• close family • small boat • big world •


December 15, 2015

by Greg
Domburg, Suriname

Thanks to SV Nine of Cups for this photo of us at Bartica.
Check out their excellent blog here.

Imagine a country cut in half by a river. No bridges. This is Guyana.

The third largest river in South America, the Essequibo flows over 600 miles from the Brazilian border to the Guyanan coast, where it is 13 miles wide.

That's a four-wheeled ATV they're loading onto this small 
traditional boat. (They obviously did not have much freeboard to spare.)

As you would expect in such a case, the river is an important mode of transportation in Guyana. To its east, a road follows it some 30 miles from the capital, Georgetown. To its west - well - there are no roads. The small homesteads and villages farther upriver and on the west get their supplies by boat. People, food, raw materials, everything moves by boat, large or small, steel or wood.

Roughly 50 miles upriver is the town of Bartica. It occupies the peninsula where the Mazaruni River enters the Essequibo, again - no bridges. In other words, Mazaruni to the west, Essequibo to the north and east, jungle to the south. Bartica has no land connection to the coast. Its connection is the mighty, muddy Essequibo.

I really want me one of these trucks. They were all over Bartica, carrying
barrels of fuel oil and other supplies out to gold miners in the jungle.

The Essequibo is muddy because of the gold-mining going on in the jungle upstream, and this is precisely what supports Bartica's economy these days - supplying gold miners. Bartica receives supplies by boat and trucks them out to gold miners in the jungle. The mining here takes many forms - large corporations, individuals trying to strike it rich, land mining, dredge mining of the river banks.

Traditional Guyanan river boats.

As mentioned, I really wanted me one of those trucks. (Washington DC beltway traffic comes to mind). That not being possible, I decided the next best thing would be to go to whatever place it is that requires those trucks, i.e., ride along with one. Investigation showed me that this probably wasn't going to happen. There is a fair amount of security around these mines. The bigger ones are guarded by guys on ATVs with automatic weapons. (This is sounding like a video game - Far Cry III anyone?....) These mines are definitely not looking for tourists or visitors of any sort.  Why?

Docks at Bartica. The tidal
range here is 8-10'
First there's the issue of pollution - it seems that pollution laws are viewed more as suggestions than laws. There's not much enforcement, but strangers still aren't appreciated. The other issue of course is theft. I was shocked to see a helicopter land at Bartica; it's not a helicopter kind of place. So I asked someone about it: despite the expense, many of the miners would rather pay for a helicopter than risk the bandits along whatever long, difficult journey by land and water would substitute.

Bartica has a raw feel to it, the feel of an outpost. It was definitely worth the trip upriver. Were we to do it again, we'd spend more time using it as a base for exploring even farther upriver.

Kaieteur Falls
By the way, one place we didn't see was Kaieteur Falls. They are reportedly spectacular, but shortely before we arrived, someone committed suicided by jumping, and so they were closed.

(A note for you sailors: getting to Bartica required a careful hand at the helm and patience. The patience was in waiting for high tide. We never ran aground, but we had multiple close calls, and this was always on a rising tide. Had we travelled at low tide, we definitely would have gotten stuck.)

Fruit cart.

The "New Modern" Hotel

The New Modern Hotel dining room.

Looking off the balcony of the New Modern Hotel towards the main ferry dock, customs shed at right.

Another view from the New Modern Hotel balcony. 

Traditional Bartica house.

Out towards the tip of the peninsula of Bartica.

Boat work on the Essequibo.

The outdoor public market
The indoor public market.

Paula bargaining with a vendor.

Vulcanization is available.