Entering Guyana was a long and ever changing decision for us - the Guiana’s are an expensive area to travel through thanks to their isolation caused by many rivers, few bridges and overpriced ferries. We had heard stories of how unfriendly and difficult the border staff can be, so we put on our biggest smiles and walked into the passport office telling the staff how excited we were to finally be in their wonderful country - huge smiles and warm handshakes were our welcome. But the rules of entry were not as straight forward and although we were given a one month entry, our truck was only given a 14 day pass?! This was the first of many crazy things we encountered in Guyana.
There is no road access to Guyana from Venezuela - the only road access to the west is from Brasil and it was only very recently that a bridge was completed to link the two countries by road. This route that can be very difficult with rain and we have had to time our entry for the short dry season when conditions are said to be easier, but we quickly see that even with dry weather this route can cause problems for many road users - the track edges are very soft and treacherous and finding firm land to pull off this route can be difficult.
We stopped just after the border in the friendly small town of Lethem to sample our first taste of local food - roti bread with chicken curry and a mashed potato ‘bomb’ filled with spicy minced beef. Fabulous! People pass us in the street and say hello or good morning as we sit trying to adjust our minds from Spanish and Portuguese to English - it’s incredibly difficult for us at first.
Treina and Oslyn work in the local tourist office and they are just great - funny and helpful - they tell us of a place where we are welcome to park in the city for our stay. They are also the girls who helped me to write Neesha’s creole - so if it’s wrong you can blame them! Ha ha (thanks girls)
Georgetown has a reputation for being a bit rough and ready but we really enjoyed the city. Taking a minibus ride from our parking area into the town centre was a superb experience - full of colourful characters with funny stickers on the bus walls and always with reggae music playing. We arrived by the famous Starbroek Market where everyone hustles for a deal - the minibus drivers argue murderously with each other to get passengers onto their bus, and just as you think things are going to get physical, they burst into laughter. Yet as we walk the streets people regularly say hello or good morning as they pass - there are not many capital cities in the world that are this friendly.
And it’s in Linden that Shakira finds a new family - our little rescue kitten, who has spent the last day playing on the see-saw has gone. We are shocked at how upset we are and come very close to driving to her new home to ask for her back, but when we arrive we see Shakira is at the top of their garden tree happily running around and not interested in us one bit! I stand crying with relief and sadness as the men all sit chatting - ‘These women all the same man - they always crying about their cats’, one of the uncles assures Dave. Orinda and her lovely family are going to be great for Shakira and we can’t believe our good fortune at meeting them. Many thanks Orinda! Xx
It’s time to leave Linden and to drive north to Georgetown passing by the Demerara Distillery where the famous El Dorado Rum is produced. We search for a tourist office hoping to find some maps and information - but it’s all a little too late - we’ve passed the highlights of Guyana to get to Georgetown and we are definitely not driving all the way back down that route to revisit missed sights or routes.
We see so many things in Linden that make us smile - friendly locals, funny signs, colourful people and remnants of the old British colonial times. The place where we are staying is called Watooka - a beautiful building that was constructed in the early in 1940’s by the Canadian Alcan company. This historical wooden home has now been turned into a government guesthouse whose palm and tree filled gardens edge the river.
In town we watch as locals play cricket or catch the small ferry boats across the deep river water to go shopping, rasta men with dreadlocks kissing their calves stroll down the hot streets taking their prized song birds for a walk passing by young school girls huddled in a giggling group, their dreadlocks tucked into hand knitted hairnets 3 times the size of their heads - they looked like mini Marge Simpson’s. We even see locals celebrating the colourful Hindi festival of Holi in this multi cultural country and Dave gets rather overexcited at seeing a fish and chips sign!
This gem of a town does not even have a mention in our little book and we are amazed that such a great place receives so few visitors - it seems Guyana is still learning about what tourists like us want.
At first sight Linden is a rather rough looking town with nothing of interest but the reality is very different - the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming, the beautiful Demerara river flows through the town and blue bauxite lakes dot the area. We follow the river looking for somewhere to park where we can access the river to do some laundry and end up stopping to ask a local elderly woman if she knows anywhere we can park. She consults her sister who decides that it would be best to ask ‘Uncle Jim’. We stand chatting about the area as we patiently wait for Uncle Jim - who I imagine must be very elderly as he is taking a long time to appear. So imagine my surprise when Uncle Jim turns out to be a young guy of 30 or so - it would seem that in Guyana everyone is either Auntie or Uncle regardless of age or family relationship. Anyway, Uncle Jim advices I go and ask a local woman who lives by the school, so we drive to the school and I approach a couple of young school girls to ask if they know the lady. The girls are really surprised to see me and one of them (Neesha) hides behind her friend as she nudges her forward. ‘Nessha - stop pushin’ meh gyal, yuh ain’t gat friken da lady. She ain’t no tiga!’ her friend exclaims. Translates this means - stop pushing me girl, you ain’t got to be frightened of the lady - she ain’t no tiger!
Dave has travelled a lot in the Caribbean for work, but for me this is my first experience of Creole and I stand there grinning with delight at being compared to a ‘Tiga’!
In the end, no-one can find the lady we are looking for, so we drive to a local historical building and chance our luck by asking if we can park for the night. Not only are we told we can park but that we can stay for as long as we want and use the toilets, showers and swimming pool for free - wow! Heather, the manager is a delightful woman who welcomes us and makes us feel at home along with all the staff.
We eventually reach the beautiful Essequibo river - where we have to get a ferry - it’s another silly Guyana moment - to use this ferry you have to buy a return ticket that is only sold in Georgetown! It seems that the government does not understand that tourists can now enter the country from the south..... We manage to talk our way onto the ferry without a ticket and we are lucky to have done this - the return ticket for the very short ferry ride costs a frightening 25,000 Gyd (£82).
Spending the night on this road is a real treat - at dusk the sky fills with noisy macaw’s and parrots as they return to their nests and as night falls the jungle comes alive with noisy insects and other animals, no signs of human life or artificial lights can be seen anywhere.
In places we have to punch our way through the foliage of fallen trees as we continue to follow the route north. Thus far our weather has been dry but we reach a ugly logging settlement where the heavens open - the thought of being stuck is in our minds, but luckily the rain does not last long. We continue until we eventually reach a place called Mile 58, it’s a small settlement that is 58 miles south of Linden, where we ask locals how long this journey will take us - they answer ‘4 hours’! As we near civilisation, logging areas are now common with many heavy trucks using this road, making it a pothole filled and bumpy ride.
Our route takes us north through the Rupununi Savanna passing many Amerindian villages (the name used for indigenous people used in this part of South America) and we even see some of the children hunting with bows and arrows. Unfortunately we have no guide book or maps for Guyana, so were are having to rely on limited information which tells us that we can only visit the Amerindian villages with a permit which can only be purchased in Georgetown. Luckily for us, we still managed to meet some people from the Annai area who were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Some of the local minibus drivers stop to ask us if we have come from Georgetown and when we told them we had come from the south they stared at us in surprise - ‘It’s not raining there?!’ they ask. They tell us that there is no longer a clear dry and wet season, that the route can close at any time with rain now and that we are lucky to have arrived.
Ours hopes of visiting a remarkable woman called Diana McTurk, a elderly lady who for many years has rehabilitated Giant river otters, are dashed when we read that her ranch is only accessible by several hours on a river canoe or by taking a cesna flight from Georgetown. Later, in Georgetown, we were very unhappy to learn that we could have driven to her ranch from the area we were in now. Damn and blast us for not having a guidebook and for not being researchers - we honestly thought we would find one for sale somewhere in South America.
The further north we travel the wetter the road becomes and the denser the rainforest and jungle - it’s a fantastic drive through the Iwokrama rainforest - rough and wet with bridges that sometimes need a little ‘re-arranging’. Trees and vegetation edge the route and animals dash out right in front of our truck as they race across the track - toucans fly right in front of our truck looking directly into our eyes as they pass and the agouti run for cover as they hear us approach. Our luck continues when we see the fascinating Powisi bird, a bird favoured by illegal gold miners, this bird eats all things that glitter making it an ideal animal to smuggle gold nuggets - we hate to think how the miners retrieve their gold though....
Deeply stuck in the soft edges, me moving some planks on a bridge and one of many fallen trees encountered on the route.
Kurupukari Ferry crossing the Essequibo river and a Scottish truck working over here.
Another fallen tree and water section and some dreaded rain.
Watooka and some of the friendly staff enjoying Dave’s magic.
The city is strange yet so familiar - everyone speaks English, the signs are in English and the buildings are typically colonial, yet the air is filled with the sounds and smells of India - the homeless call ‘Auntie’ after you, hoping you will give them some change for food or beer as we subconsciously slow down passing by Indian shops with their Bollywood music blaring. Beside the stinking open sewers that are filled with rubbish, are water canals filled with water lilies and fish. We find ourselves laughing with some of the locals as we try to understand each other - I laughed with one woman, ‘We are both speaking English but we still can’t understand each other!’ I said - her heavy Creole and my Scottish made chatting interesting.
Guyana may be relatively unexplored by tourists but it has been well explored by prospectors for many years now - gold and diamonds being the main lure for adventurous miners. In the old days, diamond miners were called ‘Pork knockers’ - a strange term that no-one could easily explain to us. Eventually we discovered the names origin - because the miners lived for long periods of time in the bush, their staple diet was mainly dried cured pork.
The locals have a strange way of asking permission to approach our ‘home’ - one night we heard a man softly saying ‘Inside, inside’ as he walked around our truck. It took several confused minutes for us to realise that he was actually addressing us and asking for permission to come close!!
Every morning we have a little chat with the night security women as they walk by on their way home and everyone is happy to see us here. But one man was very excited indeed - Sydney - a local truck driver who came over to our truck exclaiming that his ‘heart was bursting with excitement’ at seeing our truck. What a lovely man he was with his infectious enthusiasm - it gave us great pleasure to show him around our home and to take a photo of him with Nessie.
A strange President sign, local man fishing in one of the many city canals
and Sydney - we hope you like your photo!
Our trip in Guyana is coming to an end and it’s time for us to drive east toward Suriname - we pass by many villages with Scottish names - TAIN, ALNESS and CROMARTY to name but a few, but my absolute favourite village name in Guyana was MCDOOM - we laughed for a long time about the unfortunate villagers who lived there and wondered if they were fans of the popular British comedy series called ‘Dad’s Army’, where one character called Fraser would always exclaim that everyone was ‘Doomed!’.
Our final night is spent by the ferry dock for Suriname - Dave asked the staff what the cost of the ferry is and we are horrified to hear that it is going to cost us US$171 for a 25 minute ferry ride. If we had know this we would have turned around and driven back to Brasil, but we have already spent a lot of money by buying our insurance for Suriname and French Guiana (it’s much cheaper to purchase this insurance in Guyana).
The next morning, after we have bought our ticket I go to ask to see the price list. There is no information for travellers like us on the internet or in guidebooks about the prices of travel through the Guiana’s. So I arrive at the ticket booth with my pen and paper ready to copy down all the prices and ask politely if I can see the list - the supervisor is called and what has to be the oddest conversation I have ever had begins -
‘Hello, can I see your price list please?’
‘It’s mine. I need it.’
‘Oh, I don’t want it, I just want to look at it.’
‘But it’s mine, you can’t have it!’
‘I don’t want it. I just want to look at it and to copy down the prices.’
‘What weight is your vehicle?’
‘I already have my ticket - I want to know the other prices.’
‘But it’s mine, I only have one. Why do you want it?’
‘I write a information page for other travellers and I want the information for that.’
‘But I told you - you can’t have it - it’s mine!’
The woman leaves the office and I stand aside as another customer buys a ticket. She returns a few minutes later and looks surprised to see me still there.
‘You can’t have it! It’s mine! I need it! I only have one! Why do you want it?’ She rants.
On and on it goes until I eventually run out of patience.
‘I don’t think you are listening to me.’ I say, ‘I don’t WANT it, I know you only have one and that you need it. I simply want to LOOK at it and to copy the prices. I will stand here and do it in front of you. I cannot steal it - I am locked in the dock area and forbidden to leave and I am not going to swim across the river with it. Please. Even if you hold it up to the glass so that I can look at it would be helpful.’
She looks at me with great suspicion and decides that I am not clever enough to understand how to read the form.
‘What do you want to know?’
‘All of the prices please.’
‘What weight is their vehicle?’
‘I don’t know - there are many different travellers with different vehicles coming.’
This causes even more confusion and we rumble on and on even more until she eventually sighs heavily and begins to read out the prices!!!!
Guyana has been a great place to visit - a refreshing change from the usual South American culture and foods - it’s just such a change that the vehicle entry regulations are so limiting.
A few of the many signs that made us smile in Guyana.
A scary bridge, the wonderful Powisi bird and a mud bath.