World’s unluckiest traveler (Guyanan travels in brief)

I just found a contest by my travel insurance provider that is giving away a $10,000 grand prize travel package for the unluckiest traveler (http://www.worldsunluckiesttraveller.ca/) . Well, I’m unlucky enough that I was dealing with my dog’s death, avascular necrosis and a medley of other health issues while the end date of submissions came rolling around a couple weeks ago, but I thought I’d write my own entry just for the sake of it. Call it a matter of personal pride, I have a reputation to uphold as the world’s unluckiest traveler after all.

I enjoy long trips, they allow one to visit a country and really immerse oneself in the culture and features that that country has to offer. However, I have recently come to realize that the longer the trip the more things go wrong. It was almost 500 years ago, but when the conquistadores first came to South America and the Amazon they called it a green hell. After only 2 months I am inclined to agree. Dante neglected the eighth circle of hell reserved for travelers to Guyana. So I will pick up where he left off.

I arrived in Guyana tired enough after 18 hours of travel not to notice the 1 month (rather than 3 month) visa stamp the immigration officer gave me. My trip was for 3+ months and this miserly allotment would soon provide no end of bureaucratic woes. I stumbled out of the airport and took the first taxi charging me 6 times the going rate because it was ‘nighttime’. My original itinerary was lost like a non-refundable airline ticket (see later) when the heaviest rains in living memory washed out the one road through the center of the country. So I quickly changed plans and left on a cramped minibus. Here the locals see fit to pack babies beside engines and dangerous materials. I had the honour of sitting on a large bucket of oil. We travel a couple of hours, get a flat. Fix it. Then travel another 15 minutes when the entire wheel flies off, the bus goes careering in and out of potholes on what barely passes for a road and we crash to a halt. Everyone is soaked in diesel leaked from the engines brought aboard, most of us look tarred and feathered (yeah there were some chickens aboard too). Hours pass with nary a car passing by on the deserted jungle road. Finally taking bolts from each tire a jerry-rigged solution is arrived at and we roll into  town some 6 hrs later than anticipated. Having taken us only 2/3 of the way there, the minibus driver begins making excuses in town and squirms his way out of taking us the rest of the journey (on account of having to fix the tire), pocketing the difference for the entire journey’s fare. Left to our own I catch a ride with some utterly disreputable pot-smoking, anti-government, backstore dealing ruffians to the town which formed the next leg of the journey. Of course by the time we reach the town I’ve racked up a considerable bill which includes ‘night fee’, ‘other people in the car fee’, and a plethora of other bogusly attributable fees. The mining town is known as much for malaria as getting mugged, so I walk another few kilometers out of town and fall asleep in the bushes.

Next I meet a local guy who is doing the same overland trek as I am and so we agree to go together. We ford 30 creeks in the next several days, chop the head off a pit viper which threatens envenomation and arrive at the gates of the national park. All along the way I am his free meal ticket (I thought the Amazon didn’t have leeches, I was wrong). In the park I relax on the sandy shores of the jetty…and contract sand fleas, parasites which burrow through the soles of your feet and any other exposed surface. A pox on me, right? So I spent the next several days prying at blisters with my swiss army knife, pulling out the pupae, cleaning the wound and then nursing the inevitable infections which ensued. A flare up in my leg begins making walking painful, a condition which gradually worsens throughout the trip. During this time several freak rainstorms impaired my high end DSLR, and solar powered batteries.  Then I was banned from a commercial flight because, SURPRISE, the guy that I was traveling with and with whom I booked my flight out of the national park turned out to be a drug dealer. So I was basically smuggled aboard a private aircraft to get out of the park.

I go to the ministry for home affairs to extend my visa and the application requires everything short of a signature written in blood. The processing requires 2 weeks and I’ll be damned if I wait around 2 weeks in the cesspool of a town that is Georgetown (well apparently I was damned if I did, damned if I didn’t). So I go to Iwokrama rainforest reserve from which I’m summarily dismissed and told to leave on the next bus (No I don’t want to talk about it). Then I return to Georgetown only to be told that I need to apply for citizenship to Guyana (because it’s the same form as a visa extension, obviously!).

I travel to the Kanuku mountains for 2 weeks where I am steadily drained of money by an overpriced rundown lodge. I run out of money and am delightedly surprised by the fact that there are under 5 ATM’s in the country that accept international cards and they are all in Georgetown, 600km’s away. Embarrassingly I borrow money from a friend I just met and travel all the way back to Georgetown, repay him, re stock on money and supplies and go right back to the same place. 12 hrs of painful road (each way) crisscrossed for the sake of an ATM. Back in Lethem I depart back into the Kanuku mountains where I am rained out, more supplies dies on me as the locals are confounded by the unseasonal amount of rain that they are getting. My leg pain has also flared up again to the point where it is actually immobilized by the pain, in the mornings and after disuse it is paralysed and refuses to work for several minutes. This is worrisome in and of itself but more so as it could represent a return of testicular cancer I’d suffered from a little over a year ago. So I return to the remote outpost of Lethem as I am deliberating what course of action to take. And here, through a scratchy conversation with my family I’m told that my dog (whom I adore) has a rapidly progressing cancer and needs to be put down. I try and contact my travel agency to cancel my ticket and claim travel insurance but the remoteness of the area and the lack of a half decent internet connection means the voice cuts out after 5 minutes. So I decide to book a ticket to return home as soon as possible.

I return to Georgetown to find a creeping rash that is itchy the likes of which I have never known spreading over my entire body. I buy a few souvenirs and then it’s back home. The 15 hr ride back is hell as I writhe in my seat scratching the skin until it bleeds and going to the washroom every fifteen minutes to wash the skin out from under my fingernails. I arrive at customs, declare nothing and am subjected to a thorough search. Souvenirs are confiscated, I’m put on a red list for my machete which I didn’t declare and my gaunt, depressed and diseased form is just enough to avoid the $400 fine for undeclared goods. I return home, put down my dog, take treatment for my fungal rash (ringworm), take a battery of tests to find I have avascular necrosis, a cutting off of the blood supply leading to the head of the femur. Which is the likely result of the chemotherapy treatment a year earlier. Basically osteoarthritis on steroids that will eventually lead to the requirement for a hip replacement. Bacterial or yeast sores now encrust the corners of my mouth and break open and bleed with every mouthful of food or if I should see fit to lament my woes, thus the written form. I can’t help feeling a kinship with the joker, from the loss of sanity to the my scarred smile, so…Why so serious?

All in all, I’ve had a pretty productive 2 1/2 months, no?  The trip is over with my wallet, my health, part of my family and the better part of my sanity as casualties. A nice kicker is that I have been given a credit for my return flight with the airline Air Canada, GREAT! IF…IF I follow the same itinerary and use it to go back to Guyana. uh-huh… And this credit prevents me from filing a loss of funds via trip cancellation insurance. So despite my perfectly legitimate claim for ending a trip due to unforeseeable medical problems I’m out the price of a ticket home and change. Funny how life doesn’t work out, eh?

Of course all these accounts glaze over the mental anguish of the minutiae of the every day. From the heat, to the mosquitos, to the dread which faced me at every checkpoint of being deported for an overdue visa. To see hell with a microscope, read the blog in its entirety.

3 Responses to World’s unluckiest traveler (Guyanan travels in brief)

  1. Admin says:

    Paul,

    So I think I have finished reading your entire Guyana chronicle.

    Good to see you made it home almost in one piece.

    Good writing, and humorous to boot, and pics to top it off.

    But would you do it all again?

    Bob

    • pbertner says:

      Thanks Bob, glad you liked it. I guess I already have, I went to Ecuador several months later with a whole host of new adventures just begging to be written. Whether I would do Guyana again specifically, hard to say. A beautiful place, but it was very frustrating while I was there. However if the alternative was staying at home twiddling my thumbs in a job that I didn’t enjoy then I would definitely prefer a little hardship.

      Cheers and stay tuned,
      Paul

      • Admin says:

        I was born and raised in Guyana until age 17. Back then 50 ‘s and 60’s, there were no roads or ecotourism, pretty much no man made presence in the bush. The only way to get around was by boat. Boat sure has it’s advantages over that heavy backpack and roads. Unlimited food and water, cool and pleasant traveling and did I say, no dam heavy pack to carry. Bring one of them Canadian canoes next time, them thar voyagers knew a thing or two of traveling rough. The Guyanese corial might be cheap but it sucks.

        Bob

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