It has been one week since I traded my flight to Panama City and some Central American travelling to leap unknowingly into the savannah of Guyana in the hope that a net will appear.
After a disastrous attempt to visit earlier in the month, I threw caution to the wind and blindly accepted a job offer, flying down to the Brazil-Guyana border and the frontier “city” of Lethem.
The Wild West is alive and well down on this parched bit of earth. Its red dust tracks are the gateway to the untouched Rupununi and a two-hour drive north-east lay my home for the next three months: Karanambu Lodge.
Almost everything about life here is different. “First world” luxuries of hot water, internet access, roads, clean tap water, and phone signal are all absent, and I have had to abandon my vegetarian ways (for now at least) due to the limited food options.
What we are unable to fish from the river or grow/raise ourselves, must be bought from Lethem and transported in one of the aging 4x4s each week. Both space and diesel costs must be factored into the weekly shop and there is no popping around the corner when we discover that we have run out of something.
Thankfully, I was given the first few days to acclimatise to my new surroundings. 35-degree temperatures; cockroaches, spiders, bats, mosquitoes, and frogs in my bedroom and bathroom; 4:30 am starts; and a laid-back tranquility that is accompanied by the constant noises of the abundant wildlife.
It is a world away from Guyana’s capital Georgetown and seems to be in another galaxy entirely when compared with the UK.
Typically, by 5am we are awake and gathered under a tree in the courtyard, drinking tea and coffee as the sun rises. The interests of the guests then dictate whether we go upriver on the boats in search of giant otters, or go out in the 4x4s to find giant anteaters. At around 9:30 we are all gathered again having breakfast.
Such is the intensity of the sun and the lack of shade, by midday the pace slows from an already gentle stroll to practically a standstill. The staff and guests siesta, and I have taken to reading in a hammock, with my five feline friends dozing beside me. The peace and quiet interrupted intermittently by the shrill crowing of a bold cockerel that has been given the nickname Curry.
Perhaps the only other thing that doesn’t rest during this time are the bugs. Upon arriving at the Lodge, I had made the naiive judgement to try my luck and see if I could manage without the need for chemical protection. Not even Tom Cruise would have succeeded with this Mission Impossible and I am now bitten and scratching from red head to tattooed toe.
The staff are comprised of local Macushi – the indigenous Amerindians that have populated this area for centuries. Though quiet and reserved, they are friendly and hospitable. The women in the kitchen are going to be the cause of many an expanding waistline, and the men possess and share incredible knowledge on the wildlife in the area.
I have already seen two species of caiman, 40+ species of bird, turtles, both capuchin and spider monkeys, all manner of creepy-crawlies, and yesterday I saw my first giant anteater. Though the days are long, the heat oppressive, and contact with friends and loved ones is rare, it is hard to imagine a more unique and rewarding working environment.
November has been a relatively busy period with American, Israeli, Danish, Swiss, and British guests coming and going, but December will pose challenges of its own as visitor numbers dwindle and staff return to their villages for the holidays.
Despite the scorpions, piranha, mosquitoes, ticks, jaguars, snakes, and spiders, I was told that isolation was the biggest challenge to overcome here. There are adequately stocked bookshelves dotted around the complex and I am never one to turn down a lie-in, but we shall have to wait and see whether such freedom liberates or depresses me.
7 down. 77 to go.
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