I once read a book of travel essays called Video Night in Kathmandu in which Pico Iyer explains his love for places which defy description and don’t fit in with the rest of the world and that is how I feel about Guyana. It’s a bit of an “odd duck” of a country and that’s one thing I love about it!
The number one misconception is that Guyana is in Africa. “Guyana” sounds a lot like “Ghana” or “Guinea” which are in Africa but Guyana is in South America, between Venezuela and Suriname, and above Brazil.
The second biggest misconception is that Guyana is a Spanish speaking country. Although part of the South American continent, Guyana is English speaking. This seems to mystify everyone and they’ll often confirm with me several times throughout a conversation, “You said English speaking, right?” and that’s fine, I totally understand. but not all of South America speaks Spanish; Brazil (the biggest part of South America) is Portuguese, Suriname speaks Dutch, and French Guiana is French.
I always try to explain the history of the country because I know that setting things in context always helps me. Guyana was an British colony from 1814 until 1966. Therefore, culturally it’s closer to the Caribbean islands like Barbados and Trinidad.
It is important to note though that Guynese on the coast in particular speak a creole English. To hear what it’s like, listen to this white Mormon boy explaining the expressions and phrases. He’s actually pretty good. 🙂
People and Culture
The people of Guyana are former indentured servants from India and slaves from Africa so the majority are of East Indian or African decent. I say “majority” but I suspect that there are more Amerindians (native peoples) in Guyana than the government includes in their censuses.
The Amerindians are of the Carib, Patamona, Makushi and Wapishana tribes, each with their own culture and native language. Most tribes have been in contact with and schooled by the English for generations but there are still a few isolated tribes in the jungles of the northwest and deep in the Rupununi savannahs of the south which are, although not undiscovered, less civilized than the other tribes.
Guyana is a developing country which means that it does not have many western conveniences which, in a way, is lovely. You won’t find a Gap here or a Starbucks. even in the capital, electricity goes out on a regular/daily basis and people are accustomed to washing their clothes by hand. In the interior villages it is common for people to not have indoor plumbing or electricity, although solar power is becoming more and more prevalent. Cell phones and the internet have also become more common in recent years.
The food reflects the cultural background of the people. If you’re visiting an East Indian home, you might be served chicken curry with rice or roti. If you’re visiting an Afro-Guyanese home, you might be served fried fish and ground provisions. The Amerindians in the south eat cassava bread and tasso, a dried meat, along with vegetables grown in gardens in mountain valleys, sometimes miles from their homes.
Of course, this being a tropical country, there is loads of fresh fruit to enjoy!
Geography and Climate
Most people live along the coast. The capital, Georgetown, is in the middle of the coastline and along the coast it is one long string of villages- to the east toward Suriname and to the west until half way to Venezuela. A few towns and villages also reach from Georgetown south into the interior. The country is bisected by several large rivers. The Essiquibo river is so large at its mouth that it contains islands as large as some Caribbean islands. the crown jewel of Guyana is Kaiteur Falls, three times taller than Niagara and the world’s largest single drop falls (not tallest drop but largest by volume). The Iwokrama Forest is one of the four last pristine tropical forests in the world.
The question is always: “How hot is it?” According to the Guyana Ministry of Agriculture, the average daytime maximum is 85.2 Fahrenheit (29.6 Celsius) while the nighttime average is 75 F (24 C). The coast is more humid than the interior. There is a rainy season from May to the end of July along the coast and from April through September farther inland. It does get cool at night– sometimes downright cold– especially in the mountains. The temperature and humidity varies very much throughout the different topographies so check here for more detailed information.
Here are some photos to give you a visual: