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Saving, and Splurging, in Guyana

Saving, and Splurging, in Guyana

Posted by Shanelle Weir on June 28, 2014

Where I come from, we don’t put ice in our Guinness. Or Red Bull. But in the gold-mining frontier town of Bartica, Guyana, I became a (temporary) convert.

Ice-cold beer makes sense in the steamy jungle town, and a little extra alertness can’t hurt in an area where it seems as if half the population is armed.

That revelation was just one of many surprises I found in Guyana, the offbeat first stop on my offbeat route to the World Cup in Brazil. That trip would take me through Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana, en route to Natal, Brazil. It began with the cheapest one-way ticket I could find to South America, a $334 direct flight from New York to Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. Formerly British Guiana, the country of about 725,000 has a complicated colonial legacy and a largely poor population descended from indigenous peoples, African slaves and Indian laborers.

I ended up in Bartica at the suggestion of a woman at a tour operator when I balked at the high price tags of her company’s excursions. Walking around the nearly dead town after sundown on a Sunday was entirely my doing.

I did, though, find a group of local characters outside the Best Buy Meat Center. They included Eon Ferrier, who runs Five Star Mineral Trading, a company that buys “sponge gold” unearthed by miners and melts it into bars for export. Another was Troy Harper, a Bartica native who said he lived mostly in Brooklyn, which seemed unlikely until I told him my name and he responded, “You Jewish?” Each carried a sidearm; each told me not to worry — it was because of the precious metal and wads of cash that moved around town, as well as remaining jitters after a massacre in 2008.

There was also a 19-year-old aspiring rapper who goes by the moniker Kid King, and Futu, the owner of the market. We chatted and munched chewy chunks of wild boar they ordered from a place next door called Ease the Stress Hang Out Bar. Kid King rapped a bit.

I had come to Bartica because, as any traveler who has visited Guyana (and not many have) will tell you, you’ve got to get out of Georgetown. And Bartica is one way to access the country’s main attractions: the rivers, savannas and rain forests of its largely unpeopled (but heavily frogged) interior.

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