Arrival in Paramaribo

We got into Suriname right on time last night, though that was almost two hours earlier than originally scheduled, thanks to the air traffic controllers strike. We were the only plane on the runway, but they still parked us on the far side of the tarmac, so we all trekked across like a string of ants toward the glowing green neon sign: "Johan Adolph Pengel Airport." We caught our shuttle outside of baggage claim and drove toward Paramaribo.

The airport, inexplicably, is a good hour's drive from the city and winds through Onverwacht and Lelydorp along the way. They look for all the world like cities on the map, but they're just wide spots in the road, and by the time we rolled through at midnight, everything was closed down--just painted concrete buildings emptied of people, a few flourescent bulbs burning through the night.

Paramaribo isn't much more than that itself. Though the official population is about a quarter million people, they're scattered along the banks of the river, both east and west sides. We went out today to scout around, past the presidential palace and the National Assembly, to Waterkant, the street that runs along the river. When we got there, the current was surging from the tides (we're only about eight miles inland here) and extremely choppy, the water was the color of milk chocolate. In the distance, you could see what is officially named the Jules Wijdenbosch Bridge but everyone calls it the Suriname Bridge. It's an incredible structure. It was completed in 2000, so my dad had never seen it before. The last time he was here they were still running a ferry across. And, in fact, the remnants of the old ferryboat landing are still there, except now it's a taxi stand. People take these tiny, rotting taxi boats that ride just barely above the water level back and forth across the river. Those on the east side come here to work, and there are taxi cabs waiting and a phalanx of mini-buses lined up--all of them painted with pop stars from the Caribbean and decked out with logos from the competing rum makers. Bacardi, Black Cat, there's even one that's the head of a hog--a visual pun on the fact that rum was originally exported in hog's-head barrels. (In fact, our hotel is directly next door to a rum factory that has stained-glass windows displaying the entire fermentation and distillation process; it's like the High Church of Rum.)

Near nightfall, dad starting watching the sky and marking the time. Just before complete sundown, the sky over the courtyard of our hotel was teeming with Pallas's mastiff bats, also called velvety free-tailed bats. Dad, of course, just calls them Molossus molossus. He explained that they're early feeders, so by the time you see these out, you have to have your nets set. He also told me that their relative abundance appears to be something of a gauge for how disturbed an area is. In a city like Paramaribo, they're everywhere. The bat we're going to be looking for at Tafelberg on the other hand--Schulze's round-eared bat, Lophostoma schulzi--has never been caught in an area with secondary growth. Most have come from the tall trees at Tafelberg and Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve and at the Brownsberg Nature Park. In the next couple of weeks, we'll get to each of those places and hope we're lucky enough to have one of those ugly little bats fly into our nets.