I was just in the rain forest the other day and my gosh does Guyana have a lot of it. Some say Guyana’s forests are part of the most pristine rain forest in the world and others will say that it is the last part of untouched, virgin jungle left on this planet.
I spent last Monday and Tuesday doing outreach in an interior community, 72 miles into the rain forest. Our day began at four in the morning with a honk of a horn and a drowsy stumble into a cruiser (the Guyanese name for a 4x4 pickup). There were five of us, including myself: Tolga Yaprak, a Guy 21er posted near us; Ian Scott, a former VSO from the UK and now ex-pat living off his pension; Derek Lovell, a current VSO from the UK; and Philip, our driver.
Approximately 2 miles of our journey to 72 Mile Primary School was on paved road. Another 10 miles was on compact gravel and dirt. The rest of our distance was traversing through red earth, white sand, brown dirt and an assortment of deep water holes, fallen trees, mud patches, and animal crossings. The trip is 4-5 hours in length when the weather is dry. When it has been raining, however, the trip can take anywhere from 8 hours to a few days along with a possible rescues from a Bedford winch, or the construction of a bridge with felled trees.
Luckily for us, the rainy season has yet to come and our venture was 4 hours both ways. My friend, Tolga, who is a Guy 21 PCV working in a school just 28 miles into the bush, caught a free ride with us back to his site. Last week, there were two deaths in his community of 100 people. One logger, age 19, was killed by equipment that failed and collapsed on him. The other death was of a 24-year-old who had suffered from malaria, typhoid, and Dengue fever. Tolga is the only non Guyanese living in his site and every weekend he comes into Bartica to buy his groceries, collect his mail and allowance, and generally let loose because he is in the middle of the forest six days out of the week.
As we headed inward after dropping Tolga off at his junction, the first thing I noticed was how cool it was inside the rain forest. Our windows were down and many times I felt the need to roll mine up and put on a jacket. But, I didn’t because this was the first time in over two months that I’ve even felt the least bit cool, let alone cold! We would drive at 40mph for about ten meters, and then slow to 5mph to negotiate a ditch or large puddle, and then speed back up to 40 again, only to slow back down to a toss and jostle over some obstacle in the terrain. This ebb and flow of driving made it quite interesting for the members in our party who had drank rum the night before. Philip and I were not included, but I certainly felt sympathy for my fellow colleagues simply out of personal experience.
Looking out the window at the scenery was something that captured my attention for most of the trip out. Lizards in stripes of green, yellow, and electric blue scattered at every turn. Giant moths with wings so intensely blue you thought they may have been painted with lapis lazuli would light up when they flew into a spot where the sunlight made it past the forest canopy. Large buzzards croaked their hellos, and labba (large rat-like rodents) scampered across the road in fear of being hunted down and sold in town. The most peculiar thing about this forest, however, was that it smelled so much like the Willamette national forest I spent so many summers growing up in Oregon. The sweet, fresh smell instantly made me think of our property on the McKenzie river and this sent me into a long, looooong day dream about this and that concerning the Evergreen state. Talk about a mind trip, I spaced out for 45 minutes!
Other highlights were:
swimming in creek water that was 60F, black in color, and extremely good for your skin (Remember kids, don’t pee in the river because there are these little fish that will swim up your urine stream and enter your body through your urethra. I am NOT kidding).
Hearing baboons growl and seeing them cross the trails in the early morning
Seeing at least 12 different species of birds, butterflies, and moths
Bats and tarantulas the size of your fist!