Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Georgetown, Guyana, South America (maybe)

The reason for the ambivalent location of this post is, as I said in the first post, this place feels much more like the Caribbean than anything else. The ethnicity of the people, the accented English, the food and to a certain extent the history makes this country feel closer to Kingston than Rio or Caracas. It's not just me that feels this way either. Guyana played a big part in setting up a Caribbean economic union of sorts.

The Guianas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana) are a sort of losers corner of South America. After the Spanish and the Portuguese had divvied up this vast continent, the Dutch, Brits and French wanted to play too. They grabbed whatever malarial jungle the other 2 couldn't care less about (although there is a dispute with Venezuela on some areas) and then set themselves up in wonderfully ethical commerces using shedloads of slaves. Guyana was run by the Booker clan who held a monopoly on the sugar trade here until the 70's. All the authors who got themselves a Booker prize can thank the African slaves, indentured Indians and decimated Amerindians for their pot of cash.

The sugar trade explains many things here. The ethnic make-up, the availibility of very good food from curries to dim sum via jerk chicken and this town itself. Georgetown is a dilapidated colonial town. The houses are airy and wooden, the city is a straight grid and everywhere you can spot the remnants of British colonial life. Cricket pitches, churches, freemason lodges and the names of the streets are all wonderfully quaint even if they are going slightly to ruin. The location itself is revelatory. It's on the mouth of the Demerara river and it's below sea level so it had to be protected by a large sea wall. The streets all have deep drainage ditches clogged up by the polystyrene boxes the eateries use here (there are fishes in them though).The one reason to put a town here is to shift the sugar from the plantations to the boats (Or the slaves in reverse routes).
So have I gone into Carribean holiday mood? Have I spent my time here in the shade, drinking beer and imbibing the message behind the omnipresent reggae (forging a new identity through spiritual emancipation and self-awareness to redress the rootlessness and suffering of enslavement, displacement and impoverishment) and reggaeton (I'm tough and I like pussy. A lot)? Not really. I get bored quickly to be honest there is not much to do or see here. There are some jungle trips available but I can do it, cheaper, better and safer somewhere else.

Guyana is one of the countries many South America tourers don't bother with. It feels good to believe that they are missing out because of a character flaw they have but I don't. People fail to come here out of ignorance, unwillingness to rough it a bit or outright cowardice. In reality there is a good reason why people skip Guyana. It hasn't got much to offer, it's a fucker to get around and it's bizarrely expensive as they produce very, very little here. It's also a very poor country so the combo of high prices and low wages put the locals in dire economic straits. Kind of puts some perspective on what's happening back home. Occupy Carmichael Street any time soon?

Georgetown is fine by day but by night it's really shifty. Not Caracas dangerous but a bit unsettling. There are lots of half crazy homeless guys here and very little public lighting. One particular chap who got me looking aaround for escape routes was a twitchy junkie spouting religious crap and toting a Mad Max style homemade totem consisting of a long pole with a bicycle inner wheel and a machete at the top. To be fair I don't really think he even saw me. I also nearly got knocked into a drainage ditch by one of the seemingly feral horses trying to graze the banks of what must have once been a canal. All good fun but I'm leaving soon.

Another reason I am getting out is that there is an election looming. Normally I would feel blessed and stay here to watch the fun but I have set date to be in Rio and I can't be late. There has been violence in the past after voting here and all the soldiers and cops have voted early to so they can swanp the streets. I don't think the outcome is really in doubt though. The ruling party, the PPP/C has got huge banners and billboards all over the shop with their candidates looking presidential and prime ministerial. The opposition has A3 posters nailed to electricity poles. The posters are fun and sometimes they go too far and it ends up looking more like an add for a whacky comedy than anything else.

There are some plus sides to Guyana. The people are great and love to chat with anybody. They are also quite twee and formal in their manners and greetings. The food is brilliant and spicy and fascinating people-watching more than makes up for having little else to see. Still I will leave soon. I got a Surinanme visa faster and with much more ease than the interwebs suggest. Their embassy has a dress code and some of the blogs out there claim they are really officious and annoying. I applied in the morning in less than 5 minutes and picked up the visa six hours later. I am wondering what makes Suriname so great that it's the only country in this whole continent where Brits need a visa. We will see.

Soon I'll be on another fun run to Paramaribo. 2 rivers, one border and shitloads of checkpoints between here and there. Should be intersting.

Take care,



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