Retrospective of Guyanan Adventure – part 1

I’ve now found time to write about our wonderful trip to  Guyana which I am posting in several digestible parts. This is Part  1:

 

 

When  Linda was 19 she spent nine months in Guyana on her gap year. Our cruise into  Guyana was not just a great adventure for all of us, but a particularly  emotional trip down memory lane for her.

The  capital, Georgetown, is at the head of the Demerara (of sugar fame) River, but  10 miles to the west is the delta of the mighty Essequibo River and it was here  that we were bound. En route from Suriname, the strong westerly current that I  had bargained on deserted us and we were running out of time. The last 12 hours  we were motoring flat out, and to ensure we made the entrance and a safe  anchorage before nightfall, I decided to cut the corner into the river to save a  critical half hour. As we approached the entrance from the side, we found our  way cut off by hundreds of poles sticking out of the water with fishing nets  strung between them. They ran for miles, seemingly blocking our path. Seeing  what might have been a gap, we nosed our way through at a snail’s pace and were  mighty relieved to find ourselves on the far side of the obstacle without having  got a net wrapped round our propeller. We eventually put the anchor down in the  river as the last rays of light were falling, and to await the following dawn  when we would resume our passage upstream. The Essequibo is the third longest  river in South America after the Amazon and the Orinoco, and our destination was  the small town of Bartica, some 50 miles upriver. The river is wide, but the  navigable channel is narrow as you wend your way between the mud banks that lurk  just below the surface. There is very little pilotage information available and  what there is is as unreliable as the charts, so we were lucky enough to find a  small freighter making its way up river and following it made our passage a lot  less stressful.

We  eventually arrived at Bartica and anchored off the dilapidated quay, opposite  the town power station that was noisily belching out thick acrid smoke from its  chimney. It turned out that it wasn’t just the quay that was dilapidated but the  entire town. In the hinterland of Guyana, a lot of gold mining takes place, some  of it legal and some not so legal and Bartica is the mining town where the  prospectors come to resupply with fuel and food. We had accumulated some rubbish  that we took ashore with us to ecologically dispose of, only to find the entire  town was a rubbish dump. We could have put our garbage anywhere (in fact we had  to do just that as there wasn’t a garbage bin to be found). The streets were  absolutely littered with cans, broken rum bottles, plastic water bottles and  rotting vegetables. Packs of stray dogs roamed the streets, entertaining  themselves by chasing the many cows that were also, inexplicably, ambling along  the roads. When the British left Guyana, one of the things they left behind was  their entire fleet of British Army Bedford 4-ton trucks which are now pressed  into service ferrying enormous barrels of kerosene and supplies to the mining  camps. The town was full of them, half in working order, thundering up and down  the main street, the other half in bits, with men under them with large spanners  and surrounded by the component parts of differentials and drive shafts. We  noticed that the streets were full of men and almost no women. It was like the  Wild West.

We got  our passports stamped at the heavily barricaded police station (only a few years  earlier, a bunch of gangsters stormed the police station, killing several  officers before stealing their weapons and then rampaging through the streets  indiscriminately killing anyone who got in their way). We lingered at the police  station for as short a time as possible, not for fear of another gangland  assault, but because of the overpowering stench of raw sewage from the filthy  gutter just outside.

Amazingly, for a country that has far less tourism than  it deserves, there is a Bradt’s Guide in which we noted that a good meal could  be had at the Platinum Hotel. Over the entrance door was a sign that said “NO  alcohol. NO weapons. NO men under the age of 18”. We all strode into the  reception which we found to be dimly lit with blue lights, with the smell of  sweat unsuccessfully disguised by the smell of cheap perfume. I think (although  I am no expert in these matters) that the Platinum Hotel is now a brothel and,  judging by the startled look on the face of the blousy receptionist, food is the  one commodity they don’t provide.

Having  failed to find dinner we returned to the boat and the following morning we made  our way a mile downriver and anchored off Hurakabra, the delightful riverside  home of Kit and Gem Nascimento. Their property doubles as a resort for visiting  tourists and the garden, surrounded by jungle, was a haven for monkeys and  parrots. Kit and Gem were in Georgetown, so we were greeted by their supervisor,  Mike, who showed us around, accompanied by his dogs (which have to be locked up  at night or they would be eaten by the Jaguars that roam in the surrounding  jungle).  At one time a cabinet  minister, the urbane Kit has been doing all he can to develop Guyana and the  Essequibo as a destination for cruising yachts, and prior to the cruise, I had  been in touch with him for information. We had told Kit that we wanted to leave  the boat for a few days and take an excursion to see the interior of Guyana. Gem  had put together a tailor-made four-day itinerary for us and Mike, who in a  previous life had been a ship’s captain, was to keep an eye on Mina2 at anchor  in front of the house. That evening, Kit and Gem returned from Georgetown and  invited us over for drinks.

We were  picked up from the boat at first light the following morning by Mike who took us  to Bartica in the small Hurakabra launch where a taxi was waiting to take us to  the airstrip about five miles out of town. The journey, along a hopelessly  pot-holed mud track, took 40 minutes. At times we thought we were going to have  to get out and push. On the grass airstrip stood a very old and very small  Cessna single prop aircraft. Standing by it was a scruffy man wearing torn  checked trousers and a T-shirt. We assumed he was the mechanic. And he was the  mechanic – but he was also the pilot. He opened the door to reveal an interior  that was completely falling apart. What was left of the seats had tufts of horse  hair sticking out, and all the plastic trim that remained was falling off.  Maria, a nervous flyer at the best of times, picked up a seat belt which came  away in her hand. John is 6’8” in his stockinged feet. Getting him comfortably  into a Range Rover is a challenge. Getting him into the Cessna was a near  impossibility, but eventually we were all shoe-horned in and the pilot managed  after a struggle to close the passenger door by leaning out of his window,  lifting it on its hinges and slamming it hard. We were  off.

About

Tim Barker is a sailor and occasional adventurer. Since 2004, Mina2, his Oyster 485 yacht, and he (with the Downstairs Skipper and a wonderful bunch of friends) have sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between. Come join their adventures and read Tim's award winning blogs and journals from the comfort of your own computer screen.

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