After Christmas I travelled to Wakapao, a remote community made up of many small islands where a fellow Peace Corps volunteer works. Wakapao is arguably the most beautiful place I've visited in Guyana. After three bus rides and two boat rides, I reached Charity, a medium-sized town at the mouth of the Pomeroon river. A speedboat took me down the Pomeroon, which was uneventful until we turned abruptly at a small tributary. Zooming down a ten-foot-wide jungle creek overhung with branches was exhilarating, but nothing could have prepared me for the spacious beauty of Wakapao. Wide open grassland flooded with water lay ahead as far as I could see, but occasionally to our left and right we would see a small landing or the glimpse of a house, the only real clear that the area is inhabited.
Transportation in Wakapao is by water, whether in a motorboat or by paddling. My friend Leslie even has to paddle to and from her job at the health center! It seems as though everyone in Wakapao has a boat, and children begin learning to paddle dugout canoes as toddlers. Paddling is not as easy as you might think—these wooden canoes are not balanced, so most of your effort goes into keeping them straight, at least when you're learning! (I say this from experience—I was fortunate enough to get a paddling lesson from a friend of Leslie's. It's fun but hard to do!)
My stay in Wakapao was a fairly chill one. We had a pizza night with some other volunteers who were spending the holidays, walked through a swamp on precariously balanced planks of wood to get to a wedding, drank homemade ginger wine, played board games, and met a baby monkey.
Leslie has a really cool project starting up this month: her village has teamed up with Engineers beyond Borders to build two roads through the swamps that connect some of the major islands in Wakapao. Though the village's riveren location makes it beautiful and its transportation requirements are novel, it is in all honesty a huge pain in the ass to have to traipse through a swamp just to visit a neighbor, or to have to pay for gas for your motorboat so your kids can get to school. The roads will make travel in Wakapao much easier, and it's a project the village has been discussed for years. Kudos to Leslie for making it happen!
I was sad to leave Wakapao but had promised friends in my village that I'd come back for Old Year's Night, so I took the long and complicated trip back through Georgetown to St. Cuthbert's Mission on July 31st. Yes, you heard me right, Old Year's—it makes sense, doesn't it? You have to celebrate the last night of the old year before you can celebrate the first night of the New Year! I got all dolled up to go out in the mission, thanks to my coworkers—dress from the grade two teacher, shoes from the grade three teacher, makeup courtesy of the grade four teacher. Thanks ladies! At first I thought I got dressed up for nothing, because the village-council-sponsored party (held in the primary school) was pretty dead, even at 11:55...they were playing Christmas music. I was ashamed. But apparently the party doesn't start here until after midnight on Old Years, and once it got started it was a lot of fun! I stayed out dancing till 5am, which was a first for me, and thoroughly enjoyed spending the night with the people I'm closest with in the mission.
There was one more noteworthy event that occurred during my Christmas holiday. The “Biggest Loser” program that I started back in November concluded on January 31st.. I didn't run any sort of exercise class, just encouraged ladies to sign up and casually discussed healthy ways to lose weight. They paid a small fee to register and the three biggest losers won prize money. Of 11 registrants, 8 lost weight, with the top four losing over 5 lbs each in 6 weeks! Perhaps best of all, when I asked them if they wanted to run the program again, I heard enthusiastic yes's all around. They seemed to really like the cooperative/competitive atmosphere that this program brought to the daily struggle of trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Next weigh-in is in 2 weeks, and I'm wondering who will be the biggest loser this time around!