Guyana is Much More than the Jonestown Massacre

The first thing the local guides have to address is the tragedy that happened over 40 years ago. It took place in a remote area in the Northwest and certainly is not why I would recommend you go visit Guyana!

   

I arrived at the Georgetown International Airport late in the day but was fortunately picked up by my tour guide and during the hour drive to the hotel was introduced to the country’s history and its recent status. Guyana was named by the indigenous people living there before the Europeans occupied it, meaning “land of water”.  Settled first by the Dutch then the English and due to the many plantations on its western border the territory brought in both indentured servants from East India and slaves from Africa.  It wasn’t until the 1830’s that slaves were freed and it took another 130 years or so before Guyana became independent. While the country is rich in its natural resources like rain forests, sugar cane, rice and some minerals it is still considered one of the poorest nations in South America.

The next morning I met the 5 others who were joining me for the better part of a week even though we would only be spending about 36 hours in Guyana.  We did a city tour of Georgetown ( a small city of about only 200,000) taking in the usual sites of the city hall, the parliament building, the waterfront, the cathedral, and the National Museum. 

  

That afternoon we took a small plane along with 5 others to visit Kaieteur Falls, one of the most powerful in the world and twice as high as Victoria Falls or four times as high as Niagara Falls. It is located on the Potaro River in a section of the Amazon rainforest.  

  

After a few hours touring the park and taking many photos we returned to the city for the night before departing by plane again for our next country: Suriname.

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ABC’s of Traveling the Guianas

With airplanes, boats and cars one can actually see all three of these countries (French Guiana is actually a Republic) in a week!  Luckily I discovered a travel agency called “Travel the Guianas” that not only made this possible but did it with nonchalance. While there were different guides and drivers in each area they offered  adventures, cultural experiences, and history lessons throughout the tour.

 

The logistics of arranging a rather complicated trip for us was made much simpler due to the excellent guides and an abundance of cell towers, even in the jungle.  Because everyone was connected there were no mishaps in getting us to where we needed to be even though we crossed borders four times. 

While I did not know any of my fellow travelers ahead of time, we shared many commonalities; love of exploring and visiting new places were definitely in our DNA.  In fact four of them left their spouses at home knowing this trip was a little more adventurous than they preferred. I never felt in danger but food and lodging were not exactly 5 star.  Fresh fruit was always available as were proper toilets and AC at night. Local beer was plentiful as well.

   

I will cover Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana separately in upcoming blogs. Tourism is relatively new to the area but I hope it will be flourishing in the near future.  Right now Europeans, Chinese and people who were descendants of past residents are more typical but hopefully word of mouth will bring more people to this delightful area.

 

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Big Toe and the Jam

Seriously? That was the name of the band playing at a local pub and listed as a “thing” for us to do after the Gala Dinner at my 50th College Reunion! I have to admit I happily skipped that particular happening.

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The College of St. Benedict’s in St. Joseph, MN provided a liberal arts education for about 125 women in my class. It was great fun seeing so many friends, some that I had lost touch with for years and years. To make it even more realistic we stayed in the dorms!

 

The memories mostly brought forth gales of laughter, so much so that my throat still hurts.  The agenda was stuffed with conversations, picnics, classes, tours and impromptu wine socials.

 

We delighted each other with memorable moments that were totally forgotten by others.  One old friend said she recalled that I was the first person she met when we were Freshmen and that I had asked her to help me find someplace I could have a cigarette!  Another laughed at how the two of us were duped by her boyfriend telling us that their dorm was having an open house and how brazenly we walked in the front door.

 

The “brother” school is about 5 miles down the road and activities were spread among both campuses. Naturally we took the Bennie bus back and forth. The incredible new buildings at both sites had us totally disorientated. While it was inspiring to see all these and hear so many stimulating orations it was my friends that made this weekend one I will cherish.

 

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The Lounge Experience

My last trip was most notable for the time spent in airports between flights.  First I had 12 hours at JFK and then 6 hours in AMS.  So, two days to get there! I was looking forward to seeing the new AMEX lounge in New York but unfortunately it was behind schedule by months and not opened as promised. Luckily I had a back-up with my Delta Lounge access.

    

Two of their best features include the Asanda Spa and their new food and beverages.  I love that I can spend miles instead of dollars.  I upgraded from the free wine offering and had a 50 minute massage!  All with miles.  I also had time to read a book, nap, shower and do a couple of miles walking through all the terminals.  Some airports actually have a movie theater (Singapore, Minneapolis, Hong Kong).

In Amsterdam my Delta pass failed and I was not admitted to a lounge so a plan B was needed.  As both my flight from San Diego to New York and the one from New York to Amsterdam were red-eyes, sleep was much-needed. I discovered YotelAir.  Their cabins rent by the hour, include fast internet, coffee or tea, a bed and a shower.  It cost about the same as access to a paid lounge.  So I opted for sleep instead of liquor!

On my return through AMS I was able to get access to the KLM lounge even as they were remodeling.  What an incredible experience they are offering…both one for those who are okay with normal and one for those opting for the primo treatment (fee attached). These extras include a restaurant, sky bar with premium drinks, nap compartments and a wine and cheese bar. These lounges are destinations in themselves!

 

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Cyprus Off-Season

When I was in Lebanon a few years ago I was surprised how close I was to Cyprus.  Had I  done my research I would have visited at that time.  As I love Mediterranean food and climate I decided to add it to my list of new countries this year.  Again, my research failed me as I knew it was off-season but did not expect snow!

  

  

I booked 5 nights in Larnaca giving me 4 days to explore the island.  Using miles I stayed at a delightful hotel called the Ciao Stelio featuring comfortable rooms and a great restaurant with access to a huge gym.

  

 

Unfortunately some of my planned excursions were not available due to limited spaces during the off-season.  I was able to secure a spot on the “discovery of the island” tour, a 10 hour journey with an English-speaking guide.  Interestingly I was the only one of 60 who spoke English as my native tongue even though the majority of tourists are from one of 3  countries: Britain, Russia or Israel.

Upon my safe return home I read that a serial killer who had targeted foreign women was apprehended while I was there. Whew!

watching facebook posts from friend in the Maldives while freezing my ass i snow

 

 

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Our Expedition Followed Early Exploration

Before my trip, Swoop Travel suggested I read “South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition” and I followed that up by watching  PBS’s “Chasing Shackleton”.  I wasn’t sure if I should be frightened or excited to sail those waters!  The desire to explore this White Continent was shared by men of many nations as they raced to the South Pole. In 1961 the Antarctica Treaty System created an agreement between many countries (12 at that time) preserving this land as peaceful, cooperative among nations, and as a scientific research area.

The names of the Straits, the Islands, the Coves, the Seas all honored those who came before.  History and Geography were daily lessons offered to those on board my ship.

Crossing the formidable Drake Passage was not as daunting as it could have been.  In fact, the pilot called it a 2 out of 10.  Pushing my limits by going to the gym, attempting both yoga and treadmill running, left me without “sea-legs” and an unpleasant  first 24 hours.

Because of the good weather we were able to make our first stop late on the second day, Aitcho, allowing me to surround myself with penguins and get a first whiff of their unmistakable stench.

We then passed by Iceberg A57A before entering Antarctic Sound where we attempted to reach the Weddell Sea, the coldest ocean in the world.  Unfortunately ice floes and icebergs blocked out entrance but it was fascinating to hear the crunching sounds of the ship attempting passage. Instead we visited Kinnes Cove and Gourdin Island where we added the Adelie penguins to the Chinstrap and Gentoo we had already seen.

Linblad Cove and Mikkelsen Harbour were the landings the next day. Linblad was named after the conservationist who led the first tour cruise to Antarctica in 1966.

We visited the Vernadsky Station, a working  research base for the Ukrainians. Most of the inhabitants were there for the summers only but there were those who stayed all year-long during the dark winters and actually created many of the souvenirs they sold in their gift shop!

 

Paradise Bay was where we encountered the friendly Minke whale, the small avalanche, and amazing icebergs close up. This site along with Neko Harbour is certainly one of the most scenic areas on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano and one of the safest harbors. It is now both a tourist destination as well as a scientific outpost.  It has a very narrow entrance with a big rock only 8 feet below the water in the middle of the channel.

On the last afternoon we sailed by Cape Horn where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Our seas were calm unlike many days when the strong winds, strong currents and large waves can make this very treacherous especially for yachts and other smaller vessels.

The Le Boreal safely delivered all 208 passengers safely back to port.  Of these, eleven were naturalists with ranging areas of expertise. We had a few more women than men, probably because this was one of the few cruise ships that offered a “no supplement” for singles.  Over half were from France with US citizens claiming 48 of the spots, the Australians followed with 18 and the remaining were from 15 other countries!

 

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Frivolity amid the Frozen Continent

The whales, the seals and the penguins all provided fun and endless fascination. I could have spent every minute of my ten-day stint in Antarctica watching them.

The continuous chatter of the penguins to the growling seals made me laugh.  I even chuckled when the daring baby penguin approached me and bit my boot!

Perhaps their antics inspired me to enjoy my lighthearted side. One day after climbing a hill to get the best panoramic view I sat down and slid to the bottom, loving every moment except for the complaints coming from those who had to jump aside.  Another day when a French cohort was singing to himself in the zodiac I encouraged him to join me in singing “Frere Jacques”. Unfortunately due to my singing voice I might have been the only one having a great time!

I asked about the polar plunge and was told due to health risks this ship no longer participated so I had to substitute the pool!

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