Guyana and the Conundrum that is Georgetown

Zippy on a mini-bus, waiting for the ferry in central Guyana

Georgetown/Letham Road

Sometimes things don’t go as planned and Zippy has to take a ride on a bus, in this case a mini-van packed sardine-like with 12 passengers, on a dirt road across Guyana. It’s always a mini-adventure traveling the way the locals travel. All South Americans seem to like their pop music, and because they like it so much, they play the same top hits over and over again, at speaker-buzzing volumes. I once liked Latin music; no more.

Georgetown/Letham Road and pop music Mini van being destroyed by potholes; 18 hours of this teaches patience and tolerance, or at least it should.

Story telling on a Guyana ferry

Claire in hammock in Guyana. Long sleeves for mosquitoes, not cold!

Jungle Hammock Sounds of the night in mid Guyana

Travel With The Locals

The cramped ride was for 18 hours, but we did have about five hours in the middle to have a nap stretched out in the hammocks we brought from the Amazon barco (boat) portion of this trip. A nice tropical rain made for a deep sleep, and it was back on the road again.


The Georgetown/Letham Road.

A paradise of flowers

botanical garden birds

Georgetown, Guyana Market

Selling newspapers at the market in Georgetown counting her cash

Peppers in basket in the Georgetown, Guyana Market

Not Your Vision of the Caribbean

Beach near an upscale hotel in Georgetown

A common view in Georgetown

Encounters in Georgetown, Guyana

At first, we thought it was funny when, a few days ago in Georgetown, Bob was asked by a street Rasta to share our bottle (nothing stronger than Sprite). He had his own cup, so that was easy.
Georgetown is not very safe, especially at night, so we’d been being very cautious. One night as we left the restaurant, a lanky, dark guy watched us as we crossed the median. I picked up my pace as he fell in behind us and Bob and I could only shrug at each other when the guy said something unintelligible. I hurried Bob along, holding my oversized chocolate cookie, as the stranger called out “I won’t hurt you!” Suddenly, Bob turned sharply and defensively and soon learned the man was just asking for food. He gave over some of his cookie and the man thanked him. Now I know why we haven’t understood people who we thought were asking for money. I’ve been trying to figure out how people can afford to eat here and now I feel really bad that we’ve been ignoring them. The next day the newspaper reported one man had been shot (in the buttocks) for stealing mangoes from out of a tree.
By now the locals have trained us to help them out when we can. One morning the-one-with-the-crooked-foot made a drinking gesture as we went into a store. On our way out, we navigated the gauntlet of taxi drivers to hand over a cool liter of water to the man. That night, he was in front of our regular restaurant haunt (ironically named the New Thriving Chinese). It changes how you eat when you know you’re saving leftovers for someone who is hungry. Bob and I both ate until we felt 80 percent full and still had enough lo mein, vegetables and chicken that the man should have enough to eat too.
We looked for the man on the dark streets outside the restaurant and failing to find him, handed our take out package to another (younger and whole) beggar. Just then our crippled man (not a PC term, but his leg was that bad, likely a result of machete violence), limped out of the shadows. I felt his hurt in my chest. As he limped closer, abject disappointment written on his face, the second man dug into the Styrofoam container, taking the biggest piece of chicken, despite my initial mild protest (they carry knives here) that we’d meant the food for the cripple. Then, in my firmest teacher voice, I demanded the food from the man, took it from him and gave it to our friend. He didn’t protest much, busy gnawing earnestly on his big chicken leg. I suggested our friend might share with him. As we walked away, they were finishing negotiations, satisfactorily. We still had a couple of dark blocks to our guesthouse, but felt somehow protected. We hope our cripple friend doesn’t look too hard for us when we leave.

Morning commute across the river in Guyana

Delivery horse in downtown Georgetown

Strong Gun Control Laws, Violence Rampant with Cutlass (Machete)

Almost daily news in Georgetown

View from our guesthouse in Georgetown

Sign at lunchette by day, bar by night, we had the Cook-up at noon.

Place of quiet in Georgetown

Fake palm: metaphor for Georgetown's future?

Guyana is one of those countries on the cusp of some difficult decisions. It’s still mostly third-world rapidly being dragged toward a developing-world role by(mostly) China’s thirst for natural resources. What they will do with increasing wealth will determine what kind of life Guyanese can expect. As we have heard in Peru and Brazil, internal corruption is the biggest threat they face. We were told the maintenance on the Georgetown/Lethem Road was contracted out, and most of the money went into the pockets of government officials and the fixed bid winner, and little goes into the road, at a cost of millions in lost efficiency of travel on the only north south road, and repairs to vehicles.

The pattern is reportedly being repeated in contracts for China mining Guyana’s resources. If they are to become a true developing-world country, they will need to develop value added manufacturing and exporting. Now China (and others) buy natural resources and little else. Perhaps this is due to corruption, or a lack of middle-class education necessary for the development of an entrepreneurial class. Now Guyana is a divided country: we often saw expensive automobiles parked beside crumbling park benches, the beds of the many homeless. The lack of a middle class, and the conditions that produce a middle class, will doom any country to the dustbin of economic history. We currently have a shrinking middle-class in America.

Guyana is not a tourist destination for most of us. If you have thousands to spend per week at a fly-in high end resort in the jungle, I’m sure it would be wonderful, as large tracts have been preserved for the few. One interesting development is that Guyana is selling carbon credits based on it’s thousands of square miles of jungle. It’s sort of like an export not requiring capital; earning money by letting things alone. Where is the money going? Hopefully into education, and developing manufacturing and infrastructure. We didn’t see evidence of that. It’s a good bet that when China develops a taste for tropical hardwoods, the jungle will be for sale, by the powerful corrupt.

America’s lack of corruption is rare in this world. It’s one of the things a strong middle class doesn’t tolerate. We have much to be thankful for, but I’m afraid Americans are more prone to complaining than thanksgiving.

More on corruption in South America in a future post: If you have an accident in America, are you afraid to call the police?





Guyana and the Conundrum that is Georgetown — 8 Comments

  1. I have lived and worked in Georgetown for the last 8 months and actually witnessed the invident involving the man who was shot in the bum for stealing mangoes – he was also a drug dealer, which was somehow left from your blog. You paint a very dangerous and possibly hostile image of Georgetown, which is actually a vibrant and colourful place to visit. Yes, there are beggars and people with disabilities, and some area are best not loitered in unless you have a valid reason for staring at the poverty and deprivation, but I have found Guyanese to be welcoming, warm and generous people. Many of the beggars are long-term emigrants who have been deported from places like the US after committing crimes; basically they’re jettisoned to Georgetown where they have no relatives, ID/history or the means to support themselves. It ought to be much, much more dangerous here considering the lack of social security or safety nets but most of the crime is Guyanese on Guyanese and only affects idiot tourists who hang about after a night on the town, displaying wealth and looking vulnerable. OK. the newspapers relate scary incidents – in the UK (where I come from) similar incident often go unreported as they’re not interesting enough to warrant reportage. People here also look after each other and the beggars get fed by big homeless charities and there are a couple of nightshelters; they’re hopeful of your cash but not dependent on your scraps. Some hang around outside the overpriced tourist spots – eg the New Thriving Restaurant – hoping on cash, not chicken. It’s really not so bad here once you focus on the soul of the place; maybe you didn’t see all of the flowers and lovely blossoming trees along the roads and avenues when you were looking at the garbage (collections have been on strike for months, recently resumed, although locals do regularly burn rubbish ) and perhaps if you’d stayed here longer and spoke more to people you’d have the same fondness I have for this city/country and not be so ready to write it up as a danger zone that only the brave should visit.

  2. I appreciate your point of view, and you defend your city vigorously. I only reported on our personal experiences of one week in Georgetown. They were personal experiences, not meant as a complete picture of the city. We did enjoy the botanical gardens, the birds and flowers and the small but interesting zoo, the market and river traffic. There were several photos in the post of city life, the cathedral etc. that were very positive, though some showed the negative. The disparity of wealth and poverty is jarring, and we have traveled extensively on all the continents, that, and the violence depicted in the newspapers. Perhaps the newspapers exaggerate, but they seemed credible, even criticizing the government .

    If you look at some of the other pages on New Bohemians, you will see we are not out flaunting money late at night. We are often bicycle touring, and thus are in accommodation by 9pm, sleeping. We seldom give money anywhere, because it often goes for things other than necessities. I’m sorry if giving food and water offends you. I disagree with you that it is okay to shoot someone for stealing mangoes, or even selling drugs.

  3. you visited Guyana? – travelled, communicated with the people who live there? …yet, you refer to them as “Guyanans?” Surely, it is basic respect to acknowledge the description of citizens in any country. People from Guyana are GUYANESE…not “guyanans”

  4. I don’t recall saying that it was ok to shoot someone for dealing drugs (or stealing mangoes). I did comment on how it’s easy to give a country a bad press (and make yourself look oh so brave for daring to go there) by reporting something inaccurately and by dwelling on the so-called dangers (awful police, terrible justice . . .) You didn’t read my comments properly – perhaps you didn’t read the report in the paper properly either.

  5. I only spent time in Georgetown. I imagine the rest of the country has much to offer. I know the natural would in the south is fantastic. I just didn’t have the time or money to get there.

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