Friday, January 20, 2017

Off The Charts In Guyana - Trip into the Interior - The Red Road

The Red Road
To get to Iwokrama you travel over land on the main road that runs from Georgetown to Lethem, which is on the boarder between Guyana and Brazil.  This is THE main road running north from the capital through the country to the southwest boarder.  The main thoroughfare.  Think of our interstate system in the USA.  This main road would be the equivalent to I-70 or I-80 or I-95 or I-35 - major roads that run through many states. Major interstate roads that many people use to transport themselves as well as goods here and there around the USA.  This MAIN road in Guyana is their equivalent in terms of importance and use.  So you get the idea, right?
The Red Road potholes filled with rainwater

We learned that this road is also called The Red Road.  That is because the bulk of this road is red dirt.  DIRT.  Did you hear that?  The main transportation artery is dirt!  Actually, half of the time it's red mud!  This road made such an impression on our circus that I had to do this separate blog posting to share with you.
Our ride
Our driver Mark picked us up at the airport in Georgetown.  The vehicle was a brand new mini van with air conditioning and tricked out with graphics and a name (Brandon, after his only son).  Comfy!  We shoved our backpacks in the back and piled in.  One item of special note was the three jerry jugs of petrol/gas on the roof rack along with a beefy spare tire.  Hum?  FYI - Mark has two girls as well.  I asked him if he had anything named after them.  It turns out that he has two cars and each is named after a daughter - good for Mark!
Note the jerry jugs of extra fuel


We made a few quick stops for snacks and beverages for our cruising circus and a ferry ticket for the K Crossing.  We couldn't mess about too long as Mark reminded us that we really needed to get going so we could make the K Crossing.
K Crossing

K Crossing

The K Crossing is Kurupukari Ferry Crossing, hence forth known as the K Crossing because that is just too hard to say let alone spell.  It is where The Red Road crosses the Essequibo River.  It is approximately 200 miles from Georgetown.  The ferry runs from 6 am to 18:00 (6pm).  The last crossing is at 18:00 (6pm).  If you don't make that crossing, then you are forced to stay on the north side of the river and wait until morning to cross.  The fun twist is that there is no place to stay on the north side.  "You MUST make the last ferry crossing or you will have to sleep in your van or in hammocks in the trees." I was told on the phone by more than one local when we started making all the arrangements.  Sleeping the van or hammocks by the side of the road was not something our circus wanted to do!  FYI - regular maxi taxi busses make this trip daily.  They leave from Georgetown at 16:00 (4pm) and drive all night to make the first crossing the next morning.  This allows the passengers nearly a full day in Georgetown to shop, go to appointments or whatever.  This is also one of the reasons we decided against using that as our mode of transportation.
The Red Road - loaded down maxi taxi headed the other way

Several miles outside of Georgetown the pavement ran out and the Red Road officially started.  The road was a couple of lanes wide here (let's say 4) but even wider because everyone was driving on the shoulders.  The part of the road that makes up the main lanes was filled with deep, deep potholes, so everyone of course drives on the shoulder to avoid them - makes sense!  However, they have been doing it long enough that now the shoulder has it's own potholes.  This reduced our speed significantly.  Mark expertly wove the van to this side and then that of the various potholes, often driving clear over to the other side of the road (into oncoming traffic - albeit slow traffic) to avoid a nasty serious of potholes.  It was really amazing.  The Red Road wasn't all potholes, there were stretches that were realitively pothole free.....overall, probably 50% with potholes.
Fuel truck

Logging truck

Soon we began to see the huge fuel transport trucks along the Red Road.  One was broken down.  The driver was sitting in the shade of the truck next to a fuel pump, smoking a cigarette.  Mark informed us that all vehicles traveling The Red Road have spares.  By spares, I don't mean just a spare tire (tyre if your English) and fuel but SPARES;  fuel pump, altenator, hoses, engine oil, transmission oil, extra gear boxes and of course tyres and petrol.  There is no Triple A or Car Club to the rescue if you break down.  Thus all the drivers are also mechanics as well.  They have to be able to fix their own vehicle.
We passed fuel trucks, logging trucks, supply trucks, other maxi taxi vans, and a few regular cars.  Interestingly, many of the regular cars were jacked up slightly.  Not in a tricked out, cruisin' the bouvard kind of way, but in a practical way so when they do have to go through a pothole, they don't bottom completely out and mess up their frame and undercarrage.  We noticed that many of the fuel, logging, and supply trucks seemed to have a spare rider outside, up-top, in back of the roof of the cab.  It didn't seem to be for security but more catching a ride.  Hum?
Local car 

I mentioned above, that the local Maxi Taxi busses leave Georgetown and travel overnight.  At the Brazilian boarder town of Letham, they leave early morning or even pre-dawn heading back into Georgetown.  When we would pass one of these going the other way towards Georgetown, both Maxi's would stop to visit briefly.  This wasn't "Hi, how's the family?" but rather "How's the road ahead?  Is it passable?  How is the such and such bridge?"  Serious stuff.  Of course these converstations were kept short because we had to stay on schedule to make the K Crossing.
Stopping to exchange information about road conditions - note the freeze on top for storage

The regular Maxi Taxi busses were an interesting sight.  They were stuffed to the roof with people and supplies.  People travel from the interior into Georgetown to resupply for the month and then they travel home again.  All that stuff has to go with them.  As I have said full is your car after a visit to Costco Warehouse Club?  I assumed the busses would carry fewer people when the riders have more stuff.  I was wrong.  They carry the normal passenger load and just cram the stuff in anywhere they can, to the ceiling inside.  Then the roof racks are piled high.  We even saw one maxi taxi where two or three guys were riding on the roof rack.  I suspect they were only catching a ride a short distance down the road but I could be wrong.  They might be going all the way like that.  Given how cram-packed the maxi was inside, I can't say I blame them.  
Maxi taxi headed the other way

We passed through Linden, which is a fairly ok sized town.  Interestingly, it lays 50 kilometers straight east of our anchorage at Baganara Resort but as I mentioned before, there was no way to get from Baganara to Linden.  We also passed through a very small villages but only a few.  The guidebook was right, the bulk of the population of Guyana lives on the coast and along the major rivers.
Brush in the road

As we traveled south, this MAIN highway narrowed down.  Soon it was only a two lane road.  Further south, it became a narrow two land road.  And then a one lane road at times.  Again.....this is the major north/south road in Guyana and it wasn't more than a dirt road you might travel off county road #15 to see your farm friends or say to get to your holiday ski cabin in the woods.
One of the many bridges we went over

We passed over many small creeks and rivers.  The bridges over these were made up of huge timber planks that were 10" to 12" inches thick, 12" wide and 30 ft long.  There were 6 to 8 laid down to make up the bridge.  Just laid down side by side, not nailed together in some sort of structured bridge.  Of course it was one lane.  On one or both sides of the creek/river there was usally extra planks in case the ones making up the bridge got cracked, broken or dislodged.  I assume those were for the road crews to replace as I don't know how we would have done it ourselves.  However, many of the vehicles of the The Red Road have beefy electric winches on the front for towing so perhaps they do switch out broken bridge planks.  I guess if a broken bridge plank is keeping you from continuing along, you do whatever you have to do.  Those winches get a regular workout during the rainy season when drivers often have to winch each other out of huge, mud filled potholes.  We did see one road crew running a grader but I suspect these crews are few and far between.  Self-sufficeny is vital on The Red Road.

The Snackette

A little over mid-way, we stopped at Nowhere Land - Peter and Ruth's Snackette to refuel, stretch our legs, get a snack and hit the head.  It was a proper filling station like those in the USA.  Mark had a quick lunch, the rest of us a snack.
Mabura check point

Rich and Tom waiting to get their passports checked

Another stop was at Mabura, which is an official border check point despite the fact that it is 331 kilometer from the actual border.  We never did get a clear answer as to why it is SO far from the border.  I think it is just a weighpoint to re-check people coming and going because the borders are primarily rainforest and rivers and thus not so secure. Mark had to take the manafest (crew list) into the officials.  We then had to go in with our passports.  We were obviously tourist so it was easy-peasey for us and soon we were back on the bus.
The Red Road behind the side - see how it narrows down

We drove on and on, passing fewer and fewer vehicles as the road narrowed down to a back country road size.  I was in the second row of seats but I could see Mark kept checking his watch.  "Oh no" I thought.  "Are we going to make the K Crossing?"   It was 17:00 (5pm) and he was checking his watch every 5 mins or so.  Ugh!  There was really no way to speed up.  The condition of the road dictates the speed you can travel on The Red Road.  I started to worry.  I looked around for any little village, or grouping of houses or shacks that could perhaps put up our weird little circus for the night should we miss the crossing.  There wasn't really anything.  As it turns out, Mark was just trying to freak out Dick who was in the front seat and had been teasting and joking with Mark most of the day.  We arrived at the K Crossing at 17:30 for the 18:00 crossing.  Whew!
WHEW - we made it in time for the 18:00 crossing

The K Crossing ferry

K Crossing ferry pilot house

The river crossing is a pretty short distance.  The ferry itself is essentially a floating barge with a diesel engine and a tiny pilot house at the back.  The ferry arrived on our side and a hugh lumber truck off loaded.  It struggled to get up the muddy ramp.  A small fuel truck arrived and loaded onto the ferry first.  Then Mark backed the van on.  All vehicles are backed onto the ferry for easy offloading on the other side.  We all walk on and rode across outside the van.  The crossing took 10 mins max.  We loaded back into the van for the short 5 mins ride to our final destination Iwokrama.  Special Note -  When we were on the other side of the ferry crossing waiting for Mark to offload the van, I was wandering around just off to the side of the muddy ramp.  I noticed some large cat prints.  Large!  Later I told a guide at Iwokrama what I saw, he said it was more than likely a jaguar or puma print. WOW!
Lumber truck just off the K Crossing ferry

Mark backing onto the K Crossing ferry

So that was our journey into the interior via The Red Road.  I know it made a last impression on Tom and me.  At the very least it was interesting.  Our trip into Iwokrama took 7 1/2 hours.  Our trip out took 8 hours.  It rained a bit before we departed on the trip out, so it took slightly longer.  Note -  Mark said once or twice during the rainy season, parts of The Red Road are simply impassable.  Guyana has two rainy seasons a year.  I guess it is sort of like a blizzard shutting down I-70.  Additionally, after spending time in the interior at Iwokrama with the guides, we were able to spot more wildlife as well as the logging access roads along The Red Road.
Refueling on the drive back to Georgetown

1 comment:

  1. Wow! And I thought the roads in Belize were bad! Actually, there are some of that caliber, leading to and from some of the smaller towns, but the main highways through the country are paved now. Not too long ago, though, they were not. What a mess that red clay is. I had enough of that in North Carolina to last a lifetime -- try gardening in it! ;-) Thanks for sharing your stories of the "red road". What an experience!