This was definitely the leg of this trip that I was most excited about, and most nervous about. Both for the same reason. Traveling overland by public transport definitely holds a romantic realness about it. You’re often traveling with locals, getting an insight on how local people get from place to place, and if you’re fortunate you get a good chance to interact with them as well. I can only remember one time that I did the shared car/taxi thing, and that was several years ago when I took a shared bus/taxi service from Moldova to Transdniester. That was a large bus, however, but I’ll still count it since it left from the shared transport bus station.
In this case, everything I’d read online said that in order to be assured your share taxi would leave within an hour, you really had to be there before 7am, because after that time there were very few passengers leaving Paramaribo and you could be stuck waiting for hours for your taxi to fill up unless you wanted to buy all the spots up. Everything I’d read online told me to expect about 70 SRD for one of five seats in a share taxi (about $22) for the three hour ride to the border. With that in mind, I asked the hotel concierge to call around and see what options he could find.
He first came back with 500 SRD for a private car (about $155) which was absolutely ridiculous. In theory, I could show up at the share taxi rank and buy out all five seats for only 350. He then called “some friends” one of whom was willing to not only pick me up at my hotel the next morning, but would agree to come at 9am (yay sleeping in) and only charge 80 SRD. I figured for this price I’d be doing some sharing, but for the convenience of hotel pick-up, a “known” driver, and sleeping in it sounded great.
Fast forward to 9am…no sign of the driver. 9:15. Nothing. Hotel calls him and he answers…”stuck in traffic.” Finally, around 9:45, he shows up with his sister and her small child already in the car. Great, at least we’re off! No seatbelts, but wouldn’t really expect that in a bush taxi. Of course, where do we go? You guessed it, the share taxi rank! Fortunately, it was just to meet three of his “friends” he’d agreed to pick up and drive to the border, so the wait was only another 10 minutes or so. Doing the math, I was probably subsidizing the others a bit, but it was what it was.
He was a relatively safe driver, although once again the entire conversation was in Dutch. We attempted both French and English, but they couldn’t really keep up in either, so we spoke what Dutch we could and the rest of the time they all conversed in Creole. We did need to make one “ganja stop” along the way for the other passengers to smoke, and then we made another stop maybe 30 minutes from the border in order to…buy watermelons. All the passengers bought watermelons from the roadside, as well as buying huge slices of watermelon to eat. The driver offered “I buy you, you eat!” but I wasn’t in the mood for suspicious roadside fruits with another 4-5 hours in shaky taxis to go. This is where things got strange. He confirmed I needed to go to the immigration building (the locals don’t bother, and just take a water taxi across the river), since he knew it was important for foreigners to get the exit and entry stamps. “No problem, no extra.”
After we started up again, the driver’s English suddenly improved a bit. “You have girlfriend?” “Uh, no, too busy, too much travel.” “Oh too bad. I have 3 girlfriend. You have boyfriend? I have two boyfriend!” “Uhhhh…” This was definitely getting very very weird. Little more small talk and he gave up, until we pulled up to the border. The local boat tout across the river swarmed the taxi, grabbing at my luggage. Driver assured me “It’s ok, he my friend, he take you across river.” Ok, that’s fare. Saves me negotiating with the touts, and we confirmed the price was the same 20 SRD I’d seen online. Then, it got really weird. “You pay 80 SRD. If you no want pay, my friend have house down the street.” Now, I’m pretty sure he was suggesting trading the ride for, um, “adult activities” and I quickly gave him his 80 SRD and walked into the immigration hut.
You can see above the tout hurrying to the building along with my bag. Once inside, there were about 100 people milling about, most of them with French passports. I chatted with a few, and they were all from French Guiana. Seems it was important for them to get stamps too, to document just how long they’d been out of the E.U. It seemed to just be the local Surinamese who didn’t care. Of course, why the line? It was just before 1pm, and the immigration person was on lunch! I had to wait about 30 minutes, and finally he showed up. I’d obviously been in the region long enough by now, because when the shoving started I held my ground and was near the beginning out of the line.