Drink Wild Air

Guyana

The border wih Guyana is located about a 3-4 hr drive from Paramaribo in Suriname. The bus is a minivan and I was told that I would be picked up between 4 and 4.30am. I was waiting at the front gate at 5 mins to 4 and had to wait an hour for pick up. We eventually made it to the border where we went through the incredibly inefficient process of purchasing ferry tickets before being stamped out by immigration and then getting the ferry across the river. I ended up have a rather large argument with a guy from the ferry company because apparently I had too much luggage and he wanted to charge me extra. However when I asked for his identification (he was not wearing a uniform and had no ID displayed like everyone else I could see) and a copy of the terms and conditions he couldn’t produce either so naturally I refused. The guy then got really angry, raising his voice and waving his finger in my face, which resulted in him very quickly finding out the best way to piss me off. Eventually one of the girls in the office went and got the actual manager (the guy had told me about 5 times he was the manager) who sorted out the situation in 2 minutes. I guess some people will always learn the hard way. The funniest part was that the manager came up to me later and said that I had offended the other guy and asked if I would apologise to him!! I think it was probably me telling him he was shabbily dressed and needed to tuck his shirt in that offended him hahaha. Needless to say I didn’t apologise!

The Guyana side of the border seemed to run seamlessly in comparison. Immigration was a breeze and the customs guy who had been checking every large bag waved me through with his only question being to confirm I am actually Australian! Once clearing customs there was another van to take us the couple of hours into Georgetown.

Before arriving in Georgetown I hadn’t heard/read many good reviews about the city. The only person I personally knew who has been here (10 years earlier) warded off would be robbers by knocking them out with a bottle of rum. On the other hand, I had read that a lot of work had gone into improving the city as it was a host during the 2007 cricket World Cup. Based on this I decided to keep an open mind…

Georgetown is an interesting city with a mix of contradictions. Generally I like that in a city but here, I’m not sure it works. There appears to be a big US influence here with aid work etc but I still get called “white girl” as I walk down the street. There is a real feel of colonialism (although somewhat neglected) in the buildings amongst certain suburbs yet in other suburbs I immediately regret walking through. There seems to be a massive problem with drainage despite having several canals and a seawall which helps protect the city as it lays 3ft under sea level at high hide. Many of the shops and businesses have security guards (who don’t appear to be able to do much) and or still lock the door and their stock behind cages. The light house is land locked….

I thought that when travelling in the Middle East/ North Africa regions I received a lot of comments in a day. Then I came to Georgetown. It seems I can barely walk 5 metres before getting a comment, a beep or my favourite (note the sarcasm) the kissy noise. For me standard practice is to ignore it. Acknowledging it condones it which then just perpetuates the cycle. These days I only acknowledge it if it’s an original comment that I haven’t heard before but that’s surprisingly rare these days. However it really started to turn me off exploring the city.

Admittedly it’s been pretty weird being back in a native English speaking country for the first time in over 9 months. Feigning ignorance is a lot harder when you do actually speak the language and it is evident as soon as you open your mouth, even though nobody can place my accent.

The best thing about Georgetown for me was I found a little cafe called Oasis just around the corner of my Guesthouse (Rima) that served real coffee! Fresh ground beans and real milk! Now that might not sound overly exciting to you but given how few “real” coffees (aka not Nescafé with powdered milk) I’ve had in the past 9 months I got a little excited. I’ve discovered that just because this continent produces some of the best coffee beans in the world, it doesn’t mean they know what to do with them.

I really didn’t do a great deal in Georgetown. I did wander around a bit but for the most part it didn’t feel overly safe to pull out the camera (even the little point & shoot) so not a lot of photos were taken. I ended up spending longer in Georgetown than what I wanted due to the availability of a trip to Kaieteur. The main attraction in Guyana I wanted to see is the longest single drop falls (260m) in the world… Kaieteur Falls.

Doing the falls trip with an airline directly is the cheapest but due to lack of availability I ended up booking with Dargon Tours to visit both Kaieteur with Orinduik falls. I decided to go with the tour company partially due to schedule and partly due to convenience – the staff were so friendly and helpful.

Dargon Tours rang me at the guesthouse the morning of the trip to let me know the departure time – lucky for me they were just across the road so I didn’t have to go far. The time I was told was 9.45 which was a lot later than I was expecting but when the rain started about 10 minutes later it all started to make sense. When we got out to Ogle airport we were all weighed with our bags and then waited in he departures lounge. After about half an hour we were told there was a weight issue and could we please leave all non-essential stuff behind. A local Guyanese man also decided that he would reschedule his trip to help reduce the weight. After another half an hour we were told weight was still an issue so it was agreed that I would reschedule to the next day and be compensated for an extra nights accommodation as I had planned on leaving.

After another half an hour (hour and a half since we arrived at the departures lounge) we were advised that the pilot didn’t want to fly through the weather at Orinduik so the trip may be changed to be Kaieteur only. By this stage everybody just wanted to go so it was not a problem. Shortly after a mother and daughter team said they had something on that night and didn’t want to be late back so they would reschedule so I was back going again. At this point I made the comment that I was feeling like the trip just wasn’t meant to be. However at just before 1pm the aircraft turned up and we were taken out onto the runway to board the plane charted by Golden Arrow. The plane was a 17 seater but I think they mean 17 kids as we only just made weight limit with 14 passengers – granted the majority of us were above average height.

We took off just after 1pm and had a lovely view leaving the airport. After a few minutes in the air I notice that we don’t seem to be gathering speed like I thought we should be. Another few minutes passed and I notice we seemed to have stopped gaining altitude. By 10 minutes into the flight the plane started to turn and I let out a bit of a chuckle to which the Czech guy who spoke no English sitting next to me just gave me a weird look. I just knew we were heading back to where we came from. Sure enough we had landed back at Ogle by 1.30. The official line from the pilot was “there was some instrument readings he didn’t like”. The unofficial line from the ground crew was one of the engines was severely overheated and the plane was leaking fuel. As I had been sitting at the back I had seen something dripping from the plane but hadn’t realised at the time what it was. There was a Canadian couple sitting behind the pilot and said that he looked very stressed during the flight which in turn had them stressed and worried. I was laughing about it when I found out but not everyone was quite as calm as me. I just figured it could have been a lot worse and it has now given me a great story to tell. It also reconfirmed that I need to listen to my intuition! The person I felt most sorry for was the Guyanese man who had never been in a plane before. He said that he was going to try going again so I really hope he does and isn’t scared off by the experience!!

When we got back to town we were asked if we wanted to go the next day but to Kaieteur only. I was the first person to respond with a resounding yes even before we were assured that a different aviation company (not Golden Arrow or Air Guyana which has apparently crashed twice recently one of which was fatal) would be used. Because of my confidence in believing that the trip the next day would be fine the Canadian couple also signed up for it. However when I ran into the next morning having breakfast she had changed her mind. I was really disappointed with this as he was going to propose at the falls!

The whole day just seemed to run smoothly from the start. The sun was shining when I woke, the check-in process at Air Services just ran smoothly and we didn’t have to wait long before boarding the plane. Just before they boarded us they they did an announcement with details of the trip including naming the rivers that we would be flying over. The whole set up reeked of a lot more professionalism than Golden Arrow ever did. The direction the pilot took off and landed gave us fantastic views of Georgetown, something Golden Arrow did not do. The 55 minute flight in both directions was seamless. The plane was a 14 seater (inc pilot) which is 4 seats smaller than the day previous but seemed so much bigger.

The flight gave us views of the Demerara River, the Demerara Harbour Bridge (the longest floating toll bridge), the undeveloped countryside before finally the mountains of Kaieteur National Park rose before us. The view of the falls from the air is breathtaking. I’ve seen Niagara, I’ve seen Iguazu, but to see water drop that far straight down is incredible. The drop of Kaieteur is 3 times the height of Niagara Falls.

Once we landed we were taken on a walk to 3 different view points. The first, Boyscout View, gave us full unimpeded view of the entire falls. The second view, Rainbow View, gave the best view of the river winding through the mountains after the falls. It got its name as you can almost always see a rainbow in the falls from this angle. The final view was the top of the falls where you could witness up-close more than 136,200 litres of water falling per second.

The area is also home to the Giant Tank Bromeliad which can grow up to 2m in diameter – some of the ones we saw where huge. It is also the home to the Golden Arrow frog of which I saw 2!!!

Leaving Guyana is a mission. Due to disputes between the 2 countries there is no border crossing to get to Venezuela. This means that you have to travel across country to Lethem which is on the border with Brazil, travel down to Boa Vista and then back up to Venezuela. All of this takes a couple of days. There is 2 options to get to Lethem – to fly bus as this has a 9kg weight limit this wasn’t an option for me, or by bus which is actually a minivan. When I booked my bicker I was told to be there by 5pm. I arrived about quarter to and was told I would have to wait a little while. Obviously my definition of “a little while” is different to these people as it was 2 and a half hours until we left! This really was a sign of things to come…

The minivan sat 12 people including the driver. There was 3 Brazilians, myself and a group that was mixed between Guyanese and Caribbean. For some reason I still cannot fathom, we had to keep checking in with police which involved everyone getting out of the van and showing passports. This happened 5 times and it was a manual process each time with details being kept on paper. Nothing like keeping a bit of manual processes for a bit of job creation.

The entire road once we got out of Georgetown was dirt. Or in places mud. Out of a total of 25 hours for this stretch of road we got bogged 4 times. The first (at 3.30am) was the worst. It took about an hour and a half to get the van out as not a single car passed by during the time. For the 2nd and 3rd time there was another vehicle around to pull us out. The 4th time was after we had to wait for another truck to be towed out so there was plenty of people around to push us out when we got bogged.

Because it was after 8.30pm when we eventually arrived in Lethem immigration was closed. The people who owned the transport company had a sheltered space for hammocks so myself and the 2 Brazilian guys spent the night there before heading to immigration the next morning and then crossing into Brazil. I was in Brazil for a total of about 11 hours while I got the bus from Bonfim (on the Guyana border) to Boa Vista and then onto Pacaraima (on the Venezuelan border).

See photo galleries here.

Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air!

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