The three Guianas

By Norman Dailey
This item appears on page 24 of the September 2018 issue.

Kaieteur Falls from the plane — Guyana. Photos by Susan Dailey
A trip my wife, Susan, and I made to Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana got us to within one country of having visited all of South America, with only Bolivia left.

Starting in April 2017, we worked with Adventure Guianas (Mikel Plaza, 53 Pere, Kitty, Georgetown, Guyana; phone +592 227 4713, www.adventureguianas.com/about/about.htm) to plan our trip. They contracted locally with Oetsi Tours (Parijsstraat 40, Paramaribo, Suriname; www.oetsitours.com).

Including seven nights' lodging, the land-only cost of our tour, Sept. 14-21, 2017, was $5,065, payable by wire or in cash. For the two of us, this was an extremely expensive tour, but we really wanted to see the three Guianas. (Guyana was formerly British Guiana, and Suriname was part of what was formerly Dutch Guiana.)

Our trip started in Georgetown, GUYANA, where we stayed at the Herdmanston Lodge Hotel (65 Peter Rose & Anira St.; www.herdmanstonlodge.com). The rooms were large and the staff extremely friendly and helpful.

On a 2- to 3-hour tour on day two, our guide, Dennis, showed us St. George's Cathedral, the seawall, the Guyana National Museum and the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, but we saw many sites from the car, including Stabroek Market, where Dennis was afraid to take visitors, citing high crime and police corruption. The Botanical Gardens was just a drive-around.

We never saw any of the river, the Demerara Harbour Bridge or Guyana National Park, offering possible sightings of manatees and caimans. We asked about the zoo, but Dennis said it was not worth seeing because of the conditions of the cages.

He was very negative about us doing anything in Georgetown, saying it was unsafe, so for the rest of the day we stayed at the hotel.

Massive painting on the ceiling of St. Joseph’s Church in Iracoubo, French Guiana.

Day three held the highlight of our entire trip, an excursion to Kaieteur Falls with Air Services Limited (www.aslgy.com).

The plane seated 13 and had a single propeller. It took us about an hour to get to the falls, and we passed over them twice. Once we landed, a park ranger conducted a 2-hour tour that included three viewing spots. Kaieteur Falls is the largest single-drop fall (by water volume) in the world and is spectacular.

By the way, we obtained our visas for Suriname in Georgetown at the Embassy of Suriname, only a block away from our hotel. We headed there at 9 in the morning, each carrying our passport, a passport picture and a copy of our entry stamp to Guyana. We filled out the forms, dropped off our documents and received our passports and visas later that day. We were advised to get a multiple-entry visa (not a tourist card), which cost us each $100 plus a $5 processing fee, cash only. 

I might add that Suriname was the first country that we'd visited where officials really looked to verify that we were up to date on our yellow fever vaccinations.

On day four, we left the hotel in Georgetown at 6 a.m. to catch an 8:30 flight to Suriname. Once we arrived at the airline counter, however, we found out that our tickets had been booked for the wrong day and that all flights for the next 24 hours were sold out.

Apparently, everything after Guyana had been planned by Oetsi Tours, including arranging our air tickets to Suriname. We tried calling Navin Roopnarain of Adventure Guianas, since our contract was with them, but he was out of town. We did reach his wife, Oma.

Oma came to the airport and made a number of calls. Later, she explained several options. One was taking the ferry to Suriname, but we quickly realized we wouldn't make the only crossing, at 10:30 a.m.

She suggested taking a fast boat but said that that might have issues, since we would not get exit stamps from Guyana or entry stamps for Suriname in our passports. We refused that option.

Howler monkey — Guyana.

Finally, she informed us that we were booked on an afternoon flight the next day. In the meantime, she had arranged a birding boat ride on the Mahaica River for that afternoon. She had not asked what we wanted to do; she just told us. (We normally do not sign up for bird-watching excursions, but at least we wouldn't be sitting in a hotel.)

Oma took us back to our hotel. At 1:30, a driver picked us up. The 5-hour tour included two hours of drive time, round trip, from Georgetown.

We were taken to the village of Little Biaboo and Ramesh's Landing. The tour was fine, especially listening to a chorus of howler monkeys. After the tour, the guide sincerely apologized for the overall lack of bird sightings. We saw maybe 20 species, not the 60-plus they normally see in the morning.

As we were driving back to the city, Oma called us and said to be ready at 6 the next morning to make a 3-hour drive to Moleson Creek, Guyana, to catch the ferry across the river that forms the border of Guyana and Suriname.

At the ferry crossing, Oma purchased the tickets for us ($15 each, I believe) and directed us to the immigration and waiting room. 

Once in SURINAME, we were met by a driver, Mr. Hendrik, provided by Oetsi Tours, who drove us another three-plus hours to Paramaribo.

Although Mr. Hendrik was an excellent guide, we felt the actual city tour we took there was a joke, since we arrived very late and many things were closed. We saw the outside of the fort, Dutch buildings, the synagogue and the cathedral and had a view of the river at sunset.

The next morning we were picked up at 6:30 to go to FRENCH GUIANA. With the guide from Oetsi Tours, Mr. Glenn, we visited St. Joseph's Church in Iracoubo; the frescoes inside were magnificent, painted by a prisoner in exchange for his freedom.

St. Joseph's Church in Iracoubo, French Guiana.

We were supposed to have a tour of the Space Museum at the European Space Agency's spaceport in Kourou, and we had been told that if the guide thought there was enough time, we could also visit the penal colony of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni (made famous in the movie "Papillon").

Instead, Mr. Glenn decided to take us to the prison first, but in doing so we ended up arriving too late to take the guided tour at the spaceport. We arrived in Kourou at 1:30 p.m. not knowing that the tour was scheduled for 1:15. We did visit the museum, but it was a disappointment not having a spaceport guide; we had many questions that Mr. Glenn could not answer.

After a 1½-hour drive to the country's capital, Cayenne, again, we arrived so late in the day that the city tour was worthless, in our opinion. Mr. Glenn said he did not like the city, and it showed.

On day seven, we were picked up at 5 a.m. to drive to Albina, SURINAME, where we were met by another guide, Mr. Cedric. However, he was 40 minutes late because he had to pick up his niece to give her a ride (with us) from somewhere near Albina to Paramaribo.

One to two hours outside of Paramaribo, there are several Maroon villages, where descendants of escaped slaves live. Some of the old traditions survive. We were scheduled to go to Atjoni and the Ferulasi Sula (rapids), but Mr. Cedric took us to another Maroon village, Nieuw Lombé, on the banks of the Suriname River (no rapids).

We did not think this village visit was worth our time. After a short tour, a culture demonstration and lunch, Mr. Cedric decided to go swimming and left us alone on a deck overlooking the river to watch him and the local children swim. Afterward, we took a short boat ride on the river.

For our return trip to Paramaribo, he provided transportation (with us) to the city for two members of the Maroon village. We felt that adding other passengers to our trip was unprofessional. For one thing, it intimidated us from asking questions and getting the most out of the tour.

I wrote to Navin Roopnarain about our disappointments, and he agreed to refund me 20% of the tour price, just over $1,000. However, he reduced that to $800, charging us $200 for the birding trip on the Mahaica River that we never requested to go on. My wife and I felt that $800 was not nearly enough compensation for the frustration we experienced.

After we returned home, Dinesh Ramlal, Director of Oetsi Tours, tried to call us two times on WhatsApp, but both times we couldn't talk. We tried to call back several times, but the call was never answered and there was no voicemail, so we gave up.

Our longboat transportation from Suriname to French Guiana. Photo by Norman Dailey

In hindsight, if we were to visit these three countries over again, rather than go through a tour company, we would arrange it all as an à la carte trip, stringing together separately booked tours, hotel stays and flights. (If you go the à la carte route, verify that flights and tours are available on the days you want them. Many flights and activities do not happen every day of the week.)

NORMAN DAILEY
Alexandria, VA

ITN wrote to Adventure Guianas (info@adventureguianas.com) and Oetsi Tours (info@oetsitours.com) and received the following replies.

The Daileys booked a "Three Guianas Tour" with Adventure Guianas. We partnered with Oetsi Tours of Suriname to undertake the Suriname and French Guiana legs.

A reservation with Gum Air was made by Oetsi Tours for the correct flight details, Georgetown to Paramaribo. However, the ticket purchased by Oetsi Tours and issued by Gum Air carried the wrong date.

The next available flight was the following day in the afternoon. We explained the situation to the Daileys and together decided that the best option would be to transfer the next morning by vehicle.

The Daileys insisted on not spending the rest of the day in the hotel, so we quickly checked around and found the only possibility was the Mahaica River birding tour, which costs $35 per person with a minimum of six persons. We paid for the full board of six persons (less a small commission of $35 offered to tour operators) plus vehicle transfers, etc.

The Daileys also insisted on a refund. We agree and refunded 20% of the total tour cost, which amounted to a little over $1,000, less the cost for the birding tour. Oetsi Tours agreed to give $500 of this amount.

Oetsi Tours undertook the remainder of the tour and, as per our discussion, tried to fulfill its obligations as far as practicable.

Adventure Guianas issued a written apology to the Daileys. We again apologize and would use this experience to better enhance our operations.

NAVIN L. ROOPNARAIN
Team Leader, Adventure Guianas

The tour went wrong with the flight tickets of Gum Air, since it was our fault we did not recheck the dates on the tickets. This caused an extra day in Guyana instead of the planned tour that was scheduled for Mr. and Mrs. Dailey.

I was on holiday in the USA when this happened and called the office directly to tell them what to do to make sure the Daileys still had a good experience.

We tried flights, but all were full, so we decided to take them overland to Suriname, which takes at least five hours driving, and since Mr. and Mrs. Dailey had time requirements, we tried to fulfill them as much as possible.

Since I was in the USA, I called [Norman Dailey] several times, via WhatsApp, to discuss what happened and to explain, but they had no time to talk to me. Once they were having dinner, one time they were driving, and one time they said they would call me back, but that did not happen.

We took the blame on us that we did not recheck the date on the tickets and for that missing flight. We really apologize for what had happened.

DINESH RAMLAL
Director, Oetsi Tours


Mock rocket at the Guiana Space Museum. Photo by Norman Dailey