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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Mykel's Caribbean Blog CHAPTER FIVE: Two Weeks in Guyana

by Mykel Board

October 12, 2013- October 23, 2013

[Recap: From the start, it didn't look good for this trip. Everything went right... a bad sign. Nothing portends disaster more than everything going right.

Easy subletter in New York, smooth flight to Miami, promises of “meet you at the airport/seaport” for the whole trip. $10 a night accommodations in Guyana, the rest free.

Uh oh! Too good. The better the news, the bigger the fall later. And things get worse. (Better) The plan is to stay at the Hollywood (FLA not LA) home of my long-term friend and sometimes partner in crime, Sharon I. With a couple small exceptions. The Miami trip went so smoothly you could cry.

Then on to Trinidad, where my friends picked me up at the airport, took me around drinkin'.Then I moved to the South of the country, some fun adventures, a Goddess... er... Empress of a girl. Back to the airport and the flight to Guyana.

One thing after another... clicking into place. It's sort of like a Bingo game in reverse. Only when you do NOT get the blocks in a row can you call BINGO. If things come together in a straight line, one after the other, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, that's normal. That's losing. When things DON'T click... when they don't work out. That's BINGO.

I leave for Guyana tomorrow. My facebook friends from KEEP YOUR DAY JOB! will meet me at the airport. From there, we go to Jamal's place This is the only time I'll be paying for a place to sleep. 15 days for $150US. Not bad. I'll have my own room and cool company.

Customs to leave Trinidad is a breeze. The plane leaves on time. We take off and land at the small airport in Georgetown. I'm one of the first to get off the plane, but I'm having a bit of difficulty organizing my few bags. A few people pass me as I make my way to the immigration line. There are three lines: GUYANESE CITIZENS, CARIBBEAN NATIONALS, OTHER VISITORS. I get on the line for OTHER VISITORS... BINGO!

Immigration is hell. My room turns out to be a mattressless space on a hard wood floor next to a drug factory-- with a roommate. The Air Conditioning blows luke warm. After a good drinking first night in the country, it turns very NASTY.

The cast of characters is NOT NASTY... I LIKE 'EM ALL:

Gavin and Ryan, from Keep Your Day Job! They met me at the airport, took me to rock'n'roll karaoke, got me drunk. The plan is to stay here until October 26, then head with the band to Suriname. I'll be a roadie or do merch. It'll get me over to the next country with company and it'll be PUNKROCK.

Jamal, my host and roommate is a character, known and loved all over the city. He cannot make a complete statement unless it includes at least one reference to a penis.]

FAST FORWARD: I type this on the balcony of Jamal's place in Georgetown. It's my last night here before I go to Suriname tomorrow. The still air is punctuated with bird calls, barking dogs, crickets, car horns, an occasional blast of rap or reggae from a car radio. The lights flicker as the electricity decides whether to live or die.
The only smell in the humid air is my own body: a sickly sweet smell of sweat and insect repellant. The vague odor of piss comes and goes. I can't tell if it belongs to me, or just hangs in the heavy air. My laptop rests on top of my lap. Sweat puddles between my legs. I itch in the good parts. I'm waiting. Waiting for a phone call announcing a cab... departing from Ryan's place, coming to pick me and my bags up. I've been here for two weeks. It's been some stay!

The plan was for me to spend my last night here. Then stay tomorrow at Gavin's house. Then take the bus with the band... all the way to Suriname. Yesserree, that's the plan....

But now lets return to those early days of my stay in the country. The first night, I sleep on my own sheet on the hardwood floor of Jamal's apartment. The air conditioning burbles out lukecool air. The next morning, I don't feel so good. Jamal notices.

[DIALECT NOTE: Most of the people are bi-dialectal... probably from watching American movies on TV. They speak an almost incomprehensible dialect to one another, but to me their English sounds like the boy next door. A few people cannot change, and that's a problem... for me. Strangely, many people refer to their own dialect as “broken English.” It ain't broken. I tell 'em. It's just different.]

I'm sorry, Mykel,” he says. “I thought those dicks would have told you about the room. They told me you had a sleeping bag or something.”

I have a hammock,” I tell him. “I don't think I can lay a hammock on the floor.”

No problem,” he says, “you can swing your penis in a hammock. Don't worry. I'll help you set it up.”

That afternoon, Gavin and Ryan come to visit. Together we manage to rig the hammock by tying the ends to the window gates at right angles in the corner of the room.

And yes, it's as comfortable as it looks. Plus, that window... the bright one... faces east... perfect to catch the light as the sun comes up at 6AM. At least now, my sweat puddles in the curve of the hammock rather than on the floor.

I've got to give Jamal credit. He really does work hard to make things okay. The next day he's got the air conditioner dismantled. The filter out. It's opaque from caked on Guyanese humidity and the muddy dust that fills the normal air. Pow! He's scrubbing away. Every space, sieved out, cleaned, nearly knuckle bleeding. And that's not enough. He's in the actual machine. Behind the filter. Half filled with frozen ice... chipping away with his fingers, an errant piece of metal, anything.

Why don't you wait an hour?” I suggest. “The ice will melt.”

He takes a break. The ice melts.

After the operation the AC does indeed work better. The next morning it's freezing in there.

Days pass, usually with the same routine: I wake up at 6 with the sun in my face and the pressure of last night's beer on my bladder. I stumble out of the swinging hammock, relieve my bladder, and stumble back into the hammock.

Then I sleep again until around 10:30. Then up, go downstairs to breakfast where they already know to whip up sausage and egg on a roll. Then it's into town carrying my computer in a just-purchased backpack that fell apart the second day I had it. I've since sewn it together, but it doesn't look very permanent.

A few errands in town, the post office, the bank, a bookstore, shopping for a wallet. Then to Jerries:
I'll bet he is!
for some time on the internet and some food and drink. Then back to Jamal's and wait until 9 o'clock or so... THEN, the day begins.

For a couple nights, we hit the same bars as on my arrival. I feel like a regular: the guys saying high and giving me the high five. I do not sing at Karaoke.

Tonight's a special night. Kyle (the only one with a car, last blog entry I called him Caleb) is a tall friendly guy whose been the designated drunk driver as he's the only one with a car. Easy going, likeable, always drunk, the last time I saw him he was pissing in the street while talking on his cellphone. More context for that later.

Tonight we're going to GRAVITY. The best club in Guyana. Kyle is driving. I'm with Jamal, Gavin, and Ryan. We park a little way from the club and walk to it.

Taxi? Taxi?” people shout at us as we walk.

I don't get it. We're walking TOWARDS the club. It's half a block away. Why would we need a taxi?

We enter through the downstairs. Just inside the front door, a very big bouncer-looking guy frisks us with a one of those e-paddles like they use in the airport if you beep when passing through the metal detector.

He looks at Ryan and me.

No hats,” he says.

We take off our hats.

No hats,” he repeats, at a louder volume.

Kyle translates.

You can't bring a hat into this place,” he says, “even if you're not wearing it?”

Do they think I'm going to assault someone with a hat?” I ask. “Rub the felt in their eyes? Choke a girl on the headband?”

He shrugs and hands us the carkeys.

Ryan and I walk back to the car, leave our hats on the seat, return to the club, where the same guy frisks us again. From there it's onto a line for the elevator... the only way in or out of the place. (I DO NOT think FIRE!)

Upstairs the elevator opens on HELL.
Imagine the worst thumping disco/house music you've ever heard. Now imagine it played through the kind of speakers they used to torture Iraqis during the Gulf war. So loud it makes your ears bleed. Now imagine a décor that looks like a high tech bathroom... everything neon, tiled, lit blue. Now image the worst rum you've ever forced down... served without a mixer... each drink costing more than a hernia operation. Got it? Now multiply it by ten. NOW you've got it.

It looks like every white person in Guyana is here. Untouchably attractive local women too. Yuck!

Jamal jumps right in. Finds an attractive girl and starts bumping and grinding and rum drinking. Gavin, Ryan, and I, all feel the same way. We escape through a door to a balcony. The speakers outside are cranked slightly less... perhaps fire alarm volume... Ryan and Gavin sit on a couple of uncomfortable ottomans, the last two. I sit on the edge of a huge concrete planter... more comfortable than standing.
Several Russian-mob looking guys roam through the outside crowd. They look very serious in their suits and ties... the only ones not dressed disco.

We sip our bad rums.

One of the suits comes up to me. “Get down from there,” he says pointing to the concrete planter.

I do.

Get me outta here!” I plead to Gavin and Ryan. We leave to go to
someplace more congenial. We end up at what the Guyanese call a rum shop. It's like a liquor store with tables. We buy a bottle of rum, some coke, mix and have a grand ole time.

Kyle's the one who notices the name of the place. I guess it's named for a penetration problem caused by the imbibing of too much rum. You can see it on the bottom of the sign.

The next night we go to Buttsey's: Me, Ryan, Addevi (an Indian Guyanese girl I wrote about last time: smart, funny, scatological... in the best way possible... it could be love.)

It turns out that Buttsey's will be my favorite restaurant in the country.

Scummy, in a great scummy way, a couple pool tables. The bar itself looks like a liquor store in a bad neighborhood in LA. Iron gate between the tender and customers. Great plaintain fries, fried shark, and a few unidentifiable but delicious foods.

The local Banks Beer costs about 80¢ a bottle. Wild but friendly dogs scrounge for scraps among the outside tables. Ryan, Addevi and I talk about sex-- or at least strip clubs.

Lap dances in the states cost about $20.” I complain. “And in most places you can't touch. You have to keep your hands in the air.”

I went to this place in Georgetown, right?” says Ryan. “And the girl lets you do anything. She puts her chest right up against your face, right? Wiggles like this.” he makes the move. I see the people at the next table laugh.

Lap dances don't do it for me anyway,” I confess. “I like to watch the girls dance. Do that thing with the pole... but a lap dance. Nah, I stay droopy. Never get my bang for the bucks.”

I'd give you a lapdance that would get your bang,” says Addevi. “Maybe those girls don't know how to do it right.”

Here we are in front of Buttsey's:
It's annoying that the waitress comes and whisks away the bottles as soon as they're empty. You can't see how much you drank. We drink a tableful. Maybe two.

I'll miss this place in Suriname,” I tell my companions.

At the end of the night, Addevi does NOT give me the perfect lapdance. She's met with some guy at the bar...and they go off together. I go back to Jamal's place.

He's out on the porch drinking with Kyle and some others. “Hey Mykel,” he says, “where you been wavin' your dick tonight?”

I join him and the mosquitoes on the porch. He pours me a drink.

The rest of my time in Guyana is a delicious drunken blur, punctuated with a few moments of lucidity. One is the concert in the park. It's hosted by some radio celebrity. Keep Your Day Job! performs along with another band called COLLAGE. The singer of Collage is so sexy I figure she's gotta be a lesbian.

KYDJ!'s drummer is a fill-in. I forgot his name, but I'll call him Azzis.

Our real drummer is in Canada,” explains Gavin. “Azzis knows our songs and he can fill in. He can do anything.”
He does a great job.

They play by the SEA WALL, a dyke built by the Dutch, when Guyana was Dutch. It's now a recreation area, with a park nearby and joggers a-plenty along the top of the dyke. Disappointingly, there is no little Dutch boy with his finger stuck in.

A second highlight is the KYDJ! acoustic set at a small “wine bar” in the middle of town. There are about 20 people in the audience when the band starts. They invite me to do guest vocals for BEER IS BETTER THAN GIRLS ARE. There may be a YouTube video of that performance. If there is, I can't find it.

After the song, a handful of women complain to Gavin... then they walk out. Yeah! My kind of reaction. Punk Rock!

Another great, but too short adventure (TWSS) was a daytrip to Kaieteur Falls. That's the highest single-drop waterfall in the world. It's one of two sight-seeing goals I have for the country. (The other is to see a rare bird, native to Guyana, with the Jamal-type name: Cock of The Rock.)

Our small group of travelers to the falls is supposed to meet at the airport. Not at the airport exactly, but at Jerries snackette (Yep, THAT Jerry) right inside the entrance to the airport. I'm an hour early.

Sitting by herself at another table, is an attractive white girl, (oxymoron?), slightly hefty in the right places, she carries a large pocketbook. Twenty-something, dirty blond, the dark pink of a sunburn just rises beneath her sunscreened skin. The amplitude of her chest is squeezed together under a sleeveless vertically stripped top. She wears rubber sandals.

Going to Kaieteur Falls ?” I ask.

She smiles and nods.

I think we're supposed to ask for Jude,” I tell her. “I remember the name from that stupid Beatles song.”

She smiles again.

My name's Mykel,” I tell her, getting up to shake hands with her.

Oriana,” she says.

It's then that Jude, a guy from the travel agency, shows up.

He takes us to the actual airport entrance. We pass through what looks like a truck parking lot. The airline gate (there is only one) is outside, in front of a chainlink fence. Two people-- one of each gender-- sit at the gate. Both are in uniform.

Already at the gate are several Guyanese-looking people including a hefty Aunt Jemima, and an older couple of indeterminate origin.

I don't have a ticket. Jude has mine and those of others who are traveling with me. He hands them to the woman behind the desk.

Eye den vacation,” the woman says to me.

Yes,” I tell her, “I'm on vacation.”

Gnaw,” she says. (I've been here long enough to know that the locals pronounce NO like gnaw.) “I donnut car uwai yahr hair. I juss need yahr eye den vacation.”

Give her your passport,” the trip organizer whispers.

I hand it to her.

She copies my name from it onto some note paper.

New, stahd don de skeel wid yhour bagz.” she motions to an industrial looking platform next to her. I stand on it.


She writes it down.

It's the white girl's turn.

One sixty three?” she says. “Wow. I didn't know I had that much in my bag.” Yeah right.

From the scale, we're ushered into the VIP LOUNGE®. Soon it's full and the where you from conversations begin. The Guyanese are all expats, living in Miami, New York or Canada. The indeterminate couple are New Zealanders, though the guy was born in Denmark.

I'm glad there are ten of us,” says the white girl. “I'm afraid of tiny planes... you know like 6 people. They terrify me. I don't like high places in general.”

You're going on a small plane to a waterfall with no guard rails,” I say. “It's the highest waterfall in the world... and you're afraid of heights?”

She nods.

At 12:30, half an hour early (What do I know about third world? I expected an hour delay.) We board the tiny plane.

I make sure to sit next to Oriana, hoping she'll grab my leg in white-knuckled panic. A little turbulence would help. Maybe we'll go through some storm clouds.

She tells me she's in the Peace Corps. Hmmm. I used to complain that the Peace Corps was a bunch of idealist kids being used by the US government to make third-worlders into America-worshippers. Since then, things have changed. Now it's both sides who are cynical about The Corps.

I only have to put up with this shit for two years,” I've heard (but not from Oriana). “Then, wowee, my resumé will glisten. Those corporations love that volunteer spirit.”

I donno. This girl seems so nice, innocent and idealistic. Maybe she's a throwback to a better time.

The planetrip is much too peaceful. There's about 30 seconds of shaking, but she grips her OWN leg during that time. Gives me the thumbs up when it's over. Not what I hoped for.

At the falls itself, most of us stand at the edge for our photo ops. Oriana crawls to within 3 feet and sits on the ground for a picture. I show her how it's done.

You can see some more pictures of the falls trip here. Just click on the picture below:

Kaiteur Falls

When we return from the trip, Oriana and I decide to share a taxi back to town. I open my address book to find the number of a cab company. Oriana is looking over my shoulder and sees the addresses there.

Oh,” she says, “you know Jamal?”

Everybody knows Jamal,” I tell her.

We split in town and I never see her again.

The next afternoon, I see Jamal sitting with Addevi and this girl I've never seen before. She's very light skinned, wears glasses, sort of attractive, but the kind of attractive that wants to hide... behind glasses, for example. People in this country are such different shades of black and pink, I can't tell if she's a native or not.

Mykel,” says Jamal, “this is Jocilyn.” He does not make a penis reference. Something is up.

I buy a round of beer and bring it back to the table.

So Jocilyn,” I say, “what's your story?”

I'm a Phd student from New York,” she tells me. “I'm doing my dissertation on Caribbean history. I'm here for research.”

She smells of liberal feminism, but I bite my tongue. Or rather try for some casual conversation.

You ever been to GRAVITY?” I ask her.

She nods.

Mykel hates that place,” says Jamal.

I nod. “Yeah,” I say, “it's hell.”

She adjusts her glasses.

You may not like places like that,” she says, “but you can understand why people in third world country like Guyana would like it?”

It's filled with foreigners,” I don't say. “It's got more bling than a Jay Z concert. It's loud, annoying, expensive.”

Instead, I grit my teeth.

Let's go to Buttsey's,” I say.

At first she declines, but then gamely joins us. We order more beer. She drinks water.

Ryan and Gavin come later. Jocilyn goes home.

We drink and talk into the night. Casually Gavin says to me. “We have a problem, Mykel. It's with our drummer. Let me tell you about it.”

Wasn't there a scene in a movie that starts with the words Houston, we have a problem? Uh oh, this is gonna be trouble. Damn right it is!


[You can read previous travel blog entries below.
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You might also want to check the blog of Mykel's Columns here.

WARNING: The column blog is not PG. It might make you mad, or disgusted. The thin-skinned, politically correct, and easily sickened should probably stay away. You have been warned.]

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