GUYANA AND THE BATTLE OF LETHEM

We woke up when it was still dark outside. After a quick coffee and a cold shower we were ready to leave Nickerie, the last Surinamese town before the border to Guyana. There was still quite a distance to cycle, as the ferry dock was 40 kilometres away and the boat was leaving only once a day. We made it right on time. Being short on money, we found ourselves once again, lucky enough to meet a kind person, this time it was a customs officer, who sold us the tickets 3 dollars cheaper than the normal fee.
Off we went and after not even 30 minutes we arrived in next South American country.
Guyana, just like Suriname, with it’s culture, music and food, is considered a part of the Caribbean and has little in common with the Latin countries on the continent. One more reason to undermine that it is also the mother land of the finest rum in the world- El Dorado. Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America and more than half of its citizens are of Indian origin. As well as Suriname, Guyana’s road traffic is on the left-hand side, as one of the results of the colonisation.
The sun was burning down on our skin as we passed by little towns and villages along the way. Some, or rather most of them with extremely peculiar names. There was Stockholm, Hong Kong and Manchester followed by Friendship, Hope and, what a pretty name, Industry! The most odd one was Experiment with a very disturbing ‘Experiment Health Center’. We then passed another town with the name of Hope and eventually our two favorites: Adventure and Now Or Never. Next was yet another Friendship and, what a surprise, another Hope! It kept on repeating all the way to Georgetown which made us think about the confusing job of Guyanese mailmen.

It was right before the sunset when we arrived in New Amsterdam. The heat of the day was wearing off as we pushed through towns. Ja-Rule’s loud voice coming from car speakers was saying that all is going to be just fine. And it really was! We’ve met Rebecca, a couchsurfer, peace Corp volunteer and music teacher. Together we’ve spent a lovely night preparing pizza and tasting local home-made booze.
The next evening we were already in Georgetown with Matteo, an Italian who cooked us some fine pasta and shared his passion for electronic music with Ben. It was the first morning in the capital and we were already busy. We attended a city tour and walked around Georgetown visiting museums and the most touristic spots. Did you know that Guyana had a female president who was a Caucasian American? Not many know about that but Janet Jagan was the first woman coming from the United States to be the country leader! There is a very dark page on the history of Guyana we didn’t know of but which seems to be a very well known story in other parts of the world. The country gained fame in the world in the wrong way when Jim Jones, a religious cult leader, and his 909 supporters committed suicide in Guyana in 1978. If you are persistent enough; it is possible to visit Jonestown, but the trip requires extra expenses as it is reachable only by plane.
If you happen to be in Georgetown don’t miss the opportunity to feed manatees in the Botanical Garden. These enormous animals love to cuddle in the water (although we didn’t try it) and like to eat the grass straight from people’s hands. Our city tour guide knew perfectly how to attract them. Together we had our first Guyanese dessert. A cube of ice with condensed milk and sweet syrup poured all over it sold on street corners of the capital.

After leaving the city began the hardest, so far, stage of our trip. The route from Linden, located around 40 km South from Georgetown, till the border with Brazil is a sandy dirt road leading through thick jungle and vast savannah. This 550 kilometers of mud, puddles, hills and holes left us totally wrecked. Sadly it didn’t end without casualties. Our laptop served us for a long time but didn’t survive the bumpy ride through the forest. Our first night night on the road we’ve spent in the tent.

Hidden between the trees we woke up due to the passing by of huge trucks, and they were many. Nevertheless we were still safe and sound, not too dirty and well fueled with peanut butter sandwiches. The problems began the next day. First thing in the morning our back tire let go and practically blew up. The rainy day was tough and thinking about another night in the tent didn’t seem too appealing. And that’s when the luck stepped in once again and the situation changed dramatically from one moment to another. At the late afternoon we’ve reached a little piece of civilization in the jungle- the village of Mabura. A man approached us immediately and offered help as if we had it written on our foreheads that we need it. Soon after that we were showered, fed and sleeping in a bed! All thanks to the lady who runs the local restaurant. We couldn’t be more grateful.

IMG_0342Leaving Mabura we were told not to sleep in the jungle because it is full of Jaguars. We wish to have never heard this warning. Not only we ended up cycling in the night naively thinking that we can make it to the next village but also put ourselves in the deepest mud and puddles trying to get through them in the darkness. When we finally accepted the fact that it was too late and impossible to reach our next destination, there was no hope for a happy end that day. As we discovered the next morning, we pitched the tent in the worst place possible, soaking wet and dirty beyond understanding. Spending the night in these conditions, wondering if people exaggerate or not about the presents of Jaguars, was one hell of a night! Now, when it is over, we can call it a real adventure and smile about it, but then we were not so happy about the series of events. The next day at noon we crossed the river to enter the dryer part of the country. Since we have left Linden it was basically raining almost every day, all day and night.

The following days were far more pleasant as we spent them in lodges run by indigenous communities of Amerindians. The highlight was surely the Canopy Walkway close to the Atta lodge- a path leading above the trees from one trunk to another- a perfect spot for birdwatching. Another highlight was a short trip in an indigenous canoe down the river close to the Surama lodge.

After passing through the hot savannah we arrived in Lethem to spend the night in a hotel which turned out to be a bit more than a place to sleep. Soon we figured out that we are the only regular guests. All the rest were the pretty unusually visitors. Yes, you got it right, we ended up in a brothel. The girls who worked there were to our knowledge nearly all Venezuelans. They came to Guyana because of the terrible economical situation in their country about which we were soon to learn more.
It would be a sin not to mention the Amerindian, or Guyanese food in general. It is absolutely delicious, so rich in flavors and various dishes. For the start we have the national dish- pepper pot which we mentioned before in the post about Suriname. It consists of beef stewed in sticky black cassava sauce called casareep. Spiced with peppers, cinnamon and other ingredients it makes Guyanese favourite dish which is served not only for dinner but also during a breakfast.

Then there is cocup which is a rice based meal with coconut milk served in many various ways- with beans, split peas and meet. Let us tell you, it is absolutely delicious.
Guyana is famous for their amazing and cheap bakes sold on streets all around the country. You can find cheese rolls, pine tarts, mini pizzas, coconut buns and sweet buns so incredible you may want to spend the whole day tasting each one of them. What we liked very much was puri- a flat pancake filled with grounded split peas and onion. For fans of hearty meals we can recommend metemgee. This dish is prepared with ground provisions such as potatoes, cassava, carrot, yam and pumpkin stewed with meat (or without) in coconut milk. All those who like to taste alcoholic beverages around the world, Guyana is a perfect location to do so. You will find plenty apart from the famous rum, for example some fine wines made out of cashew and jamun.

Unexpectedly when we left Georgetown and thought that nothing but hardship and tiresome road is ahead of us, we fell in love with Guyana. The ride through the wild and pristine forest turned out to be an experience very close to meditation. The feeling of being totally alone in the wilderness can be very uncomfortable but at the same time-totally soothing. In those precious moments, especially during so many incredible sunsets, we felt peace in its purest form, happy and thankful that we seized the chance to cycle through Guyana.

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We are Marta and Ben, a Polish-German couple currently traveling the world. We’ve met last year, both with specified and fixed plans, following two different paths. And even though it seemed impossible, we decided to be together against all (so many!) odds. Since then we travel together, share big and small dreams, live great moments and face troubles. We laugh loud and argue loud, we cry, smile, party and have fun together each day. We live in constant need to visit new places. We share the urge to discover, learn and understand new cultures, traditions and customs. We crave to see all world’s wonders. We want to meet beautiful people and get to know their stories. We would like to listen to local music, taste delicious food, swim in different seas and sleep under different skies. We wish to speak various languages but sometimes just stay speechless. We want an adventure. Our dream and plan is to travel from Argentina to Alaska on a tandem bicycle and visit all the countries of South, Latin and North America. This means that we are going to cover the distance of 30 000 km in three years time.

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