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Imagine This....

Short break before early morning meeting in Shulinab
You are eye-balling a piranha..

We last posted in early May this year.  So, dear friends, we must apologise for this long silence. Our bad!!    Here in the tropics – and so near to the equator – it’s tempting to return home after a day’s work, pour a couple of Camparis (available across the border in Bonfim) and languish lazily, suspended in the heavy, humid air.  We’re told by Roelof that if not used to the tropics, one needs an extra two hours night-time sleep.  Very easily done!  We don’t have TV (we’ve decided against it) and so have been catching up on our reading, digital and hard copy (thanks Behi and Eddi for the great supply of books).
interior of lodge at Surama - simple and eco-friendly
oropendola protecting its chicks from the savannah hawks

lodge at Surama
Now that the rainy season is  here, the nights are a mixture of heavy, still air and pounding rain, which, in Lethem, always originates from the East, at a 70° angle  So there’s a quick, untidy rush to untangle oneself from the mosquito net to get to the windows in time to avoid a flash flood (only half kidding).  The sound of the rain is a lullaby; we sleep so well here, with two floor fans working hard to circulate the moisture-laden air.  Apparently this is an ‘El Nino’ year, so the rains are nowhere near as intense as they should be.  Still, the savannahs resemble a flooded Serengeti.  No caimans or snakes lurking in the swollen streams around Lethem yet.  But those of you insect-lovers will be pleased to read that the dreaded Kabouras have arrived.  So Christine now resembles a Deet dip-stick (and it works, sort-of).  Meetings are punctuated by the sound of skin being slapped regularly.  These tiny little flies are vicious, drawing blood with a sharp bite.  They are present now because the rivers and streams have risen and like the sand-flies, are water-borne.  The mosquitoes too, are here in huge numbers, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with varied habits to ensure that they feed on one 24/7.  We’re experimenting with different types of malaria prophylaxis.  As yet, we haven’t found an affordable one that has minimal side-effects. 

Shoe eating insect, a small one this time
Everywhere you look, the colour green dominates in all its different shades; thick and verdant.  It’s truly beautiful.  Apparently Guyana is one of the few South American countries with a healthy percentage of primary forests and it shows!!

Creative ! Checkers with caps of Coca Cola and other soda  bottles
Our principal form of entertainment currently, is of course the World Cup.  Not having a viable international soccer team, Guyanese have opted for the nearest option – Brazil.  So you can imagine the current football-fever surrounding us.  As soon as Brazil scores (the locals aren’t too interested in any games that does not feature their preferred team), firecrackers and car horns start blaring.  And even for the small town of Lethem (or maybe because of) the sounds are LOUD.  So Jelte and Han (another feverish Dutchman) hold the fort for the Northern Europeans, wearing orange thongs (sorry, can’t post the images; the colour is too lurid)  under their  jungle gear and yelling Dutch obscenities at the opposing teams.  Fun!  And this all takes place in Shirley’s Store and Souvenir Shoppe.  Drinks are Schin or Becks beer and fresh coconut water for us. 

The Schin Mobile; delivers ice cold beers....
Our twice-weekly shop in Bonfim results in a cupboard/fridge full of good pasta, skimmed milk, super bacon, fresh chicken sausages, breakfast rusks, tonic water and fresh  bread rolls.  This past week we successfully made a ‘couscous salad’ out of the local staple,  farin, which is produced by processing the cassava tuber.  Another local dish to add to the recipe book!!  Currently ‘golden apples’, mangoes and a local plum are in season.  So, a young man cycles in to the office compound offering concentrates made of these fruits.  Just add water and serve up a fresh fruit drink.  Christine is overdosing on golden-apple.  This fruit, commonly known as ‘amra’ in the east (India and Indonesia), literally sets one’s teeth on edge – plays hell with the enamel.  But it does taste so good, with just a pinch of salt or sugar.  The fruit juice man is also now bringing us regular two-litre bottles of fresh coconut water.  Cost is the equivalent of US$5, so is not much cheaper than the packaged stuff available in the US.  All meat and fish here in the Rupununi are 100% organic – and our neighbourhood  pigs, chickens, sheep and cows can vouch for that. (By the way, does anyone know why cocks crow raucously in the middle of the night?  Time to put them in the pot!)  But there is no guarantee that the meat you get is young enough to not need an enormous amount of cooking.  So, apart from the occasional chicken and slice of bacon acquired across the border, we do try to stay away from meat. (We did get served the most succulent venison last week in one of the villages – so soft, it must have been poor Bambi).   

That's how we want it, take nothing but pictures etc....
As a result, we’ve lost a fair amount of weight, which we will happily put back on when we spend a few weeks in Europe next month (Rotterdam, Provence and Liguria, here we come!!).  One last comment on food.  A cooked plate of ‘whatever’ ALWAYS is served with three types of carbs – rice, pasta and potatoes (either mashed or fries) PLUS another carb – the ubiquitous farin.  No, we don’t eat out often.  Our bods just can’t afford such an onslaught.  This phenomenon seems to be common to all developing countries.  Alleviates the symptoms of hunger, we suppose.

Another day at the office....
We’ve been doing a lot of travelling to the communities with which we are working.  So far, we’ve got stuck in the mud only once.  And it was a fine course in bush survival.  So, how does one extricate oneself from out of a ditch of three feet of thick, red, sucking-wet mud? 
Step 1:  Find local farmer with a couple of spades  - this necessitates a 300m hike in knee-deep rain to find said farmer.

Step 2:  At opposite side of road from where truck is stuck,  dig deep hole.
Step 3:  At same time that hole is being dug, find tree with a good, strong trunk.  Chop down tree, chop trunk to size of width of hole.

Step 4:  Secure trunk horizontally in hole.
Step 5:  Attach winch (you do have one attached to your truck, don’t you?) to tree trunk.

Step 5:  Refill hole with soil.  Tamp Down
Step 6:  Start winching truck out of ditch.  Luckily, we are attached to an organization that has one of those devices that allows the driver to stand on the road and work the winch electronically. 

This process of extrication, apparently, is called a 'dead-man'.
Now you know.  And for those of you who ask how we managed to end up in the ditch.. it was easy.  In some of these communities, the access roads are made up of fine mud, which, when wet, instantly assumes the characteristics of an ice skating rink without the ice.  There’s absolutely no friction or purchase on the surface, so the vehicle, oh so gently, slides off the convex road, into the deep, waterlogged ditch.  Piece of cake!

So, slipping and sliding through the mud and rising waters we have made it to most communities we’ll be working with over the next 12-18 months.   The journeys, made by four wheel drive (Toyota Hilux is the stalwart that almost everyone with any sense uses) is bone rattling and brain-addling.  Our last 8 weeks were filled with site visits, meetings with village councils and first training sessions with tourism stakeholders.
The North Rupununi is (relatively) well developed and offers basic eco-lodges such as Surama and Rewa. Tucked away in the jungle, these places showcase incredible nature and wild-life. Access is hard, even in the North but the rewards are plenty. The Center and South are less developed and thus even more remote and harder to get to. Here you find places like Aishalton (has incredible petroglyphs),   Maruranau and Shea Rock at the edge of the forest and far away from the conveniences of the modern world.  No phone or internet access, inaccessible during the worst periods of the rainy season. The mighty jaguar still roams in these places and sightings of these elusive creatures are pretty common. For tourists – an attraction,  but the locals have a somewhat different view, since live-stock such as pigs, sheep and cows, and also domestic pets, are easy prey for the big cats. Although the communities are often located in what is referred to as the “Protected Areas”, illegal mining is an huge issue here as well so there is a lot to deal and contend with. Last week we were planning to go to a community in the jungle not too far from here (Katoka) to assess the tourism potential but the trip was cancelled because of illegal mining activities in the proximity of the village. Sometimes it’s a bit like the ‘Wild West’ here but we are getting used to that. It’s amazing how adaptable one can be when the need is there.   

We saw three lovely giant ant-eaters in one morning!
To get to Rewa for instance, one has to be transported to a river-landing over a dirt path, after which a boat ride of three to four hours follows (depending on variables such as current, size of boat engine and depth of the river). Accommodations are basic and one always has to deal with the occasional wild-life infractions such as bats in the rooms or critters attacking your feet  (Donovan, our co volunteer found a scorpion in his shoe once) but once these inconveniences are dealt with, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Amazonian parrots, macaws, oropendolas,  spider monkeys, anteaters, capybaras and other animals are roaming the jungles and savannahs here and if you are attracted by that, it’s a pretty good place to be. What can be cooler than being woken up by a multitude of howler monkeys (they feel the need to make their (territorial) presence heard preferably early in the mornings; sounds like an approaching tornado) or screeching parrots high up a local mango tree?

The rivers are dark, wide and swollen now and meander languidly along their paths.  The fish are spawning and the locals are getting excited at the anticipation of fresh fish so close to home.  The caimans, too, are more visible and active, in hope of full bellies.  We feel so fortunate that we are able to experience this practically untouched wilderness.  For the next two weeks we are on the road and rivers again, meeting with local communities and providing back-office training skills to some of the lodges.  Damp clothes and humid nights, punctuated by the cacophony of the toads and frogs doing their ‘thing’ and leaving behind foamy spawn in every puddle available.  At night, we look out of our window, into the intense darkness beyond and see only the flicker of a thousand fire-flies.  MAGIC!! Stay posted


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