Digital Guyana

Posts Tagged ‘Georgetown

Now I’m back in England (and in an office with an incredible broadband connection) I’m able to upload some of the video that I took while out in Guyana.

I’ve got interviews with some of the other guys to come. In the meantime, here’s some footage of us (mainly Pontus here) feeding the manatees in the Georgetown National Park:

For more info read Pontus’s earlier post about the manatees.

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…

steelband

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).

During a break in the lessons last week I picked up a copy of the phone book and flicked through to the web design section. There were only a few companies listed:

Website design in Guyana

Interesting that not all of them give a URL for their website.

The next stage was to try and Google and see which companies I could find. A search for ‘website design Guyana’ listed the following companies on the first page:

There were also results for directories such as ddir.org and Ensure, not companies themselves. My photo on Flickr (above) came up too.

Web savvy companies (such as those in the web design industry) can be expected to be ahead of the game when it comes to search engine optimisation. Not only is it a source of business but there’s a trophy element to showing you can control a strong, relevant search term in Google. It’s demonstration of your SEO services, if nothing else.

Of course, I’ve just taken a snapshot of the situation here – it falls well short of the sort of analysis that could be carried out but it’s interesting to see what the local companies are up to.

Matt and me bought a guitar in downtown Georgetown a few weeks ago.

Kitty the guitar

As you can see, it’s a peculiar, rustic looking thing. We were informed by the seller that it was locally made but that the guy who crafted it is now dead. Whether that makes it cursed we’re not sure – though Matt does like to describe it as the evil twin of the resonator guitar from the cover of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album.

Despite this, it plays pretty nicely – even if the action (the distance from the fretboard to the strings) is way too high further up the fretboard – and it’s been great having it in the flat. We can’t get the TV and DVD player to work and Matt and myself both play in bands (although I play the bass) so the practice time has been handy.

Matt’s off to Mexico after Guyana and plans to take ‘Kitty’ with him. I hope it survives the trip there and the subsequent flight back to London. Matt loves his flamenco so he’s going to put nylon strings on it and see how that sounds. If it’s not as good as his classical guitar back in London (which he suspects it won’t be) then I get to keep it. Fingers crossed. I’m getting quite attached to it.

Tonight Matt’s going to play a couple of tunes at an open mic / performance poetry night. Expect a blog post about that in the next couple of days. In the meantime, in the spirit of making lists for no good reason other than it’s sometimes fun to, here’s the five tunes you’re most likely to hear if you drop by Lot 6D Station Street in Kitty…

1. Hey Hey, My My
It feels like loads of my friends have suddenly really got into Neil Young in the last couple of years. I’m not complaining – the guy is a genius. Different versions of this tune bookend his ace live album Rust Never Sleeps and is one of my – and Matt and Pontus’s – faves.

2. Waterfall
I endlessly played this technicoloured baggy ballad by the Stone Roses during my teenage years so I guess it was inevitable it would pop back into my head during my time here. Guyana means The Land of Many Waters after all. Once I’d worked it out again I taught Pontus, and in return he taught me Hey Hey, My My.

3. Don’t You Forget About Me / Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam
Glasgow band Simple Minds’ breakthrough single – which memorably soundtracks the bratpack classic The Breakfast Club – happens to have the same chords (we think) as this tune by the much more obscure Glaswegian indie band The Vaselines (you might know Nirvana’s cover from their Unplugged  in New York album), so a rendition of one inevitably turns into the other – and back again.

4. Folsom Prison Blues
He may look like a malnourished Mexican bandito but Matt’s voice is unexpectedly full-bodied. Part Johnny Cash part Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, it’s no surprise he can pull off this blues stomper from the Man In Black with aplomb.

5. The Needle And The Damage Done
What can I say, we’re big Neil Young fans.

Film crew in the classroom

Last week we were visited by a film crew from NCN, the national Guyanese TV channel.

They took some shots inside the classroom and then stepped outside to interview Hugh Reilly, Michael from Youth Challenge and myself.

We’re hoping to get a copy of the report at some point. In the meantime, here’s Hugh being interviewed outside NCERD.

Hugh being interviewed 3

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.