Woke up in Mario’s house. His family had been so accommodating, taking in a big ginger stray like me for the night and looking after me on my trip through Venezuela. I can’t thank them enough. I headed back to the bus terminal and jumped on the first bus to Santa Elena on the border with Brazil.
Oh, you might be looking at the map and wondering why I can’t just enter Guyana from Venezuela. I wondered that too. Well, that would be because Venezuela for some god-only-known reason thinks that it owns Guyana. Yep – it’s marked on maps and ‘Land to be reclaimed’!
Never mind that it has been a British colony since 1796 (before then it was Dutch and before then Arawak – the native people of the land). Never mind that it has never been Venezuelan, ever, or that it’s people speak English, are part of the British Commonwealth and play CRICKET for goodness sake!
Stupid Venezuela. Silly, silly Venezuela. Guyana is an independent nation and nothing to do with you. Get over it you bunch of oil-rich weirdos.
On the bus, I got chatting to a wonderful old dude called Francisco. He was 81 years old, his parents were from Trinidad, he was born in Venezuela, his wife was from Grenada and he now lives in Washington DC, where he will be selling flags for inauguration day next week. He reckons five million people are going to turn up. A good day for flag sellers – a great day for mankind. I only wish the incoming President got to ceremonially kick the outgoing President up the behind with a pointy shoe.
So we headed up into the Grand Savannah – an area of Venezuela filled with vast flat mountains – tepuis – like gigantic loaves of bread or Ayres Rock grown by several hundred miles outward. Covered in grass, these vast plains-on-top-of-mountains are the home of the Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world – 16 times higher than Niagara. The only way to see it is to fly or hike for days, so it’s not on my itinerary this time.
The driver was powering along the road like a man possessed and I thought I was making good time.
But Venezuela had one last trick up its evil little sleeve – the border closed at 7pm. I got there at 7.15pm.
So not only could I not continue to Boa Vista in Brazil for an early start on Guyana in the morning, I had to stay on the border in an overpriced prison cell, sorry, “hotel”. The shower was cold, my room smelt of turnip and thank god mosquitoes don’t like me much or I’d be downing the quinine like a man possessed.
Damn! Why does this keep happening? If the border closed three hours previously, it wouldn’t be so frustrating.
Got up nice and early after a surprising restful sleep and headed to the border. I was first to be stamped through and I headed to the nearest bank to get some Brazilian Reals. Only the bank doesn’t take foreign cards, so now I’m in the back of a shared taxi on the two-hour journey to Boa Vista on a wing and a prayer and a promise that I’ll pay the taxi driver after we find a bank that will take my cards.
Luckily enough for me, I’m sitting next to a particularly yummy mummy from Brazil who keeps breast feeding her six month old baby Jojo. Not the most unpleasant seatmate of the Odyssey I have to say. Oh, she’s doing it again – don’t look, don’t look, don’t… oh, bugger it, this is GREAT! Welcome to Brazil!
It’s almost enough to make me forget about the fact I’m about to enter Guyana, a country endearingly called ‘Conradian’ in it’s own tourist material. As in Joseph Conrad. As in Hearts of Darkness.
Well, at least they speak English. Top Hats at dawn old chap?
Wish me well x
Heading north out of Brazil, I was more concerned with the fact that I couldn’t get on the bloody Internet in Boa Vista, to be too concerned about the road ahead. I got to the border – a brand spanking new bridge connecting South America to Guyana was having its finishing touches added, the guy taking me across the river in a little motor boat told me that it opens next month.
But there is something to be said for taking the boat – it’s a magical moment when you step onto the far bank – you suddenly find yourself in the Caribbean. Goodbye Spanish, driving on the right, the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwiches – hello spicy food, reggae beats and lashings of good old fashioned cricket.
Although part of the South American mainland, Guyana very much identifies itself with its northern, more islandy neighbours – it’s part of the Caribbean Community and it doesn’t have much to do with its continental acquaintances down south. This might change when the road to Georgetown is sealed, but until then it’s a bumpy, rickety wet and wild ride up through the jungle from Brazil.
I stumbled into the first place I could find – a café-bar called T&M. Coaxed in by a large lady sitting behind a desk, she changed my money, got my passport stamped, arranged my minibus to Georgetown, fed me dinner and passed me an ice-cold beer.
Hooray for Guyana!
Hopped on the minibus at about 6.00pm. Bumped up and down for a couple of hours before we all got off the bus, hired a hammock and were told to go to sleep in a wooden gazebo in the middle of malaria central. Express service is not something Guyana is used to…