Today we arrived in Macapa, Brazil. We expected the bus ride from the border town with French Guyana to be a 12 hour ride, but it turned into a hellish 30 hours with frequent breakdowns and problems. For example, we were bogged in deep mud for 7 hours last night. The other passangers intermittently slept, debated loudly about how to get the bus out of the bog and wadded through the 2 foot of water/mud surrounding the bus trying to push it out. Eventually, at daylight our salvation came in the form of a heavily laden but powerful Merceedes truck.
From the Amazon we crossed Brazil into the town of Lethem just inside (´British´) Guyana. Since Guyana has a reputation for violence, we were alarmed when our taxi driver just inside the border pulled out a gun and stuffed it down his pants while saying, ´Don´t be alarmed´. Luckily he was harmless, an ex-teacher and quite friendly! Actually, all the people we met in Guyana were extremely friendly. The country is a fascinating mix of roughly half subcontinent Indians (previously indentured workers), half AfroGuyanese (previously slaves) and about 5% Amer-Indians (the term used locally to distinguish Native Americans from subcontinent Indians). The people speak a great Creole version of English that is difficult to understand but utilizes a wonderful vocabulary ´Why you always on me bones, fat man?´ I heard our mini bus driver tell another man one day when he was annoyed with him.
Guyana is such a small place that most educated people seem to have several jobs. Our tour guide in Lethem claimed to produce the pop Guyanese music we heard on the radio, a peanut farmer we spent a day with ran some hotels. The owner of the local bar was the area´s parliamentarian. (I use the word ´bar´ loosely - after you buy a beer in her shop you can sit on the wall outside and drink your beer with everyone else.)
We spent our first three days in Guyana waiting for a bus to leave for the capital (Georgetown). Since the town was tiny, we thought it would be a long wait, but we had the good fortune to meet some American peanut scientists from the University of Georgia who were there doing an US AID project. They were very friendly and let us follow them to farms, a school and out of the way Amer-Indian villages. We had a ball! The peanut farmers they were helping were all practicing slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon. It was weird to see in practice something that we hear so much about at home. Their fields were generally recently burnt tree stumpts with rows of peanuts between them. Because they can´t afford fertilizer, a slashed and burnt field only produces a crop or three at the most before they have to move to the next field.
Our bus ride to Georgetown was another hellish but beautiful 24 hour ride through undisturbed primary jungle. We took a day tour of the capital and were lucky enough to find a flight out to the world class Kaitheur Falls. Kaitheur Falls are in the middle of the country and are accessible only by plane. Supposedly the biggest single drop falls in the world (over 700m), they are visited by less than one small plane a day. We visited them at the height of their flow (middle of rainy season) and had unusual luck with totally clear weather - the falls were spectacular. We spent several hours hiking through beautiful jungle to the various viewpoints with the other 7 passengers on our plane. Flying out the pilot cut the power shortly after lift off, causing the plane to nose dive sharply over the side of the gorge containing the falls. The student behind me yelled ´DUDE!!! TELL ME YOUR KIDDING!!´. I shared his panic but power was restored and we enjoyed a low level flight back to Georgetown over the rainforest.
From Guyana we traveled along the coast to Suriname, an old Dutch colony with similar demographics. The capital Paramaribo has a well restored downtown area that is a world heritage site. We visited an awesome National Park called Brownsberg where we spent a couple days hiking the trails and chatting with the multitude of zoologists doing work there (apparently it has an unusual density of monkey species). After Brownsberg we visited Galibi Reserve, which is supposedly the best place in the world to see leatherback turtles. A 3 hour boat ride from the closest town put us in a hut right on the beach. When dark arrived we spent several hours walking the beach and watching HUGE leatherback turtles (the shells were over 1.5m long) waddle up onto shore, use their flippers to dig an 80cm deep hole and then lay 80 eggs before covering the hole and doing a ritual `dance` over and around the nest. The whole process took at least an hour. We watched six leatherbacks nest that night and the next morning. It was a very moving experience.
From Suriname we breezed quickly through French Guiana. Stopping only at Karou and the capital Cayene. Karou is the home of the European Space Agency, where over half of all commercial satellites are launched. We did an interesting tour of the complex. The most interesting thing about French Guiana is that it is still French! Everyone born there has French citizenship, they use the Euro and flights to Paris are considered ínternal´. Unfortunately for us, French Guiana also has French prices, hence our haste to leave... In all 3 of the ´Guyana´s´ we saw only 3 other backpackers. Just being there was a novel experience. Now, however, we are looking forward to the fabled beaches and Afro-Brazilian towns of northern Brazil.
Hope to hear from you soon!