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Georgetown, Guyana

My time in Georgetown began at cheddi Jagan airport, the main arrival airport in the country as we broke through the dense clouds the rainforest was immense and as far as the eye could see, was amongst my worst time travelling ever, for the simple fact I did not plan ahead so mainly my fault.

So I arrive from Trinidad late afternoon get through customs which was extremely straight forward more than expected a slight panic as I had not seen a bank/atm in the arrivals lounge. Which was very small amongst the smallest I have seen in Latin America,  as I get through customs get my luggage a huge 120 litre Bergen which could not of been mistaken anywhere,  I had arranged a lift from Pandama winery retreat. They had a taxi service arranged for people staying there a knowledgeable ex Guyanese army soldier named Kenrick sampson was the driver speak about him later, the exit was full of people trying to get your business and they never left you alone for a minute. I saw a cash machine and rushed over for it not to work at all I then went into a SIM card shop and asked if I could pay on card, knowing the answer but hoping it was not going to be a no, as expected a no is what I got.  I was hoping to buy a phone, a new phone as on top of this my phone had gone dead so no contact and the shop attendant did not let me charge my phone which was also a request.  As I left the SIM card shop the same 5 taxi drivers made a beeline for me again, I began to be a bit more forthright and tell them to go away as I am waiting for a taxi.

They where shouting to me Georgetown, adams, soldier and white boy for my attention, Adams I was confused until I realized it was etched in to my bag as it was once in service many years ago, as I got 10 minutes to think about what was going to happen next, I suggested to the first taxi man if he could take me to a bank a blue machine one as it worked in Trinidad he said they don’t work with foreign cards in Guyana but he said he will take me to a bank he knew would work. The first bank we came to was on our right which was the republic bank, which had armed guards outside and a huge queue, I was relieved as the road was a main road known as east bank public road. I was also on edge as I left my luggage in there a small bag which had my camera and laptop in, I took the number plate of the vehicle just in case, so as I queued up and finally got in, my card was not accepted and the atm instruction confused me stating 15000 x 3 daily I did not understand the currency as it rejected my card I ran over and spoke to the driver he was saying it understands US dollars, the next bank was in the same area,  which was the guyanese bank of trade and industry again armed guard, but no question I tried getting 200 US dollars again with no luck my stress levels was out the roof. I was in a foreign country no way to collect money no way to pay the driver and in Georgetown, Guyana with all the things I read and podcasts I had heard.  This was amongst the poorest country on the continent with poverty comes high levels of crime.

My mind was playing with fear and scenarios that could easily happen as it is now dusk low light as on the highway not many lights worked, taxi small talk was running thin as it is universal, all this was happening in my mind in a space of 20 seconds from the ATM back to the cab. And he is now getting frustrated and I would imagine happily throw me out in Robstown or tiger bay for not paying him, he then began to talk to me about the currency I stated I have been trying for US dollars he said ‘  Me being confused jumping from different currency and countries When I was at the ATM I was thinking I was asking for US dollars so 200 I was typing in the ATM would only recognize Guyanese so me asking for 200 Guyanese dollars was the equivalent 95 cent and no cash machine would give me 95 cents.  So a new bit of knowledge and my last chance, or tiger bay it was for the night.

We finally arrived at little diamonds shopping centre a tiny 4 shop centre and a small telephone booth like cash machine room, countless unsavory characters hanging around music loud enough to stop most people from thinking straight I began asking for 1500 x 3 finally it worked I ran back to the car before he drove of in a frustrated mood,  so an hour and half later passing through some nicely named regions such as Providence, diamond, and viewing the largest river I have ever seen.  We headed to Pandama retreat with what psychologically felt like a lot of money and more than I needed for the drive.  We got to a petrol station he told me to pay the lady 3000 for gas I happily did, and he said I can pay him the rest now 6000 guyanese dollars, He then began to get mad and asked me how much I took out I said three 1500 he shouted ‘Fifteen thousands’ I then realized I had took 3 sets of 1500 dollars which worked out to about 20 US dollars I said take me to Pandama so by this time I had travelled from cheddi Jagan to Georgetown and back, to then realize I had now not enough money for me then to beg my hosts on arrival no phone and pitch black on the main road. We had to go into the countryside with a taxi not in the best condition and not 4 wheel drive to hope they would cover me 6000 which is around 30 US dollars.  Finally me tired hungry paranoid planning what to do in a worst case scenario, which could be from not finding it being asked to get out I thought of it all.  Another 30minutes we finally arrived at the accommodation around 9pm that night,  They happily paid him as they were worried about there guest, they had regularly spoken to for the last few days warren paid up after questioning the driver so nothing untoward had happened, tracy prepared some fried chicken and rice for me I thanked them both carried my gear thanked the driver and sighed in relief Then headed to my bed and realized I was in Guyana on a ranch, which had so many unexplained sounds from frogs to lizards and nocturnal birds.  My first day in Guyana and my worst day ever traveling well worst few hours in country the driver could have misled me on purpose but the remaining time in Guyana was a lot better than this as you will find out if you read on.

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The notorious Stabroek market area

So as the first morning came in at pandama winery, more strange and wonderful sounds, what I couldn’t hope to recognise. Then the farm yard dogs began as the homeowners got up I went outside and went for a wonder, I could see a lot more now in the light there was my small wooden rustic shack, raised off the ground and set of small steps which were more than enough and what I preferred.  IMG_0027

So as I go for a walk I notice a larger shack built into the tree.  So the homeowner Warren had built all these as I found out over breakfast, aswell as some confused faces as of what happened yesterday I explained best I could I was mobbed and then the phone situation, they laughed and said I had them worried and asked what my plans were in the coming days over breakfast which was papaya, bread and some fried eggs I said I would like to stay here another night get a SIM card and reach out to a few more hotels/hostels in central Georgetown they said they could help and got in touch with Kendrick the driver that had came for me but never worked out yesterday, entirely my fault.  So they showed me around the property a bit more and we got to a freshwater creek I was amazed I had never seen water this colour it was a strange black with a tinge of red to it, I headed straight back to my room got some shorts and tested the water from the steps to begin with it was icy cold, but I had to just dive right in and dive I did its deepest part was about shoulder depth.  As I spent best part of 2 hours diving in and out was called by Tracy saying Kendrick was here the driver which should of gotten me yesterday.  As soon as I came from the tree cover I immediately recognized him he had approached me as with the rest of them I shunned him and now I felt like an even more of a travel rookie high pressure situation did not focus in the slightest, He also apologized and said he did not know my name as he to had a dead phone, he only shouted pandama which was the place I was planning to stay out and eventually found.

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My bath for 2 days

Kendrick asked what I would like to do today I said I would like a SIM so i can keep in touch and contact people in-country that where hoping to help out with my project, in Guyana and to see Stabroek market so he can drop me off in town and I will ring him when I am finished sightseeing he point blank refused and said he would like to be with me to show me his home country and hometown.  I agreed and to briefly explain Kendrick he would always be chewing ginger first thing I noticed chewing pure ginger he asked if I minded I sad no as I do so in the UK when feeling a cold he laughed and agreed, as he does it with the AC on which gives him cold like symptoms, we both laughed and set off down the Lyndon highway so Kendrick, was a small man but confident and was well known and respected in Georgetown his phone was regularly ringing as he does driving work for a number of people, within the area of pandama and Georgetown. We got to know each other well, we spoke of my sibling my work his work and his children he was ex Guyanese army probably the GDF and told me stories of when he was in service he spent 7 years in the forces and learnt all kinds of trades, from car mechanics to driving and of course other work he did not want to follow up.  As we got in to town on our hunt for a SIM card and of course a bank which worked for me after my last mishap.  We arrived at the presidential house in Guyana the equivalent to the White House and said we will be watched by 100 guns as we pass through here although I could only count 10 armed emotionless guards.  He laughed said welcome to the White House of Mr Granger current president of Guyana, we then passed a huge church he said we built this meaning the British as recent as the 60s they gained independence and British architecture still was hugely present within Georgetown it was nice to see and imagine how life was back then British rule in the ridiculous humidity of Guyana,  he asked if I had a camera I said no not my big one just a small one he said no good man how are you going to share Guyana with my family I agreed pictures speak a thousand words especially when visiting rarely seen places such as, St. Georges Church

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St. Georges cathedral

If I was regretting not having a camera for the church then the following hustle and bustle of the marketplace was another regret on my Georgetown trip, so as we drive around we get out and get a few things he points out a barbers, for when I return from my jungle expedition.  We come across a digicell shop with a queue longer than we could or wanted to wait we drove past the notorious tiger bay, the aggressive drivers of the maxi taxis fitting into gaps that you couldn’t get a mini into but somehow they always manage and if not and there was a driver who bumped another, it would literally turn in to a fight. Stories Kendrick was telling me about escalate to knife fights in broad daylight and he had witnessed countless and re-lived a story he told me of a man actually losing a hand, But unless they bump one another it is as manic as any London/Birmingham street at any pickup point.

We decided to head back.  As the heavens were about to open, we drove up the Main Street and Kendrick asked what bank I ended up going to yesterday and being successful. So we headed to diamond which was a small way out of town and in the direction of my accommodations.  It worked without a hitch 3 x $15000 this time no issues worked out to about $200 us, which should happily see me until I at least get into my 2nd accommodation whatever it may be.  We then headed to small Digicel shop on the highway and I got myself a Digicel sim plan for around 8000 gy dollars which had unlimited data and a few hundred minutes and texts as it changed network successfully,  I had logged into my Airbnb account and there are a good few messages from pandama and one that comes straight to mind is. ‘can you tell me your status’ Warren being ex-forces and was obvious from messages like this, I just had to take it as an experience.  We also stopped and I got myself a few big bottles of water but later fed up of buying water I began drinking it out the tap with no issues.  But as we got back to pandama I offered my driver some money for the sheer inconvenience for yesterday he took a small payment and I paid him for today I thanked him and spoke to Tracy and Warren and paid them back for bailing me out with the taxi driver and then paid again for the upcoming night.  The rest of this day was swimming in the creek and helping a young to be couple get married on a photo shoot which they appreciated, as the pandama creek was perfect for beautiful shots of anything and a young couple would be perfect here.

As the day was coming to an end, I had spoken to people prior coming to Guyana, in regards to central hotels and was advised by a Jerry Bacchus and Damien Lewis for middle street hotel so I decided on this and confirmed my booking through text.  And arranged it for the following night as the day got late, I sat on the water’s edge with my head torch and camera being eaten alive by huge biting insects, contemplating what was coming up in the dense forests of Guyana.  After a glass of wine made by Warren which is also a passion of his, wine is not my thing in the slightest, he offered me a glass I accepted and glad I did. We spoke about my planned trip and he stressed me to be careful as I was literally going into the unknown, I finished my drink and of I went to bed.

After a glass of wine made by Warren which is also a passion of his, wine is not my thing in the slightest he offered me a glass I accepted and glad I did. We spoke about my planned trip and he stressed me to be careful as I was literally going into the unknown I finished my drink and of I went to bed.

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So my last day in pandama winery I ate breakfast arranged a pickup time with Kendrick through Tracey and paid my remaining balance said my goodbyes and thanked them both.

Kendrick arrived and we headed off again a good conversation mainly about his children and what he hopes for them which was his son hopefully join the army as it done him good. As he had learnt many trades but the conversation soon got onto the forests around Guyana.  Local folklore such as the kanaima? I was confused when I first heard it, which was In the UK and Guyanese people warned me of it over social media so a kanaima is ‘In the belief system of the Carib tribes, Kanaima is an evil spirit that possesses people and causes them to turn into deadly animals and/or go into a murderous rage’. Which re-enforced my anxiety as the kanaima belief is ingrained into Guyanese society and even more so within the Amerindian community, in the more isolated regions further south than the iwokrama reserve,  so I was planning for an adventure in the coming days we gave each other our phone numbers for my return to Georgetown after, my trip, it did not take long to get to my new place to stay as it was a direct route and not a tour around Georgetown as we got there we both said hope to see you again and of we went.

So I got out hauling my huge backpack, messaged Damien who had arranged this place for me he replied, with yes just head in all arranged I got in finding the owner a young lady mentioned Damien she said no problem took me to a room I paid my fee and relaxed, connected to the internet and now I was able to contact people more easily in Guyana and in the UK to plan ahead.  The hotel was supposedly the best in some distance but I wouldn’t have been picky,  I would have stayed anywhere but everyone knew where this was, which played a vital role in meeting with a Luke Johnson who will end up being paramount to the successful completion of the project, from start to finish and follow-up of news reports after the completion, as well as an emergency contact for family in the UK should they need to be notified of anything good or bad.

It was a Sunday in Georgetown and nothing was really happening apart from churchgoers which were a tradition in Guyana, I let a few people know I was now at the hotel and my plan was still going ahead I reached out again to Luke Johnson as he had helped over emails with logistics a few contacts in country.  He asked if I could meet him and a friend that Sunday night to get a plan in motion and meet eachother finally.  I agreed but in the meantime, I went for a walk around the immediate area for food and to get my bearings, where I found the best roti shop Singh’s rotis.  My dinner for the remaining time in Georgetown so as the day went on and our meet up time in the hotel around 8-9ish that night I went and enjoyed some beers in the bar below me which turned out to be jerry’s old bar a guy who helped me out in the beginning which was ironic the three people that helped the project the most Jerry, Luke and Damien all knew each other well.

So I had a text saying what he was wearing and where was I,  I went down and met him Luke Johnson who runs his own ecotourism birding company and had travelled up and down Guyana, numerous times was ideally and best suited to help with the smooth running of the project.  Hello I say we finally meet he laughed and said yes we do, Luke was a young guy oozed confidence but passionate about his cause which was conservation of the Guyanese biodiversity and education he knew so much and his knowledge of the logistics of my intended project and picked out a number of flaws in my own plan and added extra perks like newspaper offers interviews and possibility of meeting key figures in the Guyanese government also of which shocked me but added extra responsibility and drive if there weren’t already enough for me.

He then introduced me to another person best way to explain this individual was tall lanky and thin in work clothes which he must have had as his first pair of jeans, there were holes in every piece of cloth available, his t-shirt was more of a vest and his demeanor seemed tired, or that he couldn’t or wouldn’t want to see another hard day’s work but his knowledge of Bartica was second to none, so my project in my mind was beginning from Bartica up-river for around 15-20 days I accounted for the current as it was against the direction of the river, but not the price of vessel needed or the manpower needed to run it and to get up and over rapids and then the gas.  Which this guy expressed to me and then the dynamics of bartica as a wild cowboy town full of misfits he advised me as man to man he stated I would not go to bartica as a foreigner asking for a service as it was likely anything could happen I could give money over and then be left 3 days up river or they only wanting, or could go so far then again asking in rock stone or another stop point asking for the 2nd, 3rd or 4th leg of the journey another possibility was not knowing the forest and causing myself and the crew injury or worse. So now my project was

So now my project seemed a lot more intricate and difficult than previously thought, I now asked what is the other possibility Luke then explained I should head to apoteri, to begin with, and head down river but getting a local guide who knows the forest how me and you know our own neighborhoods, he said it would be a bigger news story and more conservation friendly.  If I would do it in a traditional dugout canoe I reeled back to this as an idea and said straight away yes no fuel being used engaging local indigenous communities and helping in eco-tourism at its finest was perfect and a huge adventure.

So a few red tape issues like permissions was discussed but all had been arranged in the UK over email so that was another ticked off the list.  So the next thing was flights or a way to get into apoteri which is in a densely forested area no roads connecting it to Georgetown which was ideal he then said there is a charter flight heading out on Tuesday and will be the only one for some time, Luke said he will pull a few strings and see if we could get on board so it all felt extremely real now heading to the land of many waters on the mighty Essequibo River.   I then thanked him shook his hand in a nervous manner he and his friend headed of the friend never spoke again for the entire 45-minute conversation not even to say goodbye he just shrugged and followed Luke.  I went downstairs for another few drinks and it was well after 10 by the time I headed back upstairs to my room and rested for tomorrow.

A video from youtube day before my trip

The day before

The next day I was up bright and early to head to Singh’s roti shop for breakfast and I had a few calls from Damien who was one of the people to help me out, asking if I had anything planned today as he would like to meet up I explained no I was just waiting to hear from Luke Johnson in regards to the plane for the following day, myself and Damien met around 10ish that morning.

Damien was not very tall but I would call him a ladies man his look but well known again and respected by everyone who knew him they would stop him and have a conversation mainly women in the shops and a lady in the ministry of citizenship building.  Who advised me and him on what to get done the best way possible he had explained to me the visa situation which I was aware of as a British citizen you were allowed to stay in Guyana up to a month and if more was needed a whole host of paperwork would have to be submitted, from printouts of every page of your passport to a fee 25 US dollars also a reason behind the extension and someone who could claim your extension for you and in this case I asked Damien.  He knew a lady in the ministry of citizenship a small building on

He knew a lady in the ministry of citizenship a small building on a main road in Georgetown next to a few administration buildings there was a dress code long trousers and t-shirt no flip-flops only shoes or trainers that covered your feet up.  We headed off up there me in jeans baking in the scorching temperatures Damien unfazed there was a long queue but it was a welcome wait in the cool building and getting to know Damien.  It took most of the morning up by early afternoon Luke had contacted me he said I was on the flight in the early hours and he also had an interview on Stabroek News for me, Stabroek news is one of the leading papers in Guyana along with kaiteur news I could not have hoped for more. Without these people, the whole project would have been an extreme failure.  I explained to Damien I will be going to the news station but first I had to meet Luke Johnson at around 4ish, I gave Damien the 25 dollars to pay for it in 2 weeks time just to be safe, he agreed I thanked him I went out and got some food said I will reach out to him as soon as I get back into town we said bye and he went back to work and I went to my room.

Packed up my clothes went out and got enough food for 2 people for around 10days myself and the guide, which was my expected time in the field I met up with Luke after this and we headed to Stabroek News he told me some questions they may ask to prep me he said it would be very informal and the ladies were nice so I had nothing to worry about as we got there we were escorted to a small room and met two ladies one called Maria a journalist that also loved the outdoors and a Thandeka who was anti-outdoors shall we say, although bubbly lady and an enjoyable time with them.  From a few question of dangers, we could possibly face from the obvious jaguars, snakes and injury the most dangerous by far was the river by a long shot huge islands scattered it with countless rapids and falls.  Also, they again stressed they were glad I was not heading from Bartica they were very drastic about Bartica and stressed it was very dangerous. I was then asked my main reason in coming from England to the small country of Guyana to travel down a river, I said purely conservation my only drive and aim for the project, as quick as It began the interview was over and tomorrow I was heading to the rainforest, I thanked them exchanged emails and took a few pictures.  I couldn’t be

I was then asked my main reason in coming from England to the small country of Guyana to travel down a river, I said purely conservation my only drive and aim for the project as quick as It began the interview was over and tomorrow I was heading to the rainforest I thanked them exchanged emails and took a few pictures.  I couldn’t be happier but apprehensive so Luke took me back to the hotel I asked the fee for the plane it worked out to around 300 US dollars, but for a chartered airplane to the middle of nowhere I was more than happy to pay, he confirmed all the details with me and who I should reach out to once there was a lady called Tracy as she is in the know and he works alongside her sometimes by sending resources to them on the planes once a month, he then asked do I have food for the guide and myself I explained I had and we was happy and gave me the time for the morning pickup and heading to Ogle airport for around 5am, I agreed he went home and reminded me 5am.  I went upstairs double checked my bag and made sure I had enough money for the boat I will initially have to buy around 200 US dollars also to account for 50usd a day for a guide, a competent and passionate guide, all was in order and of to sleep I went.

I went upstairs double checked my bag and made sure I had enough money for the boat I will initially have to buy around 200 US dollars also to account for 50usd a day for a guide, a competent and passionate guide all was in order and of to sleep I went. I woke up for 4 to make sure I did not miss the time all prepped and ready to go jungle boots out long sleeve shirt and my British army bergen. Which fitted in quite well as every other vehicle in Guyana where British army surplus trucks for the mining in the country and the terrain of Guyana.  So I had some breakfast and headed downstairs 15 minutes before my agreed pickup time eager as I can be so I handed in my key outside was so humid but a pleasant morning waiting for around 15 – 20 minutes, which felt like an hour I began to worry had I been fleeced out of my 300 dollars or had he crashed is he coming or was he just running late, he was bang on time.  I apologised to him in my head as he got out he commented on my bag said ‘a good bag British army bag’ I said yes I asked him I will try to send one over in the future for his longer expeds in the field.  He thanked me and general conversation began which led to health and safety equipment do I have enough batteries, can I give him a number of my insurance and family back home and for me to do the same to them, for him to be the point of call in the worst case scenario and to send coordinates at each camping spot.  I

He thanked me and general conversation began which soon led to health and safety equipment do I have enough batteries, can I give him a number of my insurance and family back home and for me to do the same to them, for him to be the point of call in the worst case scenario and to send coordinates at each camping spot.  I, of course, agreed to them all and we both began to relax he understood I had done it before in similar environments and was excited to see what this trip would bring for us all involved.  We arrived at check-in, there were 2 more people on the same flight, who he coincidentally knew and was a family member of Tracy who I was intending to meet in apoteri.  So all checks carried out everyone who needed my details and whoever I needed was confirmed.  It was almost fair well, we all got weighed in and bags he again stressed to me ‘enjoy it man’ I thanked him again we sat in the waiting room for around half an hour and then our flight was called, I shook his hand and said speak to you in a few days ill ring on my satellite phone when I can.

We was ushered through into a room full of soldier type people in full gear presumably the GDF.  On border operations to small airstrips all over the country, when I saw the plane it looked so small I could have tipped it on its side maybe 5 seats max.  The pilot greeted us asked how much we weighed and then onto me he then told me to get in the front to distribute the weight evenly, I laughed and attempted to get in the back he said no genuinely the weight I obliged and got in.

“Nothing great in the world was accomplished without passion.”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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