Monday, November 29, 2021

Dodging the Bats and Police of Guyana

Because much of Guyana's charm lies out in the bush, I went with a guided tour for pretty much all the time I plan on spending in Guyana. Dillon the tour guide was kind enough to drive out from his place in the countryside to come and pick me up in Georgetown.

I love cities so I was happy to get a little urban tour before heading out to the hinterlands.

A very unique part of the capital was the dilapidated remnants of the British Empire. I don't recall ever seeing so many colonial buildings. They were very noticeable because they were in such a unique architectural style plus were much larger than the surrounding buildings.

The supreme court building still featured a large statue of Queen Victoria out front lookin' all regal.

Market time. I freaking love markets. There's all kinds of people with good stories to tell, and I find that they're much more interested in chatting with you before and maybe directly after you hand them some money.

Since this is an English speaking nation I had some fun exploring the local vernacular. They have sort of a creole thing going on that makes it difficult for me to understand which just adds to the mystique. For example we bought some delicious baby bananas. Here they call them fig bananas. Back home we would call this a bunch of bananas, but here a bunch is the entire group that grows together on a tree. Like bigger than a human. What we have here in the car is called a "hand" of bananas.

After a couple of interactions like this with locals, and Dillon rapping in the local creole, it was clear that he was the real deal. Dillon is from Idaho but he is also a naturalized Guyanese citizen who's lived in the country for 10 years. He was an EMT back in the States, and he has an American wife who he lives with. I never had the occasion to ask but I was wondering if he'd been some sort of missionary? Guyana is a random place to end up any way you slice it.

Dillon is a man of many talents. He also engineered this adventure mobile. An added security measure that made me feel safer about leaving my stuff in the car was that some of the door handles didn't work. This baby has a good 225k miles on it.

We stopped at a little stall outside the market for some breakfast. We had borah chicken and roti breakfast Borah is a bean also known as "Chinese yard bean." Dillon was also a wealth of local idioms. This was an opportune moment to offer "You can’t clap roti with one hand" which means you have to work together to accomplish your goals.

The food was good but I was laughing to myself about how eating roadside Indian food outside with my hands could easily end my journey. Apparently the licensed sellers are located inside the market and the fly by night pirates are located outside, which made me even more excited about today's life choices. 

Fish markets I've seen a few of but I don't think I've ever seen people eating sharks. There seemed to be sharks for sale all over the place. I wondered if they were catching them on purpose or it was just something that happened to be in the net that would fit into their mouth.

The place was sort of a Mos Eisley Cantina of strange and fantastic creatures.

There was one guy who seemed to have devoted his life to the dark art of digging up roots. There was a pinkish one that he called an eddo. That sounded exotic to me at the time but now that I look it up it's just another name for taro. He was quite the root pusher, and told us that Usain Bolt is so fast because he eats a lot of yams.

These were the full length Chinese yard beans that I'd eaten for breakfast.

I don't think I'd ever seen fresh sorrel before. I think the first time I tried this was in a drink at a Antiguan yacht party. Long story.

Dillon wasn't playing around. This lady was trying to overcharge my dude for some mangoes and he straight up told her “give me the right price not the white price”. Go ahead and give me the white price because I don't have the balls to talk to people out here like that.

These fruits that looked like olives are called jamoon.

We weren't on the road very long before we got pulled over. The police were fishing but their stated reason was that he had a brake light out. Dillon says the police are corrupt and thirsty for bribes, so when they see a whitey they are constantly pulling him over. He knows that the second he pays them word will get around and he'll get pulled over even more though, so he keeps it real. I guess the police have little euphemisms they use when asking for a bribe. If it was me I would point to my open mouth and say "officer hippo hungry for the benjies" but they say things like “read it or write it” and “do you want it in your left hand or right hand”, meaning like cash in one hand or the ticket in the other type of thing. With his lawbreaking aura now clear to me I asked him the next logical question. Have you ever been in the Guyanese slammer and tasted the queen's sweet justice? He said one time he got arrested for not pulling over fast enough for an emergency vehicle. In their Caribbean way of arresting him though they didn't put handcuffs on him they told him to drive to the station and maybe just tell the officer there what he was there for? This sounded like something my grade school teacher would do to me sending me to the principal's office when she didn't have time to punish me herself. When Dillon said he had pulled over as soon as he heard the sirens behind him, they hit him with a classist low blow: "I bet you had your car windows up and your ac on!" Quite the accusation. I believe they then tried to shake him down for a bribe again. Props to him because I think I would just pay the piggy tax and be on my way, but this guy does not play that. He doesn't overpay for a mango and he does not negotiate with terrorists.

50 Guyanese dollars is about 25 cents in freedom bucks.

While the country is formerly British they went full republic, so there's no crowned old ladies on their money.

I like to take doxycycline as a malaria preventative but I had a horrible time trying to get a prescription for it in Seattle. I don't have a doctor there yet, and it seems impossible to get a friggin' prescription for anything without one. I called hospitals with so called "travel clinics", I went to a hospital, another clinic, and I even set up my first teledoctor call, and all were worthless. You'd think I was trying to get prescribed heroin. I gave up but vowed to get that sweet sweet medicine in Guyana where doctors haven't lobbied the country into nonsensical submission. I walked right into this little pharmacy, "give me the good stuff, doc" and was out in no time. They even told me "no dairy products 2 hours before or after" which I googled later and turns out to be legit. Guyana for the win!

I walked out with 28 tablets costing me a grand total of USD 6.74. Don't even get me started on the hoops we make you jump through to buy a damn pair of glasses in the US.

This van had a sticker on the back that said "Essequibo Ah We Own" on it. I guess Venezuela claims more than half of Guyana, the Essequibo region, as their own territory. It's crazy how many ongoing land disputes there are in the world.

As we're driving, out of nowhere, Dillon says "I want to get you a good souvenir before you leave. Something you can't get anywhere else. You need a cutlass." Uh you mean a friggin pirate sword? That's exactly what I need. Well apparently in the English speaking Caribbean "cutlass" means machete. Ok fine. Still awesome. "We don’t want a new one though we want a broke one". Broke in this context meant "broken in". Not only will I be armed by the time I leave but I'll have some sweet British Caribbean pirate slang under me belt. Apparently Guyana is the only country that still harvests sugarcane by hand, with a bunch of dudes back-breakingly swinging swords at plants in a swamp. So around these parts, everyone has a cutlass.

My fearless guide picked up a random skull on the side of the road and quizzed me on what it was. I guessed wrong a couple times. It was a pig.

He proceeded to smash it and then handed me one of its fangs. Thank you?

We checked out an old school irrigation system.

We stopped at a shop for some road soadies. After his disregard for the law and love of swords, a healthy interest in getting lit up on a South American jungle cruise made me immediately understand that Dillon was my soul mate. I bought a lot of beers but I did not buy this monstrosity.

Fried peas were invited on this journey. I liked that they were local and not some Pringles nonsense.

Tamarind ball? Absolutely. Had me at ball.

Salt sew I think was just ground up split peas in a nice tube shaped crunchy thing.

It was acceptable to drink in the car here! My first victim was this exotic Guinness Hop House 13 lager. Guinness making lager I'm pretty sure is against the laws of god in some countries and was certainly not included in the Dublin headquarters tour.

Little roadside shops selling snacks are called snackettes. How dainty.

"Sir James Douglas was born in British Guiana on August 15, 1803." "Douglas is hailed as the 'Father of British Columbia'". "He held a number of titles such as the first Governor of British Columbia from 1858 and Governor of the colony of Vancouver Island from 1851." Pacific Northwest represent!

I was greatly amused that the town signs out here were sponsored by Pepsi.

We got stopped again at a roadside checkpoint about our bad brake light. These people are serious about road safety.

We stopped at a roadside house with a little table out front with some produce for sale. Narissa and her entire family came out to chat. She was selling butternut squash that here they call "foreign squash". The locals grow another long green/white type of squash that they commonly call "sheep".. I guess because it grows on a vine and looks like a sheep tied to a fence or something. They have a folk tale that cooking squash causes it to rain, so if it's raining out and you walk into a house you can ask "who's cooking squash?" 

Banks is like the national beer of Guyana.

We checked into my hotel. It was fine for being out in the middle of nowhere.

It was apparently run by the grumpiest old man in the galaxy.

We hitched a boat trailer that had been sitting at a friend's house.

And just like that we were cruising down the Canje River.

We saw a parrot/macaw type bird on top of this tree.

Sipping Bud', getting perved and getting dubbed
Daps and hugs, mean mugs and shoulder shrugs

Russian is not the language I expected to see on the back of this Budweiser. What a strange journey this beer has been on.

The Canje River is unsurprisingly full of Canje pheasants, the national bird.

When there were animals around we were moving at a creep to not scare them away. But sometimes we just put on the jets.

There were masses of floating grass bobbing down the river toward the ocean. I didn't understand the reason for it, but someone upstream was deliberately dislodging these clumps that were an annoyance to our ability to navigate. Once or twice we had to stop to untangle this gunk from our engine propeller.

Dillon pointed out the "left hand star", and if you kept that on your left side then you were headed toward the ocean.

Cruising the Canje after sundown was a whole different beast entirely. For one thing the place was covered in low flying bats, so I was constantly dodging them as they whizzed past. Most of them were smart enough to fly out of the path of the boat but there was some collateral damage.

"What do you think happens to the bats that hit the boat?"
"I'd like to think they swim away."
"Do you think bats can swim?"
"I said 'I'd like to think.'"

We were on the hunt for caiman. The light from our boat reflected and lit up the reptiles' eyes bright orange making them easier to find.

Our method for capturing the beasts was some old school dog catcher type business: a pole with a wire loop on the end. Dillon drug the little monster on board. You can hear it making a distress call to its momma which luckily did not arrive. I think the one we grabbed was like a teenager. He then taped its mouth shut so it wouldn't eat my fingers. We identified it as a spectacled caiman, and he held it upside down to get it to go into sort of a trance so it would chill out and I could handle it. 

We hung out, we did some belly rubs. It was a nice first date.

Caught and released.

Winching the boat back onto the trailer was a whole thing.

I had purchased some beer from Suriname in my pile as well, Guyana's next door neighbor.

Government cookies really hit the spot.

I had some dinner back at the hotel and then passed out. It was a very full day.

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