Life at the Lodge: 6) Summit

The weather is noticeably different here now. It can change in a matter of minutes, with the wind picking up, the sky clouding over suddenly, and the heavens opening in a 10-minute torrential downpour that sends everyone running for cover. The temperature is also a lot cooler, and more than once I have found myself having to sleep under a sheet.

Despite these downpours, the river continues to sink lower and Manny is now advising that we should transfer guests by vehicle rather than by boat. Even that will bring its problems, however. The trails and “roads” are rapidly becoming overgrown by vegetation as the wilderness seeks to reclaim its land.

I spent approximately five-hours cleaning one of our three kitchens one day this week. Sweeping out months of collected bat droppings, dirt, and dead spiders and cockroaches, and then thoroughly washing all the implements that were stored there. It was for the benefit of an inspection that was happening the next day, but, almost inevitably, the two inspectors didn’t even threaten to look in the general direction of my masterful work.

The inspection was more a “big picture” inspection, than a “little details” one, and that meant that almost everything the staff and I had done in the previous few days was largely redundant. One of the issues that they raised, that I shamefully hadn’t even contemplated before, was how we dealt with rubbish.

As an eco-tourism location, we should be as environmentally friendly as possible, but it is difficult when everything you buy is wrapped in plastic, there are no recycling facilities in the country, and there is no designated waste disposal service in the region. Instead, like everyone else in the area, we burn our waste or bury it in pits. This is a practice conducted the world over, and is utterly unsustainable.

When we have no guests, we have very limited food scraps, and so I have taken to ensuring the cats don’t starve. They are clearly aware that I am the Master of Food, as at all times, there is a cat within 10-yards of me.

Three toads now occupy my shower, twice I have spotted a grey bird plucking bats from the roof, and though I have heard rumours of a jaguar sighting occurring on the complex in the last few weeks, I remain sceptical. Each person I speak to says that someone else saw it.

For a few days, we were graced with the company of Mel and her family. Her epic 16-hour drive from the capital is not one I would be willing to trade for my commute. With their arrival, the relative silence was broken. One thing that I have noticed is that coastlanders increase the decibels somewhat. The difference between the children is particularly noticeable. On the one hand you have the Amerindian kids – periphery children as I call them – who are quiet and content on the fringes of things. Shy, reserved, and softly spoken. On the other hand, you have the Georgetown Kids – centre children – who are significantly louder and far more talkative.

Like a festive parasite, Christmas had followed me back to Karanambu. And somehow, I was designated Lodge Santa and chief decorator – though I am more than happy to devolve these duties to my elves. Perhaps I will feel differently towards Christmas down here. Mel says that the people of the Rupununi are far more thankful for the gifts they receive and the time they have to celebrate. It seems a case of the less you have, the less you want, and the more you appreciate.

Sometime last week I began making a list of all the projects that need doing on site, it is constantly being added to, and is already as long a list of bad Adam Sandler movies. Three-months is probably just long enough to put a minor dent in it, and I would guess that even if you worked at it for three years the list would remain incomplete.

I was sitting in a hammock contemplating this fact and what I could achieve, when I spotted a chicken pecking at a hand-sized black object in the courtyard. After chasing the bird away, I discovered the black object was an adult bat. It had a pig-like nose, a long thin tail, and a remarkably fast scurrying pace across the ground. My reward for (momentarily) saving its life – my fourth bat rescue since arriving – was a bite on the hand. “Great. That’s me with rabies”, I thought to myself.

Luckily, I am still here. Which is more than can be said for the bat. With a broken wing, I don’t expect it survived long after my intervention.

After five-days, I was reunited with my backpack and my belongings. Giving me the opportunity to change out of the two sets of clothes I had been rotating and washing in the shower.

Our three guests for December arrived, and by a neat quirk of coincidence, two of them are looking to move to Brighton in the summer. The husband is set to start lecturing at Sussex University. The third guest, who seemed to have a strong connection to Yale, said that Karanambu is the best place that he has visited in the Rupununi. It is the cleanest, it has the best food, a wonderfully rich history, and basic things work here (lightbulbs, taps, showers). For a man who has been to over 100 countries in his life, he also says that Guyana is one of the worst serviced and worst maintained.

It’s hard to disagree with him.

The failure of Guyana to seemingly do anything is made even more obvious when it is compared to other nations. Vietnam was raised as one example. When Guyana was achieving independence from colonialism in the 1960s, Vietnam was being bombed to hell and back by the United States. But look at the two countries now. Same time frame, Guyana with a better starting position, and yet Vietnam is far superior in every aspect.

Liverpool continue to be Liverpool. Romping to a 4-0 victory one week, before blowing a 2-0 lead against Arsenal and conceding three in five minutes.

Turning to 2018, our February bookings have begun to stack up. It seems a busy period, but whilst I was attending to the necessary paperwork and emails, I realised that I won’t even be here then. 12-weeks of work at Karanambu takes me up to the 2nd February, and with my 28th birthday happening nine days afterwards, it begs the question of just what I will be upto.

The fear struck me momentarily. What is next?

The majority of December’s wages were paid early so that staff could use the money for Christmas. This process was made all the more time-consuming because all the paperwork had to be handwritten as we had run out of ink for the printer. Hashtag, Rupununi Problems. Once that was out of the way, and the last of our 2017 guests had left, staff were able to relax a little and take their foot off the gas.

When I handed Cecil his payslip, he said to me: “I have nothing to spend it on”, and in a way, he is absolutely correct. Nobody here appears to pay any form of income tax or national insurance; there are no gas, electricity, or water bills; no road tax; no car, bike, property, or phone insurance; no phone contracts; no rent or mortgage; and no food payments if one grows, raises, or catches their own. There are no shops, no subscriptions, and no membership fees. The lives of the Rupununi people, much like their personalities, are humble.

Unlike Cecil, other staff did have things to spend their money on, and a trip to Lethem, aka Little Brazil, provided them with the perfect opportunity. I was handed the keys to the 4×4 and acted as Karanambu chauffeur for the day. The erratic driving, poor parking, and general “freedom of the road” vibe suited me perfectly, but my off-roading skills proved to be a little too turbulent for Manny’s liking who soon demoted me to co-pilot once more.

Whilst in Lethem, Manny passed his driving test at the third time of asking – not that it had stopped him being behind the wheel before though. He later admitted to me that it had cost him $75,000 to sit the test as the policeman took full advantage of his good nature and his eagerness to gain the qualification. Clearly, with Christmas around the corner, the policeman pocketed the overwhelming majority of that money. Money which is more than an entire month’s wages for Manny.

My Friday evening consisted of a cold GT beer and the last episode in Season 1 of Narcos. Midway through watching it, I was joined by the entire gang of present Lodge residents, who were intent on attending the screening, no matter what it was or when it started.

At some point, I will download a movie specifically for a Karanambu film night.

I have reached the summit. It is all downhill from here.

42 down. 42 to go.


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