GUYANA: Short Stories: Scouting: Red Water Creek – Atkinson Field – By Geoff Burrowes

By Geoff Burrowes

I’ve dredged up from the recesses of memory a story of my first camping trip that I hope you’ll find interesting:

Red Water Creek – Atkinson Field. Guyana

I woke up excited. This was the day! I was a member of Scout Troop 39 but had never been camping. Today that was going to change forever!

Once a year the Scout Association in British Guiana held a rally to which all Scouts were invited. It took the form of a large camp, with space reserved for every troop’s tent and cooking fire and latrine, as well as a meeting place in a central location for all the Scouts. This year it was being held at Redwater Creek a creek in the bush, about 35 miles South of Georgetown, our city and the capital of our country, BG which was abbreviated from British Guiana. For those who don’t know BG was a British colony on the North shoulder of South America, and still today, the only English speaking nation in South America.               

Not only were we going camping but we were riding up to the base on our bicycles some of us (like me) for the first time. Now I don’t want you to feel that riding was a leisure activity for us as it is in many large cities. No, it was the way we got around every day. I rode to and from school every day and if I was visiting a friend it was on my trusty Hercules, with the pedals pumping, and making that distinctive whirring sound as the spokes shone in a silver blur as the wheels spun swiftly. Our muscles were accustomed to the demands of pushing the spinning pedals and we took pleasure in overtaking slower riders. We were careful not to ride more than two abreast, as you could be charged for riding three abreast! Once you got up to speed the bicycle’s own momentum made the pedalling easier and thus it was pleasant riding the hot smelling tar roads.

For those of  you who have ridden the East Bank Road you can skip this section because you’ve been there, done that! We met early in the morning on the front bridge of St Stanislaus College and left as soon as we were all there. The big boys, Gilbert Meneze, Twink Delph, David Fraser, Richard Driver, and Malcolm Chan-A-Sue pedalled off first and the small boys followed, Mike Pacheco, Sam Driver, Archie Burrowes, Twinklet Delph- Twinks young brother, Piddles Armstrong, who was indispensable as Troop Cook, Stanley Ridley and me. We turned into High Street, between Saints and the impressive Public Buildings and rode out of Georgetown, past GBS, Swan Laundry and Broad Street Royal Bank, past Albouystown and over the raised Sussex St Canal Bridge,  La Penitence Market, and Police Station, Banks DIH compound, Houston Estate and Eccles. At first we chatted, joked, tan’lized and laughed but that dropped off as the need for breath for pedalling made itself felt.

As we went further the rhythm of the pedals kicked in and  we passed Providence Estate and Diamond Estate Factory, with the stinking leeswater trench  and we felt good as our bikes hummed up the public road. I can’t after all this time remember the names of all the villages but I do remember as the public Road turned East a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque testifying to the multicultural nature of our diverse population. I remember the sweeping curve as the highway turned away from the Demerara River Sea Wall and past the stand pipe at Relief and Supply, where we paused to slake the thirst that had been building up as we rode. The water from the stand pipe had a metallic taste but we ignored that for the quenching of our thirst as the morning got hotter. After that I remember some long stretches of straight road, through Friendship and past the Boerasiri Canal. After a while we reached Soesdyke and the column of cyclists stopped just before the base gate, at a cake shop, where Mr. St Peter, a tall dignified gentleman prepared us tall frosty glasses of the best mauby I had ever tasted. I seem to remember tennis rolls and cheese but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

During the War and for a while after, travellers into Atkinson field, which was a US air base had to stop at a watch house at the gate and present identification to the guards there but I think by this time the price of admission was a friendly wave to the guards. The road surface changed from tar to large slabs of concrete laid end to end, which were easier to ride on. The bush around the road thinned and a wharf on the River appeared to our right while the road turned left and immediately climbed a hill. Realize that the coastland, where we were accustomed to ride was absolutely flat so hills were a bit of a challlenge and we got out of our saddles so that we could get extra leverage on the pedals.

The road then curled around a spacious concrete runway with neat white marks marking the taxiways for the big bombers and fighters that the base had been built for.

The earth of the base was white sand that was almost blinding in the midday sunshine and the bushes that lined the road were thin with many of them pine and casuarina. The steepest hill still awaited us and we really had to strain to make it to the top. After that the road straightened out and we saw a turnoff ahead into a red earth road, which plunged steeply down toward a stout wooden bridge at the bottom of the hill. The ride down the hill was between terrifying and exhilarating and we reached the bottom whooping and excited.  Our scoutmaster, Mr. Driver hadn’t arrived with our tent and supplies and the Scouter in charge of the camp sites led us to the one that had been selected for us and we set about clearing the bush off the site. Not long after Mr. Driver turned up in his trusty Ford Prefect with the tent and the supplies for the week and we took him and showed him the camp site. Our camp site was on the side of a hill overlooking the creek and we loved the easy access to the creek, for swimming and romping in the cool creek water.

Mr. Driver, an experienced camper, got the scouters in charge of the rally to give us a site on top of the hill, away from the other campers and grumbling we toted all of our equipment up the hill, set up the tents, dug trenches in the sand to take away the runoff from the tent in the case of a rainstorm and set up a benab to make our kitchen and dug two deep holes well away from the tents, each with a vertical straining post in front of it and planted two vertical fork sticks with a stout crossbar to act as a seat and left an entrenching tool next to each hole to cover the dirty deed, when finished.

Now we had all the comforts of home, but grumbled again when we had to fetch water from the creek up to the top of the hill so that we had water for cooking, drinking and cleaning up.

Piddles proved to be an excellent cook and we thoroughly enjoyed his rice and sardines that night for supper. It’s amazing how good sardines tasted after a day full of healthy physical activity. I’ve never liked sardines before or after camping but sardines and spam, with lots of onions sliced up in them made champion camping food.

That night we were introduced to the ritual of “painting”. Fortunately we were to be “painters” rather than “painted”. The older boys had shoe polish cans with a noxious mixture of black shoe polish in a bed of kerosene and after the younger boys had fallen asleep they got the cans out and gently decorated their faces with black mustaches and beards. Unfortunately Twinklet had a bad reaction to the “paint” and walked around for the rest of his days with a large brown mark on his cheek. Boys can be cruel, even scouts!

That night it rained. Rain in BG was serious business Lightening and thunder and water like peas. On top of the hill, with trenches dug to take the runoff from the tent we were golden! Our supplies, sugar, flour and rice up on their stick tables under the shelter of the trulie leaves in our kitchen benab, were safe from the wind and rain!

Next morning, on our way down to the creek, we realized how smart Mr Driver had been in getting our camp site moved, as the troops who had jeered us the previous night as we trekked up the hill with our supplies, looked forlornly from their washed away camp sites and their ruined supplies.

Scouts are resilient though and by the next evening the rally was in full swing.

The next few days were action packed as the planners of the rally had planned lots of interesting sessions and Mr Driver encouraged us to attend as many as possible. Please understand that this was when I was 9 year’s old and I am now 79 year’s old so I can’t remember many of the details but the few I remember were a non-denominational church service on Sunday morning, a demonstration of bridge building by an East Bank Troop which was greatly enhanced by a section of the bridge collapsing and the Scoutmaster in full regalia being dunked in the creek as he demonstrated the safety of his troop’s bridge. The sea scouts told us, through their Troop Leader, Neville Branker some of their unique boating Activities, rowing and sailing, from their wharf in the Demerara River while the Air Scouts had demonstrations of aerial navigation and showed us silhouettes of airplanes.

While we were not in the sessions we had plenty of time to romp in the Coke-coloured cool water of the creek!

This was my first rally, first time I ever went camping and the first (but not the last) time I ever rode up to the base and many of the feelings I experienced and the things I remembered, like hollowing out comfortable sleeping positions in the sand and using haversacks as pillows will stay with me forever. I feel sorry for the boys who grow up not knowing the joys of Scouting and never learning how to overcome the adversity that Scouting often throws your way. And the simple joy of romping in the cold creek water after a day of hard physical activity as well as the comradeship that is an integral part of being a scout.

Old fashioned values but those that created a generation of boys that the world can be proud of!

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  • dhanpaul narine  On 06/29/2022 at 12:42 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyable, thank you.

  • Kman  On 06/30/2022 at 10:40 am

    Brings back memories. Our outfit never rode to the scouting camp. We took the blue bus, and hiked in from the highway.

  • Roy Veerapen  On 06/30/2022 at 3:11 pm

    Memories that cannot be forgotten well written thank you

  • Rohan  On 06/30/2022 at 8:48 pm

    Brings back lots of great memories. Spent lots of time at Camp Jubilee, the official Scout training camp which is a little way past Dakara creek. Thanks for sharing.

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