Posted by: koolwine | June 23, 2018

Suriname: Wild Coast

Gimlette has penned a fascinating account of his adventures in the three places that make up the “Wild Coast” of South America—Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana—by interweaving his own experiences with the area’s colonial history and its lingering effects. He visits the major coastal cities, like Suriname’s beguiling capital Paramaribo, but also travels to more isolated (and, in some cases, ghoulish) areas, like the site of the infamous 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana, the decaying former penal colonies of French Guiana, and a reclusive community in Suriname inhabited by the Saramaccaners, descendants of runaway slaves.

Country Focus: Suriname (previously Dutch Guiana)

Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge
By John Gimlette
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
358 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author:  Gimlette is a barrister in London when he is not traveling or writing highly-acclaimed travelogues like At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels in Paraguay, Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka, Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador and Panther Soup: A European Journey in War and Peace.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

John Gimlette


If I were to design the perfect city, it would be white and have a river running through it. There’d be plantations and fruit trees all around, and little canals would come seeping through the centre. There’d be no business district or overbearing banks, and nothing would be taller than a church. At the heart of it all would be a little purple fortress, like a hat full of mansions. There’d be no trains or tubes or public toilets. This would be one of the greatest cities of the eighteenth century. Everything would be built from wood and handmade bricks, and next to the fort there’d be a huge palm garden, where once an army planted beans. By day the presidential palace would glow like a wedding cake, and then by night it would turn green and flare like a planet. As for embassies, there’d be only nine, including a tiny bungalow for the United States. Temples, however, would spring up out of the foliage, along with stupas, pagodas and funeral ghats. There’d also be a mosque and a synagogue, huddled so close that they’d share a car park. This would not be a city of ghettos or new ideas. Over half the country would live here, and between them they’d speak over twenty different languages. Without parental consent no one could marry until the age of thirty, and it would be quite common to have giant rallies protesting at obesity. Meanwhile the police would be called the korps politie, and would wear white gloves and ride around on bicycles. There’d also be an alligator living in the city’s pond, eating all the strays.

That, broadly speaking, describes Paramaribo. So, what went wrong? How did it get forgotten?

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