Guyana and Suriname - ya man!
Getting from Manaus in Brazil to Boa Vista in Brazil was only a bus ride away. And so was getting from Boa Vista to the border between Brazil and Guyana. And once I arrived to the border I was received by the standard border hustlers offering this and offering that so everything was normal. This one guy offered to take me across the "no man's land" area in his minibus for free. And I told him that nothing in life is free.
Having dealt with customs and immigration in Brazil I was now ready for Guyana - or, is anyone really ready for Guyana? The "free minibus guy" was still there waiting for me and I figured that it was better than walking. At the Guyanese customs and immigration I had to provide evidence of my yellow fever vaccination which was no problem. And getting into Guyana was no problem either.
"Mr free minibus" was on the other side waiting for me asking if I was going to Georgetown? Why yes I am. "Okay. I will take you to a nice place where you can rest, eat and relax and the minibus will take you to Georgetown at 5:00pm". Hmmm...I asked how much it would cost and he replied usd 60. Now, the standard response would always be "no thank you" to anyone that offers transportation at the border. And surely there must be a bus station and a cheaper option - no? Well at this point I had not paid any money yet and he offered to take me to this nice place for free. Once we arrived to "the nice resting place" I had arrived to a nearby village called Lethem. And from where I was standing Lethem didn't have much to offer other than a lot of hardware stores, some red dirt roads and free roaming farm animals.
Farm animals commonly walk about freely in Guyana. They know where they live.
So at this point I slowly started to understand that there were no more large buses and that my only option would be a minibus. I ended up paying the usd 60 which was usd 10 over the right price as I should only have paid usd 50. And then I waited and waited and waited until it was 5:00pm...and then I waited some more...and some more...and even some more. Because even though Guyana is the only English speaking country in South America it still has the same laid back concept of time which you find in most Latin American countries.
Around 7:00pm the minibus left Lethem and around 11:00pm we stopped? It was time to go to bed? What?! So we rested at a place in the dense forest where we could put up our hammocks or rent one for usd 10, we could use the bathroom facilities and we could buy a few snack items.
Around 3:00am the driver woke me up by hitting the rope that ties my hammock to the wall. "Time to go!"
You might think that I could have asked about these things and known in advance. But no one involved in this transportation was giving me any information. For instance I asked how the road was from Lethem to Georgetown? "Ya man. Good man". But in reality the road for the first 450 kilometers was a narrow dirt road with a gazillion potholes and a few trees lying across it which the driver had to chop up with an axe in order for us to continue. The dense forest on each side of the road was threatening to claim the entire road and the ever so happy driver was playing loud music...but not so much the Caribbean tunes you might expect. I have no idea if he was in love or just lost a woman or what the deal was. But we mostly listened to heartbreaking love ballads and the first song he played as we rolled out of Lethem was a song by Swedish Roxette: "it must have been loooooove. But it's ooooooover noooooow...." :)
Entry to the national park.
Around 05:00am we had reached the entrance to a national park which only opened at 06:00am. But that gave the park officers time to go through our luggage to ensure that we where not bringing anything inside the park which we were not supposed to do. Not long after entering the park the road came to a dead end as a wide river cut off our path. As it turned out we now had to wait for a very small, very primitive ferry. After a while the minibus was on the ferry and a much small boat docked alongside selling breakfast as we crossed the river. Salt fish in bread with a few bones seems to be a thing in Guyana. And it tastes great!
Ferry in national park.
On the other side of the river our 550 kilometer journey towards Georgetown continued. The red dirt road was the only thing cutting its way through the dense green forest and the many potholes ensured that sleep was impossible and that the danger of banging your head towards the roof of the minibus was ever present.
But to tell the truth I actually enjoyed it. Okay, I was tired. But it was quite adventurous and everyone was really sweet and happy. As I have already told a few people I remember standing at one of the checkpoints we went through when I spotted a large white smile at a distance. I was looking in the direction off the dirt road when this huge smile approached us. A little later I detected a face carrying that smile and eventually I could see that the face was attached to a body that was driving a truck.
Dengue and worse are real threats to your health around here so you better take precautions.
About 100 kilometers before Georgetown the road turns into a proper road that slowly gets better and better. And finally we arrived. So that's how you get from Lethem to Georgetown.
Georgetown is by far the most populated city in Guyana. However Guyana is limited to a total population of around 750,000 people. And this "small" country in the north of South America has less to do with South America and much to do with the Caribbean. Ya man. An amazing 70% or more is covered in the same pristine Amazon rain forest that you know from Brazil. The flora and fauna is famous throughout the world and somewhere inside is the world's highest free falling waterfall which awaits my return to Guyana some day.
Georgetown was chaos to me on my arrival. It is hot with a high level of humidity and it is crowded with a lot of happy people who shout and laugh and live. I had no wifi opportunities and no luck finding a cheap hostel. But eventually I found the Red Cross after a man with a free taxi offered me a free lift for nothing else than being helpful.
The Guyana Red Cross was a rowdy bunch of heartwarming, cheerful, teasing, laughing people who were getting ready for a big event: "the tea and fashion show". I spent most of my time in Guyana in connection with the Red Cross and also received a little tour of Georgetown which completely changed my perspective on it. A form of order fell in place as I viewed Georgetown through new eyes and it is really an interesting city. It is nothing close to peaceful but it is interesting and houses some spectacular buildings from the colonial time. Guayana has a long fascinating history which dates back to long before the Europeans settled. Both the Dutch and the British had their claim until Guyana gained independence in 1966.
The Red Cross runs an Orphanage in Georgetown.
I tried to leave Guyana after a few days in order to reach Suriname. It was a Saturday morning and I was collected by a minibus at 04:00am in the morning. This was painful as it meant I would miss out on the "tea and fashion show". But I need to keep moving. Unfortunately I hadn't done my homework and Suriname turned out to be the only country in the Americas where I needed a visa in order to enter. So as I reached the border I was informed to get a tourist card. Okay I said...where do I buy it? "In Georgetown on Monday. Have a nice day". That had me out of balance for a while and I returned to Georgetown having spent money and around 9 hours going back and forth. But on the bright side I got to join the Red Cross "tea and fashion show" event.
The event was set to take place at the State House out of courtesy for the President. 15 designers would each present 10 designs during a 4 hour period and around 700 guest would attend in order to show their support for the Red Cross and have a nice Sunday afternoon.
I helped serve tea to the guests and for about an hour I was in charge of the money at one of the refreshment stands. But mostly I would just watch the models go back and forth in front of the State House as the sun was slowly setting in the background.
The President was present at the event and I got the idea that he might be up for a photo in order to support the Danish Red Cross (and just to meet a president). After meeting the First Lady who is a elegant and beautiful woman I went on to meet the president who is a calm friendly man who politely showed interest in Once Upon a Saga and was curious to know how many countries there are? We spoke briefly for a few minutes and then he was off to speak to someone else.
His Excellency Mr. Donald R. Ramotar, President of Guyana (and me).
The following Monday I bought my tourist card (usd 25) from the Suriname embassy. The process was somewhat ridiculous and time consuming and one might wonder why you couldn't simply buy the tourist card at the border. Mainly because they didn't stamp my passport but simply issued the card? On top of that I had to tolerate a security guard at the embassy who enjoyed his power over the applicants a little too much. He pointlessly dictated where we should sit and stood in complete contrast to the laid back atmosphere which you can so easily enjoy in Guyana. Ya man.
So the next day (Tuesday) I gave it a second shot and was once again collected by a minibus around 04:00am. I was brought to the border which is a ferry terminal and I was granted permission to enter with my shiny new tourist card. Inside I got in line to buy a ferry ticket for usd 15. While I waited my eyes drifted over to a sign warning against Ebola and requesting the reader to consider a number of symptoms which potentially could indicate Ebola. Has the world gone mad?
Approching the ferry dictator
When it was my turn I handed the man behind the glass window a 10 dollar bill and a 5 dollar bill. However another little dictator wouldn't take my 5 dollar note because it was torn. "Where?" I replied. With an attitude he showed me the smallest tear in the history of torn notes. I could hardly see it. Actually I might just classify it as a scratch. But the dictator was persistent. What is it with people who can't handle power? Okay, I found another 5 dollar bill and couldn't help thinking about what the situation would have been like if I didn't have another one? Would I then have to go back to Georgetown again?!
The Ross Way! I probably wouldn't have made it this far without.
The ferry arrived and brought me and the remaining passengers across. For only usd 30 I had bought a transfer service from Georgetown in Guyana to Paramaribo in Suriname so I expected that someone would be waiting for me on the other side. But first we had to go though customs and immigration. Strong iron bars were set up in order to manage the incoming passengers and immigration officers in green uniforms, with the shirt hanging loose over the pants, were patrolling the area. They all looked a little like how Chinese prison guards are normally depicted in Hollywood productions. And they also had the attitude. The entry hall had a slight smell that resembled visiting chimpanzees in a zoo and I played with the thought that we were the apes and the officers were our caretakers who didn't like us very much. After a little bureaucracy I was through and met up with the minibus driver who would take me the remaining way to Paramaribo.
As soon as I got into the minibus he would crank up the volume and when I looked behind me I fearfully observed 6 large speakers that were bouncing rhythmically. It was REGGAE TIME! :)
Suriname is around 90% forest and it is the only country in the Americas where Dutch is the spoken language. It's a little strange to me to have been "speaking" Spanish for so long and now I am in Caribbean-ish countries where no one speaks Spanish.
Paramaribo is the capital and most populous city in Suriname. The country has an even smaller population than Guyana with only around 500,000 people. The thing that struck me the most on my arrival was the contrast of much less noise than Georgetown. I didn't have the same impression of ordered chaos. I immediately felt that it resembled from back home a little more although the high temperature and suffocating humidity said something else. I've never been great with heat :)
The helpful minibus driver and I found a cozy hotel that offered me the possibility to put up a hammock for only euro 10. And I'm almost sure that it doesn't get any cheaper than that in Paramaribo. Paramaribo is much cleaner than Georgetown but it lacks the buzzing life on every corner. However the same Caribbean feeling is present everywhere I have been. It is very laid back and easy going. Ya man.
The city center of Paramaribo is amazing. There is an old fortress, many old wooden houses and some nice green parks. I was recommended to visit the Jerusalem Bazaar which I did after renting a bicycle for the day. At first the Jerusalem Bazaar didn't look all that interesting to me. It was a store that initially had a lot of different fabrics and a assortment of hammocks to offer. But as I went further inside I started to realize that this store represents EVERYTHING you might NEED if you are living somewhere deep inside the rainforest. Tools, knifes, handguns, rope, pots, pans, small generators, rice, flour and a lot of other stuff. This store wouldn't have any real luxuries...this store is "the temple of primitive survival". And that was kind of cool :)
I have not been on a bicycle for more than a year and around here traffic is on the wrong side of the road if you go by the logic that in Denmark we drive on the RIGHT side of the road :) I must have been a menace. A few times I made mistakes which awarded me the prize of being yelled at but mostly I just blended into the easygoing traffic. I found time to meet with the Red Cross who run the blood bank and therefore got a full tour of that. I donate blood back home whenever possible so it was interesting to see. Back home however I am often in quarantine for 6 months for having been to some country that is unacceptable :)
In the last blog I mentioned that the border between Guyana and Venezuela is closed due to border disputes. So leaving Manaus in Brazil left me with the option of going to Venezuela first and then backtracking to Brazil in order to get to Guyana and Suriname. Or I could do it the other way as I did. Venezuela is not the safest country to be traveling in right now. Of course this depends on which part of the country you are visiting and which precautions you take. But in general the former tourist paradise is now limited to being a paradise in certain regions. With that in mind I would much rather sail from Paramaribo to Caracas and avoid backtracking as well as traveling across Venezuela from south to north.
I headed towards the port in Paramaribo and asked around a bit at various shipping companies. My research lead to the conclusion that there are no direct connections. However it would be possible to go to Trinidad and then find a connection from Trinidad to Caracas. But the earliest connection to Trinidad would have me waiting in Paramaribo for a few more days on top of the voyage itself and furthermore I did not have any confirmation to get onboard. Besides, after Venezuela I am going to Trinidad anyway. By logical conclusion my best option would be to backtrack to Brazil through Guyana and take my chances heading north through Venezuela to Caracas. So here we go. As you are reading this I have already been collected by a minibus taking me back to the ferry and I am well on my way. Ya man.
Diwali celebrations taking place in Paramaribo.
On a final note I would just like to mention that both Guyana and Suriname have a very pleasant mix of religious beliefs. Christians, Hindus and Muslims live together and churches, temples and mosques are more or less side by side. Today has been a national holiday in favor of the Hindu belief. also known as and the " ", is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year.The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - ya man ya man ya man ya man ya man ya man :)