Digital Guyana

Posts Tagged ‘caribbean

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It struck me this week that I’ve not really tried to properly describe Georgetown on this blog since I’ve been here.

It’s a hard place to pin down. It’s on the Caribbean coast but the sea is brown and the beach litter strewn. We’re in South America but the two main ethnic groups, Indo and Afro-Guyanese, both speak a Creolese flavoured English. It feels like an old colonial capital, yet with the myriad wooden houses on stilts and long wide streets there’s a real whiff of the Deep South about the place.

There are no shades of grey, however, in one aspect of Georgetown – the noise. It is an incredibly noisy city. In a good way.

From the constant beeping of minibuses and taxis, the thud of chutney and soca music, locals bantering in the street – and occasionally shouting ‘white man’ at me – there is rarely, nay never, a pause for calm. I love it. And when the sun goes down the clamour of the city doesn’t let up – the hum of crickets and yelping of stray dogs your sleeping soundtrack.

So, partly inspired by Chris’s guest blog on the Sounds of Guyana on the My Place Or Yours site and my love of sound clips (I also recently discovered a sound recording function on my camera) I decided to try to record a few memorable sounds and things that caught my ear. What follows is a six minute hotchpotch I’ve quickly spliced together in Audacity featuring, among other things, local radio in minibuses, Creole chatter, wildlife – i.e. stray dogs and kiskadees – and a quick introduction to dominoes.

Apologies for the odd sound pop – my recorder isn’t great – and Chris’s drunken musings during Haddaway (remember that one?!)… too good not to include.

Georgetown sounds mp3 (click to play / right to click save as).

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.

Just a quick post to rectify a very common mistake.

We’re teaching in Guyana, otherwise known as the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana, which can be found on the northern coast of South America.

In fact, although it’s part of South America, the country has more in common with it’s close Caribbean neighbours. Here’s a map:

guyanamap

On the other hand, Ghana is a country in West Africa. A fine country, no doubt, but a long way from Guyana.

(Map used under Creative Commons)

Hi, I’m Hugh. I also heard about this project through an email forwarded from the station manager at Resonance FM, where, like Matt, I volunteer as a broadcast assistant and programme maker.

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The opportunity to travel and share my skills in a far-flung locale sounded really exciting and after doing some research – yes, I Googled Guyana – I applied. I was intrigued by the fact that the country is thought of as part of the Caribbean yet borders Brazil and Venezuela. The ethnic split of Indian and Afro-Caribbean also piqued my interest. (I’d always wondered why cricketers of Indian descent like Shivnarine Chanderpaul – who, by the way, has a street named after him here in Georgetown – ended up playing for the West Indies. And now I know. And, while we’re on the subject, other famous Guyanese include Eddy Grant of The Equals and Electric Avenue fame, cricketer Clive Lloyd and, er, Shakira Caine, wife of Michael Caine and Miss Guyana 1967.)

My web development skills aren’t as technical as the other members of the team but my experience working as a journalist, often online, and a youth worker nicely compliments the other talents we bring.

Back in the UK I’m based in north London. Most of my writing is for the arts and culture section of thelondonpaper and I’ve also worked as a subeditor and in online production for clients including The First Post and the BBC. Since last September I’ve volunteered as a youth worker for east London charity Toynbee Hall, working with 13-14-year-olds on the Aspire project on radio workshops, citizenship and outdoor activities. This has recently led to paid sessional work with a charity called Headliners, which works with young people to produce journalism, where I start working after I return from Guyana.

This week I’ve been helping Matt teach basic animation with the Flash programme at local NGO Merundoi, who produce a highly entertaining and hugely popular twice weekly radio soap which promotes Aids awareness. See Matt’s previous post on how the course has gone (very well).

From next week Matt and I, plus Pontus and Chris (who arrive in the wee hours tonight), will be doing workshops with school pupils, teachers and youth groups on a variety of web skills. The workshops I’m leading focus on photo editing with the open source Gimp programme and what makes good web content and design, plus specialisms which will look at these areas in more detail.

Expect to see many more posts from the four of us in the coming days and weeks.