June 2011. It was time to wander. A month before, I had been reading about Columbia, thinking I wanted to go back to South America. Late one night, I was playing around with ideas in that part of the world. For some reason, I started reading about the capitol of Guyana, Georgetown. I thought for a minute. What did I know about this country? The answer was almost nothing. I did know a little. Most people have heard of the Jamestown cult murders in the 1970s. My father knows antique bottle dealers in a few places in the Caribbean, one guy he knows lives in Guyana. The bottles my father has bought from him come wrapped in the local Guyana newspaper, the headlines are not the greatest, painting a picture of a country that can be unpredictable. My father had told me about these.
Cautious and intrigued, I started researching this country I knew almost nothing about. I learned that only 4000 tourists a year travel to Guyana, most of them wealthy birdwatchers who fly in and stay at exclusive eco lodges, checking off many birds on their birding list, the country is quite famous for that. Besides this, there
seemed to be almost NO travel or backpacker culture. My eyes opened a little wider. Soon after, I learned that 65% of the country is virgin jungle, the highest percentage in the world. I learned that Guyana had spectacular waterfalls, delicious food, fascinating cultural makeup, preserved indigenous cultures, colonial architecture, excellent rum and top notch flora and fauna. I tried to order a Lonely Planet guide book online, it didn't exist. After much research, I found a British published Brandt remote travel guide that had just been published 2 years before by a guy who lived in the country for a year when his partner was working with an NGO in the bush. I somehow found the author’s email and for weeks communicated with him and got ideas. Thanks Kirk Smock! You for sure helped me to Guyana.
Next I somehow wanted to figure out how to get to the interior of Guyana and experience the amazing indigenous cultures of the Rupununi savannah area. With no traveler culture, how was that possible? I love to research travel, one night late on my laptop I thought of checking with the "couch surfer" websites, sites set up for people to share
rooms all over the world. Much to my surprise, I found 12 people in Guyana on one of the sites, a couple of them Western aid workers in remote parts of the country. One guy, Sergio from Valencia, Spain, was in the exact area I wanted to go. He welcomed any visitors who might be coming through, none had made it yet. On a whim, I sent him an email. Much to my surprise, I got one back the next day! Sergio seemed completely open to me coming to visit, many weeks later I learned that my sister Annie might be able to come on the trip and was welcome too. Sergio put me in touch with the family he was staying with, they said they would string up some hammocks for us; we could share food with the household and stay in their village of Wowetta with them. What an amazing opportunity was unfolding! One night, feeling bold, I bought my ticket, commitment is everything. I learned soon after that Sergio was in the country for two years with VSO, an international aid organization. He told me more about the project he was spearheading, called The Village Cinema Project.
He and trained volunteers from the area provided solar panels and flip phone video cameras to five remote villages in the North Rupununi, encouraging villagers to film their culture and events in their lives. The stated goal of this project is to have this program become self-sustaining, letting them sell the videos they make at indigenous festivals. I believe that the unstated goal is to provide a body of work that may help attract the attention of major environmental aid organizations interested in ecosystem and indigenous culture survival. In a nutshell, Guyana is very traditional, with mostly pure nature. It is under emerging threats from Brazilian, Canadian and other powerful mining and timber companies.
So, the plan was made. We would spend time in the interior, the hinterlands and sort out the rest as it developed. I packed my bags, got supplies together and on a sunny Seattle day in mid June, flew to NYC to meet my sister. There is a Guyanese community of about 100,000 in NYC; Delta has direct flights to Georgetown Guyana. I waited at the gate with all the Guyanese, Annie skipped up with a big smile on her face and pulled a beer
out of her bag and gave it to me. Great to see her, she had spent six hours in the terminal after coming in from Nashville where she lives, drank beers and hung out with some cool professional Danish poker players coming back from Vegas. I gave her a bear hug, great to see her and amazing that we would get to travel together for the first time as adults. Our redeye flight took off, coasted past the Manhattan skyline and headed south. Of course, I was so excited, I slept not a wink.
The people on our plane were a mixture of African and India descent. The Africans were brought as slaves to work the sugar plantations, the people from India as indentured servants once the African-Guyanese were freed in the mid 1800s. This was a British colony, the only English speaking one in South America. The accents on our plane were not easy to understand, sounded like very strong Jamaican accents. The people asked us what we were doing, if we were aid workers or missionaries, we said “no” and they looked truly surprised, told them we were just going to travel and learn about their country.
Many of the people on the plane were Guyanese who moved to NYC years ago going back to visit home.
Some quick stats: population 42% African descent, 42% from India, about 8% Amerindian indigenous. As you can imagine, the spiritual beliefs are primarily Hindi, Christianity and Animism. The music is blaring and excellent: soca, reggaetown, Caribbean hip hop. The food splendid: intense delicious curry and roti everywhere, Caribbean food like jerk chicken, pepperpot, great seafood. The indigenous people eat bush meat, fish and the main staple of their diet, cassava. The beer is cold and tasty, the rum the best in the world. Markets are overflowing with exotic fruits; cricket is the national sport, smiles everywhere.
We came low over the North coast of South America in the early 6:30 morning light, stretched out before us, on the corner of a big river and the Atlantic Ocean; we caught the first of Georgetown. The roofs were colorful, streets bustling; we carried on to the international Cheddai Jagan airport 30 miles to the south. We touched town, the people on our plane seemed excited to be back to their homeland. We walked off the plane into warm sunny skies
and very humid, fragrant air. After the stories about safety, we were apprehensive, guarded. How funny this would be weeks later when we got back to the airport to fly home! We grabbed our bags, sailed through immigration and met a nice driver to take us to town.
One of the crazy ideas I had in the days before our trip was to go to the next country over, Suriname. I had brought the forms to fill out for visas to fill out on the plane. We had four hours to kill before our flight to the interior so had our driver take us direct to the Suriname Embassy in Georgetown, hoping to get a Suriname visa. The lady at the gate to the old colonial structure was a hard ass, she rudely said “it not visa day”, almost slamming the door on us. We realized that this was our only chance, I begged, pleaded, finally I think she got tired of me and let me come in to talk with the woman at the desk. As is often the case, if you can get past the screener, good things happen. The woman at the desk, of East Indian
descent, was notably more kind and impressed that we had the application filled out. She had us sit in a very hot room, after an hour or so she amazingly emerged with our visas, $50 for one time visit!
We had a quick look at the one traveler hostel in Georgetown, told them we would be back in a week, hopped a quick ride to Ogle Domestic Airport and walked out to the bush plane; a 12 seater. I asked the pilot if my sister could ride in the jump seat, she looked very surprised, smiled that giggly Annie smile that lights up the room, and jumped in the seat, wide eyed as we took off and headed over lush jungle.
We flew, amazingly, 1 ½ hours over almost virgin jungle. There were occasional small mining operations but hardly anything broke the vast expanse of nature. Suddenly, the jungle ended abruptly and we were flying over immense savannahs, mostly flooded because of terrible rains that had come recently. 90% of the population of Guyana is on the north coast; below we saw scattered small indigenous villages and not much else besides rivers and the blazing sun. Where were
we, this place was hauntingly beautiful?
Our plane dropped lower and buzzed in to land at the little frontier town called Lethem of about 5,000 people on the Brazil border, an outpost with a few stores, a new bridge to Brazil (which we’ll talk about later), an airstrip. This area, besides the obvious Amerindian presence, had a few bizarrely interesting people of European descent, an area known for huge cattle ranches and people living exceptional lives. This is also the home of the famous Lethem Rodeo each year; the place had a real wild west feel to it.
After grabbing a quick roti bread, some sodas and two bottles of rum we thought we’d need later, just the two of us and the pilot took off for the much more remote airstrip at Annai. 30 minutes later, we spiraled down and landed in the middle of nowhere, one guy with a small cart helped us from the plane into a little lodge at the end of the strip. After waiting about 30 minutes, Bertie (the Amerindian owner of the home Sergio lives in) buzzed up on a motorcycle, his friend had one too. Annie and I hopped on
the back of the motos, backpacks strapped on tight, also carrying an extra suitcase with a brand new projector for the Village Cinema Project purchased with donations from my colleagues before I left.
The ride was about 12 km under the bright sun, dirt roads across vast savannah, wind on our faces. We turned onto a tiny dirt road, made our way up to Bertie’s little home, hopped off our bikes and stretched our bodies with happiness. We met Bertie’s wife and kids; saw his cute little block home on the edge of the savannah 1 km from the edge of jungle and mountains. It was peaceful, his family and older parents relaxing on hammocks in the afternoon heat under a big mango tree. We met a Peace Corps woman named Cassandra who lives with Bertie too. She gave up her little room for us, they strung up two hammocks for us and we were home. We were exhausted, shared some meat jerky we had brought with us, they gave us some very refreshing coconut water. The afternoon I caught up with my journal, chilled out, played with little bouncy balls we brought for the kids. Before evening, a
couple kids who had befriended up asked us to join them for a swim at the jungle water hole. It turns out this is a most amazing place, cool flowing water under shady trees, flowers everywhere. It is a place where people come to bathe, cool off, play and relax. It felt so good to jump in, the kids playfully jumped on us and dove about, pecking at our legs like little fish. The 98% humidity in the air of this place would bring us back to this place many times over the next week; I miss it dearly right now when I think about it.
We still hadn’t met Sergio the Spanish aid worker, he had been working at remote communities for a few days and got back at 10pm, completely exhausted. He didn’t have any energy left to visit, gave us a quick hug, headed to bed. We’d talk in the morning, plenty of time for that. We curled up in hammocks.
The next week was a collection of fantastic adventures and new friendships. We grew closer to Bertie’s family, helping clean, cook, get water, watch the kids and do dishes. We learned of the emerging
threats facing this community and others like it. Mining companies had been much more active in the area, bribing some members of the community the way they always do for access to the land. I shared what I knew, what I had seen in the jungle of Ecuador, the way nature is altered forever and water system ruined when tribes let the oil companies into their land. I will attempt to connect the National Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org) with this emerging environmental threat and see if help can arrive.
We learned all about cassava, the main tuberous yucca like root of their food culture. They grow it, dig it, cart it back from fields on their backs (40 lbs at a time) cook it, drain a cyanide like substance from it, heat it and turn it into a granular substance that they use to make breads and many other things. We visited the fields, watched the mostly women work incredibly hard, ate way more cassava than planned.
The guy Bertie who we stayed with turned out to be a very interesting guy, he has testified at the UN in NYC in behalf of indigenous affairs and has been
to a few conferences in the Western world. There seems to be a pretty organized group of people in Southern and Central Guyana promoting responsible ecotourism and training native Guyanans to look after their own future. One such place is the Bina Hill Institute, where Sergio’s office is. Lots of conservation and environmental stewardship comes from here.
The weekend came and was a blast. Bertie had a video screen and could show movies on it. As the dusk came on Friday night, a bunch of family and friends came over, he pulled out some techno VCDs, got out lots of rum, cassava liquor and beers and we had a great party, Sergio and Cassandra enjoying all of it! The next day we jumped in a big flatbed trailer pulled behind a tractor and all went 15 km south to a big soccer tournament that the Wowetta girls and women were playing in. The ride was bumpy and full of smiles. The curry and jerk chicken at the match was delicious, the women played their heart out but lost.
Annie and I decided to walk back up the road headed north. It was an excellent day, just the two
of us, cold beers, stopped at little farms, sun on our faces, met Cassandra and Sergio on the road, Cassandra got off and walked with us. We made it 5km back to a little store owned by a guy from Brazil, got delicious cold Kaiser beers from Brazil, ran cold hose water over my overheated head and body. We sat
Here for a good long time, played checkers with beer caps and visited with a number of characters who came by. We hitched a ride in the back of a pickup truck back to Wowetta as the sun set, Bertie’s sister came back from Georgetown this night and Saturday night was as fun as Friday, great food, laughter.
I will remember these good, generous people. I will remember a million stars in the sky; I will remember the mosquitoes that bit me loads even though I was under a net. I will remember the amazing savannah, jungle, swimming hole, the smiles of children, relaxed manner of people. I will remember the weaving skills of the elders, incredible stamina of the women with cassava gathering and production. I will remember the 45 km bike ride we took with Sergio
and Cassandra all the way to Kwatamang landing, big puffy clouds, rainbows in the skies, tropical foliage, intense heat, hammocks and a very special place.
One morning, we caught a ride on two motos back to the little airstrip at Annai, watched a plane seemingly drop out of nowhere and pick us up. We flew back to Lethem, picked up more people and then flew across the vast jungle expanse 2 hours north back to Georgetown. We landed at Ogle Airport, town seemed so big, so exciting after being in the bush. We got over to our little hostel, Rima Guest House, filled mostly with youngish aid workers and NGO people. Rima hostel is a nice old colonial building, close to everything. We sprawled on our beds, I went out and got some delicious fried fish on the street, went looking for a camera charger for Annie, outrageously expensive, then learned that my universal charger worked for her battery, excellent. It was so great to be back in town. It was vibrant.
We had some great jerk chicken at Jerry’s, delicious curry and roti at another place, walked the streets and started to get our bearings. We had
our Suriname visas, decided to go for it. We held a seat for the flight to the Suriname capitol Paramaribo two days later, confirmed our day trip to Kaiteur Falls the next day and had some excellent rum at a little café right across from our hostel; I think it was called Hibiscus.
In Georgetown, there are mosquitoes, birds and flowers everywhere, lots of blasting music, food carts, activity, shops, markets, good coffee. Most of the town felt quite safe but there were definitely a few crazy and threatening people. We used good sense, mostly had wonderful interactions and were safe.
In the morning, we hopped on another little bush plane with 2 guys from Toronto, 4 from NYC, all Guyanans who had lived abroad for years coming back to see their country. Our pilot was from Britain originally, married a Guyana woman he met at flight school in Florida and moved here 20 years ago.
So, one of the most famous waterfalls in the world! We flew an hour and a half to a remote place in the jungle closer to the Venezuelan border. We circled in and got our first glimpse, we were awestruck. This
waterfall, called the highest single drop waterfall in the world at 780 feet, is immense and powerful. We passed by it, landed on a little airstrip and hiked along the rim trail to the falls. It looked like it might be overcast, then it cleared and we saw them, one of the loveliest things I have ever seen. There were no guardrails, only the huge power of nature. We got right up next to them, standing on a little ledge. Annie and I loved every minute of it, she looked so happy; we snapped photos like crazy, hard to leave.
The flight back to Georgetown seemed fast, almost a daze after seeing the falls. We got back to Rima, solidified our plans for the next day and settled back in to our hostel. We learned that it was right next to a courthouse and jail, funny. We got laundry done, sorted our things, ate lots of food and relaxed. I went out for awhile to look for a Suriname guide, couldn’t find one but we borrowed an old South America guide and copied a few crucial details. I came back from being out and Annie had met a very
cool Australian couple Sam and Loz who were traveling the world for two years, really the ONLY other travelers we met in Guyana. It turned out they had just arrived from Suriname, fantastic. We had info about Guyana; they had loads to tell us about where we were going. We decided to make a night out of it, went to famous Buddy’s bar on Sheriff Street, drank rum, beer, shot pool and told hilarious stories, made plans to connect when we got back from Suriname. We ran into the Toronto guys from our plane and a number of other curious people, everyone asked me, “what are you doing in Guyana?” They smiled when I said “just traveling”, home feeling a bit drunk, certainly tired and ready to travel.
The next morning, we rolled into Paramaribo, the capitol of Suriname, Dutch colony and still quite Dutch in certain way. Dutch language is on the signs; the people speak Dutch, incredible preserved Dutch architecture has resulted in the middle of Paramaribo being a UNESCO world heritage site. Unlike Guyana, Paramaribo is about 50 km in from the ocean, facing west toward a big river and has quite a few people from
Holland who visit, a direct flight from Amsterdam on KLM and even some Dutch expats and Anglo Surinamese. Initial impression, I liked this place. My sister felt the same. We got our bearings, knew we had under a week in this country and if we were going to go to the jungle, we had to do it!! We sorted a ride with some fun, local guys in a minivan and lots of Surinamese. With music blasting, we hit the road, heading due south to Brownsveg, the gateway to Brownsberg Nature Reserve, supposed to be an incredible place of nature, waterfalls. Our driver stopped many times, we grabbed supplies in a store.
It was about a 2 hour drive to Brownsveg, made into three hours by our 22 year old African-Guyanese driver’s constant stopping to flirt with ladies. He would do this funny thing, when he went over to talk with a young woman, he’d pull his pants down low gangster style, amazing that they even stayed up.
The little town of Brownsveg was created to resettle the Maroon and other peoples displaced by the massive Brokopondo, a dam scheme that happened years ago to benefit Suriname Aluminum Company.
It was a horrible human catastrophe and apparently doesn’t even produce that much electricity.
From Brownsveg, our driver told us he could get up the last 13km road to the nature reserve, at about 500 meters in altitude. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon. After struggling up about 3 km. helping him push minibus up muddy sloped hills, it became apparent to Annie and me that the minibus couldn’t go any farther. Without four wheel drive, it was a lost cause. To our driver’s amazement, we made the decision to get out and walk, Annie totally game for the adventure. We had no idea how muddy, steep or long the road was but knew that if there was any chance we would make it before dark, we needed to go! We through all of our food supplies and beer in our packs, strapped down tight and boldly walked down the jungle road. We walked, we walked, we walked, 80 percent sure this was the road to the camp and that there was actually something there. After two hours, we were exhausted in the tropical heat, the daylight was fading quickly. Annie made loud noises when we came around
bends, hoping to scare off any big animal that we may surprise. It was a good idea, though we didn’t meet any. We sustained ourselves, with cherry juice, energy bars, water, peanuts. It honestly was getting scary, alone remote!
After what seemed like forever of walking on this little road, near the steepest part, a pickup passed us, hurtling down the mountain. They couldn’t stop, but told us we had just 1 km to go. An hour later, after 2 km, drenched from tropical rain and in the pitch dark, we stumbled into the little paradise of Brownsberg Nature Park. There were some travelers there, 2 girls from Belgium, a few people from Holland and 6 French kids on holiday from their work in the French Guyana capitol of Cayenne. They were all sitting having dinner that the director of the little place had cooked, their eyes bugging out of their heads that we had walked in out of the dark 10km up this road. We threw down our wet bags, met the Surinamese guy Rocky who runs this place, found out that they had plenty of beers here and we hadn’t needed to lug the ones we did.
We were hoping to have them sling us a hammock; Rocky found us a cheap little room instead. We unloaded, dried off and came back over to the common area with our sardines, peanut butter, beer. It was GREAT to be here after a long day of travel & intense adventure.
This little camp had a few small rooms, places to hang hammocks, a little restaurant and bar, on a plateau magnificently overlooking Brokopondo. People come here to be able to experience, jungle, waterfalls, nature not far from Paramaribo, after visiting a bit with the other travelers, we slept hard.
I think I slept two nights in one night I was so tired, tired and happy. We slept with a sheet; at 500 meters it was a bit chilly. It had been epic. I woke the next morning; I walked over to the lookout over Brokopondo, the sun rising in the east. There were brightly colored birds running around, big colorful lizards, little things they call Suriname rabbits, I think they are pacas. I met a nice woman of Surinamese descent living in Holland for many years, she had come home because her father was about to pass
away. Her daughter was with her and the daughter’s boyfriend, a policeman in Holland and nice guy.
Annie got up, we had some coffee and eggs, joined a group of people hiking out to see the waterfalls. For the next few hours, we hiked through tropical jungle on little trails, swung from vines, climbed and bathed under gorgeous jungle waterfalls. It was a most excellent hike, we went under the falls. Annie had wanted to be under a waterfall, here it was. We found out later that night that a Canadian traveler had been bitten by a very poisonous snake in these very same woods the week before. Great day.
We went back to camp, drank MANY cold beers and played cards all afternoon with our Dutch friends, lying in hammocks and passing the day away. We made plans to ride in the back of their friend’s pickup back to Paramaribo tomorrow. We had a lovely dinner with the French kids; one of them was turning 26 years old. We had chicken, rice, squash, wine and chocolates. In the middle of nowhere, exceptional.
By the way, the water hadn’t been working in this camp so we took
bucket baths under the spigot of a big rain collecting barrel. Outside our little room, there was a covered picnic table nice for spreading out, not many people around in this camp right now so very peaceful. Annie walked outside our room, saw a little snake near the corner of the building, she could have stepped on it. She called me over; I called the guy who ran the camp. It turned out to be a highly poisonous labaria, they cut the snakes head off and left us shivering with a bit of fear that we very well could have stepped on this. We grabbed some breakfast, played this cool game on a wooden hardwood table sliding wooden discs through holes.
The pickup that was supposed to come for our friends at 10am rolled in finally about 2:30. This was a good friend of the Surinamese-Dutch woman, a man of Surinamese descent who had been married to a good friend of hers in Holland; he left 2 years before to come mine for gold in the middle of the woods in Suriname. Very interesting dude, we learned about legal and illegal gold mining, he and two of his rough
cut but friendly fellow miners picked us up. We through our bags in, put the ladies in the front and the Dutch cop and I stretched out in the back bed of the pickup. The first 45 minutes of course was bumpy until we got back to Brownveg, to see the road we had hiked up was amazing. When we cleared Brownsveg, the road got smooth, wind on our hair, sun beaming overhead. Thank God we had the foresight to put waterproof covers on our packs because as is often the case during rainy season in tropical places, the skies quickly opened up and dumped rain on us. We had to ride out the downpour; there was no room for us in the cab. Annie looked back nervously at me. At first the rain was refreshing, then it began pouring down, stinging our eyes as we drove along the road. We were drenched; it started getting really cold to the bone. The Dutch policeman was shivering violently; I got up close to him and shared some body warmth huddled in the front corner of the cab to block a little wind. It was touch and go, but we made it.
As we came into Paramaribo, the rain slowed a bit. We stopped at the woman’s father’s house, got us towels which helped a lot, wrung copious amounts of water out from our clothes. We said goodbye to our friends, caught a ride over to the cute little hostel Twenty4 we were staying at.
This place was very cool, hardwood floors, big verandas, cozy rooms, completely set up for backpackers. Visitors are greeted with a free beer as they come in; the place is cozy, hammocks hanging all around. The location is fantastic for walking to the markets, historic buildings, pubs and restaurants. Annie and I met a guy from New Zealand, a nice medical student from Curacao, headed out to Café T Vat, an excellent outside place in an area known for music and cafes. The place was loud and fun. I had Saoto soup and delicious rum, watched the locals dancing salsa, a bit too tired to join in but loved the music. We walked back through kind of dicey streets, no one bothered us. I slept hard and fast, hot outside.
The next morning I awoke at daybreak (6am), Annie still asleep. I couldn’t resist the
sunrise at the river. I walked through the UNESCO World Heritage District, magical and not as hot in the early morning. I started snapping photos, the morning so lovely. I literally got lost in the magic of this town for the next 7 hours, wandering through the crazy fish and produce markets, eating little Surinamese sandwiches and some of the best curry and roti until my stomach almost burst. I was sitting in the back of the market and was called out onto a little boat to have 9am beers with some gruff fisherman who turned out to be hilarious. I eventually after a whirlwind stumbled out of the market, what a feast for the senses it was!
I turned a corner; saw a few signs that said “casino”. What the hell, I walked in. As if in a dream, the place I went in was air conditioned, with free food and drinks, filled with slots. I sat down for good fun and walked out of there two hours later $100 richer. So funny, what a most excellent day by only 2pm.
I floated happily back to the hostel, Annie of course had been worried and looking for
me, cracked up laughing when I told her about my diversion in the casinos. “Take me to this place”, she said. So I did, we walked out about 10 minutes, got some cool shirts and ducked back into the same casino, they smiled as I came in, seemed to remember me. We sat down at 2 slot machines, 5 minutes later a woman came over and started screaming at Annie in French and Dutch, said that Annie had taken a machine that she was playing on and that had many credits built up. After security was called, we looked and it was true, Annie had out $20 in, won hardly anything, and the machine showed $200 in credits. Annie speaks French, managed to calm the woman down and gave her her winnings; actually the woman softened and gave Annie $50. We stayed for 2 hours, I won $50 more, we had loads of free drinks and food, met characters from both Suriname & French Guyana. Finally, approaching 5pm, we went back to room.
This was the last night in Suriname; Annie was exhausted so stayed in. I thought of sleeping but then couldn’t resist going back to the pub
area. There was a huge Fete de la musique, musical street festival with artists from all 3 Guyanas, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe. It was amazing. The bartender at T Vat found the USA-Mexico Gold Cup soccer match for me on TV, wow, I was in heaven. Excellent food, incredible music, soccer on TV. The US side was up 2 nil, I was delirious. We lost 4-2 but still good fun!
I was home 1am, I am sure the street festival went all night. Annie and I had a bus to catch at 4:30 am to head back to Guyana, not sure it was worth it to sleep but I did a little bit. The bus honked outside, I stumbled down with Annie, thank God we were first on so able to grab a decent seat. We picked up people all over Paramaribo, waited for a Brazilian guy for about 45 minutes, finally rolled out of town about 6am, hurtling over good paved roads toward Nieu Nickerie on the northwest coast of Suriname.
Our bus mates were good fun, laughing and smiling at us, quite welcoming. I drifted in and out of sleep, felt the wind on my face.
We stopped at least once; I remember that it was hot even in the morning. Before I knew it, about 10:30AM, we curled around a bend and there was a huge river in front of us and ferry to Guyana. We waited for a good long time, had lots of stamps and fees to pay then got on board.
This ferry was professional, unlike rickety ones I have been on in Indonesia and in Africa. It held about 20 cars, people sat mostly out of the sun at the lower part of the boat. With the exception of a Dutch family, we seemed to be the only Westerners on board. Everybody smiled and was very friendly. We took some great photos of the river, made it across in about 20 minutes, greeted by the familiar Guyana flag flapping in the breeze, a quick immigration check in and then back on another bus on the other side.
Instantly we felt the vibe change back in Guyana, for the next two hours we sped through an area known as Berbice, the Cultural heart of Guyana. We stopped for food, saw lots of tripped out “tapirs”, the only vehicle ever made
in Guyana, learned a lot from our bus mates about this area. It was low lying, close to the Atlantic Ocean, lots of farming, coconut trees, Hindu Temples and churches seemingly everywhere. I wish we could have stopped for a few days to enjoy, hard to do everything on one trip.
Amazing, so much had happened. We were back in Georgetown, feeling like we knew the town so well after passing through a few times. It is amazing we were so fearful of this place when we first got here. We checked back into delightful Rima Guest House, got cozy and ready to stay for a few happy days.
We quickly ran into Sam and Loz from Australia, so good to find them in town still. They had been sorting out their trip to the interior of Guyana. It was Sunday, big night in Georgetown. Where the seawall can often be a lonely, dangerous place to wander about, Sunday night thousands of people go there, lots of food and music, immense fun. Imagine this seawall, probably 8 feet thick, about five feet high, running much of the length of the country from Georgetown to Suriname, amazing. On these
Sunday nights, everyone takes rum, beer, food and heads to the wall to watch the sun set. We took delicious El Dorado Rum, juice to mix it with, a big bag of ice, cups and joined the hordes on the wall.
We hadn’t seen this perspective of Georgetown before, we loved it. From the top of the wall, breezes rolled in, the ocean was about 300 feet out from the wall, Annie and I walked down through the sand and dipped our feet in the ocean. We bought delicious fried fish and other treats from vendors; music was bumping in the background. The ice melted fast, lasted just about right. We were relaxed and just enjoying the time and up walks Sergio the Spaniard. We had emailed him, didn’t know if he would be in the capitol, what a reunion! He was passing through Georgetown on his way to a project on the northwest Guyana coast. It was so good to see him, seemed like forever since we had said goodbye in the Rupununi. He invited the four of us to join him and his four or five aid worker friends a bit farther down the wall. We all
hung out on the wall, one of the volunteers, a woman from Britain who had been here for two years, suggested we all go over to a cool pub by the Russian Embassy. We did, it was a groovy little place, classy with a lovely garden setting and seats on the patio. It was a bit bizarre, Russian diplomats walking by, clearly representing the business interests of Russian mining companies. Annie was knackered, took a cab home. Finally at 2am, I made it home and went to sleep hard.
Our last day in Guyana was fantastic. We got up, had a nice coffee and breakfast, shopped most of the day in little artisan stalls, got some really neat things. We got home, laid out our treasures and relaxed. About 6pm, we headed out for a final meal, at a Brazilian rodizho churrascaria we had heard about. Sergio and the woman from Britain met us; we had a delicious meal, capirinhas, the first good salad of our trip and some great conversation. We also ran into a guy from our bus ride from Suriname. So, we ended where we began. This was a most unlikely and fantastic trip, from start
to finish. Travel on!!
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