As well as some sightseeing, I had to apply for a Surinamese tourist card in Guyana. It would be the first country on this trip where I’d have to do something before arriving at the border (Cuba too, but that was just done at Cancun airport). One of the remnants of British rule is the dress code that exists in government buildings and the Surinamese embassy was no exception. I put on a pair of Curtis’ trousers, my ninja shoes and the shirt I’ve taken to riding in, and was let in without any problem. I paid my $25 application fee and was told to come back after lunch. I got changed to normal clothes to go wandering round Georgetown, and found myself going past the embassy in the afternoon on the way back to the house. I figured that if I was just picking up my passport, the dress code might not apply. I was very wrong. The security guard, who had been fairly amiable in the morning, started shouting at me and asking me what I was thinking turning up like that. I tried to get an apology in, but she just kept shouting so I left. A trip back to the house, to get changed, cleared it all up and she was just fine when I went back in ‘smart’ clothing. Bizarre.
Curtis flew out early Saturday morning, and I was going to leave then, but it got pushed back to Sunday when I was invited to a volunteer place with Isabel and Clive. It also meant I could get everything fully up to date on the blog, something that I’m always happy to achieve, and headed out early Sunday morning figuring I’d cover the 175km to the border in a couple of days. The stretch through Berbice, the area east of Georgetown is a stark contrast to the entrance to the country as it’s 175km that’s basically lined with houses nearly the whole way. Every km or so you pass a sign welcoming you to a new village, many with very English names including Manchester, Liverpool, Yeovil, Brighton and my birthplace of Leeds, and others called Rebeccas Lust, Perseverance, Bee Hive, Content, Lovely Lass, Calcutta, Letter T and Now or Never. I asked a few people, but never got a satisfactory answer as to why there are so many villages. It just seems completely excessive, considering so many of them don’t have streets off the main road.
One good thing about such a long sprawl of housing, is the people you meet. I had my earphones in, to help me ignore the headwind which will continue its torment at least all the way back to Brazil, and so missed a good few invites, but those that I went to were great. They were generally from people sat around drinking, be it the two older guys drinking coconut water and rich wine, a 69% alcohol that is probably only less than 70% so it can still be classed as a drink. We spent a good while talking cricket, as well as just about life in general, as they quizzed me about the England team from the 80s, which I know nothing about.
On the first evening, I was just short of New Amsterdam at about 5:30pm, which is on the other side of a bridge that you aren’t allowed to cycle over, when a delivery truck pulled up next to me and we started talking. Basil, the driver, and his assistant, Carlos, gave me a ride over the bridge, and while we were talking they said they could take me to a cheap hotel. When I said I was looking for a place to put my hammock or tent, they thought a bit longer, before saying I could string my hammock up in the back of a bigger truck back at the furniture they’d been making a delivery for. Perfect. I slung my hammock up and started reading (and therefore napping), while Basil went to finish things off for the day.
Basil had mentioned coming back, and he did at 8pm. We left my bike in the back of the truck, and he drove me to his house so I could shower. While at his house, I met his wife, and their two children. He had worked for a period on ships in Europe, but that had all been work and being in ports so he hoped that one day he’d be able to do it while travelling. We ate some curry, and drank some delicious tea, before he gave me a lift back to the truck.
I headed out from New Amsterdam around 6am, but the wind was already strong. It feels like I complain about the headwind a lot, but that’s probably because short of a couple of very short stretches of tailwind, or a bit of jungle where there’s just no wind, there’s been a headwind since Maracay in Venezuela, over 2000km ago. To cross from Guyana to Suriname you have to take a ferry, and they only run at 9am and 1pm. If I’d been pushing hard, I might have had a slight chance of making the 1pm ferry, but there was no reason to. So instead of spending all day killing myself trying to catch a ferry, I went with the more enjoyable idea of stopping at people who waved at me.
I stopped a bunch of times, the first one being when a table of men waved me over. It was before 10am on a Monday morning, and they’d already made it through 8 bottles of wine since starting at 7:30am. They called it their communion. We spent the best part of an hour sat round drinking their red wine with energy drink combination, before I had to leave so I wouldn’t get drunk. They were all men, ranging in age from their mid 20s to their early 60s and told me they’d probably be there until 2:30pm or so. They were mainly construction workers, and had work to go to at some stage, but maybe the next day. They all welcomed me as their friend and brother, especially the rasta who kept saying one love.
My second stop, about an hour later, was when I was waved down by Denise, a baker in her 40s living and working next to Wellington Park Primary School. I saw her wave at me, so I pulled over. She had pointed at Viola, the head teacher at the school who had spent 7 weeks in England, saying Viola could tell me about England as she herself had never left Guyana. I replied letting her know that I’d like to hear about Guyana. Within a minute, I’d been invited in and she introduced me to her family as her husband, fast moving!
Denise was preparing pastries and we chatted for a while until Viola, the head teacher, came over. As often happens when I mention that I eat lots of crackers, they seemed horrified and took it upon themselves to feed me. Denise gave me a bowl of rice and some curry, while Viola got a student to go and fetch me a styrofoam box from the canteen filled with food that I could have for dinner. We spoke for a while, before she had to vanish as it was lunch time, and then I was invited in to the school to talk to the other teachers who had lots of questions about my trip, including asking me if I had a girlfriend and if I had a problem with other races. When the lunch break was over, Viola gave me a plastic bag with a huge number of biscuits and boxes of fruit juices to keep me going.
Back at Denise’s place I was given a bag filled with the freshly cooked pastries, adding to the K2-sized pile of carbs that I’d received. We spoke for a while longer, and she especially liked when she was told by her friend that I’d said that I’d not had a girlfriend until arriving there, but now had a wife. Viola, the head teacher, was also trained to perform weddings, but I said that unfortunately not only did we not have rings, but it wouldn’t be possible without my mum or granny there. After a couple of hours, it was time to leave, even though the complete lack of sun meant it was miserably hot, and I was told that next time I passed through I should bring my mum.
The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful. I was stopped by a few people, including one who sang hymns and recited Christian poetry to me, and another who just got confused when I told him about how far I’d travelled. Some police that I spoke to mentioned a health care centre just before the dock at Moleson Creek, but I decided that I’d ask at the fire station at Corriverton first. It turned out to be a success and I was welcomed in and told that I could put my hammock up wherever I liked. I got to hear about the problems of being a firefighter in Guyana, mainly that the stations are hugely understaffed. In the last 10 years the staff has barely gone up, from 400 to 425, but 6 new stations have opened. The station at Corriverton only had a crew of 3 per shift, even though it should have 6 – 5 to man the truck and one to stay at the station.