Annie and I ventured off to Linden last week. It’s a small town (maybe 3,000 people) an hour and a half ride into the interior of Guyana. It’s known as “the gateway to the interior” since it’s the last major stop before heading into the more rural, wild portion of the country. Even still, Linden was nothing more than a few blocks of houses and a small downtown area, but it was great to get away.
Last Monday was my first official day of vacation, so it was a fitting day to try something new. Annie and I got to the bus park, which is just a lineup of buses on the side of a city street, around 8:30 in the morning and waited a while for the bus to fill up. In Guyana, a bus doesn’t leave at the top of every hour no matter how many people are on the bus. In Guyana, you board a bus and wait for the entire thing to fill up with people. We were well aware of this, so we made sure to get on a bus that already had a decent number of people on it, but even still, we ended up waiting at least an hour for the bus to fill up and leave for Linden. While we waited, we were entertained by all of the comical street vendors that wandered by, trying to sell the bus passengers food, clothing, and other odds and ends.
By the time the bus finally did leave, we were more than ready to go. Georgetown fades away slowly when you head down the Linden highway. It’s a skyscraper-less city to begin with, so the only real indication that you’re in a city is the large number of buildings and people. As you venture down the highway, which, by the way, is nothing more than a two lane road with no lines on it, the buildings and people slowly begin to thin out until you make a turn left (or south) and he begin heading into the interior. After the first forty-five minutes of driving, the journey becomes much more characteristically interior-Guyana. The jungle surrounds the road on either side, and the only buildings you pass by are the occasional church, set off in the distance, or a little roadside shack selling snacks and drinks. I did my best to take pictures whenever the bus stopped. Surprisingly, a decent amount of passengers disembarked only part way through the journey. They would leave the bus and stand at these lean-to-esque structures on the side of the road, which were essentially bus stops, and wait for whoever was responsible for the next leg of their journey.
The remainder of the journey into Linden was more of the same, but enjoyable nonetheless. After having only seen Georgetown and the East Coast for the better part of the last four months, it was refreshing to be in the heart of nature. Linden popped up out of nowhere after making a few turns on the winding highway. There weren’t too many warning signs that we were approaching a town, no tall buildings, street signs, or anything like that. All of a sudden, we were magically in the middle of town, which mind you, is small dab in the center of nature. A river pierces through the town, rolling hills swell all around the buildings, and the striking blue sky highlights the beauty of escaping the city.
When Annie and I got off of that bus, man were we an anomaly. I thought living in Georgetown made us stick out like sore thumbs, but Linden was an entirely new experience. For the most part, the population was of African decent, so we were blindingly white compared to the rest of the people milling about the few city streets. Like Georgetown, there was lots of noise—honking, shouting, the usual sounds of a crowded place. Also like Georgetown, the markets were filled with people doing their daily and holiday shopping. Although the town was smaller, it was also more compact, so there was almost an intimidating quality to being in Linden, like everyone in town was watching us at the same time.
The two of us did our best not to look completely clueless. We know you’re suppose to “look like you’ve done this before” but we couldn’t help wandering aimlessly. The next thing we knew, we had done three laps around the entire town, weaving into different streets each time. But, we quickly realized, we were passing the same vendors over and over again and were probably beginning to look lost. The guidebook we have in our home (from 2003) suggested that we visit the local museum and the Blue Lakes. Although heading into a museum on such a nice day seemed criminal, it was a one-room museum that actually came highly recommended, supposedly one of the best in the country. The admission was also only $0.50, so we knew we didn’t have to stay inside long to get our money’s worth. Unfortunately, all three times we passed by the museum it was closed. In an effort to not continue meandering, we went to the river, where people ferry across the water to another piece of the town. There, lined up along side the boats, are a handful of taxi cabs. We approached one of the friendlier drivers and requested that he take us to the Blue Lake.
“There’s more than one?”
We had him take us to one of the closer lakes. The guidebook told us that we could swim in these lakes, but we’re completely skeptical about any form of water in Guyana that isn’t a pool. Actually, I’m skeptical of pools, too. This lake was located across the river, so we got to venture across the one-lane bridge to the other part of town. We had a chatty cabbie, so we got a little history of the town. He was born and raised in Linden. The town of Linden exists because of mining. Shoot! I can’t remember what they mine in Linden, but it was something that was really difficult to spell…so, it wasn’t gold or something like that.
The mining industry has kept Linden afloat for the last two centuries and although it seems as if those days may be winding down, the town is still littered with memories of the ‘hey day.’ I tried to snag a few pictures of some of the mining structures and equipment because I’m clueless as to what they do or what they are called. Venturing across the river and into the far part of town was verification that much of the land has been torn apart by mining. Unlike in the hills of Pennsylvania, which I pass through frequently on the journey to visit family back in the U.S., the land surrounding Linden doesn’t seem to be completely scarred from the work done to strip it of it’s resources. Of course, it bares the damage of human greed, but it’s almost as if Mother Nature is firing back, refusing to look unsightly. The hills, which are all carved up, are all yellowy sand, which compliments the vivid blue sky and swelling clouds. Not to mention, the Blue Lakes exist because of the mining, leaving wide-open holes in the earth to be filled with water.
When our cab arrived at the nearby Blue Lake, the driver walked in with us on the path. I think he was worried we were going to get into mischief and drown, get eaten by a snake, or trespass on somebody’s property, never to be heard from again. When we approached the lake he said, “oh, it’s not blue anymore. When I was young, we used to swim in this lake.” I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, a guidebook from 2003 says that the water is blue, now it’s brown. That’s the planet we live on.
The driver left us, giving us his number so we could call him when we were ready to return to Linden. The lake was located down a very steep, sand slope. I want to say that the slope was simply “sandy”, but no, indeed, it was a slope made of sand. Upon closer examination, the water was a little bluer than I originally saw. Being around that lake, in that small bit of jungle, was surreal. Here I was, in the middle of South America, checking out a random lake outside of the town that they call “the Gateway to the Interior.” How thankful I am to have opportunities to do things like this, to live my life this way.
Our cabbie returned for us. He then graciously drove us around some of the back roads of town, showing us more of the lakes and more of the mining that has been so prosperous for the area.
When we returned to Linden, we settled on having lunch at a “place” oriented restaurant—a local place. The Guyanese cuisine (so far) seems to be rather limited, but I enjoy it immensely. I just hope I never tire of rice. While Annie and I were sitting on our plastic chairs, eating our food out of styrofoam containers, the other patron sitting nearby kept staring at me. I’m getting used to this, but if I notice someone is perpetually staring, I like to stare back at him or her, just to see what he or she will do. I did that with this girl. Instead of turning away, she just said, “I’m sorry to stare, sir, you just have the prettiest eyes.” Now I think I have a friend for life in Linden.
When we were finished with lunch we meandered around a little bit more, just to soak in the town one more time before heading to the bus park. We again had issue getting a bus to fill up quickly, so we had to wait the better part of an hour before the journey home commenced. We took a mini-bus home, instead of a big bus. This cut thirty minutes off of the journey because mini-buses typically have incredibly anxious, crazy drivers that like to weave around anyone driving under 150kph.
It was nice to get away for the day, but it also wasn’t horrible coming back home. Sure enough, leaving GT behind for just a few hours was enough to make it feel a little more like home upon our return, as if we had something to come home to—other roommates, beds, a place to process and tell our story of the day. On the walk home, it didn’t feel as though we were being gawked at at all. I think the moral of the story is, for sanity reasons, I’ve got to get out of Georgetown more often.
That was Linden.