Retrospective of Guyanan Adventure - Final Part 3

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Thu 14 Feb 2013 14:32

One thing that had struck us was that most of the people in Guyana outside of the towns were Amerindians, the original indigenous population of all the Guyanas. In French Guiana and Suriname most of the population seemed to be descendants of the  black African slaves brought in by the European colonialists, or the Indian and Far Eastern descendants of the indented labour that was brought in after the emancipation of the slaves to work in the sugar plantations. In Guyana eight distinct tribes of Amerindians still exist, and whilst they may no longer be bludgeoning each other to death at the drop of a hat and (by some accounts) then eating them, they are still fiercely proud of their individual tribes.


After the canopy walkway we were driven for lunch to Rock View Lodge, from where we were to get a boat to take us upriver to Karanambu Lodge. In the south of Guyana, the jungle abruptly peters out and is transformed into the open scrub of the savannah. Rock View was bought by an Englisman, Colin Edwards, who came to Guyana to construct roads and decided to stay. The estate is now not only a working ranch but a tourist lodge as well. Unfortunately Colin was not there when we visited, but we met two of his sons who work there.


Karanambu is an estate that has been in the McTurk family for generations, and was accessible only by a long boat trip up the Essequibo. It was the boat trip that turned out to be the best surprise of the whole trip. In fact Karanambu sent two boats to take us up there. The water level in the river was so low and the water therefore so shallow that if all of us and our luggage went in one of the open aluminium boats we would never have made it. So our luggage went in one and we in the other. The trip took three hours as we wended our way between the exposed sand banks and the river was absolutely teaming with wildlife. Black caimans lined the banks, sliding menacingly into the water as we passed, and we even saw a rare spectacled caiman. And in the sky and in the branches of the trees that lined the river was an astonishing variety of birdlife. We were lucky enough to have with us a Karanambu guide, another Gerry, who had a strong Guyanese accent. “Were you born in Guyana?” we asked him. “No” he replied “I was born and brought up in Balham, South London”. He came to Guyana with his parents when he was 17 and has remained there ever since, not once returning to the UK. Gerry knew every bird we saw from small kingfishers and plovers up to the enormous and colourful Jabiru storks, whilst Ospreys circled overhead. We saw several dozen different species during the trip. Magic.


We arrived at Karanambu at dusk and were greeted by the manager Salvador and his wife Andrea, and plied with welcoming rum punches. The McTurks are said to have been in Guyana for two hundred years, but they remain as English as English can be. Our visit to Karanambu had particular significance for Linda who, 45 years earlier, had visited Karanambu unexpectedly and had been given English tea and cake by Constance McTurk served on fine china plates. Linda has written her account of our trip and her memories of her earlier visit on their blog site


I think it was Linda’s description to me of her earlier visit that made me think that we were to be staying at a typical brick built English country home. How surprised I was to find that not only all the out buildings but the main residence itself was made in the traditional Guyanese style with a large living area completely open to the elements on the sides, and the whole building covered with an enormous steep roof covered with intricately woven palm fronds. This working estate now derives much of its income from visiting guests such as ourselves.  Previous guests have included members of the Royal Family and David Attenborough. Very sadly, Diane McTurk, the daughter of Constance who entertained Linda so many years ago, was away for a couple of days, so we didn’t get the chance to meet her but the professional manager of the estate Salvador (Guyanese) and his wife Andrea (very New York American) entertained us handsomely. We each stayed in one of the guest lodges, again built traditionally with an open roof space covered with palm fronds. The large double bed was covered with a mosquito net above which was an extra covering. This was to protect us from the constant rain of bat droppings in the night as they swooped in and out and around the bed. “Sometimes” said Salvador, “in the night you’ll find a bat sitting on the floor. If it’s in your way, just shoo it out with your foot!”. Also sharing our room with us were termites, frogs, and the most decorative wasps nest you’ve ever seen.


The following morning, before we left to catch our plane back to Georgetown, we had the time to go out in a 4x4 to look for giant anteaters. We managed to see one, albeit at a distance, a surprisingly large animal lolloping away in front of us with his enormously long ant-eating head close to the ground.


We were due to get back to Georgetown on a regular Guyana Air flight which was scheduled to pick us up on its way from Lethem, a small town on the border with Brazil. Andrea said “Would you like to see Lethem? It’s an interesting town.” We said we would, so she called the air company and got them to pick us up on the way to Lethem rather than on the way back. Personal service indeed. “We’ll need to get to the airstrip early” said Salvador “to make sure there aren’t any cows on the runway”. When the plane arrived, the DS was relieved to see that it was substantially bigger than the Cessna, taking about 20 passengers, and that the charming and courteous pilot was immaculately turned out in a smart, clean uniform. He took one look at John’s height and put him in the co-pilots seat. John spent the entire two flights quizzing the pilot about all the systems and controls. I’m not quite sure whether John wasn’t actually flying the plane by the time we got to Georgetown.


At Georgetown we were greeted at the airport by Gem who gave us a conducted tour of the capital in her car, including a drive down memory lane for Linda, visiting all her old haunts; the school where she worked and the convent where she stayed with the Anglican nuns.


Kit then joined us for dinner where, at our request (and Kit’s disgust), we ate traditional Guyanese food. Kit not only was, but remains, a well-known influential figure in Guyana and he was constantly greeting and being greeted by people. Kit and Gem took us back to our hotel and joined us for a nightcap of fine Guyanese liqueur rum. Kit introduced us to the owner of the hotel who took a personal interest in the fact that the air conditioning in the DS’s and my room wasn’t working and he went off with a screwdriver to fix it. The hotel was modest by European standards and Kit surprised us by saying that the President of Guyana, Donald Ramotar, who was a personal friend of the hotel owner, had been known to pop in from time to time, particularly on the hotel’s karaoke evenings where the President would wow his electorate with renditions of New York, New York. Very hands on.


Kit and Gem left us to go home, and Linda and Maria went to their respective rooms leaving John and me to enjoy one last Guyanese rum before retiring. Whilst savouring the nectar, the owner of the hotel came up to us, with another chap who I assumed was an air conditioning expert. “May I introduce you to the President of Guyana, Mr Ramotar”. John and I leapt to our feet and shook the president’s outstretched hand. “I understand you’re the people who have arrived by boat” said the charming President. I know that Guyana doesn’t yet get many tourists and they are now doing what they can to encourage more tourism, but a personal audience with the pre-briefed President of the country was rather more than I had expected. We chatted about this and that and where we had sailed from. The President congratulated me on my adventurism before excusing himself, presumably to warm up for his karaoke session.


I went up to our room where the DS was already in bed. “Sorry I was a little longer than expected, but I’ve been chatting to the President of Guyana” I explained nonchalantly. “You’re drunk” the DS said “get to bed and stop being so stupid”.


The following day we were once again driven around Georgetown by Gem. The city is a place that has a reputation for a very high crime rate and isn’t a place you would walk around on your own. Which is a shame because it is a town with enormous character. Built by the Dutch below sea level, with a high retaining sea wall, the town is criss-crossed with drainage canals either side of which are wide tree lined avenues and beautiful old wooden colonial buildings, many of which are now sadly very run down. We were driven across the floating bridge over the Demerara River (the longest floating bridge in the world) to Parika on the Essequibo where we took a small fast boat that roared 30 miles up the river at breakneck speed to Bartica where Mike, the supervisor at Hurakabra, was waiting to take us by launch back to Mina2. The wind was blowing powerfully from the east and the strong ebb tide of the river was coming from the west which made for pretty choppy water. “You’d better put these over you” said Mike, passing a couple of plastic sheets to us, “there might be a bit of spray”. That was a bit of an understatement. For 20 minutes as we shot through the choppy water, it was like having a fire hose pointed at you from close range. The launch was shooting off the waves and crashing into the troughs with a loud cracking noise which I assumed was the wooden hull disintegrating under the hammering. I was just weighing up my chances of being able to swim to the shore when I saw that the wooden bench that Linda and John were sitting on in front of me was beginning to split under their weight. Every crash into the waves and it buckled and splintered more until the whole thing gave away and, with a thud, Linda and John continued the rest of the journey sitting on the stringers in the bilge. We all thought it hysterical but did wonder what the reaction would be, not of rough and tough sailors like us, but of more genteel guests that they may have staying at Hurakabra. The tourism learning curve is long and steep.


Our adventure right the way down the Guyanas had been fascinating, visiting a rarely visited cruising ground (Guyana gets no more than about 12 yachts visiting every year – about half the number that visit Antarctica) and experiencing the extraordinarily diversified cultures of these remote countries.


Our trip to Guyana was undoubtedly the highlight, not least because of the four-day excursion into the interior which is a trip that I doubt any of us will ever forget. The organisation of the trip (with the exception of the absent guide at Kaieteur) was flawless. It involved several organisations, taxis, and planes and throughout the four days we were passed seamlessly from the care of one group of people to the next. We never felt like tourists but like guests. The personal attention and friendliness we received everywhere we went was exceptional. The knowledge of all the guides was boundless, as was their enthusiasm in telling us about everything. The success of the trip was due entirely to the organisational skills of Gem, to whom we owe a great debt. Guyana is a wonderfully unspoilt country with an enormous amount of history, culture and nature to lure the adventurous tourist and I would highly recommend it whether you are coming by yacht or plane. Gem Madhoo Nascimento can be contacted on gemmadhoo {CHANGE TO AT} gmail {DOT} com and Kit Nascimento can be contacted on kitnasc {CHANGE TO AT} gol {DOT} net {DOT} gy . Give them my fond regards.