Turtle Time in Galibi, Suriname

11-12 June 2016

7 out of 10

After my first standard rotation of 23 days for quite some time, I decided to spend the first few days of break in Suriname to explore more of the country and see the turtles that come ashore for a few months a year to lay eggs. I missed it last year, so booked a 2 day tour and set off. After a night out in Parbo first…
The tour set off at 8:30 am in a vehicle that did not have seat belts for the passengers in the back seats. And along the same highway I travel to work, but this time instead of turning at Moengo, we went all the way to Albina. It was interesting to cross the Marowijne River into French Guyana and see prices in Euro and the French flag flying. The canoe trip to Galibi (not accessible by road) was fun and occasionally bumpy rocking against the waves. Accommodation was much better than expected with simple bed in my own room as only six on the tour. The town is dull and unremarkable.
Saw two turtles, one of each type and watched them dig a hole and lay eggs. Was great and fascinating to watch these creatures. But thought we’d see more and wait around to watch the turtles cover their eggs and head back to the ocean. Instead we left soon after the egg laying started. Likely because a bunch of other tourists arrived on the same stretch of beach. Up until then we had been alone which was peaceful. After a rough and horrible canoe trip back to town, we arrived at 11pm for a game of cards. In my mind I thought we would be out til 3am or so.
The guide did not communicate a single word of English, so fortunately a Spanish girl who also is fluent in Dutch translated the key points for me. It was a lot of driving/travelling in 2 days, but overall I enjoyed it. And it was great to see more of the country I’ve been working in for eighteen months. Something I never wanted to do in Ghana.
How to Make this Trip
Tour booked through Jenny Tours

It’s Been Ages: Suri, Denver, Suri, Home, Suri, Sint Maarten

Tuesday 8 September to 22 November 2015

Well it has been a long while since my last post. I had a free day in Paramaribo on 8 September after I returned from Windsor, and on this day I found out my Grandfather was diagnosed with a brain tumour with a very short prognosis. With that devastating news I started my rotation. It was the most hectic yet as the project hit peak, I moved into a new camp and there were many meetings (including one week in Denver), issues and events that occupied my time. None of it fully planned. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only thing that stresses me out is when everyone wants a piece of me. I felt it more than I think ever before.

With flights booked back to Perth hopeful to see my Grandfather one last time, I was scheduled to land on my nephews 3rd birthday and grand final day with my team, the West Coast Eagles, in the Aussie rules football ultimate game. Flight delayed. Not an hour, not a day, but 2 days. Luckily my good friend Madison was on the same flight to Amsterdam so we spent a couple days in Parbo. Worse places to be, and being in a fine hotel such as the Marriott is better than most places. I finally departed Parbo early evening on 3 October and slept on 4 continents in 4 days to get home. I won’t detail my 8 days at home in Perth. Other than to say it was important to be with family, the first time for 9 months, and the funeral went all according to plan. My time on the ground was brief and I experienced another flight cancellation along the way. But who complains in these circumstances.

I flew back 16 October (my cousins 18th Birthday!) 3 days early (which I will take for a Perth Christmas) for an audit. Went well and set me up for a 27 day rotation as I also stayed a bit longer. Busy but productive, with some memorable moments of hiring people, giving promotions, playing complex boardgames, work mates birthdays, booking my home Christmas flights and Madison resigning. Never a dull moment in Suriname and I still struggle to find the time to just be by myself and catch up on outside life. It’s quite social here! Which is weird considering the work hours are longer than Ghana.

With all that it was time for a break on 14 November. On an island, in a vacation rental, with no expectations, bookings, or must dos. Time to be alone. Let go of the work persona. Enter the Dutch colony of Sint Maarten. I only booked the trip a week before and the only planning was to fly into one island and out from another. There were a lot of Airbnb places to choose from and I’m really glad I picked a good one.

I went out with some work friends the night before flying out and with a 230am pick up for the airport we didn’t sleep. I was flying with another guy on the same first flight so we shared the weariness together. At least until Trinidad where he went home to Canada and I connected to the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. A short taxi trip to my Beacon Hill apartment and I thought I would crash out, but it was only 9:30am and a whole beautiful Saturday ahead so I powered up and explored. Simpson beach is windy and turbulent but beautiful to look at. The airstrip runs parallel to this beach so the roar of the jet engines is a bit distracting. I found a couple of nice bars and much to my stomachs surprise I was enjoying tequila sunrises. Nice. Then to the grocery store to stock up. This involved a trek passed the Sunset Bar and Grill overlooking Maho beach, which is famous for the low flying aeroplanes that land just metres from the beach. Crazy dangerous but awesome. People stand where the signs say don’t go so they can be literally blown away by the jet blast as planes take off. The force is a lot stronger than I thought, with people holding on to the fence so not to get blown back.

I ended up extending my stay by two nights to make it 9. I just wasn’t ready to move on. And that’s the beauty of travelling without a plan. Some days I stayed in and caught up on my life. Other days I ventured to the main town Phillipsburg. Most adventurous I got was a day trip to the English colony of Anguilla with an organised tour. The day was sunny and clear, but unfortunately the surf was up and the beach not as incredible as everyone makes it out to be. The sun sets early at 5:35pm so the evenings feel longer, which is good when I don’t want to spend full days touring.

The apartment was blissfully quiet and modern for $139 USD per night very reasonable for the location. The owner lives in NYC and this is his vacation home that he rents out when vacant. The terrace had a nice view, but the waves reverberated off the enclosed space making it loud and having to shut the door to hear TV or music. Annoyingly the owner has a property manager who seemed to come and go as he pleased. One morning before 8am I’m still asleep and he came to hose down the salt from the terrace. Very invasive and not what you expect from a vacation rental. But other than these two things it was great. Oh and the owner only charged me a tiny fraction of the rate for the two nights I extended which was a welcome saving.

With the batteries recharged, the mind freed, the sleep reserves built up…time for some island hopping…

Suriname: Parbo and Berg en Dal

Wednesday 29 July to Wednesday 5 August 2015

travellingross rating = 8/10

My short rotations and short breaks continued. This time a 15 day rotation, then 7 days off then 15 days on before finally getting back to my normal 19 off, 23 on. All to provide coverage for one week when the top 4 environmental staff would be off-site. I don’t mind it all that much but it is hard to get into a rhythm and have people around you wondering what the hell kind of roster you are doing. But for sure I was not going to fly out of the country for just 7 days off. So I stayed in Suriname. Spent 5 nights in Paramaribo at a different and nicer hotel than the Marriott which is what work puts us up at (although I have reached Gold Status with Marriott so the upgraded rooms are growing on me). Had 2 nights at a jungle resort as well. Would like to have travelled along the coast to see the turtles coming ashore to lay eggs but it is wrong time of year.

I tried to make plans with the locals I knew were on break in Parbo but quickly realised the Surinamese are not the greatest for sticking to plans. They don’t know what they’re doing until 5 minutes before they do it. It’s a level of disorganization that grates against my every instinct and motive. But maybe that’s all part of the test. I did spend a day out with some local guys from work and went to the cinema (saw Pixels which I enjoyed), which was good to see parts of town I’m yet to experience.

Berg en Dal (the jungle resort) is considerably larger than I expected. Full bus load of people came along with me for the 2 hour journey from the city. Beautiful setting by the river. Had to wait 2 hours before I could check into room. Food is average. Lots of families. Down side was that everyone speaks Dutch so all the tour info and greetings are in Dutch (this convinced me to download the Dutch language in Duolingo and finally succumb to learning Dutch over Spanish). Very tranquil place with cabins immersed in the rainforest like you’re in a tree house. No ceiling fans anywhere so lack of air movement makes it stuffy in this humid climate, but rooms have air cons. The beds are super comfortable soft, but I do prefer a firm mattress. There was a father and son who wore the same outfit every day – day and night. There are many adventure activities available; I chose kayak on the Suriname River which was a good mix of energy and exploration (the threat of Piranhas is an added incentive not to capsize).

The 7 days spent in Suriname were perfect time off to catch up on life and have some alone time. Work is so time consuming and hectic that there’s not much time to do anything else. Or when I do have a spare hour, I just want to vegetate.

Suriname: A Dry Easter with Sloths

Tuesday 24 March to Wednesday 15 April 2015

travellingross rating = 9/10

Still in Costa Rica, the newly tyre changed rental car made it to the petrol station on the sniff of an oily rag where I fuelled up and returned the car. Sitting in the free shuttle to the airport I yelled stop as I glanced out the window to notice my wallet sitting on the rental car company counter. Phew, close call. Costa Rica is one of those silly countries that charges a departure tax. And u have to pay before going to check in. I didn’t leave much time for this but lucky I checked in online and no bags to check. 3 flights and I was back in Paramaribo fairly exhausted which is not how this break thing is meant to work. It actually took me 5 or so days to get back to a normal sleep pattern which is odd for me.

This rotation was zero alcohol! It’s something I wanted to do when I started. I actually hoped this would be a dry camp not selling alcohol. Working continuously like this is tiring enough without throwing in the temptation of a beer or several down at the bar. Most people couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t drink but I still socialised and went to the bar. Sometimes with a mug of tea! I think I’ll make this a trend.

Highlights this rotation:

  • Installation of new air quality and weather monitoring stations. Was a long planned project so it was good to see it through to install.
  • Easter. Quiet and not really commemorated here. But I still had my own Easter moments.
  • Putting on weight. When I drink, I lose weight.  So the best part of a month without booze is I have noticed a few extra kilos which is a good thing for me.
  • Sloth. I saw my first one!!! It’s kind of a must-do in Suriname to see a sloth and better yet to relocate one that could otherwise be harmed by clearing activities. So this Good Friday was my sloth relocation day. Strange looking, slow-moving and shy. Remind me of koala’s.
  • Running. I finally started running again. The geology superintendent is a runner and dragged me along. He was impressed I could go the 7 km distance and keep pace. So I guess I’ve still got it and we went several times when weather was kind.  We actually had a whole week without rain. Driest I’ve seen Suriname yet.
  • Work. Continues to be enjoyable and I’m happy overall. Some testing times that raise my heart rate. But nothing I can’t handle. I’m focusing on the big picture a lot more this time around and not sweating the small stuff. So long as I’m learning, I’m happy. I am exposed to different perspectives and methods to build my work and life knowledge.
  • TV. They didn’t pay the bill so the t.v. in dining room didn’t even work 90% of this rotation. No CNN, not even crappy soccer. And the internet has been terribly unreliable, but that doesn’t really affect me since I have a private SIM card with internet. We joke that this workplace is worse than North Korea for external communication. When international dialing was cut, along with TV and internet, the IT Manager was re-named Kim Jong Un and I started to wonder if I woke up in 1995.
  • Evictions. The army came to site to evict the illegal miners from our property. Never seen so many guns and ammunition in my life. Overall no violence, but a bit concerning to have breakfast with a bunch of uniformed guys carrying weapons.

Farewells, Welcomes and More this Rotation

Wednesday 11 February to Friday 13 March 2015

travellingross rating = 8.5/10

Following 6 relaxing nights in Tobago, I got back to Suriname for the longest rotation yet…

  1. Night 1 on site was farewell party for Matt. Great night as always and people came down from construction camp to celebrate with him at the purple heart exploration camp bar.
  2. Valentine’s day. I told myself I would not go to the bar. But my arm is rubbery and easily twisted. It was Saturday night after all. And I dropped my phone as I got it out of my pocket to show a photo.  Dropped on the top right corner smashing the screen. Devo central. I use my phone for everything in life. Luckily one of the mining engineers had an adapter where I could plug a mouse into the phone and use a curser to navigate around the broken screen. I did this for weeks until my new phone arrived from the USA care of my life saver Ryan.
  3. Melissa started. A colleague and friend since we worked together at Boddington and fresh out of New Zealand. I recruited her to join me in the jungle. After 2 days of exhausting travel to the other side of Earth, I’ve rarely seen someone so pleased to see me as she rolled late into camp at 820pm 16 Feb. Great showing her around and having a fellow Aussie to chat to and someone who instantly knows my work style, method and temperament.
  4. Another expat employee in my group started. His first time out of the USA. Dedicated to erosion and sediment control. Getting new starters mobilised and settled requires a lot of organisation and a fresh thought process for me to share my expat learnings with first timers. Both are coming back for second rotation so I must be doing something right!
  5. Madison’s birthday. Great times. But the construction camp bar is terrible compared to the exploration camp bar. Explo camp might have water/electricity/internet outages all the time, but damn we have the best bar.
  6. Biggest concrete pour to date (400m3)
  7. 1st ore movement in pit
  8. Executives visit. There are not many people I would stay in for. But the top boss for environment and social is one such person. So I extended a week to be at site for the 2 day 10 person delegation from Denver. A couple of tough questions and I gave a couple presentations. But went well and I got positive feedback, mostly related to how relieved Denver is that I am here. They trust me and have confidence in my abilities.

Needless to say I was brain drained at the end of this 32 day rotation. Productive, enjoyable and much better than the last one. The sun is setting later so I have time for walks after work which is nice to break up the days. Longer rotation means shorter break. But I will take days in lieu next break. For now I have 12 days in central America.

2 Rotations and a Christmas

Wednesday 19 November 2014 to Friday 23 January 2015

Work and life has got in the way of me updating this website as often as I would like, but sitting on planes for hours on end gives lots of time to type the words and sort the photos so here’s a snapshot of the last couple months…

Named Myself Employee of the Month This Rotation

Arriving back in Paramaribo from Curacao on 19 November 2014 (with a cheeky stop over in Trinidad to collect more passengers that I was unaware of) I checked in and headed straight to a bar to meet up with people. I’ve embraced the social side much more than when I would come in and out of Accra, Ghana. Various reasons but above all is that Paramaribo is a city I feel much more comfortable in compared to the unpredictability and challenges of getting around Accra.

Overall, I’d give this rotation a 10 out of 10. I arrived back to site and met up with my friend Ryan who I worked with in Ghana. Surreal to see him here. And then Madison came in. Another person I worked with in Ghana and have stayed in contact with the most. A truly awesome person and makes me happy. I like to think I make her happy too, although she would never admit that. A realisation this rotation was that I don’t laugh enough anymore. The last years have been serious and humour in everyday life was harder to find. But I’m pleased to say it’s back. I have laughed so much at this job that tears roll and that’s a rarity these years. Especially at work. I enjoy the team and the balance.

Memorable highlights:

  • Setting up the hydroseeder to revegetate cleared areas with grasses and getting covered in green mulch
  • Getting positive reviews for my work associated with the CEO visit. Always a boost to get a genuine pat on the back.
  • Having significant wins on the recruitment front as I assemble my team that will represent my leadership in the next few years. One of whom is someone I’ve worked with at Boddington and excited to work with again.
  • Man, I’ve never had boots do that to me.
  • Huge ones. Still not seen a sloth though.
  • End of year company function / Christmas party. Interesting experience.

Perth Christmas 

Coming home for Christmas on 18 December 2014 was important to me. Spending time with family after working in Ghana last Christmas was a perfect way to catch everyone in one sitting. Plus after a couple rotations, I had a long list of things I wanted to bring back to Suriname.

It was all good, got my appointments done, socialised, enjoyed the summer weather, saw in the new year with the Bri where we plotted out our resolutions and reflected on our 2014’s over some champagne just like old days.

Montreal, Lost Luggage and Hectic Work Days

Departing Perth 4 January 2015 I arrived in Montreal where it was -20C compared to the Perth max of 44.4C. What a variance! I was in Montreal for a work meeting for 5 days. The journey there was first time in all my travels that my suitcase didn’t make it. It didn’t make the short connection in Jakarta. Getting it delivered to me should’ve been an easy task but for intensely frustrating reasons that I am so sick of talking about, it didn’t and everyday I was given the impression that the bag would be delivered so I didn’t buy more clothes or a jacket. Particularly upsetting cause I had a lot of stuff in that case that I was purposely bringing back to Suriname. To think u would never see it again was depressing. $4k worth of stuff. But the monetary value is of limited concern. I just want my things! The bag is now supposed to be at the Denver airport waiting for me. I type this on the flights to Denver. I have minimal hope but haven’t given up just yet.

This and other personal things came together to make my 3rd rotation less enjoyable than the high of the last one. I haven’t been this busy at work in many years and many tasks in my personal life have taken a back seat. I’m one who pride’s keeping on top of everything so when I’m not, it annoys me and gets me down. Given the time in Montreal and working extra time last rotation meant my site time was shorter. I crammed 3 weeks of work into less than 2. January is always busy with budget updates, systems, planning the year ahead etc. With my high standards, there was a lot I wanted to achieve.

I ticked most of my tasks and still managed to have some fun times. Got to know people better and there’s always new people starting which I like that dynamic nature of construction. And I was finally able to transfer money out of my USA bank account to Australia, got my last year’s tax return for review, watched a brilliant movie ‘Gone Girl’, got 3 extra staff signed up to join my team next month. Looking forward to that. So that’s all helping to get back on track with my “be more positive” NYE resolution.

The best thing about flying a long distance out on break is you have solid time to decompress and unwind from work. I’m excited to see where my friend Matt lives in Denver, go skiing, explore that city I’ve heard so much about over the years since it is headquarters of the company I’ve worked with for 10 years. Stay tuned for that update…it’ll be quicker this time.