Friday and Saturday were both available for walking around Georgetown. We went to the hotel breakfast which despite the fanciness and relative high price of the hotel, was exceedingly minimal. There were three tables set up, and each of them was almost empty. One had a dish of fruit salad. One had toast. And one had coffee and pineapple juice. The coffee was the “brown water” described in the Guyana guidebook, also quite popular across most of America, at least before the era of Peets and Starbucks. Sigh. I suffered through the coffee and we got ready to go explore.
The UK Foreign Office website expresses concern about the safety of its citizens in Georgetown, listing areas where one shouldn’t walk. (They weren’t concerned about Sebring, Florida, which actually had pipe bombs.) The lady at the hotel mentioned that indeed one of the areas the UK mentioned was a bit rough, and identified a street not to walk past in order to stay out of it. We never saw or had any problems in our walks around town, although the newspaper mentioned that a man had been murdered by the mall at 3 AM the day before we walked past there.
The downtown has quite a bit of colonial architecture, also showing quite a bit of fading in its glory. We walked to the Iwokrama office and paid for our transport to the lodge; looked at a lighthouse but were told the stairs were broken and that there were no tours; visited the museum of anthropology; couldn’t find our way into Promenade Gardens; found the Oasis Cafe. The Oasis Cafe is just that, a nice little place with not only air conditioning but also an espresso machine, and decent brewed coffee and a nice selection of pastries and sandwiches as well. After we stepped out of the Oasis back into the humid desert, we saw the cathedral, claiming to be the world’s largest wooden church. Wooden flying buttresses and all. And it may well be. From there we found the philatelic desk and bought some postcard stamps, and explored the National Museum of Guyana, which was mostly natural history with a few other knickknacks like a description of the magenta penny stamp which is now worth $9M US, and the printing press on which it was struck. They also have a full size model of a Megatherium, and in a back room which wasn’t locked but wasn’t advertised either, a stack of portraits including one of the Queen of England as a young woman, in which she is depicted wearing hot pink lipstick. It’s an official looking portrait but with this weird touch of Andy Warhol. No idea where it came from.
We found the gate into Promenade Gardens, and after a brief promenade and watching kiskadees bathe, we went to Shanta’s, a delightful Indian-food lunch counter, where we had a fish curry and rice cooked up with calaloo, a local vegetable. I had mauby drink, made from a bitter bark, but with plenty of sugar added. It was quite unusual.
Saturday we started out at Oasis cafe, bypassing the hotel breakfast. We briefly walked through the colonial-style Stabroek market, then found ourselves on the main shopping street, then walked out to the 1763 monument, then walked around the botanical gardens, which were well-enough attended that the UK’s warning about them seemed like it wouldn’t apply. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the room, and had the hotel’s dinner, a simple rice cook-up with some grilled fish. We went to sleep early.
Sunday we set the alarm for 5:30am, as our ride to Iwokrama River Lodge arrived at 6. Andre took us in his 4×4 on a drive originally advertised as 8hr which ended up taking 6hr. The first 1.5 hours were on decent paved roads and went by easily; the next 2.5 hours were on a rutted dirt road, and were somewhat annoying, at least for Andre. The last two hours were on a completely smooth dirt road capable of supporting 50mph with few exceptions. The road led to the bank of the Essequibo river, Guyana’s largest and longest, and the third longest river in South America, after the Amazon and the Orinoco. A boat from the lodge, located just across the river, came and picked us up, and soon we were ensconced in our room and then presented with lunch.
Iwokrama is a million-hectare plot of land in the Guyanese rainforest, whose mission basically seems to be to preserve it. Ecotourism is one way of doing this, and sustainable logging appears to be another. Who knows which is actually less damaging to the forest. We juggled our schedule a bit to fit in a visit: the previous few days they were full. It turns out that the four nights we are here that we are the only guests. That worked OK in Botswana, but it seems weird here. There’s a special table that serves meals to guests, and there is enough food for maybe four guests, and the two plates for just us to fill up. There’s another person staffing the bar at dinnertime, in case someone orders drinks (we didn’t the first two nights). Anyway, we do have our guide’s undivided attention, which is nice. Sunday afternoon we took a short walk before sunset on a trail by the lodge; we didn’t see much, especially because it got dark rather quickly.
Monday started with a one-hour drive to the Canopy Walkway, an attraction at a nearby lodge located on Iwokrama land. There were several birds spotted by the driver and guide along the way, which we noted. As we walked to the canopy, there were a few birds to see, especially the white-plumed antbird, which has a spectacular vertical white plume behind its face. The Canopy Walkway used to be four platforms high in the trees, connected by bridges. Unfortunately, a recent rainstorm felled the third platform, so now there are only two platforms to go see. Unlike our previous canopy walk in Tasmania, we were able to see many birds up on this one. Even our young guide, who has been doing this for two years, saw two species he hadn’t seen before. One viewable from the canopy was the Screaming Piha, which we heard constantly all the way up to the canopy, and on the walk the next day as well.
After coming back down from the canopy, we drove a bit further south to the Cock of the Rock trail. The Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock is an entirely bright orange bird with a comical head in the shape of a vertical disc. It is somewhat reclusive, and one going to see it is by no means guaranteed that they will see one. They tend to live near large rock formations, where they build nests. We walked up to the big rock formation, and our guide played little recordings of its mating sound over and over, and not one but four of these strange birds showed up to see if there actually was a hen around. (The guide said he also saw a hen flying around.) We marveled at them, took some pictures, and went back to the lodge for a very late lunch, followed soon afterwards by dinner.
Most of Tuesday was spent on a walk up Turtle Mountain. A boat took us down the river a ways, including through a small navigable rapids. We saw three kinds of kingfishers and several other birds from the boat. It was a nice three-mile walk up to the top, seeing several birds along the way. From the top there was an amazing view of the top of the rainforest on both sides of the river, and a beautiful orange-breasted falcon was enticed to join us as well. After another late lunch, we got back in the boat just before sunset, saw some petroglyphs in nearby rocks, mostly describing the fishing conditions and warning about dangerous rapids just upstream. Kids from a village played in those rapids, and the peacefulness of the river and beauty of the sunset made for a nice ride back. It was also Ray’s birthday.
Wednesday was a day off. Early in the morning we walked along the trail close to the lodge, hoping to see capuchin birds. We heard some, but ended up not really seeing anything. We spent the rest of the day relaxing. Ray wrote postcards. In the evening, we met with Kevin, the tourism director of the Iwokrama institute who showed us a PowerPoint presentation of the projects they do, including not only ecotourism and sustainable logging, but also serving as a model for the other 98% of the Guyanese rainforest, which faces much pressure to allow mining and logging and fishing. They also provide training to people interested in conservation or tour guiding or whatever. The presentation was very interesting, but could probably use a bit of editing.