Evidence suggests that only a small fraction of Guyanese make it a priority to tour our beautiful country. Often, when we speak about traveling for the sake of relaxation or to experience the perks of being a tourist, we speak about flying to North America, Europe or some island in the Caribbean. For a long time, I too thought of experiences beyond Guyana’s shores whenever I had the intention to take time away from life’s routines. So, while I had traveled to the above-mentioned destinations, my local travel experiences were not extensive.
There are thousands of Guyanese who can boast about traveling to a number of different countries, experiencing diverse cultures, but they cannot say they have experienced the magnificence of the Kaieteur Falls, that they have been calmed by the rainforests, or have been amazed by our majestic mountains and savannahs or experienced the customs of the Indigenous peoples. Many Guyanese would rather utilise their funds by applying for a Visa or to purchase a ticket to venture beyond these shores.
It was my first time in the Rupununi last weekend. It was an experience that has created a longing for me to explore the length and breadth of Guyana.
I did not travel by road. The thought of 12, 15 or even 20 hours through trails and crossing waterways not only terrifies me, but the exhaustion that would result, the miles with no sign of human life, and being jerked out of sleep by bumps in the road, those are not experiences I am eager to have. Years ago, I traveled to Mahdia, which is approximately five to six hours by road, and I vowed never to do that again because I did not enjoy the harsh conditions of the roads.
I am not one who craves outdoor experiences though I am fascinated by nature. However, as I rediscovered last weekend, camping under the stars, sleeping in a tent and bathing in a creek are experiences that I do not desire and will not miss if I never experience them again. I would rather enjoy the benefits of being one with nature in small doses.
The Rupununi Music and Arts festival was the purpose of my trip. The event, held at the Manari Ranch, which is approximately a 15-minute drive from Lethem, was quite an experience.
I did not engage in all the activities the festival had to offer, which included Capoeira—the Brazilian martial art form that includes dance and music—yoga, bonfires and, of course, music and poetry, because, as alluded to afore, after trying to camp on the ranch the first night, I was reminded why I never camped again after an experience during my teens. I simply prefer to enjoy the comforts of the indoors.
I made my way to Lethem, where I spent the last two days, and travelled back and forth to the festival. What I experienced of the festival was stimulating. Local and international acts wowed the audience night after night. It was certainly a worthy experience despite some setbacks and I have absolutely no regrets about attending. My only hope is that from year to year it would grow and be better advertised so that more Guyanese and foreigners can experience the magic of such a festival.
My time in Lethem exposed me to a different side of Guyana. I have always heard that travel between Lethem and Brazil is a norm, but it was great to experience it firsthand. What is happening in Lethem with the Brazilians traveling over daily to shop at the mostly Chinese-owned stores is tantamount to what is happening in Georgetown daily with the Cubans coming to shop.
My brief visit to Bonfim, in Brazil, was one of the highlights of the trip, which has left me questioning why I never thought it necessary to explore more of Guyana sooner and even take advantage of visiting neighbouring countries. But the root of my inexperience traces back to that migration mentality that is ingrained in many of us from our youth; the thought that things are always better beyond Guyana’s shores.
I am happy that I have grown a new appreciation for our homeland. Though we have lengths to go in developing our country, there is much to enjoy and appreciate here. Though it might not include bright lights and tall buildings, much of the natural beauty of our country is intact. When we travel to places like the Rupununi, we can experience the splendor of acres of bare lands with trees swaying in the wind, the tranquility and the intoxication of the fresh morning air; we can listen intently to what life is trying to tell us about the paths we should take, find answers to questions and mysteries that baffled us; we enrich and expand our human experience and grow a new appreciation for how fortunate we are.
One of the humbling experiences of my trip was encountering a group of Venezuelans living in the bushes near the hotel where I stayed. Both adults and children are living in the bushes, where hammocks have been hung for sleep and pots are out in the open for cooking. Even babies are being bathed and nursed in the bushes. There is no protection from the sun besides the little shade the trees provide, and I could only imagine their predicament when it rains. Many Venezuelans are being forced to flee their country in search of betterment. Some are so desperate that they will work for food, I learned. What have I got to complain about I thought as I passed the people in the bushes daily? Yes, the demands of life can often leave one feeling overwhelmed, stressed and desperate, but I would never be able to equate my struggles to the Venezuelans living in the bushes. However, there are also Guyanese in similar situations. While many may not be living in the bushes, many are just as desperate as the Venezuelans for the want of a better life.
My first Rupununi experience will remain with me forever. Not only do I plan to return as soon and often as possible, but I am certain I will eventually be brave enough to travel by road to experience that magic after the many hours would have exhausted me. Hopefully, the long promised road to Lethem becomes a reality sooner than later and I can take the trip with ease. With so much more of Guyana to explore, my bucket list for local travel has increased significantly. Some might say it is insane to reject a trip to North America, Europe or the Caribbean for a journey around Guyana, but when one is inspired and reminded of one’s purpose, what might sometimes seem crazy to others is the sanest choice.