The music stopped. Silence took over, only interrupted by the twittering of birds. In her new coat of snow-white paint, the recently restored Santa Rosa Church stood outlined against a green landscape of coconut trees, palm trees and weeds that were about to reconquer the cemetery around the church.
Wooden crosses, bare wood or painted blue or white, bore the names of the deceased. Their dates of birth and dead were referred to as ‘sunrise’, or ‘dawn’, and ‘sunset’. Across from the church stretched the savannah, the late afternoon sun turning the grass into a mixture of golden yellow, warm red and soft green. The Moruca River cut across the savanna, which was interspersed with narrow waterways; families and their kids were quietly paddling in their dugout canoes. It was a moment of bliss.
It lasted for only a moment. The power was back on and Bob Marley blasted from the loudspeakers again. The sound carried far over the wetlands.
Boating to Awarak Communities
It felt good to be here. It had been one of those moments of staring at a map, feeling attracted to this particular region for no clear reason and following up on that feeling. Rationally there weren’t any arguments: why pay quite a bit of money for a boat ride to First People communities? What were we going to do there, anyway? Yet, sometimes such a feeling can’t be rationally explained. The ‘I have to go there’ is dominant. A voice, I learned, I have to listen to.
So Coen and I packed some clothes, our hammocks, a bit of food, and drove from Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, to Parika. Here we took a ferry and west of the Essequibo River from where we drove to the village of Charity, the place from where speedboats leave for Moruca on a daily basis. The Awarak Communities in west Guyana are not connected with the rest of the country by road, so in order to get there you depend on boats.
Packed like sardines, including loads of goods like a bicycle, flat screens, and toilet paper we swerved on the Pomeroom River through forests interspersed with houses on stilts. We hit the Atlantic Ocean and sailed back inland where the Moruca River meandered through wetlands. The eighty-minute boat ride was spectacular.
Talking, Walking, and Lazing in Moruca
In Moruca, also called Santa Rosa Mission, we asked around for Uncle Basil and Aunty Delores. We found them and rented one of their rooms. Their wooden house sat surrounded by a vast garden with fruit trees, not far from the Santa Rosa Church. We clicked and spent three days around their kitchen table, listening to fabulous tales about Guyana.
Uncle Basil and Aunty Delores were born in Moruca but spent more than forty years in the Rupununi Savanna, in south Guyana where Uncle Basil was a teacher and set up a school. Quite a career for someone who never finished highschool himself. He was one of these characters who quickly became involved in any community he lived in, contributing with wise words, hard work, and constructive ideas.
He and Aunty were from Awarak descent, but no longer spoke Awarak or Spanish. When the missionaries came, kids were forced to learn only English. Many customs have disappeared but Uncle Basil was hopeful, as little by little indigenous rights are recognized and respected in Guyana.
As it was raining most of the time, paddling in a canoe was not very enticing anyway, although our talks were interrupted now and then because we liked to stretch our legs and go for long walks, chatting with other inhabitants and watching daily life.
During one of these trips we ended up at the edge of the savanna where, while the loudspeaker blasts out another Bob Marley song, I watched the sun go down over the savannah and felt blessed to have come here.
- Make sure you have enough time if you want to visit Moruca or another Awarak community. First of all, you depend on boats, which may be delayed for any number of reasons. Second, it’s one of these places where time just goes by, where you easily yield to the rhythm of lazing in hammocks, drinking a beer, chatting with people and simply feeling at home. You may want to stay longer than you had anticipated.
- Bring cash, as in Charity and Moruca there are no ATMs. Withdraw money in Georgetown. Expect to pay 20 U.S. dollars for the speedboat one way; the ferry crossings are cheap. In Moruca there are simple lodgings and places to eat. Activities: hiking, canoeing, lazing.
- You could combine the trip with sea turtle watching on Shell Beach. Note that you need to do this with a tour, so organize it in advance in Georgetown.
First published as a guest post on Global Help Swap. Upon its publication I learned that Uncle Basil had passed away that week.