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A jungle within a jungle, caterpillar rains

Hanging on for dear life....

As today is Earth Day (April 22), we have planted two ‘neem trees’ and one ‘cherry tree’ in the CI office grounds.  The ‘trees’ are probably just a foot high now,  but given that the rains will be with us soon, chances are that they will be strong saplings before we depart South American shores.  The ‘cherry’ trees here are not quite the conventional cherry with which most of us are familiar.  The small fruit – more orange than deep red – is used to make a fresh fruit drink and without added sugar has a tart flavor.  Like many fruit trees, it has two seasons and is hugely popular with kids, who snack on the fruit like its candy.   I always believed the neem was indigenous to India, but now I’m not that sure.  Mangoes, cashews, tamarind, coconut, carambola, jamun, papaya, pineapple, custard apple, golden apple (aamra), guava, and so much more are ubiquitous all over Guyana.  It’s a challenge to find out what was introduced and what originated here.     
It’s been raining quite a bit here.  January saw the ‘cashew rains’.  We’re told that what we are experiencing are the ‘caterpillar rains’ so yours truly is burying herself deep until this ‘rain’ season has well and truly moved on, together with its namesakes.  I AM PETRIFIED OF ALL THINGS THAT CRAWL and wriggle with no backbone or carapace to support the movement.  I’m 100% sure this is an inherited phobia and utterly irrational.  Anyway, enough of that!!  Our sunflowers seeds have sprouted and we have set the seedlings.  We are SO looking forward to the shock of yellow that will mark our ‘garden.  The serious rain season is predicted to start some time in mid-May and build to a crescendo by July/August.  The rivers are already rising and soon some of the dirt roads to the villages we visit will be impassable by road.  So we will travel by boats.  Also, with the rains and the wet, come the hoards of irritating, biting insects.  Because these past months have been so dry, we have been ‘bite-free’ for the longest while, apart from the ant bites, and the occasional wasp sting. That is.  The unusual dry weather also resulted in forest fires in the mountains; not the type of forest fires one finds in Austalia or the USA.  These forest fires, grumble away, in a threatening way, without becoming a full-blown conflagration.  In this part of the world, there is a tradition of burning the savannah before the rains to ensure good, healthy grassland for grazing.  Happily, the caterpillar rains put an end to the ‘grumbles’.   
Manaus Opera. Brought to you  by the rubber/robber barons....
Fast Forward to early July!  So much has happened since we first started this post… apologies to our readers for the long silence.  So, the caterpillar rains really did translate into caterpillars.  Apparently, because of the forest fires, the butterflies were unable to use their normal (forest) nesting ground, so took to the plains in their millions.  The end result – billions of caterpillars.  They were everywhere, busy crossing dirt tracks, which must have been like 50-mile marathons for them.  They were very purposeful in their travels, almost like “these plants don’t do it for me; I’m going to check out what the food is like elsewhere”.  But the rains came and washed them all away.  Those that managed to survive, did so because they clung to the tips of the grasses until the waters receded.  Then they chomped their ways through all our grass (no need for a strimmer) and our other plants. 
Nicely filled stores in Manaus
We, in the meantime, made our great escape to Manaus for a much needed break and R n R.  All in all, Manaus was a huge disappointment.  The fact that this urban jungle has materialized out of the mists of the Amazon rainforest is a miracle in itself.  But there’s far too much concrete and urbanization for our tastes.  We mooched around, had some really super meals, visited an old movie set of a rubber plantation, met some really interesting characters, got blown away by the  Opera House and hot-footed it (by coach – 12 hour drive) back to our Oasis – Boa Vista.  There are many tours of the rainforest available and they range from two nights through a full week.  But apparently, although extremely well organized, the potential to see wildlife is greater in the forests of the Rupununi, and having experienced that, we chose not to end up on a boat with a large group of tourists.  Spoil-sports, us!
The Opera House is another miracle.  Almost everything was literally shipped in from Europe – marble from Italy, iron railings from England, furnishings from France.  Every European country appears to have played its part in producing a spectacular Opera House that in recent years has been returned to its former glory.  It is well worth a visit, especially as there are regular performances which the locals take pride in supporting.   
On the movie set of an old rubber plantation; the bathing water was imported from Paris (we kid you not). Better than the muddy Amazonian waters they thought (and who can argue against that...)
When we were in Manaus, we also visited a Science park, (Bosco de Scienza) where research into indigenous plants and animals is conducted.  This, little park, too, is worth a visit – a few hours is what you will need. 
Meanwhile, back in Boa Vista, we decided to rent a car and explore the state of Roraima.  We ended up in the small village of Tepequen where we spent a couple of nights, visiting the local waterfall (spectacular location for a day of bathing in the falls and picnicking) and hiking the surrounding plateau (part of the Guiana Shield, one of the three cratons of the South American Plate, that is 1.7 billion year old Precambrian geological formation segways).  There are quite a few posadas in the area, some run by indigenous Amerindians who are a wealth of knowledge and superb guides.  As with pretty much all of Northern South America, the place is a birders paradise, with easy viewing of macaws, parrots of every description, humming birds, raptors, storks, ibis, and much more.  If we were staying on in Guyana, we would be returning regularly, which nicely transitions into the next chapter of our adventure. 
Another waterfall, this one in Tepequen 
We got back to Lethem to find that much awaited contract was still not finalized.  So, reluctantly, we decided that we really could not put our lives on hold any longer and set our date for return home.  Tickets are now booked for the 1st September, when we will be back in California!!  No more getting teary-eyed over all those golden oldies about the Ventura Highway, California,etc.,etc.
June has been busy with preparations for a new colleague who will be responsible for delivering a support service to tourism entities in the Rupununi.  She has a huge job on her hands but we are sure she is well up to the challenge.  Also, we continued with our tourism trainings of local communites, and graduating secondary school students.  This is the part of our work in the Rupununi that really fulfils us and we will truly miss the contacts and friends we have made. 
Nature's calling; all the time 
Undoubtedly though, others volunteers or professionals will take our place. The development road is long, full of obstacles to trip over and an endless trajectory of good intentions mixed with hard to erase habits and deadlines never met. Have we become cynical, no….. Skeptical, a little bit. Change will happen, in remote places like the Guyanese Rupununi as well but on its own terms, at its own speed.

So, we look forward going back West; what the future will hold is anybody’s guess. Right now, we think about revitalizing the company and get going again from San Pedro, our chosen place of residence but that’s only a first plan. Being free agents, the sky is the limit so we’ll see where we’ll eventually end up…. 
Village life, two more months..


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