Friday, 9 May 2014

Kayik Tuak- Part 1, The Journey

I wonder what my old friends are up to right now. In the UK, it's around 10pm and it's a Friday night. Perhaps they are still in front of the mirror, checking themselves in their best dress, or they are already on a bus, watching the streets go slide by with their shops and bars and restaurants, on their way into town to find somewhere with bright lights and loud music.

I often have little moments of reflection like this at the more surreal point of my experiences in Guyana. At this particular moment I am bent over double underneath an old blue tarpaulin that smells of the smoke of many years of campfires. Under the tarp everything has turned to black and white in the fading light of evening, but I can still make out the shape of the boy next to me on the cold aluminium bench. He is cold too, he is hungry too. Before the weather turned he was his usual excited self, loading his slingshot at the sight of any bird worth catching, point out to us the parrots and the macaws flying over the treetops in the evening sunlight and providing a running commentary to the journey. Now the rain has subdued the ten year old a little, but at times Fazal Junior still pokes his head out from the tarpaulin and makes his best guess as to where we are. "Not so far now, sir. Well, a reasonable distance, yes, but not so far far far. Oh no, sir, we are not there at all, still far to go sir, but not so far far far."

The sound of the rain on the tarpaulin grows a little, and I am sure that there is just as much water on our side of it as on the other, but at least it keeps the breeze off. I feel a sense of admiration for Fazal's father, Fazal Senior, who has no shelter at the helm of the boat, and mut stay alert through the night, on the lookout for branches and rocks, keeping track of where we are by the creeks and bends in the river.

As the night grows darker the driver sweeps a thin, powerful beam of torchlight from bank to bank, spotting out pairs of eyes. From the colour of the reflection he can instantly say if it is a labba or a tapir, a deer or an alligator. At one point we pass by an alligator in the water, close enough to see the jagged outline of its back.

We are on the Potaro River in the wobbly aluminium village boat. A whining, 15 HP engine has pushed us all - granny, dad, mum, daughter, daughter, son, Harry and Ben (plus fishing rods, nets, hammocks, rope, sugar cane, bags, pales, containers of fuel, knives, bowls, pots, cutlasses...) - at a modest pace down the river from Chenapou. We had left there in the hot sunshine after school, with things like jumpers and raincoats far from our minds. Despite the bowl of fresh cassiri I downed while I had the chance, I am hungry, Ben must be ravenous. My back aches from the bent position under the tarp, and I all I can think about now is being dry, warm, and inside a hammock, preferably with a large plate of spaghetti bolognaise in my stomach. Never mind that stupid waterfall.

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