Month: April 2007

Cricket

Well – I watched both semi-finals at the Windies Sports Bar in the Windies.  And both times regretted telling people which team I supported, as both times my preferred team lost.  Dumb.  Made myself feel better after the 2nd game by commissioning a homeless guy to write a poem for me.  Phil Collins continuously preaching to me to “Stop, think twice” finally had an effect, I guess.  Don’t have my notebook with me, so can’t publish a copy of the poem just now.

26 April 

Yesterday – went to Kaieteur Falls, the tallest single-drop waterfall in the WORLD!  Unfortunately, there had been a plane crash the previous night, and all the planes were involved in a air search.  So, myself – who figured that hunting for their workmate & friend was probably a little more important than a tourist flight - and a group of americans (guess what their reaction was), left for our trip about 2.5 hours late.  As such, it was a very abbreviated visit.  Ten minutes from one vantage point – usually one spends two hours walking around – getting to see the falls from about 5 different spots.  That would have been good – even from the one spot, this waterfall was awesome.  Good waterfall.  But – decided to take the abbreviated option, so we could still visit Orinduik Falls, where one can swim.  And some people said were better than Kaieteur.  Those people were crazy.  For my ’swim’ – I wasn’t allowed past the area where the water was at most 2cm deep.  The ’swim’ was actually just standing/sitting in one spot where you could get underneath part of the waterfall.  Nice enough – and served as a long-awaited shower/massage – but…

Turns out that the crashed plane had been discovered while we were there, 4 fatalities, and we flew directly over the crash site on the way back to Georgetown.  Possibly explains the pilot’s not so forgiving attitude on the tenth time he had to explain to the americans that if we didn’t leave Orinduik by 4pm, we couldn’t – as the plane wasn’t certified for night flying over bush.  Trying to hurry along stupid young seppos, when you’ve just found out that one of your co-workers/friends is dead, and you’re about to fly over the site.

Anyway…. that night I went along to the Sidewalk Cafe & Jazz Club – and enjoyed live jazz while drinking El Dorado 15 year old, apparently the best rum in the WORLD!  While there, some other folk I’d met at the Windies over the last couple of days turned up.  Turned into rather a late night.  And when I left, I went to a pool bar, and had drunken conversation (ie: listening and nodding) with local.  Got to the guesthouse about 2am.  Landlady scolded me this morning for walking home late by myself.  Fair enough, I guess – the drunk guy at pool bar was telling me his friend had been murdered nearby last week.

But – either Guyanese really are extremely friendly, or the government’s campaign to convince people to treat foreigners well for the World Cup has worked extremely well.  Every block I walk, one or two strangers ask me if “everything good mon?” or similar.  At bars, locals insist, really insist, on buying me beer, even while talking about how poor a country Guyana is.

Georgetown

Am in da Windies, mon.  Minibus up from Lethem to Georgetown was one of the most continuously ridiculous experiences in my life.  An 11 hour trip which turned out to be 19 hours – despite being in a minibus driven by a maniac rather than the bus.  Entire road was dirt/dust and pot-holed.  Yet – van was continuously at full revs, except when crossing very very dodgy looking bridges.  Imagine a home-made bridge on a New Zealand farm – every bridge on the main North-South route was exactly like that.  Gate on road closes overnight, apparently.  So – we stop at restaurant/bar at about 11:30 – and I’m told that we can’t leave until 4:30.  Driver doesn’t bother telling anybody else in van – so they’re sitting there waiting while we’re drinking.  Eventually, of course, I’m the last person up – except for three or four indigenous locals.  They are all christian, love to use the word ‘fucking’ a LOT, very very drunk, love to rubbish each other’s arguments, and very much love to explain their own arguments or greivances.

Michael, told by the tall chap that I didn’t like (first thing I heard him say was something like “Shut up Michael, he doesn’t want to listen to your bullshit.  No wonder you’re such a farking awful christian.”) – anyway – Michael was really really not happy about a bowler being sacrificed for Brian Lara.  “How, tell me, how – can you justify sacrificing a bowler for a batsman – and he bats at Number 8?  Tell me that?  How?” – repeat several times.

The beekeeper chap was very concerned/angry about  the US$100 that has gone missing – donated by some international beekeeping federation  Another chap kept telling me that the others knew nothing about cricket – but HE, he would love to talk to me.  And all of these people are so close to me that I couldn’t move an inch in any direction without touching somebody inappropriately.

I was still awake when the driver woke up, and immediately decided it was time to go.  From drunken slumber, to 100km/hr on dirt road in the space of two minutes.  Elderly lady and I swapped glances of “This guy is loco” and “We are going to die”.   Would die in style though. Van was bright pink, and according to the windshield named “Godfather”.

Finally got to Georgetown.  Just in time for me to drop off stuff at overpriced guesthouse – and go across the road to watch the 2nd innings of England vs West Indies, at a bar named “Windies”.

22 April

Moved to a cheaper guesthouse.  Walked around town a bit.  Sat at a few different pool bars, drinking beer & playing pool.  And that was about it.

23 April

Went for a walk.  Saw the Georgetown Cricket Club/Ground.  Pretty cool – but couldn’t go inside.  Instead – went to adjacent zoo.  Bloody snakes.  Two large boa constrictors asleep in tree, coiled together.  (I think there was two – I’m pretty sure I saw two tails.  Otherwise, one very very large snake.)  On the ground – two live chickens.  One had the sense to look rather concerned.  Next cage – two bloody huge anacondas.  Anaconda is big.  Really really big snake.  I immediately became glad that I didn’t see one in the wild.  All the other normal zoo stuff.  Birds.  Some pretty cool birds.  Weasel, ugly tapir things, and the cats.  Zoo staff happened to have a ocelot cub out of enclosure with them, while feeding giant river otter.  Asked if I’d like a photo holding it.  Cue very cheesy photo.  Little thing kept biting me.  Not particularly pleased about being held by big white man when there was obvious big fresh fish on the ground.

And now – researching pubs to watch cricket at tomorrow.  Was suggested one by a guy on the trip up.  The guy wasn’t particularly pleasant – but seemed to think the Blue Iguana was a ‘must-see’ in Georgetown.  My research shows that owners are currently on bail for various drug/firearms charges – after a raid last week which was searching for 33 stolen AK-47s, among other firearms.  Several articles about the army being ‘posted’ there for different reasons.  Sometimes with the police – but usually, it seems it’s an army job.  Sweet.

Beer slogans in Guyana:  “It’s brewery fresh!”  “The best reason for beer.”  “Drink <brand> …because it’s good.”  And others.

Today I saw: birds – pretty birds, ugly birds, big birds, little birds; cats – big cats, baby cats, vicious nasty jungle cats; monkeys – dirty monkeys, playful monkeys, boring monkeys; turtles – smelly turtles; tapirs – ugly tapirs; weasel; alligators; fish – big fish, ugly fish; snakes – bloody big nasty snakes; giant river otter; Georgetown Cricket Ground.

I didn’t see a manatee.

Bonfim/Lethem

Hi all. Got kicked out of my first country yesterday.

But, Bob, you’ll be pleased to know that I started heading in the right direction. It was Guyana that I got kicked out of. With the phrase “I thought I told you to go back to Brazil?” To be fair, the man HAD told me to go back to Brazil. And as an immigration officer, he was entitled to do so. He happened to visit the restaurant/bar that I was sitting at, in Guyana, a couple of hours after turning me back at the border for having no visa.

But – after a long walk back to closest town in Brazil, staying at a mosquito-infested hotel (after wandering around for a very very long time trying to find the centre of town – apparently I was in it), and another very long walk back to the border – I paid my exorbitant fee for a visa, and am now legally in Guyana. Only to find that there is no TV coverage in this town, and to then find an internet cafe just in time to catch the final wicket fall in NZ’s biggest ODI defeat ever. Great stuff. Well – will probably head up to Georgetown tonight – so that I should be able to watch our final hopes crumble live on television.

It was just the result to cap off spending nearly two hours earlier listening to Celine Dion on repeat. The woman seems to determined to metamorphise into a drill. Constantly losing weight to achieve the right shape, and using that bloody voice to drill inside your head and twist your brain into a mushy mess. It did make my approximately 50 new mosquito bites become forgotten. So that’s good.

Anyway – I’ll be watching the cricket finals in the Windies. Cool. And maybe visiting the highest single-drop waterfall in the world. Apparently pretty cool. Also pretty difficult to get to. But, after paying US$100 for a visa, think I should make the most of it. And Guyana seems pretty cool so far. It’s in South America, but everybody is very very Caribbean, mon, and they speak English.

The Amazon

Well – finally got website back working.  So – for all you worried folk out there – yes, I’m still alive.  Although, yesterday morning, was very very close to standing on a Bushmaster snake.  Guide was walking in front of me, I think he realised it was there just as he stepped over it, and leapt forwards with a yelp.  I was right behind him, and figuring that if he was scared of something, I was probably not the right man to deal with it.  Took a half step backwards, hoping he wasn’t concerned about something he’d heard behind us – then saw a bloody snake stretched across the path.  Bang on where my next step would have landed.  Don’t like snakes.  Especially ones with a reputation as a “nasty brute”.  Goddamn snakes.

Anyway – lots of news to make up for.  Will describe Amazon, then create new posts for previous days/adventures, and hopefully can change the date on them to reflect the order of events.

14 April

Picked up by guy who sold me tour.  Put into car with new guy.  He drives me to another hotel, saying that we’re going to do a tour of hotels, picking up other tourists.  Then, told to get out, into minibus with nre driver.  A little worried at this point, but ends up all good.   Arrive at docks.  On way, passed a table on which was sitting 12 empty 600ml bottles of beer.  3, maybe 4, people at table.  Well before 9am.  Sweet.

Onto boat – went to the meeting of the waters.  Where Rio Negro meets the Solimoes (Amazon).  Very distinct line where black meets brown, kinda cool.  Makes for some pretty boring photos though.  Then – on to look at some giant water lilies. The’re water lilies, but big.  Saw a monkey though.  A couple actually, fighting.  And a sloth – from a considerable distance.  Makes for some pretty bad photos.  Then – up the Rio Negro.  Very very large river.  And it’s just a sidestream off the Amazon.

Got to ‘river lodge’ – floating structure where we’re to stay.  Floating on the flooded forest.  (We left the Rio Negro, and went down a maze of streams, which is actually the flooded forest.  On each side – the tops of trees.  Below us – submerged forest.  Pretty cool.)  Went piranha fishing.  After 30 minutes, the group of Sri Lankans who arrived with me (along with their brazilian workmate), and will therefore form my group, get scared of the thunder, and a little rain.  Want to go home.  Apparently, weren’t expecting rain in the rainforest.  So – only one piranha caught by the guide, and thrown back.  After dinner – ‘alligator spotting’.  Drove around in the dark, in a canoe, looking for alligators with a torch. Sri Lankans didn’t want to come.  Scared it would rain?  Not sure.  Just me, brazilian, guide, and a girl who works at the lodge.  Saw the eyes of one gator reflecting torchlight.  And guide caught one very small baby alligator.  Pointed out it’s features, etc.  Released.  Also saw snake.  Tiny tiny snake.  Still don’t like it.  Back to lodge.

Today I saw:  monkey; sloth; alligator; piranha; snake; weird water-crawlie thing, looked like scorpion.

15 April

Heavy rain overnight.  Kind of hope the clouds stay, so don’t have to get up at 5am to go in boat to watch sunrise.  Seem to have caught Sri Lankan.  Hope comes off.  Take little motorboat across the main/actual river – and short walk through jungle.  Pointed out various medicinal trees, hallucinogenic vines (have to be harvested on a special day of the month), a rubber tree, etc.  After lunch, to a very touristified ‘native people’ village.  They perform their little dances for us, including one where the guests take part, of course.  All the women topless.  The teenage girl with an obvious bikini line across the back didn’t seem too comfortable with this, but – it’s her culture.

Met large riverboat in mid-stream, got rid of everybody.  Just me & guide left.  A rather quiet and peaceful ride back to the side passages.  Rubin takes me to an actual native village.  (ie: actual natives, living in a village.  Complete with the hated TVs, and the omnipresent hated church.)

Today I saw: river dolphins; topless native women; fire-ants; parrot; “night-owl”; lots of bugs & ants, bloody big ant bit me.

16 April

Loudest thunder I’ve ever heard overnight.  “Paddle Canoe Trip” – just me & Rubin paddling a canoe through the forest.  Pretty cool.  Piranha fishing – I catch one on my second cast.  Turns out to be the biggest of the day.  I am good at piranha fishing.  I catch one more reasonable size one, and 4 little ones to be thrown back.  An overall tally of 9 decent sized ones to take back for eatin’.  Paddle onwards.  See a sloth.  Catch it.  Sloths are slow, and dumb.  I found it’s movements comical.  Paddle into trees.  Cool.  Big trees above you, around you, and deep in the water below you.  Some points, where it becomes shallow, can finally see through the water just enough to see the ferns below the water surface.

Ate piranha with lunch.  Yum.  Motor back across the main river, to where we did the ‘Jungle Walk’ yesterday.  Walk into jungle, just Rubin & myself.  Much quieter, and faster than yesterday, despite carrying all my stuff, and other stuff for camping tonight.  After a couple of hours – get to campground.  Skeleton of shelter already set-up with branches/trees.  Just spread a tarp over the top, sling up hammocks/mosquito-nets, and we’ve got a new home.  Barbecue chicken for dinner.  Recipe: cook chicken over heat.  Once fluids run clear, put on rice, while placing chicken on higher heat.  Once rice is cooked, leave to cool.  Continue to barbecue chicken.  Once rice is cool – give chicken five more minutes on each side at maximum heat.  Serve with salt.  Yum.

Today I saw: hummingbird; mockingbird; snail eggs; spiders, lots of bloody spiders; giant earthworm – huge.

Today I heard: howler monkeys; stupid giant beetle flying straight into a giant bright blue tarp.

17 April

Not much sleep.  Go for a walk through jungle.  See some kind of monkey.  And a hole, which Rubin seems intent on scaring something out of.  With his face very close to the hole.  Gotta admit his dedication to his single guest.  Nothing came out.  Also, at some point, he stops.  Says to me “There’s a wasp nest ahead, we’ll have to walk very very slowly.  Okay?”  Yep – sure.  Can do that.  “Okay… RUN!” – and he starts running.   So, I ran, but a little slower than usual, as was trying to figure out what had just happened.  Back to camp – raining very heavily by this point.  Use my jacket to cover my pack, rather than myself.  Rubin uses a couple of big fern leafs as an umbrella – discarded after 20 or 30 minutes.  And – after some time, the goddamn bloody bushmaster as referred to above.

Back to lodge.  Swim in the piranha infested flooded amazon forest.  Shower.   Cervejas.  Catch the riverboat back to Manaus.  Fairly cool sunset on the way in.  Some more river dolphins.  Swedish girl reckons she saw a pink one jump out.  I didn’t see it, so I reckon nah.

Back in Manaus, checked back into my hotel.  Expensive Churrascaria restaurant for dinner.  But they had peas!  And beetroot.  Awful awful beetroot.  And sushi.  And sushimi.  And, of course, lots of meat.  But – most importantly – no rice that I was forced to eat or go hungry.  So sweet.  But, after a while, neither my cerveja nor my drinks menu turned up – so left to find a cheaper place for several more cervejas.

Today I saw: monkeys, bloody stinking Bushmaster snake.

And that was my trip into the Amazon basin.  I also saw some wild duck.

Manaus

Arrived in Manaus on the 13th.  Caught bus to city centre, relaxed after overnight bus trip with some cervejas at a very dodgy corner bar, in a rather dodgy part of town.  Yes, I was drinking at 9:30 or so.  But, in my defence, at 9:30 am it was bloody 30° in the shade.  3° south of the equator is hot.  Walked around town a bit with my backpack, in hot sun.  Stopped for cerveja one or more times.  (Have finally managed to switch between cerveza & cerveja – and nearly got myself using obrigado instead of gracias.)  Find a fairly cheap hotel, and leave to find a tour operator for the Amazon.  Walk out of the door, immediately accosted by one such operator.  Did check with one other company for price, but ended up going with this guy.

Walked around town for a while – saw the theatre they built when Manaus was the centre of the world (rubber boom and all that, you know).  Returned to the bar I went to this morning, for some more cerveja.  This time, instead of clients turning up with various salsa CDs, demanding that they be played, as it is the next big thing, they have electronic keyboard, and open mic.  Sweet.  Drunk old men singing recognisable classics in portugese.  Lady (of the night?) keeps brushing against me, even when I give her heaps of room to get past.  Some food at street barbecues, and more cerveja at various spots.  Constantly feeling itches and bites and things, paranoid, after hearing stupid stories about bugs laying eggs in feet (am walking barefoot), and the girl who threw up a 6 inch worm, and the girl in Buenos Aires who had scabies.

9:30pm – still 29°.  With the fan on.