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Enjoy some pictures of the worldrecordtour, taken in Guyana - Part 1: Rupununi

Part 2: Iwokrama

Part 3: Georgetown

       
 
 
Guyana Map

 

 

 
 
Map of the Guyanas

 

click a picture to see details

 

 

 

Ferry crossing over the
Takutu River into Guyana
The wheels of our LandCruiser are
disinfected with an archaic device
Thatched roofed Amerindian
house in South Rupununi
 
Guyana"Land of many Waters"
 
 
"RUPUNUNI" (Part 1: Lethem - Annai)

As the simple pontoon is crossing slowly the border river Takutu, which separates Brazil from Guyana, the anticipated joy to explore the mysteries of this virgin rain forest, which covers together with the vast plains of the Rupununi Savannah 80% of the country, is intensifying. Finally, we are on our way to a new adventure. There is no customs house, as we disembark, only a single man who is spraying the tires of our LandCruiser with an old device and asks us to step into a bowl of disinfectant before we enter his land – a procedure we have gone through in Africa many times. The only difference here is that it is free of charge, what shows us that we are definitely not on a classic tourist path, rather “off the beaten track”.

Family on a Sunday
excursion in Lethem
A cashew nut plant with its
distinctive red fruit on a river bed
Daily scene at a
shallow river in Lethem
 

Thatched roofs of Amerindian settlements are scattered in the grassland of the Rupununi Savannah as we make our way through an earthy track full of potholes to the small border settlement of Lethem, where we have to look for the immigration and customs authorities. The first one we find in one of three white painted houses close to the hospital. He is tall, of African origin and bold, and with his blue Bermuda shorts and slippers of the same color and his uncovered chest he looks everything else than a government officer. Only, as he takes two entry forms out of a black case lying on his orderly kitchen table, we know that we are at the right place. While we fill them out, he disappears. First we hear the sharpening of knifes, then the sound of frying and very soon we are surrounded by aromatic smelling food – lunch time is approaching! “Where are you staying in Georgetown?” is his first question on his return. We give the address of the Meridien Pegasus, the most expensive hotel in town. From earlier experiences we know that this helps sometimes at borders. And we are right: Without any further questions he stamps our passports for a one month’s stay.

 

The vast Rupununi savanna is
interrupted by palm groves
School children in uniform in Annai
Annai, the Amerindian settlement
at the rainforest border
 

At another location, in a room of the Takutu Guesthouse, the customs officer has his office. As we present him our car papers he looks at his watch and tells us to come back in two hours. In the meantime, we have plenty of time to hang around in Lethem with its distinguished Wild West character. It does not take long until we realize what is expecting us during the next 360 miles. The high wheeled English Bedfords, which arrive from the capital, speak a clear language with their “Camel Trophy Look”. Also the friendly drivers asked about the road condition agree unanimously: “Very rough” - but all think that we should make it with our winch. Some of them offer us spontaneously to join them in a convoy. But we are not really fond of this well-meant idea. Firstly, they drive mostly also during the night while we would like to see the landscape, and secondly, we could hardly keep up with their speed and their careless way of driving and we do not want to put our heavily loaded LandCruiser at risk. Therefore, we decide to drive first the 75 miles earth track to the next Amerindian settlement of Annai, where the rain forest starts, and check out the situation personally. Before we leave, we have to register at the police station. Our identification is written into a big book – merely a routine procedure, we are told. Nevertheless, this gives us the feeling that we are embarking on an adventurous journey, as since the Sahara crossing it did not happen again to us.

 

"Our" jungle river in Lethem where
we daily enjoy a refreshing bath
A glorious sunset in the Savannah
Morning mist announces a new day
 

The sun is already high when we set out. First, the gravel road is pretty good; it then gets more and more corrugated and turns into a bad washboard track. We mostly are forced to drive in the second gear. The deep ruts caused by the overloaded Bedford’s do not allow us to “fly over” with a high speed – we are simply too heavy and our vehicle would become uncontrollable. The good thing about it is that we have enough time to quietly watch the scenery passing by. It is a fascinating world - this vast savannah, smoothly undulated in yellow and gray stretching to the horizon, dotted with hundreds of wonderfully elaborated termite hills, looking like Christmas trees, some higher than a man can reach, all the same color as the soil. Now and then we see small palm groves and scattered isolated cattle ranches of Scottish descendents along the way. And again and again we have to balance over treacherous broken and rotten wooden bridges which cross the many dark, tree fringed rivers. As we approach the first forested hills near Annai - the next Amerindian settlement - we are hopeful and confident again that we can continue the journey on our own to Georgetown. Despite of the approaching night, we are not yet in the mood to stop. We keep driving until suddenly and abruptly the Savannah ends and the rain forest begins; and with it the first four foot deep mud hole appears. Keeping the breath, we balance over it carefully. We made it! But our joy is not for long as just afterwards it begins to pour down heavily. But what if it does not stop again and we get stuck right here? Suddenly, the only place we want to be is on a “safe” soil again. Not lingering around, we face the deep mud hole for the second time. Back on hard ground we have nothing to worry about for the moment; moreover we find right away a protected camping spot at the edge of the rain forest. A bird, disturbed by our arrival, shrills excitedly and flies nervously from tree to tree before it finally settles down again. Then it gets silent.

 

The red earth track winds its
way through the Rupununi
The Center of Lethem gets crowded
when an airplane is landing
An intensive rainbow
over the Rupununi plains
 

The heavy tropical rain continues during the whole night. Once in a while we hear the roaring of trucks, which force their way through the mud. Next morning – inspecting the road’s mess - our courage to plunge into this muddy adventure fades away and we decide to get first hand information at the Rock View Lodge in Annai, which is only seven miles away. During the next days, we camp under a big fig tree in the beautiful garden of the lodge and question every Bedford driver coming from Georgetown. They all stop here to recover from the strenuous journey. The more we ask, the more we have to realize that – besides of the narrow road tires – our main problem will be the heavy load on the roof rack and thus the danger of tipping over, as apparently the Bedford tracks have to be criss-crossed several times, which with their 15.5-80R20-tires (46.5 in. high/14 in. wide) are not at all small. Mostly towing through the 3 to 4 ft. deep and approx. 2 ft. wide ditches can be done with brutal force only. This is also confirmed by the four drivers coming from the capital with nearly empty LandCruiser pickups, who are on a fishing trip. Without exception, all of them had to be pulled through at the most critical sections and all agree that there is no way for us momentarily to succeed for the following reasons: 1. clearance too low (our springs are below the axle and they all have the springs above the axles); 2. too heavy; 3. gasoline tank too low, would most probably tear off when towed through the deep ditches. 4. too “frail”. We were told that sometimes up to five Bedfords are being connected by iron bars to cross the countless mud holes. Despite of all these negative forecasts, we still do not want to give up and as a first step, we take down our heavy load from the roof rack and store it in the interior, where we usually sleep. From now on, we pitch up our Igloo tent.

 

A tame Agouti in
Annai Lodge
Vivid sunset colors in the
grassland of the Savanna
Luxurious climbing plant on a
river bed in South Rupununi
 
On the third day, we discover a “Rotel-Tours” bus with 20 passengers on the other side of the lodge. It is a German based company which travels around in more than 100 countries with its red “Hotels on Wheels”. We have seen them on all the continents, but never ever expected to see them in this remote place– we feel to have a dream. What are they doing here? Very quickly we get in contact with them. We learn that the passengers flew into Manaus in Brazil and booked for a pioneer trip to the three Guyanas – exactly what we have in mind too. Markus, the driver, and Klaus, the guide, cannot believe what they are told about the disastrous road conditions ahead, but hired already preventively a Bedford truck in Lethem as a recovery and back-up vehicle. Now, before leaving with the all the people towards the jungle, they want to check the conditions with their own eyes, particularly also the wooden and fragile bridges, which are supposed to carry only 10 tons as their bus weighs 20. Tomorrow it is foreseen to drive with the rented Bedford truck for about three hour’s direction north. And we are able to join them. What we see goes beyond description and further than any imagination. It is a complete nightmare of mud. In the second deep hole, for us comparable with the worst mud hole in former Zaire in Africa (and it is said to be one of the smaller ones), a Bedford driver is knee-deep in the mud trying to fix the broken differential. Another truck is sliding along a mud wall. The first to react is Markus, “I feel sick” we hear him say. For him, the whole project is falling apart this very moment. There is no more doubt: The trip of “Rotel Tours” to the three Guyanas has failed! There is no need anymore to inspect the wooden bridges.

Amerindians follow the sport
activities in the Lethem stadium
Watching attentively
The open air kitchen at the Amerindian Festival spreads aromatic smells
 

Also for us, the situation does not look good, and we are torn back and forth what to do. Sometimes we are close to persuade ourselves to try it, only to dismiss the sheer thought of it in the next moment. Finally we agree not to take the risk, especially because we do not want to loose our best partner, our LandCruiser, which never let us down in the past 18 years. Why don’t we load our car on a Bedford truck, at least the 125 miles to the checkpoint of Mabura Hill where the gravel road begins? Suddenly, we are very excited about this new idea. But to organize it from Annai is nearly impossible because without exception, all the trucks are loaded in Lethem with goods coming from Brazil. Thus we have no other choice than to handle the 75 miles of potholes and corrugation through the Savannah again. As we stop half way for the night, we spot a huge herd of cattle galloping wildly through the yellowish plains – remembering us to the Gnus in the Serengeti - leaving behind them a thick cloud of dust. Besides us, a flock of Kara-Kara birds of prey with white-yellow-brownish feathers gather in groups. In Lethem, where by now everybody knows our story and does not hesitate to give his advice, we hang around many days, until we find Harald, who agrees to load us on the bridge of one of his two Bedford trucks in a week’s time for the proud amount of US$420. Everybody prefers to load ordinary freight – cases, boxes, barrels – instead of a 4.2 ton car, which moreover exceeds the bridge by 2 ft, and there is always a chance that it starts to downpour again. Then it can happen that the truck drivers have to unload all the freight, winch each other through the quagmire and carry over the heavy load by hand to reload it again. And one of the worst passages is said to be one mile long!

 

Two sisters in Lethem
in their Sunday dress
On the way to collect their trophies
A snapshot into
the spectators
 

We hardly can wait to set off. Before our departure, we get into a kind of a routine: We take breakfast at the river, where a big mama with a red and black striped dress and a white base ball cap regularly washes laundry together with her little granddaughter; where every day at the same time a herd of cattle crosses the river with their elderly herdsman waving at us; where people gather for cleaning their teeth, bathing, washing their motorcycle and car; where a white horse regularly stops by on its way to the water and where friendly people always greet us with a hearty “Good morning”. Lunch time is spent under a huge shady mango tree. Then we use some time for the Internet. Yes, surprisingly it is available also here, in the small shop near the airport’s runway. We end the day with a refreshing bath in the greenish waters of a quiet forest river with hanging lianas and lush tropical vegetation. Shortly before nightfall, we jump into our protecting tent that we are allowed to pitch up in front of a traditional Amerindian house with no running water and no electricity - three kilometers outside of Lethem. Unfortunately it is absolutely impossible to enjoy the quietness of the evening hours – the tiny stinging bugs are everywhere and they show no mercy. But we have not only to fight against these beasts, but also against attacking ants, which - due to the overheated soil - are nocturnal. Especially the tiny red ones with their burning stings are a nuisance. Once, in the darkness, we pitch up our tent too close to their path. They immediately start to attack us, bite themselves into our socks and crawl on our legs. Another time, they find their way into our car over the tires. We just coincidently discover them moving their eggs around. As we spray the place with insect repellent, a scorpion falls between our feet. Well, we just are missing a snake crawling out of the exhausting pipe….

 

A traditional Amerindian house in Annai
Bottle brush in full bloom
Ready to go on Harald’s Bedford
 

Finally the day approaches where mid afternoon, using an earth ramp, we drive our LandCruiser onto the Bedford’s bridge and lash it carefully with heavy chains. At 7.30pm the journey towards Annai starts. Things firstly go pretty smooth over the corrugated gravel section. Then, after 35 miles, the first serious potholes appear and our nightmare begins. We badly swing from one side to the other, not forward and backward, but sideways, each time when the Bedford is plunging into a hole on either side. Despite that the whole chassis is attached as firm as possible to the Bedford frame, our cabin and roof rack sway alarmingly. After further 7 miles, the front pillar on the left, holding the windscreen, breaks. And the one on the right-hand side shows cracks on the top and bottom too, but is still more or less holding the windscreen. After further 4 miles, we have to give up and search in the darkness of the night a slope to unload our car with the help of our sand ladders. Trying to continue would have been stupid because we would have lost undoubtedly the top of our car. It is midnight as we pitch up our tent on the road side and bury our dream to visit the three Guyana’s for the second time.

 

The elaborate termite hills
resemble Christmas trees
A bird of prey looking
for his next meal
Cheerful Amerindian
children in South Rupununi
 

Next morning, we are driving back once more – this time with mixed feelings - towards Lethem. Not only we worry about the broken pillars, but also about the fuel, which can run out any time. Because the truck would have brought us finally to the bauxite-mining town of Linden, where gasoline is cheaper than in Lethem, we did not refuel before leaving Lethem. We only can hope and pray that we will make it to the Texaco gasoline station lying 46 miles ahead, as the consumption in first gear is so enormous that we cannot even drive 7 miles with one gallon. May be once a day a diesel truck is passing by, which, of course, does not carry any gasoline. This time, luck is on our side. We reach Lethem actually with the last drops of fuel. Immediately we are looking for Harald hoping to get a little price reduction, because we did only about 15% of the trip. He makes us pay US$100 less and takes us completely by surprise when he adds: “Would you like to spend some days on my ranch? It is not far from here and nobody is currently living there.” We do not have to think twice about it and immediately accept. The same evening we head to the thatched cottage seven miles north of Lethem. It will be just wonderful to spend Liliana’s approaching birthday at this idyllic place, surrounded by rose bushes, flowering frangipani and high palm trees in the open plains of the Rupununi savannah. We even can sense a touch of a pioneer’s spirit as there is no electricity, the water has to be hauled up from a deep well and the pit toilet has first to be fumigated due to a huge wasp nest.

 

Harald offers us his empty farm house
Flower of a wild cotton tree
What is the Rotel Tours Bus
doing in Annai?
 

We still do not think of giving up because the only reason we shipped back to South America for a second time was the visit of the three Guyana’s. Therefore we are very determined to make it. But first, we have to repair the broken pillars. In Lethem, there is no major welding place. Therefore we decide to return the 75 miles to Boa Vista in Brazil where finally a welder “with golden hands” does a miracle job for little money, because everything which turns up is rust, rust and rust again! In the meantime rumors circulate that the road to Georgetown is being upgraded by road construction workers of a mining company. How far they have already advanced from Georgetown, nobody knows, until we meet by chance David King from an advertising company in Georgetown, his wife Leila running a travel agency in Boa Vista. His detailed information still does not make us more comfortable, as 30 miles are still in the same bad condition, though apparently drier than two months ago. As David offers us to join his small convoy of three vehicles, we immediately take the opportunity.

Continuation Report #2:  Crossing the Iwokrama Rain Forest

 

The water holes are often treacherous
A Bedford brings supplies to Annai
Our camping spot under a fig tree
at Rock View Lodge in Annai
 
Articles in newspapers about us in Guyana:
Article: "Swiss world record travelers in Guyana", December 19, 2002
Interview: "World famous traveling couple calls on Tourism Minister", December 21, 2002
Article: "Around the World in 18 years", Dezember 25, 2002