Guyana Resource Center
Set like a gem in the crown of South America, nestled on the North-Eastern shoulder, defying the raging Atlantic Ocean, Guyana's many waterways reflect the source of it's name "The Land of Many Waters"
Image hosting by Photobucket Image hosting by PhotobucketKaieteur Falls, the world's highest single drop waterfall (741 feet).Image hosting by Photobucket Image hosting by Photobucket
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Armadillo, ocelot, toucan... but no Beatles in Guyana

(Reprinted with permission from The Times, London)

A celebration of Guyana — poor on pop music, but rich in wildlife. Will Hide hits the jungle

TELLING people I was going on holiday to Guyana provoked one of two responses. “Why?” was one, “Oh, West Africa, wow!” the other. I then was forced to enunciate, as if to someone slightly simple, that Guy-ahh-naar is in South America, quite far from Ghana. Actually.
“Why” is an easy one to answer. The northernmost reaches of the Amazon rainforest spill over Guyana’s borders, providing a habitat for a huge variety of birds and animals, as do the thousands of square miles of savannah that merge into it. And for British visitors there are no language problems since it is Latin America’s only English-speaking country, a legacy of colonial rule that ended 40 years ago this May. The small population (800,000) — an easy-going mix of Black, Indian, Creole, Amerindian, Chinese, Portuguese and Lebanese — are fanatical cricket supporters and speak with a lovely, molasses-thick Caribbean accent that turns “bird” to “board”.

A decade ago Guyana’s socialist government discouraged tourism. Now, despite a push to increase visitor numbers, its undeveloped infrastructure means that, other than returning Guyanese expats coming to visit relatives, tourist figures are tiny.

Flying south from the capital, Georgetown, the jungle started soon after my eight-seater plane had left Ogle airfield. We banked over the wide Demarara River, then followed the track of its sister the Essequibo, which flows the length of the country. For an hour there was no break in the densely packed trees. And then, abruptly, the canopy stopped and the savannah started; scrubby, worn grass as far as the eye could see. We banked round a tall hill and pulled up at a short airstrip. A Dutch woman and I were the only ones to get out.As resort transfers go, that from my aircraft to bedroom at Rockview Lodge was a corker — 50 yards. There to greet me was the owner, Colin Edwards, originally from Essex, while a little farther back, Tommy the tapir rooted around in his enclosure while ten vultures perched on a fence, wings outstretched, warming nonchalantly in the early afternoon sun.
Rockview, in an area of Guyana called Rupununi, is an eight-room eco-resort and cattle farm. The “eco” isn’t rammed down your throat, it just makes sense to use as many local products as possible, as getting anything from Georgetown, 260 miles (420km) away, is expensive and time-consuming. Around 70 Makuxi-speaking locals work directly or indirectly with Edwards. “Fifteen years ago it was a barter economy with a sparse population of old and young, no job opportunities or education. Almost all those who could left to work in Brazil,” he said, pointing over Kwatamang mountain towards the border 25 miles away.

I spent a night and a day at Rockview, riding out with the vaqueros (local cowboys) who told me about plants to combat snakebites, spider bites and diarrhoea, who asked me about Queen Elizabeth, “the lady who rules the world”, but had not heard of the Beatles. I went on nature walks with my guide, Maxi Lacruz, bird-spotted — the Rockview guide lists 11 A4 pages of possible sightings — and lay in my hammock as tropical downpours, the sort that soak you to the bone in two seconds flat, pelted down after lunch, then were gone in ten minutes. I transferred for a couple of nights to the village of Surama, about an hour’s drive away on the edge of a forest of greenheart, crabwood and purpleheart trees, where the community is also getting involved with tourism. On the rutted, dirt road hundreds of small green butterflies flew into the air as we bumped our way past, creating small clouds. Once there I sweated through the humid jungle with my extremely knowledgeable young guide, Gary Sway, as we tried (unsuccessfully on this occasion) to spot some of the animals known to inhabit the area — jaguar, armadillo, ocelot, anteaters, agouti, capybara, fish-eating bats and peccary, the latter still hunted by locals with bows and arrows. I did, however, see giant otter, black spider monkeys, toucans, orange-winged parrots and Amazon kingfishers near the piranha-inhabited Burro Burro River. I was even more fascinated by the massed ranks of leaf-cutter and soldier ants that marched across the forest floor looking fierce.

That evening we paused at the local shaman’s house, where for an hour in pitch blackness he and his son chanted, drank tobacco water and rustled branches trying to call up spirits. This was a direct benefit of tourism, I was told — without visitors there would be no incentive for the old man’s son to learn what had been a dying vocation.

After stopping at the Iwokrama canopy walkway the next day — a series of suspension bridges, 500ft (150m) long and 100ft up at treetop level that offers a monkey’s-eye view of the rainforest, and definitely worth a night’s detour — I transferred back to Rockview. From there it was an hour-long plane ride to Guyana’s number one tourist attraction, the Kaieteur Falls, at 740ft the world’s longest single drop waterfall.

“Number one tourist attraction” in Guyana still means only 4,000 visitors a year — the amount, I imagine, who gawp at Niagara Falls every hour. Here at its South American cousin, 35,000 gallons pour over the lip every second. I tiptoed to the edge for a closer look — no health and safety railings here — and peered into the chasm below. Near by we saw a golden poison dart frog and had a rare sighting of a brilliant orange cock-of-the-rock bird.

My small plane took me for another hour to the airstrip at Baganara where, James Bond style, I leapt into a speedboat and was driven by hotelier Bernard Lee-Yong up the three-mile wide Essequibo River to Shanklands, a quintessential colonial retreat 20 minutes upstream. It had a large veranda on which a couple of hammocks swung in the breeze and bougainvillea flopped over the side. Parrots squawked in the trees and as the sun set, cicadas chirruped. No jet trails left their telltale sign overhead. No power cables interrupted the view. I lay in my hammock, a glass of El Dorado rum in hand, selfishly feeling only a bit sorry that so few people make it here. Guyana desperately needs the money that tourists bring, yet it’s the lack of visitors that make this such a special place.

Guyana Chronicle