GUYANA: The World in a Single Country
Jan 11, 2004
David Rich 1700 Words
GUYANA: The World in a Single Country
Say you wanted to see the whole world but could only visit one country--which country would it be? I nominate a country few have likely heard of, at least recently. Here are the clues.
Bobby's bus lines from Country X's neighbor, a former Dutch colony, left at the ungodly hour of 5 am loaded with characters. Patricia bent my ear non-stop, chortling while explaining whatever popped into her mind while I desperately concentrated on deciphering her native tongue. She'd taken me under an ample wing.
We ferried over a miles-wide river and were suddenly in Patricia's beloved native land. She never tired of exclaiming how County X was far superior to its backward neighbors, proud of the first sight that vividly reminded me of Inle Lake in Myanmar and the Cays off Belize: dollhouses on stilts painted in sherbet accents of key lime pie, lightening lemon, bubble-gum, barely blueberry and champagne cream, stretching single-file on both sides of the road the full hundred miles to the capitol city. Where dollhouses stood two deep were called towns.
These cutesy abodes abounded with outside staircases of fancy balustrades and columns, porches circling their sides for the perching of leisurely lounging locals. The gaily-painted tile and wooden dollhouses alternated with rustically weathered ones reminiscent of the palafitos on the edges of Castro, the capitol of Chiloe Island, Chile. But this wasn't Inle Lake in Myanmar because there were no leg-rowers, hand-rolled cigars, raw silk or cats jumping through hoops in Buddhist Monasteries. Nor was it Belize because lobster was definitely not on the menu. Nor could it be Chiloe because most of these stilted houses were extremely spiffy.
I double-blinked at the prayer flags whistling in the breeze: Tibetan immigrants? I asked Patricia and she high-fived me as she was wont to do for any excuse. Misunderstanding me she said, "Sho 'nuff, Bro." We had much difficulty with each other's patois. I later learned these were common run-of-the mill Hindu prayer flags. But I had been reminded of Tibet until learning it was really India.
"We haff seven races heah," she said and I replied with the American Anthropology Associations' 1965 conclusion that separate races don't exist; we are but one race, the human race. Patricia was uncharacteristically silent for maybe two seconds before she said, "Them raices are foa de fittest or de fatheads, dat right?" wild laughter as she high-fived with abandon.
When not buttonholed by Patricia I spotted every kind of church, synagogue and mosque known to a race-less species, plus every cult you can imagine. "THE Church", "Church of Happiness and Understanding", "Church to Make Your Day." Think red Kool-Aid, the best clue of all. Miles of fluorescent green rice paddies lurked behind the churches and dollhouses, reminding me of coastal Vietnam. The brilliant green extended to the horizon sprinkled with Brahma cattle freely crossing the main highway forcing us to frequent abrupt stops. It seemed I really was in India, horns shrieking as mini-buses swerved to avoid the beasts.
The seawall began on the outskirts of the capitol, for miles barricading its residents against the encroaching sea, shades of Holland. Without the seawall 90% of the country's population would be homeless or under water. The huge bulk of the people live on the plain immediately adjacent to the fickle ocean that flooded twice during my stay. The locals promenade the seawall without cease from before daybreak to after dark, taking exercise and the sea breezes, reminding me of Shanghai and coastal Spain where the residents also love their promenade. But without the Tai Chi and kites it wasn't China and without a dress-up parade it wasn't Spain. Everyone here was chic casual and kept their umbrellas handy.
I spied a familiar sign and was in Ireland. "Guinness is good for you." Indeed. This fabulous country had its own Guinness brewery. At our first stop I ordered the bitter brew and the bartender said, "That'll be two hundred dollars." Flummoxed I fingered the bottle and belatedly remembered the exchange rate was 200 of their dollars to $1 U.S., thus reminded of heaven.
Patricia yanked me to a canal-side table and I was reminded of Venice and Suzhou, China, though this canal reflected gracefully bowed palm trees. The next table was decked with bottles of rum and coke heartily enjoyed by a trio of Rastafarians dressed in red, yellow and green, matching knit caps trailing over their dreadlocks. I thought I was in Jamaica. Jamaica was a definite possibility with cars speeding by on the right like being in the UK.
"Hey Mon," yelled over the nearest colorfully-dressed chap, "Ware you fom?" He gave Patricia a huge wink while his two buddies waved with enthusiasm. These extremely friendly people reminded me of the Thai land of smiles, Turkey where you can't look at a rug until you sip chai/tea or Ireland where they reckon you simply must know their cousin in Philadelphia.
Bobby's bus dropped us at our chosen hotels. Mine was named "Friends". As I disembarked the other passengers waved and yelled, "Good to meet you, Nice talkin' atcha, Ciao," a cacophony of enthusiasm while Patricia handed me a slip of paper. I reciprocated with my business card, huge smiles all around.
I checked into Friends and learned nothing was open on a Sunday afternoon so there was no means of changing money or obtaining local currency for feeding famished me, except one. The hotel clerk loaned me $500 for dinner and let me run up a $712 bar bill. Friendly bunch at friends.
Beat from little to eat on the 11-hour bus ride I checked out the Indian, African, Chinese, Creole, English, Portuguese and Amerindian restaurants around my hotel, ignoring KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds. Oh for a Taco Bell. I settled for Chinese chow mien, $2.00 (or $400 in Country X) for more than I could eat, a far cry from Country X's neighbors which are the most expensive countries on the continent. The phone rang as I strolled back into my room wondering who the heck knew me in Country X.
"Yo," I said and Patricia wanted to make sure I'd gotten settled in. Very friendly. When I'd tried to tell the bus driver to pick me up on Friday for the trip back to the former Dutch Colony he said, "No man. You gotta call me. You can't make no reservation now. You might want to stay here. You might meet a woman. You might never leave." I told him I'd already met a couple of women and he sure as shootin' had to pick me up first thing on Friday, without fail.
The theaters were showing Hollywood, Bollywood and Nudiewood while the meat market reminded me of China: "Dog Meat $90 a lbs"; for only 45 cents U.S. you could buy a pound of dog and I was suddenly anxious about those little chunks of meat in my chow mien. But the architecture made up for the meat market, startlingly. What capitol city on the planet is done in gothic? The only city I could connect with gothic was the mythical one named Gotham: biff, POW, wham, or perhaps Disney World and Disneyland. The Town Hall would eclipse 99% in existence, rivaled only by the majesty of town hall Prague. So, I was in a miniature Czech Republic. Four golden cones sat on hanging parapets surrounding a tapering rectangle soaring to the sky, pale blue accents matching the trim on creamy wooden latticework. The High Court sprawled over an entire block across the street. I'm not an architectural expert but the style was likely Victorian since a much-larger-than-life Queen Victoria presided from her pedestal out front. The humongous building was a lacy butter-yellow with red tin roof topped by spear points marching down the middle.
The Stabroek Market was a mere block away, an incredibly colorful swirl of humanity shrieking and hustling, tables of players avidly pursuing the country's national sport with bright green dominoes, mini-buses soliciting everyone for passages to wherever, hawkers of t-shirts and umbrellas and baseball caps. I really wanted a baseball cap from Country X but photos were begging to be taken and I snapped merrily away as the locals laughed and offered encouragement. But I couldn't find the cap I'd come all this way to buy. The market was bereft of what could have easily been a best seller if inscribed: "Jim Jones Red Kool-Aid Company, Country X"
After that you probably don't need a final clue. Yep, it's a former British colony and the only country on the continent speaking English, of a kind. So if you wish to see the world in a single country go to the northeast coast of South America where Country X is sandwiched in between Venezuela, Brazil, Suriname and the ever-encroaching Atlantic Ocean, a short jump south of Trinidad: go Guyana.
When you go to the world in a single country:
Getting There: BWIA flies from London to Barbados and Trinidad then Georgetown, the capitol of Guyana, with daily connections from New York, Miami and Toronto. See www.bwee.com. Many other airlines (GA2000, , LIAT, and Surinam Airways) fly into Georgetown almost daily but are fully booked around Christmas and in August.
Hotels in Georgetown include friendly Friends ( 227-2283, fax 227-0762) ranging from $23 to $45 a room depending on whether you must have air conditioning, conveniently located at 82 Robb St. a few blocks from Town Hall with telephones in every room for those calls you'll inevitably receive from new friends. The coziest luxury accommodations are in the Cara Lodge, Cara Suites (176 Middle St, 226-1612, fax 226-1541) or the Cara Inn (Pere St., Kitty, 225-0811, fax 225-0808) costing between $95 and up with complete amenities. I particularly liked the looks of the Cara Lodge (294 Quamina St, 225-5301, fax 225-5310), a mansion converted into 14 cosy rooms, quite superb. Fabulous in the sense of both expensive and exotic lodges dot the interior ranging from $100 up including everything, day trips available. Travel agents to the interior include H and R Ramdehol, 215 South Rd. or Connections Travel on Ave of the Republic above Houseproud and across from City Hall. Banks in Georgetown give cash advances on Visa while every Indian merchant includes a money changing operation at decent rates.