Guyana land of green mansions


Several months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Guyana. I fell in love with this very primitive and magical country with its vast rain forest, abundant bird and animal life, and the shy, proud Amerindian people.

Guyana is located on the northeastern shoulder of the South American continent. It is bounded by Suriname on the east, Venezuela on the west, and Brazil on the south and southwest. There are over 790,000 people in Guyana, but approximately one half of them live in the capital of Georgetown, so the interior of the country, which is largely rain forest, is sparsely populated. English is the official language so you might think there should be no trouble understanding the Guyanese, but they talk very fast, with a heavy Caribbean accent, so you have to become attuned to the speech patterns.

My husband, Jock, had been working on a project in a remote part of the country located about four hours from Georgetown by road. He kept telling me about the raucous calls he heard from the macaws flying overhead as he worked in the jungle. Each time he came home from a trip, he would describe the different Amazons and macaws he had seen and how magnificent the jungle was. Even though I knew that jaguars, anacondas and cairnan were just a few of the other inhabitants of the jungle, we decided we would try and arrange a vacation trip into the jungle so I could see the birds in the wild for myself.

The kind of trip we had in mind could not be arranged through a travel agent, so an English lady who had lived in Guyana for 27 years arranged the adventure for us. She not only knew the workings of the country but also had lived 10 years in a remote area of the jungle with her anthropologist husband, raising their seven children in an open hut. She is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met and we quickly became friends. I learned to have the utmost respect for this lady who knew so many of the Amerindian people and so much about the jungle and the country that she loved and that was now her home.

We were very excited about the adventure that had been planned for us, but we were not exactly sure what to expect because all we had requested was to see some of the remote areas of the country with particular emphasis on the bird life. The trip that our friend had planned for us was beyond our wildest dreams and included visiting remote villages, witnessing the nightly gathering of thousands of Scarlet Ibis and visiting the magnificent Kaieteur Falls.

Since there are very few roads and little infrastructure once you leave the main cities, arrangements had been made for a private plane to take us to the interior and then we would travel by foot, boats, and canoes. Our friend asked if we were good swimmers because if one of the boats should capsize in the river, we would have to swim as fast as possible to shore. Her explanation went something like this.

"You need to swim fast because the caiman (a type of alligator) rush into the water when they see you and once they get hold of you, they take you to the bottom of the river and drown you. However, if an anaconda should attack you, be certain that you hold its jaws open with both hands because as long as it does not get a grip on you, you will be fine."

She closed by saying that she had already contacted the local police to check out her gun to take on the journey!

Needless to say, after this, Jock and I wondered if we were really prepared for the trip.

It was with some trepidation that the next day jock and I, the English lady, and two of her grown children who had been born in the jungle, a friend of theirs from England, our Guyanese "host;' and an Amerindian guide boarded the eight seater twin-engine plane bound for the northwest part of the country. It was so awe-inspiring to see the miles and miles of lush "green mansions" which are home to the four main native Amerindian tribes - the Arawaks, the Warraus, the Caribs and the Wapisianas - and the more than 728 different species of birds, 198 mammal species, and 137 reptile species. From above, the jungle looked like an endless bright green carpet interspersed with taller dark green treetops closely resembling heads of broccoli.

Our first stop was at an Amerindian village in the Moruka region. Being Saturday, it was market day and people had gathered from all over the area. As there are very few roads, the many rivers and marshes in the area act as waterways connecting the villages and small settlements, so most of the people get around by canoe or motorboat.