From the moment I stepped off the plane at Cheddi Jagan International Airport I was showered with kindness, hospitality and…. Soca Music! If you plan a trip to Guyana, you’d better be into Soca as it seeps from every possible nook and cranny throughout Georgetown, clearly having fused to the souls of the Guyanese people who make up six different ethnic backgrounds (African, Amerindian, Chinese, European, Indian, and Portuguese), but whine as one nation. I was thankful to have made it to the “the land of many waters” and to be celebrating its “Golden Jubilee,” otherwise known as its 50th anniversary. I had packed everything from black tie to hiking boots to prepare for the myriad of activities surrounding the celebration and I used all of it. From pageants and flag raisings to presidential galas and parade, I was ready to experience Guyana in all her glory.
Although Guyana’s existence became “known” and recorded in 1499 when Spanish conquistador, Alonso de Ojeda, set off to explore and “discovered” it, it wasn’t until May 26, 1966 that the country actually gained its independence from British rule. Prior to independence, Guyana had been colonized by the Spanish, French, Dutch and the British.
The Dutch brought African slaves to the region and the British brought indentured labor from Asia creating another layer of culture and influence on the indigenous people living here. Like most of the world, each colonizer left a mark on the people and the land and their impact can still be seen and felt today. This week, however, I was here to celebrate with a nation coming into its own.
I had a few days before the festivities kicked off and I knew I wanted to see as much as possible of the ecological landmarks Guyana was known for. With over 80% of the country protected from development, Guyana is considered to have one of the most untouched and preserved eco systems in this part of the world. Places like Kaieteur Falls, which occupies a region near the boarder of Venezuela and is the largest single jet and highest single drop waterfall in the world at five times the size of Niagara Falls, should definitely be added to your “must see” list as it is a day trip with only a 40 minute flight from Georgetown with tours starting at $180. Mind you, Kaieteur is just one of ten of Guyana’s waterfalls. The three major rivers: the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice Rivers, the largest in the Caribbean, are also near Georgetown and can be seen on a 1-hour bus tour. The Essequibo has 365 islands on it; one of which is as large as Barbados in size.
For me, the most striking thing was the Atlantic Ocean viewed from the seawalls; it was brown. I expected blue, maybe even green, but according to nationsencyclopedia. com, the sediments carried on the rivers and emptied into the Atlantic keep the shoreline a brown from mix of mud and sand. In all honesty, this left me perplexed and it’s likely something you’d have to get use to. Nonetheless, I was here to celebrate, so beach time wasn’t a real factor.
The festivities of the 50th Anniversary commenced and I was chauffeured from cultural
shows to concerts. I made it to the Ms. Guyana World 2016 Pageant and parties, which
will forever be my happy place and I met the President of Guyana, David A. Granger, a kind man attempting to push the country forward. I also attended my first ever road parade called “Mashramani,” which is an Amerindian word that means “the celebration after hard work.” The road parade was mesmerizing with its carnival-esque style that kept me in awe of the many bright colors that the parade participant’s wore and the Caribbean beats that made my batty (Guyanese slang meaning “ass”) move.
If you plan to visit this country there are quite a few additional landmarks and sites to see that have nothing to do with the anniversary. Whether it be Georgetown’s City Hall built in 1889, St. George’s Cathedral (one of the tallest wooden churches in the world) or visiting one of the nine
indigenous Amerindian tribes in Guyana, you can count on encountering a sense of
adventure. Georgetown is also a fantastic launching pad for a multi-country visit to the other Guianas: Guyana (British Guiana), Suriname (Dutch Guiana), French Guiana, as well as Brazilian Amapá State (Portuguese Guiana) and Venezuelan Guyana Region (Spanish Guiana). I definitely plan to come back and have already begun researching an overland plan through Nomad Revelations. Hopefully, I’ll see you there.
Marcus White spends his days behind a desk and every free day in motion. A pint of Guinness in Ireland, Shabu Shabu in the Philippines, and custom made suits in any number of countries only seem to appease his wanderlust until the next trip. This is his frst written article about his travels and he excited to share more.