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The Rupununi River winds its way across the savanna to join the Essequibo at Apoteri


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outh of the rainforest belt, Guyana’s landscape is dominated by the Rupununi Savannas, a vast region of seasonally flooded grassland, dotted with mountain outcrops and


crossed by tree-lined rivers. It’s a landscape that changes dramatically with the months: sere and sometimes scorched expanses during the dry season turn lush green when the rains begin in May and June, as rivers flood, forming lakes and ponds and temporary wetlands that connect the Essequibo to the Amazon watershed. Most settlements here lie close to the western border with


Brazil, or are connected by the Rupununi River, a tributary of the Essequibo. Relatively few travellers venture this far south, but for those in the know, the Rupununi offers a combination of extraordinary natural beauty and charmingly unaffected hospitality — the handful of lodges for visitors are run either by families or by small communities. On this imagined journey, in order to experience the best of the


savannas, you would leave the Essequibo at the village of Apoteri and turn into the Rupununi River, following the tributary west and south, past Rewa. The Rupununi’s best known lodges are at Karanambo and Dadanawa — both family-owned cattle ranches, with many thousands of acres of land, much of it largely untouched — and in the village of Annai, where Rock View Lodge, run by an English expat married into a Macushi family, is the closest thing to a professional hotel in the region. But an increasing number of Amerindian communities — Surama, Aranaputa, Nappi — have set up community-run lodges where the accommodations may be rustic, but the hospitality is genuine.


68 WWW.CARIBBEAN-BEAT.COM For some visitors, it might be enough simply to contemplate


the rugged beauty of this remote part of the world, and enjoy the quiet rhythms of the savanna day. But, like the forests to the north, the Rupununi is home to an astonishing variety of wildlife, which lodge or village hosts are keen to show their visitors. It’s also a good place to experience Guyana’s cultural diversity. Though Indo- and Afro-Guyanese dominate the country’s coast, the Rupununi is populated by indigenous Macushi and Wapishana, whose languages, stories, and domestic traditions thrive in this landscape they have long inhabited.


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n southernmost Guyana, the Essequibo River springs from the Acarai Mountains, which form the border with Brazil. Many miles from the nearest dirt road, accessible only via


chartered aircraft or a long upriver or overland trip, the remote region of Konashen is home to a small community of indigenous Wai Wai. Very few outsiders have visited the forested foothills of Wai Wai country, though a sustainable development plan for the area may change that in the future. In 2004 the Wai Wai began a partnership with Conservation International Guyana to assess and protect their lands, and set up a Community Owned Conservation Area that is now Guyana’s largest single protected area. In years to come, eco-tourism development may open Konashen to responsible travellers, but for now this pristine corner of South America is known only to the Wai Wai themselves, and the few scientists who visit to research this far country, where the mighty Essequibo begins its journey to the ocean. n


GRAHAM WATKINS


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