Georgetown to Mabaruma
Trip Start Oct 30, 2010
49Trip End Aug 27, 2011
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We left Friday morning (it was Easter weekend so we had Friday to Monday off), and were to meet at Stabroek market at 6am to get a seat on the #32 bus to Parika. Once I arrived, Esther called me to tell me that she just woke up, and that she would be there soon. As I waited, I was a approached by a man who told me he was a "hustler", and I was then subsequently saved from probably being relieved of all my belongings by him by what I suspect was a drug addict who told me he ran out of ink for his tattoos so he just made cuts he filled with ink instead (ahhh too much information!!!). I suddenly "realized my phone was ringing" and pretended to be going to meet Esther a couple of blocks over. I decided my best course of action was to keep moving (aka walk around in circles) until Esther arrived. An hour later, I was back at the #32 buses as a sleepy eyed Esther approached. We hopped into the bus, which resulted in it becoming filled, and we were off, begining our some 250km journey to Mabaruma (the buses are privately run so they don't leave on a schedule, but leave once the buses are at capacity instead).
Our first drop was 45 minutes away, Parika, at the mouth of the Esiquibo river. We paid the driver the $400 fare ($2US), and in order to continue further along the West coast by road, we had to cross the river to Supenaam which is a 20-25 minute speed boat ride that costs $1200GYD. Luckily there seems to be people needing to cross from one side to the other quite frequently, so as soon as we loaded on the boat we were able to leave. Once we arrived in Supenaam, we headed down the coastal road by shared car ($1000 per person, 1 hour) to Charity which is the furthest west you can get by road in Guyana. At this point we needed to make a decision as to whether or not we would have transport and enough money to get to Mabaruma to check out Shell Beach, or if we would have to settle for a day trip for swimming to a nearby lake and then go home. At the stelling (a Guyanese? term for harbour), we talked to a man named Johnny from Chelsey's Speed boat services (615-4020 or 687-7014) who assured us that it would be possible to get transport from Charity to Santa Rosa (also known as Moruca) and back for a reasonable amount of money, and that someone was going to Mabaruma that day so we could chat with the driver and find out how much that might cost (It's not a highly frequented route, so the prices are high and schedules work according to demand). The trip to Moruca itself cost $3,000GYD each which is about US$15 and a bargain considering the next leg would cost us $50 each ($10,000GYD). The trip took us down the Pomeroon river, out into the open ocean and then back into the mainland over another river which winded through tree tunnels, mangroves, and zig-zagged through open savanna lined with palm trees and wild life. If that was all we were able to do during our trip that weekend, I would have been satisfied. That 1.5 hour experience speeding down the river on a motor boat, seeing nothing but nature and river homes was unforgettable
When we arrived in Santa Rosa, we met another boat driver by the name of Sean (699-4926) who was going up to Mabaruma that day with another set of passengers and would likely be able to take us back later in the weekend. We were trying to get up to Mabaruma in order to meet up with some other tourists we heard would be chartering a boat from there to Shell beach. Shell beach is is a nesting site for four of the eight known sea turtle species in the world, and there is a conservation area we were hoping to get to in order stay overnight and potentially sea a giant sea turtle emerge from the water to lay her eggs. Shell beach also comprises the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline on the entire South American continent, which would make for a the most genuine eco-tourism experience of its kind. Since it sounded as though we would potentially have transport back with Sean as well, and we had just enough money to do the trip, we decided to make the trek.
The 3.5-4 hour boat ride was absolutely stunning. The river became narrower and the trees more dense, the the turns became sharper and more frequent, and in areas the water was so black, that the reflection of trees made it seem as though we were floating through the air in a tunnel of foliage. We saw only a handful of boats pass us (the rivers are the roadways for communities in this region), many of which consisted of solid wood canoes, carved out by hand, an ancient tradition of several Amerindian groups across Guyana. Region 1 (Barima-Waini) is home to the Carib, Arawak and Warau ethnic groups who have lived in Guyana for hundreds of years. Many Amerindian families still live a predominantly traditional lifestyle in this remote region as the majority of the ride consisted of untouched nature, with a few homes lodged on the river bank interspersed every several dozen kms. People that far away from even the villages of Moruca or Mabarauma must live mostly off the land in these remote households, as there are no roads connecting Region 1 to larger urban areas with markets, and expensive river transport is the only means of transportation. As we passed by these homes on the river (which I was not quick enough to capture on my camera), I tried to imagine living so far from modern conveniences and what a life like that would entail. Although I know almost nothing of them, the resilience and resourcefulness of these remote households must be truly astounding.
Once we arrived in Kumaka (the nearest village on the river to Mabaruma) it was close to 5pm. We jumped in a mini-bus which would take us up the hill to Mabaruma (maybe a 1-2km trip) and got to the Government Guest house where we would spend the night. We arrived just after they finished cooking dinner and there are no other restaurants in Mabaruma, so we had to go back down the hill to Kumaka to get some food (our first real meal of the day since we spent the entire morning and afternoon traveling along the water [and getting a sunburn]). We decided to walk down as the sun was setting, and got a breathtaking view of wooden homes perched along the edge of the hill, overlooking thousands of acres of untouched rain-forest. We even passed by a home which had a blue and yellow macaw sitting outside on a roost, as though he was guarding the house like the family dog.
Luckily the one restaurant in town was open so we ate our dinner (fried chicken and Cook-up) and asked around about the other potential tourists who were supposed to be traveling to Shell Beach as well (we found out from a tour operator over the phone during the planning stages of our trip that they were to be flying in that weekend to do the same trip). We had no luck locating them, so went back to the stelling to try to charter a boat for ourselves, but we kept getting prices that were far beyond our price range ($40,000-$46,000GYD = $200 - $230US) despite attempts to bargain them down. We actually did not have enough money to pay that amount, even if we had wanted to, so we decided to spend the day in Mabaruma the next day, and potentially travel to Shell beach with our Moruca-Mabaruuma boat driver on Sunday who said he might be going there on that day.
After a fairly restless sleep due to the hall lights being left on all night (there were large cut outs in the wall near the ceiling to increase air circulation) and a fear of having my bed infested by mice and cockroaches (when I went to the washroom in the middle of the night I saw a creature I cannot fathom to have been a cockroach because it was so large it was almost the size of my foot, and in addition to the incessant squeaking there was also mouse poop everywhere all over the floor), we woke up, went down for breakfast and decided to take a hike to a nearby waterfall. We took a rest and went for a swim in the river, and by the time we were ready to go back up the steep path, a 10 minute monsoon rain hit which made the trek back to the bus stop much cooler. We took the bus down to Kumaka, ate lunch and jumped on a bus back up the hill past Mabaruma to kissing rock. Kissing rock is just two rocks leaning against each other so they look like they are kissing.... that's all (Mabaruma's tourist attractions are few and far between aside from the picturesque village itself).
When we returned to the guest house, we tried to call Sean about taking us to shell beach but he was already on the way back to Moruca! He told us he would go to Shell beach with us for an overnight trip on Sunday, but only if we could make our way back to Moruca to meet him. We quickly went back down to Kumaka to try to arrange transport back to Moruca, but again chartering our own boat would cost $40,000GYD! Luckily a boat driver that happened to be at the stelling from another nearby town called Kaituma said a boat was leaving Kaituma for Moruca the next morning, and we could hitch a ride with them (Kumaka was more or less on the way).
We endured one more night in the mouse palace, and got up early to get back to Moruca. We barely had enough money to pay for transport to get out of Mabaruma, check out Shell beach and then get home the next morning, so we had to forgo breakfast and live off off of the roti we had left over from the night before and a few cookies and crackers all day long. Our boat driver to Moruca was even more of a speed fiend than Sean, and got us back in 3 hours. Our boat was a party boat and the whole time our co-passengers were drinking and snacking and one even saw a hug caiman (alligator), so I was hoping it was a drunken illusion rather than a true threat to our lives (although they do exist all over Guyana)!
Once we arrived in Moruca, we met with Sean who said he would take us to a nearby part of shell beach just for a few hours instead of overnight as we had planned because he needed to get back to Charity for 7am the next morning. This was slightly disappointing because it therefore became highly unlikely that we would see any sea turtles, but because we had already spent so much money to get as far as we did, and Shell Beach was our ultimate goal, we decided to fork out the cash and check it out even if we could only spend an hour there before it got too dark to return. The coastline was truly beautiful, although the open ocean itself was not that attractive or pleasant to ride on (the silt in this area causes the water to look like coffee with milk and going over waves on a speed boat is not that nice on your ass lol), but the trees, beach and wildlife were amazing (we even got to see a flock of bright red birds soaring over the tree-line and dipping down over the ocean, synchronized like a kite fluttering in the wind).
When we arrived at the beach, we got out of the boat and explored a few hundred meters of coast line and came upon a group of fisherman who were camping out there. The only signs of human activity were a couple of straw huts and the unfortunate pieces of trash left behind by them. Sean mentioned that the only way to find turtles would be to sharpen a stick and begin poking into the ground until an egg was impaled. That certainly wasn't going to happen given that sea turtles are endangered so I was content to just stroll along the beach, collecting shells (the name is no mis-nomer, Shell Beach is FULL of in-tact seashells) and taking pictures. Esther tried to take a short cut back to the boat, and fell into a big patch of quick sand so she got the added benefit of a mud bath. After she washed off (to the best of her ability.. remember the water is equally as muddy) and Sean picked some wild papaya from a tree for us, we were back on the road... well the ocean.
The trip back to Moruca with the sun setting was beautiful, but not as phenomenal as our departure back to Charity the next day. We left at 5:30am, and the open savanna along the winding river with sun rising above us was a sight that will likely be hard to beat. When we arrived in Charity, we hopped in a taxi back to Supenaam, crossed the river back to Parika and were back in Georgetown before 10am with just enough money to take a mini-bus back to our respective houses. In my opinion the weekend was a great success and we still had enough time to cook and prepare for an Easter Monday BBQ at the National Park. I feel very lucky to have had that experience as remote as it was. I wonder what it will be like traveling through Guyana 20 years from now when surely "eco-tourism" gets wind of the coveted beauty and marketability of the region. Despute my better judgement, I hope it won't be a cause for concern.