Life at the Lodge: 13) Intruder

A welcome change to the schedule has seen us going on a lot more early-morning river trips. I much prefer the river to the savannah, it is just an all-round more gentle and calming experience, and unsurprisingly, there is far more wildlife to spot.

One of the guests was talking to me about the intelligence of a species of finch which uses a stick as a tool to dig out insects, and though I am fairly neutral on birds in general, I can appreciate that they are far smarter than what people give them credit for. I have seen a whole host of examples of birds completing challenges in order to release food, I have seen a video of a bird instigating a fight between two cats and then seemingly referee it, there are examples of birds using bottle caps as sleds to slide down icy rooftops, and a video of a bird activating the motion sensor on a shops automatic doors by flying in front of it. By head movements, birds also communicate to one another to inform each other of what food tastes good and what doesn’t, and one of my favourite facts is that the term “pecking order” exists because of the social hierarchy that is established in a group of chickens.

Out on the river that morning, we must have seen 20+ species of bird, including a brilliantly spotted golden collared woodpecker and a crestless curassow with her infant. The curassow seemed particularly pleasing for Manny and is one of the few times I have seen him excited by an animal sighting. As well as all these birds, we saw another two otters and an 11.5 foot caiman basking in the sun, the biggest I have ever seen.

It would be great if Karanambu could invest in a decent camera. Smartphones really cant do this place justice, and the scenery and wildlife is a beauty worthy of sharing.

Our weekly trip to Lethem took place, where we bought supplies for the week and picked up Ed after he had flown down from Georgetown. More piping was purchased so that we can move the water pump further downriver. By 5pm, Lethem turns to a ghost town as all the Brazilian shoppers return to their homes across the border.

The Exxon deal is a constant topic of conversation, rearing its head every few days, bringing more depressing news each time that it does. It seems fairly obvious to me that both major political parties in Guyana have been bought off by Exxon. The deal is shameful, but no politician from either of the two main parties seems prepared to talk about it. Supposedly only 2% of the profits will belong to Guyana, the feasibility and exploration costs have to be repaid to Exxon, and all legal costs will be paid by Guyana if any accident or oil spill were to occur. I am told that Exxon can import anything they need duty and care free, and the bonus paid by Exxon when deal was signed was put into a secret bank account that only a handful of government ministers knew about or had access to.

Talk about the rape of a nation and a corrupt and complicit political class.

I have a reputation among friends and family as being somewhat of a radical, a hot-head, a bit of a hawk, but it seems abundantly obvious that Guyana is overdue a revolution. It escaped colonialism only to come under the control of a Western-backed dictator, then escaped that only to now come under the trappings of a corrupt political class bought by big business.

As a country, Guyana has low economic growth, high outward migration, high unemployment, high poverty, mass youth dissatisfaction, corrupt politicians and police, violence, stagnant development, huge natural resource wealth but little income, a weak military, and porous borders. If that isn’t a toxic mix, then I don’t know what is.

Perhaps unfortunately, its people also seem very apathetic about all this, so though conditions may be ripe for change, I fail to see it forthcoming.

The Dutch Warner Brothers crew arrived, much later than expected, by which time it was already getting dark. They shot some footage and headed to the river, no sooner had they began loading the boats than the winds picked up and the rain started lashing down. I cant imagine that they will get any useful footage in failing light and in such conditions. The crew are here to tell the story of Evi Paemelaere, a researcher who lived and worked here three years ago.

The crew used a Scandinavian guy as their fixer. He tells me that he has been living in Lethem for the last five years and has noticed a change in the small border town. He and his girlfriend used to walk around everywhere, no matter what time, but now he says that he is nervous. He tells me crime is on the rise.

Evi and I spoke awhile, whilst the film crew were busy using our limited WiFi and drinking beer. She was impressed by how under control everything us at the Lodge and says that she thinks I am doing a good job here. She was surprised to hear that I had just turned up out of the blue and taken the job with no visit to the Lodge, no tourism experience, no management experience, and no experience with indigenous groups. I had never looked at it that way. . .

The appearance of the film crew gave me a glimpse into how TV shows were made, I overheard one of the crew members say to Evi “tomorrow you will see a jaguar.” Evi tells me that she is having to pretend to spot the animals, they film her reaction, and then throw in stock footage to make it seem like they were actually there. A manufactured reality.

On a wonderfully crisp and clear morning, the Scandinavian fixer and I chatted over breakfast. “We millennials are different”, he tells me. “We see no real future, we are priced out of the housing market, we have to pay for all the things our parents got for free”. He believes that this is why millennials prefer to spend their money on memories, because they can’t be taken away or reclaimed by the bank.

I agree with him, we millennials are different. In my lifetime there has been near-constant warfare and terrorism, there is the shadow of the relentless advance of climate change, the rise of social media and the internet, more widespread and cheaper airfares, and a lifetime burden of debt. Factors which no other generation has had to contend with. We are unique, we are the 21st century beat generation.

Manny asked me if he could use my Swiss army knife to castrate a bull up at the ranch, I politely denied his request.

With my trip to Venezuela on the horizon, I did a handover to Ed following a much-needed and long-overdue cash injection. With thoughts on my trekking, I have been in a good mood, Cecil however, is not. He continues to complain about the lack of work he thinks is being done, whilst paradoxically simultaneously complaining that he and Auntie Georgie aren’t getting paid enough. I heard rumours that they may jump the border and work in Brazil. I wonder if they will still be here when I get back from my trek.

Everything is now booked for my post-Guyana life. Trinidad, Toronto, Belize, and Costa Rica. Just need to finalise a single flight back to the UK. Not looking forward to that.

Ed (the cat) continues to make a graveyard of the Lodge campus. I saw him catch a lizard this morning whilst I was eating breakfast. He played with that until he got bored and then abandoned it. The hand-sized reptile was on the verge of death, and despite my efforts to keep him alive, he didn’t make it.

Later that morning I was confronted by another cat-reptile situation, that wasn’t quite as one-sided. As I crossed the doorway into my bedroom to return my iPod to my drawers, I stumbled across a 7ft snake meandering its way towards my bathroom. It was within touching distance of me and I froze in shock, wondering what I should do. Simple (the cat) was watching proceedings from a distance, as nervous and intrigued as I was.

The snake was a pale colour with darker vertical strips across its body, its black tongue flicked and tasted the air, as its tail shook in imitation of a rattle. I snapped some pictures and went looking for backup. Ed said that it was the biggest snake he has had to deal with for a long time, and as the reptile slithered behind my toilet, we devised a plan of how to evict this potentially dangerous intruder.

After 20 minutes of poking and pushing the animal with a stick, a broom, and an extended coat hanger, we were eventually able to coax it into a large plastic bin. We put the lid on and walked it down to the river for its release. Using the photos we had taken, I found a reptile expert online who identified it as a Drymarchon snake, a species that can bite, but is not particularly dangerous.

That afternoon was less exciting, though bleaching my water bottle had informed me that the odd-tasting water I had been drinking lately wasn’t the fault of Karanambu, but was instead down to the brown slime that had accumulated on the inside rim of my flask.

The packing for my Venezuelan trek was completed, and I got a bit emotional in the process. It felt like a dry run of when I will leave this place, which is something I am trying not to think about and I am not looking forward to.

With Ed, Manny, and co dropping me off in Lethem the next day, I was to take a well-deserved break from the Lodge, and head down to Brazil and then across to Venezuela. Mount Roraima awaits, a suitable 28th birthday present to myself.

91 down.

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