The Unravelling

Cartagena’s old town at night

EVERYONE who expressed an opinion – or knew where it was – assured us Cartagena would be a trip highlight, a jewel in the Colombian crown they were confident would shine brightly among South America’s other treasures.

And they may be right, what we saw was fun, striking, memorable… it’s just that Cartagena will always come with an asterisk. A what if. An if only.

Memories of Cartagena will always be clouded by the fact it is where our trip came to an abrupt, premature end as the real world reached out and dragged us back in from our six-month suspension of normal life.

Not that what we returned to can be classed as normal.

Hopefully, as time draws by, the memories of iguanas and sloths in a city park, colourful adornments to narrow streets lined with art, old city walls and a bustling nightlife we met head on will take prominence.

But two weeks since being forced to return from Colombia by the looming spectre of coronavirus, the abiding memories of our time in the historic city remains a trip cut short, hurried goodbyes and a homecoming to a life which is not as familiar and comfortable as it should be.

Only two weeks, but it seems somehow longer, lengthened by forced confinement which contrasts so markedly with the sense of freedom and steady flow of memories and experiences which have characterised the last six months.

The sense of disconnect – both from the life we left behind in South America and the one we expected to be returning to – is palpable.

Umbrella street

Wrote before about “having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus” and that remains true.

Recognise what is around me, it is all just a bit fuzzy round the edges. Like trying to function when ill, everything just seems a bit muted, slightly distant, a touch out of sync.

All a far contrast from the vibrant colour and life of Cartagena which deserves better than being remembered merely as the place it all came to an end. It is too good for that.

What is not to like about a city where you can spot sloths in the park near our hotel, wander down lanes under canopies of multi-coloured umbrellas, flags or plants, watch the sun set over the Caribbean Sea while raising an overpriced cocktail on the city walls or watch a man in ridiculously tight yellow trousers salsa on the street while you eat a pizza?

It does not, apparently, have an escape room, unlike its namesake in Spain. Just in case you are browsing the web and booking things to do in either city.

Not that we had any thoughts of escaping when we flew in from Leticia via a quick layover at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport – a place where most of would spend too much time just a few days later.

Having made it to the hotel via an adrenaline-fuelled taxi ride, my first meaningful act was to climb in another taxi. And out again when it became apparent he was going nowhere in a hurry, opting for one that was – especially when the driver took the blue lights behind him as the signal to start racing the emergency vehicle.

Our destination was a bit of pampering, once we had found an alternative for the closed initial barbers, for what was always intended to be my last haircut and full shave of the trip.

Got that one right.

Freshly trimmed, headed out for a first outing into the lanes of the Getsemani and an alfresco pizza while entertained – or otherwise – by our colourfully dressed salsa dancer and assorted musicians.

All a pleasant, quiet enough prelude for a long, busy, fun day and night that has taken on extra significance with what happened in the following 24 hours – told you it was impossible to distance Cartagena with what it came to represent.

First stop on our day of exploring was the nearby Parque del Centenario spotting the iguanas which call it home. Not that difficult, they are huge.

Next up was the old town where the task was simple, wander the narrow streets, squares and city walls while trying to retain some sense of where we were – a handy trick when we headed back in the late afternoon for cocktails watching the sun go down.

The first signs of what was to follow kept us from our planned destination, new local rules limiting capacity in bars forcing us to find a less congested, slightly cheaper (only slightly and still overpriced) option further along the wall.

After that it is a bit hazy. There was street food, happy hour drinks which lasted rather longer than an hour and a club which involved dancing, trying to track down the drinks we were due with our entrance fee and painting on the wall.

A fitting final blowout if had any idea that was what it would become.

But by the time the sun rose on Sunday in Cartagena, it was to news of border closures in neighbouring Ecuador (our final destination) and cancelled onward trips, but with our trip to the beach the following day booked, it was another morning exploring the considerable charms of the old town and Getsamani.

First on foot, via a return to the park and more iguanas (this time up trees), monkeys and the sloths we had not fully believed were actually there, then by bike – my first time on two wheels for several years.

Thankfully, it is just like riding a bike and the guided tour provided a fun, informative look at the areas we had been wandering around.

We were all smiles when we returned to our hotel – at least those who made it back.

A couple only got as far as the nearby hostel bar which became the breaking news centre throughout the evening as the rest of us dropped in as we passed to discover the latest restrictions, courtesy of Danny and his chats with the hostel owner.

As we headed out for food, restrictions were being tightened and our Playa Blanca trip was off. By the time we headed back, those restrictions were being ramped up, travel was about to become much tougher and the hostel owner was warning of closure.

There was just one option – get home as soon as possible. The frustration many of us felt trying to secure one of the diminishing, increasingly expensive flights proved how right we were not to leave it any longer.

Which means our last view of Cartagena was another taxi ride, this time to the airport and as hurried as the packing and goodbyes which proceeded it.

And from there… not Santa Marta, Taronga, San Gil, Medellin and beyond, but a third visit to Bogota and first time out of the airport. At least as far as a hotel for 24 hours or so before one final goodbye, a last, longer than planned, visit to the airport, an unscheduled night in Paris and home.

To make some sort of sense of what has happened, both in the hasty retreat and the previous six months.

We will work our way through what sense does appear in a few more posts, but that’s it. Journey’s end.

Until next time…

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A Better Understanding

Picture: Bradley Slocum

WHAT made Colombia famous?

You could answer something about eccentric goalkeepers, extravagantly-coiffed midfielders, Shakira’s hips not lying, cyclists who go uphill fast and the dubious distinction of losing to England in a World Cup penalty shootout.

Wikipedia tells us Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, is a ‘perennial powerhouse at the World Roller Speed Skating Championships’ (which explains a track in the centre of Cartagena) and the Piloto public library has Latin America’s largest archive of negatives.

And, as one former colleague and various tourist T-shirts repeat, it is Colombia, not Columbia. 

But chances are you answered something about cocaine, Pablo Escobar or the war on drugs (the ongoing fight against narcotics, not the band).

According to The Wire’s Ellis Carver, it cannot be a war because wars end.

But if our all too brief stay in what proved the final country of our South America circuit is anything to go by, there is at least a pretty solid ceasefire in play.

The drug trade which almost brought the country to its knees is still alive, but this is not life in a war zone anymore. 

Even with armed soldiers patrolling the streets – or queuing at the food arts – at Leticia, our first port of call which boasts a healthy number of casinos in case you found yourself with large amounts of cash for some reason.

Colombia, somehow, has managed to turn itself into one of the more stable stops on our itinerary – in comparison with the tear gas which greeted us in Chile, the domestic upheaval which followed us through Ecuador and Peru or the problems which forced us to make a rapid run through Bolivia.

Never mind the issues afflicting neighbouring Venezuela which had us skirting around it and tackling an extended itinerary in Colombia before the need to get home to avoid getting trapped abroad by anti-coronavirus measures.

Pretty much everyone picked Colombia as a highlight before the trip and if first impressions were anything to go by, that extra time would have been very well spent.

Which is why almost the first (and second) thing we did on arrival was leave.

The border into our final country differed from all the previous ones in that it existed merely as a small sign on a wall, our taxi driver from our slow boat up the Amazon to our hostel pointing it out as he drove along the main road.

By the time we realised what he was saying, we had crossed from Tabatinga in Brazil to Leticia in Colombia. From Portuguese back to Spanish.

There are border controls which had us walking the way we had come – in punishing heat given how early it was – to be stamped out of Brazil. 

And straight back again and further to officially enter Colombia.

That all produced the first signs of what was to come, a masked nurse asking health questions as we queued for Brazilian immigration and queries over our well-being and my French Guiana stamp (given France’s status on the danger list) at its Colombia equivalent, tucked away on a raft at the edge of town.

Having officially got ourselves across the border and settled into Colombia, we left again.

This time via a boat across the river with no sign of a border into an island belonging to Peru for a group challenge of three cocktails in three countries in three hours.

Pay attention, this does get tricky. Certainly too tricky for us.

We managed the three countries, we just took rather longer than three hours and had to substitute beer at our Peruvian stop because they did not sell cocktails – unless you count pouring Inka Cola into your beer.

Which you really should not do. Count or pour into your beer.

Another boat ride ferried us back to Tabatinga and another walk up to the border and a final chance to grab a Brazilian caipirinha. Which some of us grabbed more than once.

A few photo opportunities – another change to normal border protocol – and we crossed into Colombia for one final time and a rather lengthier assault on a bar’s happy hour supplies of Cuba Libres, pink dolphins and what they translated as caipirinha milk shakes.

Thankfully, given the number of cocktails consumed, we had plenty of time to emerge the next day, pack for a couple of days, explore the town or lounge in a hammock with the hostel cat before heading up the river again for a couple of nights of quiet at a guesthouse in the small riverside village of Macedonia.

Basic but comfortable, much of our food was fresh out of the river.

Some explored the village, some headed out on a muddy nature walk, some fished, some spent plenty of time relaxing, but the highlight for many of us was another river trip to Isla De Los Micos – Monkey Island.

To be honest, it was not the expected day out (and it took a big chunk of the day, given the slow boat which carried us there and back).

Had thought we would be wandering around the island, trying to spot the monkeys in the trees.

What we got was a short walk to a clearing into a posse of little squirrel monkeys who descended around and on us, prompted occasionally by a tactically placed piece of fruit.

Shamelessly touristy and guaranteed to get the camera clicking – if you could click your camera with monkeys crawling all over it.

A quiet evening was followed by a much quicker morning boat ride back to Leticia where our final evening produced more spectacular crowds of animals.

As we settled down for a couple of caipirinhas, thousands of parakeets flocked into the park around us to roost at dusk.

While they took up residence for the night, we headed for more cocktails. And a few more.

There were more to come, just not as many as we would have liked.

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Imperfect Circle

THIS is not what was planned. This post is not even in the right order. But after the events of the last week, plans and order have gone out of the window.

Last Sunday, we were cycling around the old town of Cartagena, looking forward to a day at the beach before heading to a mud volcano and more of the delights of Colombia.

There would have been a post outlining the delights of our first few days in Colombia (we will get to that), the start of the final stretch of this circuit around South America.

Instead, this is being written back in England. Far away from Colombia and, seemingly, what we had become accustomed to as normal life.

It has been a pretty fraught, frantic, fast-moving seven days (apart from the lengthy bits when there was no actual forward movement at all) as we found ourselves immersed in the escalating health crisis which had been only on the edges of our radar in the previous few weeks.

We were aware of Covid-19. Aware it was starting to impact well beyond its source point of China.

But South America seemed an outpost away from the hotspots we were seeing on the news, back in the real life we put on hold when we climbed aboard the big yellow truck six months ago.

Right up until the point real life grabbed us by the shoulder and pulled us back in.

The first inkling things were about to change came last Saturday when news filtered through that neighbouring Ecuador was closing its borders in a bid to protect itself from the rising threat.

South America remains well behind Europe in terms of numbers – at the time of writing, Colombia has 158 confirmed cases and no deaths – but as we were about to discover, nobody was hanging around before acting.

We knew Ecuador’s decision would have an impact. It is, after all, our intended final destination for the final few days, a return to Otavalo and back to Quito to complete the perfect circle.

And a reunion with the truck which, after abandoning attempts to cross via ferry or barge from Suriname to Guyana, had made it back to Brazil ahead of a long drive to rejoin us – reuniting us with the stuff left behind as we hurriedly packed for an unspecified leave of absence.

There was a further hint of what lay ahead when local precautions decreed bars and restaurants operate at reduced capacity, forcing us to buy slightly less overpriced sundowner cocktails on the city wall than planned.

Little did those of us drinking, dancing and painting the night away (more to come on that) realise it would serve as a final evening out.

There is a corner of a foreign bar which will be forever The Shed

Sore heads were not helped by the news the next day.

Lisa’s post-trip adventure to the Galapagos Islands had been cancelled amid the first hints that getting home would become harder the longer we waited.

But by the time we headed out for more exploration of the considerable charms of Cartagena, by foot and on bike, the plan was to bide our time and wait for developments. Maybe flying from Bogota further down the road to meet the truck, collect out stuff and head home from there.

That was our thinking as we headed for pizza in the evening – right up until we ran into tour leader Danny and some of the others in a bar.

Peru had shut its borders (ending an idea to head to Cusco) and our planned trip to the beach at Playa Blanca and phosphorescent seaweed the next day had been cancelled amid growing restrictions being imposed across Colombia.

It was a quiet meal as the looming prospect of what lay ahead of us became impossible to ignore.

And by the time we rejoined those left in the same hostel bar an hour later, things had moved on apace – restrictions were being ramped up, limiting travel around the country, threatening the closure of hotels and making the final outcome inevitable.

Little more than 24 hours after the first inkling it could happen, we were going home.

Or at least trying to.

What was supposed to be a fairly relaxed evening became increasingly fraught amid the search for flights.

With connections in the USA not an option for those of us blocked from getting an ESTA by past travels and without a valid visa, the choices were slim – direct flights from Bogota to Heathrow having jumped from around £250 to more than £1,300 in economy. If you could find one.

And when you did find an alternative, affordable route, by the time you clicked on the deal it had been withdrawn. Or, for others, banking issues delayed payment and added to the difficulties.

But eventually, nearly all of us had flights over the coming days (the stragglers having arrived back in the last few hours).

Lisa and myself flew from Cartagena to Bogota the next day to hole up in a hotel before our flights home, her via Atlanta, Los Angeles and on to Sydney, mine on a simpler route to Paris and on to Heathrow.

At least it was supposed to be simpler. A delayed flight out of Bogota ensured a missed connection in Paris and an unscheduled night in a hotel before a morning flight back to Blighty.

Even then the adventure was not over, my bag enjoying a longer stay in France before we were finally reunited more than 48 hours later.

We should have been in Santa Marta in northern Colombia today at the end of our detour north to a mud volcano and two more nights in a hammock at Parque Tayrona.

Instead, my hammock has been consigned to the things which will not be needed for a while bag and my bed for the night – after a few days in a hotel yards from my old flat – is my sister’s sofa. Probably sharing the room with a snoring Labrador.

All while largely with our warm clothing back where we stashed it on the truck heading out of Patagonia – flip flops, shorts and T-shirts are not much use at this time of the year at home.

It is not the way we wanted it to end.

Without the planned closing stretch and final night out, final bush camp, final travel day, final meal, there has been little sense of closure.

Little time to get our heads around what is happening, that what has become our life came to an end very quickly. That further travel plans needed to be ripped up.

Farewells, if said at all, were hurried. At least the two of us had some time in Bogota to come to terms with what was happening before our goodbyes.

Not sure that process has been completed, especially having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus.

Real life means finding a job, finding somewhere to live but that can wait – it means, above all, doing everything we can to stay healthy and help those closest to us do the same.

Some have flown into an automatic 14-day self isolation, some are imposing it on ourselves, one in a tent in his parents’ garden in Sussex. Slightly colder than Colombia.

But most importantly, we are all home safe and apparently healthy.

And that is far more important than what we have missed out on.

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Amazon Primed

IT is around 6am. In front of me, the first grey light of dawn is silhouetting the trees which have lined the Amazon for the last few days.

To my left, what was once welcome space has been filled by hammocks containing locals who hopped on board for the final couple of stops on our slow ride up the world’s longest river.

To my right you can sense the first stirrings from our fellow passengers with a few early-rising crew taking up their positions in front of the TVs by the little shop which makes up the centre of life on board – sometimes a little too loudly for those who took up residence on the roomier, breezier upper deck.

And nearing halfway down on the port side, you will find me, lounging at an angle which rises with my confidence in hammock dwelling.

Waiting for the breakfast bell to ring and spark the charge to find out what we have to fill the bread roll which makes up the bulk of the most important meal of the day.

Or the one you can definitely skip in favour of a bit longer in your hammock.

Sunset on the Amazon

And so begins another day on board the O Rei Davi, our home for six nights up the Amazon – or, to be more accurate, the Rio Solimoes – from Manaus to Tabatinga and across the border (basically a line in the road) into Colombia.

This is the part of the trip we were scheduled to be without the truck.

But instead of bidding farewell to Will and Spongebob in Manaus and rejoining them around Cartagena, we last saw them failing to get on a ferry in Suriname 12 days before boarding.

While we have wandered our way back to the Amazon, Will’s attempts to cross the river into Guyana have been scuppered by red tape and false rumours about a return to action for a larger ferry, leaving him facing more bureaucracy and a longer race to catch us up somewhere in Colombia.

More details as rumours, speculation and wishful thinking turn into reality.

What we do know is that without our scheduled transport, we arrived in Manaus in the early hours after an overnight bus trip.

Very comfortable it was, but sleep was at a premium which is perhaps behind my decision to join others in booking a night at the ballet at the Amazonian capital’s rather grand opera house, a relic from its days at the heart of the rubber industry.

It is certainly, as a morning walk around the city confirmed, the prettiest spot in town – Manaus is built for function rather than finesse, a sprawling, growing hub where two major tributaries meet to form what the locals deem the Amazon proper.

Assuming the boxes in the opera house were meant only for two people, given that is how many people can actually see most of the stage given the pillars which separate them – prompting angry words from one Australian at a photographer cutting out even the prime view.

Not that it was too big a blow – the performance of Aladdin appeared, given the cast and thrilled family audience, to be a local production full of youngsters given their role regardless of ability and what Danny (that acclaimed cultural critic) described as “five per cent ballet, 95 per cent running around in circles”.

It was mercifully short, in contrast to our hugely enjoyable boat trip exploring the local countryside which filled most of the next day.

It certainly started on a high as we plunged into the warm waters of the Rio Negro and swam with pink dolphins.

Well, they swam, under, around and, at one point, pretty much on top of us. We just sort of floated and splashed around with huge grins on our faces as another one emerged from the black water alongside one of us.

Our full day saw us head to a local village to watch traditional dances, fight in vain with huge arapaima fish in a tank (not physically fought, there would only be one winner, just badly on the end of a line), devour a huge buffet and meander through side channels spotting caiman, osprey, iguana and, high in a tree, the sloth we had waited to see.

Danny gets beaten up by a dolphin. Think the look on my face is because one has just swum between my legs

And we capped it all off with a trip to the confluence of the black, warm Rio Negro and the brown, cooler Rio Solimoes where they run side by side for several kilometres as they form the Amazon.

The Solimoes became our home as, having spent the final day in Manaus shopping for essential supplies, doing laundry and steeling ourselves for what lay ahead, we made our way down for an experience we had been anticipating and dreading in equal measure since the need to take this detour around Venezuela became inevitable.

And for the bulk of the six days on board, it was fun – a relaxing, enjoyable change of pace. 

So much so, Lisa and myself largely ignored the bijou cabin we had arranged to alternate with Izzy and Brad, opting to spend all of our nights in our hammocks, only using the facilities to shower, charge gear and for storage.

Only in the last 24-36 hours did the novelty wear off, two night stops seeing the space eaten up by new passengers and we had to be sharp to stop someone slinging their hammock between ours, which had already been moved to the point they were touching.

Then we did retreat to the cabin for some peace until it was time to hit the hammock.

But that was the final stretch, until then the top deck had been largely limited to the foreigners and crew, leaving enough space for us to sit around, read, watch movies, play cards, catch up on photo organisation, reach for whatever drink you had to hand or make return visits to the bar for a cold beer.

Or just lounge around a few feet off the floor – the higher the better for a comfortable night’s sleep,  although not for ease of entry.

We fell into a routine, largely based around three meals served downstairs – breakfast sometime around 6am (bread with egg or mystery meat to go inside it, a cup of porridge if you were lucky and some crackers), lunch around 11am and dinner before dark at 5pm.

The meals also fell into a pattern, giving rise to the game of guessing which mystery meat or fish would be served with the ubiquitous spaghetti, rice and beans – not that we were always able to work it out once we had eaten it.

All served up with a drink in your commemorative cup handed out on arrival. Unless you lost it.

By that final night, space was at a premium for any card games or the evening gatherings at the rear of the boat (at one point it was impossible to walk down the side of the boat from the bar to my hammock) and the countdown was on to the final destination at the port of Tabatinga – complicated by various reports of our scheduled arrival time and bouncing back and forth across time zones as the river meandered along the borders of Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

But early on that final morning, we took down our hammocks, did our best to shove them back in bags and returned to dry land and taxis for the short journey (not that short when we had to retrace our steps on foot in blazing heat for immigration) across the border to Leticia, Colombia.

And 84 days after first entering Brazil, we bade farewell for the final time.

Or for the first of three final times that day, but we will get to that next time.

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Rum, Manatee & the Mash

THE rising sun found its way through the canopy of trees along the riverbank before filtering into the mosquito nets which surrounded our hammocks.

Not a bad way to be woken early from a comfortable night’s sleep, swinging on the porch of the huts which made up our jungle lodge home.

And, considering some of the options we experienced in terms of transport and sleeping during our crossing of Guyana, waking up early in the jungle to the sound of howler monkeys and the local birds – think chickens crossed with vultures – hopping about us was pretty normal.

Or as normal as things get at the moment.

We have, via delays, illnesses, change of plans, sleeping on the move and a spot of carnival, made it to the sweltering Brazilian city of Manaus – capital of the Amazon – pretty much on schedule.

We are here for three nights (complete with trip to the ballet) before heading off on a boat to Colombia for five or six days and catching a flight to Cartagena which, hopefully, will bring us a reunion with the truck.

Spongebob tries to hitch a lift
Picture: Will Dreyer

That last bit was always part of the plan – Will and Spongebob heading overland while we drifted down the Amazon to catch us up somewhere in northern Colombia.

What was not part of the plan is them being an entire country and several days behind us before we even board the boat.

The latest news, following the truck being a touch too tall to fit on a replacement ferry, is they should finally break the magnetic pull of Suriname and start catching up tomorrow.

Fingers crossed. Touching wood. Stroking any good luck charm you may have to hand.

While we were enjoying the delights of Georgetown (and the comforts of an extended stay in relatively luxurious hotel rooms) and finding our own, idiosyncratic way back into Brazil, Will and Spongebob have been going nowhere fast.

Finding a barge to cross was sorted relatively quickly, raising hopes of a swift reunion.

But with paperwork and immigration issues over arriving at an unofficial crossing port, complicated by a national holiday and a looming election, things dragged on.

And on. And on.

When we finally thought everything was in order and the green light was given, all of a sudden it turned to red, permission was withdrawn and Will was heading back to Paramaribo to await the proposed return to action of the original ferry which was tied up, out of action as we boarded its replacement.

Complete with troublesome arch.

Which is where you left us, the remaining 18 of us crammed into a minibus alongside all the luggage we had grabbed to last us until a reunion with the truck – or everything for the four leaving us in Georgetown and two who depart in Manaus.

We did our best to lighten the load by breaking into the duty free supplies, helped by the driver buying us beer due to the lack of local currency between us.

We had managed to load up on Guyanese dollars at the hotel before the first of several trips to the local Red Bar – via a hole in the wall cheesy chips place – with one of Danny’s contacts.

Buying the round is simple – one bottle of local rum (very nice it is too), one bottle of Coke, a bucket of ice and cups for everyone. Repeat to fade.

It all made Lisa and myself grateful our flight to Kaieteur Falls (cancelled, then moved to another operator after a terse email exchange – remind me not to get on Lisa’s wrong side) had been shunted back a couple of hours.

It would have been a shame to have too foggy a head for such a natural wonder, well worth the hour flight each way over dense jungle.

Kaieteur Falls

The Falls may not be in full flow – dry season is something we would come to appreciate – but the 226m single drop is still spectacular, however close to the edge you choose not to stand.

Or sit for that oh so daring Instagram pose.

Throw in sightings of the small but deadly golden frog and the colourful cock of the rock bird and it made for a great day out, rounded off by a trip across town to a T20 cricket match to kick off the holiday weekend which was more notable for the antics of the colourful, if sparse, crowd than the actual contest.

Georgetown itself is very much part of the Caribbean – rum, cricket and speaking English may have given that away – and comes with a different, if slightly rundown, feel to its continental neighbours.

A group of us spent much of the next day exploring some of its delights – the chaos of Stabroek Market, the cathedral with touches of Olde England, drinks on the seawall and an afternoon feeding the charming, huge manatees who live in a lake in one of the city parks.

A manatee in search of an easy meal

Punctuated by a trip to hospital for a few tests on one of our number. Not the last test for dengue fever in the group over the past few days, although only one back in Europe has come back positive.

The night could have ended relatively early but popping into the bar for just one drink when that one drink is a bottle is unlikely to end quietly.

Which made for a slow start to Mashramani – the annual Guyanese celebration to mark becoming a republic in 1970, four years after independence from the UK.

Thankfully, things did not kick into gear until the afternoon, by which time things were very hot, very colourful and very, very loud if you got anywhere near the competing sound systems.

It is, essentially, one long carnival – measure it in hours – with every suburb, town, village and organisation in and around Georgetown out to make the biggest impression.

Those who were not taking part seemed to be lining the sides of the road and, if some members of our group were anything to go by, joining in at every opportunity.

For those still nursing the after effects of a few rums, it was all a bit much after a few hours and we sloped off for a quiet night.

Which turned into a quiet extra day, night, morning and most of an afternoon as things gradually sprang back into life after the holiday, plans were redrawn and we finally headed out of Georgetown around 5pm in two small minibuses heading for the jungle.

There was a reason we did not see any roads when we flew over the jungle – they do not really exist.

There is one rough, unpaved road which would eventually carry us all the way to the border town of Lethem.

Thankfully it is dry and we made good progress, often at fairly rapid pace, to reach our overnight stop near a ferry around 1am.

We were woken from what sleep you can grab in a minibus four hours later to catch the first ferry and make the short journey to our rendezvous with the boats from the Rewa Eco Lodge, which carried us the two and a half hours back up the river, spotting caiman, otters and assorted bird life, to our home for the night.

And the waiting hammocks which we seized on gratefully to catch up on lost sleep.

Most of did make it up for one venture out of camp – a group of us spending a very pleasant sunset hour or so at a secluded lake filled with giant lily pads and bird life.

There was little delay in heading back to the hammocks in the evening and, having pulled ourselves out for breakfast, we were shuttled back up the river for another cramped minibus journey on rough roads.

Thankfully, Lethem was just a couple of hours away.

Wish there were tales of exploring what it had to offer, but even the guy at the hotel – who defied his local accent by claiming to come from Hull – admitted we would be lucky as we headed out in search of a meal.

He was wrong, we did find one.

Whether that was really lucky is another matter.

Settling in for a night of luxury on a bus
Picture: Danny Taylor

Our stay in Lethem and Guyana was ended just after lunchtime as we rolled over the border and back into Brazil, waving goodbye to cramped minibuses and welcoming more roomy, comfortable coaches.

If the one which whisked us from Bonfim to Boa Vista was pretty standard coach fare back home, the one which carried us through the night to Manaus was on a different level – double decker, reclining seats, WiFi, power sockets.

Who needs Spongebob?

We do. 

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