By Tommy Walker
“I’M a British backpacker and travel writer, having left my home back in 2012.“I recently took a 10-month trip to South America. I didn’t even know about Guyana until I saw it on a map in a guidebook.
“I was intrigued; I knew it was going to be off the beaten path, a different kind of culture and challenge.
WEEK ONE: I had decided to go venture into Guyana whilst I was in Brazil. It was a random decision to go. I felt I needed something a bit more out of the norm to what I had experienced before. I couldn’t really get any advice from anyone, as no one I knew had ever visited Guyana. Yet, I thought to myself, ‘Why not? Let’s create something new in your world.’
I knew it was going to be something completely different to what I’d been used to, and more so, I knew it wasn’t going to be typical Latin America.
I had made my way up to Brazil, by long bus rides, by flights and then I finally got to Boa Vista, boarding Guyana.
Lethem is the border town, but the final destination was to get to Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.
Getting there took a while, so the night before, I made the hours count by being asleep. I knew it was going to be a slog, and I knew it was going to be hot.
Getting into Lethem was quite odd, from my point of view. We took a coach from the border, which dropped us off right before the passport and check-in point.
Then, random locals with unmarked taxis came and explained, confidently yet helpfully, how things worked. They would take us to the check-in, wait, and then into Lethem town.
Nothing got pre-arranged; it was just as you go. The check-in desk was empty, and I had to show my Yellow Fever vaccination card before entering.
I was asked, ‘Why are you here?’ Almost in surprise, I explained that I was a tourist and travelling through. It didn’t seem that many tourists came here much, especially by this route. I gathered that quickly, and it came as no surprise.
I was going away from the trails that backpackers normally take. Everything was polite, and happened fairly efficiently after that. After being stamped through, we were taken to Lethem by our waiting taxi.
Arriving in Lethem, the first thing that came to mind was that it was an old cowboy kind of town: Dusty roads, beaming sun, and antique, wooden-styled surroundings.
Kids were playing in the swamps happily and freely. It was very relaxed and laid back; a slow place. And it had that ghost-town feel.
There wasn’t much happening really, as you’d expect from a border town. Despite only being one to two hours away from Boa Vista back in Brazil, it already felt like worlds away.
I roamed the shops, and managed to pick up some cargo pants for $1. It was like a DFO centre: Clothes everywhere. I tried on the pants in the middle of the store; the locals were intrigued. I was a tourist in unfamiliar territory.
OFF TO GT
From what I was told, Georgetown was a good 15-hour trip away, apparently. On normal roads, the journey would be a four-hour one. Whilst the wait from one hour took four hours for our pick up, I got to try some local food in the meantime. It mainly consisted of chicken and rice, but it was right up my street; it gave me the first taste of Guyana, and I was only getting started.
As we finally got picked up to board our journey to Georgetown, the sky was falling. It was past evening, and coming into the night. It was going to be a tight squeeze, as our vehicle was a minibus and camper-van all rolled into one: Luggage on top; passengers tightly in the middle.
We had to make do; I knew it was going to be uncomfortable, but it’s what I had imagined. Things were different here to what I had been accustomed to: You make do; don’t complain, and get on with it.
One other traveller I was with didn’t really like that, and one kicked up a fuss over where she was sitting on the bus, kicking and screaming like a baby, like a first-time traveller. I was embarrassed for her. It wasn’t going to make much of a difference; there were nearly 20 people crammed into one journey.
The roads weren’t tarmac either; it was red rock and sand, with the occasional wooden bridge.
It was still very hot and humid during the night. It was bumpy; had Guyana music rocketing out of the van windows and the driver was fairly reckless. Every time I tried to sleep, it was difficult.
There was no headrest to lean back into, and only a metal protective bar at the side above the windows. As I drifted off, my head would occasionally bump up against the metal, waking me up again, tired and drained as the vehicle bolted along.
After countless hours of being a sardine, we stopped for a two-hour break until dawn.
The river-crossing did not open until 6am. A regular stopping point, it seemed, with several hammocks, and covered areas for passengers and drivers alike to get out and stretch their legs a bit, get some water, and wait.
Most people slept in silence, exhausted from the journey. Mosquitos were rife outside, so I decided to get a bit more room inside, and for the first time, put meh head down as I slept sideways in the backseat.
Soon awoken, we got to the river crossing at Kurupukari.
The way across was by barge, which was powered by an engine. The barge itself was practically wooden on the surface, and it could accommodate three vehicles. I guessed it was probably less, but we made it without any incident.
The journey continued through the dense Iwokrama jungle, which covers most of Guyana. I tried to spot the famed jaguars that lurk here, but with the road that had been carved out, these animals weren’t going to be close by.
We passed through village towns, getting local fruits and water along the way. We were assured the journey wasn’t much longer, but really, I was taking that with a pinch of salt; we had a fair bit to go.
We eventually got into Georgetown mid-afternoon. The heat was still prevailing, and everyone was passed out. Almost. No one had really slept, from what I gathered. Yet, we were in a new world again.
I remember looking out the window at old American houses that seemed to be from the 20s and 30s era on either side of the road.
We had entered civilisation again, although completely different to anything I had experienced before. I was excited and nervous; I was dehydrated and stank. I was praying for a nice shower and a bed. We rocked up at Jerries, quite luckily, having not booked anything prior, and managed to get beds. We were here. Jerries + Georgetown.