EPIC Group Travel Writers: The north of south

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works 1This is the 13th in a series of monthly stories by travel writers from EPIC Group Writers, an Edmonds non-profit organization whose mission is to support those who create, communicate and connect through cultural and artistic endeavors, especially the literary arts.

Grey and green became the predominant color when our little ship left sunny Grenada for the north coast of South America. We sailed a short way up the Demerara River bordered by jungle, a few homes on stilts and rusting hulks drawn up on the water’s edge before we docked in Georgetown, Guyana. The only thing I knew about the country was the horrifying episode where the Reverend Jim Jones gave the poisoned fruit drink to his followers, resulting in 918 ghastly deaths.

Heavy clouds opened up as we started towards two small vans awaiting us – one for the French passengers, and another for the two of us and the French who wanted to practice their English. The rain continued as we drove into the city.

I saw it as a collection of mostly dilapidated buildings stained with mold, interspersed with a few beautifully kept Victorian-era administrative buildings. A number of them still have boxes for ice below the windows, formerly used to cool the tender colonialists as they brutally administered the colony.

works 2Columbus sighted the area in 1498, but it was the Dutch who first settled and enslaved the local population in 1616 to establish a plantation colony for sugar (thus the name of the river). The British took over in 1796 and ruled until 1966. Both sets of rulers brought in slaves from Africa and indentured workers from India to work the plantation. It is an uneasy mix of peoples and stability and growth have ever eluded the country since.

Our guide cheerfully pointed out remains of a rail line formerly used to transport sugar cane torn up in the revolution, a statue of Queen Victoria with her nose shot off, and a large meeting hall where Cheddi Jagan, identified by the US as a Marxist, hosted a conference of the now-forgotten non-aligned nations group during the Cold War. Not exactly gripping but reflective of the country’s never-ending travails.

works 3When we passed the Stabroek Market, a landmark built of iron and glass in 1881, when the British were ascendant. I was ready to hop out and do some shopping. “NO! Too dangerous,” said the guide as the van sped on over the potholes and puddles on to our next destination.

works 4I looked out the van window to see a motorcycle outrider in full body armor next to the van, with army vehicles in front and behind. My attempt to improve the economy was in vain.

works 5We were finally let loose from our captivity to visit the musty natural history museum with stuffed animals and birds that had lost their fur and feathers years ago, all the while watched by guards. I wasn’t sure if they were protecting us or the dusty exhibits. The nearby tiny history museum held a pitiful few remnants of Amerindian life, destroyed by the colonialists.

works 6The city is dotted with wooden churches. One of the most famous relics of the British era is St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, is supposedly the largest or tallest wooden building in either the country, the continent or the world, depending on who was telling the story. It was indeed large, airy and empty with lovely stained glass windows in disrepair and wood flying buttresses looking like they needed to be buttressed themselves.

works 7The plaques on the walls memorialized those who came from England in the service of the empire. One cluster of plaques was placed next to the EXIT sign – a fitting reminder of life in this former outpost of Europe.

works 8Our last stop before we exited the sad city was the tropical gardens where blooming orchids filled the trees and littered the pathways. A small pond held a few manatee. They slowly came up to beg for handfuls of grass. We of course complied but couldn’t help noting their faces bore a startling resemblance to the business end of our vacuum cleaner.

works 9Reporters lay in wait when we arrived back to the ship to interview and photograph our group, tourists being few and far between. This is a shame because the country has one of the most diverse habitats in the world. But maybe we gave a few laughs to the populace who happened to pick up the paper that evening as we traveled east to Suriname.

— By Judith Works

As an offshoot of EPIC’s Monday morning writing sessions held at the Edmonds library, the EPIC Group Travel Writers meet at Savvy Traveler once a month. Participants of this fluid group love to travel and write stories about their journeys. You are invited to attend on the second Wednesday of the month from 3:30-5 p.m. Free to members and non-members of EPIC Group Writers. 

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