Monday 31st August 2015 –
The Oasis lodge really was, as named, an oasis. As with all true oases, it was in the middle of nowhere. No one seemed to have any information on my arrival, so after leaving my belongings in my new room I trudged off to the main lodge, Rockview, to find out what the situation was. As it turned out, Rockview Lodge is very much of the belief that guests can sort themselves out. This is probably true when they arrive in large parties as a stop off on the way to Iwokrama, but as a sole traveller, a little bit of information on what was possible to do, and when, wouldn’t have gone amiss.
After spending the first day taking in the area and relaxing (seemingly the main objective of the lodge) I was up at 5.30 the following morning to go up the Panorama Nature Trail. Surprisingly, despite the incessant snickering of the bats who had made their home in my ceiling, I had slept quite well. Going to bed at 6 o’clock when it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out will do that though. This, however, all took place after I had gone to the main desk to see if anything could be done about the bats. It was also after the guys there had laughed their heads off after I expressed my reticence to sleep with the bats. Apparently they would not eat me in the night.
The trail had been carved out through the forest over the course of several generations and was now maintained by the Amerindian guys working for Rockview Lodge. I’d met my guide for the trail the afternoon before when arranging what time would be best to set off. His golden incisor, complete with Nike tick, had cast an intimidating figure at the time, but as I got to know Wesley on the trail his natural smiley and friendly demeanour became apparent.
Wesley told me about the different sorts of trees that grew in the forest, including one that strips its bark as it comes under threat, and showed me all sorts of birds through his binoculars. I wasn’t very good with them, but it was pretty awesome when I finally managed to zoom in on the parakeets in the trees. Wesley clearly loved the wildlife and nature around, he told me it was the reason he got given the guide job, and it showed in the time he spent discussing everything about the area, and even just taking in the view, like me. At one spot that looked over the main road, you could see the local policeman stopping anybody on motorbikes (the main transport in the area) without helmets. This came in extra handy when Wesley spotted his sister on the way to work; sans helmet.
According to Wesley, the only thing that marred the area was a giant phone tower placed right next to the trail. Built a couple of years back, it had scared many of the birds away with its persistent humming and only recently were some of them returning. A few of the viewing points had also been allowed to grow over to avoid looking at the tower. It seemed a shame that the construction had been allowed to occur, but there were obvious benefits to those living in the area, especially those in Annai.
This was where I went in the afternoon. Annai village has about 500 inhabitants and is one of five villages which complete the Annai area, the others being Rupurtee, Surama, Wowetta and Kwatamang. My guides here were a couple of young sisters about my age, one the official guide, the other in training, complete with Annai Village t-shirts. Considering the lack of tourism in the area this was surprising to see, but an effort is being made here to create sustainable tourism of an eco-friendly variety. I guess every little helps.
Subjected to as many questions about my own life as I had about Annai, I was able to question the girls without feeling I was intruding too much. From funding out about the facilities available to how education works in the area (the girls had been banned from further schooling by their father due to an outbreak of pregnancies in attendees), a picture of life in Annai gradually came to form. While not the spear wielding, headdress wearing community that some might expect of an area this isolated, they endeavour to keep the traditions with meetings of the villages to celebrate the old ways. Although some of the inhabitants work with the tourism in the area, the majority still farm or hunt for the food they eat each day. Phone towers and dirt bikes merely aid them in their daily lives, allowing easier communications between the villages, and closer ties.
The next day sped by in the blink of an eye. Mixed in with my relaxing and chatting with the guys at the service station, where the bat situation continued to cause much hilarity, I rode a horse for the first time since I was a child. Back then, our rotund Shetland pony breaking into a trot had had left me screaming to get off, but this time I was determined to be better. After starting out at walking pace, I quickly urged our guide to let us speed up, thereby conquering the trot. Reluctant though it was, the horse agreed, and despite a puzzling list to one side, I was able to get a good pace up. Considerate as I am though, I didn’t go for a full canter, attempting to obey the strict rules my mother had instilled in me from a young age, straight back and all. I’m also not sure the horse would have managed the endeavour either; while I’m no heavyweight myself the horse was small and skinny beneath me and probably not designed for though over five and a half feet. The proof was in though, I had commanded and conquered(ish), passing by my own mountainous standards with flying colours.
It was time to leave Oasis and Annai the next morning. With a 5AM minibus to catch, I would be heading for the Brazilian border, Boa Vista hopefully in my sights by midday. Although sad to leave this beautiful area and friendly people, I was looking forward to a new place and the possibility of a bit more frugality. Despite my best efforts, Guyana, and the interior especially, had not been cheap. I was also looking forward to the greater likelihood of meeting people who had similar plans to mine, if only to discuss different ideas. It seemed crazy that with all the people who travel around the world, I had gone ten days in Guyana without seeing a single one.