Impressions of Georgetown, Guyana
Arriving in Georgetown
We stepped off the plane and into the nice, warm and muggy air that we have come to know and love growing up in the Southeastern US.
Making our way into the terminal, we were greeted by about a 60+ min wait to reach customs & immigration.
Before we left for Guyana, we did some brief research about the safety of the country and learned that they still have major problems with trafficking cocaine (exports, mainly). That said, I love the high security that most countries have (the US included) at international airports on the inbound customs side (what the hell?).
It’s always ironic when a major illegal drug exporting nation is very concerned with the security at customs–seems like the very thorough agents could be securing borders instead of rooting around people’s dirty underwear. But then again, who cares about cocaine trafficking, we gotta make sure you’ve paid taxes on that TV you’re bringing back from New York.
I mean, maybe we should divert these resources to stopping the illegal drug trafficking in more likely places than the major airport of the country? I guess putting up a good front is more important than actually cracking down. At least we had the illusion of security from our first steps on the ground.
Successfully clearing customs, we made our way out and thankfully found our name on a driver’s sign who took us on our 63 min, 28 mile drive from Cheddi Jagan International to The Signature Inn in Georgetown:
Apart from drug trafficking, gold mining is still a huge industry in Guyana. On a ride around town, our cab driver, Juice (or Joose, who knows?) pointed out all of the neighborhoods with huge houses and expensive European cars–a stark contrast to the bordering-poverty-line, lower-class surrounding you in Georgetown.
It is estimated Guyana is home to more than 20 million ounces of unreserved gold deposits with current outputs averaging 300k ounces a year.
It turns out, however, that around the holidays is when all of the owners of the mining companies return to the jungle to keep a closer eye on their operation as workers become more pressured to steal, or “ thieving,” as Juice puts it. It is commonplace that, without supervision, workers will attempt to swallow a piece of gold and then “clean it up” and sell it, making them much richer than before. According to Juice, this is how many of the current gold mine owners got their start back in the day.
If you doubt the country’s vast gold wealth, then you should be reminded that the legendary city of “El Dorado” was rumored to be in the region Guyana now occupies. Sir Walter Raleigh even led an expedition to find the mythical city. Nowadays, the only thing bearing the El Dorado name is a delicious rum that is distilled right in Georgetown that might as well be liquid gold–but hey, it wouldn’t be a Caribbean nation without its own rum.
We quickly found that Georgetown aligns itself mostly with Caribbean nations to its north and less with its border-sharing neighbors like Venezuela, Brazil or Suriname. In the airport, there were just two lanes:
- Guyanese Nationals/CARICOM Members
- Everyone else
When you look around, the people look mostly like a mix of those of Caribbean descent and West African descent, again not much influence on South America.
You find that the economy in Georgetown functions a lot like the economy of the Caribbean Islands: most everything is imported and most everything is expensive. In such a small country, this means that you’re not importing consumer goods in bulk either, further driving the prices up. The sheer distance and the quality of the roads between neighboring cities and countries make truck or rail transport impossible.
Georgetown Photo Tour
Having left our hotel, we set off on foot to explore the area (there’s no better way to learn a city).
We quickly found that Georgetown looks a little rough around the edges with no shortage of trash piles around town:
Much of the architecture is Dutch influenced:
The market is cram-packed of people selling anything and everything. A lots of clothing and household goods:
Guyana has a very high population with AIDS. About 1.2% of all people in Guyana are infected. This means The Guyanese are 4x more likely to have AIDS than Americans. We saw tons of billboards, signs and TV ads trying to get the word out about AIDS prevention.