Gary Speaks: During my working career of over 35 years in the mining and exploration industry I had the opportunity to visit many countries around the world. Some of which I hold great memories of the experience and some I would rather not try to recall. This little story is about one of my visits to a customer in Georgetown Guyana.
Our company had sold a diamond core drill and related equipment ((see pic above of drill site. Click on any pic to expand)) to a “blowhard chap ” in Guyana who claimed to know all the influential people in Guyana and had connections that allowed him to explore in the regions of the rain forest and he was going to get rich by mining for gold in the Pakaraima Mountains Area.
We had just gone through a very busy cycle in our exploration industry and our chief engineer needed a break as he appeared to be showing signs of work-related stress. I asked him if he was interested in accompanying me on a trip to the Rain Forests of Guyana and of course since he liked to travel, he jumped at the chance.
We boarded a flight in Toronto en-route to Georgetown Guyana with a short stopover in Miami and Trinidad and Tobago. This man who I will not mention his name, was being sick a lot and we just chalked it up to travel sickness or possible some food that disagreed with him. Well, we finally made it to Georgetown and grabbed a taxi to the office of the customer at the address I had on file. The “blowhard” was there to meet us and put us up for the night in a place he claimed was part of the business; it was ok for the night but no Holliday Inn. ???????
We then arranged to travel to the exploration site the following day and “Mr.BH” said he was in the process of making the arrangements for our travel. His little exploration company had an old well used Bedford Cab-Over 6-wheel drive army truck which they had loaded with supplies for the camp and it had left the previous day for the drill site. By driving overland for many miles, the truck would eventually come to the end of the road system and would cross the Essequibo river on a barge.
My travel partner and I climbed on board a crude wooden vessel in total darkness (before 6:00 am.) just a little upriver from Georgetown. The boat was also filled with camp supplies and had very little freeboard because of the heavy load. The old wooden boat was about 25 ft long and possibly 5 or 6 ft wide and was powered by what appeared to be 75 hp Scott Atwater kerosene burning outboard motor. They carried a 45-gal drum of kerosene on board and had the fuel line piped direct to the outboard.
The plan was that we would meet up with the truck at this river crossing and then we would continue to the exploration camp by truck.
We arrived at the rendezvous point on the Essequibo River somewhere near a village called Mahdia about 5:00 pm that evening and had one stop along the way for a bathroom break some fresh fruit and to stretch our legs. I can tell you that 8 hours is a long time to sit still on a narrow wooden seat and we were glad of the break.
It was however, a very interesting boat ride up the Essequibo River and we passed by many little primitive shanties that were built along the banks of the river and natives and their families were all out watching and waving to us as we passed by their villages.
When we finally arrived at the arranged location for the road trip, we climbed into the back of this old Army truck that was crammed full of camp supplies.
I made myself comfortable on some tarpaulin material and managed to settle in for the next leg of the trip which was supposed to take about 5 hrs. As we stared our journey into the rainforest area on a trail that appeared to have been cut out of the forest with a bulldozer, we soon became bogged down in the deep mud.
The engineer who was travelling with me in the back of the truck kept getting sick and one time when the truck became stuck and being winched out of a mud hole, he traded his new wrist watch (a Christmas gift from his wife) with the porter in exchange for his seat and allowed him to ride up front in the cab. The porter sat on the engine cover and somehow the three of them squeezed into the cab.
At long last I was alone in the back of the truck, and I was not having to listen to his retching every 5 minutes or so when he was being sick.
After many times of being stuck in the mud along the way and having to put tree branches under the wheels and hooking the winch cable to trees we managed to pull the truck through the mud holes and kept creeping along for the next 5 or 6 hrs.
On one of the many stops along the muddy trail we took on a couple passengers and since it was pitch dark I never knew who was getting into the back of the truck but it did sound to be female voices. As it turns out it was two “ladies of the night” going into the drill camp on a service mission I guess, trying to make a few extra bucks. I pretended to be asleep for the next hour or so until we arrived at the camp in the middle of this rain forest just as it was breaking daylight.
The camp was made up of several tents arranged in a clearing amongst the tall trees of the rainforest, and many were covered with these large rope like vines that extended from the top of the forest canopy to the ground below in search of moisture. Most of the workers slept in hammocks which they had pitched within their tents. But there were a couple of crudely made wooden beds that were fashioned from chain saw cut strips of trees and had mosquito netting hooked over a frame on top.
Two of the men must have felt sorry for us and gave up their straw filled beds to us and said they didn’t think the hammocks would be suitable for us and our backs would be killing us in the morning.
The straw filled bed was no doubt better than being curled in a hammock for the night and we didn’t complain.
We were both taking Hydroxychloroquine to prevent malaria which was quite prevalent in these regions of the rain forest and were thankful for the mosquito netting over our beds.
The “ladies of the night” never wasted any time and made their rounds during that day, and since the tents were so very close together there was never much privacy for them while applying their trade. “They didn’t seem to care”.
The humidity was extremely high in the rain forest as one might expect, and if your clothes were not soaked from the ever-falling rain and mist, it was from sweating and just doing nothing.
There was a river close by to the camp where we could wash off the mud and sweat, but you were just as bad as before your wash from the walk up the riverbank and back to the tent camp.
One night we had a bad wind and heavy rainstorm throughout the area, and those long vines began to do their work. When one tree fell over the next tree was pulled down by the connected vines and this sequence of toppling trees went on all through the night and it was rather scary to say the least.
The men who prepared the camp site must have been aware of this possibility and had cleared the trees back far enough so that the trees would not fall on the tent camp.
We spent the next few days at the drill site observing the drilling equipment and during that time the men were always on the lookout for snakes which they were so terrified of. I never saw any but just listening to their tails about the snakes was enough for me.
After a couple of days of this we managed to grab a ride on the next supply truck heading out and returned to Georgetown in the same method we came. In total the trip from the drill camp back to Georgetown took about 26 hrs and we were extremely tired very thankful to have arrived.
My partner was still getting sick and his condition appeared to be getting worse. Within the next day or so we managed to arrange flights back to Toronto Canada on what you might call a milk run, via Trinidad and Tobago with a stopover again in Miami. “Not great for my partner “.
The following day when we arrived, his wife took him to the hospital emergency department and as it turned out he had a brain tumor and was operated on the next day and thank God he has since made a full recovery. That of course explained his sickness on the entire trip and not just because he was stressed out from work. I was so relieved because I felt guilty that I had drug him through all this unnecessary travel. We are still good friends today and often laugh about the experience.
Georgetown Guyana was the only International classed airport within the region at that time and it was from here that the unfortunate followers of the Peoples Temple Project landed before making their way to Jonestown for their final days on earth that fatal day in Nov 18,1978 when over 900 people lost their life from drinking Cool Aid laced with cyanide poisoning in what was called a revolutionary suicide.