Thursday, June 28, 2012

Georgetown, Guyana: days 2 & 3

The following day is stiflingly hot, so I am quite content to spend it running errands with my host, strolling around the neighborhood, and napping and reading in a hammock.


We return to the sea wall again to enjoy a cooling breeze. Blinking lights of fishing trawlers dot the horizon.


I'm reminded the next morning that this is the rainy season as the weather alternates every fifteen minutes between heavy downpours and sticky heat. We get a delicious lunch from some Rastas in a minivan: curried potato roti with hot sauce and lime juice in a baggy. Believe it or not, this is definitely one of the best meals I've had in a long time!


I spend the afternoon checking out a few museums (none of which allow photography, unfortunately), starting first with the Guyana National Museum. The ground floor features four foot tall replicas of important local buildings, model ships, various glass bottles, and a diorama of a gold and diamond mine. Upstairs is a variety of taxidermy animals native to Guyana. A caption suggests that spider monkeys make good household pets. The capybara looks like it might have been the inspiration for the Rodents of Unusual Size from "The Princess Bride." A dozen different reptiles, mammals, birds, and fish float around in spooky jars of formaldehyde.


Happy to leave the formaldehyde behind, I walk a few blocks to the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, which is focused on Guyana's Amerindians. There are plenty of fascinating artifacts, including stone tools, ceremonial objects, dugout canoes, weapons, and a large exhibit on the importance of cassava. I learned that, in most tribes, men weave baskets and women throw pottery. One of my favorite artifacts was a small basket labeled, "male cosmetic bag for comb, bone flute, etc." I'm curious what the "etc." includes! It's hard to complain about a free museum but I would like to suggest the museum to differentiate between the numerous indigenous tribes, instead of just using the vague blanket term, "Amerindian."


My last museum for the day was the Cheddi Jagan Research Center, dedicated to the first democratically elected president of Guyana. The building is a noticeable red house where Jagan and his family once lived and the museum is one modest room on the second floor. Chronicling his life through photos and lengthy captions, the exhibit portrays the man as nothing less than a saint. Not being familiar with Jagan, I'm unsure if this is a fair and accurate assessment of Jagan's life or if it's just easier and more pleasant to remember the hope and potential this man once represented.


I'll be sure to cheer for Guyana at the Olympics next month!


It's been a busy few days in Georgetown. I've eaten well, managed to avoid getting too soaked or a sunburn, marveled at the harmony despite the extreme ethnic and religious diversity, and seen a small slice of a new country.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Georgetown, Guyana: day 1

Guyana is one of those countries people tend to forget about, either by overlooking the non-romance language countries of South America or by mistaking it for Ghana. Unfortunately, Guyana is probably best known to Americans as the site of the Jonestown Massacre where, in 1978, over nine hundred Americans committed mass suicide under the direction of cult leader Jim Jones. But that was a long time ago now. Today's Guyana tries to market itself as an up and coming eco destination with its untouched rainforest, Kaietur waterfall, and Shell Beach, home to sea turtles. I've only got a few days here, so I won't be able to visit any of those sights. Instead I'm parking myself in the national capital of Georgetown to check out this city that has been occupied by both the Dutch and English.


Once I had cleared immigration and customs at Georgetown's international airport and found a cab into the city, I had officially travelled to every politically independent country in South America! This is my first "complete" continent so I'm pretty pleased.

After a deep nap, I headed into the city for lunch and sightseeing. First stop was St. George's Cathedral. At one point, this was the second tallest wooden church in the world, reaching 132 feet tall. (That is the sort of world record Guyana is able to claim!) Built in the late 18th century, this Anglican church has a decidedly English feel. I sit in the back for awhile, tying--without much success--to escape the intense heat and humidity. It's smack downtown so the traffic honks away while pedestrians chat with each other on their way back to work after lunch.


Dutch built Stabroek Market, dating back to 1881, is a few short blocks away. Selling clothes, produce, meats, meals, toiletries, household goods, music, movies, and all the Hindu goods you could ever imagine, the market is one stop shopping.


A guidebook described City Hall as "Disney-like" and it's a fair comparison. It has a turret that calls to mind Cinderella's castle. The spot used to house a music hall so, when City Hall was finished in 1889, they decided to continue the tradition, and used the top floor as the country's best concert hall until recently.


Queen Victoria's statue stands in front of the High Court. She seems to have been a big figure around here as there are multiple pieces that have been dedicated to her, named for her, or opened on her birthday.

I catch the minibus back to where I'm staying. The microbuses are the same kind as those in Uzbekistan, except these ones are in much better shape than their Asian counterparts, hard as that is to believe now that I've seen the local standard for driving.


Like in Uzbekistan, the minibus drivers each have an assistant who hangs out the window to call out the destination and collect the fare. The neighborhood I'm staying in is called Kitty, which means there was a cacophony of men shouting, "Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" They sounded like over eager four year olds chasing their grandmother's terrified cat.


In the evening, much of Georgetown goes to the sea wall. Built by the Dutch, who seem drawn to land below sea level, the wall exists to protect the city from flooding. It extends 270 miles, just about the length of the country's entire coast, though many sections have been rebuilt over the years. One side of the wall advertises local businesses and also has murals painted by school children. Here, the wall is about five feet wide and is used by joggers and couples alike. At low tide, the muddy beach stretches a few hundred feet until it meets the ocean.


At night I take a bucket bath, something I haven't done since Peace Corps. Another Peace Corps moment comes sooner than I expect. In the middle of the night, I hear a sound that wakes me. Something has flown in through my bedroom window. A bat! The walls don't extend all the way to the ceiling and I'm suddenly grateful as this allows the bat to swoop around the entire house, instead of just my room, in a panic. After a few minutes, I can no longer see or hear the bat, so I fall back asleep, hoping it found its way out through another window. In the morning, I ask my host if he saw the bat. He looks at me and says no, he's never seen a bat in his house before, just as his gaze turns to a corner in the ceiling, and we both spot the bat, hanging upside down. My host lets me take a photo before he manages to chase the bat out through a window. In Uzbekistan, a bat somehow found its way into my house and, with the help of another volunteer, we managed to catch the bat and release it, though we did accidentally injure it in the process. Oops.



I've had countless meals and nights out with friends and family since getting to NYC but it's time to skip the country again. Here are a few quick parting photos.


An amazing view of Manhattan from an art deco roof in Brooklyn.


Patsy's pizza in east Harlem.


Trying spaghetti ice for the first time (vanilla ice cream put through a potato ricer on a bed of whipped cream and covered with strawberry sauce to look just like spaghetti with marinara sauce--it was delicious but totally messed with my head!).


Flipping through knitting patterns and finding this one for penguins (though I strongly disagree with the captions that reads, "You don't have to go to Antarctica to play with penguins when you have these").


Mini Bear visiting her beloved larger bear siblings.


Special delivery #2: Staten Island

The last two times I've been to Staten Island, I took the ferry from Manhattan and then ran the NYC marathon through all five boroughs to get home. This latest journey to Staten Island wasn't nearly as physically demanding but it still took a good several hours from start to finish.


I caught the ferry...


...braved the crowd of tourists to snap a photo of the Statue of Liberty...


...took the Staten Island Railway...


...and walked a few short blocks to drop off two letters to one household...


...before turning around to make the 90+ minute trip back to Manhattan.


Monday, June 25, 2012

And they're off!

Last year, good friends took me to my first Belmont Stakes and got me hooked. This year I returned with my friends (even surprising one who didn't know I was back in town!) and also brought my cousin, brother, and sister-in-law to experience their first Belmont.


It's tradition to wear a hat to the race so I sported my first hat in years while checking out the delightful hats of my fellow gamblers.

We spent a good chunk of the day at the paddock where we could see the horses before each race. For someone like me who knows nothing whatsoever about horse racing, this was how I decided which bets to place. I followed various scientific approaches, such as picking the prettiest horse, choosing the most appealing name, or picking the jockey with the best silks.


There had been a lot of hoopla in the lead up to the race because I'll Have Another was on track to be the first triple crown winner since 1978. Unfortunately, the horse withdrew the day before so that was the end of that. Still, there was plenty of excitement for the Belmont Stakes and, for the second year in a row, I bet on the winning horse! Thanks to Union Rags and jockey Johnny V (as we like to call him), I won a whopping $7.50 on a $2 bet! That was almost--but not quite--enough for a Manhattan beer later in the night. Still, I was pretty excited to have won again and to have shared a great day with friends and family.