Life at the Lodge: 9) Extension

Unfortunately, Cassie had to return to Georgetown and to her work at the university, leaving me to prepare for the solitude of the Lodge once again. The last week had been a bit of a holiday and I was having to force myself to get back into the system of pre-dawn wake ups.

Ian, a local man with a wonderful work ethic and business mind, but a slightly questionable goatee of about seven hairs, paid us a visit to discuss the sale of some of his bricks. The Lodge is looking to make some extensions, and with the money he receives through his business, Ian plans to buy a laptop for his daughter. He says that he wants to give her the chance that his father never afforded him; an investment in her education.

The job offer circulated in my head almost constantly. The money could come in handy for traveling (Belize, Panama, and Costa Rica are all on the hitlist), or for getting one or two tattoos. Being based at the Lodge is also a decent starting point for a trip to climb Mount Roraima on the Venezuelan/Brazilian/Guyanese border. And of course, the longer I stay in Guyana, the higher the chance there is of Cassie and I spending time together.

Ed reiterated Mel’s wishes for me to stay, but it would need some serious thought, and I didn’t give them an answer straight away.

Staff were paid, my laptop’s software was updated, underwear was washed in the shower, and a spring (January) clean of my room saw the eviction of a toad from each one of my walking boots. Note to self, do not leave anything within hopping height.

Those first few days of 2018 saw everyone asking me whether I was okay. I was noticeably quieter and more subdued with the timing of Cassie going and the job offer giving me a lot to think about.

With key staff in attendance, Med (Mel and Ed) made a list of all things that had occurred in the last 12-months, the things that remained incomplete, and the things we need to do for 2018. When it was all down on paper, I was hugely impressed with what had been accomplished. Gradual and steady progress is being made here, and even though the projects were far larger and more ambitious than my own, I don’t doubt that the staff here will be able to complete them.

Year on year, they seem to build on the foundations and improve Karanambu, and the Lodge owes a huge debt to all those who make it what it is, and what it will be.

Before Med journeyed back north to the capital, there was the small matter of Christmas present delivery to two of the local villages. Each year Eiripan collects donated gifts in Georgetown and brings them down to the Rupununi to distribute among the local population. This years was a case of better late than never and a horde of eager faces greeted us outside of Kwaymata school. Boys in football tops and girls with colourful lace holding up their pigtails were all waiting for Santa McTurk to provide them with toys and/or new school equipment.

I joined Ed as we went in search of the minibus that had been hired to bring them down from Georgetown, soon reaching the main road where a tractor was also waiting for the delivery of the gifts.

Five hours after we arrived at the junction, we were still waiting. I had made the rookie mistake of packing no book and no iPod, and as the clock ticked, and one vehicle rumbled past every half an hour, I resigned myself to a wasted morning. We weren’t even able to get in contact with the minibus driver as his digicell phone had no coverage in the area.

Unsuccessful in our pursuit of a late Christmas, we returned to Kwaymata school. There we broke the news to Mel, and had a small, but tasty lunch. My tattoos provided a brief distraction for the kids, who eventually, much later than planned, did in fact receive their gifts.

However, this was not before I had again been sent on the back of a motorbike and out through the savannah to Karanambu Lodge. I passed a message on to Manny, who then had to jump on his own bike, and head off to another village in the area, Quattata, to tell them of the delay in the present-giving.

The lack of adequate and reliable communication here makes everything fifty times as time-consuming and energy-sapping as it should be. Next to no internet, next to no phone signal, and some villages can’t even be contacted by radio as they are in a valley. The famous phrase should be inverted to be more suitable here: “shit doesn’t happen”.

Med left and two guests arrived, both of whom were avid birders. One was an Ecuadorian and the other was (another) university lecturer from the USA. They were both accompanied by a Guyanese Amerindian guide named Asaph. I recognised him not by his warm smile and long dreads, but by his massacred walking boots which he now used as sandals. The first and last time I had seen him, he was completely baked at Caiman House on New Years day.

Smoking and partying, travelling around the Rupununi, being a guide to rich Westerners, and being out in nature every day. What a life he leads.

A second famous phrase, which definitely is more applicable to life here, is “put a sock in it”. And that is exactly what we did when another hole appeared at the base of our main water tank. Until it can be replaced, one of Paddy’s finest black socks with a red heel and toe is now all that stands between Karanambu’s main building being supplied with water and all the taps running completely dry.

Hilariously, Manny told me that he is not at all concerned with seeing a jaguar in his lifetime. The animal that he most wants to see before he dies is a polar bear. Obviously. Another bombshell that he dropped recently was the fact that the coldest temperature he has ever experienced is 25 degrees Celsius.

Twice in the last week I have had to go to bed early because of a headache/migraine. My sleeping hasn’t been great either with a few semi-sleepless nights and some really fucked up dreams. I guess the future is on mind, and the oppressive heat probably isn’t helping matters. I haven’t seen rain since New Years and the river continues to drop in height.

Manny continues to impress me with his organisation and management. Hiring new staff; getting building and repair projects completed; organising guest trips, pick-ups and drop offs; if only he was able to use a computer to a decent standard, he and his wife could easily run this place.

He tells me that on Saturday he must go to Quattata in order to take part in their elections. They happen every three years, and once nominations are taken for leader, the village vote. One slight problem in this democratic system is that most villages are dominated by one family. Quattata is comprised of about 75% Dorricks, so it will come as no great surprise when someone from their family is elected.

Following the sage advice of their local shaman, Quattata used to hunt giant anteater because they were thought to bring bad spirits. If they came near to one’s house, they were said to hurt and/or kill one’s family.

I have recently been joined at the Lodge by two fellow Brits. Steve and Farinoz are widely travelled thirty-somethings with backgrounds in international development. Having first met in Zambia, they have been married six years and are here for a few weeks as voluntourists. Manny and I are trying to keep them busy, but as they aren’t skilled carpenters, mechanics, builders, cowboys, or fishermen, this is a task easier said than done.

Their arrival coincided with another set of guests and some researchers also appearing. For one 24-hour period at least, we had a relatively full house.

Guyana’s small social circles even extend out to the Rupununi, as I was already acquainted with one of the researchers thanks to my time in Georgetown. Each Wednesday a pub quiz would take place at a local bar and that was where I was first introduced to Meshach. A keen biologist and naturalist, with a friendly manner, high intelligence, and unnaturally straight posture, he and his colleagues soon set about interviewing our staff. My three-months in the Rupununi made me eligible to take part in a brief interview, but no doubt the locals had far more useful wisdom to impart.

Though I hold a contrasting opinion, it was interesting to hear Meshach speak of his optimism about the future of Guyana. He is one of, if not the only person I have heard such sentiment from during my entire time in the country. I feel that he is speaking with his heart more than his head, and a comment he said to me betrays that I think: ”the difference is you don’t have to live here.”

With the guests and volunteers out on the river, Manny and I went to visit Karanambu’s outstation. Building work had begun on a new coral, but it looks a much bigger project than what was first envisioned. Cecil believes it will take five men about three weeks to complete. Keen to show off his cowboy skills, he wanted to introduce me to a young calf that he had tied up away from the main herd. Within seconds the dust was flying, the calf was bolting, and Cecil was being dragged along the floor by the rope his hands were clasped around. Laughter exploded from the crowd of onlookers and with a final flurry of kicks and jumps, the calf dumped Cecil in the dirt and scampered away.

It makes me laugh every time I think of it, and I hugely regret not having filmed it.

The following morning, we were to have another unsuccessful giant anteater trip – my second in a row, before we received a visit from two guys who were doing some research on giant river otters. I picked their brains and was told that a group of nine had been frolicking in a pond about a 45-minute boat ride from the Lodge. If Karanambu is to start improving its giant river otter sighting success rate, we need to start doing some reconnaissance, or Mon-Otter-Ing as I have dubbed it.

Manny and I are planning a boat trip once our current guests have gone.

After much deliberation, research, and discussions, I spoke with Mel and offered a negotiated contract extension. I agreed to a full January, extend my stay through February, as long as I could have approximately 10-days off for a trip to Mt Roraima, and then a flexible, week-by-week March. My stint at the Lodge would end when I jet off to Belize/Costa Rica, with this being dependent on the time Cassie can have from work.

Future sorted. For 8-weeks at least anyway.

63 down. 21+ to go.

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