Tag: Ruins

Ancient Peoples or Aliens?

Ancient Peoples or Aliens?

Tiwanaku, Bolivia – May 24, 2019

Friday morning was cold and clear, 1-degree Celcius (34-degrees Fahrenheit).  The clear skies bode well for my photography at Tiwanaku, my destination that day.

Right at the appointed hour, 08:00, Mariela, and her driver, Nico, arrived to pick me up for my guided tour at my residence (3,407 meters (11,180 feet)).  As one will read, the altitude is a topic of interest throughout the blog.  Mariela is the owner of her tour company, Mariela’s Bolivia.  One can find her on Facebook by searching for Mariela’s Bolivia.  Homebase for her company is in La Paz, but she offers tours throughout the area.  I cannot recommend her highly enough.  I will use her for additional trips soon.

As I found out throughout the day, the tour was all-inclusive.  When I got into the van, she immediately gave me a fabric bag with her logo.  Inside the bag were a liter bottle of water, two snack bars, a bag of chocolate-covered puffed rice, and two tangerines.  She also took care of all Teleférico fares, Tiwanaku entry fees, and lunch.

Both Mariela and Nico were friendly and personable.  Since my Spanish skills are not that good, it is a bonus that they both speak perfect English.

Our first destination was the Irpawi station of the green line of the Teleférico.  The plan was for Mariela and me to ride the Teleférico to the last station of the blue line.  Nico would meet us at that stop.  Rush-hour traffic was heavy, but we made it to the green line station in good time.  Mariela and I jumped out of the van and entered the station.  Since it was rush-hour, there were a lot of people in the station.  When I usually ride the Teleférico in the morning, it is around 06:00…not as many people then!

We entered an empty gondola and sat by the far window.  Immediately, another six people came into the gondola.  The door closed and we began the ascent from Irpawi.  Mariela started to share all sorts of information with me about Bolivia and La Paz.  As a history buff, I found the information very interesting.

Arriving at the first intermediate station on the green line, the Teleférico attendant asked us all to scoot closer.  I could see a queue of people waiting to get into a gondola.  By getting closer, we were able to accommodate two additional passengers.

In about twenty minutes, we made it to the final station on the green line.  That is also the beginning of the yellow line, our next transport.  There were very few people going our direction on the yellow line, so only two other passengers joined us.  Mariela continued telling me about her city and country.  One fact I found startling; at last count, some 70,000 people rode the yellow line daily from El Alto to La Paz and back again.

My first venture onto the yellow line provided a spectacular view of the recent horrific landslide.  The civil engineering teams working there accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot of work required.  Several homes and buildings continue to be at risk of slipping down the hillside.  The landslide impacted at least one hundred families.  Amazingly, there were only three casualties.

From the last mid-point station to the final station atop El Alto, the yellow line seems to go absolutely straight up!  I do not think the ride is for the squeamish.  Arriving at the Qhana Pata station in El Alto, we saw some of the 70,000 people queued up for the trip down to La Paz.

At the Qhana Pata station of the yellow line of the Teleférico people queue to ride into La Paz.

We switched to the silver line and ultimately to the blue line.  As we flew over El Alto, we saw dozens and dozens of people readying for the Friday markets.  At one point, the silver line crosses above a cliff.  As seems to be the norm in La Paz, structures hugged the edge.  I believe they were shops of some sort, not homes.

El Alto is at about 4,115 meters (13,500 feet) in altitude.  That is roughly 609 meters (2,000 feet) higher than my house.

The shadow of a Teleférico pylon seems to point well down the road.
A portion of the fruit and vegetable market in El Alto.
El Alto structures right on the edge.
Another view of the cliff structures.
A church in El Alto.

During the switch from silver to blue, I took the opportunity to photograph a map of all the Teleférico lines.  I had not previously seen that.

The blue line goes directly down the center of Avenida 16 de Julio.  It seems it will never end.  Along that avenue, one begins to see cholets.  The word cholet combines the word cholo, a pejorative term, and chalet, as in Swiss chalet.  Most buildings in La Paz and El Alto are unfinished, with the iconic exposed red bricks.  That meager finish allows the owner to escape some of the taxes imposed on a finished structure.  The cholets are finished, some to a fare-thee-well.  That brings on the mandatory taxes.

The ground floor is typically set aside for businesses.  The next couple of levels are event spaces available for rental.  The owner usually lives on the upper floors.  The embassy recently offered a cholita wrestling event, and the venue was a cholet.

A map of the Teleférico network in La Paz.
The blue line of the Teleférico heading east seems endless.
A cholet in El Alto.
A sign for a popular juice brand in Bolivia.
The Heroes of October Colesium in El Alto.
A cholet in El Alto.
A cholet in El Alto.
One of the midpoint blue line stations.
A cholet in El Alto.
A cholet in El Alto.

When Leslie and I recently visited the gallery of the artist Mamani Mamani, I remember seeing a photograph of some buildings on which he painted some murals (see the blog MAMAN!MAMANi).  Today I saw those buildings from the Teleférico.  I had no idea they were so far away.

Below the Teleférico, we saw nothing but gridlock!  I felt sorry for Nicco down there somewhere.  Regardless, we made it to the final station of the blue line.  There, an enormous Friday market was in full swing.  Nico was not there yet.  However, after just a few photographs, Nico arrived.  Mariela and I got back in the van.

Nico maneuvered the van through the crazy traffic until we got to Route 1.  From there, it was smooth sailing toward Tiwanaku, until we arrived at the village of Laja.  There is a tollbooth in that village.  After obtaining the toll-ticket, there is a police checkpoint.  The police officer looked at Nico’s driver’s license, asked where we were going, and quickly waved us through the checkpoint.

In the distance, high-rise public housing with murals courtesy of the artist, Mamani Mamani.
“Flying” over a street in El Alto.
The market seems to stretch to the horizon.
A bit of a traffic jam. This is why the Teleférico is the only way to travel.
The Friday market near the Waña Jawira station of the blue line, our final stop.
A man walking into the blue line station.
At the Friday market, women selling medicinal herbs.
The bustling Friday market.
Detail of a woman selling the medicinal herbs.

About 19 kilometers (12 miles) from Tiwanaku, Nico pulled off the road at an overlook.  The elevation is about 4,000 meters (13,123 feet).  This particular overlook affords one an epic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).  In this area of Bolivia, there is about 120-180 kilometers (74-112 miles) line of Andean peaks always covered in snow.  The difference in distance depends on the information source one uses.  Suffice it to say, the range at this overlook is stunning.  Even without the best light that morning, the mountain peaks are still a fantastic amazing sight.

A mountain in the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).
Illimani, part of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).

After traveling a little more than two hours, we arrived at the village of Tiwanaku.  It is the site of two famous and ancient archaeological sites, Tiwanaku and Puma Punku.  I noticed train tracks in front of an old building that must have been the train depot at one time.  I believe there is a special train one can ride from the La Paz area to Tiwanaku periodically.  Schoolchildren visiting the sites most often use it.  A sign near the old building indicated the altitude at Tiwanaku is 3,870 meters (12,697 feet).  Mariela purchased the tickets for our tour at the depot building.

First on our itinerary was a visit to the two museums in Tiwanaku, the Museo Ceramico (Ceramic Museum) and the Museo Lítico (Lithic Museum – as in monolithic).  Mariela and I first entered the Museo Ceramico.  It was instantly evident that either the heat was not on or there was no heating system.  Regardless, the museum helps paint a picture of the history of the area.  The information offered by Mariela helped bring the culture into focus.  The museum is where one begins to encounter the mystery surrounding Tiwanaku and Puma Punku.  Tiwanaku became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.  According to the UNESCO site, Tiwanaku flourished as a city between 400 A.D. and 900 A.D.  However, some materials in the museum date the civilization as far back as 15,000 B.C.  That is quite a range!

The museum displays many types of ceramics used in both everyday life and ceremonial life.  Additionally, one can view some weaponry, jewelry, and even a mummy found at Tiwanaku.  Maybe one of the most controversial items on display is the distended human skull.  That one skull is the tip of the iceberg as the museum owns many others.  No one knows the methods used to distend the skulls.  No tools or records of the activity survived.  Some have said the skulls might not be human, but rather extra-terrestrial.  I certainly do not know, but I can say it was one of the oddest things I have seen.  The museum does not allow photography, so I have no images to share.

Departing the Museo Ceramico, we walked next door to the Museo Lítico which showcase the stone monoliths found at the Tiwanaku site.  The Bennett monolith is the star of the show.  Wendell C. Bennett, an American archaeologist from Indiana is credited with discovering the monolith in 1932; thus the name.  Relocated to the city of La Paz after its discovery, it took nearly 70-years to return the monolith to Tiwanaku.  The monolith is almost 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall.  One of its more unique features is the backward right hand.  More on this later in the blog.

Mariela, my guide, purchasing the tickets that will allow admittance to all of the sites at Tiwanaku.
Tickets in hand and ready to go!
The rail station and a snack shack at Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco, elevation 3,870 meters (12,697 feet).

Exiting the museum, we headed to the archaeological site of Tiwanaku!  Directly across the street from the museum is the main entrance.  From the entry point to the site was roughly 335 meters (1,100 feet).  The benefit of being with a knowledgeable guide is that she knew the shortcut.  Nico picked us up and drove to the north side of the site.  From there, our walk to the site was a mere 33 meters (110 feet)!

Approaching the site, one sees the rock wall of the Kalasasaya Temple, but what catches the eye is the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple).  That is a large, square temple excavated about 2.5 to 3 meters (8 to 10 feet) into the earth.  Stone blocks make up the walls.  The most significant blocks are maybe 30 by 60 centimeters (12 inches by 24 inches).  The stones are nicely carved and fit together very well without any visible type of mortar.  The seams are tight, but not microscopically tight.  The face of some of the stones show what appear to be tool marks, but overall, they are smooth.  Each of the corners of the walls appears to be very close to 90-degrees.  Interspersed throughout the walls are some much larger stones, some are monolithic.

On each of the four walls are carved heads, 170 to be exact.  The carved heads are much closer to the ground than to the top of the wall.  I thought that was odd.  However, what is even more curious is the shape and design of some of the heads.  I saw at least two that could pass for our current belief of the looks of extra-terrestrials.  Some of the carvings seem to have turbans, something not known in the area in ancient times.  At least one of the heads appeared to be a skull, much like the distended skull in the Museo Ceramico.  Some of the objects have small noses, while others have quite broad noses.  Likewise, there are thin lips and quite thick lips represented.  Some of these features were not common in the area in ancient times.

The massive monolith in the center of the temple is not without its controversy.  Known as the Bearded monolith, it sports a thick beard and mustache.  The indigenous peoples are not known for such hairy faces.  So, the question remains, after whom is the monolith fashioned?  Just another of the many Tiwanaku mysteries.

The east gateway to Kalasasaya (Stopped Stone) Temple. The tourist is admiring the Ponce monolith.
Detail of the gate, monolith, and tourist.
Mariela allowing me to check the focus of the camera before she kindly photographed the author. By the way, that is all of my “junk” draped on her left shoulder.
Standing just above the Templo Semisubterráneo (semi-subterranean temple). The Kalasasaya Temple is in the background.
A group of school children in the semi-subterranean temple.
The Bearded monolith is in the center of the semi-subterranean temple.
On the lower section of the wall of the semi-subterranean temple are 170 carved heads.
Some say the white carved head here is representative of an alien.
The Bearded monolith.
The white head seems to be yet another of our extra-terrestrial friends.
A very odd-looking carved head, possibly with a distended skull.
The head at the lower right seems to look like a skull, possibly with a distended upper skull.
This head appears to have a turban-style headdress; something unknown in the local culture millennia ago.
The head of the Bearded monolith. The beard is quite thick and pronounced, not the norm of people in the area millennia ago.
A snake carved on the side of the Bearded monolith.
The “squished” face at the lower-center is rather odd-looking.

Exiting the temple, one looks directly at the Akapana Pyramid, the third and tallest structure at Tiwanaku, although not exceedingly excavated.  Mariela offered to walk with me to the top.  I opted not to do that, which meant our attention turned to the Kalasasaya Temple.

The east wall of Kalasasaya Temple is roughly parallel to the west wall of the Templo Semisubterráneo.  An ancient set of seven stairs appears to have been the main entrance to the temple in ancient times.  The stairs lead to a gate and ultimately to the Ponce monolith.  Well worn, the stairs are not open to the public.  To enter the temple, we walked along the north wall until we arrived at a much smaller set of seven stairs.  Going up the stairs, we made it to the topmost level of the temple.

A group of school children at the very worn steps to the east entry to the Kalasasaya Temple.
Detail of the east wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.
The north wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.
Yours truly at a stair to the upper level of Kalasasaya Temple.

We walked directly to the Sun Gate.  This gate, though carved from stone, is not similar at all to the other rock at the temples.  The face of the gate is incredibly smooth.  One cannot see any tool marks.  Precisely cut 90-degree angles are on either side of and above the opening.  Just how was this stone carved?  How was the stone transported to this spot?  Since there are no signs of stone chips, where did the carving occur?  No one knows the answer to these questions.  There are many theories, but no proof to date.

At the very top of the stone, above the opening, is an intricate carving of what archaeologists think is the Sun God.  To either side and below the Sun God are four lines of figures.  The lower line may have been a calendar.  The other three lines contain 48 identical winged figures.  Lastly, one cannot miss the enormous crack at the upper part of the stone.  Some believe that the break is the result of a lightning strike.  I disagree with that theory.  If lightning is the cause of the crack, I think there would be much more significant damage on the top portion of the gate.

The backside of the gate is not as intricate, but it still has the characteristic 90-degree angles and smooth finishes.

The east face of the Sun Gate.
Detail of the Sun Gate at Kalasasaya Temple. The figure is the Sun God.
The west face of the Sun Gate.
A side view of the Sun Gate. Note how smooth are the surfaces.

Our next stop was the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith.  This monolith is well known for its contrasting colors of the stone.  At the monolith we stood near a group of school children, also touring the sites.  According to their jackets, the children hailed from the Villa Tunari neighborhood of El Alto.  While standing there, Mariela continued to speak to me in English.  Hearing the English and the fact that I was not Bolivian seemed to be of more interest to the children than the monolith.  Several of them smiled and said hello to me as they departed the monolith.

The El Fraile monolith, like several others, has a unique characteristic.  The right-hand is backward, and in the left, El Fraile holds a chalice.  The fingers on the left side look natural, holding the cup.  In the right hand is what appears to be a scepter; however, if one looks closely, the fingers of the right-hand point in the wrong direction.  Another question, why?  There may be theories, but no one seems to know for sure.

A panorama of the Kalasasaya Temple looking south toward the Akapana pyramid to the left of the frame.
A group of school children at the El Fraile (the Friar) monolith.
A less crowded view of the monolith.
Looking southwest from the Kalasasaya Temple toward the village of Tiwanaku.

Along the north and south walls of a portion of the temple are 14 structures, seven on each side.  They appear like tombs.  Archaeologists believe they may have housed the mummies of leaders or ancestors of the Tiwanaku society.  I wonder if that is where the mummy in the Museo Ceramico originated?

While I read a sign about the tombs, Mariela asked me to stay where I was.  She disappeared on the opposite side of the wall.  Suddenly I heard my name called, but no one was around me.  I finally realized it was Mariela speaking to me through a small hole in the wall.  Even though she whispered what she said, I heard it all very plainly.  The holes in the wall are not only round.  They have interior undulations that seem to mimic the inner ear.  The holes prompt more questions.  Why are the holes there?  How were they carved so precisely?  The answer appears to be that there are no answers.

The Cuartos Ceremoniales (Ceremonial Rooms) Kalasasaya along the south side of the temple.

In the center of the tombs stands the Ponce monolith.  In the bright sunlight, it is easy to see the detailed carvings on this monolith; including the backward right hand.  The “belt” of Ponce has a repeating pattern of what seems to be a crab.  Those are in addition to the intricate designs on the headdress, face, chest, and fingers.  The monolith has what looks like a mid-shin pair of shorts or breechclout, festooned with circles and what looks like peace signs.  One theory holds these tracked centuries of solar and lunar eclipses.

On the back of the head of Ponce, one sees what looks like braids or dreadlocks.  An unusual hairstyle for that part of the world in ancient times.  At the base of the neck on the right side, a large chunk of stone is missing.  Spanish explorers possibly tried to decapitate the monolith as they did with so many others at the Tiwanaku site.

The front of the Ponce monolith.
Detail of the front of the Ponce monolith.
The left side of the Ponce monolith.
Detail of one of the sides of the Ponce monolith.
The backside of the Ponce monolith.
Detail of the backside of the Ponce monolith. Note the large chip missing at the base of the right side of the neck.
Looking into the Semi-subterranean Temple from the Kalasasaya Temple.
An “ear” hole in the north wall of the Kalasasaya Temple.

Descending from the Kalasasaya Temple, the final monolith we saw was the Descabezado (Headless) monolith.  As the name implies, this monolith has no head.  The stone looks like the stone used for the Bearded monolith.  Archaeologists believe the monolith dates from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.

We departed the Tiwanaku site and walked the 33 meters (110 feet) back toward the van.  At the parking area was a woman selling tourist souvenirs.  Of course, I had to buy something.  After I completed the transaction, she was kind enough to allow me to take her portrait.

The Descabezado (Headless) monolith.
A woman selling tourist souvenirs near the north entrance to the Tiwanaku complex.

Leaving the parking area, we began our drive to the lunch restaurant.  On the way, we passed a unique adobe structure.  It seemed like Bolivia adobe meets Hobbiton.  Nico was kind enough to stop to allow me to take a photograph.  Upon closer inspection, it was evident that if I tried to enter the low front door, I would undoubtedly bump my head on some of the even lower ceilings!  Because of that, I decided I would not go in!

An abandoned adobe structure alongside our route to lunch.

In a matter of minutes, Nico parked in front of the restaurant Taypi Uta.  That means “central house” in the Aymara language.  The owner built the restaurant and a sort of museum on the rest of the grounds.  The restaurant is modern, spacious, and very clean.

Our lunch, included in the price of the tour, was a Bolivian buffet.  It was delicious.  Our server, the owner’s daughter, brought our first course; sopa de trigo or wheat soup.  As soon as we finished our soup, the server placed a small table with a traditional cloth next to our dining table.  On the table, she placed three plates and ten small bowls.  The bowls contained the buffet.  I tried a little bit of everything.

One of the potato dishes was chuño.  They are a dark-colored potato, dried in some manner that allows them to be stored almost indefinitely.  They are not my favorite.  The potatoes lack taste.  My three favorite foods were the fried quinoa, the fried trucha (trout), and the llama.  The bowls may look small, but we were all sated by the end of our lunch.  That did not stop our server from bringing some yogurt for dessert.  It had some banana and quinoa on top.  I took a couple of bites, but yogurt is not one of my favorites.

Mariela noted that if we were working in a nearby field, the type of lunch we had would be brought to the area in the colorful fabric, for all to share.  After nearly ten months in Bolivia, this was my first genuinely Bolivian lunch.

Lastly, the server brought a basket with several keychains attached to business cards for the restaurant.  Each key chain had a small amulet.  I chose a chacha puma, a figure that is half-man and half-puma.

What an enjoyable lunch!

The interior of the Taypi Uta (Amayra for Central House) Restaurant.
For our lunch starter, sopa de trigo (wheat soup).
A true Bolivian lunch buffet. The two bowls at the top, from left to right are quinoa fritters and fried trout. The next line of bowls are chuño, uqa, quinoa, and fried chicken strips. The final row are potatoes, rice, lentils, and llama.
For dessert, yogurt, banana, nuts, and quinoa.
View to the south from the restaurant parking lot.

During lunch, we talked about our final tour of the day, Puma Punku.  Both Mariela and Nico spoke about people from the History Channel visiting the area a few years ago.  Those visitors were more interested in Puma Punku than Tiwanaku.  With that information in hand, when I got home, I looked up the episode in question.  I watched Ancient Aliens season 4, episode 6 entitled The Mystery of Puma Punku.  For anyone interested, it is well worth the investment of 44-minutes.

Following lunch, we drove the 600 meters (nearly 2,000 feet) to the Puma Punku archaeological site.  We all three walked into the site, toward the first set of H-stones.  As the name implies, these are stones formed in the shape of the letter H.  Looking at them from the front, they are approximately 1-meter (3.2-feet) square.  Many of the same questions come to mind.  Where did the stones come from?  How did they get here?  How were they carved with no trace of tool marks?  How were the precise 90-degree angles formed?  What was the purpose of the stones?  I am sure the list goes on and on.

Regarding where the stones originated, scientists are reasonably sure they came from a volcanic area, Kapia, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.  That fact makes the question of how the stones made it to the site all the more curious.  Some of the larger stones approach 100 tons.

Regarding usage, The Mystery of Puma Punku episode explores two theories; a door hinge system and a space vehicle launch system.  Watching the show, one can understand how the two individuals arrived at their opinions.  However, I question the validity of either theory based on what I observed at the site.  If the H-stones were part of an extensive door hinge system, where are the other hinge components or the door?  If the H-stones were part of a launch system, why are they presented in an upright position?  Why were the H-stones not aligned on the ground, parallel with the earth?  As one can see, the use of the word “mystery” is very appropriate for the Puma Punku site.

Some of the H-stones at Puma Punka.
Large blocks of red sandstone behind the H-stones.
The backside of the H-stones and another view of the sandstone block.
The I-shaped indentations were for metal connectors, some of which are in the Museo Ceramico.
Several precision-cut stones.
Some additional patterns with 90-degree angles.
A line of H-stones.
Detail of the H-stones.
A seam of two pieces of sandstone.
Squares and a circle cut in sandstone.
Note how flat the surface is and the absence of tool marks.

There are many other stones at the site, nearly all of which generate similar questions like those above.  However, there is one stone that is more perplexing than all the others combined.  At first glance, one might not even take notice of the stone.  It lies flat on the ground.  It is about 1.2-meters (4-feet) long by 0.5-meters (19-inches).  There is a large groove with two cylindrical holes on either end of the slot, roughly in the center of the stone, running lengthwise.  But the two most unexplained features are “drill” holes and parallel lines.

On the edge of the stone is a small ledge that is precisely at a 90-degrees angle.  On that small ledge are multiple small holes, apparently made with a drill.  They are roughly equidistant.  On the face of the stone, near one end, are two tiny, parallel lines carved into the rock.  The lines have the same precise 90-degree angles and equidistant drill holes.  I do not think I need to write all the questions here, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of questions about this stone.

In The Mystery of Puma Punku, scientists try to duplicate the cuts and finishes on a small stone taken from the site.  They used both a diamond wheel cutter and a laser cutter.  Neither even came close to matching the features found on the rocks at Puma Punku.  More questions…

This may have been the most interesting stone at Puma Punku. Along the front edge are equidistant holes that appear to be done with a drill. The two intricate parallel lines at the far right also contain “drill” holes that are equidistant.
Stones are strewn everywhere.
A partially excavated pit.
Looking west from the top of Puma Punka.
Detail of a nearby farm.

The structure at Puma Punku is a raised, pyramid-type structure.  At the west wall is a set of ancient stairs that were likely the main entry point.  Like the Tiwanaku site, they are well worn.  Other than the stairs, the construction at Puma Punku is much different.  Precisely cut, the stones at the walls fit together well.  The seams are so precise that one cannot insert a piece of paper between two rocks.  I saw no signs of visible mortar.  Again, questions…

The west steps to Puma Punku.
A wider view of the steps.
A portion of the west wall of Puma Punku.
The view east along the south wall of Puma Punku.
An example of the very tight seams along the walls.
This channel comes from the top of the temple.
Another example of the tight seams.
An inside corner.
Looking back across all of the various stones of Puma Punku.
More very smoothly cut stones.
A fallen gate.
Tourists on the other side of the largest, multi-ton stone at Puma Punku. It may approach 100-tons.
Smoothly cut stones.
Looking toward the upper H-stones.
The author at the some of the H-stones.

Near the end of our tour of Puma Punku, we saw some rodents living under the stones.  I believe they are called cui rabbits.  Regardless, they were cute and fun to watch.

A rodent under one of the rocks, possibly related to a chinchilla.
An adult and a youngster…
The den seemed to be up and under the huge stone.

After our walking tour of Puma Punku, we drove back into the village of Tiwanaku.  I wanted to take a few photographs of the town.  The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku, built between 1580 and 1612, is on the east side of the central plaza.  Built with stones from the archaeological site, it also showcases two monoliths near the front entrance.  Above the main entry door is a stained-glass depiction of a man’s face, possibly Saint Peter.  Whoever it is, the man does not look happy at all.

Following the brief photography session, we drove back to the Museo Ceramico.  The primary purpose was to use the toilets before our two-hour drive back to town.  Emerging from the museum, we crossed the street to one of the souvenir stands.  I bought a couple of items there and photographed our charming vendor.

A sign in town for good beef.
The Church of Saint Peter of Tiwanaku.
The entry to the church.
The southeast entry to the main plaza area of Tiwanaku.
Colorful buildings along the east side of the plaza.
A sign for Torito cold-cuts.
The snack shacks near the Tiwanaku museums.
A very nice vendor in Tiwanaku.

At about 15:00, Nico turned the van toward El Alto, and we began our trek home.  We made one more stop at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook.  Because of the lighting, the view was even more spectacular than it was in the morning.

This day was one of the most enjoyable tours I have ever taken.  I recommend Tiwanaku, and more importantly, Mariela’s Bolivia to anyone that visits the La Paz area of Bolivia!

A panoramic view of the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes).
Illimani in the distance. The city apparently at the base is El Alto.
Me at the Cordillera Real (Royal Range of the Andes) overlook.
Another view of Illimani closer to home.
Bartica – Gateway to Gold Country

Bartica – Gateway to Gold Country

Bartica, Guyana – March 22, 2014

The first leg of our venture to Bartica, the drive to Parika, began at 06:45. We picked up our friend and neighbor, Pat, and started the journey to the harbor bridge. That is where we were to meet two of my colleagues from work, Elroy Gibson and Worren Lewis. Elroy is from Bartica. He is the one that helped arrange the entire trip.
We arrived at the Demarara Harbor Bridge at about 07:15. The sign above the toll both indicated the next retraction was to be at 08:30. That means the bridge would be closed at that time to allow ships on the Demarara River to pass. Those closures usually happen a couple of times a day. The signs above each of the three toll both lanes were a little confusing; each said both open and closed. When Elroy and Worren joined us, we just followed a car through one of the lanes.

The toll booth at the Demerara Harbour Bridge.

The charge to cross the bridge was $200GD, about $1 U.S. We drove onto the deck, not entirely sure what to expect since it is a pontoon bridge. One of the people at work said it could be a little nerve-wracking when large trucks pass by. Regardless, as we drove across the bridge, we did not find it uncomfortable at all.

Driving across the Demerara River on the way to Parika.

At about 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles), the Demarara Harbor Bridge is relatively long. The Georgetown side of the bridge is a very urban area. Conversely, the west side of the bridge takes one into a mostly rural area. On the west side of the bridge, there was a sign indicating Parika was 37 kilometers (23 miles) to the west. Both Elroy and Worren said the trip would take about an hour.
We had to drive to Parika because that is where the boats depart for Bartica. The roads on the west side of the Demerara were in much better condition than those on our side of the river. Regardless, because of being just two lanes, the traffic, and passing through several villages, the trip most definitely took an hour.

Concentrating on the drive.
Minibus 32 just ahead.

Once in Parika, we drove directly to the pier. There is a police station right at the dock. Elroy asked if we could park there. Usually, the answer would have been yes; however, that morning, they declined because the Police Commissioner was coming through on tour. So, we unloaded our bags from the 4Runner. Elroy and I got back into the 4Runner to find a place to park. The others stayed behind with our bags.

The main road in Parika, Guyana.

About two blocks away, we found a parking garage. It was tight quarters, but the attendant was able to direct me into a space. We locked the vehicle and began our walk back. The block just before the pier contained various vendor booths selling everything from toothpaste to flip flops.
Approaching the pier, I could see numerous wooden boats tied to the dock. Each one was waiting for enough passengers to board so they could begin the trip to Bartica. Also at the pier was a car ferry. According to Elroy, it is one of two that were refurbished by the Chinese and given to the Guyanese. We had opted for the smaller wooden boats. They can make the trip to Bartica in just over an hour compared with over four hours for the larger ferry.
To get onto the pier, one must walk through a covered bridge of sorts. As we walked through, I noticed a bicyclist coming toward us. I am not exactly sure how he could maintain his balance. He was laden with three large water bottles under his arm and a propane tank between his legs. I don’t know how they do it, but that is not an uncommon site in Guyana. It gets even dicier when they have to use their foot rubbing against a wheel as their brake.

Watching the many boats at the Parika pier.
Some small shops on the way to the Parika pier entry.
The covered pier at Parika.

Emerging from the covered bridge, we came face to face with our transport to Bartica, the O-BAMA.
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 seatback 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 run-in with that terror.
The captain jumped down into the boat and addressed all of the 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 receive the funds 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 underway.

The O-BAMA boat captain providing our safety briefing before departing from the Parika pier.
Passengers on the Parika pier waiting for another boat.

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 flow 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 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 while we were actually in contact with the water. The bottom of the craft would slap a wave hard, sending us into the air. Gravity quickly pulled us back down and hit 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 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 finally felt like 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 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 Guyana, South America.
The river is vast, 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 houses 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 had thatched roofs.

A logging operation along the Essequibo River.
A very nice home between the jungle and the Essequibo River.
Some of our fellow passengers.

In between the houses and other structures was nothing but a 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 machete.
Now and then we would pass a more massive 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 comfortably sleep while traveling. I was surprised by Leslie’s seat-mate on the other side. He 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.

Leslie watching the banks of the Essequibo River go by while her neighbor sleeps.About an hour and ten minutes later, completing our 58 kilometers (36 miles) river journey, we arrived at the pier in Bartica. As the boat slowly made its way to the dock, 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 which made it almost effortless to step off of the bow onto the dock.

The New Modern Hotel and Bar at the pier at Bartica.
Passengers disembarking the O-BAMA and waiting for luggage.

I was disappointed that the water was muddy; I had been hoping for black water. I explain that concept in more detail below. Elroy said the rivers at Bartica used to be black; however, the dredging upriver for gold has changed all of that. As vast 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 the point of land with the Essequibo River along one side of the area and the Mazaruni River on the other. At this point, it is about six kilometers (3.8 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. On the road, several taxis were 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, with both the property and the construction in excellent repair. The owners are Bhagwandas Balkarran and his wife. They live on the first floor and rent out the eight rooms on the second floor. As soon as we arrived, Mrs. Balkarran grabbed four sets of keys and escorted us upstairs.

The ‘D’ Factor Interior Guest House.

View of the street from the guest house.
The Jerusalem boat passes our hotel. The front seat saying is “Blessings & Honor.”
A small boat passes by the northbound Capt. Danny.
The Capt. Danny on the Essequibo River.

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 was when we got an opportunity to understand where the hotel is situated. It is smack dab on the edge of the Essequibo River. It was very relaxing to sit on the terrace and listen to the waves gently slap up against the wall of the yard.

The home next door to the guest house.

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 generally walked 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.

Police in Bartica preparing for a review.
The Bartica police standing in front of the New Modern Hotel and Bar.

Most of the shops were open. There was a surprising amount of traffic for such a small town. The population cannot be much over 15,000, which means it is about the size of Fruita, Colorado, but there was a hectic 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 provide power to the community via diesel-powered generators. The power generation plant was very noisy as we passed.

Indrani’s Fashion store entry.
A typical shop along Front Street in Bartica. The blue sign reads, “Ice for sale bucket and bowl check upstairs.”
Front Street is crowded and busy.
The traffic on Front Street.
The Welcome to Bartica sign. It reads, Your Community…Your Home… No Place for Drugs. Size: 1 sq. mile. Population: 15,000.
The Front Street vendors sold nearly everything imaginable.

Continuing south, we came upon the Bartica Market. The market is comprised of multiple private stalls all under one gigantic roof. The market was reasonably crowded since Saturday is a significant 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 many boats there while we were there, but that is where the fish make their way into the market.
The fish market was by far the most significant 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 delicious fish.

The fish area of the Front Street Market.
An employee waiting to provide service at the fish counter.
A wider view of the fish counter and the market.
Walking through the fruit and vegetable section of the market.

Back on Front Street, we started walking 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 a fish dish while I opted for curry chicken and fried rice. I thought it was terrific.

Pedestrians and vehicles on Front Street.
Aunty Chan’s Massive Restaurant on Front Street.
The shop across the street from Aunty Chan’s.
Vashie’s Night Club.

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.
While we were standing outside our hotel, we met with Mrs. Balkarran. She asked if we needed any water or juice to take with us on tour with her husband. We did buy a few items to take with us. Thankfully, Pat had brought a cooler.
When we had all that we needed, we walked out of the hotel to the pier by Balkarran’s hotel to get on one of his boats. It was a wooden boat; however, it did not have a roof. This boat was a little smaller than the one we took from Parika. It had four benches. It was pretty powerful though, with one 200 horsepower and one 150 horsepower outboard motors.

A line of posts along the south side of Dress Island. I am not sure of their purpose. They may be for boats to tie up.
A large boat docked on the Mazaruni River.

It was the early afternoon, and the wind had come up a little bit. That made for choppy waters on the Mazaruni River, not unlike what we had experienced earlier in the day.
Motoring upriver, we saw many different types of barges. Some were moored at the shore while others were plying the river, both up and down.

A couple of barges moored along the bank of the Mazaruni River.

Steering a barge downstream on the Mazaruni.
The captain of Sir Junior waves.

One of the things we learned is the Mazaruni River/Essequibo River area had been used in World War II as a submarine facility. Apparently, the river at that point is around 260 feet deep. Allied submarines would come upriver from the Atlantic Ocean for repairs and then return to the oceans to engage the enemy.
Balkarran stopped at several locations and provided us with various historical facts of the area. One of the first areas we stopped at was the Mazaruni Prison. He shared with us that the prison had been around since the late 17th Century under Dutch control. The wall near the shore had been built by hand; however, the various blocks show no signs of chisel marks, yet they fit together impeccably. Back in the day, there had been a tunnel connecting the Mazaruni Prison location with the Fort Kyk Over Al location. It has since been filled in because prisoners would use the tunnel to aid their escapes.
Adjoining the Mazaruni Prison is a dry-dock. It dates back many years too. There were some ancient-looking vessels there. I am not sure if they were all seaworthy or not.

Panorama of the Mazaruni Prison complex.
The Mazaruni Prison is on the bank of the river.
Several old boats, including the Barima, tied up at the dry dock on the Mazaruni River.
This boat may have seen better days…
Very large home on Buck Island in the Mazaruni River.
Our captain, tour guide, and hotel owner, Bhagwandas Balkarran.
Some small homes on the edge of the jungle and the Mazaruni.

The next stop was the island with the remains of the Fort Kyk Over Al. The roots of the fort stretch back to the Dutch settlements in 1616. Apparently Kyk Over Al translates loosely to “see over all”. The fort passed back and forth between the Dutch and the British for many years. The only visible remnant today is an arch that was probably a doorway of some sort in the past.

The pier at Kykoveral Island.
One of the only remnants of Fort Kyk Over Al on Kykoveral Island.
One of my work colleagues, Mr. Lewis.
Mr. Lewis at the fort archway.
It was hard to believe the archway dated from the 17th Century.
Red flowers near the fort archway.
The pier down to the Mazaruni River.
One had to walk under this large mango tree to get onto Kykoveral Island.

The other very fascinating sight on that island was the leaf cutter ants. Walking toward the arched doorway, we had to step over a line of leaf cutter ants. I had seen them before on television shows, but never in person. They were amazing. Each of them was carrying a piece of a leaf up to the size of a dime. Some were taking a small dark-colored berry. They were all marching in a line. I estimate the track was some 30 yards long. They seemed to congregate at a small pile of “cut” leaves and then carried them away. I watched them in amazement for quite some time.

Leafcutter ants on Kykoveral Island.
Leafcutter ants II.
Leafcutter ants III.
Leafcutter ants IV.
Leafcutter ants V.
Leafcutter ants VI.

Back on the boat, continuing upriver, we came to a granite quarry. That surprised me. I did not think there would be granite in this particular geologic location. I have always associated granite with mountainous regions. The Italians purchase and resell some of the granite for countertops. The “chunks and hunks” that remain are placed on barges and transported to the Guyana coast to fortify the sea wall defenses.

The Briony.T moored at the bank of the Mazaruni River.
A barge full of granite boulders preparing to depart the bank.
A barge moored on the Mazaruni River.
A particularly calm stretch of the Mazaruni River.

As we continued south on the Mazaruni River, we came upon some rapids. Balkarran gave us the option of going through the rapids or not. We all opted to “run” the rapids. They were not too daunting, especially for a boat with 350 horsepower.

Captain Balkarran providing information about the area.
Approaching a fast-flowing area of the Mazaruni River.
The jungle appears impenetrable.

Just beyond one of the rapids, Balkarran pointed out a beach that is part of 25 acres that he owns. He said he often brings groups there to camp and fish. Since there is no stagnate water, there are no mosquitoes there. The only pest that can be a problem is horseflies.
From the camping area, Balkarran took us back downriver. At one point he turned the boat into a sort of cove and aimed for a small opening in the trees toward the river bank. We moored at a trailhead for Marshall Falls.
The slightly worn trail led directly into the jungle. Looking at the path heading into the forest, disappearing into the trees, it reminded me of a route one may see in the Secret Garden. Neither Leslie nor I had ever been in a jungle setting. It was awe-inspiring. I am confident the hike to the falls would have gone much quicker if we had not been gawking at everything we saw. For example, we saw a brown ball-shaped object on the ground. It was probably twice the size of a softball. It was a termite nest.

The start of the trail to Marshall Falls.
A plant with some sort of berries.
A termite nest along the trail. It is about twice the size of a softball.
Our companions on the trail.
Posing during our jungle trek.
A plant with an odd-looking red flower.

As we walked, Balkarran shared many stories and facts with us about the jungle, plants, and wildlife. At one point, he asked us to listen to the Howler Monkeys. I did not hear anything. Unfortunately, we did not see any wildlife during our entire trek, no birds, no monkeys, no snakes, nada.
The hike to the falls was “advertised” as a 30-minute walk. It took us closer to 45 minutes. I estimate the trail was around a mile in length. The path from the riverbank rose steadily in elevation; however, it was a gradual rise. The last couple of hundred meters of the trail was quite steep, heading down to the falls. It was so steep that someone had attached handrails between trees on the side of the route at several locations.
When we began the descent, we could hear the falls. Once we reached the bottom of the trail at the small valley floor, we saw a beautiful waterfall. Cutting across in front of it was a wooden bridge to allow one to get to the other side of the stream and ultimately to the falls themselves. Stepping onto the deck, one immediately noted the walking surface was canted a little toward the right. There were some “railings” to help. The word is in quotes because they did not extend the full length of the bridge, nor were they very sturdy. Regardless, at least they were there, or so one thought until stepping on a particularly slanted and slippery portion, reaching for the railing, and finding it did not extend that far. Luckily no one fell off the bridge into the water.
The water at this portion of the stream, unlike the rivers, is what the locals call “black water.” If the water is more than a couple of feet deep, it looks black. One can see the color vary from the surface to the point that it becomes black. It is unique. That is apparently how the Essequibo and Mazaruni Rivers used to appear. The coloration is caused by tannin in the water from the many plants in the jungle.

The black water passing under the bridge to Marshal Falls.

The brave, first venture across the bridge. Marshall Falls is visible in the background.
The rather precarious bridge.
The black water leaving Marshall Falls.

Marshall Falls has a total drop of about 20 or 25 feet (6 – 7.6 meters), not huge, but spectacular in its own right. Elroy and Balkarran climbed about halfway up the falls and then disappeared behind the falls. There was a small “cave” behind the falls. I understand there is an area above the falls in which one can sit and relax, almost like a hot tub.
We lounged around at the falls for maybe an hour before we began the trek back to the boat. As we started back up the steep portion of the trail toward the boat, Balkarran was kind enough to use his machete to cut a walking stick for Leslie from one of the many jungle saplings. She commented on how much easier the walk was because of that and also how heavy the stick was. It may have been a Green Heart sapling. The Green Heart is very dense and heavy wood.

Marshall Falls.
Mr. Lewis at Marshall Falls.
Mr. Gibson, another work colleague, at Marshall Falls.
Mr. Gibson and Mr. Balkarran standing in Marshall Falls.
Leslie and I at Marshall Falls.
Mr. Gibson under a portion of Marshall Falls.
The bridge as seen from the Marshall Falls side. The skinny and steep trail awaited our departure.
A final view of Marshall Falls.

Once we crested the top, it was all downhill, literally. We continued our journey toward the boat. Suddenly, Leslie screamed. As we all rushed to her aid, we discovered she had been victimized by the “alligator tail” vine. This vine has small stickers. The slightest brush dislodges dozens of prickly stickers onto whatever brushed up against the vine. As it happens, there was a vine that was hanging down near the trail. Leslie brushed up against the vine with one of her fingers. She ended up with dozens of stickers in her finger. We helped her pick them out and continued on our way. The remainder of the hike to the boat was uneventful.
Back in the boat, we turned downstream to head back to Bartica. As noted above, the word Bartica is an Amerindian word that means red earth. At one point along the river, we got a good view of what that means. One could see the red soil hills towering above the river.
During the ride back, we found it was much smoother than when we initially departed Bartica.

Back at the banks of the Mazaruni River.
Through those trees was the trailhead for Marshall Falls.

Back at the hotel, we sat on the terrace, sipped some 15 year XM Supreme rum, and watched all of the boat traffic on the river. The conversation was great. We relaxed for the remainder of the evening.

Relaxing beside the Essequibo River with some XM Supreme Rum.

From one corner of the terrace, I could see the car ferry docked at the Bartica pier. I could also see two young boys that were fishing from the river wall. I never saw them catch anything, but they were trying and having fun.

The Malali ferry at the pier at Bartica.
Two boys fishing at the bank of the Essequibo River.
The relaxing vista of the Essequibo River.

The Essequibo and Mazaruni Rivers were active. It was apparent these were the interstate highways of the interior. Boat after boat went by; each was carrying either numerous people or cargo. We asked what happens when it gets dark. Elroy said the boats are supposed to stop running at night. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. Most of the fatal boat accidents on the rivers occur at night.

A man and woman piloting the Honor on the Essequibo River.
A man and boy on the Essequibo.
The Lady V Only quickly departs Bartica, heading to Parika.
The Miss Tracy. The first two benches have Bible verses. The bench in front of the captain reads, “God’ Gift.”
The captain of the Bush Man stays low in the boat.
The P-Ann-C moves quickly toward Bartica.
The Jerusalem departs Bartica.
The Wyatt speeding toward Bartica with nine passengers.
The Commando out for an early evening run.
The Rock approaching Bartica.
A woman heading toward Bartica.
The Bush Man returning from whence it came with passengers.
A small boat departing Bartica.
The Unique 4 departing Bartica. The bench in front of the fuel tank reads, “Who Vex Loose.”
A captain shuttling two to Bartica.
The Commando returns to Bartica.

For me, one of the more interesting boats was the “prison” boat. We had actually seen that moored at the Mazaruni Prison dock earlier in the day. The boat was passing by the hotel, loaded with cement building blocks. The blocks are made by prisoners.  The prison boat was en-route to the Bartica pier to offload the cargo.

The Lady V Only zips away as the prison boat nears Bartica.
The boat from the Mazaruni Prison.
View of the Bartica pier through the rooftops.
Neighboring houses near our guest house.
Tin roofs of varying ages.
A red-capped cardinal at the bird feeder.
The dog at the guest house.
The vastness of the Essequibo River.
View from the guest house terrace.

After the sunset, we decided it was time to venture into town for dinner. We opted for a Brazilian restaurant. We were expecting a restaurant where they continuously came by with different grilled meats, cutting them onto the dinner plate. That was only part of the story. The restaurant was open-air. The buffet portion was woefully understocked when we arrived. One of the trays had some meat in it. We all took a small piece. That was much to Leslie’s chagrin; it was liver. That is one meat that she detests. It did not go over well.
The wait staff did stop by with a little meat, but not very much. There was not anymore being grilled, so we ate what we could, and we headed back to the hotel. It was the only “clinker” of an incident during our trip, so I guess it was worth it.

Sunset at the guest house.
Sunset over Bartica.
On the terrace of the guest house.
The terrace after sunset.
A typical home in Bartica.
Evening traffic in Bartica.

We had more conversation and a drink on the terrace of the hotel. When we went to bed, I noticed there were mosquito nets for each bed. My lesson learned on this trip was that if nets are offered, nets should be used. I ended up with dozens of mosquito bites on my lower legs and ankles. In the future, I vow to use the nets! I should have known that sleeping under the net would have only added to the beautiful ambiance of the river water gently lapping against the river wall. Other than being drained of some blood, I slept well.
The next morning I saw the car ferry depart, heading downriver for their four-hour journey. I was happy to know we would be back home within that same amount of time.

The Malali departs Bartica early in the morning.
An early morning run on the Essequibo River.
Sunrise over the Essequibo.

Leslie and I were fortunate enough to go with Elroy that morning to meet his brother. We also met the lady and man (aunty and uncle) that had raised him. They were wonderful people. We felt fortunate to have been able to meet them.

Mr. Gibson and his brother.
Mr. Gibson with his uncle and aunty.

The taxi that picked us up from aunty’s home took us to Aunty Chan’s Massive restaurant, the same place we had eaten lunch the day before. We were able to get a cup of coffee to take back to the hotel. We took an extra one for Pat.

Bob Marley in Aunty Chan’s.

We were dropped off at the hotel. We spent time on the terrace, drinking our coffee, and waiting for everyone to get ready to depart.

Flowers near the guest house.

Leaving the hotel to go to the Parika-bound boat, we stumbled across the “bird races.” I have heard of bird races since I first arrived in Georgetown, but I had never gotten to talk to any of the participants. The “race” is not a race in the NASCAR-sense of the word. Instead, some judges determine which bird has the best warble. I must say their songs are lovely.
The race we happened onto had six bird cages, each with one bird. Leslie and I stopped to talk to one of the racers. When we inquired where he had gotten his bird, he said it came from the jungle. They use many methods to catch the birds; bubblegum (yes, bubblegum verified by several sources), peanut butter in traps, and netting. Once obtained, the birds are trained for different calls. The birds are precious in racing circles. They can sell for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, Guyanese dollars. For example, a $400,000GD bird is the equivalent of $2,000US.
One of the attractions of a bird race is betting. One stands to win good money if one bets correctly.

A cow in the street draws little attention.
A bird waiting for the bird races.
Two birds in cages side by side.

We did not stay to watch the race. Instead, we continued our walk to the Bartica pier to catch our speed boat to Parika.

Arriving at the pier, I saw our captain from the day before on the O-BAMA. I thought he was going to take us on his boat again. He said he was not leaving until later in the day. Instead, we were ushered onto the Sariah.

“Stick No Bills” did not seem to deter the Quick Fix General Spares store. This is at the Bartica pier.
The Raven waiting at the Bartica pier.

As soon as we boarded, I could see this boat was not quite as comfortable as the O-BAMA. The seats were padded, but they were just bench seats. There were no over-sized seatbacks.
When we boarded the boat, we brought it to the half-way point. So, unlike the day before when we boarded and were reasonably quickly underway, this morning we had to sit on the boat, waiting for other passengers to fill the seats. We sat there for close to 30 minutes. At one point, when there were three or four seats remaining, the captain ducked his head in the boat and asked if there was anyone on board that wanted to pay for the remaining seats. I almost did. At $2,500GD per seat, it would have been about $50. I opted to wait.
Not too long after the captain’s inquiry, the remaining seats were filled, and we were all on our way to Parika. The Essequibo River was reasonably calm at the early hour. For the first 30 minutes of our journey, it was rather smooth going. However, as we got closer to Parika, the water became much choppier.
At one point, we could all hear the motor of the boat rev loudly, then there was silence, and the boat settled to a stop in the water. At first, I thought maybe someone had fallen overboard. Elroy told us it sounded like the motor had hit something and came up out of the water. The captain had immediately shut off the engine to keep it from blowing the motor. Within a minute or two, we were heading downriver again.
Luckily, as the water began to get rough, we found ourselves at the pier in Parika. We got off the boat and started our walk to our car.
At one of the street intersections, we stopped at the market to buy some fruit. Leslie had been looking for potatoes for our dinner that evening. Not one of the vendors we checked with had potatoes.

A ferry at the pier at Parika.
Many little shops line the road from the pier.
Looking for bargains at the Sunday market in Parika.
The Wealthy Powerful Chinese Restaurant.
Many colors at the Parika Sunday market.

I believe we were all relieved to get into the relatively plush comfort of the 4Runner after our bout with the river waves. I wound us through the streets of Parika and pointed back to the Harbour Bridge.
Approaching the bridge, I reached into my pocket to get money for the toll. I was surprised that heading east, there was no charge.
On the other side of the bridge, I dropped off Elroy and Worren. Leslie, Pat and I continued our uneventful drive back to our homes.
Not long after we got home, another of my work colleagues, Brian, brought a gift for Leslie. Leslie had often mentioned how she wanted to eat some iguana. Brian had obliged. He had a small Styrofoam container holding a curried iguana and rice. One could still easily make out the green skin of the iguana. We both tried some. It was a little bony. Surprisingly, instead of chicken, it tasted like pork. It was good, but we both decided we did not need to go out of our way to have any in the future.

Curried iguana. It actually tasted like pork.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts

Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis – January 4, 2013

As usual, I was the first of my clan to wake up. I went up to the lido deck for coffee. At that time we were still about an hour or so south of our docking at Basseterre, St. Kitts. It was still somewhat dark, but I could see the outline of the island.

Sunrise as the cruise ship approaches St. Kitts.
Sunrise as the cruise ship approaches St. Kitts II.
A yacht in Basseterre Bay at St. Kitts.
The pier at Basseterre, St. Kitts.
The city of Basseterre, St. Kitts.
The welcome building at Basseterre, St. Kitts.

During breakfast, we decided to go to the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. Brimstone was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. We also wanted to see the Caribelle Batik studio.

We strolled off the ship at about 08:15. We were approached by a man that offered to take us to both places and back for US$60. The shore excursion price from the ship was about US$100…per person. The taxi driver’s name was Alex. As we drove through Basseterre, he pointed out and described several sites; Circus roundabout (patterned after London’s Piccadilly Circus), Independence Square (the walkways are done in the shape of the Union Jack), and the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. We also saw the St. George’s Anglican Church built initially in 1670.

Welcome to St. Kitts!!

A steel drum welcoming group.
An Anglican Church and cemetery on St. Kitts.

At one point Alex stopped in front of a gas station. He proudly proclaimed that gas on the island cost US$15 per gallon. And I thought prices were terrible in the U.S.! At that price, it would cost me about US$300 to fill up the 4Runner. I don’t think I could afford to do that very often.

As we continued along, Alex stopped at a ravine. He said it was called Bloody Point. On that spot in 1626, the British and French military massacred thousands of Carib Indians. Local lore is that the blood ran for several days, hence the name.

Cranes roosting in a tree in Basseterre, St. Kitts.

Flags flying at one of several universities on St. Kitts.
The site of the first Amerindian settlement in the 1500’s.
Recycling at the “bottle tree??”


We arrived at Brimstone Hill at precisely 09:30. We were literally the first tourists of the day. The road up the mountain went through a part of the rain forest. It was like driving through a living tunnel. It was very steep, very narrow, and it had one hairpin turn after another.

Alex parked at the parade ground, let us out of the taxi and pointed us to the stairs. As soon as Leslie saw the stairs, she opted out. There were only 26 stairs, but they were quite steep. The stairs, made of stone, rise about six or seven inches. The treads were each about five or six feet deep. All of the footsteps were at an incline. Had the stairs been level and of more traditional size, there would probably have been closer to 200 steps. The view from the top was spectacular. One could see the island of St. Eustatius just to the north.

Some canons at a lower level of Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park.
Flowers alongside the steps to the upper level of Brimstone Hill Fortress.
The Brimstone Hill Fortress canon seems to be pointing at St. Eustatius Island.


The Citadel area of Fort George was unusually well preserved. One can walk through virtually the entire fort on a self-guided tour. There seemed to be many canons around the citadel and bastions. Looking closely at those canons, I saw something I had never seen before, the aiming mechanism. On top of the barrel was a straight notch. Near the back was an arrow shape pressed into the top. It was suddenly evident that lining those two up was how they would aim the canon.

There were several restored rooms in the citadel. They housed artifacts, maps, historical recreations, and drawings that helped bring the fort to life.

A canon guarding the western approach to Brimstone Hill Fortress.
The Prince of Wales Bastion at Brimstone Hill Fortress.
The Fort George Citadel entrance at Brimstone Hill Fortress.
Sandy Point Town is beneath the Brimstone Hill Fortress.
Sandy Point Town with St. Eustatius Island in the distance.
The north wall of Brimstone Hill Fortress.
The courtyard of Fort George at Brimstone Hill Fortress.
A lone, north-facing canon.
Multiple north-facing canons.
Upon close inspection, one can see the aiming arrow near the bottom of the canon and the aiming notch at the top.
A wider view of the north-facing canons.
South-facing canons.
The parade ground.
Detail of the coat of arms on a canon.
Tyler waiting down in the Fort George courtyard.
Insignias II.
Fusilier 1 standing at attention.
Fusilier 2 not quite ready for prime time…
Leslie relaxing at the parade ground.
The flag flying over Brimstone Hill Fortress.

We walked back down the stairs and reunited with Leslie on the parade ground. We all strolled over near the edge by the ruins of the artillery officers’ quarters. As we got closer, Leslie noticed there was a little boy right behind me. I would guess he was five or six years old. While I walked closer to the edge, he was so close to me I could feel him bump into my butt.

When I got to the wall at the edge, I stopped to take some photos. That is when I felt his hand touch my left hip near my shorts pocket. I sternly said, “you don’t want to do that.” He said he was trying to pick a small stone out of the wall. I turned slightly, so my pocket was up against the wall and took my photos. After I “busted” him he stayed well away from me. I am relatively sure he was a pickpocket in training.

The 26 steps back down to the parade grounds.

The remains of the artillery officers quarters.
A panorama of the Brimstone Hill Fortress.
The magazine bastion.


From Brimstone we drove back toward the city, stopping at the Caribelle Batik studio. Batik is a method of dyeing fabric. As I understand, the process begins with a line drawing on a piece of white cloth. Then wax is placed on the areas of the material so the particular dye will not penetrate. After the dyed fabric dries, it is boiled to remove the wax. Then wax is placed again on the areas to remain free of the next dye color. That process will continue for as many as seven or eight times. That means the finished product will have seven or eight different colors. It was interesting to see the process from start to finish; however, nothing struck us enough to want to purchase anything.

The grounds at the studio, known as Romney Manor (I am reasonably sure it has no connection to the presidential candidate), were beautiful. We wandered around, taking a few photos and then piled back into the taxi.

The grounds at Romney Manor, including some batik hanging out to dry.
The Romney Manor grounds.
A tropical flower on the Romney Manor grounds.
A woman explaining batik at the Caribelle Batik house.
Some beautiful batik hanging out to dry.
Detail of one of the batik pieces.
A fountain on the Romney Manor grounds.
A structure in the garden of Romney Manor.
A remnant of the past.
A white-flowered shrub at Romney Manor.
A red, spiny fruit of some sort.
The spiny fruit on the tree.
A tropical tree and flowers.

Alex headed us back to the dock. He had told us there are three local beers, Carib, Skol, and Stag. After doing a little shopping in the dock area, we stopped at an outdoor bar. We each sampled one of each of the three beers. I think my favorite was the Carib.

It was during this stop that Tyler decided he wanted to smoke a Cuban cigar. So, he slipped into a nearby store and came out with a cigar and a lighter. He sat on a sidewalk bench, smoking a cigar, and drinking a beer. What a sight!

We finished at the bar and went into the Pirana Joe store. It was an enjoyable tourist shop. As we were checking out, I said feliz año to the lady helping us. She thought that was wonderful! We had quite a conversation in Spanish. Her name was Natalia. She was from Columbia. We all thought she was very helpful. She made our shopping experience fun!

Tomorrow, Sint Maarten!

Looking across Basseterre Bay at St. Kitts.

Da boy!
My bride.
Round one, Carib lager.
Really, a drunken monkey, really??
Round two, Skol lager.
A Cuban cigar…
Round three, Stag.
A school of piranhas.
The Piraña Joe sign.
Back to our ship.
Our cabin visitor.

St. Lucia

St. Lucia

Castries, Saint Lucia – January 3, 2013

At 06:00, I found myself on the lido deck, mostly because that is where the coffee is at that hour. The ship had not yet docked. As we cruised alongside the island heading north, it was mostly cloudy. It looked like it was raining in several places on the island.

A cloudy approach to the island of St. Lucia early in the morning.
A tugboat in Castries Harbor waiting to assist our cruise ship.
The Port of Castries.
Another cruise ship on the horizon approaching Castries, St. Lucia.
Docking at the Port of Castries.
Workers at the Port of Castries tying off some of the cruise ship lines.


Once everyone was up, and we had finished breakfast, we walked off the ship and into the port town of Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. We had decided that since we are so comfortable with international travel and since we had a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide for the Caribbean; we would not sign up for the Carnival shore excursions. That decision meant we were bombarded with offers for tours and taxis as we walked out of the duty-free shopping area and into the bustling capital city of Castries. In three blocks, I said “no” more times than I could count. However, everyone to whom I said “no” responded very politely. That made us feel good about the people of St. Lucia.

I was trying to navigate to Castries Vendor’s Arcade. Instead, I took a wrong turn, ending up at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The island’s patron saint, St. Lucia, is painted directly above the altar. After seeing so many cathedrals in Europe, my family did not want to spend much time there.

Bideau Park in Castries, St. Lucia.
The morning rush on Jeremie Street.


I regained my bearings and steered us back to Castries Vendor’s Arcade. Once again, en route, we were questioned time and again about whether or not we needed a taxi or tour.

Castries Vendor’s Arcade is much like the markets we have seen in Mexico. It consisted of numerous vendor booths under a questionable roof. Water was still dripping through into the stall areas as a result of the morning rain before we arrived in port. It seems the same items are available in each of the booths. It did not matter to us; we bought numerous tourist trinkets there. While we were in the market, Tyler decided he wanted some sunglasses. He asked one of the vendors if there were any for sale in the market. He discovered we needed to cross the street to the other market to find those.

Shopping in the Vendor’s Arcade.
Children in the Vendor’s Arcade stopping for a morning snack.
Two cruise ships in Castries Harbor, ours is on the left. The passengers on these cruise ships increase the 20,000 population of Castries by about 30 percent!!


As we crossed the street to the other market, Romanus intercepted us. He “sold” us on a quick tour of the island for $10 per person. So, after poking around a little bit, when we came out of the market we found Romanus (actually he found us), got in his taxi and headed up the central mountain, Morne Fortune.

The road was quite steep at several points which allowed for some spectacular views. On the way up we stopped a couple of times to take some photos from overlooks. At each stop, vendors mobbed us, hawking their “handmade” items. Again, when we said we were not interested, they were polite and immediately moved on to their next target. We ended up going to the top of Morne Fortune, some 850 feet tall. The views on the way up were breathtaking.

A panoramic view of Castries Harbor.
The Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Adventure of the Seas in Castries Harbor.
Hillary at the Castries Harbor overlook.
A chicken and some chicks joined us on the overlook.
Our cruise ship at the dock.

At the top of the mountain, we saw some of the old barracks and the jail that was used by the fort in the late 18th century. The barracks are now classrooms for the local school.

When we stopped at the jail, the vendor there showed us a calabash shell. The fruit is not edible. Locals use the calabash shell to make bowls or plates; it is purely utilitarian. It comes from the calabash tree, the national tree of St. Lucia, according to Romanus. Just before we got back in the taxi, Romanus showed us what he called a Mimosa plant. When one touches the fern-like leaves, they fold in on each other. The leaves are very tiny; the pinna (or leaflets) are no more than an inch long. Romanus told us they were often used by trackers when looking for runaway slaves. When touched, the leaves of the plan immediately fold in upon themselves. The folded leaves would remain that way for up to five minutes, making it easy for trackers. I remember having one as a child. I know it as a sensitivity plant. I would pester it incessantly while eating my cereal in the morning.

Romanus also showed us a Christmas Palm. Its seeds are green. When they are ripe and ready to fall, they turn red, thus the name.

Looking north from the Inniskilling Monument.

The old jail atop Morne Fortune at Inniskilling Monument.
The fern-looking plant is a sensitivity plant.
A calabash tree.
Detail of a calabash.
The sign at Inniskilling Monument.
A canon at the monument.
A Christmas palm tree.
Detail of a Christmas palm tree.

From Morne Fortune, we drove to the Eudovic Art Studio (www.eudovicart.com). The studio is on the side of the mountain. That means there is not a piece of level ground to be found. Romanus did a yeoman’s job of finding a place to park among the other taxis and rental vehicles. On either side of us, regardless of the pitch of the land, there seemed to be a structure. In addition to the studio buildings, I believe there is a bed and breakfast building that doubled as Mr. Eudovic’s home.

As soon as we exited the taxi, a young woman met us and acted as our tour guide. She first took us into the part of the studio where the carving takes place. There was a carver working on a bas relief when we entered. Our guide told us all about the different types of wood used, one of which is extinct (I don’t think I completely understood how that works).

After watching the carver for a few minutes, we walked across the drive to a small display area/bar. We looked at several pieces there and bought some bottled water. Then we walked into the main gallery. That is where we met the studio’s namesake, Vincent Joseph Eudovic. In the gallery, Hillary bought a mask for a friend of hers. Mr. Eudovic was kind enough to carve his initials into it as we waited. I would highly recommend this stop for anyone traveling to St. Lucia.


A carver at Eudovic Studio showing the progress of his work.

The carver continuing his work.
The hand-carved sigh for the Eudovic Art Studio, Restaurant & Bar.
Hillary with Mr. Eudovic as he carves a face.
These hands very obviously know their way around the wood.
Mr. Eudovic describing his work.
Tropical flowers at the Eudovic Studio.

Romanus then took us back to the cruise ship dock. Before we boarded, we walked through the duty-free shops. I bought a suitcase to replace the one I took on this trip. The old one was beginning to fall apart.

After my purchase, we stopped at Chef Robby’s Restaurant and Bar. We each had a Piton beer. Romanus had told us that was the local brew. While we were sitting there, I commented that I now have some idea what fish feel like when victimized by fishermen. Fishers are throwing all sorts of lures and baits in the same water trying to catch that one fish. It was the same with the taxi drivers and tour operators trying to reel us in that morning.

A beer from St. Lucia, Piton. 

We went upstairs to that restaurant because we heard and saw a man on the upper level of the duty-free shops shouting and ringing a bell to get people’s attention and get them to come upstairs.

After having our beer, I went back to him and struck up a conversation. I found out he was Rob Skeete, the owner of the restaurant. I asked if any of the stores sold dominoes. He said no; however, he offered to get some for me. I told him I did not want to impose. He said he would not have offered if it would have been a bother to him. So, he sent a runner, literally, to the Castries Vendor’s Arcade to bring me some dominoes. In about five minutes, I had them in hand, and we were on our way. That was not before we found out the runner had been growing his dreadlocks since 1993! He had them stuffed under his knit cap. He said they were about seven feet long!

Dreadlocks brothers…?


Back on the ship we just lounged about until it was time for dinner. After dinner, we spent a little time and about $30 in the casino. That was followed by the musical revue show “Vroom.” The show was very entertaining. The show featured a male and a female lead vocalist as well as several dancers. They sang their way through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s with some Motown splashed in for good measure. We all thought it was very entertaining.

Tomorrow, St. Kitts!

Castries Harbor at St. Lucia.
Our cabin visitor.