesmen”. I figured out my budget for that night and the next day and realized I had way too much Suriname and Guyana dollars, so I was able to get $20 US for it.
The women on the minibus started into discussions of all topics. Finding a good man, living in Suriname vs. Guyana, sex education in schools. They were very nice to me, and I enjoyed listening to their thoughts on all of these topics. One thing that really surprised me was when the older woman next to me finished her Chinese food, she handed it to the woman in front of me who had a seat next to the window, and that woman chucked the Styrofoam box over the side of the ferry and into the water. Reminded me of when we were headed to Kaieteur Falls, and I saw a guy on shore throw his used flashlight batteries into the water. And shocked me just as much.
While we were on the bus, the driver came around to ask everyone where they needed to get dropped off. When he got to me, the only Caucasian woman on the bus, he asked if I was traveling alone. Yes, I told him. He said, “Why don’t you take me with you, and then you won’t be alone anymore?” You’re my bus driver!!! Just take me to my hotel!!!!!
Around 4pm, after 12 hours of traveling (there’s an hour time difference), I was dropped off at my hotel in Georgetown. There was nothing else to do since shops were closed, and I wasn’t about to walk around town on my own, so I went to the internet café next door. Later that night, I ordered chicken nuggets and steamed vegetables from the restaurant in the hotel. The chicken nuggets were big chunks of white boneless chicken meat – I was so excited! I also got a big 1L bottle of water so I could brush my teeth a few times and have some to drink. And I got a Coke, and the whole bill came to $5.50 US. I was going to miss those prices for sure! I was also able to watch some of the Olympics for the first time since they’d started. A nice quiet night.
The next morning, I had asked the front desk clerk to call me a cab at 5:30am. The taxi was there on time, and I asked the guy how much it was going to cost me to get to the airport. He told me $3000 Guyanese ($15 US) which was $1000 cheaper than I thought it would be. The driver was actually a very nice guy, and when we stopped for gas on the way to the airport, he bought a paper and offered it to me to read first. When we got to the airport, I handed him $3500 since I knew I had extra money. It was only a $2.50 US tip, but in a country where nobody really tips, it might have made his day.
The flight was right on time, and I flew direct to JFK in New York. Omar had asked me on MSN Messenger if I was going to wear flip-flops when I flew in. So of course I had to! It was so great to see his familiar face when I walked through customs! We went straight to my friend Heather’s apartment where my winter clothes were waiting for me. Heather was out of town, so she had left my things with the doorman. I asked him if there was a bathroom where I could change, and thankfully there was. It was the first time I had worn jeans in 7 weeks! I was so happy! Omar was cracking up as I announced how long it had been since I’d worn a coat or how long it had been since I’d worn a sweater! After we got my winter things, we went to Omar’s apartment to drop off my things. He told me I could drop my laundry off at this place down the street, and as long as it weighed 8 pounds or less, it would only cost me $6 to have it all washed, dried, and folded! Sold. I loaded up his laundry bag, and when we weighed it, it came to exactly 8 pounds. Omar took me to a great Colombian restaurant for dinner that night.
The next day, Omar didn’t have to work thanks to Presidents’ Day. So we decided to meet up with some friends for lunch and a few beers. Betsy from Madison who just moved out to NYC, met us for Pomme Frites, as did Norbert, an old Aiesec alum friend of Omar’s. This Pomme Frites place was great. Belgian fries with all these different kinds of homemade mayos. I had honey mustard mayo, and I tried roasted garlic mayo. Both were great! Betsy had to get back to work, but we met up with Chantal and her boyfriend Alan and went to the oldest run pub in Manhattan. They serve beers by the pair, and you only order light or dark. You say, “We’ll have 3 darks and 2 lights.” And the server brings you 6 darks and 4 lights. It was great. Omar ran down the street to a bakery to get a dessert for his mom’s dinner party later that night, and while he was gone Chantal and Alan told me I was going to be late for my flight. Luckily, Omar’s family had arrived for the dinner party by the time we got there so we were able to steal his uncle’s van so Omar could drive me to JFK for my flight to Germany.
As we’re driving into JFK, there is a sign that says that all flights to Brussels (where I was to meet my connecting flight) on American Airlines leave from the domestic terminal. So Omar drops me off there. I have about 45 minutes to catch my flight, so I walk up to the first American Airlines woman I see and ask her about my flight. She informs me I’m in the wrong terminal, and I start to mention the HUGE sign outside that told me to get dropped off here. But then I stop myself and decide making my flight is more important than correcting the airport on their signage. Another worker tells me I can check my luggage at the first class desk, but I’ll have to run to the next terminal. Fine. I book it over to the international terminal and finally get through security. I make it to my flight a whole 25 minutes before it departs. Just before I jumped out of the car, Omar handed me a little white bag. He’d bought me an Italian pastry from the bakery for my flight! Once I was settled in on the plane, I busted it out… delicious!
I flew to Brussels, and then caught my connecting flight to Berlin. I arrived at Berlin Tempelhof, and I needed to find the cheapest way to Berlin Schonefeld airport where my flight to Munich was leaving from. I asked at the information desk, but he didn’t really know so I decided to just take a taxi. The taxi ride cost me 30 euro which is almost what I paid for the flight to Munich. The flight was quick, and Christina was waiting for me at the airport when I arrived. I met Christina when we were both exchange students in the Netherlands, and we hadn’t seen each other in 2 years. That night we went out for a typical Bavarian meal. I had a fantastic meal of homemade noodles and turkey with gravy. And we sat up talking until well after midnight.
The next morning, Christina was already off to work by the time I woke up. I think I finally made it out of the apartment around 1pm. I walked into Friesing, the town Christina lives in, and I was able to find a bank right away to cash some travelers cheques. I went to the train station and bought a day ticket to Munich, which included any public transporation I would take in the city once I arrived. It was a quick 25 minutes, and as soon as I arrived at Munich Central Station I found the tourist information desk. I asked the woman what I should do if I only had 2.5 hours in the city. I was supposed to meet Christina when she finished with work. The woman suggested one of those big tourist buses. It was only 11 euro, and that way I’d be able to see a lot of the city without spending a lot of time. When I met up with Christina a few hours later, we set off to do a little shopping. I got a great pair of bright green sneakers for 10 euro ($12 US) and a great pair of gray-colored pants. I wanted a doner kebab for dinner so we headed to the train station and each ordered one with sheep’s cheese and split an order of fries. Another night sitting up chatting and playing a little Sudoku (I got Christina addicted too).
The next morning, Christina drove me to the train station around 6am to catch a train to Munich so I could catch my train from there to Bremen. I had found a killer deal on a train ticket online so it only cost me 49 euro from Munich to Bremen. I took the high speed ICE and arrived in Bremen at 2pm. My old roommate Sylvia was waiting for me at the train station. We had lived together when we studied in Holland, and I hadn’t seen her in 2 years too. That afternoon she took me around the city so I could see all the highlights. She was a tourism major at university, and last year she did a project on making a tour through the city. Luckily for me, she remembered a lot of details so she was my private tour guide. My favorite part of the day was when we visited the Schnoor, a neighborhood full of tiny houses. We stopped to have coffee at a café in one of the houses. Only 3 tables could fit on each level, so we ended up having coffee on the 3rd floor! That night she showed me all of her favorite Bollywood movies! She’s obsessed with India.
On Friday morning, I took the train to Leeuwarden. Make that 4 trains! I had 3 connections to get to Leeuwarden. When I arrived at the train station, Bert was there to greet me. I threw my small bag on the ground and tackled him. Bert and I hadn’t talked much in the last months, so I was so glad we had a chance to chat. We went to his house to drop off my things and pick up his girlfriend, Yvonne. A little grocery shopping and then we made a quick stop at the snack bar for a late lunch. That night Bert made everyone boerenkool met wurst, which is mashed potatoes with endive and chunks of bacon mixed in it. Then there’s a sausage served with it and a brown sauce. It was excellent! One of my favorite Dutch meals. That night Robert, Sjoerd, and I went out to my favorite bar, De Ouwe Stoep. A crazy night – I don’t remember most of it.
I think we woke up sometime around noon and very hungover. The boys and I went into the city to have lunch at McDonald’s. Sjoerd caught the next train home, and Robert and I wandered around town until Ferdinand made it back to town. He had a hammock of mine from Suriname, and I had some dirty laundry of his. Then Robert and I caught the train to Groningen where his mom met us at the train station. His familiy is soooo wonderful. I just love spending time at their house. It had been a year since I saw them, and they were just as excited to see me as I was excited to see them. After Robert had visited me in December, he met his family in Florida where they spent 2 weeks. I got to hear all about their trip, and they showed me all their photos too. Johan, Robert’s developmentally disabled brother, played some songs for us on his keyboard. He just started taking lessons a few weeks before, but he did really great. We finished the night by having a few beers with Robert’s dad, a tradition Robert does everytime he visits home.
The next day we just lounged around the Stelling house. We had a terrific breakfast of wurstenbrodjes (sausage rolled up in bread). Robert felt bad because we weren’t really doing anything, but I loved it. Later that afternoon, Robert’s mom packed us some food and took us to the train station. The train wasn’t coming for another 15 minutes, so she stayed to chat with us. As the train pulled away from the train station, she ran along side waving goodbye. I love his family. That night we just hung out at Robert’s apartment. Both of us are considering a masters in tourism, and so we talked about all the different options. We looked at photos and listened to some good tunes.
Monday morning Robert had to go to work, so I slept in and that afternoon I caught a bus to the train station. The bus driver didn’t even make me pay for the short ride. I took the train to Utrecht Centraal Station to meet Sjoerd. He was arriving back from work at just about the same time. We walked to his new apartment in the city center and dropped my stuff. Sjoerd and I went to dinner at a nice little Italian place underground alongside a canal. Utrecht has all of these shops and restaurants along the canal… this place was really great, lots of character. That night we looked at photos. Sjoerd had just returned from a semester in Slovenia so he had lots of stories to tell about his time there and his travels in Eastern Europe.
The next morning, I woke up semi-early to get some last-minute shopping done. When I went back to Sjoerd’s apartment, I wasn’t able to unlock the door. Sjoerd had told me that it could be difficult, but I started to panic and started thinking I wouldn’t get it open in time to catch the train to catch my flight out that afternoon. Thank goodness, one of Sjoerd’s neighbors came home and he helped me to open the door. I thanked him a hundred times over, grabbed my stuff, dropped the key in the mailbox, and went to catch the bus to the train station. I made it to the airport with about an hour and a half before my flight was to take off. I had a layover at London Heathrow, but as the plane arrived there, there was another plane at our gate. When the plane finally moved, we pulled up to the gate and the pilot shut off the engines. A few minutes later we were still sitting there with the seatbelt light on. The pilot made an announcement that we were still 12 feet short of our gate, and we would have to wait for someone to tow us in after they shut the cargo door. Super! As soon as I got off the plane, I headed for the next terminal which meant catching a bus. Then I had to go through security again. I finally made it to my flight gate about 5 minutes before they started boarding. Finally arrived at JFK in New York and called Omar. He had complete faith in me that I would be able to make it all the way to his house by myself. First I had to take the AirTrain to Jamaica Station, then I had to take 2 different subway trains. Then I had to catch a bus and remember where the right stop was. The final step was walking the last few blocks to his house. His mother was there waiting for me. Omar came to pick me up and took me over to Chantal’s old apartment. Then we helped move the rest of her things up to her new 3rd floor walk up. Lucky me. Fly in from Europe and help move someone. What a great day.
Wednesday I was able to sleep in a bit, and Omar and his mother had already left for work. I couldn’t leave the house because there wasn’t a spare key for me, so I ordered lunch in from a local diner. Omar’s mom knew a great cab driver who would take me to LaGuardia airport for $10 which was half the price we expected. I caught my flight, and after arriving at Chicago O’Hare our plane was delayed again because of another plane at our gate. I arrived in Minneapolis around 9pm, and my friends Leah and Jason picked me up at the airport right away. By that time, I was sooooo sick of airports. In two days, I had been in 6 airports. Hopefully I’ll never have to do that again.
So that’s how the trip ended. That night I stayed at Leah and Jason’s. The next day I went to work, but Jerry arrived too. I was able to sneak home and surprise the family who didn’t think I’d be home for another week. I was happy to be home. Really happy to stay in one place for awhile.