Sunday, December 4, 2011

Manatee calling in Georgetown

We had lined up couchsurfing in Linden with a Peace Corps volunteer and were able to find his house easily with his directions.  But, when we got there, he was nowhere to be found.  A nice neighbor let us use his phone to call and we found out that our host had come down with a nasty dengue or malaria like bug that had him in pretty bad shape and in Georgetown unexpectedly.  The neighbor recommended a place called George Bat to stay, which we unsuccessfully looked for.  We were able to find a few other hotel options, all of which were pretty crappy but costing $30 or more, or decently nice and more than that (Massive Inn at 16,000 for suite).  Eventually we tracked down the neighbor again, got the directions again, and found this George Bat place.  It ended up having lots of character, which we liked.  It was a pay by the hour type, but only for half of the hotel.  The other rooms were for the all night type of visitor (4000 = US$20).  The ladies working were wonderful and very friendly, even giving us ice out of their personal freezer for the much needed rum we drank in our room.

(The Bat Cave, in all of its blacklit glory)

From Linden, it is only about 60 miles to the city, where we had couchsurfing lined up with our host, Navin.  We ended up getting about half way before hunger caused us to stop for some great food - eggplant roti, eggball (a hard boiled egg inside fried cassava), and curried chicken.  Then it started rainingy really, really hard.  Luckily, there was an internet cafe across the street, so we waited out the rain checking email.  After a few hours the rain had finally slowed down enough for us to get to Georgetown where we met Navin at his house in the Kitty region of the city.

Jill had spent a week in Georgetown in 2005 and at that time it was known for being extremely dangerous and not recommended that you walk anywhere at night.  Her group had walked at night and been menacingly followed by a couple of guys.  They had also been pulled over while riding in a car that had to go to the police station where we learned that our driver was packing a pistol in his pants with the explaination that everyone has to carry a gun here.  She had heard Peace Corps Volunteers' stories of seeing all-out machete fights in the streets.  She was a little nervous to be back in Georgetown.

This time around, though, it seemed like Georgetown had cleaned up quite a bit.  We walked around the area a lot and did not feel threatened at night when we would go get something to eat.  We looked around the historic downtown area some and it also seemed relatively safe.  On our first day in town, Jill needed to go to the Peace Corps office as they had her new passport and visa to get into Suriname.  We met a couple of volunteers who invited us to come to a quiz night at a nicer hotel in town.  We didn't have anything else to do, so thanks to the smarts of a couple people in our group, we won a bottle of El Dorado rum, one of the smoothest rums we have tasted, with its own claims of being the world's best. 

Navin gave us the keys to his house right away and gave us free reign.  He stays with his girlfriend most of the time, so we rarely saw him.  When we did, he took us to his favorite restaurants, including one ran by a Rasta out of his wagi.

(Navin is on the far right)

The one bad thing about the house was that it had lots and lots of mosquitos.  It didn't help that all our riding gear was wet and stinky and a strong attractant for them.  We did have a mosquito net, but it hung very low and any body part that touched the net while we slept was covered in bites in the morning.  Jill got the worst of it after taking an uncovered afternoon nap one day. 

We also needed to get Mike's visa for Suriname so we went to the embassy one day and were able to pick up the 5 year visa the next.  You can only get the visa Monday, Wednesday and Friday and have to come early in the morning and then come back between 2-2:30 in the afternoon to get it.  We were also able to get necessary insurance for the bike for Suriname at the GTM Insurance head office at 27-29 Robb and Hincks Streets, which cost about $15 per month. 

After an oil change and bath to rinse the bauxite off the TA, all our necessary tasks were done, and we were able to explore the city a bit.

(there are a lot of dilapidated wooden homes built by the Dutch and English during their colonization)

(streets are very narrow with no sidewalks to speak of)

(there is open sewage canals everywhere in the city, causing a pungent smell and the need to watch where you step at all times)

The highlight of Georgetown, though, was going to the Botanical Gardens next to the Zoo (we hear the Zoo is sad, even more so than most, so we didn't go).  It is free to enter the gardens and we had heard that manatees lived in the water. 

We found the lake where they live and after some time they came to the surface across the water.  Jill had heard that you can hit the water with a stick and they will come, so she started doing that.  A group of East Indian children soon joined her and showed her the correct way to call them, by waving foliage in the water.  Manatees eat a massive amount of greenery everyday and the smell of the leaves draws them.  We were lucky enough to see 3 manatees up close, feed and pet them.  They are very docile, intelligent creatures that act and feel a lot like water elephants.

(calling the manatees)

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