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.


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