We sailed up the Suriname river heading for Guyana – a mere 250nm, leaving at the break of dawn as we were trying to get the current in our favour. The sail was uneventful and we arrived at the mouth of the massive Essequibo river about 4pm. Ian didn’t want to go up in the dark so we found a good place to anchor between two islands and settled down for the night. The Essequibo river is enormous. It is so big there are no bridges scanning it and it’s so shallow in places it becomes impassable. It’s the largest river in Guyana and the largest river between the Orinoco and the Amazon. I was amazed at its size, having come from the Suriname river which was about half a mile wide compared to the Essequibo which is about 9nm wide at its mouth. There are various islands in it, most of them uninhabited. We had to go up to Bartica – the only town boats can check in and obviously motor the whole way. This was going to take a full day so we rose early and set off.
We had to keep an eye on the depth guage the whole time and no autopilot. We needed to go on the rising tide so our timing was critical. We arrived to see Ikigai anchored not far from us and not another boat in the anchorage.
At some time during the journey my right foot started swelling – we didn’t know what it was but it was really hard to walk on and Ian thought it needed an X-ray, so we decided that after we had checked in we would find the hospital. Check-in was fine as Guyana speak English so while Ian went off to customs I went to the hospital. The hospital emergency department had a separate room for triage and a waiting room for patients awaiting treatment. I was guided to the nurse in triage who took one at my foot and said she thought it might be broken. I was certainly in a lot of pain but didn’t remember any time I could have broken it – but an X-ray would give us the answer. She then shouted really loud for a wheelchair to be brought in. A couple minutes later a lady arrived with a wheelchair – already occupied by an older gentleman who was looking very perplexed. To my horror the nurse just tipped him out and pushed me into it! I tried to explain that he should stay but she was adamant that I needed to go to X-ray immediately. I was wheeled down, X-rayed and wheeled straight back to the nurse. The X-ray turned up within minutes and she declared that my foot was not broken but was a grade 3 sprain.
I was given anti-inflammatories and pain killers – but when I took my wallet out to pay I was told there was no charge. Guyana health is free. I was amazed – a really poor country like that with such a good and quick service. During this discussion, another elderly lady came in having breathing difficulties. I was then literally pulled out of the wheelchair and the lady pushed into it. I couldn’t help but laugh – there was obviously only one wheelchair in the hospital! I waited for Ian to come back in the taxi from customs and afterwards we tried to recall when I had sprained my foot but couldn’t remember any occasion in the previous few days when I had done it. It was a mystery.
We were in Guyana during the rainy season and wow did it rain. Every afternoon the clouds would come over and it would pour down for a while then clear up and the temperature would drop. We realised that if we were going to do anything it had to be in the morning so the next day Paul and Kirsten from Ikigai and us decided that we were going to take the dinghys to one of the islands and see if we could get ashore. We managed to walk for a while but the jungle was so thick we ended up turning back. We went around a couple of islands and saw quite a few derelict buildings and jetties.
We saw a small hut and waved at the guys sitting outside – they waved us over and invited us to visit. There were 4 of them but one of the guys actually lived in the hut and was the caretaker. They offered to take us arpund and we found out that this had once been a huge mill with over 300 families living and working on the island. The wood milled came from private plantations up river owned by the owners of the mill and sold all over the world. When we asked what had caused it to become redundant he told us that the owners were now in jail and all the workers sacked. Even though they speak English their accent has a very strong Carribean flavour and it was really hard to understand him but there was masses of timber lying around, all planked and ready to use so we assumed this abandonment wasn’t too long ago.
After our tour we were invited back to John’s hut and given lots of papayas. They grow all over the island and he takes the excess ones and sells them in the market. He also gave us all a local rum – El Dorado – he was sad to see us leave and promised to come and visit us both in our boats the next day.
True to his word he came by for a visit early the next morning. He visited both boats and both of us gave him a bottle of rum which I think he was very happy with!
Some facts about Guyana
- Guyana has vast natural resources including the newly found oil. This makes it one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
- Only has 780,000 inhabitants
- Has the largest single drop waterfall by volume in the world- The Kaieteur Falls.
- Is part of the Caribbean although is situated in South America
- Over 70% of Guyana is covered in tropical rain forest
- Gained notoriety when Jim Jones and 800 of his followers committed suicide – the Jonestown Massacre. The site is secret so no-one can visit.
- Guyana is the only English speaking country in South America
- Demerera sugar comes from Gyuana – named after the Demerera river.
- Has the largest otter in the world
Bartica is a medium sized town about 40 miles up the river and mainly serves the gold mining industry by taking them provisions on their boats. The only other main attraction was the Baracara waterfall so Paul & Kirsten and us took the dinghies up river to find the falls. We passed a resort – all closed up and then saw a solitary canoe sitting by the bank. He told us he had brought some local tourists up to see the falls and if we just followed our noses we could find them up the path. I’m not sure what we were expecting but when we found them I think we were a bit underwhelmed.
Our friends Mandy and Brett – SV Leventeia arrived from Suriname and so we all went out for lunch. There are no big supermarkets and the veg range was very limited because of the heavy rain every afternoon ruining their crops. There were some good hardware shops but we found ourselves quite limited for choice. That night we had a lovely night on Leventeia playing Mexican train dominoes and eating burgers – who needs restaurants!
We wanted to visit Sloth Island- famous for sighting the elusive Sloth. We dinghied over to the island to be met by the owner who kindly offered to take us round his wooden walkway through the jungle to see if we could see one. He was very interesting and very informative about all the flora but sadly no sloths. He had built this walkway so that guests could be much higher up to photograph the sloths and also to keep them dry! It was the second largest forest walkway canopy in Guyana and he was rightfully very proud of it.
Later on that day we decided to go and see if we could find an Amerindian village. We took the dinghy quite far upstream towards another island and came across a small but busy village. We asked the first lady we met if we could walk around and she said we were welcome. Surprisingly the village was called Falmouth! With all the brightly coloured wooden houses and the waterlogged green paddocks around them – it was very pretty place. There was the one obligatory shop, one extremely well maintained church, one cricket pitch with a sand wicket and a large primary school, all perched on the waters edge with lots of jetties in different states of repair. When we got to the school a man came out and asked us of we would like to come inside. As it was a Saturday we thought it would be empty but every seat was occupied by adults with 2 ladies seated at the teachers desk. The village chief, who was one of the ladies at the teachers table told us they were in the middle of a council meeting and every one from the village was there. We apologised for interrupting but they were very pleased to see us and welcomed us with open arms! They told us the school taught children from 3 to 12 and then they would go to Bartica by boat for high school.
We didn’t stay long but we were really impressed with the local schoolwork – it seemed to be a good standard.
We saw no cars but there was an old tractor there and most of the houses had water tanks. They washed their clothes in the river from the jetties and also their teeth as we saw toothbrushes and Colgate toothpaste in the plastic bucket. The water is clean but very black from the tannins caused by rotting vegetation on shore but their teeth were beautifully white so it couldn’t stain.
Our couple of weeks in Guyana were coming to an end. We had to have our COVID tests for our next country and check out so we had a final wander round Bartica. We had seem some absolutely huge mansions on the waterfront presumably belonging to people in the gold industry and very run down shacks in the back streets. Everyone has to get to this town by boat including all the cars so its a busy little harbour. There is a real mixture of cultures and religions and everyone seems to get along – they proudly call themselves mixed race. Guyana has been a wonderful surprising destination.