Thursday, December 22, 2016

Off The Charts In Guyana - Diwali

Diwali float
October 28, 2016
Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights.  We all decided to go into the capitol of Georgetown to experience it.  First we had to get there, not an easy task.  We could fly via the tri-weekly commuter plane that services Baganara Resort.  Sv Inishnee opted for this.  We could take one of the daily river pirogues that depart Bartica frequently.  Or other.  We opted for other.  Our group had to get from Baganara to Bartica.  Once we started inquiring about that, we decided to take our own river pirogue directly down to Parika.  The resort's private pirogue is an open boat.  Not good in a country where daily rain showers happen even in the dry season.  The resort's assistant manager and pirogue driver arranged for us to go with Felix in his enclosed river pirogue.  First, we stopped in Bartica and picked up four local ladies.  So much for our “private” hire.  But this is often the case in the Caribbean, buses, maxi taxi’s, private cars all stop and pick up someone’s wife, daughter, neighbor or such.
Felix our driver

Pirogue drivers are 1/2 way out the top of the boat all the time

Soon enough we were zooming down the river towards Parika.  The river pirogues are an interesting design.  The driver stands in the back.  His lower body is in the boat, from the waist up he is above the boat.  This allows him to see without obstruction but offers little protection from the elements.  There is often an assistant that sits either in the back, or on the front of the boat outside or up top outside. 

We arrived at the bustling river port of Partika about an hour later.  This port is a central loading point for people and goods heading elsewhere in Guyana.  Our little “circus” stuck out like a sore thumb and soon we had a van hired for the drive 45 min into Georgetown.   Mohammad was the “loader” or conductor and Kevin was our driver.  We stopped midway for a refreshment break which of course was a chance to also visit with locals.  Along the way we crossed the Demerara River on what is the longest pontoon bridge in the world.
World's longest pontoon bridge

Busy bus loading intersection

Despite the size, this barber shop was BUSY non-stop

Once we arrived in Georgetown we checked into The Sleep Inn Guesthouse, tossed our bags in Dick and Deb’s room – the rest of the rooms were not ready and headed out to explore.  The first order of business for Captain Mark was to hit the local butcher shop down the street.  He purchased some meat and then the Sleep Inn stored it in their freezer for him until we departed the next day.  We wandered the busy street markets taking it all in.  We found a second floor restaurant and bar (we prefer the second floor for people watching) and regrouped.  Sv Inishnee along with Baganara manager Paul and owner Stuart joined us.  This place was on the corner of a very busy intersection so it was PRIME people watching.  Below was one of the all important bus loading stations.  Numerous conductors (loaders) worked the passing crowds to get their vans filled.  As we quickly learned, to be a good conductor, you can’t be shy.  A few were colorful characters – one would practice his dance moves (break dancing even) in between customers and another with neon sunglasses donned an “anonymous” mask for a bit.  It turned out that the restaurant didn’t actually have food so Mark and Tom went across the street and got a big bucket of fried chicken from Chruches and brought it back up to our second floor view platform.  I could have stayed there all day people watching but it was time to head back to the hotel in preparation for Diwali that night. 
Jim, Kathy, Rich, Stuart, Paul

Stuart and Paul have a house in Georgetown.  They invited us to come over that evening before the parade.  Sv Inishnee was staying with them.  We took two cabs from our hotel to their house – standard in town fare is $500 per cab or $2.50.  Their home is lovely with a big yard. 
Diwali gang
The sun set and we headed out on foot towards the sea wall.  Originally Stuart and Paul thought we needed cabs but as cruisers we convinced them to walk.  Many blocks later we arrived at the sea wall that runs for several miles protecting Georgetown from the ocean. Georgetown is actually built below sea level.  The Dutch were one of the first to colonize Guyana and thus below sea level technology – sea wall, levies, gates and such are employed in Georgetown and the surrounding areas to control the water flow.

See the young woman on top?
The crowds were already gathering with more people pouring in but we found a place on the sea wall and settled in, literally perching ourselves on the wall as a good vantage point for viewing the light parade.  Street vendors were selling food and drink.  Most of the group had hot dogs with the works (including shredded carrots – come on, people put all sorts of strange things on hot dogs in the USA.  Carrots are no weirder).  I found a couple of ladies selling cups of channa with sour sauce.  It turns out sour sauce is very popular.  It’s made of pureed mangoes or cucumbers, garlic, hot pepper, water and seasoning.  Oddly I really like it but I don’t like cucumbers – go figure.  These ladies were also selling polourie – fried dough balls topped with sour sauce.  I bought a bundle to share with the group.  Another vendor came along selling what looked like long breadsticks – it was dark.  These turned out to be two foot pieces of raw sugar cane.  Captain Mark has quite a sweet tooth and happily crunched away on one. 

From our perch, we had the perfect people watching station as we waited for the light parade.  Finally it started.  The parade consisted of cars, trucks and floats covered in lights.  Many were from various Hindu temples or family run businesses.  The Hindu religion is still a bit of a mystery to me but a few common themes in this parade seemed to be a waterlilly, a cobra snake and some sort of Poseidon type tale.  One curious thing was that all the pretty young women on the "floats" didn't smile.  None.  I don't know if it is a cultural thing or a Hindu or Diwali thing.  Perhaps it is not politically correct to smile if you are on a Diwali "float".  In the USA, most young women that end up riding in parades think they are going to be American's Next Top Model or Miss Teen USA so smiles are abundtant.
Many floats had young women in front of the cab or on top of the cab

Check out the front of this truck - how does the driver see?

After the parade we walked back to one of the main streets.  Stuart, Paul and sv Inishnee headed back to the house.  The rest of us caught cabs back to the hotel.  FYI - Our cab driver asked where we were from - "Kansas."  "Ah.....I know of Kansas State University."  We were blown away.  Seems he wanted to be a pig farmer and got a bunch of information online from KSU.  It just goes to show EMAW (Every Man A Wildcat) even in South America.
Power plant

Power plant is attached on this float

For the ride home the next day, Tom and I opted to take the Sunday communter plane back to Baganara Resort with sv Inishnee.  The rest of the group took a standard river pirogue from Parika to Bartica.  Tom and I walked around a bit more, although being Sunday, there was not a lot going on.  We did have a chance to sit in the shade and visit with the local security guard at a pawn and gold mining shop.  Oddly enough, it took a full 2 mins for us to notice the sawed off shotgun in his lap.  But hey, we are Americans!  More on this later when we talk about the mining industry.

The flight home to Baganara was interesting.  It was 35 mins of air time.  We flew over the city of Georgetown and then an area filled with numerous rice fields and finally rainforest.  I was surprised at the rice fields but apparently Guyana has quite a lot of rice production.  Of course after seeing that, I started taking note in the grocery store that all the bags of rice were stamped Product of Guyana.  From a low flying plane, the rainforest looks like clusters of broccoli.  Really!
Flying home to sv Honey Ryder

1 comment:

  1. What a cool parade; those light floats looked really great, as do the two of you in the last photo. Sunny smiling faces! Thanks for sharing your amazing adventures!