GUYANA: Touring the awesome Highlands of Guyana – By Francis Quamina Farrier

— By Francis Quamina Farrier
There is still quite a number of Guyanese who glibly say; “Guyana is below sea level”; and they are so wrong, since that is just one-third of a three-part statement of fact.
The correct and full statement to be made is; “The coastland of Guyana is below sea level, at high tide.” And one has to wonder why just one-third of that statement is so often said by so many Guyanese; and even by some who are well educated, and even hold positions of influence and authority.

A portion of the Kanuku Mountain Range which separates the North and South Rupununi Savannahs in Region 9, Guyana, is thousands of feet above sea level.

It is good for Guyanese to discuss issues such as the topography of our Beautiful country. For the many Guyanese who are domiciled on the coastland, and who have not had the opportunity so far, to travel inland, are at a great disadvantage. Our fellow Guyanese who have never seen a hill or mountain in Guyana usually tend to feel and make statements about a low-lying Guyana; even a Guyana which according to them, is below sea level. Many would have gone to Timehri International Airport, and yet do not realize that they had gone to an area in the country which is well above sea level.
Back in the colonial era, the Americans chose that area of British Guiana, officially known as Hide Park, to construct “Atkinson Field” which was an airfield which accommodated their war planes. Those aircraft flew from British Guiana in South America, east across the Atlantic ocean, to destinations in North Africa during the Second World War. (1939 – 1945). Located as it is on the northern shoulder of South America, British Guiana (Guyana) played a vital role in the war effort for the Allied Forces which brought them victory over the German forces.
Listening to those Guyanese who have travelled to many areas of the country, you hear more accurate statements about the topography of the country. In discussions about that aspect of Guyana, one should not generally expect, or to receive, enlightened information about factual geographical details, from those who have never had hands-on information about the highlands of Guyana.
A few years ago, there was a “Visit Guyana Year” which was organized by the Ministry of Tourism and Industry. It was promoted to attract Foreigners as well as Guyanese in the diaspora to visit Guyana. This article will not attempt to say whether that project was a success or not, but rather to recommend a different approach to a “Visit Guyana Year” in the future. Recommend is a “Visit Guyana Year” in which Guyanese, both at home and in the diaspora, are encouraged to make special efforts to visit areas of the country where they have never gone to before. For example, people from the Essequibo Coast, can be encouraged to go on a tour to the Corentyne Coast. Folks from Linden can tour to Lethem, and so on.
Let me interject with my own fortune in touring to well over 80 percent of our “Beautiful Guyana” which Hilton Hemerding sings in such a patriotic way. My tours around Guyana began since I was just three years of age. During school holidays, my mother sent my two brothers and I to visit the hinterland areas where her husband, our father worked. Of course, we were well briefed by my father when he was at home in Georgetown. He debunked all the tales we were told about tigers and snakes, and Bush Di-Di, by those who had never even been to the hinterland. Memories of my boyhood visits to the forested areas of the country, supplied me with the experiences for two of my plays; “MANAKA” and “TIMBERLINE”; in fact, the latter won First Prize at the Guyana National Independence Playwriting Competition in 1966.
From time to time there is flooding in the Rupununi savannah, and some people wonder how it is that such occurs in that highland area of the country. This is somewhat confusing for coastlanders who feel that since the Rupununi area is well above sea level, there should be no flooding there. The reason is simple to fathom. Consider spilling your coffee on the table while having breakfast, and juxtapose it with floods in the highlands of Guyana. The spilt coffee while high on top of the table, will take some time to drain off, if it isn’t whipped away as soon as possible.
Yes. highlands can and do experience flooding. When the heavy rainfalls come, the Essequibo, Rupununi and Takatu rivers in Region 9, are incapable of draining off the high volume of water in a timely way, and so, there is flooding in those highland areas of the country. It is necessary to mention that during the dry season lengthy portions of the Takatu river which is part of the Guyana/Brazil border is totally empty, so-much-so that some folks even have picnics on the dry sandy river bed.

Perched on the side of a hill, Farrier views the savannah and a portion of the Kanuku Mountain Range in Region 9. (Photograph of 1965)

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