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

 

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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.

Planning for Guyana!? HA!

My first attempt at blogging!  I’ve decided the best way to do this is to start with my trip to Guyana this summer.   So far, planning ahead of time has not paid off much.  Red Jet has ceased operations in Trinidad so the flight I booked is probably never getting off the ground.  I made reservations instead on Caribbean Airways and paid three times as much.  The next day I found out that Air Guyana has changed their schedule so that I can no longer fly to Karanambu on the day of my arrival.  This means doing everything in reverse from what I had planned.  I’ve just stopped thinking about it for now.  I’ll get a better handle on it as the time grows closer.

It’s useless to plan things in Guyana, as I’ve heard many times before.  The lack of tourism infrastructure is exactly that.  For the flight inside of the country, you can’t find a flight schedule on their site; you can only pay using a bank transfer unless you’re there in person and THEN you can pay by credit card; email response is very slow and when you do finally get the schedule, it has no detail in it at all as to where they fly.  It’s all assumed.  A little bit of legwork on their side would go a long way to just simply post it on their website instead of having to answer 5 emails.  I even mentioned that and of course, it went ignored.

So the (sketchy) plan is taking me to Maipaima lodge, Caiman House and Karanambu Lodge (owned by the infamous Diane McTurk).  Speaking of which, I was really bummed (once again AFTER I made the reservation) that Diane is no longer ‘hosting’ the otters.  She has helped care for orphaned and injured Giant River Otters for many years.  Naturally, the year I decide to come she has ceased doing this.  I would still like to meet her though, as I have seen her bubbly personality and her love of wildlife.  The $200 price tag per night doesn’t sit very well with me, though.  The accommodations are extremely basic and even with the promise of ‘all the rum punch you can drink’, it still hurts the wallet.  If anything must be dropped from this itinerary, I’m afraid it will be that.

Just for those of you who might want to go to Guyana and have the need to save some money, I’d like to let you know how I’m doing the flight.  Apparently there are only two hubs from which Continental (and I think one or two other airlines) fly to Guyana from.  Florida and New York.  I really hate flying.  So if you get on Continental’s site and plug in your dates, you’ll notice that regardless of where you live, you WILL be flying either to NY or FL and then going to Guyana.  This literally added and extra 8-10 HOURS of time onto my schedule.  I refuse to go that far out of the way and pay out the nose for it.  The cost of the flight was something like $1075 with 3 layovers (this was 14 1/2 hours altogether).  Some flights even made you spend the night in Trinidad.  I ended up buying a ticket straight to Trinidad instead from San Antonio (then Houston) for $754 after taxes and I had bought $80 worth of seat upgrades as well.  So basically it would’ve been around $670 for the flight.  I found a nice b&b in Trinidad to spend the night ($80) and the flight that WAS on Red Jet could have only been $70, turned into $185.  So overall, it would come out to less than taking the flightmare that takes over 14 hours.  The only downside being that you do lose a day of getting into Guyana.  In hindsight, it would have worked out better for me to actually be in Guyana on that first day so I could have caught the 7:30 flight into Karnambu.  But I think I can still make everything happen without having to spend a whole day in Georgetown.

Speaking of Trinidad, it sounded like a great place to hit the beach.  Until I found out there is only 1 beach in all of Trinidad!  And it’s nowhere near the airport.  You have to go over to Tobago if you want beaches.  Weird, huh?  There are no good beaches in Guyana, either.  So I’m without a beach this year unfortunately.  On the subject of where to stay in Trinidad, there were no good/decent budget choices AT ALL.  The airport hotel was seedy at best and charged over $100 a night with pretty bad reviews.  Luckily I happened across what appears to be a lovely b&b by word of mouth.  As mentioned, she only charges $80 which includes airport pickup and dropoff and breakfast.  I’ll give her a plug here since it could be a very good option for those of you who find yourselves in Trinidad: http://www.airportinntrinidad.com/