Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Amazon Adventure


VILLAGE VISIT: Group shot with Amerindian villagers of Orealla. —Photos courtesy Heather-Dawn Herrera

Mark Fraser

On the invitation of Ganesh Singh, owner of Courantyne Tours, known as Cortours Incorporated, Guyana, we flew to South America to explore the Courantyne, a riverine border flowing between east Guyana and west Suriname.

On arrival at the airport, Uncle Ganesh, as he is fondly called, greeted us warmly. We could already feel that home-away-from home atmosphere all around us and learned much during the long drive east to the Courantyne.

We crossed the Demerara Harbour Bridge, the world’s fourth longest floating bridge at 1,854 metres long, and eventually reached Georgetown, where we visited what has been recorded as the tallest wooden building in the world, the St Georges Cathedral. We thought this to be a magnificent building in its urban setting.

We observed that because the north coast of Guyana is below sea level, it is protected by a seawall. The Dutch left a legacy of a system of canals and sluices to ensure the security of the country against flooding.

We crossed the Berbice River Bridge, recorded as the sixth longest floating bridge in the world and in East Berbice we found that not only villages were named after numbers but beaches too. We visited #63 Beach and learned that this was the longest beach in the Caribbean.

Eventually we reached Corriverton, the largest town in eastern Guyana. We were now on the bank of the Courantyne River and from the appearance of the Corriverton Market we could see why this has been described as the Caribbean’s most colourful, as the diverse people of Guyana gather here.

That night, Uncle Ganesh gave us five-star treatment at the Tejmohall, as we put ourselves in exploring mode for the following day.

The Courantyne River flows for 700km or 450 miles north to the Atlantic Ocean. We had our initial interaction with this mighty river early the following morning when we boarded the boat that would take us on a truly adventurous tour of the Courantyne.

The size of this river was, as is all South American rivers, overwhelming to say the least. We sped past banks where the opposite side seemed to be miles away across the waves.

After just under two hours of journeying upriver, we began to see the first of the chalk white cliffs that told us that we were approaching our first stop, the Amerindian village of Orealla. The people of Orealla truly welcomed us into their village and we learned much about their traditions and simple ways of life.

We learned much about the uses of native trees and plants in the everyday lives of the indigenous peoples in this territory. These people seemed so simple yet they were so advanced in their preservation of the natural environment around them. All parts of a plant or tree were used. Nothing was wasted. They used just enough of their surroundings for basic necessities such as shelter, food and traditional medicines.

Trail-biking through the natural savannahs of Guyana presented an expedition with a difference. We trail-biked a great distance before entering the Natural Savannahs of Siparuta. Stops to appreciate the beauty of this savannah were all part of our very informative trip. This savannah bloomed with colours amid the stunted trees, grasses and sedges.

The trail-biking safari through the savannahs of Siparuta is an excellent way to explore, learn as well as have fun in the natural savannahs this side of Guyana. The community of Siparuta is always grateful to Uncle Ganesh for introducing this eco-adventure initiative.

Continuing our expedition up the Courantyne River, we travelled past more chalk white cliffs and the occasional tiny Amerindian village here and there. The river was changing. We now encountered islands and a series of rapids where before there was only open water. Really huge boulders now charted the course of the river.

We made a short stop at Cow Falls Resort. This is one of the resorts built and maintained by Cortours Incorporated to accommodate visitors on expedition up the Courantyne.

We welcomed the peaceful ambience of Cow Falls Resort. From the verandah of the Resort, we looked out onto the mass of huge boulders sitting in the river. We could indeed imagine how they would appear under moonlight; like cows sitting in pasture. The resort has been named after this experience.

In the river again, we braved the tumultuous course of the rapids. We admired Uncle Ganesh for his expertise in finding the right passages for boating among these large boulders.

Some miles upriver, we met one of the highlights of this expedition, Iguana Island.

Iguana Island has been so named because of the numerous iguanas that make this island their home. Line fishing was just inevitable here, this island being out in the middle of the river. From then on, we discovered that the Courantyne really lived up to its name as being the river with the most fish in Guyana.

After more miles upriver, we reached Timehri Resort. Looking out at the river we had just travelled from the verandah of the resort, we could see why so many people who visited in the past just had to return here. The pristine scenery was always complemented by the river; the cuisine always supplied by the river; and the raw Am azon adventure that was a promise for the following day, we looked forward to.

Uncle Ganesh led our expedition into the Amazon rainforest. This forest is so vast that most of it remains virgin territory. The method of selective cutting practised by Guyana is such that you don’t even miss a tree that was cut in any one area.

We walked past stately trees that are so much an integral part of the cool unbroken canopy of the rainforest. Primate and avian populations were of course all part of this interior. Uncle Ganesh educated us