Digital Guyana

Posts Tagged ‘arrowpoint

After finishing the course with our final workshop last Friday and saying goodbye to Chris, who had an early morning flight on Saturday, Matt and me hit the road for our longest trip away from Georgetown yet: a four day excursion to the far south of the country.

Surama eco lodge

The Rupununi – or, the much cooler sounding Region 9 – is where Guyana’s rainforests suddenly stop, replaced by vast open plain savannas. Our first destination was Surama, an Amerindian village containing around 250 inhabitants dotted among a few square miles of open savannas which are encircled by the rainforest covered Pakaraima Mountains.

We stayed at their eco lodge – you can’t really stay anywhere else. The set-up was a bit like Arrowpoint, which I blogged about in a previous post, but more community friendly and homespun. It’s run by locals and the cost of staying there covers board, guides, food – which is locally sourced – and the bumpy 20 minute motorbike ride from the Georgetown to Lethem road (which by the time you’ve reached Iwokrama rainforest, which Surama is just south of, is a wide brown heavily potholed track – guaranteed to rock you to sleep in the wee hours of a twelve hour overnight bus journey).

The setting (see above) was pretty spectacular. And on a hike up Surama Mountain and canoe trip along the nearby Burro Burro River with our guide Milner we spotted spider monkeys, macaws and toucans. Best of all, a capuchin monkey crossed the river above our boat using the forest canopy, pausing at one point as if to say hello.

After two days at Surama we then hit the savanna proper at Annai, a 45-minute bike ride south. To save cash we slung hammocks (they don’t really do camping in Guyana due to the insects) and ate our meals at the Oasis truckstop by the main road. Due to the proximity to the border it felt much more Brazilian here, even if the local Amerinidians speak English with a Caribbean twang. As two white guys who’d chosen to stay here rather than the nearby ecotourism resort Rock View we were very much the local curiosity. But it was still a fun place to hang out and snack on Brazilian food as reggae blared out of the speakers.

Unlike Surama we didn’t need a guide to climb the nearby mountain and the views of the vast savanna landscape, with vultures circling overhead, were unforgettable. Though not quite as good as those from the 12-seater plane which flew us back to Georgetown.

Waiting to board by the Annai airstrip I got chatting about tourism with a chap called Eli who runs the nearby Rewa eco lodge, which like others in the region, models itself on Surama. As I mentioned in my Arrowpoint post, tourism in Guyana is very much in its infancy, not helped by the price of internal flights, the lack of travel options to neighbouring South American countries and the tendency to peg prices to the Caribbean. But Eli said things are definitely getting better – ten years ago you simply didn’t get travellers in this part of the country. The recently completed Takutu River Bridge which links Lethem and Bonfim in Brazil should also improve things.

Whether the eco lodge tourism model can support larger numbers of tourists is another matter. It will be interesting to see what happens in years to come. In the meantime I’m just going to enjoy that slightly selfish buzz you get when you visit an amazing place you know that few other travellers have been to before.

View from the hills near Rock View, Annai

I’m back in the UK now, getting over the jetlag. Matt is in Mexico, extending his trip away a little while longer. When he returns in September we will all meet up to evaluate the project. I’m looking forward to that and I’m sure we’ll do more posts on the subject, but right now I’m having a nap…

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This post ties together two previous ones – Hugh’s description of our trip to Arrowpoint and my post positing the idea of a Georgetown Social Media Cafe which I closed by saying:

I’ve seen plenty of proof that there are people hungry to learn and develop their skills

On the way to Arrowpoint we stopped off at Santa Mission, an Amerindian reservation that’s home to a couple of hundred people. We were given a tour and saw kids playing in the river and kicking a football around the main field.

After taking in the school, craft centre and a few other sights we made our way back to our boat, sstopping off at a non-descript building with a small generator sat outside. We weren’t expecting what we saw inside:

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Roughly half the village’s young people crammed around a handful of computers, eager to learn and play.

I spoke to the volunteer who was working with the children (sorry, his name escapes me). They’ve not got internet access yet but it’s the next step and in the meantime the children are learning basic computer skills and, naturally, playing lots of games.

Our guide explained that although Santa Mission is fairly remote, when the children are old enough to go to the bigger schools in town it’s important that they’re not left trailing behind in such an important area as computer skills.

The good news for Guyana is that the generation coming up is keen to learn – we’ve seen it with the school groups that we’ve been teaching in the capital and we saw it again in a remote village.

Black water. Also note the mosquito bites on Chriss feet

I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about water.

Guyana is known as ‘the land of many waters’, indeed water out here is slightly more prevalent than back in the UK. It is also more of a national resource. For a start the tap water is not safe to drink. In fact we’ve been highly advised against using it for brushing our teeth. This means that there are a huge amount of water butts constantly moving around Georgetown. You only need to glance into one of the many roadside ditches or get close enough to smell one to comprehend why. They appear to be a breeding ground for mosquitos and I’ve heard the some people have even seen the odd dead dog in them.

A few days a go we saw a dead dog on the beach, mercifully a photo was not taken. It was lying on its side, peacefully looking out to sea. ‘How cute’ I thought, ‘the dog’s enjoying the sunset.’ Then I noticed it wasn’t breathing. As some consolation it died peacefully. Looking out to sea is an odd phenomenon here. When you think of the Caribbean, crystal clear blue water inevitably follows, which makes cresting the summit of the sea wall a slightly disappointing experience.

Not my photo, will take an alternative one soon.

Not my photo, will take an alternative one soon.

First impressions might lead you to think that the photo was taken through a brown filter, but I assure you that this is its true pigment. Brown sea water could easily be a factor in why the tourism trade is underdeveloped here. Going for a paddle doesn’t feel like the most appealing thing I’ve ever considered, though we may well have to try it some day before leaving. I’m going to have to try very hard to not think about standing on that poor dog’s skull.

The sea and river water out here is brown due to the muddy sediment it contains and is nowhere near as dirty as it looks. As Hugh mentioned before we went out to arrow point which rests on the bank of one of Guyana’s many ‘black water’ creeks. Having been used to seeing the rolling brown sea stretch for miles into the distance, the idea of black water sounded even less enticing. Black water, it turns out, really is black.

The reason for this (so I’m told) is because of a large amount of tannin in the water from the surrounding forest. The upshot of all this is an experience akin to swimming around in a giant cup of cold black tea.

The water is drinkable and feels fantastic to swim in, if you can get over the slightly disconcerting fact that you can’t see anything. This becomes a more prominent disadvantage when you realize that caiman crocodiles take residence in that same water. It also undulates between startlingly cold to pleasantly warm over traveling a couple of feet. It’s an incredible experience and if you ever have the opportunity I highly advise the reader to give it a try.

At a slight tangent, I believe the local alcohol deserves a quick mention… Well, it is a sort of liquid so it kind of works. Beer here is generally under a pound ($300) in the local shops, and around or just over in a club. Wine is about six pounds a bottle ($2,000), but for stuff that is surprisingly good. Rum, however, is about two pounds ($600) a litre which is absolutely incredible, especially since it tastes fantastic as well. For nearly three pounds and a death wish you can also get hold of a litre of high wine. At 69% alcohol it’s about the strongest bottled spirit I’ve ever encountered and tastes like it too.

The Gaffen cocktail of choice out here would be a ‘Pirate’s Bloody Revenge’, which is easy to remember; one measure of rum to one measure of cranberry juice. Enjoy.

Hugh will include a longer post about the guitar we have bought out here. However, whilst we’re on the subject of water I thought it’d be appropriate to say that at a couple of the VSO gatherings we’ve been to I’ve been feeling increasingly like I’m turning into this guy.

You take it for granted that you can pick up a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to pretty much every country under the sun. Guyana, however, has only one dedicated English language guidebook to its name, by Bradt. The first edition came out just last year. In short, unlike its South American or Caribbean neighbours, Guyana is not on the tourist trail – either for backpackers or tour goers.

Matt pulls his best Martin Sheen Mekong Delta face

Matt pulls his best Martin Sheen Mekong Delta face

But that’s certainly not through a lack of amazing sounding places to visit. The Bradt guide, which I managed to track down in Foyles on Charing Cross Road a few days before I set off, describes the country as “South America’s hidden gem”. Flicking through its beautiful colour pictures of Kaieteur Falls (the largest single drop waterfall in the world), rainforest covered mountains, endless savannahs and shots of the country’s abundant wildlife – jaguars, leatherback turtles, giant anteaters and more exotic birds than you can shake a pair of expensive binoculars at – you can see what the writer’s on about.

But a lack of interior development (90 per cent of the population lives along the coastlands, which make up 5 per cent of the land), a monopoly on many internal flights and the fact that prices are more in line with the Caribbean than Latin America means that many of the trips on offer don’t come cheap. A return day trip to Kaieteur, for example, costs around $220. Still, since we’ve arrived, locals and volunteers have been urging us to take a trip into the interior to see the real beauty of Guyana.

Because one of our four-man team, Pontus, is only here for two weeks, last weekend was his only chance to properly get out of Georgetown. We decided Kaieteur was a bit steep for a day return (you also apparently don’t get to spend too much time at the waterfall) and the southern savannahs and Shell Beach (where you can see prehistoric turtles lay eggs) were out because we’d spend most of the weekend traveling. So we chose an eco-friendly jungle lodge called Arrowpoint situated in the Amerindian community of Santa Mission on the banks of Pokerero Creek – partly because it was just two hours journey south from Georgetown, but mainly because it came highly recommended by everyone we met who’d been there before.

Although the price included all meals and activities, Arrowpoint wasn’t exactly cheap, especially when you compared it to similar sorts of getaways in the backpacker friendly countries of South East Asia or South America. But from the moment our speedboat whipped off the wide and brown Demarara River into a winding tree lined creek we knew we’d made the right choice. Over the next 24 hours we mountain biked along jungle tracks in search of a plane wreck, went kayaking, got up at the crack of dawn to go birdwatching with a local guide (spotting, from afar, macaws, hummingbirds and vultures) and did some moonlight animal spotting.

The undoubted highlight, though, was swimming in the black, tannin heavy waters of the creek. Late on the first night we spotted  small spectacled caiman in the same bit we’d been bathing in. Although we were assured that they don’t go for humans, I definitely swam a bit more gingerly the following day.

Arrowpoint

There are several other eco-friendly lodges like Arrowpoint situated in Amerindian areas and nature reserves around the country. Matt and I are planning a visit to another one towards the end of our stay. No doubt we’ll do a post about that too.

In the meantime, check out some pics Chris and I took at Arrowpoint on our Digital Guyana Flickr page.