Tag Archives: Rupununi

Mining in Marudi

21 Feb

So after my foot injury I did end up going back to the Rupununi…against my doctor’s advice. And it was the best time ever. F you, Advice.

I went back to conduct workshops (more on that in another post), but I also got to tour a bit.

A group of us travelled south to Marudi to check out the mines. Gold mines. Bling bling.

To get there from Aishalton (the village closest to Marudi), we travelled by motorcycle through sand, dirt, mud, and puddles. We had to cross several shady-looking bridges too. When I say “bridges” I mean spaced out logs over a gap/hole in the road. No fancy engineered steel beams and such.

But we made it. (Yay!)
So then the question was…

“What should we do?”


“You guys wanna climb a mountain?”
“ummm…sure! why not?”

Casual mountain climbing.

The climb was little steep, slippery, and treacherous. Apologies to the trees and vines that I had to hold on to in order to prevent my imminent injury and/or death. Let’s just say it wasn’t your regular hike.

In all seriousness, it was a great experience. After you got past the physical exhaustion of climbing up raw paths of dirt, mud, and twigs with little to hold on to, you realized that:

  1. You were getting exercise (much needed exercise since most of us were huffing and puffing our way up),
  2. You don’t know shit about mining (but you learned as you climbed, so it was educational); and
  3. You were rewarded by a fantastic view at the top (as all mountains should give to all who climb them!)

The most interesting thing about the hike? We took the opportunity to crawl into some small, dark man-made tunnels which were also home to bats. These tunnels were dug by hand with a hammer and a chisel. No other fancy tools required.

Mine workers would chip out the dirt and carry the dirt out of the tunnels to be brought down the mountain. The dirt would then be sifted and the rocks pounded to sort out the gold (valuable!) from the non-gold (useless!).

These tunnels go deep into the mountain – over 300 ft in some areas. And yes, cave-ins have happened in the past.

Yes, climbing up and down a mountain was intense exercise for me. But imagine doing that while carrying a heavy bag of dirt.

I believe the workers who do this are called “Druggers”.
They’re the guys who fetch the bags from the top of the mountain (where the tunnel mouth is) to the bottom (where it is sifted for gold). No, there are no drugs in the bags in case you were wondering.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this intense physical labour gives you a better workout than P90x or whatever the fad is nowadays.

So man-made tunnels are used to find gold in the mountains. But what about the land surrounding the mountains?

Well, in order to include technology in the mix, huge, noisy, expensive machinery is used.
Excavators are brought in to dig up the land. This makes looking for gold faster and easier.

Unfortunately, it also results in fast and easy damage to the environment.

And this is all done for…



Wam deh?

7 Feb

Translation: What happened there?

Yea, so I’ve been absent from this blog…whoops. I have a valid reason…a really gross valid reason.
I got a bite/sting, which led to a bacterial infection which led to cellulitis in my right foot.

Consequently, I had to be flown out of Lethem, where I was celebrating Heritage Month in St. Ignatius, and went to Georgetown for medical treatment.
5 days in a hospital decreased the swelling, but then I had to go through debridement (minor topical surgery where they remove the top layer of skin and dig out the infection).

All in all – about 5-6 weeks off my feet in October/November. And then the doctor said that I shouldn’t go back into the interior. Well, I didn’t listen. I went back in January. So there are more stories to tell.

But you’ll have to wait. Now, I’d like to show you my disgusting foot pictures:

Photo Faves

5 Sep

I don’t have stories to go with all my pictures, but some photos just don’t need stories. Enjoy!

Two photos of Shulinab courtesy of Elizabeth Gottesman.

Shea Rock

29 Jun

Many of you know that if there’s an opportunity to climb a mountain (or in this case, a huge rock), I’ll oblige.

This huge rock happens to be in Shea village. You’re pretty much climbing up at an angle of 45 degrees – on average, if I had to guess. And if I had a protractor and a level with me, I would provide you with a more accurate figure.

So up I went (after some more swamp-walking). Shea Rock is really steep, so you have to be careful where you step – especially if it rains right before you climb or while you’re climbing (which it did).

From the stories we were told, someone has slipped and fallen all the way down to their death. Bummer.

On a positive note, someone has also managed to ride his motorcycle all the way to the top of the rock – we determined that he must have been a little mad to do so (especially because coming down would’ve been even scarier than going up).

Shea Rock

Climbing up Shea Rock made me realize 3 things about myself:
1) I am totally out of shape. I was huffing and puffing on the way up.
2) My balance sucks. I can’t even walk in muddy swamp water without stumbling.
3) My feet are weak. Amerindians can climb like nobody’s business – barefoot – while I depend on my rubber soles.

Aside from making me feel like a wimp, the climb up Shea Rock went smoothly. As always, I was rewarded for my soon-to-be-aching muscles with a spectacular 360 view of mountains and endless savannah.

What Am I Doing Here? Part II

22 Jun

“Here” = several villages in the South Central and South Rupununi at the moment.

I am currently travelling with teams of facilitators for the Management Plan Dissemination workshop. This project, in a nutshell, involved the collection of data regarding all aspects of Amerindian communities.
SCPDA, with cooperation from the South and South Central District Toshoas Council, did some research, consultation, and documentation of Amerindian traditions, cultures, and practices regarding things like the use of fire, ranching, farming, and sacred sites, to name a few.

Management PlanFindings were summarized and written into a document known as the Management Plan. It was created in response to a question posed to the Amerindian people:

“If we grant communities their proposed land extensions, how will they manage and develop their land?”

This Management Plan, “Baokopa’o wa di’itinpan wadauniinao ati’o nii (Thinking together for those coming behind us)” (in Wapishana and English), answers that question and details how Amerindians in South Central and South Rupununi will take care of their land and natural resources.

It was printed in the UK and sent to SCPDA to distribute to the 17 communities involved in community consultations. Detailed maps depicting titled lands, proposed land extensions, village areas, rivers, creeks, proposed community protected areas, and more were also created and printed.

A brochure is available for viewing/download here.

With the Management Plan document and maps, the Amerindian people are justifying their proposed land extensions, addressing the issue of protecting the natural resources around them, and promoting the preservation of their culture.

SCPDA has two teams of facilitators doing presentations on the contents of the Management Plan to all 17 communities.
So what does this mean for me? It means a LOT of travelling until the end of the month, collecting data on Women’s Groups in different villages, and report writing. Whee!

Some very un-Torontonian things

15 Jun

Things you don’t see every day

  1. A truck crossing a river via pontoon (driving on to and off of this wood-and-drum-barrel contraption is probably the scariest part)
  2. Pontoon Travels

  3. Slaughtered cow hanging in your kitchen
  4. Beef, anyone?

  5. A chicken being killed so you can have it for dinner
  6. Death of a delicious chicken

Things you don’t experience every day

  1. Your refridgerator running out of gas (because your fridge probably isn’t powered by gas!)
  2. Animals eating your solar panel wires, thus disconnecting them from the battery it was supposed to charge
  3. Waking up to a cow sniffing your elbow.

Sniff sniffAllow me to elaborate on the last point.

I had been travelling a fair bit and finally got home to Shulinab on a Friday morning. I spent the morning doing laundry, filling water buckets, and tidying up.

All that housekeeping (plus a good lunch) made me tired, so I decided to take a nap in my hammock (which happens to be slung up inside my house). Because I live under a zinc roof, it gets stifling hot in the afternoon.

The remedy is to open all the windows and back door and pray to catch a breeze. My backyard entrance is made up of wooden double doors. An optimal breeze path requires that both doors be open.
Apparently, this is also an invitation for all sorts of animals to come into my house. At first I thought only the dogs would be so daring. I was wrong.

I passed out (“knock-out” is the phrase a Guyanese would describe my state of sleep) and woke up to the sounds of sniffing. sniff. sniffsniff. sniffsniffsniff.
I opened my eyes and stared into a cow’s face. It stared back. I jumped out of my hammock which subsequently scared the cow. She then jumped, did a 180, and ran out the door. But not before she bumped into my table and knocked a set of things off of it.

Dumb cow. Oh…she also left a crappy present of dung at my doorstep (pun intended). I think I literally scared the shit out of that cow.

She deserved it.

The cow was probably looking for wine to drink. No joke.
While I was away, a cow broke into the Women’s Group Centre and drank out an entire (huge) bucket of wine that was left to set and ferment.

As a result, there was a drunken cow somewhere around the village that day.
And because of that, I think there is an alcoholic cow lurking around my premises.

Moo to that.

Adventures in Transportation

8 Jun

Apparently you can have adventures in transportation.
Oh, you thought that going from point A to point B is an easy and straightforward thing?
Not in the Rupununi.
If you’re still confused, please refer to my previous post for some enlightenment.

This short story is about the trip back to Shulinab from Aishalton.
Problem: No available vehicles in Aishalton to pick the team up to transport them to the Rupununi River crossing.
Solution: Motorcycles – they’re always the next best thing. 12 people, 6 motorcycles.

Adventures in Rupununi Transportation

And the following events:

  1. 2 bike falls because of mud (a major hazard on the Rupununi roads)
  2. sunburnt faces (and peeling foreheads as a result)
  3. wet feet/socks from riding through puddles and creeks
  4. countless mosquito and kaboura fly bites from waiting at the Rupununi River crossing
  5. two row-boat crossings with motorcycles and all (since the bridge has been out for 1+ years)
  6. physical exertion from pulling the boat through shallow banks of sand
  7. a water whirlwind on the Rupununi River…and near heart-attacks

It’s kind of hard to capture a water whirlwind on camera when you’re panicking but I got one while the boat was swaying from side-to-side.

Water Whirlwind

I swear it whispered “I’m coming for you”.

In-the-moment thoughts went like this:
“That’s a nice breeze”
“Oh, it’s getting really windy”
“Cool…a small water tornado over there”
“Holy sh…it’s a big water whirlwind”
“Oh my god! It’s heading toward us!”
Men in the boat: “PADDLE!!! PADDLE!!! PADDLE!!”
(When the men in charge begin to panic, it is time to start panicking along with them)
*unbuckles heavy backpack* in case we capsize and I have to swim
*screams along with the other girls* as we realize that we are also about to run into a tree
Water whirlwind makes a sharp turn away from us. Capsizing avoided.
*collective sighs of relief*

So I call this phenomenon a water whirlwind, but the Amerindians say that it was a Potari (giant stingray). A Potari is supposed to be H U G E and it’s also a water spirit. Some Amerindians at the same crossing (a couple days after us) swear that they saw ab Potari in the water.
A Potari has a blow hole (kind of like a whale’s). This can explain the water shooting up in the air to an insanely high height. It can also explain why the whirlwind moved so quickly towards us (giant stingrays move fast!).

Whatever it was, it was scary. And I never want to see/experience a water whirlwind/Potari ever again…especially if I’m in a aluminium boat powered by men with oars.

What Am I Doing Here?

3 Jun

I ask myself that question every day.

I’m not asking because I don’t know. I’m asking because I’m still amazed that I’m here in Guyana.

If you asked me a year ago whether I’d pick up and move to another country, I would’ve said “I’d love to, but…” and gave you a string of excuses like work, money, time, etc.

If you asked me a year ago whether I ever wanted to visit Guyana, I would’ve said “Well, I’m sure it’s a lovely place, but…” and gave you a list of countries I want to visit instead.

If you asked me a year ago whether I’d love to live and work in Guyana, I would’ve given you a blank stare as I wondered why you were asking me such a random question.

But I can now answer that random question.
The answer is yes (did you guess correctly?)
And now to answer the question I am constantly asked:

“What are you doing here [in Guyana]?)

South Central People's Development AssociationWell….I am based in Shulinab Village and I work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the South Central People’s Development Association (SCPDA) which operates to serve 17 communities (Amerindian villages) in the South Central and South Rupununi. To you, this may/can be known as the rural part of Guyana in Region 9.

Here are the things I am/will be doing (with brief descriptions):

  • Working with women’s groups – teaching financial skills (e.g. bookkeeping and budgeting), teaching & learning different crafts (e.g. embroidery and bead jewelry), and researching the challenges facing women’s groups (e.g. consistent and active participation, leadership issues)
  • Working with Community Based Organizations (CBOs) – teaching financial skills (e.g. bookkeeping and budgeting)
  • Working with Individuals – who need financial skills (e.g. bookkeeping and budgeting).

Oh, you noticed a common theme? Could it be… bookkeeping and budgeting?

My official title is Enterprise Development Advisor. Yes, it’s a very vague title…but it means I can do anything related to business development (freedom! sort of…) I do have a speciality.

I teach financial skills to communities that request assistance in this field. I usually teach basic skills in bookkeeping (keeping accounts and ledgers in order, how to keep good records, how to create monthly statements) and budgeting for personal/household finances and for CBOs that spend money on inventory, supplies, and equipment.

Women's Group in Aishalton

I’m also trying to focus on working with Women’s Groups so that women can generate income for their families and have a solid support group should they need it.
Click on the picture above to check out the objectives of the Aisharatoon Women’s Association (the women’s group located in Aishalton village, South Rupununi).

I won’t bore you with nitty gritty details (I don’t think you care about my workshop material, for example), but if you would like to know or have any questions be sure to drop me a comment or an email. :)

Petroglyphs and Puppies!

9 May

No, they don’t have anything to do with one another…unless somebody’s done petroglyphs (rock engravings) of puppies.
I just thought that I’d share a little of both in this post.


Swamp walkIf you come to Aishalton, you can’t miss the petroglyph site just outside of the village. The interesting part is getting there in rainy season. It takes a skilled driver to get us out there because of the muddy roads, but once you’ve hit swamp, well…you’re on your own. Be prepared to do some swamp walkin’. Take off your shoes. Don’t think about the dirt, bugs, and parasites in the water. Don’t think about what’s in the mud squishing between your toes. Don’t worry about the sand flies, kabora flies, and mosquitoes. Just walk….because you do it to see some amazing things. By amazing things, I mean rock engravings.

The engravings are fading as the rains cause erosion and the sun weakens the rock surfaces (some have cracked and chipped off!), but locals will come out to trace chalk or paint the engravings so that they’re still visible. Unfortunately, nobody I was with knew what the pictograms meant…but it was still fun guessing what the creators were trying to portray.

PetroglyphPetroglyphPetroglyphPetroglyphPetroglyphWalking towards the mountainWalking up the mountain through rocks and vinesA sweaty, hot, rainy, climb

Some carvings are in a cave on a mountain…so up we went. We didn’t walk with a cutlass (machete), so we had to dodge bush rope (hanging vines) and thorny branches, and break through bushes. Also, I love my Birkenstock sandals, but they’re no good for climbing up mountains with wet soil and leaves as turf. And walking across a tree trunk bridge with them is also a bit terrifying when the moss is slippery. But we made it to the top (although very slowly) and were rewarded with a beautiful view (of course!).

View from the mountain

If mountain climbers weren’t rewarded with a beautiful view at the top, I’d question why they want to climb mountains in the first place…Anyway, I digress.


Where are the puppies?!

Right here :)
These rascals live at Burning Hills in Aishalton. I want to keep them all! But they have a nice home here…so why interfere with a good thing?
The brown one is my fave!

My faveFavourite!My 2nd favePups need to stay dry too!Curious pupMaximum cute

Shulinab to Shulinab to Aishalton

2 May

On Sunday April 29, 2012 at around 10am, I left Shulinab (South Central Rupununi) to go to Aishalton (Deep South Rupununi) for a 10 day workshop.
On Sunday April 29, 2012 at around 7pm, I arrived back in Shulinab.

I have never travelled for so long and so far just to go nowhere.

We started off in Shulinab, went across a creek to Shiriri, back across the creek to the main road, went on to Katoonarib, and then Sawariwau to pick up other workshop attendees. Then we went to the river crossing with hopes that we’d be able to drive across the Rupununi River to reach our destination. Unfortunately, it started to rain hard on Sunday morning so the river started to rise and we couldn’t cross with the vehicle. If we attempted, we probably would’ve gotten washed away. And I’m not sure I wanted to drown that day…nor did anyone else.
So we turned around and went back to where we came from. le sigh.

The next day, Monday April 30, 2012, we attempted to go to Aishalton again. This time with a different plan. And it was a success.
Rupununi River CrossingMost people took the vehicle, which had to go to Sawariwau and Katoonarib to pick people up, but I really didn’t want to sit in a vehicle all day again, so I hopped on the back of a motorcycle and went to Dadanawa Ranch to wait for everyone else. The road was slippery and muddy which can be dangerous for driving/riding…but I chose a great rider so I was safe (don’t worry, mom!)
Dadanawa is the only place where you can cross the Rupununi when it’s high. They’ve got boats and a pontoon…but if the Rupununi River is TOO high, well you’re just shit out of luck and stuck on whichever side of the river you happen to be on.
So how do you get motorcycles across a river?

Like this:

How to cross the Rupununi River with a motorcycle

The point of this whole story is that we successfully made it into Aishalton after crossing the water at Dadanawa Ranch and hiring another vehicle (which so happened to be already on the Aishalton side of the river since we didn’t want to load up a truck on the pontoon).
We stuffed about 8 people, including the driver, into a jeep. One person sat in the trunk/back with all the load, 4 in the back seat, and 3 in front (driver included). It was uncomfortable, needless to say, and we got stuck in a swamp as soon as we set out from the ranch… but we made it!

Stuck in a swamp

Let's drive up a rock...why not?

Rupununi Savannah

P.S. Aishalton has internet (whee!) and interneting from a hammock is one of the better things in this world.