Thursday, October 17, 2013

Guyana

Ok, this is the last bit of history I'm giving but I think it's important to set the scene for this entry. Like French Guiana and Suriname, Guyana has been ruled by various European countries, notably Britain and the Netherlands. However, it was mostly under British control until it became independent in 1966. Like it's neighbours to the east, it has a similar history involving slaves and plantations.

As a former British colony travelling here easy cos English is the official language. That said, I did not hear very much English being spoken. Instead they speak some weird version of English that no one outside of the Caribbean can understand, or local Creole languages. However, everything written is in English and if you look like a tourist they speak the Queen's English to you.

What is interesting about Guyana is its long term border dispute with Venezuela, which is ongoing. This is the main reason you cannot cross from Venezuela into Guyana. Since the border is disputed, there are no legal crossings.

Getting from Paramaribo to Georgetown

When I was ready to leave Paramaribo I booked a colectivo ride to the ferry terminal near Nieuw Nickerie on the border and then to Georgetown in Guyana. I was told to be ready to go at 4am, so I was. Did he show up? No. When the guesthouse called him for me at about 8am, his response was “sorry, I forgot. She can go tomorrow”. Thanks mate. You just fucked up three day’s worth of plans I had. Customer service on this continent never ceases to amaze me. On the upside, I had time to do my tax online and get some more quality pool time in at Zin.

So next morning I get up really early again (not fun) but this time I had taxi guy's number. At 4.50am I call him to see if he’s coming and he’s like “where are you staying again?”, “what street is that on?”. Clearly he’d forgotten. Again. Tip: if you are making this journey, write down the phone number of the guy who is supposed to pick you up and if he hasn’t arrived by 5am then call. You basically need to leave Paramaribo by 5am to make the ferry in Nieuw Nickerie.

The journey takes three hours now. I think it used to take longer but the road is now sealed all the way. All the colectivos arrive at pretty much the same time to make the ferry. When you get out of the van, the guy gives you a card, which you need to continue your journey on the other side.

The process of crossing the border is fairly chaotic since there is one ferry a day so everyone goes at the same time. First you line up and get a ferry ticket ($50 SRD or $10 USD on top of what you paid for the colectivo, which I think was $100 SRD) and these people take your passport. Then you line up and wait for a guy to open a door into a waiting room and let people in. When the waiting room is full he shuts the door again. In this room they call out names from passports and you get it back. The whole process highly disorganised. I don’t know why they need your passport since this is not immigration. Most countries don't need a visa for Guyana anyway so they don't need to check your status before you get on the boat.

On the day I went no one seemed to speak English. I didn’t even hear any Dutch. It was all Creole languages, which made it extremely difficult to get information about how this whole process worked (or didn't work). I found out what I needed to do next by staying near the people in front of me to see what they did next.

So, once you’ve waited in the waiting room and got your ticket and passport back you can go to immigration. Getting stamped out took no time. Then you wait for the ferry. The ticket said 9am. However, it didn’t actually leave until about 10.10am. I read on the internet that the ferry never leaves on time. I think it’s because they have a policy of 'no one gets left behind'. In a way this is good cos you don’t have to rush and push to get your ticket and exit stamp (even though everyone does). However, if they made the process efficient it would probably have a better chance of leaving on time.

Waiting to get on the ferry.



This is Guyana. You can't see anything from the Suriname side. That concerned me.


When the ferry started moving, I was thinking 'are we moving?'. Seriously, this is the slowest ferry EVER! You could swim faster. No wonder there is only one a day! However, it goes up another river (hence why you can’t see anything from Suriname) so it would be quite a long way and therefore swimming would be a bit hard. It takes like 30-40 minutes. On a normal boat it would probably take 10 minutes.

Check out this guy's dred. Singular. It is literally one. I'm sure this is a black thing. I don't think white people's hair would do this. It would just break. It looks really heavy. And hot.



This is the first thing you see when you get off the boat. Hmm, so my first impression of Guyanese people is they are a bunch of pissheads who like beer. Nice!


Immigration on this side seemed more organised. This took about 30 minutes since there were a lot of people. The guy had to ask his boss if Aussies need a visa (which we don't). Obviously they don't get many of us coming through. Once you get outside all the currency exchange guys come at you speaking English as their first language. It's weird! I had no SRDs left to exchange anyway so I don’t know whether they offer good rates or not. I’ll assume not if other border exchanges are anything to go by. However, if you have some left it's probablyworth taking a small financial hit because no one will buy them outside of Suriname except at the border.

Next you need to find your colectivo minivan. If you show your card the other guy gave you to the drivers they know who is who and will point you in the direction of the right one. Once everyone is there, you go. The journey to Georgetown takes about three hours. Again, I think this used to take a lot longer but the road is now sealed all the way and there is a bridge at New Amsterdam so you don’t need to take a ferry across the river anymore. The colectivo will drop you off at your accommodation in Georgetown. You should arrive mid-afternoon.

There are villages all the way along the road between where the ferry drops you off and Georgetown. Every couple of hundred metres there is a sign telling you what village you’re about to enter. I think these may correspond to old plantations. It is interesting because you've got typical English names like 'Moore Park' and 'Kingsley'. Then there are highly entertaining ones like 'Lovely Lass', 'Catharinas Lust' and 'Glaziers Lust'. Then they clearly run out of ideas so there’s 'Village 40' and 'Village 41'. Then they get creative again with places like 'Adventure' and 'Now or Never'. It makes the journey a bit more entertaining and takes your mind off the fact the minivan is doing 160km/ hour.

Georgetown

Everyone told me that Georgetown is dangerous. Well by everyone I mean people in French Guiana and Suriname since no one else I’ve met has been here. Although being told 'it’s dangerous' is common in South America, so I take other people’s advice with a grain of salt these days and like to decide for myself. 

Without a doubt this city is rough around the edges. And in the middle. There’s rubbish everywhere, the traffic is horrible and aggressive, and the last time the majority of buildings look like they were painted was 20 years ago. There are also a lot of homeless people around. 


Good to see people can read signs.


Part of the rubbish problem seems to be they never empty the bins. This one near where I stayed looked like this the whole week I was there.


Even though they drive on the left, a lot of streets are like these ones below with one way traffic on either side. This is fine until you get to an intersection where cars seem to be turning every which way. No one gives way to pedestrians either so it's quite unsafe trying to cross roads. And there's hardly any footpaths so most of the time you also have to walk on the road. 




All that said, I walked around a lot in this city (during the day) and didn't feel unsafe or get run over. Interestingly, I only saw a handful white people outside of the guesthouse. While this is not a bad thing, it did seem kinda strange being the only white person walking around and it definitely attracts attention. It's also weird cos unlike the rest of South America, men speak to you in English making it harder to ignore their random comments like "you have very nice boobs". Um, ok.

I stayed at Rima Guesthouse, which is right next to the Magistrates Court. I chose this place based on internet reviews, price, and because of its central location. Also, the sign is right. It was very clean. If you are looking for a budget option, this is a good place and you do actually meet other backpackers here (mostly Germans and Aussies).



I also thought I might see something interesting since most of the rooms overlook the alley they bring all the criminals in by. 


I kinda liked it cos at about 9am I got to watch the daily parade of Georgetown’s finest being led in handcuffs into the lockup to wait for sentencing. The holding pen has bars on the door so you can hear everything. None of them speak English to each other. The only word I understood the whole time was 'Inspector' as they shook the door trying to get the guard’s attention for whatever reason. Then at around 4pm the paddy wagon comes back and takes them all back to jail (or wherever).



The food here is much better than Paramaribo. There is a large Indian population, as well as Rastafarians who follow a mostly vegan (or Ital) diet so there are lots of veggie options. I found this dedicated vegetarian restaurant which offers lunch including juice for around G$800. The ladies who work there are really friendly and helpful. Most of it is vegan and the menu varies daily. You get to experience good, healthy, cruelty free, Creole food. I went here every day for lunch and experienced a lot of new flavours. Some Rastas told me this is the best veggie place in Georgetown.


There are also two big fresh fruit and veg markets within walking distance to Rima's. Unlike Paramaribo prices here are based on weight, which is good. However, Guyana hasn’t fully converted to metric and buying fruit and veg is one of the things that’s still in pounds. Kind of annoying for everyone who isn’t a local or American. They also have a much better selection of fruit here than in Paramaribo.

Georgetown itself doesn’t offer a lot for tourists so a couple days is all you really need to see everything.

Er...


Georgetown does have the world's tallest wooden cathedral, which could do with some new paint. Weirdly it's now in the middle of a roundabout but it also has a moat that goes all the way around!





There are some nice/ interesting parts of the city with distinct British and Dutch influences. 

I love this fairytale looking City Hall building even though it looks more like Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle than anything the Dutch or British built.




 Cheddi Jagan Research Centre.



I just liked these places.




The Prime Minister's house and President's houses. 




You have to be careful walking around the other side of the President's house since I was told there's a bunch of teens who hang out there robbing people. He should get his goons onto that.

Promenade Gardens. It has a distinct English garden feel but could be better.


There’s also the botanic gardens and zoo. I walked there and it took about 30 minutes. The botanic gardens are not interesting. However, they do have some big manatee ponds. I thought these were part of the zoo so I paid to get in. But they weren't.

The zoo was fairly interesting as far as keeping animals locked up for human entertainment goes.

Harpy Eagle.


Black Crowned Night Herron.


This was a wild bird sitting in an open top enclosure. It looks similar to the one above.



Monkeys.



River otter.



I couldn't really see the manatees cos the pond water was not clear. However, they’d thrown in some grass cuttings so they were feeding and you could see bits of them like their noses. One of them came right up to the surface and it was huge! Searching for the manatees is definitely one of the best things to do in Georgetown.




There is also a cool candy striped lighthouse. I don't know when it's open to the public but it sort of was when I walked past, and they let me go up if I made a donation.
















Like Suriname, the Dutch (during their occupation) decided to build a canal system here. I think the ones in Georgetown are even dirtier than the ones in Paramaribo.




They (being the slaves, not the Dutch) also built a massive sea wall along the entire coast of Guyana to stop flooding. 'Liming' (Caribbean word for doing nothing) on the seawall in Georgetown, especially on a Sunday evening when the entire population seems to be there, is pretty popular. 


Stabroek Market. This place is chaotic and you have a fairly high risk of being pick pocketed so you need to be careful with your stuff. It's also where all the colectivo minivans depart from so all the drivers annoy you constantly.


If you've got time to kill, the museums here are all free/ donation based. I went to a few. The best one was the Guyana National Museum. While it's a long way off becoming the world's greatest museum, you do get a nice overview of Guyana's history. However, the main reason for going is to see the giant sloth replica based on old fossils found in South America. It is very cool. You can't take photos, but this tells you all about it and provides a photo.

Like Suriname, going to the interior on tours is expensive. Since I already had a similar experience at los Llanos in Venezuela, which was way cheaper, I don't feel I missed out by not going.

Therefore, I really only wanted to do two things in Guyana:

1) Go to Kaieteur Falls.
2) Go to the cricket.

I achieved both.

Kaieteur Falls

Kaieteur Falls is the runner up in the World Waterfall Database, after Iguzu which is rightfully number one. It is without a doubt Guyana's best tourist attraction. If you spend all that time and money getting to Guyana and don't go, you're an idiot.

You can go in a day and various tour companies can help you out with that. Google it and then go see them when you arrive in Georgetown. They are all near each other and offer different tours on different days for slightly different prices. Pay cash or they charge you an extra 6% in credit card fees. The Bank of Guyana ATM at the roundabout at Main and Church streets is the only one that reliably works with foreign cards and doesn't charge you any fees.

It seems to be cheaper to go on a Saturday. I paid US$200 which included a guide. It is best to organise a tour when you arrive in Georgetown in case something happens (unlikely but you never know) and you need to re-book for another day. It would be very disappointing to miss out on this experience.

The plane ride was quite horrible actually. I don't usually get plane sick, but after 1.5 hours on a small plane with a lot of turbulence I got off the plane feeling ill.


The walk to the falls takes about 10 minutes from where you land. Then they take you to a series of look out points. Amazing. The volume of water going over the edge and the sound it makes is astounding.




What is really cool about Kaieteur Falls is you can walk right up to the edge!





 

Depending on how scared you are, you can get some awesome pictures. I'm pretty scared of heights though so I didn't go too near the edge since it's a 226m drop.


There is also a tiny golden frog that only lives here. Unsurprisingly it's called the Kaieteur Frog. It's about the size of a thumb nail. You can see it in the middle of this photo. Apparently they are quite common but this was the only one I saw.


The plane ride also gives you some great aerial views of the falls, the Amazon, and Georgetown.



  
The world's longest floating bridge (nearly 2km) connecting Georgetown to West Bank Demerara.

  
It looks like this at ground level.






Cricket!!! I'll be there soon.



Cricket

Since I was in one of West Indies nations, and being Aussie, finding a cricket match was high priority. I figured this wouldn't be too hard since Guyana is in the Commonwealth and therefore, they love their cricket. Plus it's summer and the Caribbean Premier League was happening throughout the West Indies.

I saw a lot of amateur cricket in the one week I was there including:

Beach cricket. These guys had some skills. Although if you played cricket mid afternoon during the week instead of being at work, you probably would become quite good.


Carpark cricket. All you require to get this game started is a bat and ball. Then you wait about two minutes for enough people to notice and join in.



Carpark cricket also comes with spectators with beers and a pumping sound system. These guys also had a bat at one point.



And river cricket.



You can see by the setting that much of the fielding took place in the water. It's different.



While I enjoyed the locals' enthusiasm for the game, what I really wanted to see was some international cricket with professional players. I knew Guyana was playing two Twenty20 matches against Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) on Friday 30/08 and Saturday 31/08. These were preparation matches for T&T, who were going on to compete in the Twenty20 Champions League in India. That worked for me.

The lovely ladies at Rima's knew I was keen on going and organised a ticket for me since I didn't know where to buy them from.



Then, on the Kaieteur Falls tour I met some people from Trinidad who were also going. They were supposed to swing by and pick me up but they never showed or were really late and I'd already got my own taxi by then. Either way, I didn't see them again.

So at the stadium I sat there like Nigel No Mates for a while. And I was the only white person so that didn't help with my 'blending in'. But then some guy who appeared to be surrounding himself with women who like cricket took pity on me and invited me to join his posse.



The guy on the end is not him. He is a potential West Indies up and comer named Amir Khan



West Indies cricket is interesting. At home you can't do ANYTHING or they will kick you out. They only sell XXXX mid strength beer in plastic cups and there are heaps of police in the crowd and on the boundary watching the crowd. One false move and you're out plus you get a massive fine for being a dickhead.

Here you could buy full strength bottled beers (handy for chucking the empties at boundary fielders you dislike). You could also take an esky in with your own drinks including spirits. Lots of people smoked (although I was told that wasn't allowed) and there were hardly any police to control any potential trouble makers. Not that the crowd was massive and it was a Twenty20 so things were unlikely to get too rowdy. But still.

There was also a guy riding his bike around selling stuff. There's no way you'd get a bike into the Gabba! Although I'd like to see someone try to smuggle one in in a watermelon.



I thought it was particularly poor form that two of the T&T players had no names on the scoreboard! Surely the organisers would know who's playing since the squad is announced in advance?



So on the Friday night T&T won. Afterwards, the team went out on the piss and wrote themselves off (apparently). Because these matches don't count towards anything, the coaches/ managers didn't stop them. This meant that pretty much all of them were hungover for the Saturday night match. The bowling and fielding weren't terrible, although I did see one dropped catch which could have been avoided. Or maybe they just needed Ricky Ponting in the slips.

Their batting on the other hand was an absolute shocker! The top order were all out for ducks or like two, and rightfully, Guyana won the game. This just goes to show that despite Boonie's efforts, alcohol and playing international cricket don't really mix.

Interestingly, the organisers seem to have lost another player during T&T's dismal batting performance. Players 3, 7 and 9 are blank on the scoreboard. Fail.



Afterwards I went out with my new friends to a bar across the road (so this is just like going to the cricket at home). But there was a lot of Bollywood music since most of the cricket fans are of Indian decent. This isn't usually what I listen to, but it was pretty good. I also got to witness 'the wine'. In the Caribbean this is not an alcoholic beverage but a dance where women (mostly) do a massive booty shake to popular tunes. Rihanna is very popular over here. I heard her all the time in Guyana and the bar across the road from Rima's seems to have her on repeat! I bet she likes cricket being a Barbados girl. She's probably familiar with the wine too.

While we had a few beers and watched the wining, I was talked into going swimming with the posse on the Sunday. This was actually something I wanted to do but since you need a car to get to the rivers/ creeks was not something I actually planned on doing.

So on Sunday morning I got picked up early and off we went to find a river. Once again I was the only white person.

This is like the white girl version of 'Where's Wally?'




But it was pretty fun and I had a good day out experiencing a popular local weekend activity. Since I was with locals I got to listen to them speak to each other. Seriously, I understood less than 50% of the conversation in the car. Their English is not proper English. But when they spoke to me it was. It's weird.

Ian (the posse ring leader) has a house near the airport and he was on one of the same flights as me on the Monday. He let me stay at his house so we could share a cab. This was just a nice gesture with no strings attached. So the next morning we arrived at the airport at about 4am for checkin. Ian knows a lot of cricketers apparently and after security he introduced me to Krishmar Santokie, who played for Guyana on the weekend. He was flying home to Trinidad.


So that was Guyana. It's not the world's most exciting tourist destination but I still liked it. Again it's nothing like the rest of South America or the other Guianas for that matter. Georgetown was interesting, Kaieteur Falls - the world's second best waterfall - was awesome, and I got to experience West Indies cricket, which I've wanted to do since I started liking cricket. As a bonus I got to meet two cricketers. I've had worse experiences.

Next stop: Miami!

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