Digital Guyana

Posts Tagged ‘south america

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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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.

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.