GUYANA: Extraordinary Places – The Essequibo River – By Ian McDonald

 Stabroek News- By

As a companion volume to my planned book Portraits of Extraordinary people, I intend to add Portraits of Extraordinary Places. One such portrait follows.

Someimes my wife and I go up the great Essequibo to stay at the beautiful river-home of my brother-in-law and his wife. Not far away we share with friends a river-home of our own. In these lovely places we  have spent many of the most contented hours of our lives. We also can say we have lived in Arcady.

It is a long way from the island-scattered mouth yet the river here is like a sea miles across and the waves wild as an ocean’s when storms come and you cannot see the other shore so far away. This is one of the things I love about the Essequibo. It is a mighty force of nature.         

Strong currents tug islets of sand into being for a while then pull them down again. Dredged up on these surprising banks gleam coral sand and prehistoric shells which archeologists would find of greatest interest. Tides rise and fall like ocean tides moving tremendous weights of water. Dangerous big rocks underwater can smash your boat if you are not master of the safe ways.         

Sunsets and sunrise create vast lakes of colour spread in front of your astonished eyes. Rainbows leap and glow in the heavens more gloriously than anywhere else in the world. Sudden storms raise white-caps on the surface and whip it into turbulence for miles and miles as far as the eye can see until there is only spray-mist and dark rain-bursts hiding lost horizons. A long history of accidents and lethal water has seen thousands of wrecks sent into those dark fathoms.

What treasures of produce lie beneath this inland seaway? And in those depths the centuries have strewn how many star-crossed sailors with eyes of pearl and bones of coral made? On moonless nights the stars blaze huge like you see them in the middle of an ocean or North American prairie. When there are comets you can see them clear travelling a long way across the oceanic arc of the heavens. This is not a sea but river is far too ordinary a word. It is a part of the world where the hand of God can strike mighty blows. Feel privileged to be here. Do not feel too proud. Do not be fearless, be respectful

Yet the wide reaches of this river-sea can be quiet as a mountain monastery. A calm descends as if the God of Peace and Mercy had waved a gentle hand. The tall surrounding trees whose crowns shake like demons in a storm now stand like sober sentinels. A lone bird sings and it is a soaring choir in the still air.  Golden flowers shaped like trumpets look loud but they are soundless amidst the emerald vines. I remember the silver and blue of serene evenings when it was hard to believe just the day before volcanic reds and blacks painted anger in the sky.

The silence and the calm soothes the hectic spirit. Sometimes, waking at dawn, I have found the night has quieted the waters into a vast and glassy lake and the limitless mirror perfectly reflects the cloud-galleons sailing in the sky. Tumult all subsided. Once I was reading beneath an almond tree on the sand when out of the forest only yards away an otter, big as a dog, sleek as a seal, darted past my chair to the water’s edge and seeing me amazed slipped back into the dark green grove of trees with not a yelp exchanged between us. Such graceful movement that makes no noise at all amplifies the sound of silence. I sat for a long time in the small wind that barely ruffled the surface of the great and ancient river and thought of the thousands of years this mighty torrent has come down through the forest and the thousands of years to come when it will flow whether men are here or not.

I have written a book of poems in the name of the Essequibo and when in its time the book won the Guyana Prize for Literature the award honoured the great river as it honoured me. More recently I tried again to capture in a poem something of the impression this sublime river has made on me.

Painting The Wind          

The brooding clouds of Essequibo

filled with thunder and brewing squalls

lashing rain-storms marching up the river-reaches

followed by such calmness in the air.

The winds of Essequibo coloured by the sun

strongly pushing on the caravans of cloud

how it roughs up the shining coat of evening-water

how it makes a green tumult of the forest trees

how the high birds ride the heavens on it

how it veils the full moon with its silk.

Please God, if I am born again an artist

let me go again far up Essequibo

and read again the books I have always loved

and this time paint the soft and hurtling wind.

After all these years, I look out on the great river as night falls and the stars begin to blaze and I think how these visits will one day have an end. As the waves sound endlessly on the sand and black rocks and the wind jostles in the darkening trees I find I am not sad. I know in my imagination there will always be one last visit and again I will see the gleam on the restless water and feel the pure wind on my face and look up once more at the widest sky in the world as day-end gold gathers in the clouds and I will hear again the small sounds of the birds settling for the night and the big noise of the universe all around me and the beauty will never seem to end and it will be the best visit of them all.

Up Guyana’s Essequibo River – included photos

A trip up the river by visiting world tourists using the available navigation maps – from the Atlantic to the tow of Bartica.

It poured cats and dogs during the night. We were up at quarter to dawn to catch the early morning flood tide 40 nm up Guyana’s longest river, the Essequibo. The rain had mostly stopped and it was cool, misty and grey at first light. The decks were wet, but clean. We hauled the anchor, heavy and thick with clay and mud. Smoke, sawdust and rich earth smells filled the air.

From the get-go, the passage up the Essequibo was interesting, but required lots of concentration. We had what we assumed were good waypoints (23 of them!), but even the few navigational aids shown on the chart were missing. In the entire, circuitous 50nm trip, we saw only three markers. To add to the challenge, our Navionics charts were off by about 700′ N/S and 300′ E/W, making it appear at times, as if we were sailing over land. up


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  • wally n  On 09/22/2021 at 2:14 pm

    I remember as a kid I was forced to take a fishing trip with my uncle,he was taking a group of Demba staff to somewhere close to Rockstone(?) to fish for arapaima. We were supposed to meet the group at site, while we were traveling by outboard on one of the creeks, the cotter pin broke and we lost the propeller.
    As we drifted, one of the crew stripped, looked over the side and jumped, the water splashed on me, it was warm, I looked over the side it was so clear, I could see the propeller, probably twenty to thirty feet deep. That memory stuck in my mind, as clear as the water, was.
    Conclusion, everyone caught fish bones, the Piranhas saw to that.
    My friend had mentioned that there might still be a deep channel all up the Essequibo, he was thinking bottled water, I was thinking our ungrateful “brothers” in the Caribbean.
    I always thought Essequibo as an uncut diamond, so happy it is starting to shine.

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