To Paramakatoi and Back

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On Sunday, February 9, Bonnie and I along with brother Nigel Milo made our early morning departure from Linden, Guyana aboard a taxi bound for Georgetown briefly before going to the airport at Ogle. Normally, we take the church van, but so as not to deprive the congregation of the ability to pick up riders for worship, we paid the fare for a cab instead.

An hour and a half later, Nigel dropped off his television lesson at TV station in Georgetown. Next, we three headed for the Ogle International Airport—not the airport at which we arrived several days ago from the States. The routine is the same everywhere within Guyana where sufficient scales are present: weigh the luggage, weigh the hand baggage and weigh the passengers. Then, wait! (During that indefinite pause in our travels, we are expected to walk from the Air Services site from which we depart back to the Ogle airport to clear immigration, though we do not leave Guyana on these excursions; likewise, we must clear customs and immigration upon our return from outlying areas as well.)

Our flight from the coast inland was uneventful. We flew over the solid carpet of jungle for an hour or two aboard a Cessna Grand Caravan with just a little over a dozen total passengers, luggage and cargo. Our craft eventually descended and landed at a small Amerindian village called Kato; we were there only long enough to drop off one passenger before barely climbing back into the sky for the remaining five air miles (three-hour walk through gullies as well as up and down mountains) to Paramakatoi.

The procedure for landing is to fly adjacent to the landing strip so the pilot can assure himself (or herself, sometimes) that it is satisfactory for setting down, so animals and people on the airstrip can be forewarned to get clear from it and so interested villagers can make their way to it for greeting passengers, sending passengers or receiving mail and freight. The plane banks hard to the left to make a midair U-turn, drops out of the sky, skirting between adjacent treetops and hops over a final bump at the runway’s front edge to bring her in. The runway is comparable to what we would call “tar and chip,” except that the “chips” are the size “walnuts”! Add to that, the runway is not flat! The plane appears to have as much turbulence on the ground as it might have when hitting an air pocket aloft!

Onward to the village guesthouse—up, up and more up by foot we trekked to a high spot in the community. Almost everyone walks exclusively on paths up, down and along ridges in that little savannah surrounded by mountain peaks and jungle. Planes aplenty cause little stir, but the truck that passed through was more unusual. Occasionally, we would see a motorcycle or an ATV, and once we saw a beat-up SUV. Other than that, cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens roam at will in Paramakatoi, an Amerindian “metropolis” for that part of Region 8.

The guesthouse is operated by the Amerindians and a council member, and his family manages and maintains it. Its amenities exceed those available to me last year in Monkey Mountain. “Joe” Latchmenarine Latchmenarine journeyed with us, as he had on previous forays with the Gospel this year to various venues. The four of us occupied three of the four rooms in the guesthouse; shortly after our arrival, three Brazilian hikers arrived and squeezed into the remaining room.

The lodging was comparable to a basic camp structure in the USA in which children, at least in the past, would sleep while away at summer camp. Windows and eves were open to the outside, and there were sufficient cracks between boards to permit unimpeded travel by numerous little creatures; one fairly large spider startled me, and I apparently frightened him, too, as he ran ever so fast, and even after a diligent search, we could not find him. The walls went up only so far, separating rooms, common area and indoor toilet and bathing facilities. Thankfully, we actually had toilets (unlike Monkey Mountain), though we needed to fetch water from outside to flush them, because rainwater had been insufficient to replenish the two plastic tanks collecting runoff from the roof. If the tanks were fuller, water pressure courtesy of gravity would have replenished water in the toilet tanks. Bathing was of the familiar sort we learned in India—bucket and cup!

Paramakatoi is the coolest place Bonnie or I have ever been in Guyana. Its mountains resemble the mountains we knew from our youth. The wind is constant with accents of stiffer gusts. I suppose the temperatures ranged from the 50’s to the 80’s, and Bonnie and I were cold by night in those wee hours, though the mosquito netting helped shield us as well from the chill. We even wore jackets in the early morning. With an occasional awareness of the brutal winter weather buffeting the USA, Bonnie and I are quite content to spend the balance of winter in Guyana, South America, where in the lowlands the temperatures probably in the 90’s—nobody knows, i.e., keeps a record—and they can’t change it anyway.

The four of us brought the Annual Nationwide Guyana Mobile Seminar to Paramakatoi for two days (plus two days for arrival and departure). The day seminar began at 9 a.m. each morning and continued until 4 p.m.—with an interlude for lunch provided for all; about 53 persons attended. From 6 to 8 p.m. nightly, we provided a Gospel meeting for all-comers.

I introduced Bonnie to “bake,” which I had experienced at Monkey Mountain the year before in her absence; it is a heavy, irregularly shaped bread similar to an American donut without the sugar coating. Neither of us braved sampling the “farine,” a hard, brownish, granulated substance made from the cassava root; intermixed with other food, it expands within one’s stomach after drinking water, giving a sense of being full. The cassava crop is widely cultivated among the Amerindians for making cassava bread and farine.

Leaving Paramakatoi proved no less interesting than leaving Monkey Mountain the year before. There are direct flights from the coast to either of those two mountaintops, but there are no direct flights back to the coast. After last year, brother Nigel Milo and I knew to expect a layover at Mahdia. Passengers from various sites are dumped into a metal hangar on the airstrip there, and then, the seats are removed from the airplanes to accommodate cargo. For the next several hours, those planes ferry building materials, equipment and commodities to various mining camps and villages. In time to make their way back to the coast before dark, seats are placed back into the planes, and the passengers are hauled back to Ogle on the seacoast.

Things were not even that simple when it came time for our party of four to leave Paramakatoi. The planes arriving were already bringing wire fencing, cement, fencing and rebar for the new school building under construction in the village. The first plane leaving could only take two passengers—a school administrator for the region and a patient. The next plane, likewise, only had two seats installed, and so Bonnie and Joe left Nigel and me behind at Paramakatoi; they departed in a blue, twin prop Britton Norman Islander.

The next plane to land was a Cessna 5 that was apparently experiencing engine trouble. After tinkering with it, the pilot took off again—neither discharging any passengers nor picking up anyone. Finally, our ride was ready—a white, single prop Cessna Grand Caravan with all of its seats removed for carrying building materials. Brother Nigel and I sat on the bench seat permanently affixed in the tail section, while a laborer sprawled in the large open area where once seats were and the pilot at the far front end of the airship piloted us away from Paramakatoi.

Amerindian Bow & Arrows

Amerindian Bow & Arrows

The four of us reunited at Mahdia. After some confusion as to when freight hauling would give way to carting passengers around again, we four rented a taxi for a spin around the frontier mining village. A taxi is often anything that is motorized, irrespective of its condition or whether it is commodious that might be able to take one from point “A” to point “B.” This was one of those dilapidated machines that once was a new car, but not lately. We entered a darkened “restaurant” and attempted to order food on display that we could not see (the electric was out). Bonnie and I settled for a Coca Cola and fried chicken to share.

Finally, we departed Mahdia around 4 p.m. and got back to the coast around 6 p.m. Then, we made our way by taxis to Nigel’s home in Linden, another two hours by land. Joe stayed in Georgetown at his parents’ home.

We had gone to Paramakatoi and back! The brethren were eager for the studies we presented them, and they long for our return. Some attending had walked parts of three days to get there (and would need to take as much time along jungle trails to return to their own villages). Paramakatoi was a quiet, friendly, safe location. The people are charming (except for denominational church housed next door to the guesthouse that seemed determined to disrupt our sleep from 4 to 7 a.m. daily). The Amerindian craftsmanship was exquisite and unique in the beaded necklaces, a skin and armadillo pouch, and a bow and arrows. Bonnie and I look forward to our return to Paramakatoi next year.

Explore posts in the same categories: Biblical Lesson, Gospel Meeting, Guyana, Mission Trip, Overseas, Postcard Perfect Picture, Travel

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