Arrival in Guyana
We were still several miles off shore. The water was a thick, soupy brown colour and only three metres deep. We needed to get 10 miles up the Essequibo River to Roeden Rust, the first known safe anchorage, before nightfall and we had been motoring since 3.00 a.m. let down by the absence of the strong current which usually runs here and light winds. Tim decided to cut the corner to save a few critical miles, so we approached the river through a thicket of posts with fishing nets strung between them. There were gaps, but not knowing how the nets were laid, Tim approached the gaps with extreme caution, almost putting the engine into neutral as we inched our way through, expecting at any minute to get snagged by a submerged net. All was well however, and we heaved a collective sigh of relief as we closed in on the charted route into the river. Even this was not straight forward as there is no buoyed channel and we were relying on waypoints given in Chris Doyle’s guide, some of which were patently inaccurate. It was with some relief therefore that we dropped our anchor off the ‘Stelling’ or pier of the so called ‘marina’ at Roeden Rust. We didn’t go ashore as the placed looked deserted and in any case we had not officially cleared into the country. This had to be done in Bartica a further 30 miles up the river.
We set off at first light in order to catch the flood tide and made our way gingerly up river, watching the depth drop perilously low as we navigated our way over the frequent sand bars. The Essequibo is Guyana’s largest river and the third largest in all of South America after the Amazon and the Orinoco. The rain forest comes right down to the banks with only the occasional bit of mangrove. All along the east bank of the river there are occasional clearings where there are rickety landing pontoons and dwellings of various grades from smart holiday homes to tumble down wooden structures on stilts.
Our first impressions of Bartica were pretty intense. We anchored off an incredibly ramshackle stelling or wharf opposite the town power station which was roaring away belching out a constant plume of black smoke. We tied up at a rickety set of steps and made our way across the land stage, avoiding the holes in the planking. We were carrying the boat’s rubbish intending to deposit it responsibly somewhere. Quite frankly we could have put it down anywhere as the streets were littered with rubbish, plastic bags, bottles and rotting vegetable matter. We made our way to the police station and then to customs where formalities were dealt with efficiently and we then set out to explore. Bartica is basically a mining town. It sits on the confluence of the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cayuni rivers. Gold is being mined in large quantities up all of these rivers and Bartica is where the miners come to trade their gold and spend their money. It is consequently a pretty edgy and unsavoury place and we made sure we were back on the boat by nightfall. It is also one reason why the water is so muddy as the mining process involves dredging the rivers and the spoil and other contaminants just flow down the rivers turning the tea coloured ‘black water’ opaque. The town was full of Bedford 5 ton trucks loaded up with fuel and mining equipment, many of them being taken apart and put back together again at the side of the main street. There was constant traffic and noise, matters not helped by the vehicles having to avoid the cows that wandered freely down the roads. We were surprised at the strong Brazilian presence. We passed several Brazilian restaurants, cafes and shops and were able to watch Brazilian TV a the café that we stopped for a quick beer. We made the mistake of returning to the café later for ‘chicken cutters’, fried pieces of chicken breast which were very tasty, but we were charged about 3 or 4 times the going rate. Having said all this, people were actually very friendly and we did not feel particularly threatened or hassled and we must have stuck out like sore thumbs.
The market was good and sold good quality fruit and vegetables so we were able to re-provision the boat. We also bought some rather interesting breads – the Guyanese are into their ‘bakes’. The meat market on the other side of the road was another matter and required rather stronger stomachs than we had so we decided to rely on ships stores for protein. We spent the night anchored off the town prior to making our way down river again to Hurakabra Lodge, the weekend home of Kit and Gem Nascimento who were to look after our boat while we went on a four day tour of the interior of the country they had put together for us.