Three times a charm they say and my third trip to Paramakatoi Village was just that …charming!
The first time I visited this idyllic mountain side paradise was in 1986. So, this is how this first trip transpired:
My pastor came up one day in 1986 and nonchalantly asked if I was fit enough because we’re going on a very long and difficult journey.
Of course I was fit. I was running long-distance in Georgetown for umpteen years.
Sometimes I would run from GT to Melanie Damishana and back several times a week. I would start off from East Street, next to Bourda Market, turn into Middle Street, ran up Camp Street straight to the Sea Walls.
I would then continue all along the Walls until there is no more place to run, then would connect to the public road straight into Melanie Damishana on the East Coast of Demerara and then back.
Other times I would be running at the National Park until it gets dark. The security guard on duty would then lock the gate thus cuing me that it was time to leave.
I trained with Harrier’s Track and Field club for a while. So of course I was fit.
So, we were heading for Paramakatoi. I knew several folks from PK, but never dreamed I’d have an opportunity to visit. So I relished the idea.
The day before departure a good friend had resigned from his job and amongst his farewell gifts was a large bottle of vodka.
He called me over for a drink in the evening and together with another friend we busted the seal from the vodka and were celebrating with him.
We were drinking and gaffing and before we knew it, it was morning. Now I had a plane to catch!
Rushing home, I took a quick shower, got dressed and bleary eyed, together with a ginormous headache, joined the party to Timehri.
After about an hour or so flight with a small aircraft, we landed at Kato Village on top of a plateau …and the scene was simply breathtaking.
I couldn’t recall experiencing such magnificent beauty. It was hard to pull my jaw from off the ground.
Some good friends were there to welcome us.
Meanwhile, I’m suffering from this terrible hangover, and battling thirst.
My lips were all parched and I kept asking myself why did I put myself through this ordeal.
I must have sworn off drinking dozens of time along the way!
From Kato, we had to make our way into Paramakatoi Village. Jimmy, the friend that was there to pick us up said that we’ll load everything into a tractor and head for the village.
Boy was I relieved!
A tractor ride into PK was just the thing I need to help relieve this red bleary-eyed headache/hangover.
I asked Jimmy where the tractor is, and with this devilish glee in his eyes, pointed to his warishi.
Jimmy does possess an uncanny sense of humor and I was going to experience more as the trip progress.
So we set off for the village with Jimmy and his 14 year old daughter, Stephanie, leading the way with their ‘tractors’ (pictured right) securely strapped on with our belongings.
At points along the way, there were heart-stopping steep descents. One slip and it’s all the way down the mountain foot.
I asked Jimmy how many miles to the village. His reply was just over that mountain and we’re there.
I calculated that we must have crossed several of those mountains. At times I was trying to figure which mountain specifically he was referring to.
The scenery from Kato to Paramakatoi Village is one I believe Hollywood Directors would die for. Every piece of landscape was simple ‘Jaw-dropping’ and spectacular.
There were numerous small gurgling waterfalls along the way. There were patches of exotic wild flowers growing along the sides of the mountains.
At times we had to navigate over tiny brooks or deep ditches using fallen trees as walkaway planks.
All the time I’m looking for snakes on the low-lying tree branches.
I’ve seen too many jungle movies to know that these villainous and sinister creatures lurk silently in wait ready to wrap their slithery bodies around one’s neck in hangman’s style.
Thankfully none of those fears manifested!
So after four hours of up mountains, down mountains, dense swamps and muggy heat we finally arrived in the village of Paramakatoi.
Darkness had already crept in so I didn’t have a chance to clearly see the layout of the village.
Our accommodation was the Headmaster’s house. It was the school break so the house was vacant.
I had a room and bed for myself, but I have to admit that it was not 5 star accommodations.
Heck, it was not even a fraction of that!
There was a mattress alright on the makeshift wooden structure. I can’t say how many centuries old the mattress was, but all of the springs were exposed and the first night I nearly froze.
I had to find a comfortable spot between two rows of protruding coils and try to keep warm during the night.
I dared not move from that one spot otherwise It’s another set of ‘Icy cold‘ bed springs stabbing you in the back and sides.
Subsequent evenings were much more comfortable as I would take all my clothes and pad myself from the nightmarish iron coils.
But man, was I glad for morning!
The headmaster’s house was an old, depilated ‘run-down’ building. Many of the boards that made up the four corners of the walls were missing.
One of the main posts was also missing, so the house was leaning quite dangerously with only three posts for support.
It must have been some miracle that it was still standing.
Waking up in Paramakatoi was like waking up in paradise. The mornings were a bit cool …almost a tad chilly.
But what a joy it was to be able to savor the brisk morning breeze as it rushes through the mountains at a seemingly fast clip.
The morning mist usually covers the mountain peaks which would eventually become visible about noon time when the sun emerges in all its glory.
The afternoons were a bit warm, but not as stuffy as Georgetown. Many folks from PK who visited GT said they’d rather not being in the city as they feel a bit stifled.
They’d rather prefer the cooler atmosphere in their mountain village.
I have witnessed some of the most spectacular sunsets in Paramakatoi.
They paint the valley below in blazing colors, before being enveloped in the encroaching darkness. To watch the sun set from the vantage point of the mountain top was truly a treat for the eyes.
Nothing beats a romantic marriage proposal framed in the backdrop of a PK Sunset. And with champagne to boot ….Whoa!
The evening has its own competing personality. Millions of night denizens come out to play their own game with rich audio and tantalizing video displays.
I can usually open up my palms and grab dozens of Candle Flies with their flashing incandescent lights. There were literally millions of them brightening up the pathway.
Grab one in a clenched fist and you’ll still see the light shining through.
These lit up the night sky better than Downtown Macys or Toronto Harbor fireworks.
Not to be outdone are the frogs, crickets and other insects surround sound audio blending in with perfect harmony.
Audio and video fused together to provide the backdrop for a perfect waltz!
The heavens are closer to the touch and one can easily reach out and seemingly touch the stars or redirect the moon from colliding with the mountains.
When you’re that high, the heavens seem to open up and embrace you as part of its cosmic house.
That is about the closest one can get to really appreciate and enjoy the vast expanse of our awesome universe!
The Amerindians in Paramakatoi are about the gentlest people one can find.
They are warm and friendly and they do not hesitate to greet you along their path or flash you a smile…albeit some without much teeth.
When you pass by their huts, they're quick to wave to you
I find the little kids most curious and wherever I go, there are sure to be a bunch of them trailing behind … stalking and watching your every move.
Sometimes I would deliberately turn around just to find them quickly scampering for cover in some clump of bushes nearby.
Visiting a family in their simple and humble abode
I have a very funny story to tell about these kids.
At some point during my eight days stay I would have to answer that dreadful ‘call of nature.’ That is inescapable!
My first rendezvous was with the school’s ‘outdoors’ toilet (Latrine we call them).
Now as I made my way to the Johns, there was the usual group of pocket-size brats trailing me …about 20 or so of them.
Upon arriving at the ‘crime scene’ (I’m trying to act with a bit of decorum here), I found that the door was missing.
I inquired, and some of the kids pointed to a spot about 100 yards or so away.
I went and found the door in a clump of bush, and began the trek back to try and secure the door as best as I could.
Now several boards on the WC were missing, so I had to plug some strategic parts with pages of a magazine I was carrying.
Now I had to proceed with the most delicate of balancing act one can imagine …trying to hold the door in place with one hand, while at the same time trying to unloose my pants belt and ‘disrobe’ with the other hand.
All the while the toilet was shaking, tilting, and threatening to collapse.
Meantime, all the kids were now lying flat on their stomachs just a few feet away and studying my every movement.
It was as if they were in a theater waiting for the show to begin. In our modern setting, we would have already settled in on our comfy sofa, with popcorn and beer beside as we too wait for our football game to begin.
Needless to say, it was the most comedic of scene one can imagine. They were keenly observant devils and I was the comedy act in their featured performance.
We were gazing at each other eyeball to eyeball all during the ‘ceremony’…they were curiously passive and solemn, with not the slightness of smile on their innocent angelic faces, and I’m cracking up inside with laughter.
When the show was over and I let go of the door, they all vanished in a flash.
As I whistled all the way back home, I could tell that curious figures were trailing behind.
When's the next show!
The villagers are usually hard working. Very early in the morning, while it is still dark, they would make their way to their farms, walking in ‘Indian file’ with usually a dog trailing behind.
would then return to the village about dark in the same manner they left ...warishis laden with farm produce!
I’ve had several opportunities to visit their farms and carry one of their ‘tractors.’
I’m not accustomed to carrying a warishi on my back so it was a bit difficult to balance and quite uncomfortable to walk with.
Once I nearly fell backwards due to the heavy load.
The villagers plant mostly root crops and fruits.
Some of the most gigantic sweet potatoes and cassavas are grown in those farms.
A single banana will fill you up the entire day …it is that Hugh!
The villagers have simple abodes. Their houses are made of thatched leaves and branches.
The first time I visited Jimmy’s home I noticed that there were hammocks crisscrossing the length and breadth of his home.
He had about nine kids at the time so they all had their own hammocks.
There was a large pot strung with a piece of wire in the center of the hut which they use for cooking.
Most of the time there was a fire going. I’m amazed that their houses don’t get burned down with all that fire and sparks flying.
The kids also usually play at the edge of the mountains and
I’m surprised none of them ever fell over the steep drop. I get a hear-attack just watching them play so close to the edge!
I had an opportunity to experience a bit of their social life.
There was a wedding during my stay and we were invited to attend.
As were their custom back then, they passed around a calabash with their famous Piwari drink.
Everyone was drinking from the same bowl. When it was my turn, I noticed that there quite a few small insects or flies that has fallen inside the bowl.
So very discretely, I was trying to drink the potent liquid while at the same time trying to blow away the gnats that were floating towards my lips.
Discreet is the word, eh!
The last thing you want is to offend the party-goers. A little tact and a bit of subtleness can sure win the day!
The evening before we left, we had a special meal of Stew Chicken with Cassava Bread.
As was the custom back then, we all ate out of the pot, taking turns to dip pieces of Cassava Bread into the pot of Stew.
I had made so many wonderful friends that when we left; I gave away most of my clothes, my watch and whatever other valuables I had.
On Departure day, we woke up early in the morning and made the four hours trip back to Kato for the plane ride back to Timehri.
Several of the villagers made the trip with us, together with some kids and a few dogs.
I carried the memories of that 86 trip all the time.
The second time I visited, we had hired a military helicopter and stocked the chopper with food stuffs and clothing.
That must have been in either ‘87 or ‘88 …I can’t fully recall the year. But I knew that the villagers were experiencing a severe drought with nothing much in terms of farm produce.
It was more of an emergency trip to help alleviate the hardships they were experiencing.
Now after some 27 years I’m back in the village for my third trip. Three times a charm, eh! Well, Indeed!
This time we had a direct flight to ‘PK international airport,’ with departure from Ogle.
The airstrip is better laid out and there are several flights in and out of the village several times a day.
Limited (ASL) is the only company that makes those flights from Ogle to Paramakatoi Village.
Much has changed since I last visited.
The houses are more modern …meaning they now have several wooden and concrete homes with zinc tops.
In terms of architecture, they don’t compare to those on the coasts, but for their standards, they are luxury.
They also have several shops in the village, and one can find very basic commodities, like rice, sugar, sardines, sodas, etc... But these are expensive.
Some of the buildings come equipped with solar panels, so there is limited electricity.
Some places have generators.
The Brazilian Forró music is very popular and one can hear it blasting way into the evenings. It has a nice dance beat to it.
So in some ways, a bit of modernism has crept in the almost peaceful and quiet village life.
The popular footwear is still the sandals (slippers).
It simply amazes me how they can comfortably traverse with this fragile footwear as they make their way through rugged mountain tops and steep descents.
I wear a slippers a couple of yards and I can hardly keep in place. It’ll twist and shift and eventually I would have to stop and secure it again.
Some things in the village have not changed over the years. most of the villagers still congregate to small brooks for their daily water consumption.
Most of them use the familiar yellow gasoline containers for storing waters.
A few of the 'wealthier folks' have those hugh overhead water tanks
The casiree drink is still a favorite beverage and I’ve had my fill many times.
When I visited in 86, a couple of women were a few months pregnant. They told me that they would name their boys ‘Roy’ after my name.
When I went in this third time, both of these ‘Roys’ were still around.
I still chuckle as I tell this story.
I find that the name is very popular in the village. Once I was passing besides a home and I hear this little kid calling my name.
There are Roys, Elroys, Devroys and all variations of the name in the village.
Everyone knows everyone else in the village and in some way most everyone is related.
I was asking an elderly how the young folks know who to date. Eventually some get into tangled mess and that creates a social problem.
To be continued...