This time it's not only the embarrassment of wheeling a bike on the beach that I feel. Between Georgetown and the end of the challenge in Lima, Peru, lay the Amazon rainforest and the Andes mountains, the challenge of cycling up to an altitude of 4,000 meters and negotiating the highways of dirt roads that cut through the rainforest, first in Guyana and then across the border in Brazil.
Couchsurfers Jeff, Marta and Johan, Anders and Sofia provide a welcome distraction to the apprehensions and a warm welcome to the city. The night before departure we see the ‘Humans of Guyana’ exhibition, a catalogue of people portraits from across the country and a snapshot about the culture, while pointing out how little I actually know about Guyana.
My work colleague, Sridevi, was an invaluable help, and she explained the ethnic mix of Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese. Wandering the streets, reggae music plays loudly long after sunset, irrigation channels, a legacy of Dutch colonialism, form grids of the city and many of the buildings stand on stilts.
The stilts are explained with less than a mile into the cycle ride the following morning. Each of the adjacent roads to the ‘Main street’ I cycle, are flooded. St George’s Cathedral, the world’s second tallest wooden church is still standing and has not been transformed into the world’s tallest raft. It’s one of the sights Sridevi provided great help in describing, her parents having lived in Georgetown.
‘There was a particular road which my Dad said I should never turn the corner around’. I was unsure if this was typical tourist baiting or a genuine warning, but perhaps Sri’s father was referring to a street shop seller called London, just outside Georgetown, whose display of vibrantly coloured bottles each perched on wooded shelves is a welcome sight.
Here at London’s ‘Wellness’ stand just a few dozen km’s out of Gerogetown there are no signs of the flooding. By 11am the heat and humidity are stifling and each downpour is greeted jubilantly, as though it was an official trade mission to correct the stereotype of the British hatred of rain.
As the tarmac ends suddenly in Linden and several hundred kilometers of dirt roads begin, the finicky Brit re-surfaces, and I seek the perfect amount of rain to refresh the temperature without turning the road into a stream.
I rise early each morning, not because of the effect of London’s home-brew, but in a bid to beat the heat of mid-day. The main highway connecting Linden to Brazil is commonly used by trucks for logging (logging in Guyana is generally well policed) and other heavy goods vehicles, and heavily potholed. Much of the next few days are spent looking directly at the road, selecting the best (or sometimes only) choice of racing line to pass without being thrown from the bike.
The rainforest trees enclose the road providing a canopy against the sun until mid-day. As 4x4’s bog down in the road, the slinkier Dawes bike wiggles through triumphantly.
Reaching the Brazilian border lifts spirits and at Boa Vista I stay with a couch surfer Amanda, who makes the first introduction to Brazilian delicacies’ with some home-made Tapioca. As a fluent English speaker she provides some basic Portuguese lessons (after opting for motivational music when ‘Learn Portugese’ would have been a more pragmatic choice on the smartphone through Guyana).
As a manager for a protected catchment of land in the northern territories of the Amazon, it’s fascinating to hear about her work and to consider that in the next few days the journey will have progressed as far as the world’s largest river.