Summer 2022
John Andrews
Sun 27 Jan 2013 17:02


Salvador had warned me that I would be disappointed with Georgetown. I remembered a pretty city of wide tree lined avenues, canals, white painted wooden buildings with traditional shutters and ornate Victorian public buildings. Of course it had its run down areas and the usual smells of sewage and rotting vegetable matter that is characteristic of so many poor tropical countries, but I had fond memories. Salvador said that the city was now seriously run down, the old buildings neglected, ugly steel and glass buildings replacing the attractive older buildings and that the streets and canals were choked with rubbish. Although what he said had some truth, the city still retained enough of its old buildings and charm not to disappoint. We didn’t get away from the airport until 4.00 and night falls at about 6.00 so we had the quickest of tours around the town, catching glimpses of the law courts, Staebrook Market the parliament building and St George’s Anglican cathedral as we sped by in the car. I was most anxious to see where I had spent 9 months living and teaching in 1968, the covent of the good shepherd in Orinoque street. The nuns had gone back to England long ago, but the building and church were still there and were being used as the headquarters of the Mothers Union. I had some difficulty in recognising the place as it seemed as if quite a lot of restoration work had taken place. It would have been good to get inside the building but it was all firmly locked.

Gem dropped us off at the Sleepin Hotel in the centre of town and left us to our first air-conditioned experience for several weeks. Well, for John and me at least. When we caught up with Tim and Maria they had requested a room change from next to the clattering kitchen and now had a room with no window and faulty air conditioning. Kit and Gem took us out for a starter of rum cocktails and crab backs at the Palm Court, and then on to a well known café round the corner for a typical Guyanese meal of chicken soup. Kit and Gem came back to our hotel for a night cap. Kit was clearly very well known and had to do the rounds, shaking hands and talking to everyone as he went. He introduced us to El Dorado Rum which was excellent quality, more like brandy than rum. The manager of the hotel came over to shake hands. Kit had told us that the president of the country often came to the bar of the hotel, particularly on karaoke nights and the manager told us that the president would ‘come by’ that evening. I couldn’t really believe my ears. The manager then went off with screw driver to fix Maria and Tim’s air conditioning. When Kit and Gem, Maria and I went to bed – we’d been up since 5.00 that morning – leaving Tim and John having a night cap. John came up about three quarters of an hour later. ‘You won’t believe what’s just happened’, he said – ‘Tim and I have just been introduced to the president of Guyana!’ The manager brought him over to see us and he shook our hands and said ‘so you’re the people from the yacht’. I know yachting in Guyana is in its infancy, but this was recognition above and beyond. It’s set the bar rather high for all the other islands in the Caribbean that Tim and Maria are planning to visit.

Kit and Gem were very pleased to hear of the meeting with the president when they met up with us the following day. Gem managed to persuade the caretaker at the cathedral to let us look round. It is one of the biggest wooden buildings in the Americas and has a huge, lofty interior. It is definitely bigger than the Catholic cathedral in Paramaribo which also claims to be the largest wooden building the Americas. We stopped at the Botanical Gardens which was sadly rubbish strewn. We went to the pond in the hope of seeing the manatees, but the water was so opaque that although we could see the odd bubble and a nose poking up, the rest of the animals remained hidden. We declined to have a look at the zoo, which has a very poor reputation. Opposite was the Bourda cricket ground, now known as Georgetown Cricket Club as a new ground for international matches has been built out of town.

Our final port of call was the Cara Lodge where we were to have an excellent brunch. Cara Lodge dates back to 1840 and has welcomed any number of illustrious guests including the Queen. When Gem had asked me what we wanted to eat I had particularly requested ‘pepperpot’. This is basically a meat stew, cooked with ‘casreep’, a fermented cassava sauce which acts as a preservative. Apparently they had had a pepperpot going at the Georgetown Club, Guyana’s top ‘gentlemen’s’ club, for over 100 years. Stories have it that when there was a fire at the club, a top priority was to save the pepperpot. Sadly, the Georgetown Club pepperpot is no longer. The Cara Lodge version was excellent, apparently 4 weeks old and very rich.

We bid farewell to Kit and Gem and were transferred by taxi to Parika on the Essequibo River, crossing the Demerara River on the longest floating bridge in the world. We were expecting to be put onto one of the public speed boats that go up river to Bartica which would involve waiting our turn, but our driver led us down onto the beach and found a boat that was about to leave, hussled us aboard, handed over a fistful of notes, and we were off, bouncing and banging from wave to wave, an hour and a half of slamming at high speed up river. As we set out we rang Mike, Kit’s caretaker at Hurakabra, and we were delighted to see him on the stelling at Bartica as we arrived. We transferred to Kit’s boat where Mike took out a couple of tarpaulins which he advised us to use to cover ourselves. We should have been warned. What followed was the most ridiculous river journey I have ever experienced. The tide was in full flow and there was a strong wind, making quite sizeable waves. The only way through was to go at top speed with the boat crashing and banging, with us being drowned in buckets of water flying over the side. As the boat slammed again and again, we were shouting with the shock of each bang. It was so ridiculous that we started getting the giggles. The thwart John and I were sitting on was taking a real pasting and finally snapped asunder with one of the bigger bangs. ‘Thanks Mike’ Tim said as we reached Mina2. He looked a bit shamefaced, but pointed out that when he had tried to go slower, it had got much wetter, which was indeed the case. He said he knew we were sailors and wouldn’t mind too much but he was going to have a word with ‘Mr Kit’ as he really wouldn’t be able to transfer more normal tourists in that way.

We said our farewells to Mike the next day, and motored up to Bartica to clear out and then on up river to another resort, the rather swanky Baganara River Resort which we had rung earlier to book our last Guyanese dinner. Six guests were staying at the resort, two Americans and four local people who were celebrating a birthday. We were greeted rather unctuously by the manager who offered us complementary welcome fruit juice. Dinner was canteen style and very good, and they had a good wine list, but were obviously not used to serving wine as it took forever to come – the white wine became pudding wine. We finished off the meal with rum liqueur which had been recommended by Kit, instant coffee – they don’t have real coffee in Guyana – and made our way back to the boat for our final night.