Across the great divide

Trip Start Jun 27, 2007
Trip End Sep 14, 2007

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Where I stayed
Takatu Guesthouse

Flag of Guyana  ,
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We rose early to catch the 10 am bus to the border town of Bomfim. A quick, comfortable two hours along smooth paved roads and we had arrived. We got in a taxi to take us down to the Takatu river which marks the border between Brazil and Guyana. Here a bridge is slowly being built to connect these two countries - the Brazilian side is almost complete but the Guyana side is barely started, perhaps a sign of things to come in a country which had attracted me by its supposed sheer lack of infrastructure - but for the moment, a canoe is still the a la mode way of crossing the border.
A short crossing later and we pulled into a Guyanese inlet. We waded through the shallow water and onto Guyanese soil where there were a few men and a couple of taxis waiting. It seemed very strange to hear a heavy Caribbean accented creole English in South America, even stranger when we climbed into the drivers seat of the taxi by mistake - they drive on the left in Guyana, how civilised! After changing a few Brazilian notes into large wads of Guyanese dollars, we headed to immigration where only after a lengthy questioning, just falling short of a cavity search, they stamped us in. Backpackers are obviously something they're not used to around here.
We headed into the centre of Lethem and found the Takatu guesthouse - a lovely little hotel where we had a delicious lunch of tangy chicken with rice, salad, and vegetables - yes, vegetables, it had been quite some time since I had eaten anything green - Latins are generally not too fond of them, and therefore don't bother, healthy eating is still an alien concept in most places of South America.
Lethem is a small town of some 8000 people spread out over a large area and lacking any focal point, such as a main square. It is a pleasant enough place though, with a pretty safe feel. It is set in the savannah grasslands of south-western Guyana with a stunning backdrop of the Kanuku mountains - apparently a wildlife-rich habitat full of waterfalls and beautiful scenery. I say apparently because, realising we had about 36 hours to kill until the bus left for Georgetown, we thought it would be a good idea to take a day trip up there. The only tour operator advertised seemed to be at the hotel, however none of the staff seemed to know anything about it. After several hours a man turned up and said he would see what he could find out and let me know - I never heard from him again. A big shame, and perhaps a realisation that any tours or trips would take a large sum of patience and perseverance.
Instead we contented ourselves by enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather, wandering the copper-red dirt tracks that contrasted beautifully with the bright green vegetation, eating well, and hitting a few bars.
Guyana is, according to most reports, a dangerous, anarchic, and lawless state with rampant crime, corruption, trafficking. However there was little evidence of that here in this laid-back town of incredibly friendly people. The only difficulty, aside from tour operator inefficiency, was understanding what people were saying.
On one occasion wandering around the town, chuckling at the amusing signs on the side of the road in Caribbean English, a couple of youths passed by:
"Yulass?" they asked me.
"I'm sorry what was that?" I replied
"Yulass?" they repeated
"Que?" I replied, thinking they might be speaking Portuguese
"Yulass?" they repeated a third time, smiling patiently.
It finally dawned on me they were asking me if I was lost.
"Oh right, no thank you" I answered, at which point they beamed at me and pedalled on.
We headed to catch the bus at 9 pm the following day to be told check-in wasn't open yet. We joined the crowd waiting to hop on the rickety looking bus that would take us the 18 hours through the wild interior and on to Georgetown. Good-natured patience was to be the key.
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