A Brief Stop in Georgetown, Guyana
Note: This is a guest post! Please enjoy.
As a brief introduction, our lovely guest writer (this is her third guest post for us, giving the blog some nice variety with the places we've yet to visit) has lived in the jungle a helicopter's ride from Georgetown, Guyana for the last 2 1/2 months.
Though she hasn't been back in the United States more than 72 hours, she's already whipped up this post detailing her few brief visits to Georgetown—most of the time to stock up on food that wasn't literally called "Chunks" (if any Canadians out there know what this is and why you'd ever want to eat it, please tell us)!
This is more of a thought-diary than a "how to" travel guide, but we hope you enjoy Chloe's stories all the same. Thank you!
You don't end up in Georgetown without a purpose
Ask any of the immigrants, people from Africa, India, and China. If they're not convincing enough, let the food narrate Georgetown's story. You’ll see authentic Creole-Chinese fusion cuisine right across from the best Roti in town.
I arrived here in time for the Guyanese Independence Day: a series of dances, songs, and music cheered on by a motley crew. Along the beats of a gamelan drum and to the Indian bhangra, everyone called out, “One people. One nation. One destiny.”
This, the motto of the now 51-year-old country, was sung over and over again.
I was one of only two Caucasians at the Independence Day celebration. My boss, who led our field expedition in the jungle, is a tall, light-skinned, blue-eye bearded dude from New Jersey. It has continuously been a point of hilarity to have people whistle at him (instead of us two women who are also going on the expedition) for his picture.
At the Independence Day celebration, a woman from the media, with her camera man in tow, pushed her way through the bleachers to come talk to us. At first, I thought she was coming to talk to me, the pretty tanned girl from France. But no. She looked intently at my boss and said, “We are here recording people for our 51st anniversary! What do you have to say to the Guyanese people?”
My self-proclaimed, socially awkward, frog expert boss looked at the camera, then at the microphone that was shoved underneath his face.
“Uh... We wish everyone in Guyana a Happy Independence Day.”
The media lady grimaced. Not exactly what she was looking for. She passed the mic to me, and I tried to say something along the same lines but with more chutzpah. I left her equally unimpressed.
She turned and shimmied further up the bleachers, the poor camera man behind her tripping over a crowd of tightly packed bodies.
Not a lot of visitors like Georgetown
It’s taken as a shitty layover, like landing in Columbus. I think it’s fun. Guyana, which used to be British Guyana, has some remnants of colonial rule. My favorite part being that people drive on the left side of the road.
Let me just say, the driving in Georgetown is phenomenal. As a huge fan of the Fast and Furious franchise (a pleasure I have no guilt in hiding), zipping around in peeling cabs that continuously push the laws of physics as they drag race down pot-holed streets was nothing less than a good time. They speak English, but the language has a strong Caribbean influence (Guyana culturally identifies, and is associated with, other island and coastal countries rather than other South American countries) and is similar to the cadence you might hear in Belize.
The architecture is fascinating. It holds the bright colors that we often see in the Caribbean, but most everything is built out of wood. This might explain the complete lack of trees in the city as well. The city is a jumble of fading wooden houses, with some that truly defy the laws of gravity. I’m not sure who decided that a hot and humid city (that's also below sea level) should opt for wooden everything, but there is an undeniable charm in a weathered pink house surrounded by florescent magenta flowers and a couple of palms.
Out of all of the Guyanese charm, I have to admit being a bit let down by the sewer and water management system. Originally colonized by the Dutch (somehow the Brits pushed them out—it’s a long story that Wikipedia can tell you), Georgetown has an amazing water system. Along the roads and on the sides of the streets, there are small, open-air channels that crisscross through the city. At one point, I can imagine these would have been beautiful.
Now, they are less decorative and more like a septic tank. There are little fish that are scattered throughout certain sections, and I’m convinced that whatever mutations have allowed them to survive these toxicity levels will someday lead to these little guys taking over the world.
These open air channels fuel a rancid ecosystem, beginning with the mutant guppies, to the New York pigeons that have colonized the aerial landscape, and finally the stray dogs and cats that seem to survive off of pigeons and sewer water.
This can also be seen at the Georgetown Zoo, which costs 200GYD (the high price of $1) and boasts the smallest cages you've probably ever seen. There's a sea otter that swims from corner to corner of his 10-ft enclosure and a slew of big cats that pace along their fences. I'm not sure if I should encourage people to visit (perhaps the extra revenue would help revitalize the space), but the abandoned aquarium and great emerald macaws in spaces smaller than their wingspan suggest that the whole endeavor needs to be scrapped and started from scratch.
But whatever, you’re doing in Georgetown, you surely didn’t end up there because of the flora or fauna. And that’s all right.
What’s truly amazing about this destination? The people
If you’ve got an afternoon, I strongly recommend stopping by the Stabroek Market. It’s full of people and life. Across from a meat shop, there’s a shop that sells saris. There’s gold and candy and “man building” juice, too. No, I'm not kidding.
If you are looking for gifts that are strictly Guyanese, ask your taxi driver to go to the main post office (which you can walk to from Stabroek). There you’ll find a couple of free-standing shops selling wood carvings, handmade pottery, and jewelry that may be better mantle decorations than plastic key chains.
As for navigating Georgetown? It's fairly easy. The cabs are cheap and everywhere—make sure to settle on a price before you get in the car. The first time I took a cab, I neglected to do this ... and the price slowly escalated by 100GYD every time we took a right turn. I never had to pay more than 500GYD, but I probably should've argued for less.
One time, my favorite taxi driver and I got into a conversation about his top vacation destinations. He'd been everywhere in South America. But when I asked him his favorite place, he looked at me quite seriously.
“Guyana," he said. "My home.”
We got to talking about the racial melting pot that was Guyana after that. He said, “I am not your Indian cab driver, I am your Guyanese cab driver” ... and that’s what I found. This is reflected in the cuisine (curry-jerk), the slang, and the fashion (saris with African head wraps). People here, no matter their perceived cultural heritage, were all proudly Guyanese.
On an honest note
Although the people of Guyana are proud of their country and there's evident fusion between the many heritages that have been established here (whether through colonial slave trade or indentured servitude), there's a notable segregation between races. Politically, this was explained to me (by a couple of men that I’ve come to call my friends) as being the “Indian Party” and the “Everyone Else Party” in elections.
East Indians are the majority ethnicity in Guyana (out-numbering people of African descent by more than ten percent). Until recently, this was reflected in most positions of power in the country. The nicer houses tend to be occupied by people of Indian descent, and the higher paying occupations seem to be dominated by them as well.
Are you headed to Guyana? If you plan on staying in the country, Georgetown is surely your transit to Kaiteur Falls. But don't be so quick to move on. I recommend sticking around a day in the heat to try the food, meet the people, and catch a mutant sewer guppy.
ABOUT THE GUEST POSTER:
Chloe F is a passionate world-trotter in her early twenties. Born and raised in France, she's had many opportunities to travel ... and many more to make incredible connections with fellow humans (and animals) all across our globe. Her experiences include studying frogs on secluded waterfalls in South America and chasing whales along the coast of Mexico.