A week after our arrival in Georgetown, our supposedly imminent departure for Region 1 was hindered by the freakish, London-bus like gathering together of public holidays. Guyana is a very multicultural nation, with the public holidays reflecting this - from Thurs to Monday there was a succession of Islamic, Hindu and Christian holidays, all of which were celebrated.
Declining the opportunity to fly kites, eat hot cross buns and throw coloured dye at each other, we accepted instead an invitation from our very new friends Kathy and Nigel to drive to the south of the country to visit the legendary Rupununi savannahs. The trip started in the small hours of Thursday morning; it took us 13 hours driving at full pelt to cover the 400 miles to south Rupununi. There's only one road running from the north to the south of the country, and currently, south of Linden (a bauxite mining town a third of the way down) its packed red earth with crater like potholes from the massive logging trucks which run up and down it, and which turns to an impassable mudslide in the rainy season.
Historically some of the road's route is based on the cattle route from Dadanawa ranch in the south (where we were headed) to Georgetown. As a route, this was heavy going, with up to 40% dying in the rainforest on the way. In terms of the road's future, Brazil is just completing a major bridge at the border in Lethem, and has plans to get funding to tarmac the road through to Georgetown, as a means of export. This will mean huge changes for Guyana, with maybe a big shift in continental outlook - currently its strongly aligned with the Caribbean.
Dadanawa Ranch has been managed for the past four decades by Duane de Freitas and his wife Sandy, who regaled us with some amazing stories about their lives there. Its absolutely huge - 1,700 square miles - and farms thousands of head of cattle, which basically roam free on the ranch, rounded up twice yearly by the vaqueros (cowboys) for a head count. The ranch is not at all South Fork - its truly wild, wide open savannah with cattle roaming freely for miles on end. The houses (like many in Guyana) are on stilts - good for the floods in rainy season, and very elegant looking and airy. Its a real outback lifestyle - the nearest town, Lethem, is 2 1/2 hours away by track, if the road is good.
Sandy and Duane are real children of the 60's, living sustainably raising what is effectively free range, organic beef (absolutely delicious, Sandy served us filet with very fancy farine on our first night), running an eco-friendly tour-guide business on the side (Duane knows the rivers of the country like the back of his hand) and both disdaining to wear shoes in some of the most unhospitable terrain imaginable. Quite strangely, there is a huge divide in the country - almost no-one in Georgetown has visited the Rupununi, or Mabaruma in Region 1 where we are posted. This is partly economics and logistics - travel is hard and expensive, which makes it difficult for many - but also its cultural - Georgetown is seen as the epicentre of all that is happening, which is a shame, as what we saw of the savannah was just beautiful.
We spent 2 days on Dadanawa; over breakfast on day 1 we had a tornado, followed rather magically by the arrival of an "anthropologist" who had "run out of fuel". Theories abounded as to the power of satellite technology tracking our diplomatic plates heading where no cars go.... We concluded that "Jo" from Hawaii University (!) was actually a spy. Maybe we were a little paranoid, maybe the solitude was getting to us, but it did seem a little weird. Other highlights - Duane showed us some petroglyphs (rock etchings) in the middle of the savannah; we climbed Shea Rock, the Ayers rock of the Rupununi; we met Duane's pet otter (he's raising it for the Florida Zoo) and we saw the pelt of their pet jaguar which just outgrew them... Duane showed us what was more disgusting than an anaconda ingesting a boa constrictor - and thats an anaconda spitting it out again. Just some footage he shot while out in the bush. The stuff of nightmares, truly.
We drove home taking in the rodeo at Rupununi - where we unfortunately saw one rider take a really painful fall, face first into the dust. Next morning we visited the canopy walkway in the rainforest at Iwokrama - a rope and aluminium walkway hundreds of feet above and in the canopy of the rainforest, very beautiful and peaceful and also a bit alarming as it sways and creaks under you.
In case you're wondering, Bon Success was the original name for Lethem, the border town with Brazil. We gleaned this from Evelyn Waugh's very funny book, 92 Days, where coincidentally, he follwed almost precisely the route we just did. It took him a lot longer, but quite amazingly, so much of what he wrote about the environment and the culture here still remains true today.
Our love to you all, we're having fun, but we miss you XXX