Where my thinking is worked out, often in real time…
South America Trip.3 – Georgetown, Guyana.
Trips around South America were quite popular among CUSO volunteers in the West Indies and South America back in 1967. Several people I knew had already done the trip the previous summer. They were generous in giving us lists of special sights, hotels, trains, planes and buses and friends they had made who would be happy to show us around.
CUSO volunteers were in Guyana and it made sense to visit beautiful Georgetown first. We were keen on traveling by boat down the Amazon from Manaus to Belem. It turned out that flying from Georgetown to Boa Vista, Brazil, about 50 km from southern Guyana, and then taking a domestic flight from Boa Vista to Manaus was much cheaper than flying directly to Manaus from Georgetown or Port of Spain. I was leaving Trinidad with 1000 US dollars and a cheque from CUSO that would cover my flight back to Montreal from Ecuador or Colombia at the end of my trip. It was important to do the trip as cheaply as possible. So we were able to pay for our Georgetown leg with the savings on the air fare. A no-brainer.
I flew to Georgetown from Port of Spain on July 13, 1967.
The following letter sent to my parents in Montreal after a two day visit to Guyana shows how impressed I was with that city and how excited I was to be on the verge of a three day trip down the largest river in the world.
You will also notice what an “expert” I was becoming on foreign politics. I was probably parroting what I’d been told by expats in Georgetown, I’m not sure. Looking back on my letter, I know that I was dead on about the games that were played by the British Government and the CIA to get rid of the fairly elected Marxist, Cheddi Jagan. The Brits forced Jagan to change to a form of proportional representation and there was also gerrymandering (dicking around with electoral riding boundaries) done to ensure that Jagan’s party would be defeated in the 1964 elections. Declassified US documents from 1964 to 1968 essentially back up what I said in my letter. The States didn’t want another Cuba in their back yard. I was surprised by my comments about the US “ousting” the dictator Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. I had forgotten that John Kennedy had stopped supporting this embarrassing strongman. Kennedy called Batista
JFK even had good things to say about Fidel Castro until relations soured, resulting in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the disastrous (for Kennedy) Bay of Pigs invasion. How did I get sidetracked? I wanted to explain the letter a little, that’s all. I also didn’t want to be wrong about the main drift of what I had written, so I checked. I guess it shows that I was beginning to form a more jaded view of world politics due to my exposure to people who had done more thinking about these issues than I had. I was still embarrassingly naive.
Anyway… sorry about that. I figured it was better to show the whole letter and explain it than to censor what I wrote then. It is easy enough to be embarrassed by casual things written home when a guy is just 21. I’m glad I wasn’t way off base.
Guyana, formerly the colony of British Guiana, became independent on May 26, 1966 – while I was in Trinidad. So all this political stuff was a pretty hot subject of conversation when George, Ian and I visited the capital in 1967. Unfortunately, politics in both Trinidad and Guyana are somewhat polarized by race issues, despite the wonderful way people down there mix together and get along most of the time. Both have large numbers of East Indians and Africans, a situation which politicians (and foreign governments) will exploit if they can. And they do…
We spent some time interacting with CUSO volunteers and locals at a rather posh and elegant barbecue and dance. We walked around the lovely, peaceful capital town where we visited the zoo and the botanical gardens. Here are a few more photos.
***Guyana Diary Notes***
Thursday, July 13, 1967 The pitch of the motor has lowered and the plane – BWIA Flight 367. We are about to land and below is the mouth of the Essequibo – finger shaped. The first lap of the trip has begun!
And what a beginning! At immigration some trouble with George (told them he wasn’t returning to Port of Spain) and Ian (only had a one way ticket). Both were forced to buy return tickets to Manaus.
To sort out this Manaus bit we contacted Henry Fitt, an insurance salesman for Hand in Hand Ins. Co. (and freelance pilot). He has twice been to Rio (de Janeiro – ed.) via Manaus and mentioned how cheap it was then. For $170.oo TT he got from Boa Vista to Rio. Mentioned a Mrs. Baldwin (?) who may interpret for us and the captain of the plane. Says scotch fetches a high price in Brazil – buy a bottle. The plane smuggles the booze across. He mentioned that we should try and hitch rides with the Brazilian Air Force – they give free ones. Mentioned also a trip to see the Stern Jewel Works in Rio. Permission to do this obtainable at the top of the Sugarloaf cablecar.
Georgetown: cleanish, canals, bikes (pedal & motor), friendly hissing and touching girls who like “white boys,” good milkshakes at Brown Betty, Banks Beer (piss). Cheap hole – Grill on Middle Street. Bunking up with cockroaches – $2.00/night. Quiet at night but girls are about. Girls quite pretty – high per cent of Indians, then negroes, Portuguese, English and American. Chinese fraction higher than Trinidad.
Saturday, July 15
Met CUSO Guyana last night – Ron Hegel, Mike Barker and his fiancée, Stephanie, Bob Ozmak, Sandra Neve, and Sharon Edge, a smart, blonde, voluptuous probation officer about 5’11”. We enjoyed a few close dances together and a little intelligent – on her part, anyway – conversation.
Earlier went to Botanical Gardens – zoo – manatee (legend of Mai-mai and Manitou) – gardens – Victoria Regia (huge water lily with floating pads). (Note: not sure whether I got that legend right. The manatee is a fresh water, 9-foot-long “sea cow” that is loosely related to the elephant. There are legends about manatee and mermaids and I found one about the manatee and the porpoise (number 49 in Guyana Legends, a 2011 book by Odeen Ishmael.)
Georgetown – St George’s Anglican Cathedral, largest wooden building in the world
Grill Guest House (Mrs. King, $2.00)
10′ below sea level, hence the canals
***End of Diary Notes***
On July 15 we flew to Boa Vista, Brazil. There we scrambled off and across a muddy tarmac in a downpour to buy our tickets for Manaus in ultra basic Portuguese. Then we got back on the same plane and flew to Manaus. If we hadn’t made it on time I don’t know where we could have stayed. We saw nothing other than the tiny airport building. Now the place is a planned city built with Paris as a model with a population of a quarter of a million people. It is Brazil’s only state capital that is north of the equator and, like Brazilia, is populated mostly by public service employees. Amazing growth began in the 1970’s. In 1967 its population was probably around 6000, mostly invisible to me, people. But then, it was raining…
Note: I used the term “negroes” in 1967 because it was considered the right word back then and did not have a negative connotation for many people. Malcolm X objected to the term in the early sixties but most people, black people included, did not have a problem with the term.