Land of Water - Guyana
After the intensity of the World Cup we were looking forward to a slower pace. From Brazil we were free to travel wherever the road would take us. A few days in Boa Vista, Brazil, gave us some time to discuss our overall plan for South America and we decided that it would be best to travel anti-clockwise around South America, reaching the bottom (Ushuaia) around the end of November. It gets very cold down there so for riders its recommended to head there in the warmer months, December to February.
We picked Guyana for our next stop, an English speaking country and that was the limit of our knowledge of the little South American country with population around 800,000. It was a pleasant ride to Letham, the border town of Guyana, and we stopped along the way to grab a few snaps, easing into our new routine (taking our time). The border crossing wasn't too complicated, there was some paperwork for both Skyla and the motorbikes. What did surprise us was the temporary permit the immigration officers gave us for the motorbikes. This permit gave us 2 days to ride to the capital, Georgetown, to seek permission at the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) office (on Camp St) to continue riding our bikes legally in the country. We were assured the ride was possible in two days. No way!!! The road from Letham to Linden was the worst road we'd experienced so far. Its 500km of dirt, mud, sand, water and potholes and it took us 4 days. Luckily we had no rain and a fantastic experience, camping along the way. We called this experience our crash course into off-road riding. There were plenty of falls on the first day, a couple of the second day then we were good. Letting our tyres down to 16 PSI really made a difference on the sand and wet ground.
Georgetown is an interesting city and you can do your own self-guided walking tour to see the highlights, museums, markets etc in one full day. The St. George's Anglican Cathedral is worth a visit and you can hide from the heat of the day while taking a seat in one of the pews. Its a beautiful structure and the tallest wooden church in the world. Georgetown also offers a variety of different cuisines so we had a couple of days just chilling and eating before investigating our next challenge...getting to Venezuela by boat.
Our first lead was to get a 'ferry' from Georgetown to Mabaruma. From Mabaruma or nearby Ports of Kaituma and Morawhanna its possible to ask around for a boat to Venezuela. We waited a week in Georgetown to get the ferry and were excited when we finally boarded. It was not a pleasant experience but an eye opener to the conditions some people endure with no avenue for improvement. The boat was severely overcrowded with no room to move inside. Hammocks were slung anywhere and everywhere. The toilets were so primitive and the stench spread through the boat. Fortunately for us, the Captain would not let us inside with Skyla so we set up camp on the deck, surrounded by fresh air. Nonetheless, the crew and passengers were very friendly and curious about what we were doing on that boat.
We spent a week in Mabaruma searching for someone to take us to Venezuela. The two difficulties we encountered was running out of money and transporting the bikes; passenger boats went fairly regularly. We severely underestimated the cost. We got two quotes to transport The Pack Track and both were around US$1500. If it weren't for the feeling of being stranded in Mabaruma and the frustration of finding a boat we would have enjoyed the town a lot more.
When we had no luck in Mabaruma we got the ferry back to Georgetown. Back in Georgetown we followed our second lead from advice of our new friend, Mark, and his family. We rode to and got a ferry from Parika to Supernaam. Marks Mum lives in Parika and she got us showered, changed, fed and booked in to a hotel to rest. From here we rode to Charity. Here the search started again to find someone to take us to Venezuela. Charity is a nice place with nice people. It was a pleasant five nights in Charity until we sailed to Venezuela.
The boat was so much smaller than we expected and to the horror of the driver our bikes were so much bigger than he expected; and this time we were in an English speaking country! Oh well, the bikes were getting on that boat one way or another. No more messing around, we stripped the panniers off the bikes and began lowering them in to the boat. It took 5 men to handle each bike in to the boat. Once they were in there was not a lot of room left for passengers, only 2 other people came on the boat with us.
It was so exciting when we left Charity the following morning at 5am. It was dark and quiet, sort of felt like a covert operation except we had got our passports officially stamped out of Guyana the day before so no illegal activity. The trip was going smoothly until we turned in to the river in Venezuela that leads to San Felix. We made a fuel stop and we think the family that pumped the gasoline phoned the military water police as we were soon after pulled over and taken in for questioning. The driver had prepared us for such a circumstance so the US dollars we had were spread between Janells bra and underpants; being an international the police would not strip search her like the locals or Guyanese. Next all our belongings expect the bikes were removed from the boat and searched in detail with many questions along the way. There was no damage to our belongings but the other people on the boat had their bags ripped, bottles smashed etc. We just had to stand and watch, there was nothing we could do to stop it. Finally the threats came. The police wanted US$5000 or they would withold our motorbikes and stop the boat from proceeding. Of coarse we didn't have that kind of money and certainly weren't negotiating with corruption so after 3 hours of threats and bullying they gave up and set us on our way. That was not the end however as every military water police checkpoint stopped our boat and made threats to our driver. A trip that should have taken 10 hours ended up taking 16 hours. It was a long and very tiring day.
We spent that night in the home of the boat driver and the next day our friend Carlos from El Callao met us (we were so happy to see him) and we travelled to his home, so glad to be back somewhere familiar.
Looking back on this experience through a rose-tinted visor, it was definitely an adventure, however, we wasted a lot of time and in short wouldn't recommend this route to other motorbike travellers. The process is unpredictable and on the water you can easily be stranded and held at the mercy of whoever is trying to take your money.