November 30, 2006
Today there was a celebration in Surama for World AIDS Day. I've learned from hanging out with the Peace Corps workers that a ton of foreign aid money comes into Guyana, but the only way to get any of it for your particular project is to tie it to AIDS. Not that there's anything wrong with preventing AIDS, but it's gotten to the point where, even if you want to teach the villagers something like basic first aid, the money won't come in until you give a big spiel about AIDS first. Anyway, some Germans helped the people of Surama by building them a gazebo, and today there was a cultural event for the Makushi tribe that lives here. It was all done in the name of World AIDS Day.
For the cultural event, about twenty people got dressed up in traditional clothes and sang and danced for us. A variety of meat, including delicious peccary, was cooked over hot coals. We ate it with cassava bread and a tasty spicy sauce. The whole town seemed to enjoy the work that went into it, and of course the Germans were there filming the entire thing.
It was getting dark and we had to walk back to the intersection of the main road. A bus only goes from Lethem to Georgetown every few days, and we were assured that it would pass the intersection in the middle of the night tonight. However, that meant walking for two hours through the jungle without any guns or machetes for protection against the wild animals.
The walk was going fine at first. After an hour, it was completely dark and the forest canopy had become very thick. All of a sudden, there was a really strong smell from an animal. Then there was a low-pitched growl about ten meters in front of us. Craig and I both stopped and looked at each other, freaked out. Dozens of people saw us walking out of town, and none of them seemed the least bit concerned that we might get eaten by a big cat, yet here was one right in front of us, ready to do just that. We grabbed big, bushy sticks for minimal protection and started making noise in an attempt to scare it away. We slowly walked forward shining our headlamps in all directions. A few minutes later, the smell was gone and we eased up a bit, but my heart rate didn't slow down until we got to the intersection. I found myself looking back every few minutes to make sure we weren't being followed. Something with that strong of an odor had to be a big animal. The growl definitely came from a cat. And after visiting the animal sanctuary, I know that a puma has a high-pitched purr, almost like that of a house cat. Therefore, I'm sure we had a close encounter with a jaguar that night. I feel that I can still write about it now.
When we got to the intersection, the single house there had its generator going, and the residents were watching a loud movie. We didn't want to camp in the middle of the road, so we got permission to set up my tent in their yard until 3ish when the bus would come and pick us up.
The photo album for this entry is here.