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Published: August 20th 2007
The immigration officer looked up from the Brazilian passport he was leafing thru
. His eyes were still red but they registered surprise to see us back again so quickly. He had stamped us out to Brazil only three days before. Again, we got preferential treatment before the file of waiting Brazilians and while he stamped us back in into Guyana he complained about working non-stop since 7 am. It was 5 pm on a Wednesday and raining. The plan was to overnight in Lethem, explore the neighbourhood and nearby ranches all day the next day and then catch INTRASERV's 10 pm bus back to Georgetown. The officer heard our plans and said: "Ya'll better talk to dem guys outside. They say de road wash away". Our worst fears had materialized. We dreaded being stuck 600 km from home especially since we had only a week left in Guyana. Rushing out of the Lethem Police Station, we approached the three gentleman standing between two parked 16-seater mini-buses.
"Wha' happening wid de road nuh?". Vibert could switch in and out the Guyanese creolese dialect easily.
"Part wash way. Truck got to pull we over", one driver volunteered. "If ya'll goin', we gotta go
Port of entry
Guyana's entry point from Brazil
now cause de truck waiting and we got to cross before dark. We leavin' in a hour".
And, just like that, our plans changed. We'd have to see Lethem on another trip. We were going home. A flexible couple, we are! The bus took us first to a restaurant/packing station. Another bus was being loaded. The 20 other people present had nervous, worried looks on their face. The other bus finished and left
. It was already getting dark. Our driver looked familiar to Vibert and after a couple of:'which school you went to and a: you know so and so?', it was confirmed that David, the driver, was Vibert's first cousin. David jumped on the roof of the bus and packed bag after bag on makeshift roof-racks. Over the bags he placed a tarpaulin as protection against the rain and strapped it down securely. Four jerry cans of fuel completed the pile up. The bus sagged under the weight as we climbed in. The passengers were an interesting lot. David, Vibert and a loud, big-boned lady, who threw expletives in rapid succession, were the only Guyanese. Shanna, four Brazilian men and four Brazilian women completed the passenger manifest. The women
- all young and attractive - were employees in the sex industry heading over to supply Georgetown's apparent demand for their skills. We checked in again
at immigration and then customs and finally at the gas station. There, the other passengers decided to purchase enough beer and rum to drunk a small village and David complied with their request for music. "Pepperseed' - an old-school Dance Hall album, and an apparent favorite, blared thru the speakers at an ear-shattering decibel. Vibert and Shanna exchanged glances: this was going to be a looooooooooooong trip!!!
It was about 7:15 p.m. and pitch black when we really started the drive. The other bus had left over an hour ago. We were alone in an uncommon darkness - the kind where you couldn't see your hand if you held it up one inch before your eyes. But then again, we were driving thru 'nothingness'. We knew from the trip up that beside, in front of and all around us, were the wetlands of the Rupununi Savannahs but we couldn't see a thing. We wondered whether the truck was still there to pull us thru and whether the other bus had made it safely
Packing the gear
David on top of the bus
across. Fifteen minutes outside of Lethem, we were about to find out. Our bus pulled to a stop. The music stopped and so too did the irritating sing-a-long. The air grew tense. You could almost hear the increased thump-thumping of our hearts. Red brakes lights and then white reverse lights appeared in front of us. The lights gave away that the truck must have been at least three times the height of our bus.The truck backed up into position. The clinking of chains marked the point of no return
. We were tied to the big bush truck and it was about to go down. With a slight jerk, the bus started to roll. Water inched up the tires with every centimeter we progressed. Soon, the wheels were covered. What was a road three days ago was now a fast-flowing river. And here we were, all helpless, being dragged thru it in a tin can. If we could have seen them, our knuckles would look white. One minute in, Vibert stuck his hand thru the window and into the water. The bus was almost half-covered. Water was marginally below the window line 😱.
And just when we thought that this
would be the premature end to the world tour, the red brick road appeared. Oh, what a sight it was! This beautiful red brick road. Everyone broke out in applause and from the smell of it, some person or persons unknown, passed some noxious gas. In the midst of our celebrations, the road again morphed into a river. This time, we were being dragged around a turn. David was kind enough
to mention that we were now going over a submerged bridge. We clenched our jaws and squeezed our spincters for what seemed like an eternity until the brake lights of the truck jolted us from the umpteenth repetition of the 'Our Father'
. And then the party started in earnest. Alcohol and adrenaline made for a messy combination. The passengers/revellers screamed and yelled and tried to sing Jamaican dance hall music in Portugese. Beer cans and rum bottles passed back and forth and 'Pepperseed' was revived but at a much higher level. The Guyanese girl straddled the skinniest Brazilian man in the backseat and 'backballed' wildly. Vibert screamed above the racket to one of the nocturnal professionals to extinguish a cigarette she had just started puffing. Her eyes had the
vacant glare of alcohol colliding with brain cells and she had to be instructed by David to put the cigarette out. We had instant and simultaneous headaches and we knew it wouldn't subside since we had many hours to go. Shanna reached into her handbag and grabbed a piece of toilet paper (always travel with toilet paper), balled it up and stuffed her ears hoping to block out the noise. Vibert followed suit. It helped and as upset as we were about the disturbance, we were just happy to be alive. "Surely, the worst was past", we thought. And right then, the bus started to buck. In the drag-thru, water had seeped into the distributor causing the engine to lose power. David kept his foot on the accelerator and we bucked down the road until the water burned out.
Half-an-hour later we pulled up alongside a stationary bus. It was the one that had departed early. The driver told us that his radiator hose was cut but that he had a spare. We couldn't help so we left them there in the dark. But why would he have a spare radiator hose?
. The question wouldn't leave us alone. Did
this type of thing happen often? Was it standard operational procedure? And then, the bucking started again. It was now about 9:30 pm. The bus slowed to a crawl and then died altogether, well at least the music was still on and as loud as ever. The drinkers took the opportunity to relieve themselves by the roadside while David pleaded with the engine to turn over. It did but not before the other bus passed us again. But it seemed that all the bucking, or maybe it was the beer, had made the passengers' bowels weak. We stopped, on average, every 45 minutes or so for a toilet break. Inwardly, we fumed just wanting this journey to end as soon as possible. A little after 11 pm, after about 3-and-a-half hours of driving, we pulled into the Rockview restaurant and rest stop at Annai. The other bus was already there and the passengers were making themselves comfortable. We'd have to sleep here tonight. It seemed impossible. The tv was showing football and Brazil was playing. People were buying food and hot tea and chattering excitedly about the first, eventful leg of the journey. Shanna unfolded her sleeping bag on a
At Iwokrama ranger station
table top, took off her boots and tied them at the foot of the table, sprayed on insect repellent and prepared to try and sleep. A wierd Amerindian dude, who was obviously high on something, signalled her from across the room to go make bed with him somewhere in the darkness. She buried her head between her hands and squeezed her eyes shut. Vibert climbed up onto the table top too. The football match ended. The place got quieter. The wierdo left and the lights were extinguished. It was 12:30 am. The hard tabletop felt divine to our tired bodies. If we would count the travelling from Brazil, we were already on the road for 12 hours non-stop. The sweet peace of sleep came.
Vibert's watch beeped at 3:15 a.m. Some people were already stirring. Our plan was to leave Annai at 3:30 and get to the entrance to the Iwokrama forest just in time for its opening. The road thru the protected forest was closed at night but opened at 4 am. This would allow the right amount of time for buses to reach in time for the first crossing at 6 am. Our bodies were cramped from
the cold. In the morning dew, we trudged to the waiting bus and off we went. The boozers all had serious hangovers and so it was a quieter trip. The road showed visible signs of greater deterioration but, this time, everything went well. Both buses made it in time for the crossing. We stepped out onto the barge and watched the silent river in the cool, pure 6 a.m. breeze. This was something difficult to describe. Serenity and beauty combined. We filled our lungs with the freshest oxygen and blessed the day we decided to start this grand adventure. Safe on the other side, we all stopped at the nearby restaurant for breakfast. It was hard going when we started again. We drove thru big puddles of stagnant water unaware of how deep it actually was and what lay beneath. The bus hydroplaned a few times on the mud. This one time, David rounded a corner too fast and lost control of the vehicle. We careened dangerously close to the rock face, zigzagging uncontrollably before the bus righted itself. Everyone screamed. Little by little it became a smoother trip going for a few hours and then the bucking started again.
This time, it was the air filter that killed the bus. Red mud and other filth had fouled it up. David had a spare filter 😊 and soon we were on the way. Further up, cut out again. The spark plugs were to blame. David cleaned them and then using the spare silicone 😊 he sealed them properly. We made up time, passing the other bus. It was going just right and then ... a fallen tree blocked the roadway
. Now, this was not a tree we could cut, or lift, or move or drive over. Somehow, the biggest, longest tree possible was now blocking the road. And it was raining, to boot.😞
Vibert donned his bright orange raincoat and climbed out with the rest of the men. Shanna, not one to miss the action, slipped into her raincoat and stepped out of the dry, warm bus. The other ladies were 'too prissy' to get wet.
After the realisation sunk in that we were at least 2 hours away from anybody who could help and we got tired of sitting in the bus without making any headway we confered on a solution. Cutting a trail thru the bushes and
around the fallen tree was proposed and Vibert, armed with a machete, started hacking a tiny opening off to the right. It was looking promising. The ground was hard and trees were small. David took over and then observed that two other fallen trees were blocking the proposed exit for our new trail. The other bus came and we talked about driving all the way back to the river to get a chainsaw from the camp there and cut the tree. But that was a serious drive in the wrong direction and then we'd have to take the saw back. We scratched that as an option; no gas station nearby to make up for the loss of fuel for this additional trip. Then someone suggested building a ramp over the tree. Everyone became excited and we started gathering sticks and logs and twigs and piled them up on both sides of the tree. Some of the men from the second bus came out to help. Guyanese and Brazilians and one British bloke worked side-by-side in the pouring rain until a feasible ramp was built. It took us an hour. At one point Shanna, machete in hand, advanced on the second
bus and ''asked''
the other gentlemen to come out and help. The shame of a lady working hard (or the machete threat) did the trick and soon everyone was on board except, of course, for the Brazilian women.
Finally, they too had to exit the bus when David was ready to try and drive over the ramp. The first attempt was a dismal failure. We had placed the ramp too far left of the road and the bus got stuck in the mud even before he hit the ramp (see the videos above)
. All attempts to use manpower to extract the bus failed. We decided to use the second bus to pull us out. But that idea came with its own challenges. You see, that bus could no longer start on its own and needed a push-start. We push-started and then tied it to our bus. When the driver released the clutch to reverse, the bus died. We had to untie the buses and push-start again.😱 Finally, the pull-out worked. We moved the ramp to a more solid location and prepared for Take Two. Then Take Three, Four and Five! At last, the bus hit the ramp at the
right speed and location. People were soaked to the bone but they were pushing and pulling. The Brazilian ladies converted palm leaves into umbrellas and looked on. A roar went up as the front wheels of the bus cleared the tree. But it was short-lived. The bus sat squarely in the middle of the tree unable to budge any further
. We groaned! A burly Brazilian cut a sturdy, lengthy piece of wood and we used it as a lever. It would take another half-an-hour of brute force before we were able to raise the bus. The final lift forced the back of the bus up almost at a 45-degree angle and over the tree
. People were screaming and hugging and shouting. Almost two hours of back-breaking, coordinated work between people who did not speak the same language ( english and portuguese) had paid off. We sped off after pulling the second bus over. Surely, our drama had to be over. But it wasn't. 😞 Linden was more than four hours away but the terrain was already becoming more hilly. And we didn't have the power to climb the hills. 😊 So, at every hill, we emptied out the bus and
walked up the hill. There was this one hill, Devil's hill, which was so steep that the bus started sliding backwards. We struggled to climb and a few minutes later David came roaring uphill with new-found speed and power. He said that when he turned off the music, the bus gained power. It was about 2 pm and we were already on this journey for 15 hours (not counting the three hours in Brazil). It couldn't be much longer now til Linden.
"I'll be so happy to see Linden", Shanna said as we passed a truck hopelessly stuck in a puddle. Then the exhaust box collapsed
.😞 Vibert slid under the bus with David and helped him to strap the box back into position. Thankfully, there was no more drama and we reached Linden at 4:00 pm. Confident that our power troubles were over, David plugged in 'Pepperseed' again and bypassed the last police checkpoint. About 45 minutes into the drive to town, we were stopped at a police checkpoint on the Linden Highway. The cop was angry that we had disregarded the Linden checkpoint. Thankfully, he gave us a warning and let us pass. 😊
'Pops' never looked
so good than when he came to pick us up in Georgtown after 6 pm. We had been travelling for more than 28 hours combined. And although we didn't have as much fun as we had anticipated in Brazil, this road trip back provided all the excitement we missed. To date, it rates as the most excitement we've had in a bus. Period!
😊 The Brazilian men who actually worked
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