Heritage Adventures in Guyana
If you travel in Guyana, expect to encounter a number of European languages. This reflects the many conquests won and lost and regained as the Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and Portuguese battled for domination over this pocket of Northern South America. The farther off the beaten-path you go, the more the likelihood you will come into linguistic contact with any of the four main earlier inhabitants; namely the Warraus, Arawaks, Wapisianas and Caribs.
Together with the plantation workers and merchants from sub-continental India and China, and the Afro-Guyanese, you will discover quite the cultural diversity.
English was widely used in this nation nestled between Brazil and Venezuela so for me it was quite comfortable and convenient to interact with locals. Georgetown was captivating, especially the Guyana Heritage museum. This small privately-owned museum had quality artifacts and records depicting Guyanese history. I recommend a visit to a rum factory to admire the process behind Caribbean rum crafting, and perhaps the purchase of a bottle of aged Demerara liquid gold. Wooden buildings dominate the historic corridor including George’s Cathedral, the tallest wooden structure in the world. Equally impressive is the turreted wooden frame of the City Hall. Archaeology buffs might enjoy the ruins of Dutch forts along the Essequibo River. Not to be missed is the Botanical gardens; an early morning stroll in the gardens can reveal up to 100 different bird species, manatees in the river and a myriad of native and cultivated plants and trees.
A short boat ride across the Demerara River brought my group to the confluence of a small creek which led to a corridor of waterways meandering through savannah and swamp forest. Arrowpoint or Timberhead offer accommodation so that visitors can bike, paddle, and hike. We went to the Wabini community of Arawak speaking lineage and learned about the removal of toxic cyanide from cassava to make use of the plant for cooking and baking. Here and in other indigenous villages and communities we were able to discover ways of living on and by the land.
By North or South American standards, this country is small although this perspective is altered by a highly variable topography of rivers, green mountains, large savannahs, humid tropical forests and mangrove coastlines creating the illusion of large scale. Guyana translated means land of many rivers. Some are great rivers, like the Essequibo which reaches 22 km in when it drains into the Atlantic. The existence of these interior waters, and their unpredictability has kept the highway system to a minimum.
To access the interesting habitats and of the interior, it is necessary to adventure to remote areas by boat or 4 x 4 or small aircraft. I recall some of those short haul flights being over the greenest expanse of virgin forest I had ever seen. The country’s rich Natural History first described by early explorers Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles Waterton, and later by naturalists David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell, still abounds. It appeared, and was for me, wild and untamed. Monkeys, tapir, peccaries, caiman, bats, snakes and jungle cats exist in record numbers in Guyana. Birds are also numerous with just over 800 species.
One of the wild places was Kaieteur Falls. After landing at a small airstrip beside the National Park, we hiked through the forest where we encountered the Guianan cock-of-the rock with its brilliant orange plumage and golden frogs who live their entire lives in the bromeliads watered by Kaiteurs spray. The falls have three different view points, all at the time devoid of safety railing. One view point was a precipices right above the falls. The view should surely be included among the world’s most imposing scenic wonders.
Another treat was staying for 2 nights at Iwokrama. This one-million acre reserve and station was established as a living laboratory for tropical forest research and conservation. It wasn’t necessary to leave the station to see wildlife, although still productive to take early morning or late afternoon jeep safari’s. Iwokrama also manages a canopy walkway, best experienced in early morning or late afternoon.
In contrast to the rain-forest is the Rupununi Savannah along the Brazilian border. A handful of ecolodges exist including Karanambu Ranch. For over 40 years this working ranch and ecolodge, has offered its guests solar heated showers, overnights in mud brick and thatched roof cottages, and verandahs with large hammocks that provided rest between game drives and boat tours. Note: It is necessary to wear long pants as biting flies on the rivers and chiggers in the tall grasses can make for an unpleasant after-effect. Like many of the lodges we stayed at, we were treated like family. I would love to see Guyana and my new family once again.