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Surviving the Jungle

Mural at the Wowetta tourist office
Personal plunge pool
Four months in, we are back in Georgetown, involved in meetings with partners and committees.  One thing we have learned about the local culture, the Guyanese LOVE to talk.  They put Jelte in the shade, and that’s saying something!!  It’s a great opportunity to connect with tourism interests here in Georgetown as there’s  certainly a dearth of them in Lethem.

Rupununi savannah beginning to flood - taken from flight Karanambu to Lethem
The past few weeks have been spent visiting a number of communities already identified as needy of training of one sort or another.  It’s been a wonderful experience, spending extended lengths of time with the villagers, getting to know the individuals, sharing our skills and learning from them.  It’s humbling.  One of the attractions of the Rupununi is hard-core survival training.  There are only a couple of specialist operators that offer this type of thrill.  The logistics attached to these programmes are humungous, as you can imagine.  Essentially, individuals are dropped at diverse points in the jungle (all alone - this is a exercise in physical and mental survival in the raw), to survive by oneself for a total of three days.  One is left with a flint, to make a fire, a compass,  the clothes one is standing in and nothing else, save a sat-phone just in case you can’t hack it.  The operator says that the completion rate for women is 100% so far.  About 20% of men drop out.  I can believe this stat;  women would think about this madness/folly/idiocy long and hard, planning their survival tactics, well before the point of no return.  So, mid-morning, (after extensive lessons in survival techniques)  each person is dropped off, giving one ample time to construct a crude, raised shelter, search/hunt for food and build a fire before the equatorial night drops unexpectedly like a curtain. 
Short trail at Surama
Posing for you at Rock View Point
We witnessed a particular group’s return and chatted with a few of them.  Firstly, their appearances:  Their mothers probably would have not recognized them, they were so bitten by the myriad different insects (no, you could not carry any repellent with you).  With the exception of the women, they behaved like they were on ‘uppers’; euphoric over getting out alive, we suppose!  They couldn’t stop talking!  Apparently, the most difficult aspect of this experience is the total isolation.  Most of them had been unsuccessful in finding/catching any food.  Apparently the nights were the worst.  Although the temperatures are high, it feels cool at night in contrast to the extreme humidity and heat of the day.  If you can’t light a fire, you’re in deep doo-doo.  The fire serves a number of purposes in this hostile environment.  It’s company – at least it makes recognizable and comforting noises; the smoke deters a few of the biting insects; if you’ve managed to catch food, you have a nice hot meal to prepare, while away the time and eat!; and most importantly, it keeps away the predators and reptiles.  ‘Luke’ the crazy Yorkshireman, was convinced that whenever the fire died down, a jaguar announced its presence.  ‘Haa, Haa, Haa’.  He tried to convince himself that it was a bird, but no amount of rationalizing could shake off his petrification. It probably was a jaguar, too.    The jungle here is an unforgiving place.   Step into it without marking your return path and you could be lost forever.  One poor ‘survivor’ did get lost, wandered around in circles for 5 hours before he finally managed to find a stream and followed it to a point where he could finally get a signal to use his sat phone and call to be rescued.  He opted not to be returned in to the jungle to complete the rest of his ‘term’.   My one question is WHY???  Why would anyone put themselves through this sort of madness?  I can think of far more pleasant ways of spending my hard-earned dosh. 
Quick breakfast stop at Oasis, Annai

Which brings me back to the locals.  Their skills in this environment is awe-inspiring.  Take a hike with them and they point out flora and fauna that one would never have a hope in hell of seeing on one’s own.  Their sense of community is truly enviable.  And their gentleness is so very heart-warming.  So much for us to reflect on and learn. 
The rains are still with us, which means that along with the annoying insects, come the frogs and other animals, all competing for shelter, preferably in a nice dry human habitation.  We shared our bedroom one night with a beautiful little tree (?) frog, a tiny dormouse, and a couple of very welcome and very well fed lizards.  We’re learning to live in harmony with the rest of the world..... with one or two exceptions.....

The garden at the Rainforest B n B in Georgetown is glorious

Three weeks ago we visited a couple of communities in the ‘deep south’ of the Rupununi.  A couple of meetings followed by assessment of training needs, some one-on-one training sessions.  All good stuff.  As can be expected, the environment can be pretty primitive; jelte picked up a splinter under his thumb-nail.  We tried to remove it; it was too small to get a good grip on it (I must remember to pack a needle in the first-aid kit in future), so we left it to grow out with the nail.  The splinter wouldn’t budge and was oozing dark blood.  So we kept an eye on it and cleaned and covered it daily.  By the second week, we knew we would not be able to deal with it ourselves so, as we would be in Georgetown in a week’s time we felt we could wait to get  the doc. to look at it.  In a meeting yesterday, we showed it to one of our local Amerindian colleagues.  Diagnosis time!!  It’s a chigger!!  And it’s been growing steadily over the weeks, digging in deeper every day.  Most people deal with chiggers themselves, but at an early stage of discovery.  We trotted off to the surgery today, were redirected to the treatment room and then re-redirected to the emergency room.  Ten minutes later Jelte is screaming blue murder at the prick of the needle of the local anaesthetic (such a hero!) and another ten minutes later his ‘pet’ is separated from his now holey thumb.  It was BIG.  I was too grossed out to video the proceeding for youtube or even photograph the end result of either thumb or critter.  We are learning!!  We have no idea of what our new environment can deliver.  We do know that anything that looks mildly suspicious must be treated with suspicion.  So, we look forward to those intimate inspections in future. 
Entrance, Rainforest B n B in Georgetown


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