December 1, 2006
The house had its generator running all night, so it was was tough to sleep over the noise. On top of that, the thought of waking up in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere in hopes that a bus would magically emerge from the darkness kept me in a half-awake state all night.
Not one car passed us while we were camped in the yard, so we figured the risk of getting hit by a car would be minimal. The mosquitoes were still out, and we were in a malaria-infested area, so at 2:30 we decided to pack up everything possible and sit in the tent in the road until the bus came. At 4:00, just when I thought the bus would never come, I saw its headlights rounding the corner. I think I have the world's fastest tent to put up and take down, and that proved quite helpful in this situation. Two minutes later, the tent was rolled up and we were boarding the bus. Transportation is quite unreliable in this country, so anytime you find yourself in a vehicle moving in the correct direction, you should feel thankful.
We rode the bus until shortly after dawn, when we reached the Essequibo River, where the Iwokrama Nature Reserve is located. We jumped off the bus and rode on a small boat with the reserve's cooks up the river a bit to the reserve. The area was beautiful, but it immediately became apparent that we wouldn't be staying for long.
As we found out, the place catered to bird watchers willing to pay thousands of dollars to travel to Guyana for a week, not to backpackers who travel on small budgets for years at a time. We met the ranger, but he didn't seem to be too happy to see us because we didn't give him a specific time of our arrival. We did radio ahead, but we weren't sure exactly when we'd arrive because we didn't rent a Land Cruiser from them for $800 to bring us there from Georgetown like most tourists do. We were shown an area where we could hang our hammocks and were told that breakfast would be ready soon. When we asked if that was included in the price, the ranger laughed. It turned out that food there cost $25 per day, and we wouldn't be allowed to cook for ourselves. The ranger asked us what we planned to do next, and when we told him of our plans to walk to Kaitur Falls, he laughed at us again and offered no explanation as to what was so funny.
I was already getting pretty fed up with the guy for his rudeness when he handed me a list of prices for various activities at the park. The cheapest thing was walking through the forest with a guide for $6 each. That sounded good, especially if the guide was knowledgeable of the wildlife in the area. Then we were told that we'd have to add on $15 to any of the listed activities for an administration fee, and there would be 10% extra charged to everything for some unexplained reason. Add that to the $25 for food and $10 for the hammock space, and it would cost over $60 each just to stay there one day and do the cheapest thing possible. That much money will normally last over a week in a country like Guyana. On top of that, while I was looking at the price list, the ranger and another guy were talking in broken English so I wouldn't understand them. All I heard was "blah, blah, blah, stove [referring to the fact that we wanted to cook for ourselves], blah, blah, blah, tent [referring to the fact that we had tents], blah blah blah, Crocodile Dundee [referring to Craig]." I'm sure the nature in the area would be great to see, but the extreme rudeness of the ranger and the high prices made it an easy decision to get the hell out of there ASAP.
The boat driver took us to the other side of the river where we made breakfast. There, we met a friendly old man who told us about all the great things to see and do in Guyana, and warned us how dangerous Georgetown is (everyone always warns us about the dangers of Georgetown). We waited several hours for a vehicle to pass us and finally were able to hop on a Bedford to Mabura.
We got dropped off at the police station in Mabura and gave the officer working there our passport information. The main road continued to Georgetown, but we were interested in going down the other road that lead to Mahdia. All vehicles passing Mabura had to register with the police department, so it worked out well for us to wait there for someone heading to Mahdia.
Several hours passed with no luck. Every vehicle was either going to Lethem or Georgetown. A couple of minibuses coming from Georgetown turned down the road to Mahdia, but they were all completely packed. Our only hope seemed to be to wait for another Bedford, but there was so little traffic it didn't seem likely to happen.
Finally a Bedford showed up, and out walked a middle-aged white man with a bushy beard and the low rumbling voice of a chain smoker. A wooden boat was sticking out of the back of his truck. "Nice boat," Craig said. Before I knew it, we were being invited to come along to visit the man's gold mine. It wasn't quite clear how we were going to get there or how long we'd have to stay before being able to come back, but it was better than sitting around all day waiting for a ride, so we hopped on the truck and took off.
Once we got going, we were told that tonight we'd be driving to a camp on the river. Underneath us were several dozen fuel containers. Next to us was the brand new wooden boat that would transport the fuel up the river to the mine. All around us were chain smoking miners. When I showed some concern that they were smoking while sitting on top of gasoline containers which, by the way, were really just cooking oil jugs not at all fit to be transporting fuel, they just laughed and said that it was only diesel fuel, which supposedly doesn't explode when ignited. Later, I found out that a large portion of the fuel was in fact gasoline, which definitely will explode from as little as a single spark.
We got to the "Chinese Camp" after driving a few hours on the bumpy gravel road. It was a former section of rain forest that had apparently been cleared some time ago. The entire place smelled of fuel, but that may have partially been just me because I was sitting on the stuff for several hours. I set up my tent in the least smelly location and put my fly on just in case it rained. And rain it did. The tent held up pretty well considering how heavy the downpour was, but the only problem was that the fly sits a few inches above the ground, so after awhile, water began splashing off the ground, under the fly, and into the tent. I got a little wet, but was too tired to care. It had been a long day, and I could've slept through a deluge big enough to make Noah proud at that point.