Bartica – Gateway to Gold Country

Bartica – Gateway to Gold Country
Bartica, Guyana

Bartica, Guyana

Standing on the pier, looking down at the seemingly wildly bobbing bow of the cherry red O-BAMA was the first time the thought went through my mind; “Just exactly what am I about to do”? The only visible means of support with which to make the “leap” from the pier to the bow was the outstretched hand of the captain. He was standing on the bow looking up at me. He was not a large man, but his mere presence made the bow look just that much smaller. I gathered my courage, held onto my Nikon, and took that first step of faith. Simultaneously, the captain grabbed my arm and helped me to place two feet firmly on the unsteady boat.

Now on the bow, I grabbed for the side of the opening that led down into the seating area and its relative safety. As my head cleared the opening I could see 28 other humans looking at me. As it so happens, Elroy and I were the last two to board. I saw Leslie sitting to the side of the second bench seat. I climbed over the first bench and took my seat in the middle, next to her. As soon as I went over the first bench, someone put the seat back in place so Elroy had a place to sit on that front bench.

That gave me a few moments to compose myself and prepare for this next leg of the trip. Leslie leaned over and informed me that getting onto this boat was the scariest thing she had done in quite some time. I reassured her even though I had just completed my own run-in with terror.

The captain jumped down into the boat and addressed all of us passengers. There were six benches, each one seating five people for a total of 30 passengers. He asked that each of us put on the life preserver that was near each seat. Of course Leslie and I gladly complied. After that, he told everyone the fare from Parika to Bartica was $2,500GD, about $12.50 U.S. He began collecting money from everyone and providing change as necessary. It struck me as a little odd that he did not collect the money before everyone crawled to their seat. Instead, money was passed, person-to-person, until it reached the captain. Regardless, the finances being taken care of, he went back onto the bow, climbed onto the roof and went to the stern of the some 30 foot boat. The captain started the motors, an assistant untied the bow, and we were actually underway.

Parika is only four or five miles up the Essequibo River from the Atlantic Ocean. That means it is susceptible to the tides. As we left the pier, the tide was beginning to go out. I don’t know if the tide was the culprit, but the water was very rough. The captain tried several times to get the boat planing to no avail. He stopped the boat in the middle of the river. We could hear footsteps on the roof. Suddenly the captain appeared in the front of the boat again. He grabbed a large cardboard box from the front that one of the passengers had brought along. One could definitely tell it was heavy as the captain tried to heft it up onto the roof. He finally got it on the roof, walked to the stern again, I assume with the box, and we were soon underway.

As the boat gathered speed it did start to plane; however, that was only while we were actually in contact with the water. The bottom of the boat would slap a wave hard, sending us into the air. Gravity quickly pulled us back down and slapped the boat into the next wave. None of the jarring seemed to give the captain any pause. I do not believe he slowed down for anything. The ride was so intense I found myself wishing I had brought along my mouthpiece. It may actually have been a mini training vessel for space exploration as I felt weightless several times.

The farther up the river we went the calmer the water, until it felt boat rides I have had in the past. The cover to the front opening remained in the up position, so the wind was whipping through the boat. Leslie and I had to both talk fairly loudly directly into the other’s ear in order to be heard above the wind and the din of the motors. Regardless, we both remarked how lucky we are to be on a boat on the Essequibo River heading into the jungles of South America.

The river is very wide, some 12 plus miles at its mouth. The Essequibo River is the largest river in Guyana. For the majority of our journey the captain kept our boat fairly close to the east bank of the river. Zipping along, we saw home after home, each one with one or more boats tied up at the water’s edge. Some of the homes looked quite nice and comfortable. Some other homes looked like they were only the most rudimentary shelters. I saw several structures, I am not sure if they were homes, that actually had thatched roofs.

In between the houses and other structures was nothing but dense jungle. There was no beach. It was just foliage and trees right up to the water’s edge. I cannot imagine trying to trek through the jungle, blazing a new trail with a cutlass.

Every now and then we would pass a larger ship making its way downriver. Of course ships and other boats create wakes. Much like the waves noted earlier, the captain did not see much of a need to slow to cross the wakes.

I am not one that can easily sleep while traveling. I was surprised by Leslie’s seat-mate on the other side. He actually had his eyes closed for much of the trip. I would have thought it was fear except he looked rather calm. He was sleeping, or at least dozing.

About an hour and ten minutes later, we arrived at the pier in Bartica. As the boat slowly made its way to the pier we all removed our life jackets. Leslie and I were both a little nervous about getting off, hoping it would not be like boarding. It was not. The pier at Bartica slopes down to the river. That made it almost effortless to step off of the bow onto the pier.

I was disappointed that the water was muddy. I had been hoping for black water. I explain that concept more in the following blog post. Elroy said the rivers at Bartica used to be black; however, the dredging upriver for gold has changed all of that. As wide and deep as the rivers are at Bartica, I can only imagine what the dredging is doing to the environment of Guyana. I say rivers because Bartica is on a point of land with the Essequibo River along one side of the land and the Mazaruni River along the other. At this point it is nearly five miles, shore to shore, across both rivers.

There was another covered bridge type structure we walked through to get from the pier to the street. At the street there were several taxis waiting for fares. Exiting the structure we only had to walk about one half of a block to Front Street. We turned right and walked about two blocks to our hotel.

The D Factor Interior Guest House was a lovely yellow, two-story structure. Both the property and the structure were obviously well taken cared for. The owner, Bhagwandas Balkarran, and his wife own the business. They live on the first floor and rent out the eight rooms on the second floor. As soon as we walked up, Mrs. Balkarran grabbed four sets of keys and took us upstairs.

Leslie and I ended up in room 8, at what I would describe as the northeast corner of the building. The room faced the river. Exiting the room into the hallway we walked toward the rear of the building. We ended up on the rear terrace. This is when we got an opportunity to really understand where the hotel is situated. It is smack dab on the edge of the river. It was very relaxing to sit on the terrace and listen to the waves gently slap up against the wall of the yard.

With luggage stowed we all headed out to explore Bartica a little. Elroy told us Bartica is an Amerindian word that means red earth. The red dusty residue on many of the vehicles in town testified to that fact.

We walked generally south along Front Street. As we passed the pier loading area we saw a dozen or so police officers beginning to stand in formation. As we had heard in Parika, the Police Commissioner was to pay a visit today. I can only imagine he was soon to arrive at the pier.

Most of the shops were open. There was a surprising amount of traffic for such a small town. The population cannot be much over 10,000 which means it is about the size of Fruita, Colorado, but there was a frenetic pace such as I have never seen in Fruita. Visually, it was interesting to see the power lines seeming to reach out in every direction from the power poles. Speaking of power, Guyana Power and Light provides power to the community via diesel powered generators. The power generation plant was very noisy as we walked by.

Continuing south we came upon the Bartica Market. The market is comprised of multiple private stalls all under one large roof. The market was fairly crowded since Saturday is a major shopping day throughout the country. It appeared one could get just about anything under this roof. Toward the back of the market is the fish market. That end of the marketplace is right on the river. There were not any boats there while we were there, but that is obviously where all of the fish make their way into the market.

The fish market was by far the largest area under the roof. There were multiple men behind the counter scaling, cutting, and cleaning the various type of fish. Leslie had wanted to get a piranha. Elroy checked, but found there were none there that day. He thought that was a good thing since he does not think it is a very tasty fish.

Back on Front Street we started waling back toward the hotel. About halfway along the journey we found Auntie Chan’s Massive Upper Level Restaurant. That is where we decided to have lunch. Leslie got some sort of fish dish. I opted for curry chicken and fried rice. I thought it was very good.

After such a large lunch it was nice to be able to walk a few blocks back to the hotel. Balkarran was prepared to take us for a tour on the way to Marshall Falls. More about that in the following blog post.

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