My birthday began at 01:30 when we woke up to make our last-minute preparations to depart Georgetown on the 05:35 Caribbean Airlines flight. Much to our chagrin, the previous afternoon the motor pool supervisor told us our pick-up was scheduled for 02:30 because the motor pool driver had to pick up another passenger at 02:45 for the same flight. It seems that every time we have shared a ride to the airport, we are always on the verge of being late. Today was absolutely no exception. Our driver arrived at 02:20. We loaded our baggage in the Suburban, locked the door on our home for the final time, and took our seats in the vehicle. By 02:35, we parked in front of the Pegasus Hotel to collect the other person. The additional passenger was due to depart the hotel at 02:45. She did not emerge from the hotel until 03:05. As people that like to be on time, that drove us nuts.
We arrived at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport right at 04:00. We approached the check-in counter and handed our documents to the agent. She immediately told us of the cancellation of our 05:35 flight to Miami, Florida. However, she said the good news is our departure at 05:35 was on time to our new destination of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. As it happened, there was a tropical depression off the coast of Florida, near Miami. I assumed that was the reason for our flight cancellation. We continued with our check-in. We were lucky enough to be able to upgrade to first-class to Ft. Lauderdale.
After checking-in, we went to the diplomatic line at immigration control. Standing there, I suddenly realized I had not paid for the first-class upgrade. I dashed back to pay. At the counter, I paid in U. S. currency, all $20s. The agent refused to take three bills because they were slightly torn or nicked. Luckily, I had some additional bills to replace those rejected.
I made it back to the immigration line just as we were motioned forward to the next window. On the other side, we made it to the lounge, where we finally had our first cup of coffee for the day.
We finally boarded our flight, but the door of the plane did not close until 05:48, 13 minutes late. The aircraft pushed back at 05:52 and we were “wheels-up” by 06:00.
Touching down in Port of Spain at 06:55, we taxied to our gate. While taxiing, we decided we should go to the American Airlines ticket counter. American Airlines had all of our connecting flights to Grand Junction, Colorado. Since we would not make our connecting flight in Miami, we did not want the remainder of our tickets canceled.
Disembarking the plane, we wound our way through immigration and customs. We made it to the American Airlines ticket counter at about 07:30 only to find it was vacant. I inquired at the information booth and found out the American employees would arrive at 09:00, so we waited. Shortly after 09:00, there were still no agents. I went back to the information booth. They told me the new arrival time was 10:00. We stood by, hopeful. Nearing 11:00, with no American employees in sight, we decided to go to the Caribbean Airlines lounge. However, before leaving the ticket counter area, we started hearing rumblings that there was a pilot strike brewing at Caribbean Airlines. It seems numerous pilots had called in “sick,” resulting in multiple flight cancellations.
In the Caribbean Airlines lounge, we finally made contact with an American Airlines employee. That employee assured us our reservations were intact. We found some comfort in that information. As we continued our wait, we saw numerous Caribbean Airlines flights canceled or delayed. Because of that, we began to look into whether or not we should abandon our Caribbean ticket and get a flight out of Port of Spain on American. Every time we were close to opting for American, Caribbean told us they were nearly ready to board our plane. We decided to take our chances and ultimately boarded our Caribbean flight to Ft. Lauderdale at 12:15. By 13:02, we were in the air again.
I did not take any photographs of the flights and the airports. However, shortly before we departed Guyana, we did have several occasions to take some pictures.
What an amazing day! We missed Easter Monday last year (locally also known as Kite Day) because we traveled back to Colorado for Leslie’s dad’s funeral. We made up for that today.
We made it to the East Coast Highway seawall shortly before 08:00. As you might imagine, there were very few people out at that hour. Regardless, it provided some fun photo opportunities. I think one of my favorites was the “Pristine Waters” sign on the seawall. I was taking some of those photos with the aid of my tripod. At one point, a man approached. He kept saying, “Did you see me? Did you see me?” I finally figured out he was talking about the photograph. I told him, no, but quickly hit my shutter release button. Then I was able to say to him I did see him!
From the seawall, Leslie and I headed toward the Kitty area of Georgetown. I had driven by a few days earlier and noticed several kites for sale hung on a wall. I drove us to the intersection of Alexander and David Streets. As we drove by, I could see the vendor was arriving at the corner. Since nothing was set up yet, we drove on, looking at the various sites in the area.
Ultimately we made it back to Kitty. I parked our vehicle and got out to take a photograph of the kites. As I was doing that, the vendor, from a different corner of the intersection yelled out at me. He wanted to know if I wanted to buy a kite. I met him in the middle of the intersection, and we walked together toward his display.
I asked him what Kite Day meant to him. He said it was just something that he has been doing since he was a tiny lad. Every year he makes kites and sells them at this corner. Over the previous two weeks, he had made about 200 kites. He sold the kites for $1,800, or $2,100 for the entire outfit. That equates to a little more than $10. I took him up on his offer and asked for the whole outfit. As I stood there, he put the kite together, strung the kite, added a tail, placed a piece of wax paper on the upper portion so that it would make the requisite noise, and the necessary string to fly a kite. He was also kind enough to pose for a photograph.
As fate would have it, right across the street from the kite vendor was the “Flamingo” building. I had taken photos of that building from a different angle in the past. I found the angle that morning particularly interesting.
With the kite in the vehicle, we began our drive back to the seawall for the maiden flight. En route, Leslie noticed a home that had a pink door. It stood out to her because of the nearby flowers that were a similar shade of pink. I made my way around the block so we could capture the home on “film.”
Back at the seawall, we walked to just the perfect spot for the maiden flight. Preparing for that moment, I was reminded of flying kites in Colorado in my childhood. I recalled the need to run for several yards with a kite in tow to try to get it up in the air. That was not required at the seawall. There was a fairly stiff breeze. I just directed Leslie to stand in one location and let out some of the string. I stood where I was and held the kite. When she was at just the right spot, I had her stop. I lifted the kite above my head and let go. Instantly the kite was airborne. Unfortunately, the kite went round and round a couple of times and then crashed. After repeating that for about the third time, one of the locals that had been watching said our tail was too light. I think that is the first time either of us had been accused of our tail being too light…
Since we did not have any fabric to add to the tail, we gathered up the kite and began to walk back to our vehicle. On the way, Leslie stopped at a beer vendor booth and asked what their diagnosis might be. They agreed the kite’s tail was too light. Leslie asked how that might be remedied. The three unanimously said we should add a branch. At that very instant, one of the young men jumped up and pulled a weed out of the ground. He tied the plant to the end of the tail. Then he escorted Leslie to the back of the vendor tent and put the kite in the air. It flew like a champ!
After a couple of minor crashes, the kite was flying well. All of a sudden, it fell out of the sky. The same guy, Leslie, found out his name was Bailey, dashed over and recovered the kite. When he brought it back, he pointed out that the kite had partially torn. Since he had done so much to help us, Leslie said he could have the kite. He and the other two guys were delighted. Also, to show our appreciation, we bought two Banks Premium beers from them.
We took our beer to the next tent where an older man offered us a chair. We took him up on his offer and sat there at that early morning hour to drink our beer. The man was probably in his 60’s. He had a long beard and long hair. At first glance, one may have steered clear, but he was a lovely man. We very much enjoyed talking with him.
One of the stories he shared with us was how people used to tie razor blades at the end of their kite tales. When their kites got too close to another, the tail would cut the string of the other kite. When I first heard that I thought it was just a tall tale. However, one of my colleagues confirmed that that used to happen. It still happens sometimes today.
After ceding our kite to the “beer” guys, we drove home.
Later in the day, our friend Fabien called to see if we wanted to fly a kite with him. Of course, we said yes. We headed out again around 15:00. As soon as we got to the straight portion of the East Coast Highway, I was utterly shocked at how many kites were in the sky. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of kites in the air. It was amazing!
We parked near the Guyana Defense Force field. We walked into the area with Fabien’s cocker spaniel, Simba, in tow. Walking around in the field, we had to dodge kite strings reasonably frequently. We found the perfect spot on the grounds and Fabian prepared to unveil THE kite. It was a nylon kite in the shape of a parachute. There were several lines from the fabric that met at two guide-lines. Each guide-line had a handle. He laid the kite on the ground, stretched out the guide-lines to their full length, jerked the guide-lines a couple of times and the kite seemed to jump into the air.
After he had flown it for a while, he asked Leslie if she would like to try. She jumped at the chance. After a little bit of instruction, she went solo. Unfortunately, shortly after going solo, she guided the kite right over some telephone lines. Luckily, Fabien was able to retrieve it deftly, so the fun continued.
I had my opportunity too. While I did not guide it into any nearby lines, let’s say the kite was not always up in the wind. I was surprised by how much strength it took to overcome the force of the wind.
The kite was so unique that there was an endless stream of people, young and old, that approached Fabien to talk about the kite. Without fail, he always ended the conversation with the offer to fly the kite. A couple of people took him up on his offer. While they were in our vicinity, they also had to talk to and pet Simba.
Kite flying at the Guyanese Defense Force parade grounds.
While flying the kite, Fabien had spotted a massive kite in the air near the seawall. When we were all finished flying, we took a walk along the seawall toward that kite. Along the seawall and on the beach there were hundreds of people. I was surprised that with that many kites in the air, there were not more instances of kites getting tangled up with each other.
As we walked along, Simba was a big hit. Numerous people photographed him and took iPhone movies of him as we walked by.
We finally made it to where the colossal kite was tied up to a tree. It was probably three times larger than most other kites. Soul Train was written at the top of the kite. However, we quickly found out size does not matter. A young man and his girlfriend walked by followed by their kite. The kite was only about one inch; yes, one inch. It was tied by a string to a stick the young man held in the air as they walked along the seawall.
Heading back toward the vehicle, a man stopped me and asked me to take a photo of him and his friend. I did as requested. I don’t know why he asked that because he never followed up with any other comment such as please email me a copy. Oh well.
Driving home along the East Coast Highway, there were cars, people and kites everywhere. It was indeed a fantastic holiday.
The ancient Hindu spring festival of colors is known as Holi or Phagwah. In those countries which celebrate Phagwah, one risks getting smeared with colors if leaving the house; especially when wearing light-colored clothing.
The festival date can move from year to year based on the vernal equinox. The real themes of Phagwah are spring and the victory of good over evil. The last full moon of the Hindu month Phalguna sets the event.
The eve of Phagwah begins with what is known as a Holika bonfire. Holika was the evil daughter of an evil king. He was evil, in part, because he thought he was the only God and should be worshiped by all. One of his sons refused to worship him, so the king punished him. Somehow Holika was able to trick the son into sitting with her on a pyre. In the end, the fire consumed her but not her son. The Hindu God, Vishnu, killed the evil king. So, the bonfire symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
The following day, Holi or Phagwah gets into full and colorful swing. The colors used symbolize spring’s emergence in all of its beautiful glory. To celebrate, people throw various colors onto others. Some even use the ashes from the previous night’s bonfire for the black color.
The day before Holi, Leslie and I noticed people making a large pile of what looked like old palm fronds in the vacant field across the highway. It dawned on me we had “front row” seats for that night’s Holi bonfire.
The large bundle of dried palm fronds to the right of the white canopy would later become the Holi night fire.It was just after 19:30 when we stepped onto our front terrace to watch the festivities. One of the first things I noticed is there was a full moon rising through the clouds. The other thing I noticed was the sounds of drums coming from under the tent which had been set up at the site. The sound of the drums seemed to be at a constant crescendo. It kept us on the edge of our seats for quite some time.
I passed my time “painting with light” as cars drove on the highway between our vantage point and the bonfire location. The crowd for the bonfire continued to build as did the sound of the drums.
Finally, at nearly 20:20, a group of men gathered at the base of the soon-to-be bonfire. The drums were beating steadily. We could hear the crowd that had gathered. The horns of the passing vehicles further punctuated the din. Straining to see, I could make out the start of the bonfire at the bottom of the pile.
In no time at all, the fire engulfed the pile. At its height, the flames had to have been nearly 45 feet tall. I imagine the heat was fairly intense for those in the crowd. We could not feel the heat from our terrace. However, we could see the embers. Luckily, many of the structures nearby are concrete block with metal roofs, so there were no other fires in the area.
As the fire died down, we decided to call it a day.
The fire begins rather small.
The next morning, Phagwah, we both dressed for colors. Each of us had on a white top. That is like shouting for others to pelt you with colors.
Mid-morning, we headed to the Indian Cultural Centre. Unfortunately, I had been shown an incorrect location a few days before. We sat in the car at that location for nearly an hour before we decided to leave. On one street, we found a woman staffing a booth selling colors. We stopped and bought five boxes. They were about $1 per box, or $200GD.
As we were driving toward our home, we stumbled across the Indian Cultural Centre. That worked out to our benefit. Unlike last week, this time we arrived after the President of Guyana instead of waiting for him to arrive.
Shortly after we arrived, we were both doused with a white powder. That made it challenging to take a photograph of a dance troupe. Luckily I had prepared for the worst. I had covered my camera with a plastic grocery bag, leaving a hole for the lens. Even still, I did end up with some color on my camera. I was ultimately able to clean it off.
A Phagwah dance troupe was kind enough to pose for a photograph.After the photograph, we made it to the colors table. When we got there, we donated the boxes we had purchased. At the same time, we were both getting pelted with colors by those we knew and by strangers.
A large tent had been set up. We found some seats near the front. The program began with a group performing a spring-themed dance. As they spun their white and gold dresses billowed at the bottom. It was a beautiful sight.
The following group of dancers also had a spring theme. Additionally, their costumes were much more colorful. Even though I do not understand the Hindi words, the program was terrific to watch.
The last performance we watched was a musical duo. One man played an instrument that seemed to be a combination of an accordion, a piano, and a wooden box. I don’t know what it was, but it had a unique sound. They sang as they played.
When we made it back to our vehicle, we opened the doors and carefully retrieved the towels we had brought with us. Since our backs were not too bad, we placed the towels in front of us to keep from coloring our seat belts.
Cleaning up when we arrived home took a little doing. As I write this, we both still have some residual color on our skin. We threw our old, stained clothing into the garbage.
This afternoon, Leslie and I went to the Phagwah Mela & Bazaar. The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha sponsored it. That is an organization somewhat equivalent to a diocese in the United States. The event happens annually, usually the weekend before the actual Phagwah holiday (more on that after the holiday). The tickets for the event were $800GD, about $4. Parking was $1,000GD, about $5. I found it interesting that the parking was more expensive than the seat at the event.
The gates were due to open at 16:00. We arrived around 16:30, late by U. S. standards, but quite early by Guyanese standards (we shall see that demonstrated later in this post). When we arrived, we were directed to park in a lot on the east side of the Guyana International Conference Centre, the venue for the event. In the lot to which we were directed, there was only one car. It was backed into the first space, right by the driveway. We backed into a spot next to that car.
It was a very sunny afternoon. Walking from the car to the vendor tents found us walking directly toward the sun. It was quite tricky to see. Regardless, we made it to the vendor area. There were four or five vendors selling items such as jewelry, cosmetics, and Indian clothing. There were about as many tents housing various food vendors. There was one tent for a games area.
Our first stop was a tent with Indian clothing for men and women. I decided I would buy one of the beautifully decorated shirts. Speaking with the young lady there, I quickly found out they did not have anything in my size. I may have to wait to get that style of a shirt when we go to Pakistan.
We continued our walk by the food vendors. There was a lot of homemade Indian food for sale. We did not buy anything because neither of us was particularly hungry at the time.
There were hundreds of white chairs set up in front of the stage. Since we had already “seen” everything, we decided to take a seat and watch things unfold. At first, there was Indian music playing over the very, very large speakers. It was so loud that the sound vibrated our ribs. We could only hear each other if we leaned in and shouted in the other’s ear. The sounds morphed into a sound-check as we sat and watched the stagehands complete their final tweaking for the show.
The technicians performing a soundcheck.
The audience continued to build as we sat. Many of those arriving seemed to be drawn by the singer, Purnash Durgaprasad. We were treated to a beautiful sunset as we continued our wait.
I noticed one of the sponsors was I-CEE drinks. The shape of an I-CEE bottle struck me on one of the Centre’s building panels.
The audience builds, ready for the show.
Before attending, work colleagues told us it was very likely the President of Guyana would attend the show. That became readily apparent when the President’s bodyguards arrived. They directed the event staff to remove the front row of white, hard, wooden seats. Soon we saw some workers from the Centre bring out several plush, upholstered chairs. Those became the new front row. We were sitting about five rows behind them.
The program was slated for 18:00. It was probably about that time when the Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, showed up. It was about 18:50 when the Mistress of Ceremony addressed the crowd to say the program would begin in about 10 minutes or so. I was surprised she did not use the common Guyanese phrase, “just now.” Finally, at about 19:00, we could hear sirens that signaled the approach of the President’s motorcade.
I had sat on an aisle seat in the row we chose. Shortly after the sirens went silent, the President walked right by me. His wife, Deolatchmee Ramotar, followed him. They both made their way to the front row.
Almost immediately, the Mistress of Ceremony walked on stage to introduce the evening. She announced that the music that night was being provided by the eNetworks Orchestra. After she made a few remarks, she invited the President to come up and address the crowd. A portion of his speech dealt with the need for Guyana to pass the pending anti-money laundering legislation or face the consequences from the international community. After his remarks, he took his seat, and the show began.
The mistress of ceremonies introducing the President of Guyana.
Since we did not understand the language, it was impossible to tell what vocals accompanied any of the acts we saw. Regardless, the costumes and dancing were stunning. It appeared there was a contest of sorts between the different dance troupes and the various singers. The troupes and singers had come to the Georgetown area from all over Guyana.
The final act we saw was the crowd’s favorite, Purnash Durgaprasad. According to the Mistress of Ceremony, he was born in Guyana and now lives in New York. We stayed for four of his songs. At that point, our ears could take the loud beating no longer. We left our seats and walked back to the car.
As we approached the area where we had parked, I saw we had a challenge to overcome. There was another diplomat van parked perpendicular to our car, directly in front of our car. Faced with the prospect of having given up our excellent seats only to be stuck at the event until the bitter end, Leslie took it upon herself to see if she could find the driver of the van. To my surprise, she came back in less than two minutes with the driver. He moved the vehicle, and we made our exit.
We drove to the Grand Coastal Hotel to have a late dinner. I know my Spanish friends will not think of sitting down to dinner at 20:30 as anything but early, but for us it is late. We sat in the alfresco dining area and began with a bottle of 35 Degree South Merlot Reserva 2012. It is from the San Pedro vineyards in Chile.
Our dinner selection was easy on our waiter, Colin. We both ordered a Caesar salad and the main course of giant grilled prawns. On the side, I had potato wedges and fried rice. Leslie had garlic bread instead of the rice. The prawns did not seem giant to me, but they were delicious.
We paid our $20,000GD ($100US) tab and headed home for the evening.
We are very much looking forward to the Phagwah celebration on March 17.