My Luck is Changing!!

** Please note this is the last post of my Guyana blog. There will be no future updates. Thanks for reading it!!

I waited in Trinidad for my flight to Houston to leave. I had paid an extra $40 so I could sit in the bulkhead and get extra leg room. I did this on the way down and had nobody in the seats next to me. I was one of the last to board and had the same seat like last time. A guy sat by the window and me in the isle.

A few minutes later, someone else boarded and was confused with my seat and his. He thought he was supposed to be in mine but then looked across the isle and saw that the other three seats were occupied. A man said that he indeed was in this guys seat but he wanted to sit with his family. He had bought a seat in first class and offered it to the guy who didn’t seem impressed. A man standing behind him said he would gladly switch with him. The displaced man stood there not liking any of the choices and I tugged on his shirt and said, “do you want my seat?!”, more than happy to sit in first class. Amazingly, he agreed saying he liked my seat so I jumped on the chance and moved up to first class!! Wow like when does THAT ever happen? It’s been over 20 years since I have had this kind of opportunity!

We were served breakfast…oh and fresh squeezed orange juice which was awesome. I ate French toast with ham and warm pineapple. A croissant was presented to me which I jumped on as well, slathering it down with butter and jam. A bowl of fruit including sweet red watermelon and other large chunks of juicy goodness went down just fine. This is the best thing I’ve eaten in two weeks! I’m waiting a while before I indulge in the free adult beverages.

After it was all said and done, getting home from Karanambu took a truck, a boat, a Land Rover, a tiny plane, two taxi’s, a huge plane, two car rides, two more planes and a taxi. Man, it’s good to be back.

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In Closing: This Place Will Eat You Alive

If you are reading this, either you know me or you have come across it looking for information on possibly traveling to Guyana. For those of you in the latter category, I’m going to be as honest as possible so you don’t arrive bewildered. I don’t travel in luxury. I prefer to see how the other half lives and join alongside them. Why? I’m not really sure. Maybe I feel I have so much that I should appreciate it and this is one of the ways to do it. Places I go have natural beauty but are also in very poor countries. You must take the good with the ‘bad’ if you want to look at it that way. Although I find that no matter how poor the people seem to be, they are some of the happiest and grateful for what little they have. They will share what they have with you even if it means they go hungry that night. It’s heartwarming and emotional to say the least. You don’t find that in the U.S. very often.

I have been traveling to Central America for over 20 years. I highly doubt that anyone would start out in Guyana if they have never been anywhere else before. But in case you happen to be one of the few, read this carefully. When I researched this trip, I knew what I was getting into for the most part. I’m sure that the time of the season brought with it some unexpected surprises as well. I knew the wet season was a bad time to go but it was also at the end of it. I like to travel on the edge of seasons to avoid high season and people. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the amount of bugs, the heat and humidity. I’ll break this down into more manageable sections:

The People

I met my fair share of locals and I’d have to say they were all very nice. They liked to laugh, they all seemed to ask personal questions that Americans wouldn’t. Almost every person asked how old I was right off the bat. That followed with am I married, do I have children, why aren’t I married and why don’t I have children. Where was I from, have I ever been here before, etc. nice general banter. I also asked the same of them. Religion rarely came up and political affiliation sometimes did.

I tried to think of what to bring the adults and came up with vegetable seeds. They were warmly welcomed and I was shown gardens they were growing which oddly enough included the same veggies I had brought. Everyone loves tomatoes and I brought different peppers, okra and basil. They were very appreciative and glad I chose that to take down. Please consider doing the same. Bring lots. They are easy to carry, cheap and a source of food for them which they greatly need.

The Amerindian women would always come up behind me or stand next to me as I used the iPad. Some asked what it was and some just watched me write my blog. That was a little weird. So usually I would just flip to the photos and start the sideshow. I was amazed that some of them had never set foot in the jungle before, even though they lived there their whole lives. Children would come up also but seemed more interested in the camera. I would take their picture and show them, which always brought smiles to their faces. Videos were a big hit too.

I had brought things for the kids, knowing full well that they do not have luxuries or toys more than likely. The cute little boy in the ox cart was so sweet and patient. When we got stuck out in the jungle and his father went back to the village, I took out a big fish hook bone necklace I had gotten in Hawaii and put it around his neck. He didn’t seem too interested in it, but I thought it looked cool on him. I showed him how to adjust the length by pulling on the knots. Five days later when they came back to get me, he was still wearing it.

I always bring a bunch of temporary tattoos with animals on them. I was surprised that all kids knew what they were and seemed really excited to get them, oftentimes fighting over the ones they wanted. I brought a bunch of toothbrushes, donated by my dentist. The day the school kids came to do their homework under the benab at Caiman House, I handed out the tattoos. Then I went up to my room and grabbed the toothbrushes and asked if anyone wanted them. A girl stated that she didn’t even own one. Most adults and even some younger men were missing a lot of their teeth. I’m sure nobody has ever been to a dentist. I brought them down some of my flip flops and a new pair of pink and black water shoes which they fought over as well. Everyone in the village seemed to have the same style and color flip flops so these would surely make a fashion statement.

All of my hosts were genuinely kind and apologetic for the bugs or transportation woes. Nobody had an attitude or seemed stressed out. They all tried to make my stay as comfortable as possible…which at times seemed IMpossible. My guides were very educated about the local wildlife and plants, having gained their knowledge from their elders or by simply living there. They were witty, funny, interesting and kind. I really enjoyed being around them.

The Cleanliness

WHAT cleanliness!? You know, I get it…this is a third world country and I would never hold them to the same standards that we in the US have. I get that chemicals in the environment are frowned upon and that cleaning materials might be expensive. However, when you pay between $85-180 a day, you would hope that the shower would at least be cleaned out. The only thing I noticed was usually a toilet bowl cleaner and a brush. The shower floors were filthy and appeared to have never been cleaned. When you have critters like roaches, frogs, insects dropping their waste everywhere on a nightly basis, it gets kind of gross standing in it when you are attempting to get clean. I consider myself a sort of germaphobe, but I had to get over that REAL quick.

Towels were not changed out unless asked and usually smelled badly. At least the sheets were changed daily and my bed was always turned down for me and mozzie net put in place. Pillows were old, flat and also smelled bad. Everything was moist with humidity.

There is no hot water anywhere so dishes were washed in cold water. I did my own laundry except twice and I did it in the shower. I feel filthy. My luggage is going straight outside and a hot water wash will be prepared and clothes thrown in immediately. My inclination is to just burn everything.

Right before landing in Trinidad, the lady came on the speaker and said an aerosol would be sprayed throughout the plane. Department of Agriculture requires it coming back from Guyana. That made me feel great. I wondered if I could borrow some and spray it in my bag and on ME too.

The Food

One of the main staples of the Amerindians is cassava. I only just found out from Dr. Lucy that cassava contains cyanide. These people eat it daily. I’m not sure if there is a connection or if it was the medications I had to take, but around 6pm I was starting to slur my ‘S’s’. And no, I hadn’t been drinking. I could no longer imitate the birds by whistling either. It was like my lips just stopped working. I was getting a little worried actually, thinking I was coming down with some weird disease. I can’t say if it was from the cassava because I did eat it almost daily too. But when Lucy mentioned that, I thought my problem could have stemmed from it.

I felt the food was just fine…not great but not bad either. When you’re starving anything tastes good I think. They were definitely catering to Western taste buds and I know full well they would never eat this kind of “fancy” food, as Guy put it once. Protein, if any comes from fish and maybe pigs, chicken or beef if they can afford it. Most drink river water and have no running water in their homes. Thankfully the government at least provides free solar electricity (but are now charging a couple of dollars a month for it).

One of my memories, which I did not get a picture of, was driving into the village after I arrived in Lethem. Guy pulled up to a house looking for a cold drink. A woman stood outside, stone faced with two huge sides of beef hanging from a tree. Big, bloody, not so meaty sides of beef in hundred degree weather. Mmmmm yum. There were no cold drinks here. I did have beef a few times while I was there and thought back to the processing I had witnessed. I tried not to think about it.

So did I get sick, you may be wondering? I felt a little strange after about four days into the trip at Maipaima. Although it could have been due to the banana I ate in the morning and the two and a half oranges I had on the trail. I decided to take the cipro anyway because I figured I’d rather not be sick on this trip. No time after that have I felt ill. I rarely had to use my Go Berkey to filter anything because either the water was bottled or (and I’m just assuming this), they had used bottled in the lime juice and other juices that were prepared. I did use it at Caiman to filter rain water that came through the tap since they did not provide bottled water to drink.

The meals were varied and the proteins were either fish, chicken or beef. White rice was served regularly and some kind of veggie like tomato, cucumber or lettuce. Sometimes farine was served which was kind of like a coarse cornmeal but it’s made from cassava. They add onion and sometimes small peppers to it and fry it up in a bit of oil. I had beef stew more than once and sometimes chicken prepared either fried (not really breaded though) or stewed. Often I thought it tasted kind of off and chugged down a drink with it. I mentioned before the piping hot soup which was a huge turn off. Ugh…that’s about the last thing I want after a hot night out on the river. At Maipaima, Rosie made soups sometimes which were always good. Veggies like potatoes, carrots, okra and some kind of meat.

Breakfast consisted of eggs, usually scrambled with chorizo slices, juice and “floats”. Those rocked. They were thick fried doughy square pieces of bread. It seemed to be a daily thing, for which I was glad. They were sort of like a moist type of ciabatta bread. I ate it with jam, but peanut butter was always on the table too. Pancakes also made an appearance as did fresh bread, sometimes toasted and pre-buttered. Fresh fruit like banana or papaya were daily occurrences.

At Caiman House, they always served a bowl of fresh fruit after we ate. My first night we had a slice of cake! No frosting, but it was really good. That was the only time I saw that. I always had enough to eat but found myself very hungry right before meals. All of the exercise and heat made me burn a lot of calories. I’m hoping to find that I dropped at least five pounds when I get home, if not more.

The Transportation

Wow, where to begin? First of all, it’s expensive. Gas is around $10 a gallon outside of Georgetown and it will always be more in villages or in the bush. When things like motors break down it is expensive to fix. So I can understand the prices charged but STILL…half of my expenses went to transportation. It cost me $100 from lethem to the village by truck and that took about an hour. The ox cart, which in my opinion, was not paid nearly enough for the first ride in, cost $75. I gave him a $40 tip and was so choked up with emotion I could barely say thank you.

The boat ride from Caiman to Karanambu was $100 and that one made me feel really ripped off. I thought it was an hour away and then I could understand. It took maybe 35 minutes max. We spent more time on the river at night and used more fuel and for that, I was only charged $60. I guess they are banking on the fact that people have no other way of getting there so they take advantage of it. Now don’t get me wrong, these people are not rich. Fernando said that when they only have one guest they lose money and I believe that. Nobody opens a lodge in Guyana to get rich. It’s like the old saying, come with a million bucks and leave with $500,000. I understand it is one of the more expensive places in South America but sheesh…this would have been a four week trip to central America for what it cost me.

Stuff breaks down at the most inconvenient times, so be sure you are not on a set schedule. Leave plenty of time between flights and don’t get stressed when cars or cows break down. It happens. Deal with it.

Safety

I had asked Salvador and Andrea if they see any women traveling alone through here. Salvador said no and Andrea said yes. Andrea explained that yes, single women travel here but in a group or with a tour. Salvador said never by themselves. So that brings me to safety considering that I did travel alone and the name of my blog is ‘Solo Guyana’. He did tell me that I would be searched at the airport since cocaine is a big mover here and a single woman would be targeted.

I will assume you have read about my troubles in Trinidad when I landed over the camouflage. Apparently it is illegal in Guyana also but it’s not enforced. Brazil is the same way since it is associated with the FARC. So word of warning, don’t bring camo to South America whatever you do. I left my pants and gave my backpack away before going back through Trinidad. It wasn’t worth the risk.

Anyway, coming back from Karanambu I had to clear customs at Ogle airport. I opened my luggage without being asked because I figured they’d search it. After a short conversation they didn’t even bother looking. At Timiheri airport, I was one of the last to get on the flight because I was confused as to whether it was actually mine that was leaving. When I asked and found that it was indeed my flight, I was stopped and searched. I was the only one who was. This morning in Trinidad same thing. However one other guy was stopped as well. I was also patted down going through security prior to that. Hey, at least there was no strip search involved. I saw plenty of rooms next to security in Trinidad that had one chair and a padded bed. Yikes.

I walk with confidence, not looking anyone in the eye. I look haggard and worn out and nobody messes with me. In Trinidad I hear people hissing at me trying to get my attention and I pay them no mind. I just keep walking. I was starving yesterday after having only eaten breakfast and some jerky for lunch. After I landed in Trini, Sita said I could get some KFC at the gas station. The drive thru line was long and someone in front of us decided to turn around and go inside instead. She said I should do the same. I notice it’s all younger men in dreads in this small area waiting to order food. Vybz Cartel is playing and I even know the song! I feel a little like a local at that point. I’m like a sore freekin thumb here obviously. But again, I’m looking worn out, hungry and pissed off. I look at nobody. Someone walked in behind me and is standing too close to me for my comfort. I sort of look over my shoulder, acknowledging his presence with a sneer on my face and he backed up. The only other females there are the workers. It takes an eternity to get out of there but for some reason I feel at ease. I think whatever you actually think and feel is what you project and in this case, it worked.

I don’t wear makeup or skimpy clothes. Which reminds me, Diane had come by my room one afternoon to offer me a drink which of course I was thrilled to accept. I had taken off my shirt and had on my sports bra and camo pants to cool off. She looked me up and down and said in her British accent quite tactfully, “Oh my, don’t you think you will drive the young men mad dressing like that?”. I explained that I don’t go out of the room like this, I had just been trying to cool off. It was funny but she was quite serious so be forewarned.

I have never felt threatened in Guyana or in danger at any point. Maybe my first night there in the house where I was basically told to fend for myself made me a little nervous. But I kept it together, knowing it would do no good to stress, so I kept my wits about me…aware but not paranoid. Everything turned out fine. Now don’t get me wrong, shit can go down I’m sure. In hindsight I should have probably had a machete next to my bed that night but I was more afraid of the bugs than people. I did hear voices sometimes and motorcycles roaring by which made me a little uneasy. I feel like I could hold my own with one person or at least put up a hell of a fight. More than one, not so much. In the end, I am fine. If you are a woman wanting to travel anywhere I would say don’t be a textbook chipper American. Don’t be overly friendly. Or as Woody Allen said once, “Friendly but not familiar.” Don’t get drunk and don’t go home with anyone or let them into your room. Don’t be provocative and wear a ton of makeup. The less attractive you are the better. Don’t act ditzy or vulnerable. Don’t take out wads of bills. Only carry what you think you need then stash the rest back in your room or in another pocket. Carry small bills.

Speaking of that, none of my rooms had locks on them. I did have a cheap lock on my backpack which is only a minor deterrent. It could have easily been cut. Nobody was out to steal my stuff and I felt that a few days into the trip. I can’t say that would be the case everywhere, especially in more populated areas.

Being in Belize plenty of times I can understand when the locals speak among themselves for the most part. The Guyanese spoke similarly so I wasn’t always going, “Huh? What?”. I threw in some of their sayings and accents and that helped I think. It just takes time to learn and understand but in the long run helps considerably. This is something you only get by experience and I’m glad to have it. You gain respect and people are more willing to help you out and look after you. Most of the people you interact with will be men. Women do the cooking and cleaning and men do the driving, guiding and physical labor. Most will treat you like their sister or female relative and make sure you get to where you need to go without problems. I was never left to guide myself or in a strange situation. More often than not, two or more men looked after me. It was comforting.

Things That Fly, Crawl, Bite and Sting

Everything I read always mentioned the mosquitos. I would have LOVED mosquitos!! Bring em on! What I wasn’t prepared for were the damn kaboura (?) flies or betrish (?). I couldn’t really tell the difference between sand flea bites and kaboura except I could usually see the kaboura. That is, after they had already struck. Big painful welts that itched incessantly. They were the bane of my existence. Apparently they are even worse in July and August. I arrived at the end of August. They are still alive and well. So different times of year bring out certain bugs.

At Karanambu, the light in my room was left on after they turned down my bed. I came back after a night on the river to find no less than one thousand crawling or flying bugs in my room. That is a conservative estimate. I grabbed a few cane toads after dinner and put them in my room. Sweet little guys, I hoped they filled up that night. Bats flew about and would hit the top of my mozzie net waking me up. I could hear things crawling in the thatched roof at all hours. Big things. Roaches ruled supreme, all different shapes and sizes. They liked the soap in the sink and shower a lot. I never got up in the middle of the night to pee there. Come morning, the floor was covered in roach, bat and god knows what other type of feces and urine. How much was I paying for this again? I was assured by Andrea that none of these nasties carried disease. Time will tell, I suppose.

Bats blending in on a log

I think the bats have the best life there, with no shortage of insects to munch on. The one night we spent spotting on the river at Caiman is unforgettable. We had a full moon nights previous, but this night it was solid darkness. Time for everything to come out!! Since we were spotting, that obviously involves very bright lights and did the insects become drawn to that like bees to honey. Things were hitting me from all angles and on every part of my body. My eyes, mouth, hair, in my shirt, UP my pants. It was horrible, but I said nothing negative. At that point you just have to joke about it. But deep down inside, I couldn’t wait to get back. I’m here for this experience, good or bad. I don’t want to hate myself later just because of a few thousand bugs. They had never been as bad as they were that particular night thankfully. They were still out there but not in that sheer volume.

I saw almost everything I wanted to except an anaconda. I didn’t see a jaguar but really didn’t think I would. Seeing the tracks in the mud and hearing it roar that one time was good enough for me. I spotted four or five caiman the other night and was happy to have seen them up close without having to catch them. I didn’t see as many snakes as I had hoped, but the couple that I did were beautiful. Not being a birder per se, I saw many and appreciated every single one. The jabiru stork was at the top of the list.

cane toads karanambu

All of the lizards were cool, some I had never seen in my life. The frogs were great too. They seemed to be the gentlest of anything. The cane toads put up with me talking to them and petting them on their heads. The tiny frog that appeared in my shower each morning shared space with me by jumping on the curtain, I assume to get a better look. Some frogs would appear in the overflow drain in sinks, peering out with their dark little eyes. A perfect and safe place for them to live, waiting for an unsuspecting insect to come by. The giant gecko at Maipaima was also a highlight. Beautiful, fat and healthy he kept the room clean for me which was greatly appreciated. Chirping his presence only at dusk and dawn.

Even the spiders large and small didn’t bother me. They kept to themselves and I only found them on me when I would walk through their webs. The scorpions were creepy but didn’t seem to walk around much. Night walks in the jungle were fun and I seemed more creeped out by the bugs in my own room.

Basically if insects aren’t your thing, don’t come here. You will run away screaming.

The Weather

The heat never goes away, no matter what time of year it is. Maybe the humidity subsides but I’m not even sure about that. It only cools down at night and even then, it’s not cool. The humidity plays havoc with your comfort level. I really didn’t sleep well during the whole time and that was with sleeping pills. Your bed sheets will be too hot and sticky. Your pillow won’t be comfortable. The bugs will bite you even with a net. But I digress.

Most tourists show up during dry season where wildlife viewing is better, road conditions improve and the bugs aren’t as bad. The weather is unpredictable, at least during the time I was there. You get short warning when a storm rolls in and the lightning can be deadly. Just be sure you get the hell out of that metal boat when lighting starts to crack. Maybe educate yourself on the dangers of lightning before you go and know what to do if you are caught in different situations. Squat close to the ground when it strikes if you’re outside; don’t be in an open field and don’t be like one of my guides who was panning for gold and got struck. Luckily he survived, but he was one of the fortunate ones. And for gods sake, know what to do if it strikes the place you are in while sleeping. I was so angry with myself and felt helpless not knowing what I should do when it happened to me. That was probably the scariest part of my whole trip. I planned for everything but that.

Final Thoughts

I talked to a local who is now living in New York at the airport yesterday. He looked to be about my age and we talked about why we were both here. He had absolutely nothing good to say about Guyana. He used to be a gold miner and had only come back to get money someone owed him. He said the weather was always hot, you could never get a good nights sleep as you constantly scratched your body. The food was horrible and even the jungle wasn’t beautiful. He mentioned that it just wasn’t the kind of green you see on an island somewhere else. He said one time he overheard a woman talking about how great and beautiful Guyana was and he wanted to smack her. He obviously had a beef with the place but he had also lived there for a long time. Maybe now living in NY made him see how much better life can be and he’s now jaded.

Would I go back? Probably not. Would I ever recommend anyone to go there? Maybe not. Am I glad I went? Yes. I won’t forget the people I met or the experiences I had. If nothing more, it sure makes for some amazing stories. I have been to a place that few venture and for that, I am grateful.

The Joys of Transportation

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Today is my last full day in Guyana. I actually got up early because the rooster was crowing for what seemed like hours on end. I looked through the slats in my window and saw the sun coming up, big, bright and red. I may as well get some final shots of the place.

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

The sun shone through the mango tree like a big fireball. Unfortunately the pictures didn’t do it justice. The fog hovered in the distance and the flies started buzzing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a huge white bird fly through the compound, very low to the ground. I didn’t realize it was the jabiru. I hear Salvador call my name, “Stephanie, quick!!” I ran toward him and he pointed at the field and said, “Jabiru!” I couldn’t see it anymore and as I walked closer, it flew up into the air and took off to the river. So I quietly walked down to the river, camera on. As I approached the bank, it flew over the trees back to the field again. I ran up the road toward the field. As I looked into the tall grass, I noticed what I thought was a cat on the old runway. I paid it no attention since the stork was more important. But then it stopped and turned back to look at me and I knew it wasn’t a cat…it was the fox they have been seeing lately. I managed to get a few shots of it. It was identified as a crab eating fox, although Salvador said it has also been eating his pineapples and chickens.

It was a back and forth game with the stork and I got a picture of it flying by the windmill, but it was very far away. Then I got another one of it taking off with nesting material in its beak but that one was blurry. Oh well…at least I got to see it.

After breakfast, I showered figuring this was the last of the sweating I would do for the day. Oh how wrong I was, yet again. Salvador gave me a 15 minute warning before we had to leave to the airstrip and I was right on time. For some reason I figured it would be a three minute drive to the strip and I would be off. Andrea, Lucy and Dianne all came out to say goodbye and then I jumped in the truck and off we went down the narrow bumpy road.

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

We came up to a creek with a boat sitting there. I was confused. I didn’t realize there would be water involved. We got in the boat, Salvador giving me a piggyback ride through the squishy mud. The ride was short and then we came to land. I saw a very old Range Rover sitting there. Jerry put some seat cushions in the back and my bags were set down there as well. I jump in the back and Salvador says, “no, get out…we have to push”. Aaah ok. But there wasn’t really much of a hill to jump start it. So we push. We get it up to a point where we really can’t push anymore and the driver says, “Stop!”. The brake is applied and I’m wondering what happens next. We have to now push it backward in order to start it. The driver has to steer it since it wasn’t a straight road, then jump in and try to pop the clutch. No luck.Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurkThe truck now has to be pushed back up the small hill again and the same routine continues. On the third try Salvador says, “we may have to start walking.”. Oh this is just great! He says to me, “you see that orange thing?”. Last time I heard that, I replied I couldn’t see those little bloodsuckers and I really had to strain to see this orange thing also. I squint and see something and said, “yes?”. “That’s the airsock.”. I do NOT want to walk that far in the heat with no water. Why did I even bother showering?

Karanambu air strip

Karanambu air strip

Karanambu air strip

They try the truck again and this time it finally roared to life. Oh thank god. He keeps his foot on the gas and I’m just hoping it stays alive. Smoke pours from the exhaust and I’ve never been so glad to inhale it. The ancient door is opened for me and I hop in. I can hardly believe this truck can do anything but rot out here but glad that it does work. Good ol Rovers. The ride takes only a few minutes and I’m just hoping it keeps going. We approach the airsock and the airstrip consists of, surprise, a long red dusty stretch of road, a thatch covered seating area and an old metal wagon wheel. No check in counter here! No Guyana Airways representative to greet us or ten year old magazines to read.

I wonder where they will park the truck, since they have another guest arriving and must stay to pick him up. The driver maneuvers the truck up to a steep hill (compared to what we had to contend with) and applies the brake. Moments later the plane is seen in the distance: an on-time arrival! I film it coming in for a landing. Faces peered out of the windows wondering who in the hell are we stopping to pick up. The other guest deplaned and I got on feeling hopeful there will be no issues with this ride.

Karanambu air strip

Karanambu air strip

Luckily there were none and we land in Lethem then after a short delay take off to Ogle. I go through immigration and customs where we have some small talk about where I was and what I did. I mentioned that we looked for snakes and caiman and the guy asked me where they were now. I replied, “back in the bush, not in my luggage” and with that, he didn’t even bother to search my bags which I had opened for them. I saw a water cooler and asked if I could have a drink since I was now pretty dehydrated. Denied.

Completely over the transportation thing at this point

I get in a taxi and mention how I was not given juice on the plane or water and I was thirsty. He said there was a little cantina at the edge of the airport and I ask if they take dollars. He’s not sure but offered to pay for it and I asked how much. About 4 USD. No thanks, I’ll wait. He said there were other places along the road that are cheaper and we will stop there. Eventually he pulls up to a roadside vendor and I see bottles of water behind his cart in a cooler. He comes back to the car and asks if I want my water in a bag or do I want to drink it here. Not unfamiliar with that practice in Central America, I just say in a bag. Then I see the vendor pick up a coconut and a machete and he chops off the top. The driver grabs a long straw and brings the coconut to me. I’m actually pretty excited about this because 1) I know it’s fresh water and 2) I can’t remember ever drinking straight out of a coconut! To top it all off, its actually cold. Wow, was it great. There was a lot in there too.

The ride is a long one but I’m in no hurry to wait around at the airport. So I’m telling the driver about all of my transportation woes I’ve had here. I feel fortunate to have a/c in the car and I’m hearing his belt squeak every so often but think nothing of it. The ride is about an hour long and I see a sign to the airport. 3km to go. The belt made a loud sound and the driver says, “Oh no…the fan belt just broke. This is a veeeery bad vacation for you. And we are only minutes from the airport.” We coast as long as we can before pulling off on the side of the road. He says he will get me another car. He pops the hood then comes back and tries to start the car. Nothing. I’m no longer surprised at anything anymore and just take it in stride. At least I have time to kill. Seconds later, another taxi pulls up behind us and the driver pays him about 5 dollars to take me the rest of the way. That is what I had tipped him with the coconut included.

Thankfully I didn’t have to walk to the stupid airport and arrived in plenty of time to wait in the very short line which took at least 40 minutes to get through. All I can do is shake my head now. I am off to Trinidad and hopefully nothing else will happen along the way. I’m glad I changed my flight to leave a day earlier or I may never have gotten out of here!

Jabiru nest

Karanambu Ranch

 

Diane McTurk

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

I have just had the pleasure to meet Diane, who flew in from Georgetown. Sporting her new round glasses, an otter t-shirt and a waterproof wristwatch, looking way too large on her delicate wrist. Tall and thin, she spoke with a soft British accent that sounded so graceful. Eating crackers with marmalade, Dr. Lucy and Andrea talked about the future of Karanambu and the possible grant they may receive to help with the tourism development in this area. There is a need for conservation of the arapaima which could easily become overfished. However, the rules in place now seem to be working and the Amerindians want to cooperate in the management which is a good sign.

Diane is famous for her head scarves. Almost every picture or video I have seen of her, she wears one. I brought her down two, one of which is quite large but she seemed to really like it. She graciously opened her arms to hug me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Then thanked me repeatedly with a big smile on her face. She made me feel as though I was the only guest that had ever been there.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

I was fortunate enough to join Lucy and Diane to look for giant otters this afternoon, which I would never have expected. We left around 4pm and cruised along the hot river to the same spot they were seen earlier. No such luck though. Then we went into the lake…a different one than I had seen previously. There were big lily pads here too and Diane requested the motor be shut off so we could creep through. I sat there simmering in the sun, yet Diane didn’t seem bothered by it. Of course, we all go along with whatever she wants to do. None of us would be here if it weren’t for her.

stephanie delagarza Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

She had her bird book handy and was constantly flipping through it, identifying ones she wasn’t sure of. I was surprised…I figured after living on the river most of her life she would know them by heart. I asked if she always enjoys going out on the river. “Oh yes! There is always something different here to see.” She often shared the pictures with me and told stories of the birds.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Jerry spotted an iguana on the bank with a hawk in the tree nearby eyeing it. I snapped a picture of the iguana as we approached it and I was surprised at how close we actually were. It finally got spooked and ran. As we passed the hawk, he stared at us with the evil eye. I was stunned he didn’t swoop down on us just to get even.

Pairs of parrots flew overhead as the sun went down and we found ourselves back on the river, heading home. She once again wanted to “creep” and figured now would be a good time for some rum punch. Dr. Lucy asked her if she wanted just a little bit of juice and she replied, “Yes, just a bit thank you”, then turned to me and said, “how about you? Just a bit of juice?” I agreed and the tall metal cups were passed out amongst us as we crept.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

The sunset was spectacular as usual and the birds wrapped up their evening. We told stories and Diane talked about the habits of otters. I asked where they live in the rainy season, since they typically build their dens on the banks. “That is what we would all like to know”, she replied. Otter cams are out of the question since they could get hung up on things and they would have to anesthetize them to implant a chip. She told me that they like to snuggle together at night so they probably don’t sleep in the trees either.

We made it back to the lodge and as we were walking back up, she told me the story about her orphan otter Rewa. Apparently Rewa left Karanambu and was harassing some fishermen so Diane went to try and get her back after a couple of other attempts. Diane brought fish to coax Rewa back. There was another otter family nearby also and when Rewa took the fish, she offered it to the family instead which they took. Rewa had been accepted into the family! There was no need to take her back home. Mission accomplished.

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Diane McTurk Karanambu Ranch

Before dinner, I went to the dining room and saw a new book on the table. It was named something like Wildlife Heroes and Diane had been written up in it, with a nice colorful spread of the otters and a story about her mission. Diane emerged from her quarters wearing the pink and black scarf I gave her on her head and a long sleeve pink blouse. She looked lovely! I took her picture as she held the new book in her lap. Salvador requested that I send in my pictures I took during my stay so they can put them on their new website, which obviously I am thrilled to do. What a great way to end this trip!

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

Inside the otter house

Karanambu Ranch Diane McTurk

EDIT: I’m sad to report that in December 2016, Diane passed away peacefully in Guyana. She was an asset to Guyana and lived a fantastic, full life. I’m even more touched to have had the chance to meet this wonderful woman and spend time with her.

Karanambu Ranch

karanambu ranch guyana dianne mcturk

I have arrived at Karanambu where the breeze is noticeably greater than at Caiman House. However, I have been driven inside of my screenless room by the biting flies outside. I would much rather be in the hammock but the biting…I can take no more. I have only been here a few hours. There is a constant buzzing in the air that sounds like a swarm of bees about to attack. I feel like Brando in Apocalypse Now where he is fanning himself constantly, knowing he will never actually cool off.

karanambu ranch guyana dianne mcturk

A young boy of about seven years old works outside, humming to himself while picking up the piles of leaves the ladies raked up earlier this morning. He puts them into a big blue tarp then walks in the hot sun to empty them into the bush. Life here is hard. I can’t help but get choked up observing the people and animals here. It is very hard to find work around Yupukari and people must try to grow their own food and fish in the river to simply survive. Yet as I walk by the small houses, people still smile and greet me. The dogs are bony and seem miserable. The cats seem to sleep all day, trying not to move. Who can blame them? I wouldn’t want to have fur in this kind of weather.

karanambu ranch guyana diane mcturk

I’m not sure if it’s the sheer exhaustion I have been going through or the empathy I am feeling for the people here. I have cried more in the past ten days than I have all year. Maybe I’m amazed at the tenacity of their will or their ability to cope. They know no different. This little boy works harder than I do yet I’m spending $200 a day to ‘vacation’ here. Believe me, this does not feel like a vacation. This has been a real eye opener for me and although I will probably never come back, I’m glad that I did travel here. I haven’t had a good nights sleep yet and the heat and humidity are unbearable. Even those that live here have told me they have difficulty with it. So much for getting acclimated. I’m at the point where I can’t even think straight anymore. I can’t remember the names of people I’ve spent days with. I look forward to hearing the roosters in the morning because I’m that much closer to the end of this trip.

There are no luxuries in Guyana, it seems. I was actually excited to see that they use ice here in the drinks! I haven’t had ice since I left Texas. I asked if there was something cold to drink at Caiman the other day and was surprised to actually get it. The watered down lime juice was always at room temperature and naturally, the coffee burned my tongue every time. When I saw that they had a small freezer, I asked jokingly if I could sleep in it. Last night, there were flannel sheets on the bed. A few nights prior to that, we had piping hot soup for dinner. I have yet to ride in a car that has air conditioning. When the clock hits around 7am, I am already drenched in sweat. I must wear long sleeves and pants regardless. The packing of two pairs of shorts was a waste of time in hindsight.

The days here seem to go on forever. I feel like I’ve been gone for months. I have two more nights in Guyana then fly out to Trinidad for the night then make my way back home. The bug bites on my body will slowly heal over time, but the impression will last a lifetime.

BLAM, POW, ZAP!!!

Last night a huge storm swept in. I had finally gotten to sleep (which is becoming a rare commodity around here) when I heard the wind kick up. It had been eerily still which is usually a sign of rain to come. I have been very lucky lately as far as the weather goes. When it has rained here, it is not that big of a deal. Little did I know that it could have been deadly. Here, I have been worried about the creatures with teeth, the blood sucking parasites and what lurks beneath the waters. Never did I think that I could be killed by lightning.

The wind was howling and the rain started up and beat ferociously against the thatched roof. I am upstairs in this house and a few backpackers came in last night but were sleeping outside. A couple of my wooden shutters slammed closed, making me jump. The lightning was loud and seemed very close. I counted the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. It went from three seconds to two and then that’s when it happened. A loud crack, a super bright light then a sizzling and a POW about five feet away from me in the corner of my room where the electrical outlet was. I screamed and jumped, fully awake now but glad to be alive. My heart was beating fast and I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure if I should get up and go downstairs or remain horizontal and not stand up. I moved my metal flashlight away from me and took off my pants that had metal zippers on it, not knowing if either of those would work against me.

I remained in bed, too frightened to stand up and hoped the storm would pass soon. Finally the lightning tapered off but the rain continued to fall. Once things had subsided, I thanked my lucky stars and slept in til 7.

I’ve Got Your Piranha 3D Right Here!

piranha guyana rupununi river

One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was to see some piranha up close and personal. They arranged a fishing trip for me and a night spotting adventure on the way back to look for caiman, snakes and whatever else might be out there. The trip a couple of nights ago was great so I was looking forward to doing it again.

We were going to another lagoon section that had the lily pads and piranha so I could knock out two things at once. Fernando also said that was where they caught their biggest caiman yet. It took about twenty minutes to get out there and we only saw one other boat on the way. Once again, we navigated through the submerged trees to get into the lagoon. This one was bigger than the last one, with the giant lily pads spread out far and wide. We pulled in under a tree and my guides, Howard and Felix started rigging up the line. For some reason I was under the impression we would be using rods, but it was just a spool of fishing line with a hook on the end. Easy enough.

Now mind you, I haven’t fished in about thirty years. I don’t care to fish but this was going to be the exception. Heck, I don’t even like to EAT fish. Howard cut up a fish, put it on the hook then threw it out into the water. “When you feel it tug, pull hard”, he said. Almost immediately I felt a tug and I pulled hard. But not knowing exactly what to do with the line, it became a tangled mess in my lap. He had also warned me that when the fish gets close to the boat, hold it over the water. Good suggestion. It felt pretty heavy as I pulled it in and when it got close to the boat, I handed the line to Howard. He pulled it out out of the water and sure enough, I had caught my first piranha!! It was a red one, about six inches long. He grabbed it carefully under the gills and I took some pictures of it. Knowing nothing about fish, I was surprised to see that even inside it’s body where the gills are, THAT even had teeth…or something resembling teeth. The fish snapped its jaws open and closed making a terrifying chomping sound. He carefully removed the hook and threw it in the front of the boat. I just caught his dinner!

Felix wasn’t having the best of luck, getting nibbles then finding out the fish had stolen his bait. He would utter words of annoyance under his breath. Howard rigged me up another line and threw it out. Within a minute or two, another tug. I yanked the line and pulled it in but the fish had gotten away. I wasn’t exactly sure if it had or not and when I pulled the end of the hook up in front of the boat, the little bit of bait on the end scared me. The guys laughed at my girlishness.

Howard was reeling in his line and it came up empty, except his metal hook was seriously bent! Yow!! My line jerked and I pulled hard and as it got closer to the boat, the line was almost cutting my hand so I knew it was a big one. I gave the line to Howard again and he pulled in my fish. It was really big…a black one this time! It was probably ten inches long or more. I was so excited and so were they, since they were going to eat it! It had a beautiful silver speckled body and an almost iridescent patch under its eye. I wanted to touch it and it was very slimy. He threw it at the front of the boat to join the rest.

piranha guyana rupununi river

I caught about three more and finally said that I just wanted to feed the little fish some bits of beef jerky in front of the boat. The guys caught a couple of fish and then decided to move on to another location. We hit two other spots and didn’t have much luck. They chalked up my experience to beginners luck. Yeah, right!!

Night was falling so we went near a white lily flower to watch it open and they tried to fish some more. A few beetles flew into the flower as it slowly opened and tiny frogs chirped on the pads near us. We stayed for a while until the mozzies became too much then headed back home.

rupununi river guyana

rupununi river guyana

rupununi river guyana

As it became dark and they had the spotlights on searching for critters the amount of bugs flying around was indescribable. I guess they were thicker than the other night because the moon wasn’t out now. It was like bug soup out there. One flew into my eye, many hit my face and body and got tangled up in my hair. I buttoned up my shirt to my neck and around my wrists in an attempt to keep them away from my skin. I squinted my eyes and lowered my head so they could bounce off my hat. At one point, something very large ran right into my lips and kind of hung on until I jerked my head to the side and let the wind take it away. Eeeeww this was getting bad. They were all in the boat and I didn’t even want to look to see how many there were.

They caught an eye shine near the bank and we came up on a small cute croc just holding onto some branches as the current tried to drag it away. It was darling. I didn’t want them to try and catch it so I just took some pictures and we carried on. Sitting in one place for too long became too much since the bugs weren’t going anywhere but on us.

We saw a few more eye shines, saw two tree boas and a larger croc that was probably about eight feet long then a few others that submerged before we could get too close. As much as I enjoyed the spotting, the bugs were hindering my evening in a big way. We came up to shore and as they unloaded the boat, the insects were relentless. Luckily the walk back to the house was uneventful.

piranha teeth guyana

piranha teeth guyana

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