My Burning Butt

We were happy to leave the fleas behind with passports in hand, containing visas for Brazil.  After discovering that due to bad roads, all of the large buses run by Interserv from Georgetown to the interior of Guyana have been cancelled – indefinitely,  we hopped a domestic flight to Lethem.  It was either that or a 30+ hours dodging potholes on an ass-bruising minibus .  On what  seemed to be the identical plane, run by a different airline that we took to Kaieteur Falls, we flew over the jungle and watched out the window as the bright green dense jungle transformed into rolling green mountains and met the desert-like Savanna approaching the Guyanese border town of Lethem. 

A small cowboy town  that does not yet have a map was a welcomed change from the dirt and over-your-shoulder watching of GT.  On the recommendation of some other travelers, we found our way from the airstrip to Mrs. Foo’s house.  A sweet lady, Mrs Foo rents out spaces in her guesthouse to people she feels comfortable with.  She doesn’t have a sign or any other advertising, you have to know who you are looking for and just ask around town to find out where she lives.  We were pointed in the right direction by the locals.  This was the perfect place for us; a comfortable retreat to get through the first blast of diarrhea, a familiar experience for any traveler.  Though pretty routine for two weeks into travel, this may have been provoked by the spicy fried curry from the night before.

 Mornings were pretty laid-back as we formulated a sort of routing – Dale working on school – Arielle practicing, followed by our staple make-shift morning breakfast of oats, fruit and yogurt bought from a local store.   Wanting to explore the area  a bit more, Mrs Foo was nice  to organize bike rentals for us from a neighbour.  At what was the equivalent of $12 each (way overpriced) we mounted piece-meal cruisers with one gear, bent cranks, iffy brakes and a steel seat.  Our plan was to ride to the local waterfalls and visit Indigenous villages along the way.

We set out in the direction we were pointed, but really had no idea where we were going.  Venturing towards the mountainous jungle in the distance, passing clay huts, never-finished brick foundations and children swimming in tiny clear rivers –we pedaled  for more than two hours.  At home, a two-hour bike ride, even in a rolling landscape like Vancouver is no big deal.  But at home, we have a road, and a bike built for that road as well as a seat built for a butt.  In Lethem, you have a mixture of bumpy  rock and deep sand trails, bug bits and a steel seat that chafes your skin at every pedal stroke.  Certainly a situation that calls for a mantra, “Enjoy the journey”.  We did find the waterfall, parched, dripping with sweat, and hungry.  Besides the chilly swim, our packed peanut butter sandwiches may very well have been the best idea every.   So good.  A different, more direct but not shorter route home proved more challenging.  Getting back on that metal seat which was responsible  for creating the blisters in the deep wet between your legs, and a bruised ass was a sort of self-torture.  Running low on water and heading into the sun it was a struggle for both of us.  Damn shitty bikes.  Again, the chaffing.  An hour and a half later, we creaked slowly into the driveway at Mrs. Foo’s.  Take an already undernourished  body, add sun stroke,  5 hours terrible cycling posture, plus blisters in areas we can’t write about here, equals one totally bagged shower-seeking human being,

We were grateful we went, but even more grateful we had set up a home-cooked dinner invite with Mrs Foo and her family.  The best food we’ve had so far, and not just because it was free!

After nearly a week in cowboy country, we were ready for Brazil.  A new country, different culture and a language we don’t speak were waiting for us.   Mrs  Foo’s son Jason was nice enough to drive us to the border, where we could walk into Brazil.  Nice to get the ride, crappy that the border was closed for two hour lunch break.  Time was tight when the border re-opened for us to catch the bus to our next stop.  Our first blast of Portuguese didn’t help the already slow border control, nor did it help us catch the bus.  We missed it.  And we were so happy we’d spent all that time and effort in Georgetown getting our visas for Brazil – the immigration officer didn’t even look them.

High Five – we are in Brazil.  Taxi from the border at Bonfirm to Boa Vista where we managed to fumble our way through enough Portuguese to catch the overnight bus past the equator to Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon.



Georgetown Antics

What we thought would be a simple application and pay process in order to get our visa for Brazil turned into what seemed to be the start of a police investigation.  As a Canadian trying to obtain a visa for … Continue reading

Would you like fleas with that?

First off, a brief apology for the break in writing.  We’re well ahead of these posts on our travels, but when you hear about internet being everywhere when you’re in a foreign country, don’t believe everything you hear.  Internet has been challenging, to say the least. The next few posts will require reflection, but should depict our up to date experiences for you just the same.

Would you like fleas with that?

A tip we had received from Jace and Sharon in Tobago on the new airline RedJet which boasts short cheap flights between Port of Spain, Barbados and our desired next location, Georgetown Guyana, led us back to the airport.  Needless to say, Redjet is not dissimilar to the UK’s EasyJet or USA’s JetBlue.  Easy and cheap if you book ahead;  frustrating and expensive if you don’t.  Another lesson learned.  Thankfully,  this was to be our last international flight until we leave South America.

In Georgetown, we had one mission – get a visa so we can travel into Brazil.  Yes, it would have been easier to obtain one before leaving home, but with too much international travel close to our Trinidad departure date, being without a passport for any length of time was impossible.    Don’t believe everything you read.  LP had us convinced that Georgetown would be a unique mix of history, architecture, “Caribbean-meets-Europe” charm and good food.  It wasn’t terrible, however if it weren’t for needing a visa, it would have been an in and out for us.

Our taxi ride from the airport to the centre was an interesting sort of tour in Guayana-English (a language in which we catch only every few words, it may as well be French). We came into the country with only a bit of TnT and US funds… nothing to even pay the taxi driver.  As a foreigner, it’s never a good idea to pay with US funds, Euro or Pounds, even when it’s advertised as accepted.  Although it may seem convenient,  you will inevitably pay a higher price with a foreign currency.  Money changers were abound… literally lining the street approaching cars (in particular those with white tourists in the back) flashing wads of Guyanese bills wanting to buy US funds.  A big business here.  Black market money changers buy USD for say 100:1 and then sell it for 102:1.  USD are in demand in a country like Guyana whose own currency tags along the USD value – the exchange rate never changes and USD is the currency in which import goods business is conducted.  As a seller of US funds, you  get the same rate on the street as you do from an authorized cambio.  As a purchaser, you get a better rate on the black market.  It also prevents long lines and tracking of a passport number or ID number if you happen to want large amounts of money changed that would alert the authorities.  A piece of advice…. If you change money on the street, get your money FIRST before you hand over the currency you are selling… count it – twice, then give over the funds.

Though there hadn’t been really any warnings as to the safety of Georgetown, the city isn’t considered a highly regarded area.  We had to ask our driver where “not” to go.  He answered by showing us rather than telling… a drive through the slum area just off the main drag and between our guesthouse and the market was deemed a “do not cross” zone.

Our second morning in the city started with an interesting event.  Both of us were in our room, about to carry on some of our work for the day when a raucous started outside.

Arielle – “What is that?”  Dale looked out the window.

Dale – “I don’t think we have good neighbours.”

Arielle – “It sounds like someone’s being held captive.”

Dale – “We’re not in a good spot here.  I think we should move rooms.”

Arielle – “um, are there guns?”

Dale – “Yes, AKs”

No more talk was required, we wanted a closer look.  Stupid tourists.

Peaking through the window of the room next door, down to the alley between the buildings verified guns and captivity.  It looked like our neighbour was the local jailhouse.  We soon learned from Rima that it was the Majesty’s court house next door.  Every weekday morning, prisoners are moved from the Georgetown prison (which we’re sure is a glorious place) to holding cells at the court, awaiting their time in front of the judge.  That particular morning, several prisoners had been kept in their dark coloured transport van with only a small slot to breathe in 40+ degree Celcius outdoor heat for over two hours.  The disturbance we heard was the result of some very unhappy men as they were finally released from the van and moved into the cells that lined our alley.  Nothing to fear, they were all in shackles and the guards had AKs less than 5 metres away.  This scene, we would walk past for the next 5 days.

We did settle into a 10-day stay at Rima Guest house; tagline, “the cleanest guesthouse in town”.  The use of a kitchen enabled us to eat something other than pizza, fried chicken or Chinese food – the culinary offerings of the city.  It was refreshing to cook, and of course, tasty.

Despite our prowess with our rudimentary hand clapping technique of killing mosquitoes, we were at a loss for why we continually woke throughout the night and in the morning scratching like a dog with fleas….Finding a tiny jumping black speck on your leg isn’t a comforting feeling in a place you’ve been sleeping for a week.  Great.  We have fleas.  So much for that tagline.