My first glimpse of Guyana from the plane window was blurry. The flight was short — just five hours from JFK — which means the 1.5 sleeping pills in my system were still very much engaged in their primary objective. And I was wearing my glasses. I hate wearing my glasses especially when traveling. I dread the moment that the flight attendant looms over me to hand out the customs form and I can’t see where his hand begins and mine ends and I rear up from my seat in a panic, lunging in the general direction of his white blobbiness. The problem is, I have an eye infection and I’m terrified that it won’t clear up before I get into the jungle. I’m armed with drops, sterile eye wipes and optimism. It needs to clear up before we head into the interior in three days.
Anyway. Guyana. Even viewed through a fuzzy-around-the-edges haze it is still stunning from the air. Miles and miles of densely packed green with no break in sight. Even the rivers look like they are being choked by the jungle as the trees strive to reach each other across the sluggish water. Every mile or so one palm tree sticks out above the rest of the canopy (being a tall poppy, as Mark Burnett used to say) but save that glimpse of a grayish-brown trunk there is nothing to break up the ocean of green. It feels very different from other tropical locations because there is nothing — not a house, shoreline, town, or road — to look at besides trees.
Guyana doesn’t seem to have much to sell itself on upon arrival. It has no beaches to speak of, the waters are muddy, the city is infested with crime, and the mosquitoes are armed with malaria. The drug smuggling business is thriving due to its prime location next to Chavez’s Venezuela. The entire country is a malarial zone and the interior is filled with hundreds of plants and animals whose sole purpose in life is to infect, bite, sting or kill you. Is it any wonder I loved it from the moment I arrived.
We touched down at 7:08am with 96 cases and 16 crew and began the process of explaining to customs why we travel with our own Beefeater gin and whiteboards. Guyana only receives about 2000 visitors a year, the majority of whom probably mixed it up with Ghana and boarded the flight to South America by accident. 2000 a year works out to roughly 38.5 people a week. Which means that when our crew arrived we comprised over half of the country’s entire tourist population for that week. That’s how we roll. Upon arrival, it became clear why the country only hosts 38 tourists a week. The two customs officials played bad cop / bad cop while the other airport officials took turns asking us to take the bags off and on the baggage carts seemingly at random. While Peterman, our tall, bald, loud, Texan tall poppy dealt with the mayhem, our host took care of greasing the palms and the wheels.
We left the airport and boarded a bus named, awesomely, Knight Rider, in order to get to headquarters. Prior to Guyana, I didn’t know it was possible for a small bus to reach speeds more commonly witnessed during NASCAR events. As we careened around blind corners and enjoyed the use of the oncoming traffic lane as well as our own, I was able to observe that most of the people live on or near the side of the road. It was easy enough to calculate how Guyana’s population stays so low.
Greeting us at the compound was a monkey in a cage. While others ooohed and aahed over it, I stood back and stared him down. I studied his creepy fingers. His beady eyes. He was definitely plotting something. My sister, who knows and understands my fear and distrust of all monkeys, helpfully suggested that next time we meet I should throw my own feces at him first to confuse him.
Today passed in stupor, with people napping and emailing and jumping in the pool (damn you again, eye infection). Now it’s midnight, and as the club across the street pumps out Rihanna in the middle of a downpour, I’m going to turn in for the night as well. The forecast is a flat line: 10 days of 86-degree days and thunderstorms every afternoon.
Standing on the balcony of the hotel today watching the rain come down in sheets, I tried to picture what it would be like a week from now to be in the middle of the jungle up to my knees in mud and soaking wet, with another 40 days of exactly the same thing coming down the pipeline. Some things are better left unimagined; just experienced.