Continuing the saga of There to Here ... Join Nine of Cups and crew as we visit the Guianas ... French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana ... from the infamous Devil's Island to bird singing contests to Kaiteur National Park ... lots to see and do. Come on along!Read More
We splurged and took a taxi for the hour-plus long ride from Georgetown to the Parika Stelling where we caught a river taxi back to Bartica. We had thought we'd take a much cheaper mini-bus, but with luggage, full backpacks and some provisions, the thought of cramming into the mini-bus on a sweltering, muggy day was not appealing. When we arrived at the stelling, we were quickly ushered to a Bartica-bound river taxi … a marine version of the mini-bus with 30 people, their luggage and freight aboard. It was stifling.
Getting aboard, which included stepping from the old wharf onto the edge of a plank and then steeply down onto the bow of the rocking boat while negotiating luggage and backpacks, was no easy feat. The river taxis have no set schedule; they leave when they're full. We waited nearly an hour in our cramped quarters with backpacks on our laps and a suitcase wedged between our legs. I remembered I should have peed before I climbed aboard.
The boat finally left for Bartica. The ride was fast and bumpy. Wide, low windows provided relief from the stuffiness and heat, but offered no protection from being splashed.
An hour later, Mike from Hurakabra was waiting for us and helped us ferry our gear from the river taxi to the resort launch. Mike waited while we checked out with Customs and Immigration and got a few last minute provisions to use up the balance of our Guyanese dollars. Then we were back at Hurakabra aboard Cups and making plans for our next day's departure.
Despite what seemed a rush, we were getting antsy to leave. We really enjoyed Guyana, but the clock was ticking to get Cups to Trinidad. In the morning, we did last minute internet ashore, said our farewells to Mike and crew, hoisted the dinghy and we were off with the noonday ebbing tide, following our track back down the long and winding Essequibo River.
A short-lived 30-knot headwind and a torrential downpour was our send-off within minutes of our departure from Hurakabra, but it soon calmed and cleared. The ebbing tide did not afford us a long enough window to negotiate the entire 50nm downriver run. We stopped for the night just off Fort Island, thinking we'd visit the island in the morning. Our plans were thwarted by heavy morning rains. We caught the early afternoon tide once again, but made it only 15 miles before the afternoon headwinds beat us back. Getting down the Essequibo was proving more difficult than getting upriver. We had 20 knot head winds and with the wind against the current, the waves were short and choppy, making it slow going. Despite the help of the ebbing current, it took us two days to get down the river.
We anchored off Leguan Island in order to minimize our morning run to the Essequibo's mouth. Not to worry … the winds were predicted to be better and we preferred to negotiate the endless fishing nets in the daylight. Early on the third day, we hauled anchor with a bright crescent moon and a twinkling morning star looking down on us. It's good we started early. A Keystone Cops drama unfolded as I worked at removing sticky, thick, brown mud and clay from the chain and anchor. I had mud spattered everywhere...on me, on the deck and still some residual on the chain. It took nearly 45 minutes to wash down and finally get underway.
Three hours later, we broke away from the brown Essequibo and we were back in Atlantic, en route to Trinidad. The sky was blue, the wind was ENE at 15 knots and the current favored us. Once again, we're on our way. Come sail with us!
Visiting Bartica has become an experience in itself. It reminds us of Dawson City in the Yukon Territory or Leadville, Colorado, high in the Rocky Mountains or even Iquitos, Peru on the banks of the Amazon. A kind of 1950s-ish, scoff-law cowboy town … isolated and agrestic. The folks who live here are mostly miners or purveyors of supplies and services for miners.
Miners here are uniquely referred to as “pork knockers”, a term specific to freelance Guyanese gold and diamond miners. According to Wiki, the term “refers to the miners' regular diet of pickled … wild pig that is often eaten at the end of the day. Caribbean author, A. R. F. Webber, suggested that the term may have originated as pork-barrel knocker.” Odd name though it probably aptly describes the rough and tumble folks that live in this colorful, mining town. “Pork-knockers have been responsible for discovering large deposits of gold and diamonds. Many Guyanese stories describe pork-knockers who have made fortunes only to lose them in a tragic or comic fashion. Guyana-born author Jan Carew's 1958 novel, Black Midas, involves a boy leaving his coastal village to become a pork-knocker.”
There is a lawless kind of feel to the place though the police station is right on First Avenue … behind a sturdy fence topped with razor wire. The roads are unmaintained. There's trash everywhere ... on the streets, in the gutters, vacant lots, and along the shore. We brought in a bag of trash to shore for disposal and asked our dinghy valet where to dispose of it. He shrugged and pointed to the shore which was heaped high with rubbish. We asked at the Police Station and it took awhile to determine that the only public trash bin they knew of was on the ferry stelling.
Cars and trucks park haphazardly anywhere there's room and sometimes where there's not. Big olive green mining trucks full of fuel barrels, equipment and supplies take up all of the width of the roads sometimes, forcing other cars to back up out of the way.
The narrow, pot-holed streets are jammed with pedestrians and traffic, but it seems to work. Traffic noise is trumped by loud music blaring from the booths of vendors selling pirated CDs and DVDs. Orderly chaos, maybe?
The bars, most without signs, do a land-office business and seem to be open all the time, dispensing cold beer and spirits in volume. People ... men and women … walk, or sometimes stagger, along the streets swigging beer day and night (not unlike Vegas or New Orleans, I suppose), talking loudly or maybe singing We hear music ashore late into the night. Like hard-working miners everywhere, when there's a bit of a jingle in their pocket and there's time away from the harsh, backbreaking mining routine, it's time to relax and throw a few beers back (and then a few more).
Housing must be at a premium because there's a plethora of weathered old, dilapidated houses throughout the town that should probably be condemned, but appear to be occupied ... laundry hanging on the lines and rain barrels in position to catch fresh water. Speaking of fresh water, there is no potable water available from the town taps and effluent drains into the river. We cannot use the watermaker because we're anchored in fresh water. We've been advised to catch rainwater for drinking or buy bottled water. Our water tanks are still pretty full, but we're in conservation mode.
Despite the trash and the potholes and the inconveniences, there is a definite third world, Old Wild West charm to Bartica that we appreciate. People are friendly on the streets, look you in the eye, smile, and say hello. We stopped by one shop to ask a question and were invited to a Hindu pre-wedding party later that evening. People are rugged and self-sufficient here, living in wild isolation, but their friendliness shows through a rather hard exterior.