Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pandama Winery

Some of my favourite wines come from South America, especially Chile and Argentina, but I had no idea that Guyana had a local winery. Guyana itself doesn't have a very big wine appreciation culture - folks are much more about rum or beer here. They don't even really grow grapes here, so when my friends recommended I check out Pandama Winery, I was surprised to hear that a local winery existed.

Pandama Winery is located off the Soesdyke Linden Highway, approximately an hour from Georgetown, along a rugged dirt path that is only accessible by trucks with four wheel drive. It's run by a friendly Guyanese-American couple named Tracey and Warren (and a few extremely friendly dogs) who not only make wine, but also soap, art, and, on that particular day, absolutely delicious pizza. There were also little lizards running all over the place, beautiful butterflies that would flutter by, and two big gorgeous parrots in the back.

The thing that made Pandama particularly special was its lovely ambience. It's a retreat in addition to a winery, so you can stay overnight in one of their cosy cabins, hanging out at a bushcook at night, and going for a dip in their creek, which has an awesome deck with hammocks (hammocks!). We were just there for the day, but we spent the day lounging on the deck and swimming in the cool refreshing creek.

There were no snakes in the blackwater creek this time either luckily, although we were warned not to bring food down to the creek, because something would eat them. I did not want to know what.

I've been told that once you drink the black water from the creek, you cannot leave Guyana - you always feel compelled to return. I did not drink the black water - had to leave room for wine, I claimed - but I could totally see why people believe it has a magical effect.

And of course, wine tasting. As I had mentioned, grapes don't really grow here, but in a creative twist, Pandama makes wine from a variety of other local plants, including soursop, sorrel, mango, pear, and jamoon. I wasn't sure about it at first, but all of the wine that I tried was surprisingly good. They were definitely on the sweet side, as you might expect, but quite enjoyable.

 The one the surprised me the most was a wine that Warren gave me without telling me what it was.

"Which wine is this?" I asked.

"I want you to try it first before I tell you," he answered.

I sipped it, swirling it around my mouth in curiosity. It seemed familiar but I couldn't quite catch what it was made of. It was at the tip of my tongue, so to speak.

"Pear?" I guessed.

"Eggplant," he replied, and went away.

Eggplant! I would never have thought to make wine out of eggplant, but here it was, and quite delicious, actually. 

Then there was the pepper wine, made out of hot peppers. Now, I'll tell you that I love spicy food. I'm Korean, so I'm all about the hot things. I have definitely found that hot peppers here in Guyana are quite hot. There have been a few times where I've squirted pepper sauce on my food only to realize that yes, even Koreans have their limits to how much heat and pain they could take.

So now Warren lay down in front of me a pepper wine.

"You have to shoot it," my companion told me. She had tried the pepper wine before.

I looked at her in disbelief. "I'm not going to shoot wine," I said, pretentiously examining the colour of the wine against the white of the table. Then I took a sip and swished it in my mouth, like a fool. I should have taken it in one shot.

I waited for the intense burning in my throat to subside while my companions laughed at me. I have no idea why they even make a wine this spicy. It strikes me as a mean joke to play on guests that you don't like very much. Maybe it might be interesting to use in cooking?

Needless to say, we did not order another bottle of pepper wine. Instead, we chose the sour sop, which we took our time drinking while talking about the things that ladies talk about when they have a ladies day out: makeup and diets and where the Pokestops in Guyana are (if you want to know, the Botanical Gardens, but definitely not at Pandama, since they barely had cell phone reception).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Farm life in the bush

A Guyanese colleague invited me to join her at her farm, located in the bush about twenty miles outside of Linden. I'm always up for a road trip out of the city, but this time we had an unusual set of passengers to take with us: a family of ducks.

My colleague had purchased some ducks to bring up to the farm, but first we had to figure out how to transport them safely. Eventually, we settled on putting some newspapers in a cardboard box and sticking them in the back of the pickup truck. I was a little worried about them, but we had loaded up the truck with so much farm supplies, plus two extra guys who were coming with us, there simply was no room to put them in the wonderfully air-conditioned front cab with us. But they seemed all right - at least the cardboard box gave them some shade in the heat of the day, and there were enough holes in the box to give them some ventilation.

My job had been to supply the beer. Being not much of a drinker, I pulled the ultimately embarrassing mistake of not bringing enough beer. Luckily there were many roadside snackettes and rum shops on the way, so we pulled into one joint, where one of the boys, B, jumped out and picked up an adequate supply. The girl at the shop seemed to know him, because she also gave him a lunch box. I saw a man riding a bicycle leading a horse on the side of the road.

The farm was located on an unmarked dirt path off the Soesdyke Linden Highway, about an hour from Georgetown. Once we arrived, the first thing we did was unpack the family of ducks, who were all luckily still alive. We released them into the pen where they were building a little cement pond for them. The ducks fluttered about, adjusting to their new environment. They all seemed to run as one pack, following each other from one end of the pen to the other. One of the ducklings got separated from the group and couldn't see where they had gone. That's when I found out what a duckling sounds like when it's having have a panic attack. CHIRP. CHIRP. CHIRP. I had no idea a duckling could be so loud. I carefully led the duckling back to its family, and it hurriedly climbed on top of its mother's back.

"The baby ducklings are so cute," I gushed.

"Next time you see them, they'll be on your plate," said my colleague.

Then it was time to check on the chicken. The farm had originally been a commercial chicken farm when my colleague took over. The farm still raised some chicken, but they were also expanding into ducks, perhaps goats, and growing crops, although it was an eternal battle against the hungry hungry enemy ants of South America who constantly fed on the crops.

Because some new hens had been brought to the farm, we set about the task of counting how many chicken the farm actually had. Counting chickens turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task. It didn't help that the little rascals tended to run around and hide when you were in the middle of your count, so you had to start all over again. We all made our individual count and we each came up with different numbers. B eventually counted them by pushing them each aside, which the hens did not like at all.

I got to meet the Amerindian family that lives on the farm property as the caretakers. They had two adorable little daughters named Jillian and Judith, age five and seven, who were shy but friendly.

Jillian and Judith took me on a little hike to show me their secret spring which they use for drinking water. I was struck by the unusual colour of the spring, which was a bright reddish-orange, yet crystal clear. We hung out on the dock, dipping our hands and feet, while Jillian washed her face.

Further into the property, which my colleague romantically calls the Marakai Oasis, I got to explore the main house that my colleague had built with her husband. It had a lovely open air concept with a spacious loft overhead, perfect for inviting company over to spend a night in the country. It also had a wide veranda with plenty of seating so you could just sit and watch nature from the porch.

My favourite part of the place was the gazebo, which they call a benab here, built next to the creek, it served as a perfect shaded sanctuary from the hot South American sun while allowing the breeze to keep you cool. They had built a little outdoor kitchen attached to it, and they had hung - hooray!! - hammocks. This was where I spent a big chunk of the afternoon, lounging and napping while the men did some work on the property, swinging their cutlasses to chop down protruding branches and hanging up electrical wiring. I had a Coke, and it was the best Coke I had ever tasted because the Coke was cold and it was so very humid in the bush.

After my nap, and after the guys had finished their hard work, we went for a swim in the creek. At first I was a little apprehensive about going into the black water creek, which was so black you could not see under the water at all. I'm nervous about water I can't see through. In Ontario, usually that kind of water has a mushy floor which grosses me out. Also, movies about the crazy creatures of South America like that Jennifer Lopez movie Anaconda do not help at all - there are all sorts of animals here that we don't have in Canada. Plus it didn't help that the Amerindian caretaker Dennis was going on and on, as he casually sipped his Coke while lounging in the shade, about the snake that he had found there and killed the other day.

But it was hot and the creek looked cool and lots of Guyanese folks learn how to swim in the blackwater creeks of South America. So I took the plunge and jumped in. It was indeed refreshingly cool, and I was surprised to find that the bottom of the creek was lined with soft white sand.

Surprisingly, it was the other young worker S that needed coaxing to come into the water. He had stripped down to his boxers, but refused to dip a toe into creek until we had surveyed the entire area to make sure it was fine and not full of whatever it was he was afraid of. Unlike B, he hadn't had the benefit of swimming lessons, so he didn't have the option of treading water like us. Finally, B told him that if you just make a lot of noise in the water and splash around, it will scare the fish and whatever (AND WHATEVER. I don't even want to know what) away from you. So eventually S was persuaded to wade into the water, where he stood nervously, continuously making loud splashes with his arms to keep away the whatever.

By the time I got out of the water, my body had cooled down to a pleasantly comfortable temperature. Meanwhile, Jillian, Judith and their brother Clinton were helping Mark sow someseeds in the field.

It had been a lovely day, and I was grateful for the generosity of my hosts. I love having a chance to get out of the city, and once again I thought about how it wouldn't be so bad to retire in the country...but if without air conditioning, I'd need a minimum of at least three hammocks and a magnificent gazebo.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

visiting the villages of Essequibo

the docks of Parika

A fellow Guyanese lawyer generously gave me an opportunity to accompany her while she left the capital city of Georgetown to work in Region 2, the Pomeroon-Supenaam area along the Essequibo coast.

My day started before 6AM in the picturesque village of Eccles, which is on the outskirts of Georgetown in a neighbourhood that had the idyllic neighbourly feel of a North American subdivision.

We then set off in her pickup truck on the long journey through Region 3 district of Essequibo Islands-West Demerara, on the bridge over the Demerara River with its clanking metal plates and through the many villages along the way.

Demerara Bridge

Demerara River

Eventually we arrived in the township of Parika. Even though my colleague described it as an outpost that was too small to be a town, it was impressively busy with dozens and dozens of vendor stalls along the roads selling pretty much anything you might need - fruit, DVDs, plaintain chips, clothes, hammocks, and cold drinks. It's known for its Sunday markets, but even on a Wednesday it was bustling, due to the fact that it is a port hub for both land and river transportation.

bringing in the fruit

We ourselves were there to take a water taxi through the Essequibo Islands. We were allowed to park at the Parika Police Station (I imagine because of my colleague's good relations with the police and not because the Parika police let city folks use their lot for free parking) and did a little bit of shopping at the market stalls. Sadly there was no honey available, which this area is well known for, because of production problems due to the weather, but it was nice to be greeted by a number of locals on the street who all seemed to know my colleague.  It was a refreshing breath of fresh air to be away from hectic Georgetown in this friendly port, where robbery rates are much lower and nobody was catcalling me (but again, maybe it was thanks to my respected colleague accompanying me).

slogan on the side of one of the water taxis - pretty good life motto!
Eventually, we made our way to the water taxis and loaded into the boat. Usually you have to wait until the boat is full before they leave, and sometimes that can be a very long time if there aren't a lot of folks looking to cross the river, but luckily at this time of day (about 7:30AM, I think?), there were many commuters taking the trip, so we were able to take off shortly.  Some folks were with their kids, some businessmen had their briefcases, and I saw one man stepping off the dock with two crates filled with live chirping yellow chicks.

It was a lovely boat ride through the Essequibo Islands. The local Guyanese refer to the water taxis as as speed boats, but my colleague explained that they aren't really speed boats in the sense of some of the monstrous roaring ego machines you see at cottages on the lakes of North America, but they are boats with motors and we were still zipping through the water at a fun pace.

There are over three hundred islands on the Essequibo river, some uninhabited and some inhabited with even farms. This region reminded me somewhat of the Thousand Islands in the St Lawrence River in Ontario. There were so many huge islands everywhere! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking.  Despite the fast clip of the boat, I felt myself relaxing into a peaceful tranquility.


Court is sometimes held in the communities on the islands too, and the lawyers and magistrates travel to the various communities in the region, much like the circuit courts held in community halls and high school gyms in Nunavut.  They may not have to deal with propellor plane issues
due to cold weather conditions like Arctic lawyers do, but transport in these parts of Guyana is not always easy. My colleague explained to me that once after court had ended, there were no more water taxis and she had to find her own way back. She waited and waited until a farmer offered to let her hitch a ride on his boat - as long as she was okay with sharing the ride with his herd of goats and sheep. What else could you do? So she got on the boat, wearing her suit and carrying her briefcase. Luckily, the sheep and goats were used to the boat ride and sat calmly through the boat ride.

(For a somewhat similar story about the adventures of lawyers trying to make their way home from remote regions, read Senator Dennis Paterson's account of being a legal aid lawyer in Nunavut/Northwest Territories in the early days, quoted in an article that I wrote for the Polar Barrister - page 8!) 

Although enjoyable, the boat ride took longer than I initially thought it would, because the Essequibo River is much wider than I thought it would be. Once we got off the docks, we stopped off at a snack stand, where I got an aloe juice (as an Asian, I'm thrilled to report they sell these everywhere!) and a delicious snack made from cassava, which is a root and is also apparently listed as one of the world's most dangerous foods because if you do it wrong it can produce cyanide. But it was soooo yummy. Maybe the danger makes it delicious.

Welcome to the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region
snack stand full of tasty goodies

Then, as if our journey wasn't lengthy or adventurous enough, we were approached rather enthusiastically by a number of taxi drivers shouting various destinations. Again, these shared taxis generally do not leave until their cabs are filled with the maximum number of passengers so sometimes it involves waiting for quite a while.  But eventually we found sufficient passengers to leave and made our way through the long winding roads through the villages, weaving past hitch hikers on the side of the road and donkeys crossing. Like a true Canadian, I took a bunch of photos of coconut trees.


The communities had names that sounded like some European settlers were either trying to write poetry or crack jokes with names like The Jib, Fear Not, Devonshire Castle, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court. These were small communities too, often only one road long, with the entire Pomeroon-Supenaam region having a population of less than 50,000.

We finally arrived in Charity, where my colleague had a court matter. It had taken several hours to arrive here. I was amazed that some lawyers make this long trek on a regular (sometimes weekly) basis.

Charity post office
Pomeroon River

My colleague joked about how in Britain, there is the term ABC which stands for "Another Bloody Castle", but in Guyana, the term is ABR: Another Bloody River. There are so many of them! I could never get tired of them though. Charity is the last township where the paved road ends at the Pomeroon River. From there, if you wanted to, you could take a boat up the river until it meets the Atlantic Ocean and then cross over to Venezuela, one of the only ways to do it.

Everyone in Charity seemed to know my colleague as well, and I had the privilege of attending a session at the magistrate's court, where I observed a landlord-tenant matter relating to rice assessment. Rice is a big industry here.


 After the court session ended, we hitched a ride to Anna Regina with one of the members of the court, so we all piled into the pickup truck and got off at the magistrates court in Anna Regina, where I got to observe the tail end of a drug prosecution matter.  The courthouse has a bit of a problem with pigeons hanging out in the rafters, but I very much enjoyed my visit. Overall it has been a pleasure for me to interact with the judiciary and legal bar of Guyana who have overwhelmed me with their hospitality.

Anna Regina police station and magistrates court

In the afternoon, we stopped at a roadside restaurant called Caribbean Heat for lunch to enjoy some delicious curry and dhal and some GT beer.  They also had a cat who became my new best friend after I fed it a piece of meat. Then it was time to face the long journey back to Georgetown

In Suddie

Orchids growing outside
We stopped at an orchid place where I saw orchids growing in the outdoors for the first time in my life, hugging an old mango tree.

On the way back, the water taxi took a lot longer to fill, but eventually passengers straggled in. The return boat ride was a lot more bumpy and wet, but I still managed to nod off during the ride. It had been a long exciting excursion and now I was ready for a nap.

On the road back to Georgetown - gridlock, of course