• close family • small boat • big world •

Fort Island

December 17, 2015

by Paula
at sea

[We visited Fort Island about three weeks ago.] 

Fort Island lies between Parika and Bartica, in Guyana's Essequibo River. Long ago a seat of government, it was an important location during the Dutch colonial period.

Tourists still come to visit the oldest non-military building in the country, the Court of Policy building that now houses the tiny Dutch Heritage Museum. They can also tour the remains of Fort Zeelandia, for which the island is named. Bring your own snacks and water, as nothing else is here, save the smattering of tiny shacks and cement structures that house the island's meager population. There are only 50 or so people still eeking out an existence here.

The well-worn and roughly-built dock sets the stage for the state of structures on shore.

The bathroom in the dock-house gives us our first impression of just how basic life is on this island. The toilet is a hole in a seat that leads to the river below.

The only road on this island is for foot traffic. It was recently upgraded to paving stones just a few years ago. Your choice, once off the dock, is to either go left or go right, that's it.

The Guyana Coast Guard has a base here. Their boat is kept at this rickety dock.

Fort Zeelandia, constructed in 1744, was built to protect the interests of the Dutch West India Company from English and French rivals, as well as from rebellious slaves within the colony.

The Dutch Heritage Museum is small, but holds some interesting information. The structure, built shortly after the construction of the fort, was used to hold Court of Policy meetings and as a church. He wanted to join our tour, but no dogs allowed.

Life here is more basic than we have seen before. Nothing connects this island to the mainland other than the small boats that travel to and from here. No electric lines, no running water, no wifi. Some here have solar panels that generate electricity. Bottled water is brought in or rainwater collected in cisterns. Cooking is done on small clay ovens or open fires, though a few houses have propane stoves.

Yet life here seemed good, at least for those we talked to. We met Tony and Mohammad, who both enjoyed life on this small island. They were incredibly generous, sending us off with bags full of fruits and vegetables picked from their land, an orchid plant they had brought back from the interior bush, an excavated bottle from Dutch colonial times, and an offer of free land should we decide to build a home there. Tony's home is below on the left. To the right below, Mohammad leads us to his plot of land.

We visited the one-room school, run by Mohammad's wife, Charlene. She has ten students, though most rarely show up.

It's hard to image living in a place as undeveloped and isolated as Fort Island. But something a feeling lingers... this unique island is a very special place.