A GUYANA ADVENTURE - SURAMA (PART 3)
Day three of our journey into the ‘Land of Many Waters’ was spent travelling south, out of the Iwokrama National Park and into Guyana’s vast savanna towards one of the country’s sixteen indigenous villages - Surama – for a glimpse into traditional Amerindian life.
During the short journey the scenery outside my window changes drastically from luscious greens to dry expanses of yellow. This, our encyclopaedic guide Garey tells us, is the start of the savanna, home to many of the indigenous communities in southern Guyana including three hundred or so Makushi who live in Surama.
The minibus pulls off the main road and soon enough Garey shouts, “We are here!”. Our bus stops next to three charming wooden ‘benabs’ (huts with thatched roofs), painted with colourful scenes of local wildlife and villagers. We had arrived at the Surama Eco-Lodge, our "home” for the night.
The lodge is located just outside the main village, perched on top of a hill overlooking the rainforest and mountains in the distance. A cooling breeze welcomes us as we step out of the minibus, providing much-needed relief from the strong midday heat.
Made up of one central ‘Benab’ built on two levels, and four smaller thatched roofed huts, the lodge is simple and provides all the basic needs for travellers including comfortable beds, private showers (with cold water) and 24-hour electricity. Expect to hear bats flying in and out of the roof at night-time!
We enjoyed a delicious buffet-style lunch with Jacquie, the village chief and manager of the eco-lodge, and after a much needed rest in a couple of very inviting hammocks, we embarked on a village tour, learning stories about the community and its first efforts to attract tourism from Gary who is from Surama.
Surama is the first community in Guyana to open up to tourism and the first to build accommodation for visitors to stay near the village and learn about the local way of life. The villagers in Surama work at the lodge on a rotation system to avoid disturbing village life and so they can continue farming. We were amazed to learn that a staggering 70% of household incomes in the village benefit from the tourism brought in by the eco-lodge.
On our tour of the local school, sports ground and church we learn that whilst Surama has kept much of its Amerindian heritage alive, it also comes with its fair share of smartphone wielding teenagers – a sign of the ever-encroaching modern world.
Gary explains to us that one of the reasons why tourism is so important to the community is that it has taught locals the value of their culture and traditions as well as the importance of keeping these alive in order to continue to attract visitors and much-needed income into the village.
A short ride on the back of a 4X4 later, we are back at the eco-lodge. A feast of local dishes has been served, all made with ingredients freshly picked from the little garden next to the lodge.
Once the sun has set behind the mountains, Garey puts down his knife and fork and looks up expectantly, “You guys ready for a midnight walk in the forest?”
I chuckle nervously. Surely he is joking? Nope… he is being serious. “Erm ok!” we say nervously. Armed with little more than a couple of iPhone lights, some seriously strong bug spray and a long-sleeved jumper, Garey leads us into the dark abyss of the Guyanese rainforest.
“Can you see the eyes yet?” Garey whispers, shining his torch through the leaves. Half expecting a jaguar to leap out at me, with only the sound of the jungle and our footsteps crunching along the path, I peer into the distance and see a tiny snake wriggling its way around a branch. Holding my breath and with my heart pounding, we emerge into a clearing leading out of the rainforest and back towards the safety of our little huts. Phew! Breathe again.
The night walks are one of the many activities offered by the skilled Surama guides who are keen to share their knowledge and experience of the jungle to visitors. Other activities also include, jungle survival classes, camping, hiking, kayaking, as well as boat rides on the Burro Burro River. The latter was next on the agenda of our Guyana adventure.
For more information on Guyana as a tourism destination, please visit https://www.guyanatourism.com/.
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Part one of our Guyana adventure (Kaieteur Falls) is published here.
Part two of our Guyana adventure (Atta Rainforest Lodge) is published here
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