Published: October 8th 2007July 5th 2007
Pieter living on the edge
We arrived in Guyana close on midnight. It was easy to get a taxi. US$22. It was a 45 minute ride and we arrived in 30 minutes. Our driver sped like a mad bugger. We were grateful it was late and there was nobody much to get in his way. Arriving at the Sleepin Guest House on George St we noticed the driver also received additional payment from the desk.
The hotel was very new. The room was nice and had a good size bathroom. This hotel and others had been built for the March Cricket World Cup. It was US$41 per night with breakfast, not bad.
After a little sleep in (get the pun?) we enjoyed a fab breaky that included peanut butter! This set us up for our first day walking around Georgetown. The old wooden buildings were beautiful. Unfortunately many were in bad repair. We walked through a little market area. Permanent little shacks sitting between 2 canals. Many were closed but there were hair dressers, bakeries, and a little rasta shop. Mostly we passed without comment through the streets but there were definitely a few crazys in this town. Not sure what they said but
The magnificent church. The second largest wooden structure in the world and the largest wooden church in the world
we didn't fancy asking them to repeat themselves. The streets were very busy and while most activities were approached with a practiced slowness, driving was something we already discovered they do much quicker. We had to pick our time to cross the streets which were not controlled by lights.
The best and most expensive thing to do in Guyana is to the visit the Kaieteur Falls. A 5 day trip overland would cost US$700 each but we didn't have the desire nor the time to do such a long journey. For US$230 you could take a flying day trip that would include Orinduik Falls as well. We met a German guy who was doing the longer trip. We got a few tips from him about Suriname and French Guiana. The agency credit card machine was not working so we had to retrieve the equivalent in Guyana dollars to pay in cash. Considering largest Guyana note is worth only US$5 this meant carrying a huge wad of cash back from the bank. A dodgy town in which to be carrying huge wads of cash. Still, it was safely delivered. The next tour we arranged was to the Dutch Fort on
A government building, most likely the Ministry of Justice
the Essequibo river. We went to Wonderland Tours
to arrange it. Alicia was very helpful and by the end of day she had confirmed a trip would go the next day. Her father was a pioneer of tourism in Guyana and she was following in his footsteps. Funny thing was that she arranged it through another tour agency, and we would be going to Kaieteur with her agency which we arranged through another agency. The agencies here operate like a network, helping you to get the tour you want. It was lovely.
Made tired by all the walking and arranging and mostly by the heat, we decided to go to the movies in the afternoon, taking advantage of the second english speaking country to be visiting on this trip. The Astor Cinema is entirely made from wood. Daylight seeped through the gaps between planks and around the fans poking through the wall. The outside was white but the inside was painted a pale blue and there were only a few bare bulbs to illuminate the theatre. We took a box seat in the balcony. Sitting in the stalls would have meant a bony wooden seat. It was 3 times
the price but at US$1.50 it wasn't going to break the bank. There weren't that many people there and the movie started without any ads. Refreshing. The movie we saw was not the one we expected according to the notice outside which was a little confusing. But it didn't matter, it was still good even though it was a few years old. It was 'The Punisher' with John Travolta as the bad guy. And he was a good bad guy.
We were collected at 7am the next day for the Dutch Fort tour. Our guide was Eugene, a lovely fella who was a teacher of journalism during the week. On the way we passed over the famous Demerara Harbour Bridge which is the world's fourth-longest floating bridge. It is over a mile long and you clatter across the metal grill surface. And the bridge could retract along its length to allow big boats through. An ingenious construction.
At Parika we got a colourful little boat with perhaps 10 other people. The other tourists were from Guyana or formally from Guyana, now living in Trinidad or the USA.
It was a 15 minute ride to the Dutch Fort.
The fruit stall
We clambered off at a muddy bank and took a muddy route to the fort. Some complained. Hmm. Probably shouldn't have worn their brand new white sneakers. Fort Zeelandia was a ruin. An odd diamond shape, it had holes for canons and guns. The bricks were distinctly Dutch. All boggy now, a path had been put in between the fort and the museum. On the way a man held up an onion shaped dutch bottle to sell, and a girl had some beads to sell. The museum was new, only opened in February. But the building was the oldest standing structure in Guyana. A Dutch church, it had been restored to its former glory and was definitely worth preserving.
We chugged up river to an Amerindian settlement. Very hohum. Just wandering in, had a word, took a photo of the kids (that were cute), and off again. Just as we left the rain in. When you are speeding along in an open boat a downpour is like being shot with a pellet gun over and over. The boat cunningly came with large heavy yellow leather sheets, heavy so they wouldn't fly away. Holding the sheet up was a struggle
The Astor theatre. Old and cool
but at least we didn't get soaked. The rain soon passed. Pieter was offered Vodka at 10 am by a fellow tourist on the boat, a loud guy from the USA. It would have been rude to say no.
We stopped at Fort Kyk Over Al. This was the site from which the Dutch first administered the country, built in 1616. Not much left now. 'Kyk Over Al' means 'Look over all', an obvious reference to its situation on an island at the mouth of the Mazaruni River.
We then stopped at a little island where we went for a short walk to a waterfall where a few people went in for a water massage. On the way we crossed a little bridge that Eugene called 'disaster' because it was a disaster waiting to happen. The bridge was sitting at an awkward angle and was close to falling down. Eugene figured they would replace it after someone hurts themselves. Funny thing was, while we were at the waterfall someone had hammered a small log across the river as a hand rail. It helped.
Then we went to Baganara Resort. A small tropical island with sandy beaches and
The broom man
palm trees and beautiful colonial buildings. There we enjoyed a nice buffet lunch. We could have gone for a swim but slept instead in the comfy lounge seating, watched a Kiskadee (common little yellow bird) for a while and played a bit of ping pong. They had had a famous visitor, Mick Jagger. It was a lovely place to relax for the afternoon.
On the way back to Parika it rained and rained and the water was choppy, so just like in Miami Vice we were bounced off the wooden seats which each wave we collided with. Bums and backs suffered minor injuries but it was kind of fun. We leaped out of the boat and jumped on the bus but it was raining so hard that the water followed us into the bus. We were wet and exhausted by the time we got back to Georgetown, but it was great fun and an interesting trip.
The next day we were off to the Kaieteur Falls. The loud guy from yesterday and his family were also on this tour. The bus followed a very bumpy dirt road around the back of the airport to a military hanger with
Inside the church
some big military fellas in inconsistent uniform with big guns. They had repainted some military planes to carry passengers. We saw one plane leave then had to wait for ages while our plane taxied off to get fuel somewhere on the other side of the airport.
Once we were in the air it took one hour to get to the falls. The view was all clouds and forest. Before we landed we caught sight of Kaieteur. Because of all the recent rail the fall was in full glory. The only buildings visible were those at the runway. After the short landing we met our guide and off we went. The guide was unenthusiastic and quiet but he told us a little about the local flora and fauna, namely the bromeliads and the little golden dart-poison frogs found on them. Oh .. he also told us to be careful of snakes. Gratefully we saw the frog and no snakes.
Our first view was a distance away but you could see the power. The brown water (brown due to the organic content) spilling over the edge and turning to white foam. The next view was a little closer. For the
Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology
final view we walked in the forest and it was very pretty. We emerged next to the water just as it tips over the edge. A raging torrent. Not as loud as I would have thought. It was probably noisier at the bottom. We got the classic shot of Pieter standing on the overhang. Not somewhere I was keen on standing.
After a nice lunch at the airfield we took the quick 15 minute flight to Orinduik. This was more populated. There were amerindians here and instead of a dense forest there was a vast man-made savanna. First thing we noticed as we followed the guide to the base of the falls was the sandflies. Millions of the buggers! The water falls were not high but they were wide and spectacular, especially with the immense amount of water going over them. It was possible to have a water massage but we didn't fancy risking falling into the swollen river. We walked around the rocks until we were in front of the falls and could feel the spray. If you swam across the river, you would be in Brazil. A lovely spot but we didn't last long because of the
A lovely building
sandflies, we just hoofed it back to the plane looking for sanctuary. But the sandflies had found their way inside the plane as well. But mostly they were just flittering against the windscreen looking for a way out.
The next day we explored Georgetown. We started with the big white wooden church which was beautiful outside but surprisingly more beautiful inside. Tudor style panels, lovely gilding and stain glass windows. Also a electronair (electric chandelier) donated by Queen Victoria. There was also a crazy indian muttering at us.
As the rain came in, we dashed into the National Museum. It was free but we gave a donation. A half or more of the museum was closed for renovation. On the ground floor was a collection of asian objects .. elephants and boxes. A great collection of dolls from around the world, including New Zealand Maoris. There were some model cars and one real Rolls Royce. In the back was a temporary exhibition of photos about China hosting the 2008 Olympics. Some fantastic photos. Upstairs was the usual stuffed animal collection and some faded butterflies. Funny thing was the stuffed black cayman. It was actually painted black.
Another beautiful building
stop was the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology. It is a beautiful colonial house stuffed with anthropological objects. The collection needed a bit of work but the house was very pretty and in a good condition.
We walked in the rain back towards the market. On the path between the canals men were selling old dutch bottles. The market was busy. Lots of the usual clothes and shoes and cell phone accessories. The old covered market area had meat and veg and groceries. Right next to the market is the water. You could imagine it in the old days with goods delivered by water.
It was funny to see the minivan drivers fighting over passengers. One poor lady was being tugged back and forth. And they bothered us too, assuming they were going somewhere we wanted to go. But we walked. We trotted all the way down North Road to the National Art Gallery, another lovely old building. As we entered a fat security lady approached us, spitting out the window on the way. Charming. Some nice stuff in the gallery, only a couple of rooms.
At the Botanic Gardens we saw some humps in the water
that must have been the Manatees that we were told lived there. The zoo was sad. Rusty old cages too small for their occupants. The poor lion barely had space to stretch out while lying down. The aquarium was funny .. not because of the dirty water or poor lighting but because of the loud reggae and some guys playing cards instead of taking care of the fish .. if there were any.
There are a few good restaurants in Georgetown. Near our hotel was the Dutch Bottle with good service and food in a pleasant old building. And then there was the Cara Lodge, very posh old hotel with lots of old dutch bottles around the walls and a tropical fish tank. We went there with Bruce the biologist. He was a frog man, very adventurous, heading off deep into the jungle to discover new species.
It is true that Georgetown is dangerous at night but you just take taxis. And except for a few crazy people, we didn't feel threatened at all. We were left with nothing but good memories of Guyana.
There are more photos below