Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Georgetown, Guyana

Finally made it to the land famous for..........mass suicides? I like Georgetown although it feels more like the Caribbean than South America. I will do more on it after some exploration tomorrow. For the moment I will write about the 48 or so hours it took to get from Santa Elena to here.

It seems pointless but for me it highlights one of the essential backpacking experiences and what differentiates backpacking from going on holiday: The ridiculously arduous trip. Venezuela shares a border with Guyana. A look at a map would seem to indicate that if you follow the coast you will hit Georgetown quite quickly. If only. To get here involved going to Santa Helena, crossing over to Brazil, heading to the Guyanese border then making it through the interior to Georgetown.

Let us start at the beginning. I went to the share taxi place in Santa Helena to get a ride to Boa Vista in Brazil. It's possible to short hop it to the border but I wanted to unload the rest of my useless Bolivares Fuertes. I was then re-introduced to a crucial part of travellling outside the First World. Faffing about waiting for the ride to be full. It was then I also realized my lack of Portuguese is going to hurt me in the future. You can't just sod off and come back later either as that could mean losing your place. I did have a 15 minute window to walk about when the driver went into a motel with what I'm pretty sure was a hooker. I stayed put.

Eventually enough people showed up and packed the cab and off we went. The border crossing was uneventful and so was the trip to Boa Vista. In the cab I was even more struck with a problem that I am sure will exacerbate itself later in my travels. I can read Portuguese, I can understand 20% (weirdly enough the more complex the dialogue the easier it is for me to understand) of what is said but I am incapable of making myself understood. A linguistical coma, if you will.

I blinked stupidly at the cab driver when he wanted to know where to drop me off and had to be helped by my fellow passengers to indicate the bus station. However, when we passed Boa Vista airport we saw a trashed row of shanty homes. No roofs, no doors and smashed furniture. The driver explained that the cops had smashed the place up so that the poor would not ruin the expectations of tourists. My immediate thought was that I could understand rumours about state sanctioned social cleansing but I can't answer when someone asks my name. My second though was. What fucking tourists?

Boa Vista is a brazilian state Capital but it's mainly a place of transience and not tourism. The only tourists ignorant enough to be shocked by the levels of social inequality in Brazil are the ones that should be made to see a shanty town. Anyhoo, being a capital it had a few amenities like cash machines that deliver currency at a real exchange rate, a nice bus station and a very comfy bus that took me right to the border with Guyana in less than 2hours. Guyanese fun started right then.

My first 10 hours in the country where basically as an illegal. The Brazilian Policia Federal stops securing its borders at 18.00 and goes home. I got there about an hour later. Fortunately the Guyanese border guys could not give a toss and told me to get into town and come and do the stamping the next day. It seems that the Guyanese authorities are from the Theresa May school of border control. Of course there is the question of who tries to smuggle himself into a poor country. Another protection is the shiftyness of the local plod. They are constantly trying to find you at fault for something so they can get a bribe. Being squeaky clean is a must.

Anyway I had also missed the minibuses to Georgetown so I had to stay at a small hotel. Something I am now rather grateful for. The next day I went back to the Brazilian border so they could let me out properly and got my Guyana stamp. The border guys were nice if slightly full of themselves. As I found out at other cop checkpoints, they have signs ordering the removal of hats, leaving beverages outside of buildings and other pompous crap. I then faffed around the wonderful border town of Lethem and participated in the local sport of hiding in the shade doing nothing as it's criminally hot. Around 17.00 I went to bag a good seat in a minibus to Georgetown. More waiting as the beat up Toyota with a cracked windshield got filled up with people and goods. Around 19.00 we were off.

It's about 600 kilometers form Lethem to Georgetown. Back home that's a six hour trip with breaks. Less if nothing links me to the car's plates. Allowing for the crap roads I still thought we would be in Georgetown by next morning. I was oh so wrong for the next 20 hours. For starters only the last 100 k is paved. The driver really works for his money. He had to avoid potholes, go through streams and occasionaly change a tire. He still kept up a very good, if terrifying, speed most of the way. Unfortunately that didn't change squat.

There were numerous halts, bent cops and checkpoints on the way., One bunch of rozzers finally got a bribe out of the driver when they realized driving in sandals is illegal. They were annoying but not a real problem to me. The snag is that there is a National park halfway to Georgetown. It doesn't allow people through between 22.00 and 04.00. After that there is a ferry crossing. Also only daylight hours. Therefore it was hammock time near a roadside shack for all of us. There was finally a plus side to being on the side of the road in the jungle at night in a dirt poor country. A phenomenal sky. The brightest and most numerous stars I have ever seen. No electricity, no light pollution.

Anyways we eventually got here so what's the problem? The snag with these kind of trips is what to do with your time. An obvious solution is to blog as I go. The problem is that it seems unwise to pull out a netbook in the sticks, in a country towards the bottom end of GDP rankings and where people repair flip flops with string. Another option is to read but that would require a few moments of stability. Not this time. The other equally obvious and sociable option would be to chat with people. The obstacle here is the apparent requirement in Guyana to blast music at teenager levels of volume. I'd like to say I was introduced to local music but no such luck. Our driver was a big fan of singers like Celine Dion, Maria Carey and Lionel Richie. To be fair this morning he switched to Christian pop which is shite unless it's classical or gospel. All the rest is like Blu-Ray DVDs or a reformed House of Lords. Good effort perhaps but some things should be allowed to die

I did get to chat with people at stops. I learned that there is an election coming. That a lot of the people on the bus wanted a local version of Hugo Chavez. I had 2 separate entreaties to come back as a colonist and retake the country (literally myself as it seems I was living the bullshit cliche that a traveller is an ambassador of sorts). One was by a roadside stall owner who wanted me and Prince Charles to come and stop tribal people killing giant otters for food and help preserve the ecology. This all being discussed 200 meters from a mining camp BTW. The other plea was from an Amerindian on the bus who believed (perhaps with reason) that things went to shit after independence) an that the firm guiding hand of Britannia was needed again. I tried to explain that the UK has long ceased to know jack about good governance and management but he would get distracted and ask me to debate the impact (his words) of "We are the world". He occasionally reminded of the lyrics too.

One less amusing thing I noticed was the tendency of people at stops to group themselves along ethnic lines. The black guys got together and spoke in their patois, The Guyanese-Brazilians (predictable for this bus route) went off to fala Portuguese and the Amerindians also grouped up. I was a sort of floater. Apparently this is one of the political problems they face here.

Beyond that there is little else to say. The suburbs of Georgetown have amusing names. Houston, Diamondville, McDoom and, my favoutite, Eccles. I guess I am writing this slightly whiny post as it is fresh in my mind. I've found a nice guesthouse in an old colonial house with very dainty rooms, I've used up half a bar of soap to get the dust of myself and I've started to relax. I am still weary and tired and am going off to sleepsies once I post this. What I want is a record of how I feel now before it all becomes some amusing tale. This kind of travel is much more interesting than taking a 2 hourflight (an option from Boa Vista) and is what makes backpacking different from a holiday. I know that tomorrow I will feel good again and won't hesitate to do another fun run so I should try and commit to writing that, at the time, it can be hard.

Tomorrow it's off to visit Georgetown and try to score a Suriname visa (the only country in South America to require one from Brits). Hopefully I'll also do a less grumpy post. Just thought I'd share.

Take care,



Anonymous Frances said...

Both you and your neighbor need to agree with the terms of your construction project through a party wall agreement so that you could be able to proceed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 3:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Serge said...

You need to have that cracked windshield fixed before the kids begin to play near that Toyota. Their hyperactive deeds done near this car might leave them with scars.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 4:08:00 AM  

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