Guyana

 GUYANA 2017

Guyana is an amazing blend of the Caribbean and South America. The name Guyana means in Amerindian “Land of Many Waters”. Guyana is a tropical paradise with vast open spaces, savannahs, pristine rainforests, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, bountiful wildlife, numerous species of flora, a variety of fauna and spectacular birdlife.  Inland Guyana has a multitude of immense waterfalls, creeks and rivers; virgin rainforest andan abundance of wildlife. Guyana is English-speaking; with cricket and calypso music, it’s culturally connected to the Caribbean region.

BORDER TO GEORGETOWN

It has been 42 years ago, the last time (1975)that I was in this area as a marine based on the island of Curacao. Guyana is also known as the bridge between South America and the Caribbean and is the only English speaking nation in South America. (be warned, with a very strong creole accent). Tap water in Guyana we are told is not safe for drinking hence our filters in the truck did do overtime making it drinkable. Arriving by ferry from Suriname the road to Georgetown was one long stretch of small villages with a mix of Dutch, English and US names such as Washington, Middleton, New Amsterdam. It took a little over 4 hours to reach Georgetown from the Suriname border. Guyana is a country that promotes itself as an eco-tourism destination, but arriving in Guyana and Georgetown does not give you this feeling. Georgetown the one-day garden city is fading away, the beaches are filthy and the streets are littered with rubbish. It does not represent what it looks like in the tourism brochures. However, we did not come to Guyana for Georgetown or the beaches (lucky), we came for the interior and the fact that parts are accessible in a vehicle. (4×4 helps a lot).

GEORGETOWN to BORDER BRASIL

Once we left Georgetown it is 575km to Lethem straight down the middle of Guyana and the rainforest. The first 70km is tarmac, however after Linden it is a mix of red soil, sand, loam and clay. (If it rains this becomes muddy and very slippery). Once we passed Linden it felt like we drove into nature’s garden of Eden. The forest became ticker and not before long we were in thick jungle where the sun never reaches the ground. This part of Guyana is made up of many small Amerindian communities hidden from the road/track and only accessible via small narrow tracks. This area contains mountains, rivers, rainforest and savannah. It is home to over 850 recorded bird species. Many unknown birds, insects, spider and snakes are still found by scientists. The area is also home to the Giant Anteater, Giant River Otter, Capybara, Anaconda, Black Cayman and Jaguar (Guyana’s national animal).With just over 3000 tourists a year Guyana is the undiscovered corner of South America. Sugar Loaf in Rio De Jaineiro (Brazil) receives 3000 tourists per day. Hence it is safe to say that Guyana is an undiscovered country in South America. With most of the population living in the coastal regions once you travel inland the country is relatively unpopulated.

In the 4 weeks  we spent in Guyana we barely scratched the surface of this beautiful country. Camping at a secluded jungle stream or trying to make a path in dark thick rainforest where a torch is required during daytime is something we will never forget.

We are at a loss to understand why so many overlanders ignore this pristine area full of perfect bush camps and 4WD opportunities. Not to mention that they miss the opportunity to see the Victoria Amazonia, a very large water Lily and at sunset the bud of this flower will open and can become as large as table seating 4 to 6 adults. After around 1 hour of leaving Rock View Campground and within a 2 km stretch we drove from dense rainforest into wide open savannah. Despite having a bone-dry road surface on either side of the road the savannah was still under water.

Our plan to visit the Central and South Rupununi failed due to flooding and washed away bridges. Unfortunately we had to cancel the visits to Dadanawa Ranch, Bottle Mountain, Kanuka Mountain, Shea village, Shea Rock and Aishalton.

A very big thank you to the people of
1. Anaula Lodge (Suriname) Jeffrey and Miriam in particular but all your staff are great. Good luck with your new venture at Biggi Pan. Jeffrey, we may catch up in Australia one day?
2. Domburg Marina (Suriname) Nettie and Jelle, Huub and Rob, say hello to the regulars. And the resident DJ Gerben.
3. Marudi Creek (Guyana) (Paul)
4. Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and development, (Guyana) Dr Racheal Thomas Caesar, Adith. Racheal when in OZ you are welcome any time.
5. Atta Lodge. (Guyana) John Christian, you made me bird crazy and your eye for wildlife and photos are the best we have seen sofar. Thank you Adith and John for allowing us to camp at the rainforest canopy.
6. Rock View lodge and Campsite. (Guyana) Colin and son Janio (we should have had more beers?!?!?!) We missed you in Boa Vista, but did meet the Guyana Consul and her Dutch husband.
The above people who are so committed to Eco tourism and without all of you, your advice, recommendations and help our experience would only be half.

Guyana the Positives.

1. Pristine Nature
2. Phenomenal Bird Life
3. Great Bush Camping
4. Great Off Roading if you wish
5. Unknown destination

Guyana the negatives:

1. Very expensive, a simple bush walk less than an hour they will charge 50USD p.p. (including travelling time of the guide). In a country where the average wage is less than 300USD per month how can this be justified?
2. Tourists are being well and truly overcharged
3. Inland ferries must be the world’s most expensive
4. Being promoted as an eco-tourism destination, Georgetown is a filthy city and has dirty beaches, the track from the Lethem turnoff and the ferry is full of littler. The eco-tourism message seems to have gone no further to those who market Guyana as a tourist destination.
5. We arrived from Suriname and received a 90-day visa for ourselves but just 14 days for the truck. Despite pleading for an extension, no luck. We were required to go to Georgetown to extend from 14 to 30 days which took  only 10 minutes……..

The Roads

1. Bitumen from Suriname Border to Georgetown. (all side roads are dirt in various states from poor to a nightmare)
2. Georgetown to Linden is all bitumen (all side roads are dirt and in various states)                                                           3. Linden to the Lethem Turnoff, a disaster of broken up bitumen and potholes.
4. Lethem turnoff (past Linden)  to the ferry. A mix of perfect gravel, potholes, clay and sandy loam. Tracks off the main track offer some great 4WD to waterfalls and secluded campsites. We travelled in August during a fair bit of rain making the track a challenge.
5. Ferry to Lethem, first 55KM perfect after this slow going. We drove this route after a couple of weeks of heavy rain and the road was closed 100KM before Lethem due to bogged trucks. However, after 6 days of sunshine it surprised us how quickly things dry up. But trucks leave deep hard ruts and potholes to cope with.
6. The talk is that the road will become an all-weather road (bitumen), however that talk is now going on for many  years and like so many other things in Guyana.

Bridges

1. Made of tree stumps
2. They supposed to carry heavy trucks however our 12500Kg had a few moments, and due to the severe weather, many bridges had partly collapsed and/or timber missing.
3. A word of warning: check every bridge before crossing if partly collapsed or timber missing (if you drive a truck) For our American friends: a Toyota Landcruiser is not a truck or a big rig.

Well did we enjoy Guyana? YES, WE DID, would we recommend: it: YES YES, but be selective. We saw more wild life (mainly birds) at secluded camp sites than during tours. Is it safe? Yes, it is safe, despite the reports in the local newspapers who appear to thrive on bad luck stories, killings and other negative headlines.

Our recommendations

1. Spend as little time as possible in Georgetown.
2. Camp at Marudi Creek Resort 40 odd KM south of Georgetown.
3. Bush camp north of the river (waterfalls)
4. Spend as much time South of the river (past the Kurupukari Ferry)
5. Spend time at Iwokrama Resort, say hello to Dr Racheal and to Adith
6. Spend time at Atta Lodge, say hello to guide John Christian
7. Avoid Surama, a real tourist trap and way too expensive, cock of the rock walk cost 30USD plus 15 USD for the guide, (all up 1 hour) plus 20USD for a community fee and 20USD for camping. We only saw one cock of the rock. There was also a charge for the village tour. I can’t remember the cost as we declined and decided to camp elsewhere?
8. Spend Time at Rock View Lodge, say hello to Collin, a real character and tourism pioneer, enjoy a few cold beers in the Dakota Bar.
9. Spend as much time as possible bush camping.
10. Do all your tours on the river in Suriname (less than 50% of the cost of Guyana)
11. Do all your shopping in Brazil or Suriname as food is very expensive in Guyana and of mediocre quality.
12. Buy ticket ferry (Kurupukari) in Georgetown Western Union but you can buy the tickets at the ferry, at the time of writing. We are told this money never goes to the owners?
13. Following Julie Turk”s (Tuck struck) comment, we decided against visiting the Kaieteur water falls. Having seen Victoria Falls, Iquazu, Niagara and many smaller ones I am unwilling to spend up to 300USD to get to the falls, Ferry-Guide-Boat ride and other fees.
14. Ensure you organize insurance through Azura *1. It will cover Guyana and Suriname (2 months 50AUD, 32 Euro or 37 USD and this included our scooter and was for a 12000KG truck.
15. Visit the Rupununi, according to Julie Turk (Tuck struck) visiting the central Rupununi is a must. Our plan to visit the Southern Rupununi also failed but we are told it is a must. We never made it due to lots of flooding rain and washed away bridges.
16. We travelled at the end of the Wet Season, (August). In my book this is the time to visit the rain forest as it is at its best. But be prepared for slippery roads, mud and mozzies.

*1 we entered Suriname from French Guyana and organized our insurance at the border. Not sure how this works when you enter from Lethem.