Georgetown, Guyana – August 24, 2013
This morning I rolled out of bed at 05:00. Why on a Saturday? That’s just my deal, Saturday, Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, any day, a sort of curse.
I knew I had to go to Nigel’s Supermarket to stock up on a few things. I got one cup of coffee down and decided I would immediately head out to see what I might discover as Georgetown began rising to life once again. It was pushing 06:00.
I drove around for a while. As I was heading west on Brickdam Road, I came across an accident at an intersection. A car was right in the center of the intersection. It had sustained a lot of front end damage. The hood had been torn off. On the side of the street, not far away, was a badly damaged mini-bus. It was apparent the left front axle was broken. That left front corner and most of the rest of the left side showed an enormous amount of damage. The unoccupied mini-bus did have a person standing by the car on a cell phone. Several others were standing around. Amazingly I did not see anyone that appeared to be injured. I did not see any police on the scene.
The involvement of a mini-bus in the wreck is not surprising. The mini-bus drivers operate as though they are slalom skiers on a very tight course. They whip in and out of lanes and around cars just like the slalom gates. That is no doubt why the mini-buses are off-limits to us.
Taxi drivers are about the same; although, they usually only have two or three innocent lives on the line, not 15 to 18 (even though anything over 15 is illegal) as on the mini-buses.
Prospective bus passengers stand alongside the road. If they wish a ride, they flag down a mini-bus with a hand signal. Their arm, remaining straight and pointed down, moves away from their side by about five or ten degrees. Regardless of where the bus may be in traffic, if they have room, they will “dive” to the side of the road to pick up the passenger. The passenger tenders their money (usually $60GD to $80GD, US$0.29 to US$0.39) to the conductor and quickly take a seat. As soon as the door closes, the driver is elbowing back into traffic.
If a passenger does not signal the mini-bus, the mini-bus will signal them. Most often the signaling and gesticulating are handled by the conductor. The conductor sits directly behind the left front seat at the sliding door handle. If it is not raining, the window is open. At the very least, the entire arm of the conductor is hanging out of the window. Many times the head is out too. As the bus approaches people, the conductor starts waving his arm and pointing to determine whether or not they want to ride. The driver may help all of this along with flashing headlights and horn honking. During the rush hour, it can be quite a cacophony.
The signaling is not limited to those standing on the left side of the road. The conductor and driver will often signal people standing on the other side of the way. The signals try to decipher if the people want to wait for the bus when it is heading back the other direction.
The buses are all numbered as to their routes. The number I see most frequently is 44, Georgetown to Mahaica. That seems to correspond with where the mini-bus may take on passengers.
The inbound destination for all mini-buses, regardless of the number, is the main stop at Stabroek Market. It is a well-known part of Georgetown because of the iconic clock tower. The 80,000 square foot market, especially in the interior spaces, can be a site for petty crimes. Regardless, the locals flock to this and other markets around town to buy everything from clothing to meat. It has been that way since the mid-19th Century when the market was founded.
Leaving the central area of town, I made my way to the Water Street area. Water Street parallels the Demerara River. One of the sights in the area are the drainage gates. The gates remain closed during high tide, but after rains or at low tide, the gates are opened to allow the canals to drain into the river or the ocean, depending on their location.
The piers and wharves along the river always have ships and boats tied to them. Georgetown is not a deep-water port. So the ships are either small or only partially loaded. The larger vessels have to anchor off-shore several miles. Then smaller ships go back and forth to unload them.
The mouth of the river is nearly one mile wide. The river and the Atlantic Ocean at this point are brown due to all of the silt carried by the Demerara River and all of the other rivers between the Demerara and the Amazon River. One must travel several miles from shore to find blue-green ocean water.
The Water Street area is also where one finds the Georgetown Lighthouse, dating from the early 19th Century. Compared to other lighthouses I have seen I find this one odd since it is not on the coast or the point of land at the mouth of the river. Instead, it is a couple of hundred meters in from the river and nearly a kilometer south of the point at the Atlantic.
Main Street hints at how beautiful Georgetown used to be. When the garbage is picked up, it does look striking with the stately trees providing a canopy over the central walk in the median. Early on, Georgetown was known as the “Garden City of the Caribbean.” That title no longer holds due to the amount of garbage that seems to be everywhere.
Continuing to circle, I ended up in front of St. George’s Cathedral, an Anglican church that opened in August 1892. The wooden church is said to be one of the tallest wooden churches in the world, at 143 feet. The church was not open, so I was not able to enter.
Shortly before the church, Georgetown City Hall opened in 1889. Were it kept in better condition; it would indeed be a marvel. It has a Gothic style. Supposedly the government proposed that it be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That has yet to happen.
Making my way back to the Water Street area, I found some fishermen off-loading their morning catch just north of the Water Street warehouses, near one of the drainage gates. There were two boats moored there. Upon the bank was a small truck with bins in the rear parked near a telephone pole guy-wire. The owner of the vehicle secured his scale to that wire. The fishermen brought their buckets and baskets full of fish. They were weighed, recorded, and then loaded into the truck.
I saw two types of fish. The smaller, gray fish was catfish, and they were fairly numerous. The other kind of fish was much larger, maybe three feet long, and yellowish. The locals refer to them as Gillbacka. They did resemble the catfish, just larger. I saw about a dozen of those fish. The Gillbacka is what is known as a “skin fish,” which means they have no scales. They say it is the tastiest of the skin fish varieties.
The fishermen seemed amused that I was there taking photographs. Their amusement quickly ebbed, and they went back to their work.
A line of warehouses across a vacant lot. The building on the left dates from 1871.
I decided it was time to begin to make my way to Nigel’s Supermarket. I chose to drive along the sea wall from the Pegasus Hotel. The ocean was near high tide. The small amount of beach that remained held a lot of garbage, another strike against the “Garden City of the Caribbean.”
In the ocean, one often sees Hindu prayer flags. According to Hindus to whom I have spoken, these are very similar to the prayer candles Catholics light in churches. The Hindus that place the flags may do so as a prayer for someone with cancer or someone that cannot have a child. These are often seen around Hindu homes too.
Hindu prayer flags in the Atlantic Ocean.
Along this part of the sea wall is the newly installed statue commemorating the emancipation of the slaves in Guyana in 1823. It is a nicely done monument. However, I found it odd that the dedication was not on Emancipation Day, August 1. Instead, it was unveiled and dedicated several days later.
I arrived at Nigel’s Supermarket at about 07:40, so I had 20-minutes to sit and wait for the store to open. As it turns out, I did not buy many items; juice, bacon, lunch meat, water, and some vegetables. Even still, that was US$50!
On the way home, I drove by a lumber store. I knew there would likely be horses and carts in front of the store. Sure enough, there was one right in front. Workers were loading the cart with lumber for a delivery. These horse-drawn carts are a ubiquitous sight, sharing the road with cars, mini-buses, and taxis. That sometimes makes for some harrowing passes and near misses.
I was back in the comfort of my home by 08:30.