GUYANA: Morning ride and black coffee – Short Story by Geoff Burrowes

LOCATION: RUPRUNUNI SAVANNAHS. GUYANA

Fo’ day mornin’ is when life starts on a ranch. By the time this story starts we had milked the cows, had breakfast,  saddled up and ridden out into the savannah.  We were some distance from the ranch (Dadanawa Ranch, Rupununi), the Takatu mountains were grey-blue on the horizon and  and  directly in front of us was a hollow choked with bush out of which we were going to round up cattle who had managed to avoid previous roundups.

In my innocence I didn’t realize that this made the cattle different from those I had worked with before. My first realization was when the cow I had startled didn’t run at the sight of this terrifying vacquero (cowboy) but pawed the ground and lowered its head and eyed me and my valiant steed threatingly, head lowered its head swung its wide sweep of horns from side to side.     

I didn’t know what to do and just at that moment the foreman Stanley Brock came upon us. English people are not supposed to be able to schewps but Brock schewpsed loudly and moved threateningly towards the cow which sensibly took off through the brush. Brock at this point said scathingly that I was no good at rounding up so I could go up on the savannah and baby sit the herd we were forming.

If I thought my humiliation for the day was over I was wrong. A cow took off without warning for the brush and my horse, like any good cow pony, took off to cut it off. I was not yet an experienced horseman but managed to stay in the saddle and settled down for the chase. The horse swerved to turn the cow and my stirrup broke I found myself hanging upside down to my horse’s neck and mercifully the animal came to a stop. Brock, back with the herd by this time, took a length of rawhide from his saddle and effected temporary repairs on the stirrup while telling me I was no good to man or beast. As he had given me the rotten rig that morning I thought that was rather unfair but was so chastened that I humbly took the criticism.

He then told me to drive the cows back to the ranch with an old vacquero Peter. Peter was not the most outgoing of characters. In fact he didn’t speak but grunted and gestured and so we bunched the cattle up and he led them from the front and I rode behind them at a walking pace driving them forward. Peter was bow legged from a lifetime of riding horses. He was shorter than me and had a square face. His mouth was a downturned slit in his brown face and the wrinkles in his weather beaten face were deep, giving him a permanent scowl.

If you’ve never driven cattle at a walk, don’t! Although I was learning how to ride, pretty quickly I was still saddle sore from the previous round up and the slow movement of the saddle was agonizing. I was eating the dust stirred up by the slow movement of the herd and the sun was hot. Yet despite that I was falling in love with the job – partly because of the romance of doing something that I had dreamed about since I was a child and partly because the rugged lifestyle suited me. I was puzzled by the antagonism shown by Brock to someone he was supposed to be training but was determined that he wouldn’t beat me. Stupid me!

As the noonday sun beat down and the dust coated my tongue I began to feel very thirsty but Peter showed no signs of stopping so I decided to stick it out. Finally, about 2 in the afternoon when there was an open patch of savannah, no kaimbeh trees, next to a tiny creek , he called a stop.  He said in his usual informative style “Rest!” We took the horses down to the creek and let them drink and stripped off their saddles so they could cool down.

Peter started a fire. Vacqueros in the Rupununi and Brazil carry a little rawhide bag tied to the saddle with the makings for coffee, farine, and if they’re going to be away from the ranch for a while, tasso, dried salted beef. Peter pulled out an old ‘Ovaltine” tin, filled it with water from the creek and put it on the fire to boil. When that happened he took some coffee grounds from the saddle bag placed them on a severely discoloured square of cloth, dipped it into the boiling water and let the coffee soak into the water. He then put two heaping spoonfulls of brown sugar and stirred them in. He ceremoniously poured the black coffee into the tin cups tied to our saddles, allowed himself a half smile and said “Drink.” That sweet black coffee was the best I’ve had before or since.

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ARTICLES ON STAN BROCK IN GUYANESE ONLINE

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Stan Brock Obituary – Wapishana People, British Guiana | The Times UK

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Comments

  • brandli62  On 07/24/2021 at 9:43 am

    I recall spending Easter 1990 with Duane and Sandy de Freitas and their vaqueros from The Dadanawa Ranch at the Rupununi Rodeo. An event that I will never forget! Those were magical days!

  • detow  On 07/24/2021 at 5:50 pm

    Brings back memories of my one and only visit to the Rupununi while on a short assignment with the O&M division of the Treasury Department. At that time there was not much there other than a pharmacist, the District Commissioner, an air strip and a Government Rest House where I spend two nights after reviewing the functioning of the DC’s office. Visited a ranch in the Dadenawa region ( I believe that the owner’s name was D’Aguiar) and for the first time tasted Yogurt (home made by him) for the first time, did not like it then and still do not like it. However I did like the Lethem especially the floating bar was was in the middle of the Takutu river, half in Brazil and half in British Guiana.

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