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Published: August 13th 2007
Gorgeous Little ChurchThe big bus drove off the barge
In the heart of Boa Vista
and thru knee-high water before rolling to a stop on the red brick road. We showed the tickets we had pre-purchased in Georgetown and got on after the other passengers. Through the big glass window we waved to Matthew, Verlene and Anthony (see Iwokrama blog).
They had come to see us off. The objective was simple: to bus from Kurupukari to Lethem and then cross over the Takatu River to Bonfim in Brazil. If all went well, we could catch the last bus to Boa Vista
- a bigger city. It would be a tough trip but we were up to it. After a quick immigration stop and check at the first of Iwokrama's two ranger stations, we drove for another two hours thru the fantastic Iwokrama forest. Along the way, we met Georgetown-going bus, stuck in the mud. The drivers quickly rigged up a chain and hauled the bus out. The road was deteriorating due to the persistent rain and it was beginning to trouble us.
Thoughts of bad roads and persistent rains dissipated when, like magic, the endless expanse of trees disappeared and in its place was sprawling savannah lands for
as far as the eyes could see. We had heard about the Rupununi Savannahs and its breathtaking beauty. But nothing we had heard or read about could adequately prepare us for the sight. Flat, lush, green grasslands stretched out before and around us and connected with the horizon in the distance. The 8:30 a.m. sun shone brightly in the blue sky which formed the perfect backdrop. This was National Geographic material right here. Fields of grass swayed rhythmically in the wind unfolding different shades of green and gold. It stood in stark juxtaposition to the towering emerald forests but equally impressive albeit in a different kind of way. Then soft, rolling hills and the odd, traditional Amerindian house came into view. Then came super-fat cows and horses, their heads bent as they chomped on the never-ending goodness. They were living it up! We drove over numerous small, wooden 'bridges' which spanned the many waterways crossing the road. At one point Shanna excitedly jabbed Vibert's arm and pointed thru the window. Vibert swiveled around in time to see a real-life giant anteater loping thru the savannah
enroute to one of the many, many ant hills. The animal swaggered leisurely - like
one over-confident, cocky giant reassured of a perennial supply of yummy ants. We had seen an anteater in the zoo but seeing one in its natural habitat was way better. INTRASERV rolled into Rockview's restaurant and rest stop in Annai. The little village sat in the middle of the savannahs. The journey continued after an hour and little bit. Grasslands became wetlands - hundreds of miles of swamp lands chocked full of birds, insects and certainly more than a few camouflaged predators. The ecological balance seemed perfect and undisturbed except maybe for the out-of-place 'Mountain Dew' advertisement billboards.
It took all of nine minutes to drive thru Lethem - the quaint little border town and Guyana's southwest end. We'd stop to see what Lethem had to offer on the return trip. The immigration officer at the Police Station looked like he lacked sleep but he helped us out before the long line of Brazilians. The crossing was five minutes away and it didn't look like an 'official' port of departure at all. A few rough-cut, muddy stairs led down to the river where rickety canoes with motors waited. Some ingenious boat captains had even converted lawn mowers into outboard
engines. While we swapped G$ for R$ (Reais - the new Brazilian currency), a familiar face appeared. She was Geraldine and she had seen us at Iwokrama. Geraldine was a God-send because she travelled frequently to Brazil and she knew the language, bus times and stops and prices. With Guyana on our right and Brazil on the left, we started up the Takatu River. Five minutes later, the landing on the Brazilian side appeared as did the concrete-and-steel frames of the bridge which will formalize the link between Guyana and Brazil. At first glance, it seemed that Brazil was way more interested in the nexus since construction on the Brazilian side was way more advanced than on the Guyana side. The bow of the boat rode up on the embankment, we disembarked, paid the G$300 fare per person and surveyed the surroundings. We had made it to Brazil.
BRAZIL, NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NAAAAAA!!!
The Brazil landing area seemed just as 'unofficial' as Guyana's - only busier. Workmen were high above on the bridge, taxi drivers were playing dominoes under a tree and entrepreneurs barbecued in the in the 2:00 pm afternoon sun. Geraldine was off
Boa Vista -Brazil
to one side bargaining with a taxi driver who wanted to overcharge us. In the end, we took to walking to the modern immigration office which was five minutes away. Just before immigration we had to pay a little visit to a Public Health trailer and hand over our Yellow Fever vaccination card. Without it, we would either have been administered the vaccination or refused entry into the country of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. Big, ugly stamps in our passports legitimized our stay and a more reasonable taxi driver drove us the 5km to the Amatur Tours bus terminal in Bonfim proper. Still in time to catch the 2:00 pm bus to Boa Vista, we bought open return tickets since they were cheaper than single fares. They set us back R$ 13 per person (about USD 6.50) for the 120 km ride. We settled into cushiony seats with cramped legroom and before Shanna fell asleep she commented to Vibert that Brazil's highway was way superior to the trails we had just left in Guyana. The beautiful savannahs continued many miles in Brazil. Off to the left we saw mountains rise sharply above the flat and then the dark of sleep swept
and Guyana's lack thereof
The bus jerked to a stop. A grungy tin sign tacked to a grungier wall read: 'Avenida Guyana'. Below the sign were piles of overflowing garbage bags. Vibert was not amused. A few minutes later we pulled into Boa Vista's international bus terminal. We bid goodbye to Geraldine and paid double fare to the city center just because it was a public holiday. It was 4:00 pm and, true to form, we did not yet have a place to stay
. Our dilemma magnified when we tried to ask the driver to take us to a budget hotel in the center. Shanna, with a combination of 10%!P(MISSING)ortuguese and 90%!S(MISSING)panish, somehow managed and we were deposited at Hotel Monte Libano. They charged us R$40 (USD 20) per night and we booked one night. Monte Libano was a horrid, dark, wet, stinky place.
😞 The room was clean-ish but we quickly spread our emergency sheet over the bed and pillows and stowed our stuff on the bare table and the refrigerator. We wouldn't risk opening the fridge. There was no telling what was in there. With a 'secret' trap set and our door closed, we sterilized our hands and
headed out for a look-around the neighbourhood.
Boa Vista is the capital of the Brazilian state of Roraima. Translating to "Nice Sight" or "Nice View", Boa Vista is some 6,000 km from Rio de Janeiro. The name Roraima derives from the mountain Roraima which stands at the point where the boundaries of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana meet. About 9 miles (14 km) long and 9,094 feet (2,772 metres) high, the giant flat-top mesa is the source of many rivers of Guyana, and of the Amazon and Orinoco river systems.
The town was built on a slightly sloping hill. It was quiet for a Monday, especially at 5 pm. But then maybe it had something to do with the holiday - the town's anniversary (not sure which anniversary). The town was regular and without a specific architectural styling. Churches of different denominations were very present including the huge and ultra-modern Assembleia De Deus. Our wanderings took us thru a semi-seedy part of town and to the market. The market itself was a ram-shackle collection of old wooden stalls hanging precariously over a broad, brown river. It, too, was quiet except for a few fishermen milling around. One fisherman hailed
us up. He spoke broken English and we were glad that he did. We asked the name of river and he said 'Rio Branco' and promptly invited us to take a ride in his boat. Vibert caught a nervous, hesitant glance from Shanna and he declined the offer. But the man was persistent, very persistent
. He beckoned incessantly as another man climbed aboard and then a two-year old boy. Against our better judgment we piled into the speedboat. The afternoon sun washed the river and trees in a rich, golden hue making a perfect setting for a river cruise.
Away in the distance, two peaks soared into the clouds and fishpots bobbed in the water. This river was fed by Guyana's Takatu and it sustained the lives of indigenous peoples and many other who depended on it for food and water. The fisherman zigzagged the boat up the river while telling us more about the river and forest and city and fishing. He made a u-turn just before we got worried and soon we were back at the market. With "obrigados" we walked away but not before he invited us to go fishing with him at 10 am the next
day. We were hungry and we went in search of food. As night fell, we ate an interesting meal of white cheese, maizaina, plantains, fish and white rice across from a gorgeous little church. And we found the townsfolk too. They were all sardined on the church lawn for the traditional anniversary church service. In the dark we navigated back to the hotel only to find that our bedroom light didn't work but that the bathroom light did work. That was no comfort though as we found water leaking from an unknown source above thru the roof of the bathroom and running into the bedroom. We grabbed a pillow from an open room on the ground floor and stuffed it against the bathroom door to stop the flow into our room. The obsolete AC coughed dust into the room and sounded like a parade of tin soldiers. We doubted that it would cool the space but, since it was included in the price and since it was a hot night, we decided to use it anyway. With a 'security alarm' rigged up against the main door, we squeezed our eyes shut willing sleep and daylight to come.
Bonfim - Brazil
next morning we checked out of Monte Libano and walked a block-and-a-half to Hotel Formula 1. We had checked it out the day before and thought that R$ 69 was not bad at all. Breakfast was included and so there was a pool. Rain cancelled any thoughts we had of going fishing and it was probably a good thing because we still had doubts about it. We bought bread, cheese and milk from a supermarket and trudged thru the soggy streets. With the entire morning lost to rain, there was not much left to do. We didn't want to go to Manaus cause that was another 12-hour bus ride but there was precious little to do in these parts. So we strolled the afternoon away thru the city and chilled out at Orla Taumanan - a super-attractive complex filled with music and restaurants and park benches overlooking the Rio Branco. Lots of people were chilling but none so chill as the guy in a life-jacket who was a quarter of the way out in the river just floating around with a plastic bottle of liquor. 😱
With only a week left before we flew from Guyana to England, we
decided to return home. When the 2 pm bus left the international bus terminal the next day enroute to Bonfim, we were on board. And in the pouring rain we rode up the Takatu river and landed on the 'unofficial' port of entry at Lethem.
We'd be the first to admit that our brief foray into Brazil did not do justice to a territory so grand, spontaneous and diverse. The incomparable Amazon Jungle, fantastic beaches, world famous carnival and the leading footballers of the world all call brazil 'home'. But a dwindling budget, little time and tired bodies all combined to reduce our adventure here. All in all, we came, we saw and we left with enough to create an insatiable desire to return.
😊 The nameless fisherman
😊 The immigration officer at Lethem
😊 Mommy for letting us use her Camera on this trip!
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