None of its natural features make a more eminent case for Essequibo’s potential as one of Guyana’s most attract tourist destinations than its tranquil and idyllic lakes, not least Lake Mainstay, located at the Mainstay/Whyaka Amerindian Village, seven miles from the region’s administrative hub at Anna Regina and a twenty-minute plane ride from Georgetown.
Lake Mainstay, however, remains a microcosm of the wider condition of stifled tourism potential that has afflicted Guyana for decades, though not even the failure to invest in the key infrastructure necessary for its blossoming has robbed the facility of its pride of place amongst the country’s favoured visitor attractions.
The Resort had been popularized as a tourist site during the 1980’s though Wilfred Jagnarine, a current investor believes that fate took a hand in its fortunes with the death of Forbes Burnham in August 1985, months before the facility was due to be commissioned. Afterwards, Jagnarine says, plans for the commissioning were more or less pushed to one side apparently on economic grounds and Mainstay, thereafter, was kept alive by the strong case it had long made as a potential tourist destination by its original investors, Jagnarine, Basil Dyal, Mokesh Daby, Roy Bassoo and the late Ronald Bassoo. Commissioning was eventually completed in December 1999.
Commissioning, however, did not spare the Resort both the ravages of Guyana’s economic climate and the historic indifference of government to building on the country’s broader promising tourism base. Over time, three of the five investors walked away. That left Jagnarine, who currently oversees the administration of the resort and Daby.
These days, one gets the feeling that Jagnarine’s emotional attachment to Mainstay now transcends his earlier investment decision. It was, he says, a belief in “the potential of the place” that led him to mortgage other businesses in Georgetown to accumulate the $380 million necessary to invest in the revitalization of Mainstay after the property had fallen into a state of disrepair.
Still, other things appear to have since stood in the way of the full blossoming of Mainstay. According to Jagnarine, after the commissioning of the Resort in 1999 a promise was made by government that the seven miles of roadway providing easy access from Anna Regina to the facility would have been upgraded. That, he says, was never done.
Patrons who venture to Mainstay for a day out are inclined to leave the Resort long before the 7 pm closing time, mindful of the state of the road and the implications of a vehicle breakdown after dark, Jagnarine says that while his spirits have been lifted by the recent completion of four miles of the seven-mile roadway he believes that the fortunes of the Resort could alter significantly once the rest of the road is completed.
For all of its challenges, Mainstay continues to hold its own as a favoured place to visit and enjoy by tourists and Guyanese alike. According to Jagnarine, the facility customarily enjoys a twenty per cent occupancy rate. During the peak seasons, however, Easter, July/August and Christmas – it attracts larger numbers of mostly overseas- based Guyanese at which times it moves much closer to being fully booked. Most weekends, large numbers of Essequibo residents find their way to the Resort as well.
A fair share of its income comes from the reputation it has established as a favoured location for Conferences, Retreats, Weddings, Receptions and other public functions. What makes its reputation as a venue for corporate retreats, particularly, is the quiet and serenity that lend themselves to the creation of an environment in which studied contemplation and clear-headed decision-making can be realized. International organizations including the United States Peace Corps, UNICEF, PAHO, UNDP as well as local state and private sector institutions have all taken their important meetings there.
Mainstay Lake, Jagnarine insists, is simply a ‘must’ for visitors. Its setting aside, the facility offers a range of aquatic pursuits including jet skiing, boat rides and fishing. Cricket, volleyball, and tennis are available as alternative sporting pursuits. Visitors inclined to parade their culinary skills bring their utensils along and ‘do their stuff’ near the lake. And if you are there for no other purpose but to simply watch the day go by you can do so from the comfort of the Wabure Deck, overlooking the lake where cocktails, a hammock, or both, are the options.
Jagnarine believes that the value of the Mainstay Resort as a ‘jewel’ in the country’s tourism ‘crown’ has also suffered from the overall failure of the country to effectively market its wider tourism product. Like so many other private sector officials he is disturbed over the dichotomy between the enduring official insistence that tourism can contribute meaningfully to the country’s economy and what, in reality has been an indifference to investing meaningfully in tourism infrastructure. He believes that the fortunes of the Mainstay Resort are likely to improve significantly were there to be more meaningful investment in tourism infrastructure, including, in Mainstay’s case, investment in the reactivation of the Mainstay airstrip so that the twenty-minute flight from Georgetown can replace what is currently a two and half hour trek to the Resort by road and river. Facilities like the Mainstay Resort would appear to be awaiting that significant government infusion in the country’s wider tourism infrastructure that matches the effort of other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) territories and provides the impetus for private sector investment in the sector. So popular is the Resort, Jagnarine says, that even with its limited marketing effort, at peak periods it becomes by far the leading holiday destination among returning Guyanese. It is listed on both booking.com and expedia.com.
Sarfaz Salim, the facility’s General Manager, continually ‘talks up’ the value of the Resort, not least its serenity and charm as an eco-destination. He repeatedly alludes to the half mile white sand stretch of walkway and the four square- miles of warm black water (the water gets its colour from the vegetation surrounding the Lake) which he suggests only half-jokingly possesses remarkable recuperative and healing powers.
The Resort is fitted out with forty-one cabins, including eight single cabins, two honeymoon/ lake view cabins and thirty-one double cabins. All told, they can accommodate one hundred and sixty to two hundred guests. Each cabin is self-contained, air conditioned and offers wi-fi services, refrigerator and telephone as well as 24 hours security. Hot and cold water supply is currently being installed and double cabins offer a sitting area and private verandah,
There can be no more ideal a location for weddings, according to Jagnarine. The wedding ceremonies are held on the beach by the lake and the reception takes place in the conference rooms. Afterwards, some of the guests stay in the cabins.
By Caribbean standards, accommodation costs at the Mainstay Resort are highly competitive. At the Yauralla, Cinderella, Quacakba and Toucan Lodges, accommodation costs $14,250.00 per person. Entire Cabins can be rented at $17,500.00 each. Rental of Family Cabins (which can accommodate eight persons) costs $25,000.00 each whilst the Honeymoon Cabins cost $19,950.00 each. These costs afford accommodation for two days and one night.
The resort also has two Conferences Centres. The larger of the two can accommodate at least one hundred and sixty guests. Rental costs $12,000.00 an hour. The smaller of the two conference facilities which accommodates at least sixty persons is rented at $10,000.00 an hour. Both facilities are equipped with an assortment of conference facilities including multi-media projectors, overhead/slide projector for presentations, public address systems, and internet and wifi services.
Mainstay prides itself on a magnificent dining room fit for occasions that range from fine dining occasions to elaborate banquets, allowing guests to simultaneously enjoy the beauty of the lake. The Resort’s restaurant offers creole, Caribbean and international cuisine.
Every year, on the second Sunday in August, the Mainstay Lake hosts Essequibo’s Annual Regatta. The aquatic show is currently in its nineteenth year. The boat races attract captains from the far reaches of the Pomeroon and Bartica who would have already paraded their prowess at the Easter Bartica Regatta. At Mainstay, the events unfold in the far more tranquil waters of the Lake. Jagnarine estimates that the Regatta contributes annual amounts of around $100 million into the Essequibo economy, providing a significant seasonal boost for the region’s hotel, transportation, restaurant and related sectors.
Now in its ninth year, the Lake Mainstay Easter Car and Bike Show is also supported by visitors from across coastal Guyana.
For all that it offers you depart Mainstay with a feeling that it’s huge potential as a visitor destination has remained less than fully realized for far too long. The Lake and its attendant attractions stand, as much a microcosm of the breathtaking beauty of much of Guyana as a symbol of what, for the most part has been the lip-service that Guyana has paid to the value of its tourism product. That will remain the case insofar as Mainstay and Guyana’s wider tourism potential lies largely unrealized whilst the meaningless chatter about ‘potential’ persists.