Some time back in this space, I posed the ‘Why we stay’ question for Guyanese choosing to live here while mentioning some of the magnets that hold us to the homeland. While I made a passing reference to our landscapes it is a point that merits more elaboration than I did at the time.
Next time you visit Trinidad, for example, if you haven’t done this before, get a friend to take you, or rent a car and drive, from the North Coast Road to Blanchisseuse. The view is spectacular as the road comes out of the forest and opens out onto the coastline of the country below and the Atlantic Ocean, but the journey before that, in the forest is, for me, the most stunning part of the drive. The narrow road was cut through very dense forest, and you are literally driving through a dense blanket of towering trees and shrubs, hundreds of years old, and blocking out the sky. You are in a cocoon jungle for miles and miles as the road winds through the hilly terrain taking you to Trinidad’s most northern coastline. The photo opportunities abound, the sound of the birds is everywhere, and the air is a cool blanket that seems to have no end. Blanchisseuse, in fact, is a prime example of a landscape that is a magnet for the citizens of a country, and indeed visitors.
Trinidadians frequently visit the area and will tell you that it is a source of pride and enjoyment for them; it is truly a spectacular piece of territory.
For Guyanese, I contend that our unique terrain, with its mix of open land along the coast, interior savannah and mountain ranges, coupled with our range of waterways, such as the formidable Essequibo, and an array of stunning waterfalls, including the world-famous Kaieteur, is a principal factor in the pull that Guyanese feel for the homeland. Certainly the vibrancy of our culture, with its Indian, African, Amerindian, European and Asian influences, is a factor, but I contend that we often overlook the role that our landscape plays in our affections for Guyana. For those of us fortunate enough to have seen it all, those vistas, living in our memory, are a constant reminder of home, and one of the key aspects of it is the variety.
There is an area along Guyana’s East Coast (I’m not sure of the name, but I believe it’s close to Coldingen) where as you drive east the land is very even and sparsely developed; the area to the north is open for maybe a quarter-of-a-mile (it looks to have been formerly cultivated, and is now bare) but right at the end of it, approaching the sea, there is a row of very tall coconut trees in a long line standing against the sky almost like sentinels. It is an unusual sight – wide empty land and then scores of coconut trees – and one is struck every time by how majestic it appears. It’s an image that stays, like a famous painting, catching and holding the eye.
In West Demerara, where I grew up, there is a somewhat similar image. Going down the West Coast road, just past the first big turn at Crane, the land to the left is similarly flat, as on the East Coast, and rice lands hug the road on both sides, stretching inland for what looks like about half-a-mile and outward, as well, for the shorter distance to the seawall. On that inland stretch, however, we have the similar vista of a row of coconut trees, single file, against the sky, as in the East Coast one, but this time a long way from the sea. I’m not sure of the purpose – perhaps the edge of a coconut plantation – but I remember how striking that vista was for me as a youngster on the West Coast buses, or sometimes on my Rudge bicycle riding to Hague – I would always notice it. In fact, the first time I returned to Guyana after migration, I remember taking a taxi to Hague and when it made that turn at Crane and I saw the coconut sentinels I felt a surge, almost like seeing an old friend. I believe such images – different ones for different persons – are in play when we hear persons talking about missing Guyana or, as on Facebook, longing to be home; the memories of those vistas are in play.
Kaieteur is another obvious one, as is Orinduik, and, for me, Kurupukari Crossing with its romantic sandy island in the Essequibo (so much narrower there) and the quaint transportation from one side to the other. Those landscapes are with us forever, whether we’re in New York or Karasabai, and are operating when thoughts of home take us. Persons writing in the press will often mention them movingly, a recent example being George Jardim’s beautiful descriptions of the feelings and history in the Essequibo River, so loved by all who have come to know it.
Some of the vistas, of course, are the private personal ones – such as, for me, the stelling at Charity, very familiar from my many trips from Hague, at school break, to my father’s farm Martindale in the Pomeroon. It’s actually a small spot, but Charity teems with Guyanese life and culture, from the boatmen bringing produce, to the vendors selling from hooks-and-eyes to green plantain and everything in between, and the range of our various peoples. It is vital landscape; a place we remember fondly.
For many, Kaieteur is a singular magnet. What struck me like a slap the first time I saw it – something not captured in photographs – was that one could look out on that expanse and actually visualise the transformations in the land that took place millions of years ago, as the land literally dropped in a huge collapse, falling several hundred feet, and resulting in the Potaro then forming this waterfall. To step back from Kaieteur and look, particularly to the left, one can literally see the break, with the upper ridge in place and then the sheer drop in the landscape. Imagine how that must have sounded and looked to the wildlife in the area at the time; it must have evoked the hand of God. Indeed, one notices how frequently visitors to the Kaieteur will refer to the feelings of Creation that come over them, not only on the first visit but even on subsequent ones. Kaieteur affects me, and many people I know, that way. For many Guyanese, such landscapes – many of them introduced to us by skilled nature photographers like Bobby Fernandes, Nikhil Ramkarran, and Michael Lam – are magnets holding us home in spite of the many travails.