Life at the Lodge: 14) Successors

With Mount Roraima and Venezuela behind me, the aching legs, sunburnt skin, and tortured feet a painful reminder of the worthwhile ordeal, I returned to Guyana to write my final chapter at the Lodge.

From the northern Brazilian city of Boa Vista, I once again made my way to the Guyanese border, finishing a wonderful book on Krakatoa as we rumbled along in the early morning sunshine. A Chilean couple had also taken the coach and we shared a taxi to pass through immigration and then head into Lethem.

It was the final day of a music festival that was being held at Manari Ranch, and as nice as it may have been to attend, I had a lift to catch, back into the savannah.

Before going to Venezuela, I had arranged to be picked up in Lethem by some staff who worked at Caiman House. They were dropping a guest off at the airport, and my plan was to jump in with them for the return trip, spend one night at Caiman House, and then get a lift back to Karanambu the next morning

As ever in Guyana, the plan fell apart.

Despite arranging the lift two weeks in advance, being in contact with various people associated with Caiman House on a near daily basis and coming back from Venezuela as quickly as I could to make the Lethem pickup, nobody came for me.

8 hours after I arrived in Lethem, I received a text informing me that the pickup wasn’t going to happen. I was royally pissed off.

Despite all my previous experiences in Guyana, I had faith that this time it would be different, that things would finally go to plan. But I was once again disappointed. The rude and unprofessional manner in which business is conducted here has to be considered the norm and must be a leading factor in why no progress ever seems to be made. It was at that point that my opinion on Guyana solidified. The romantic notion of seeing myself ever living here again was firmly put to bed.

Tired and frustrated, I packed up my bag and booked myself into a local hotel. It was basic, but decent enough. The AC worked, there was a mosquito net over the bed, it had a private bathroom, and I got breakfast included for the next day. My room also came with the free additions of a lipstick stained blanket and one solitary ear ring in the bed. That night, I stewed in my anger, got some food, and watched a grainy version of The Edge of Tomorrow.

By 9am the next day, boredom had already set in. After going on a titanic mosquito massacre, killing 20 of the little bloodsuckers in the space of a few hours, I had run out of things to do. I chose to go for a walk, but it was all rather aimless, there was no cinema, no bookshops, no library, and every store sold the same goods.

Attempting to make the most of my time, I went searching for any evidence of the failed Rupununi Rebellion that I had heard people talk about. (The Rupununi Rebellion was a small uprising of local farmers against the government in Georgetown which occurred in the 1960s and lasted only a few days.) Around Lethem, there appeared to be no evidence of its existence, a fact confirmed by a policeman at the station who said that everything had been repaired long ago.

The discovery of the local post office brought me no joy either, in keeping with Guyana’s business environment, at 11:30am on a Monday, it was closed. I returned later that day to see if a friends’ letter had somehow managed to find me, but they said that they hadn’t received anything.

With Lethem offering little entertainment, I decided to spend my time writing an article on Venezuela and its refugee crisis. I emailed the finished piece to a few left-leaning news and media outlets to see if they would be interested in hosting/publishing it, but I never heard anything back.

Eventually, Karanambu arrived in town to drop off some guests at the airport, do some vehicle repairs, buy more food, and take Anita to the hospital to get some treatment for the sores on her leg. I hitched a ride back to the Lodge, where I was informed that I was free to go at the end of February, and not the middle of March as we had originally agreed and I had expected.

It had been an eventful 12 days or so since I had gone. A police car had been speeding along the road out of Lethem and had skidded off after losing control. Three of the policemen were injured and one died. Manny had been lucky enough to have two sightings of a jaguar on Karanambu property, each time at around 7pm, spotted crossing the road whilst he was driving the vehicle. And a savannah fire had come within 20 yards of the Lodge complex raining ash on everything and sending everyone into a panic.

It didn’t dawn on me quite how serious this situation was until I saw the burnt trees and shrubbery on the perimeter of the complex, the melted water pipes, and heard that nobody had slept that night through a combination of fear and coughing due to the smoke inhalation. Hurriedly set firebreaks had saved the day after the initial concerns had been waved away – “don’t worry, its miles away”.

My managerial job is to be split between two people when I leave. Two (relatively) local girls are going to be taking on the roles of resident grump and committed cat feeder. Elvie attended Bini Hill Institute and has come across from Monkey Mountain, and Maya is another DeFreitas – they pop up everywhere – who has come up from further south.

The handover process has begun.

One of the favourite past-times in Guyana is “gaffing”, and though in the UK we may simply call this talking, I don’t think that does justice to the activity. There is an art to the gaff, a way to tell a story and bring the listeners on a journey complete with voices, hand gestures, and high-pitched outbursts. A relatively straightforward event is instead drawn out into a 20-minute performance. Gaffing must surely come from a lack of entertainment. Story-telling fills the void.

I have noticed that a change in the staff wage structure has been implemented and they are now getting more money during the busy periods. Manny, for example, has seen a 33% wage increase thanks to this, and the increase in tips recently means that he gets a further 10-15%. He says that things are much better and I am delighted to see this take place.

For some reason Manny has taken to wearing a pair of glasses. . .

The sores that all the staff keep getting are almost certainly down to parasites that are transmitted through the bite of a sand fly. Prevention is better than cure, but nobody seems to bother with any form of bug spray in the evenings.

Whilst the sweet-smelling and softly-spoken Maya is doing Mashramani stuff in Lethem – another holiday that I am missing out on – I am getting Elvie to shadow me to show her the ropes. She has a fantastic sense of humour which makes for a much-improved office and work environment. It’s a shame I am not going to be sticking around much longer as working alongside people more similar to myself would have been far more enjoyable than doing everything alone.

With the end in sight, I am taking every opportunity I can to participate in excursions. In what was potentially my last river trip, I tagged along with an Austrian couple on their hunt for giant river otters.

As if the universe was apologising for my recent Lethem pickup fiasco, we were treated to almost 90 minutes of the greatest otter watching you could possibly imagine. It was the best wildlife experience that I have ever had and thankfully our Austrian guests captured the entire thing on video. (I later copied the files to my laptop).

Within a minute of getting on the boat and pulling away from the landing, an otter reared its head. Without a care in the world it went about its fish hunt and crunched on one after another. In total, we counted 11 fish had been caught and consumed during the hour and a half that we sat in our boat. At times, it was no more than 10ft away, its huge head bobbing in the water and its pink mouth awaiting the next victim.

I love how inquisitive Manny is, he is always so full of wonder and comes out with the most random questions. I wish he could see and experience all the things he asks about, the mountains in the UK, the birdlife in other countries, elevators, polar bears. The sad reality is that he is unlikely to ever even leave Guyana, unless it is to go to Brazil. That is the privilege of travel, I am blessed to have seen and experienced what I have.

98 down.


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