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Georgetown and environs

Overview and details

Georgetown International

Georgetown International

Georgetown is located on the corner of Demerara River and Atlantic Ocean, has the typical American square grid of streets and is dissected by canals here and there. The sight is prone to inundations which are kept at bay by a sea wall and the canals help with the drainage of the surplus water. Most of the downtown area is nondescript mumbo-jumbo of structures but from time to time there are some beautiful examples of colonial architecture popping up in the shape of a church,market, town hall and so on in different stage of decay or renovation. In general, there is a feeling of strong current of criminality that limits the freedom of movement especially after sunset. There are a couple of museums that might be of interest but not much more. A day or two would be sufficient for exploration of what urban Guyana has to offer and one could move further into the jungle-clad interior for more inspiration.
Cathedral in wood

Cathedral in wood


Georgetown has a zoo where some local fauna can be stared at close and personal. While not the same as a safari, it certainly does the trick in the educational sense. Many species are difficult to access in the wild – some are shy, others are dangerous, many are nocturnal where here direct and safe encounters are the norm. What is off the mark in Georgetown zoo is the labeling. Many animals have no “name tags” and others have theirs in the wrong spot. This deficiency aside, the zoo offers species endemic to South America such as the capybara (difficult to have a close look even here) and sloths (forlornly looking for company). Extra bonus to the exhibit is the presence of manatees in the canal just outside the boundaries of the zoo. They seem to be very sociable or very hungry thus coming to the people on the bank looking for treats in the form grass (easy to pluck from the meadow beside the ditch). In the late afternoon, second bonus, bird flocks land in the neighbouring trees. This time the setting is more real with the living things in a safe distance hence the need of binoculars for better look. The zoo surroundings seem to be famous bird-watching ground that attracts fans of the activity, some even led by professional guides. If in need of this service this seems to be the spot to book one and in doing so avoid paying the middlemen such as tour companies. If wildlife watching in its pure or corrupted form is not good enough the visitor can enjoy meeting exotic female(s) with friendly intrusive manner and explore what their real intentions are.
If there is an area for a nice walk in Georgetown, this must be The Wall. The sea wall that helps against flooding is wide enough to allow for people to pass each other in opposite directions freely. The breeze soothes even the harshest sun rays and the views of the muddy ocean on one side and the subsea level housing on the side are great. There is only one condition – this outdoorsy pleasure is available exclusively during the day. Apparently, at night this same wall becomes a hang-out spot for all sorts of unsavory characters who probably do not like to be disturbed during their wheeling and dealing of drugs and other forbidden substances/activities. Even the locals murmur something like: “It is getting dark, let’s leave!” Most ironically, a daytime visit produced the same woman who hanged out around the zoo the previous night trying to impress the males in the crowd with her cubist style toenails paint job and pungent perfume. This little inconsistency apart, daytime walk can provide vivid impressions of what the ocean is full of. At the base of the wall where the water slams into the concrete some of the little fishes get thrown out of the sea and plop on the cement ready to be picked up with bare hands. But before one does that he should go all the way to the tiny cape where only small part of the crap discarded in the murky rivers of Guyana ends up. But hey, someone’s garbage is someone else’s treasure!
A trip to Suriname requires a visa in almost all cases. To loosen up a bit the stiff upper lip and pocket some foreign currency in the process, the government of Suriname has decided to issue “tourist cards” to the citizens of approximately ten nations. The passport holders of these lucky countries have the red tape cut to the bare minimum. They have to appear in person at the Surinamese embassy in Georgetown with their valid passport and twenty five US dollars, even a photo is not necessary. Applications are submitted in the morning and by afternoon passports are ready for pick up. Visitors are met by stern officialdom representative behind a podium in front of the entrance door and later greeted by smiley clerk at the wicket inside the building; great service with minimum hassle.
There are tonnes of warnings regarding the freedom of movement in Georgetown and how it is preferable to use taxies versus feet to avoid being mugged, robbed or brutalized. Well, if one dares to defy the recommendations, he/she/it would be rewarded with noticing a couple of local customs at close range. One of the Guyanese fixtures well advertised in Georgetown are the women walking about in parasols. Yes, indeed not umbrellas but parasols since the protection is from the sun not the rain (some illiterates might think that it is overkill since the ladies have darker skin anyway). Mind you, the same devices would come very handy in case of a downpour too. The other notable features of downtown are the semi-comatose delinquents, benevolent during daytime, sleeping on practically every other available bench. These men and women have the colour black permeating through all their cloths suggesting that it is not matter of preference but rather result of patina.
Georgetown contrasts

Georgetown contrasts


Downtown Georgetown is compact and on a square grid hence very easy to explore. A must see is the spacious cathedral, building that might have no equal amongst its ecclesiastical rivals for the biggest wooden structure. Certainly it seems so when one is inside. The exterior is painted white while the interior has been preserved in the natural colour of the wood; very striking impression in terms of beauty and grandeur. Meanwhile, one can’t help noticing that the church has other strong points. Once inside the congregation is protected from the scorching sun and with breeze going through the many shuttered windows temperature falls dramatically. Similar tricks of tropic-induced innovation can be witnessed in the anthropological museum. Fine lace covers the windows allowing for air to come through but bars the sun rays from entering.
Member of the flock

Member of the flock


Guyanese geographical milestones can be observed on a clear day throughout the flight Georgetown – Kaiteur. The huge river Essequibo which dissects the country in two and gives its reason d’être can be seen crawling its way up into the mountainous interior. There is a place on the river bank where the town of Bartica is located where it is joined by a tributary with different water colour which does not dissolve immediately into the Essequibo and thus continues for a while up to the ocean in two-striped union. Further upstream one can see the Guyanese making money by stripping the jungle off its green pelt and digging multicoloured mining ponds in order to capture gold and other precious things and probably poisoning themselves and others in the process. Even further upstream the lowlands yield to the mountain plateau giving the physical conditions which created Kaiteur. The horizon is framed by some of the highest “peaks” in the area bordering the neighboring countries of Brazil and Venezuela – the flat-top mountains known as tepuis in Venezuela, sources of more spectacular falls and the highest of them all – Angel falls.
Esequibo at Bartica

Esequibo at Bartica


One option for outing close to Georgetown is a day trip to a place called Pandama. It is close to the international airport and access is easy via the airport road. At certain point one has to veer off the main highway and enter the sandy hills flanking it. The improvised “watch tower” or mini hill where some local lads congregate to chill out by watching traffic and the horizon provides an easy way to recognise the turn-off spot. It is most amazing to discover that the jungle here is sitting on top of dunes of the whitest-possible sand (in the immediate vicinity of the airport strip it is being excavated in industrial quantities). After a short distance over “dirt” road one arrives at a property specializing in production of tropical fruit wine (forgetting what exactly the fruit was testifies to its magical qualities). Moreover, the establishment is endowed with access to a creek where the visitor can dip in the shallow water and splash about with the locals, mainly children, till all the alcohol has evaporated and the heat of day has subsided.

Posted by assenczo 16:25 Comments (0)

The other Guyanas

Further down the coast and back

After all is said and done about Georgetown one is to board a plane at Ogle airport (with a delay or not) and fly to Paramaribo. Great flight - short and picturesque with exciting landing right downtown with the giant bridge over river Suriname guiding the passengers and the pilots where to land! Short taxi ride brings the visitor to the Albergo Alberga hotel - the one that one might go through many pains to reserve considering the imaginary advantages and disadvantages. On the spot it is possible to check five different rooms and chose one that has an air-conditioner, which played out to be a very good choice. The original booking could be cancelled from the receptionist's computer!? The hotel - it is in a way a revelation since this is probably the only way to experience the wooden heritage of the capital first hand. The drawbacks are in the amenities and the sand flies but there are no cockroaches whatsoever!!

New bishop ceremony

New bishop ceremony


]Local exuberancy

Local exuberancy

Following them were some characters that were representing the racial groups of the country and even a couple of Judean looking folks, mind you they had the period costume mixed up with much later era, nineteenth century and not the time of Christ.
Day later it was time to move on to Gyuana by taxi - 50Euroes for the car. The driver did not speak much if any English - may be a blessing or may be not - but he knew how to get us to the immigration office which was what of the essence anyway. The border hurdle was overcome without any hiccups and a crossing of the huge river of Maroni followed five minutes later on a "pirogue" for five euros instead of waiting for the four-euro ferry ride two hours or so.
On the other side I parked myself in front of the tourist office which was in a very beautiful location on the bank of the river and I went off to look for a hotel. The place, St. Laurent du Maroni, was blessed with three/four hotels of which one was totally booked and the other ones were selling for their top rack rates of 100 Euros per night. Not convinced that this place is worth that much I pressed on to Kourou with shared taxi organized by the fabulous tourist office people who even put me in contact with the already reserved hotel in Kourou (the original reservation was for a day later).
In the taxi the visitor shares the space with local folks and bananas, no chickens though. My neighbour was an "Amerindian" a definition he loved if I am to judge by the number of times he repeated it. In a very Amerindian way he was gulping down Parbo beer (this fella has a good taste) right under the sign "no drinking". He "broke the ice" and gave me a short story on his Surinamese education, French employment and Catholic affiliation before he jumped off in a town midway to where we were going to.

Amerindian

Amerindian

Then there was a check point manned by the French Army - looking serious and at the same time cool, checked everybody's passports and the crowd continued, including already-a-bit-nervous me - the check in at the hotel was to be done before seven o’clock since afterwards the office closed. Thankfully "Madame hotel" was there waiting for me and this was very nice touch even though not much of an effort considering the reception desk was just off her bedroom! Speaking of effort, this lady was doing not an extra mile but many extra miles to serve us. At the end I felt as if I was just dreaming I was at a Starwood training seminar giving the best example of how to "WOW" the guest. After I settled in the room she took me up to a restaurant with her car, organised a taxi ride back and the following morning gave me a ride to the car rental office! The restaurant experience is also worth mentioning because the door is being locked till a person with reservation shows up - apparently there is a serious problem with criminality in this rather dull, artificial town. What was not dull in Kourou was all related to the space center. Day later I was there watching one of the most spectacular thing ever – a launch of a huge rocket which was so powerful that was reminiscent of an artificial Sun burning in the skies. To comprehend things better the enthusiasts went on a tour of the facilities the following day. We were taken to the control room of Arianna launching pad as well as the Soyuz launching pad.

Ariane 5 launch pad

Ariane 5 launch pad


Russian Rocket pad

Russian Rocket pad

The latter was built by the Russians replicating what they already have in Kazakhstan and Russia proper in order to participate in a satellite programme of the European Space agency. In brief, this was the highlight of French Guyana. Since I had more time to spend in this area and the flight to the Caribbean was originating from Cayenne, I continued exploring this land of contrasts. Lack of lodging in the capital led me to a town with the exotic name of Cacao which was a misunderstanding except for the historical curiosity that the local people, Hmong from Laos, were the populating it.

Self-explanatory

Self-explanatory

Otherwise it was raining nonstop so there was no point in sticking around; I went back to the capital and found a hotel in a suburb – the one that had wilderness marsh in its back yard and flower pot holder in a shape of a bicycle in front. Some days in Cayenne followed where the rain turned into sunshine (it is on the coast and prone of weather changes) watching Carnival rehearsals and eating baguettes and cheese. In general, a trip to French Guyana seems to require having a vehicle of sorts – especially in Kourou. Driving is like in Canada but the gas price is more than double that of Canada’s and respectively the cars are small and not automatic, just like in Continental Europe.

Next stop was Trinidad and Tobago but the question was which one exactly. Since I already had practically the whole day ruined in travel from Cayenne to Port of Spain via Paramaribo, I thought using the rest of the day to reach Tobago not a bad idea. A little I knew that it was not that simple. It was the Eve of the carnival in TNT too, so all the flights, twenty of them for the day were fully booked. Thanks to a local woman whose spot in line I kept while she went to the bathroom I learned that buying a stand-by ticket is the way to go. The procedure includes a sale of a regular ticket, in my case for Monday when I had to leave the region to go back to Canada; if lucky one gets on board the first available plane. I was instructed to go to a different wicket at particular time one hour or so later and collect my precious boarding pass. Incredibly, there were at least 10 other candidates and all of them seem to have received tickets for the very next flight. But this is not everything – two of the stand-by people did not come to collect their boarding passes. What a frivolity! Maybe the ticket price of 25USD (half of what is advertised on the internet) is the reason behind this kind of behaviour. Anyway, I got on the plane and it was full – everybody was happy, me even elated.

Piarco domestic

Piarco domestic

Tobago was a sharp contrast to the Guyanas. It has the quintessential Caribbean look of inviting blue sea, much dryer air and no sand flies. I was in a region on the south-west part of the island where the airport is located. The hotels there were typical of the overpriced Caribbean variety and the chosen one had the pompous name “Sunspree” and was flanked by goat pastures. Carnival was nearing and the music’s decibel level was gearing up. I could not particularly enjoy the general sensation of noise pollution. There were scenes where people would stay in a cafe while on both side of the street different music would be blasted so the listeners would relish the cacophony. One of the sound tracks even went on in the form of a recitative: “This music is to be played loudly and preferably in a residential area”!? This explained everything.
The airport area contains a sanctuary of sorts called Pigeon Point which is meticulously manicured cordoned-off and ticketed. The beaches are nice one part did not have any people at all – most of the folks were congregating where the bars, shops and the music was. I was satisfied to stay away from this trio. Out of the three days at my disposal two were sunny and the third with some showers; great final fine tuning of the perfect tan just before going back to work!

The beach refuge

The beach refuge

Corals and music

Corals and music

Going home involved a ferry trip to Port of Spain which was uneventful if I am not to count the fact that I was forced to part with my bag for the duration of the trip – something I hate! In Port of Spain I killed some time by staying in the local Hyatt, which happens to be right beside the ferry terminal, refreshed a little bit and continued on to the well-known Piarco airport.

Puerta d'Espana

Puerta d'Espana

Piarco internationa

Piarco internationa

Following day I landed in Ottawa, went home, unpacked and have thought of the trip ever since.

Posted by assenczo 12:20 Comments (0)

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