By Felicia Persaud
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. April 27, 2012: The sun beating down on my head is as warm as the smiles of the Amerindians surrounding me, pouring me glasses of lime swank and urging me to taste the fresh cassava bread and pepper pot fish. There is so much warmth – not just from the heat of the 90 plus degree weather, but from the people themselves. In the distance, the calls of birds fill the air and with a full belly I find a hammock and fall asleep, a smile on my face.
I awaken with a start and stare out the window – confused as to where I am! There are the sounds of birds and wild ducks alright but the tall, concrete building staring back at me from outside my fourth floor window brings me back to reality fast as I realize the call of the wild is coming only from the birds that have built a nest in my air conditioner.
This is sadly no Surama or Rockview, Guyana! My soul may have been left there as evidenced by my dream, my granny would surmise, but this was New York City and the smiles and warmth of the Amerindians and the comfort of the hammock like a womb around me were nothing more than memories of the week before and my first trip to the interior of Guyana.
I lay in my bed, a big smile on my face and let my mind go back to Surama and Rockview, Guyana…
As the small 8R YAC plane from Air Services Limited began its descent into the Surama airstrip on April 17th, some 300km south of the capital, Georgetown, and over an hour flight on the single engine plane, the forest covered Pakaraima Mountain range zooms up and seems ready to swallow the descending plane as a green giant swallowing up everything in its path.
But the skillful pilot weaves easily out of its grasp and soon sets the plane down with a bump on a red dirt airstrip, cleared in the forest.
At the edge of the airstrip, a number of Amerindians from the village of Surama have gathered to welcome us, their smiles infectious; their warmth, all encompassing.
This is Surama – a green haven. This farming Eco Lodge in the Pakaraima Mountains and near the Burro Burro River is managed and operated solely by the Makushi Amerindian tribe of Guyana.
After relieving ourselves in outhouses – how much closer to nature can you get? – we are taken to the Surama Primary School, where dozens of school kids clad in yellow and white uniforms, welcome us in song and poetry.
They are part of the villagers who indirectly benefit from the income earned by this Lodge, we soon learn. More than 70 people are employed either directly as hospitality staff, guides, cooks, artisans and drivers, or indirectly as farmers, hunters, fishermen, and construction and maintenance workers and roughly 60 percent of the community’s income is now sustainably generated through tourism-related activities.
Soon we climb aboard an old Army-type truck and are driven to the heart of the Lodge. Lodging here is provided in one of four traditional ‘benab’ buildings. Each door is painted with an illustration of a chief of varied Amerindian tribes, including the Arawaks and Caribs.
The buildings are simple, comfortable, and clean. Electricity is solar-powered with a limited number of outlets provided in the central building for recharging cameras and other gear. A hut here costs US$110 with full board including guides who are extremely knowledgeable of the history and forest nearby.
We are next invited to snack in the central benab, where fresh cassava bread, fried plantains, fired fish, cashew and pepper pot fish is on the menu. Washing that down with a choice of coconut water, lime swank, orange or soursop drink, we inhale the fresh air of the Rupununi Savannas. Local and traditional dishes are regularly served here, and many ingredients are grown in the on-site community garden.
A walk through the rain forest is next on the agenda and we follow our guide stomping on dampened, fallen leaves rotting on the forest floor through a darkened trail of towering trees blocking out the sun. There are no howler monkeys or other animals at noon this day. Instead, we are treated to a lesson in forest survival – learning the trees and plants that are a good source of water and natural food in the jungle. It is a place Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin of Dual Survivor would undoubtedly love, yet be lost in without the expert Amerindian guide.
After a quick walk through the forest, we are surprised to find ourselves at another exit, this time at the back of the village. After a nap in the hammock atop the central benab, that also serves as a bar and store, we are taken back to the airstrip where we board the plane again – this time for a ten minute flight to Annai.
Our trip to Annai lands us smack infront of Rock View Lodge, where the owner, Colin Edwards, a Scotsman turned Guyanese national, greets us warmly.
Rock View Lodge is nestled between the Amerindian villages of Annai and Rupertee on the North Rupununi Savannahs of central Guyana, and is an oasis of tranquility in the midst of the foothills of the Pakaraima mountain range and the tropical rainforest.
If the Surama staffers were affectionate then the Rock View Lodge staffers’ hospitality is ten times higher up the scale – perhaps a hangover from Edwards, who oozes warmth through every pore.
We are taken to the large family style dining tables outdoor and offered to partake in a sumptuous buffet lunch that includes fried rice, fried chicken and even as taste of the Amerindian delicacy, farine, to which has been added some pounded dried beef.
We wash this all down with the lime swank – lime juice in sugar sweetened water – a glorious relief from the heat. The two guest houses on the property can take single, twin and triple accommodation in self-contained suites where the accommodation is on beds created out of the wood from the forest. In addition to this, you can also sleep out in hammocks in the verandahs or camp out in the open.
But it is the gardens of Rock View Lodge that offer the visitor the most serenity and a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the concrete jungle. You can lose yourself here at Rock View or in my case, my soul.
The hammock by the swimming pool – with its rocks and boulders, clumps of cacti and birds singing in the trees – offers just the therapy needed and a sound sleep, minus the tossing and turning of a self-confessed insomniac. Here, for an hour at least, I slept like a baby, rocked by the warm wind and comforted by the birds chirping and rustling trees.
It’s a place where time can stand still and truly the real tourism in a country that’s new to the sector but whose eco-offerings are truly as vast as its rainforest. Forget the city, visitors! Just take a flight to Guyana, hop on a local charter and travel directly to the interior to truly experience eco-tourism and the warmth of the country’s hospitality, at its best.
For more on Rockview – log on to https://www.rockviewlodge.com/
For Surama – visit https://suramaecolodge.com/
For more on Guyana see https://www.guyana-tourism.com/