Eco-Tourism: The allure of Essequibo’s ‘Rising of the moon’

Lake Capoey. Essequibo Coast. Guyana

There are many ‘paradises’ on Earth. A few are in Guyana. Some are spectacular while others display nature’s simplicity. On the Essequibo Coast, between the villages of Queenstown and Little Affiance, south-west of the coastal highway, a rustic road takes you to a vista of spectacular simplicity and beauty – Lake Capoey!

The name, according to Ralph Hendricks, the village toshao, means ‘rising of the moon’ –and curiously, is said to be a Wapisiana word, for a decidedly Arawak community with a population of about 500 people. Although I’ve never seen the lake by night, an image grabs my fancy.

It’s that of a full moon rising from behind the lake’s encircling vegetation, appearing to settle there, its beams dancing on the dark, rippling surface as fiery sunset fades to night, and it is easy to see how the name might have originated. But even in the daytime, Capoey can both soothe and excite the senses.   

The waters of this lake, sister to Mainstay and Ituribisci, are among the cleanest I’ve seen in Guyana, amber-clear where rolling wavelets lap against the white sand, gradually deepening to that alluring and mysterious phenomenon known as black water, fresh, sweet, and invigorating.

Lake Capoey on the Essequibo Coast

Two weeks ago, I visited the lake for the third time in as many months, and for the third time its charms resonated with my soul. That Friday morning there were maybe six persons there, but that number later swelled significantly. (I should advise that thus far I’ve seen just a small part of the larger community which, I’ve heard, has added wonders)

The bumpy, uncomfortable ride in from the public road was quickly forgotten as I turned in to Access Beach – a pristine patch of real estate, owned and operated by Ms. Pamela Deyounge. Devoid of litter and human paraphernalia, it slopes gently on to the lake.
Roughly crescent-shaped, the beach boasts about a dozen benabs, some thatched, a small shop, and a bridge-like structure jutting several yards into the lake. Fruit and flower plants line a fence that separates it from an adjoining resort run by Ms. Deyounge’s sister-in-law.

Ms. Deyounge has made good use of the natural resources of her lakefront property, and is parlaying it into a profitable enterprise. She charges a small fee for access to the beach (which can accommodate vehicles) and also hosts promotions, mostly of local musical talent, that are usually well-attended.

The adjacent resort, Acacia Beach, is similar to, but smaller than, the spot run by Ms. Deyounge. Her sister-in-law took charge of it after her husband died. It appears to be less popular and less utilized than Access, but that may be just from my limited perspective.

On my most recent visit, there were with me seven members of a family, including four young children, with whom I periodically stay while in the Cinderella County. That day, it was such a beautiful thing to see the delight on their faces as three of them played animatedly for hours in the lake’s sparkling waters. Literally hours – and I thought how terribly unhappy some adults must be, sheltered, shuttered, and fearful in their grilled mansions.

They were soon joined by their parents and aunt, and it was as if these adults, one of whom was full-term pregnant, were children again, sand-castling and all. By the time I sauntered over to chat with Ms. Deyounge, it was past midday and the beach congregants had swelled to over 30, including a group of birthday revelers and at least two overseas first-time visitors.

Most were vocal in their admiration for the ambience of the locale, so seemingly far removed from city life, and the onslaught of blackouts along the coast. All commented on its pristine appeal, including a Caucasian gentleman named Damon, who I suggested should visit the statue of his namesake, one of our national ‘slave’ heroes at Anna Regina. After having complained disdainfully about the power outages, he appeared to take it in good faith.
(Incidentally, those who constantly and vulgarly decry our country as filthy and primitive, could maybe benefit from a lake-dip in Capoey and emerge, like biblical Naaman in the Jordan, cleansed, at least from leprous thoughts)

Ms. Deyounge, gave me a brief history to the increasingly popular getaway. She said it was the dream of her late father, Kenneth Deyounge, a former toshao, who had a vision to see the bushy savannah-like area, filled with bamboo, awara, and wild palms, transformed into a resort.

She explained that her dad lugged in sand bucket by bucket from a nearby sandpit to fill and firm up the muddy terrain. Shortly after, they began to put down benabs, and added some landscaping and floral adornment which enhanced the area’s natural beauty. Soon visitors began to trickle in.

At first, arrangements to accommodate visitors, host fun days, and stage events for public entertainment were done in a more or less ad hoc manner, but now the ‘authorities’ are more involved including the police, the EPA, and the local administration. This will help streamline operations for a possible ecotourism thrust, she asserted.

In fact Ms. Deyounge is hoping to launch an official opening by year-end or early next year with an eye on the tourist market. But before that, she is gearing up for Amerindian Heritage Day, and a grand after-heritage ‘washdown’ which she says has become customary over the past few years, usually during the first week of October.

At this event, apart from lake-top activities, native food and drink will get top billing. Paiwari and Fly, roasted lukanani, labba, and bush cow will feature prominently as visitors pour in from ‘all over’ to eat, drink, and party into the night, Ms. Deyounge stated.

But of course not everyone seeks carnal pleasures. Lake Capoey and the surrounding environs are said to have great ecotourism potential as mentioned earlier. Exotic flora and fauna include waterfowl, falcons, fly-catchers, hummingbirds, frogs, aquatic lilies, orchids, and a variety of palms, fruit trees, and indigenous crops.

Black-water Capoey wouldn’t be worth its mystique if there wasn’t a bit of folklore added to it. The Matilda Pond, part of a ‘lake with a lake’ recalls the story of two beautiful girls who loved to fish and bathe in the lake, until one of them was carried away by a fish out to sea never to return. Some believe ancestral spirits were involved in the abduction, and it is said that many villagers, and visitors, keep far from that area.

Fed by three upland creeks and year-long rainfall, the waters of Capoey are perpetually in motion, and always fresh. Its tannin-rich colour suggests health benefits for the human body, not to mention its tranquil imprint on the mind.

Capoey’s ecotourism potential is undeniable. As infrastructural upgrades come on stream, its allure, (and that of other Essequibo lakes) will hopefully continue to embrace most of its pristine elements. Tourists will then have a glimpse, and a taste, of a country far removed from the imprecation some have placed on it.

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