Life at the Lodge: 10) Time

Owing to some ill-health for both of our guests, all activities were cancelled giving some of the staff a more laid-back working day. But with an enthusiasm they later came to regret, our two resident voluntourists (Steve and Farinoz) headed up to our outstation, Makeidon, with Manny to help on the project to build a new coral.

By lunchtime, both Steve and Farinoz had returned to the Lodge, pleased to have contributed in a way, but sun-kissed and physically exhausted. We have had a team of five guys working on the coral for almost two-weeks now and their efforts are highly commendable. Manual labour in this heat is not something to be taken lightly.

Along with Manny and Anita (Manita), their two youngest children Clarey and Annalisa have been the only constants since I first arrived here. Despite the 10-weeks of eating, working, and living alongside them, I am still largely seen as an outsider I think. Clarey and I pull faces at one another, but she is wary of getting too close and being too friendly. Part of this may be because I am seen as the boogeyman – “Bossman Paddy will come for you if you don’t XYZ”, say her parents.

The younger of the two at about four-years old, Clarey has two trademarks, one being her almost hourly wardrobe changes and the second being her temper. Never in my company, but that girl can scream when things don’t go her way. Her sister is a few years older. I assume she has down syndrome, and rarely talks, laughs, or cries, though she seems content enough. I turned around from my front seat in the vehicle the other day to find Annalisa wearing a headrest cover on her head as a hat. I couldn’t help but laugh.

A WhatsApp/Skype conversation is going to have to happen with Cassie soon, because it seems nothing is being sorted via the exchange of messages. It’s only been about three weeks since I last saw her, but I miss her terribly, and would like to get our reunion set in stone as soon as possible. Mid-March seems like such a long way away…

My second book of the year has been dispatched and it provided a wealth of information and food for thought. The classic Open Veins of Latin America is rather dated account of Capitalist colonialism and Western imperialism in South America, but it is still hugely relevant. And though it contains less than 100 words on Guyana, the topics it covers can certainly be re-applied.

Take natural resource extraction for example, particularly bauxite and gold in this case.

In 2016, Guyana was said to have the 8th largest bauxite deposits in the world, and in 2014 Guyana was 12th on the list of the world’s largest bauxite producers. According to Forbes in 2016, India ranked 10th in the world with 557.7 tonnes of gold reserves, but Guyana can’t be too far behind with the three biggest gold mines (Aurora, Omai, and Toroparu) containing an estimated 460.4 tonnes of gold between them. The year 2016 saw Guyana achieve record high gold production, with 19.6 tonnes of gold produced.

This then is clearly quite substantial natural resource wealth, but 2016 saw the Mining and Quarrying sector contribute less than 4% of the total taxes taken by the Guyana Revenue Authority. Unsurprisingly, this led to suggestions that Mining and Quarrying business were avoiding tax, no doubt on a titanic scale.

The guests had recovered from their bout of illness to participate in a successful giant anteater trip the next morning, and over breakfast, myself and my fellow Brits spoke politics. Like 95% of the other guests we have had at Karanambu since I arrived, our guests were on the left of the political spectrum and were critical of Theresay May, Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Brexit. They appeared as disillusioned with the UK as I am.

In the era of post-truth politics and “fake news”, being anti-expert is seen as a badge of honour, a lunacy that would not be seen in any other area or industry. “Every Doctor I have spoken to says I will die if I continue to do this, but they are only experts, what do they know. I will do it anyway.”

My breakfast companions told me that they had met a couple in Ecuador who were rabid Trump supporters and genuinely believed that Michelle Obama was a man!

Minus a day or two at Yupukari for New Years, it has been essentially a solid month at the Lodge now and I am starting to get pretty tired. Future plans are the milestones I am working towards and I am counting down the days.

Georgetown’s finest flip-flops gave up on me after only 5-months in the job and Roland had to work his magic with some fishing line. They lasted a few more days before capitulating at another location.

I continue to miss out on some of the best football Liverpool have played in years. Despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho, they managed to end the streak of Manchester City in what seems to be a game for the ages. A 4-3 epic victory at Anfield making it 18 undefeated for Jurgen Klopp and his men. Early November was the last time I saw them win.

With guests departed, Liverpool victorious, and a couple of days free, Steve, Farinoz, and I sat around the dining table that evening in the company of a bottle of rum, and later an ill-advised bottle of vodka.

Steve told stories of his time in Zambia, sharing a house with 12 other people and a bedroom with two Chinese men. He dealt with the colony of rats in his attic by adopting a cat, training it, and throwing it into the rafters. Later, after I enquired about her stance, Farinoz gave a passionate defence of the right to self-determination for Iran, a country where her family are from. The West has no right to intervene, and despite the numerous problems with the way the country is run, it must be left to plot its own course.

At around 9pm, Manny, Primchan, and Roland appeared, bows and arrows in hand, and declared that they were going fishing. When they returned a few hours later, with just a handful of fish, we persuaded them that perhaps dominoes was more to their liking that evening. Drinks continued to be shared, but eventually we all retreated to invest in some sleep.

Though I struggled out of bed, forced a poverty breakfast down my throat, and made it into the vehicle, the night before soon caught up with me. I jumped out at Makeidon and bid the rest of the crew well on their adventure to Lethem to buy supplies. The one-hour 45-minute walk back to the Lodge did me no favours, only serving to break my flip-flops more completely than they had been before.

My bed provided little respite to my self-inflicted anguish and it took most of the day to recover fully. By that time, my weary companions had returned. Farinoz said that she had not left the vehicle the entire trip. We received a much-needed cash injection from Georgetown, but our shopping list remained only half completed.

Marie has been at the Lodge for a week or so now, assisting Anita with kitchen and cleaning duties. In between my rehabilitating trips to the toilet bowl and the food I was attempting to eat, she told me of how her uncle had been killed by a caiman. He had been out fishing on a boat and they suspected the caiman had lashed out as it was protecting its young. Two days of combing the river resulted in the recovery of her uncle’s body. A leg was missing.

Perhaps we should think twice before inviting guests into the river to swim…

An evening screening of Up had to be postponed due to the arrival of a storm. Not 15-minutes into it, the torrential rain, high winds, and leaking roof soon sent all my Macushi friends scampering for their bedrooms. The dry January had been broken in dramatic fashion, and near daily rains have followed ever since. “Climate change” joked Manny when I asked him about it.

An increasing number of animals seem to be occupying my bedroom at nights these days. One night it was two cats (Simple and Wispa), the next it was two cats and six toads, and the night after it was three cats (Simple, Wispa, and Ed) and four toads. Added to this circus are the bats overhead and the dozens of ever-present creepy-crawlies.

Eventually, I achieved a satisfactory short-term fix to my flip-flop fiasco, at the fourth time of asking, and have also confirmed my dates and paid my deposit for an early February trip to Mt Roraima. The visa situation is still unclear, but I am hoping I get it as part of the package of reservations and booking documents the organisers have spoken about. The UK government advises against all travel to the country, but it wouldn’t be the first time I have ignored such advice.

Most of the faces that come through Karanambu now face a similar question from me, and every one of them has given varying degrees of the same response. Our most recent guests encouraged me to travel whilst I still can. Now in their 60s, they are already feeling the effects of their body starting to give up, and still speak fondly of their first adventure to South-Asia and the Pacific when they were 20-something-year-olds. They said that though everyone around you may think you are mad and advise against it, there is an entire international community embarking on the same adventurous lifestyle that you are contemplating. It is only possible to meet these people, and become part of this community, if you take the leap.

Steve and Farinoz, with a wealth of travelling experiences between them, unsurprisingly gave the same response. Don’t get a career. What is the point? Travel the world.

1990 was the year that I was born. And it was also the year of peak fish, so Farinoz tells me. Ever since then, we have been catching less, and the populations have been shrinking. Though campaigners, activists, and conservationists have to remain upbeat about the future, the truth is that they are all fighting losing battles. The glory years of humanity and planet Earth are behind us.

Twice in the last week Marie has commented on my “long pants” and how she likes seeing me in them. I received a similar compliment from Beverely before she left in December. Clearly they are fed up of seeing my tattooed, bug-bitten skinny British legs.

On the advice of the giant otter researchers who visited a week ago, an evening boat trip to Taraqua was arranged. Roland, Primchan, Steve, Farinoz, and our two guests were treated to the sight of no less than five otters, with three adults and two cubs clearly visible as they played and periscoped in the water for 5-10 minutes. Due to capacity limits, I had not joined them that evening. Giant otter confirmation has been achieved though. It is only a matter of time.

70 down. 14+ to go.

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