-these are my views, not those of Project Trust-

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

So we went to Brazil twice in one weekend....

Because we love it there SO much.

Let me explain properly.

Having been living about 20ish miles or so from Brazil for the past 5 1/2 months, we decided it was actually time to go. What we wanted to do was cross over the border early on Saturday morning, reach Bonfim (the border 'town' on the Brazilian side, if it can be called that), get the bus to Boa Vista and then come back to Lethem that same way in the afternoon. What actually happened is that we didn't hitch a lift early enough from Shulinab (despite getting up at 5.30), because for some reason there were almost no vehicles going to Lethem. As a result, by the time we had walked across the border (because we can) and got ripped off by a taxi driver, the next bus leaving Bonfim for Boa Vista was at 14.30. To get back to Bonfim, we would have had to be on the same bus back. So we came back to Lethem and booked into a guesthouse for the night. This wasn't actually altogether a bad thing for a couple of reasons. First, Steven (who's Scottish) and I managed to catch the second half of the England-Scotland game at Murrayfield and shout at the TV whilst the Amerindians running the guesthouse looked on entirely bemused. I was also able to talk to my family on the phone for the first time since the holidays. At least the weather back home sounds nice!

The next morning, having slept terribly in a bed (partly because it was a bed and partly because the mosquito net was round - hint: beds aren't round) we got a taxi into Bonfim to catch the 9.00 bus to Boa Vista.

I say bus. It was a coach, absolute luxury for an hour and a half. If you look back at my post about the holidays, you'll see the bus that I spent 14 1/2 hurs on. That both of these can be given the same name is wrong on so many levels. I also said 9.00 bus. The bus reached Bonfim at 9.00 and left at 10.00. The Guyanese are extremely relaxed with their timings, but the Brazilians certainly aren't. Tarmaced roads, power lines in the savannah and finally into a nice city was a bit of a shock.

Given that it was a Sunday almost everything was shut. We ended up walking around Boa Vista for a bit, then realised that we had absolutely no idea where we were going or even where we were trying to go. We got directions from someone at the Eco Hotel ( which is apparently official World Cup accommodation, despite the closest matches being about 250 miles further south in Manaus) who kept trying to send us to cheaper hotels than his one. We trekked around for 2 1/2 hours, during which it started raining. It was seriously wet, but then rain often is. Boa Vista doesn't really appear to have much of a 'city centre', so we got ourselves mildly lost whilst doing pretty good impressions of highland cows in a power shower. Eventually, we got a taxi back. Despite our Portuguese being PhD level, people really struggle to understand us. Strange that. We only managed to explain that we wanted to get to the bus station by pointing at a picture of a bus that was on the 'useful pictures' page in my vaccinations booklet. Whoever had the idea to include that can have a cookie. Back onto the luxury bus (that's the official name) at 14.00, rather than our planned 16.00, once again being shocked by houses that looked identical to ours with power cables, where I'm sat typing this.

 As is often the way out here, our plan for getting back to Shulinab on Monday morning didn't quite work out. We had found out the night before that the bus (at 4.30 on Monday morning) almost definitely wasn't going. With the help of one of the locals who ran the guesthouse, we spent a good while trying to get hold of people's numbers and calling them to try and check about the bus. We eventually found out that the driver was drunk, and other circumstances meant that he wouldn't be going. Instead, we got up slightly later than we would have, at 5.00, and went and sat by the road to see if any vehicles were passing south. At that time in the morning, it was actually slightly chilly, so for the first time in almost 6 months I put a coat on (when it rains here the best thing to do is just stay put indoors wherever you are so I haven't needed it, and I forgot to take it to Boa Vista with me yesterday). By 8.00 we're still waiting, and have now been joined by someone else heading to Shulinab.

We never got a lift. However, we did meet Justin, the manager of Dadanawa Ranch, and Erin, a PTV in Shulinab in 06/07, who is now living at Dadanawa. She was one of the first two volunteers in Shulinab, when it was beginning as a project - clearly Guyana has quite a pulling effect! Finally, we went back with the bus in the afternoon. A tiring but fantastic weekend.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Holidays

So I guess it's time I finally sat down and blogged about the holidays... which were fantastic.

We left Shulinab the Sunday after school finished (15th December), still not knowing where we would be for Christmas.  Our option for travel were either by plane or bus, so we went by bus to save money. As a result, we spent 14 and a half hours in a minibus, travelling on dirt roads that were at least 60% pothole, and reached Georgetown at 0300 in the morning on the Monday. As much as anything else, it was wonderful to meet up with all the other volunteers around the country and share stories about our projects.

My new favourite form of transport....
On the Monday and Tuesday we all attended an LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) workshop being run by Tom Greenwood, an ex-Project Trust Volunteer from Guyana. Having been teaching for 15 weeks it was absolutely fantastic, as it gave us an opportunity to think about a range of teaching and classroom control methods that we wouldn't have considered whilst at our projects.

The view from my bedroom over Christmas
Over Christmas, we ended up staying in a place on the Essequibo River, called Bidrabu House. About 1 mile from Bartica, a major town and one of the projects, it was brilliant. We spent the time relaxing mostly, as most people would after 15 solid weeks of work. The house had it's own swimming pool and enough space that even with 18 of us it was possible to find a quiet space to read. On Christmas day itself, some of the volunteers cooked up a meal that was simply astonishing. Roast ham, roast vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and then trifle was much more than I was expecting. However, not everything went that smoothly. When we were setting up the barbecue (half an oil drum) on Christmas Eve the bottom of it fell through as we were putting firewood in. That wasn't going to stop us from having our barbecue though, so we went hunting. And found an old wheelbarrow, that the grill fitted over perfectly. Wheelbarrowed chicken never tasted so good (it was probably cooked properly - no-one died at any rate). When we finally had to leave there was general resentment towards returning to Georgetown, so we simply stayed an extra night (we did actually get in contact with the travel agent, we didn't just not leave).

An unconventional way of cooking

Christmas dinner with the volunteers
For New Year's Eve, 10 of us ended up in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. We were only there for three nights, but with 8 of us in hammocks slung uncomfortably close together we managed. My time in Paramaribo was, as with our time in the house, a lot of fun. Parbo is a million times better than Banks. No question about it. We also had the pleasure of slightly re-westernising ourselves by going to McDonald's for breakfast on New Year's Eve. In reality, I felt more out of place in Suriname than in Guyana, despite the numerous Dutch people there, as my Dutch is limited (to nothing). Fireworks are a big thing for New Year's Eve in Paramaribo, and their health and safety laws appear to be slightly more relaxed than what I'm used to, so watching people set off crates of fireworks on pavements was a novelty. The important point here is that the streets weren't blocked off, and were fairly busy.

Overall, the holidays were brilliant and a welcome break from teaching. I've now been back for one week of teaching in Shulinab, and getting back after the hustle and bustle of Georgetown (compared to Shulinab anyway, not the UK - it's population is only around 350,000) was wonderful.