Max in Haiti

You want me to go where?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Guyanarama

To be honest, I didn’t know much at all about the country I was about to visit. Whereas Haiti is known the world over for its independence movement, voodoo and self-governance challenges, Guyana seems to be exclusively notorious for a bunch of American nutjobs answering the ultimate last call. The Jonestown tragedy, passages in Naipaul’s The Middle Passage and the fact that the local inhabitants were improbably in need of my assistance were about the only ways the country had made itself known to me at the time of my landing. Truth be told, I couldn’t recall the last time I visited a country without having first read enough guidebooks to tell locals where to find ½ price wings on a Thursday.

I didn’t even realize until halfway across the Caribbean Sea that my first step on Guyanese soil were going to complete my introduction to the world’s inhabited continents (no plans to visit Antarctica unless penguins start sharing needles). The thing is that Guyana, despite its location convenient to the Amazon and an egomaniacal military presidente, is very much a Caribbean country; albeit one in which jaguars occasionally snack on pets.

To get to the G-spot (Guyana is sorely lacking in nicknames), I had to fly from Miami to Port-of-Spain and then catch a connection to the capital, Georgetown. My neighbor on the first leg of the journey was a middle-aged Indian man from Trinidad who managed to fit a life time of stories into the lulls of a three-hour flight. I heard about the betrayal of his secretary, who he treated like a daughter but who ended up stealing from him; about the time he and his brother were robbed at gunpoint in their auto-part store, how the brother found the thief living in the streets years later and how the former victim and his friends beat the man half to death; about the problem is aging best friend is having trying to satisfy his wife and three young mistresses – picaresque stories right out of Pagnol, Saki or Chaucer.

Landing in Georgetown at night, I was not able to ascertain very much about the place other than it seemed much more developed than Haiti (what with their paved roads and streetlights), very much into cricket (the World Cup was very much in full swing during my visit) and noticeably British in heritage (either that or our cabbie was severely dyslexic).

As you can see from the pictures, daylight brings out more of the city’s peculiar character. It echoes off the white-painted wood which forms the exterior of pretty much every building in town, feeds the Wimbledon-worthy grass that covers the unpaved ground and urges the women to carry colorful parasols as they walk the neat, suburban, city blocks. Thanks to Naipaul, I did know to expect a multicultural society made up almost equally of Indians, Africans and descendants of mixed marriages. Add to that the Brazilian, Chinese, Amerindian and European minorities and you have a country populated by representatives from nearly every human civilization. This variety is duly reflected in Guyanese menus, which tend to run about seven pages on average. Somehow, the concept of fusion cooking seems to have escaped the locals, and so instead of mixing up the cuisines, places tend to offer tandoori alongside feijoada, won-ton soup and fish&chips.


I think I’ll skip ahead to more straightforward travel stories now, so you’ll just have to picture the setting with what I’ve written above (remember: cricket. green & white color scheme, paved roads “ethnics” with parasols, long menus). Also really excellent baked goods. And really low prices (‘went to a bar, ordered a round [mixed and drinks and beer] for six people and paid less than $5).

Thanks to a regional meeting in Miami (see Feb. blog entry) I had already met some of my colleagues down there, one of whom was a Franco-American James Madison grad named Thibaut (No Thea, he doesn’t know Xavier – I asked). He was in charge of planning the activities and boy did he come through. By far the most memorable experience of my two weeks there was the visit to a town called Bartica, a mining community located three hours down river from Georgetown. We were scheduled to pay the local hospital a visit on a Monday and Thibaut made the arrangements for our little group to spend the whole weekend there.

To get to Bartica, one has to board a slightly decaying wooden 15-foot river boat outfitted with a brand-new 200-hp engine and travel down a river measuring twenty miles across. It is one bad-ass ride. The deeper you travel upriver, the more the scenery makes you feel like an extra in the “Heart of Darkness” movie that Hollywood has conspicuously failed to make (Apocalypse Now notwithstanding), complete with rusting river steamers run aground on the mangrove shores. Less ominous, stately homes also dotted the shore, like the one pictured here that belongs to Guyanese singing sensation Eddie Grant (Electric Avenue, I Don’t Want to Dance). When we finally arrived in town, a smaller, less well-kept version of the capital, our party set to work gathering victuals to bring to the house that Thibaut had rented for us on the outskirt of town. Once enough rum had been secured, we trekked into the vegetation (default tropical, between forest and jungle) to reach our home. Again, the pictures will showcase this place far better than this overwrought prose. In short, it rocked (like Made Out of Babies-rocked, not Weezer-we’re-too-geek-cool-to-move-about-onstage-rocked). Its two-level veranda, private pier and cold swimming pool almost redeemed colonialism as a valid socio-economic system. We spent two days eating massive meals, drinking rum and playing cards in what was one of the best weekends in memory. It was quiet there too, as the house dog really had been eaten by a Jaguar the week prior.

Back in Georgetown, we tried our best to top that stay. And so I went to a fair (I kicked ass at bumper cars), joined a pub trivia team (it turns out sharks do not blink), and played tennis on the US Ambassador’s private court. But since I did not take my camera to these excursions and because I’m getting tired of writing, I won’t go into these events.

To wrap up: I can’t wait to get back to the O.G. in October and strongly urge you all to consider Guyana as a tourism destination (I didn’t even get to see Kaieteur Falls – check ‘em out on Google).

See you soon (if you live in South Florida or California),

Max

p.s.: To encourage you all to leave comments, I’ll have a contest. I need your help to find a nickname for my car. It’s an old, thoroughly rusted blue Isuzu Rodeo. I’m calling it “the ‘zu” but that’s pretty weak. The winner gets a bottle of Barbancourt Rum next time I see him/her.

9 Comments:

Blogger Thea said...

Hmmm... since a bottle of rum is the final prize then I better enter the contest. I'm not going to be too creative so I submit Rummy! Get it! I crack myself up.

6:34 PM  
Blogger KSoFM said...

the PauP mobile

1:20 PM  
Blogger Max said...

And the PauP-mobile takes the lead...

7:10 PM  
Blogger amelia said...

red rocket.

3:50 PM  
Blogger KSoFM said...

How about the HIV wagon?

8:30 AM  
Blogger amelia said...

hahahahah. horrible Jason, just horrible!

9:27 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

bluzumobile

but only if you're a fan of the blues brothers (if you're not then maybe you just shouldn't come back...)

just send the rum back to dc w/ Jill.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Ahhh...jaguars eating dogs? Sounds like you're doing great and getting in loads of traveling as well. I just wanted to clarify that not everyone was a "nut job" when they drank the Kool-Aid at Jonestown. According to a PBS documentary I saw this weekend about the incident, many of those people were actually forced to drink it or get shot.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Will McBride said...

Is this contest over? I don't think I can top HIV wagon, but here goes: ransom runner.

Glad you found some pub trivia. You'd be proud to know that my team won a $100 bar tab at Wonderland. I contributed not a single answer, but I did drink about $50 of scotch.

1:49 PM  

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