Guyana 2010

Photos are being inserted as I have time — come back and see the spectac…..

Guyana is a marvellous little Carribean-South American, English-speaking country to visit if you are interested in tropical rain forest, birds, animals and genuine people. It is untouristed,  off-the-beaten-track,  with only a few visitor facilities — for me this is a major attraction.

This trip my flights went well, very well. Each flight was actually early, and during the transfer in Port of Spain, Trinadad, I met Gillian, an expat returning for a few days. She invited me to join the family’s open house on Tuesday: Mash parade celebrating Guyanan independence. This was fun, and marvellous being with wonderfully friendly people and some shade. Wow, was it ever hot there — no compaints — and humid with some rain every day (this is the dry season). The beer floats were the best with nearly-naked men and women demonstrating … the need to drink beer; followed closely by the Government Health floats advising everyone to Comdomize. Makes sense to me.

After a day of walking around Georgetown and Mash, I flew in a small plane  to the two big waterfalls — Orinduik Falls was lovely and we could go into the river to cool off.

Orinduik Falls

However, Kaituir Falls, with a drop of 741 feet, is spec…tac…ular. The pilot flew over the falls twice, then we landed and walked for about 2 hours to the top of the falls and to various lookouts with an Amerindian local guide. Spect….acu….lar, amazing, no tourist infrastructure to decrease the feeling of awe and majesty. Just 12 of us, the falls, forest, rainbows and blue sky. A clear view of heaven, and the angels’ song was the water falling.

Kaituir Falls

Kaituir Falls

Back in Georgetown, I visited a couple of museums and missed others (I also avoided the zoo). Three days west: minibus west to the Esquibou River and then a boat to Bartika and a resort for rich locals. People were friendly and helpful; the karaoke elevated by great books to read.

Here are some of my observations from travelling in Guyana:
— Beer with a straw served at the wharf hotel in Bartica. Didn’t we do that as students in order to get drunk quicker?
— Scotia Bank teller refusing me a cash withdrawal using my bank card because I had only my passport as identification. The same bank card without any passport or other ID supplied me with the money from their ATM. Go figure.
— Karaoke to Bob Marley in slo-mo in the middle of the jungle (“War” sung as a love song). Same for a couple of tunes from Better Midler as I tried not to listen.
— PFDs (water safely vests) are required by law for everyone in a boat, and also apparently required to be completely ineffective — they are assured to come off if you are ever dumped overboard.

Giant Heron

Jabiru, the largest stork

— Lea happily travelling up the Essquibo River in a water taxi with two young children sitting on her, chatting away – they in Guyanan pidgeon not-English and Lea in Canadian.
— Lea enthusiastically watching hockey (that is ice hockey) on TV — Canada goes gold.
— There are so few tourists in Guyana that I looked for fellow sight-seers to hear helpful information. We all share the same outdated guide book and all seem attracted to Guyana by the lack of tourists and the inevitable associated superficial gloss, commercialism, pestering and tacky souveneirs. None here, what a pleasure. The disadvantages are the lack of choice and the expense.
— I requested to go fishing, cast a baited line twice and handed it back to the guide. The piranhas ate the bait and “we” hooked nothing – thank goodness.
— Bird watching for me is “little bird versus big bird.” Here, I was up in the Iwokrama tree canopy walkway, not moving, not talking, fascinated for five hours — no music, no podcasts, no reading. Wonderful.

Savannah

I began my inland adventure by flying south to Karanambu Ranch where Diane McTurk hosts tourists in her homestead, rehabilitates orphan giant river otters, provides guides for tours along the Rupununi River and onto the savannah, pours great rum punch cocktails and relates stories. There seem to be individualistic English remnants throughout the colonial British empire; people who retain gracious Victorian manners while melding into the local clime and culture.

Diane McTurk with baby Giant Otters

Everything about Karanambu was so marvellous that it was close to cliche but wasn’t — that is just how it is. Buddy, the blind two year old giant river otter; Phillippe, the four month old; and Belle, a little younger not-yet-giant otter were fed fish several times a day by the volunteers. The feedings were either in the enclosures or down in the river, watched over by a large black caimen. Bandit is the resident raccoon who is into everything and likes to lick toes ….. before he bites.

Buddy beside the Rupununni River

Belle eating fish in the river

There were several friendly dogs who respected the three lazy cats including Garfield, the 12 year old ginger tom cat with grizzled ears and a preference for lying across my lap. I was right at home.

Garfield The Cat

There are several biospheres on the ranch — savannah, swamps, the Rupununi River and tropical rainforest. During the trips I saw a giant anteater, wild giant river otters, numerous caimen (alligators), arapaima (huge fish) breaching, capybara (the largest rodent in the world; looks like a guinea pig on Imax),

Capybara

Giant Anteaters can really move fast

Caiman usually don't move

squirrel and capuchin monkeys.

And there were many birds — herons, jabiru, cormorants, kingfishers, spoon bills, bittens, ducks, falcons = big birds and lots of small birds. I was also able to spend one idealic sunset beside Crane Pond, listening and watching the birds while the Victoriana Amazonian lily flowers opened as the sun set; these are the largest lilies in the world. As you may have gathered, plants and animals tend to grow big, bigger, biggest here in the sun, heat and rain.

Crane Pond with Victoriana Amazonian Lilies

Victoriana Amazonian Lilies

Travelling between places in Guyana is a challenge unless you hire your own vehicle. Getting from Karanambu to Atta entailed hitching a ride on a boat (with a honeymoon couple), a jeep ride to the Oasis bus stop on the one and only road that traverses north to south Guyana — not paved with only 20-30 vehicles a day. Then I waited for the bus which dropped me in the middle of the Iwokrama Rainforest National Park at a track leading into the forest.

The main and only highway

I travel light; good thing as I walked up the track to the Atta Rainforest Lodge. No connectivity with the outside world … except internet by satellite. There are three groups of people in the world: the haves by high speed (the western world), the haves by satellite (much of the developing world) and the soon-to-haves (the rest of the world) — people power — who could have predicted?

Tropical jungle treetop walkway

For two days and nights I was the only guest; they often have birding groups which tend to be rather on the obsessive compulsive competitive side. Gabriel was my guide to the forest canopy walkway in the evening, and the next morning where we spent five hours, also walking into the forest, along the road and to the creek. I saw several groups of black howler monkeys, black spider monkeys, and birds. Gabriel was uncanny at spotting birds that I could only see through his powerful binoculars and scope. And birds there were, of which I was most excited to see the toucans, woodpeckers, kites, falcon and carasows. But the highlight were the mealy (green) Amazons,  the Red and Green Amazon pairs, and the Scarlette Amazon pair. The latter were eating, preening each other, then sitting on their nest. So spectacular. So special. I am so fortunate.

Sunset over Guyana

Onto Iwokrama Field Station and Guesthouse with a lovely thatched hut, and the dining area overlooking the huge Essequibo River. Just after lunch, five giant river otters came along to play and sunbath on a sandbank; dessert was forgotten. One night I spent in a hammock out in the bush (remarkably comfortable), and the next morning I climbed Turtle Mountain to look over the forest and the river. Hot and sweaty, and I’m not complaining. Bus back to Georgetown and onto Trinidad.

Trinidad was lovely because of fellow tourists (from Botswana) also desiring away-from-tourists’ time, Amitav Ghosh, novelist (Sea of Poppies & The Glass Palace) and my podcasts while I travelled in the local buses on the local roads from a local resort on the east coast.

Beach in eastern Trinadad

I learnt how to navigate the Trinidadian bus system: frequent, efficient and cheap but not mentioned in the guide book. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was friendly and helpful. And by asking for East Indian food my last three days went from gastronomically ghastly to satisfactory.

Sunset over Trinadad

My flight to Toronto was late, so yet another night in an airport Sheraton Hotel and a day late into Winnipeg — suntanned, well read and delighted with my Guyanan adventure.

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